The front man for electro/punk sensation Mindless Self Indulgence, Jimmy Urine speaks with ReGen‘s Brian H. McLelland about his new solo outing.
An InterView with Jimmy Urine
By Brian H. McLelland (BMcLelland)
Jimmy Urine has been the explosive and charismatic face of Mindless Self Indulgence for over 20 years; a band that never obeyed the conventions of genre by deftly switching modes between industrial, electro, punk, and everything in between. Urine’s high energy, exuberant outlook on music and culture has landed him the chance to do soundtracks for video games, voice video game characters, do remix work for a wide variety of artists, and most recently acting roles, including one in – and contributing to the soundtrack of – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The Secret Cinematic Sounds of Jimmy Urine is the first foray by the MSI front man into solo territory. Urine recently took some time to speak with ReGen‘s Brian H. McLelland about the solo album, what comes next, MSI, soundtracks, influences, and the rise of nerd culture.
I had the chance to listen to the album and it’s really terrific. I really enjoyed it.
Urine: Cool, thanks!
If you had to sell your solo record to Mindless Self Indulgence fans, what would be your selling point? What do you think would encourage them to pick this up and what can they expect to be different compared to your work as MSI?
Urine: I would say, ‘It’s me baby! Come on, it’s me guys!’ (Laughs) I mean, it’s basically as if you stripped everything away, including my voice, except for really the synths, you know. And I think the interesting thing about the timing of it, which actually worked out pretty good, is I’ve always been a fan of stuff like John Carpenter, John Williams, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and I grew up listening only to soundtracks. So I got into my teens and it was really the soundtracks that taught me about, you know, punk rock or rock & roll or industrial or anything like that because there’d be a song on a soundtrack and I’d be like, ‘Oh cool, The Cramps! What’s this?’ Way before Mindless, like when I was a kid growing up, I was a kid who was like, ‘I’m going to buy some synths and see what that’s all about,’ and that’s kind of how I got started programming and then eventually way later, like 20 years later, got more into what is Mindless and I think when you tell a kid, now, like, ‘Oh John Carpenter or Vangelis,’ they’re like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ But if you just go, ‘Like the music in Stranger Things,’ and they go, ‘Oh, Stranger Things! I love Stranger Things!’ So there’s that kind of… there are a couple of breakthrough things that happened in the last couple of years, because that music’s been around for a long time and it’s had a cult/retro following for a long time. I mean, people like Deathless Records put out tons of old soundtracks of like Cannibal Holocaust and stuff like that and people are actually getting very niche about it. Like they’re going back and getting specific horror soundtracks to horror films that are very B – they’re not like John Carpenter’s The Thing, where that’s a great movie still. It’s like really, you know, shitty like Maniac Cop 6 or something. But the soundtrack’s done by some Italian guy with a bunch of old Moogs and the soundtrack stands alone on its own.
I think it’s interesting because I think kids are up for a lot. A lot of kids who listen to my stuff love chiptunes and they love video games, they love comic books, they love movies, they love horror, so it’s not that far of a stretch because those are the things that I love. I’m not doing it to, you know, kowtow to them or be like, ‘Hey kids, look! I like this! Cool.’ This is the shit I do in my spare time and so if I’m not on the road with Mindless… or even when I’m on the road with Mindless, we’re talking about comic books, we’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, we’re playing video games. So it’s been a constant almost my whole life and I think this is a lot more specifically targeted toward that stuff. I love this stuff. Let me go into this world completely and also, part of it, like some of this is, ‘Hey check this out! It’s a track that’s unreleased,’ but a lot of this is work that’s unreleased work. I can’t release this on other things, but it’s work. You know, I work with big name companies – Warner Brothers, Marvel – and I love it. You know, coming from the Mindless thing where I have no rules, I can do whatever the hell I want, to go to something that has parameters. To me, that’s exciting. I’m not going to get anything that has less rules unless it’s like The Left-Rights, which has zero… like, negative-zero rules.
What comes next? Was it a good feeling to release this on your own? Do you want to do more of this? It sounds like you’re enthused about it.
Urine: Yeah! I’m definitely going to do more of it. I’m going to do all sorts of stuff. I’m going to do Mindless records in the future, but I like doing this stuff and I think that the difference between this and the jobs is with Mindless I was putting out records and with the jobs I was doing jobs. I was doing ‘Lollipop Chainsaw’ and I was doing ‘Metronomicon,’ or I was putting a song in the new Guardians… movie – that’s a job. But being able to put a compilation together and add some unreleased tracks and be able to talk about projects that got shelved or something like that is… I love that. I’m definitely going to do more of this type of stuff in the future… uh, when I feel like doing it. I have tons of it because I just like instrumental music. I grew up with instrumental music and it’s fun. Not that I don’t want to sing; I love singing, but I have the option – I have the luxury – to do all of it so I’m going to take advantage of that. I have the luxury to be like, ‘Let’s do a Mindless record’ or ‘I’m going to put a soundtrack out’ or be like, ‘Oh cool, I totally want to do that whatever, comic book movie, video game, soundtrack.’ It’s a dream so I definitely take full advantage of all those dreams, you know?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s nice that you’re in this position to be able to get paid for doing something that you obviously love.
Urine: Yeah! That’s a big plus because, you know, I was already paying my rent with Mindless and that’s a nice dream, a fantastic dream, and I’ve been doing that dream for 20 years. But to be able to go back and do things that are almost bucket list-ish… I’ve been very fortunate where I’ve been able to do a lot of real bucket list; not like, ‘Hey, I got some Kentucky Fried Chicken. Got that off my bucket list.’ You know, I was the voice of a video game character, I did music for video games. I’ve got a song in the new Guardians… movie, a musical piece in the Guardians… movie, I’m acting in it; that’s a dream – to be a part of the Marvel Universe. You know, even like small dreams… Jesus, the other day fucking Teebo retweeted me and I’m like, ‘That’s off the bucket list! That’s awesome!’
Well, congratulations on all your success.
It’s been a long time in the making.
Urine: Well, the world changes a lot. And what was radical 10 or 20 years ago has become the norm and then you don’t realize that you’re kind of out there you’re doing your thing and screaming bloody murder and having a good time and you don’t realize, over the course of 20 years, you’re actually touching people. Then you end up meeting people that you’d never think in a million years would love Mindless or come to a Mindless show. You meet some kid who’s on a fucking, like, Disney show or somebody who does cooler music than you do and you’re like, ‘This person’s super cool. They’re not going to even know who I am.’ Then they’re like, ‘Oh, I used to go to Mindless shows all the time.’ And it’s holy shit! I never would have pigeonholed these people as fans of Mindless. That’s a really nice feeling and that just happens with time – it’s just a time machine that moves forward and if you hang out long enough and don’t give up, people eventually go like, ‘You’re doing pretty good.’ You know? Luckily, it’s before I kill myself, then everyone will tweet about it. ‘Oh he was the greatest!’ Now I’m the greatest – thanks a lot.
Was there anything about this record that you wanted to try to do but didn’t?
Urine: Well, I pretty much tried to make it… I kind of slapped it together last minute and then as I was putting it together, I kind of hit a bunch of stuff that I wanted to touch upon. There’s definitely a ton of other stuff I’d like to put on there – other things that have been released and others that haven’t been released, and things from way back in the day when I was like 12. Some of these songs like ‘Salome,’ ‘Not For Me,’ and ‘Patty Hearst’ don’t just sound like they were written in the ’80s. They were. They were actually written in like ’82-’83 on like an old Sequential Circuits keyboard and then I would just put it on cassette; like, I’d tape it live into a cassette and then I found all the old cassettes and I’m like, ‘This shit sounds like what’s going on right now,’ like all the vaporware stuff and everything. So I was like, ‘Shit, I’m just going to fucking make it note for note,’ because it’s me. I can just update with nicer equipment so that it sounds good, but they’re pretty much note for note exactly the same as how they were back in 1982 and 1983. So to me, that’s pretty cool and I kind of hit on a lot of stuff – I just want to do more of it. I want to do more work and also, the nice thing about this whole thing is I just sort of put it out there like, ‘Hey, this would be a cool idea,’ and it was nice to throw it out there. But another reason I did it, and I’m very glad that I did do it, is I noticed that when people did approach me for actual, professional soundtrack work, they would approach me wanting to license a Mindless song, and then I would say, ‘Hey, you know, I’ll do the whole soundtrack’ or ‘I’ll do five songs or six songs or whatever and an exclusive song for you,’ and they were like, ‘Oh, really? You do this kind of stuff?’ ‘Yeah, I do!’ It’s surprising, I think, to a lot of people when they hear it. ‘Oh, not only is he the crazy guy who jumps around on stage and has these whacky songs that go a thousand miles an hour, but he also does this other John Carpenter style stuff,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know.’ They just did not know, and I don’t blame them because it’s not like anyone had a blueprint that said, ‘Yes, Jimmy Urine – the crazy guy on stage – also sits around with a bunch of synthesizers and makes these very beautiful tunes reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.’ So now to me, what I’m getting out of it is seeing people come up and be like, ‘I didn’t know you did this. This is so awesome. Let’s do something. I’d love to have you work on a film or a video game,’ and all that kind of stuff. And I like working with a lot of independent people, like with video games and stuff. There’s a lot of independent guys out there and they do cool shit, because you know, video games don’t always have to be the newest and latest; there’s a lot of retro video game stuff going on with independent people making stuff, you know?
Absolutely. The success of something like Hotline Miami and its soundtrack and all these great little indie games with terrific soundtracks… it’s really taken off.
Urine: Yeah, and it gets you to the next level. Look at the guy who did It Follows. He did Fez originally and the guy who did It Follows played Fez and was like, ‘I love this fucking soundtrack!’ And that’s a lot of how composing seems to work, aside from the guys who are always out there hashing it out forever and in the system. A lot of times, it’s just the director is like, ‘Hey, I really like your work’ or ‘I really dug your band when I was growing up so let’s do something, let’s collaborate.’ I don’t know, Nick Cave… you’d think he would have done a million soundtracks. He had to fucking write his own movie to do a soundtrack. Know what I mean? And that got him more work. It’s a totally different monster, which I dig a lot. It’s really cool.
You’ve made the Trent Reznor transition. It’s only a matter of time now until you’re accepting an Oscar for a soundtrack that you composed.
Urine: Oh stop! Tell me more!
What’s on the horizon now? New Mindless record?
Urine: Well, everything’s coming out now. Mindless, we just did a reissue of You’ll Rebel to Anything on vinyl, which is a nice kickass… I think it might be sold out by the time the magazine comes out, but it was a nice pre-record store day kind of thing. That came out at the same time this record came out, which has been getting a lot of legs on different sites and stuff. Then Guardians… just came out. I just went to the premiere yesterday and saw all that and the fucking movie is amazing. So, everything is just hitting right now and anything I have coming up I either can’t talk about or it’s still too early to talk about, but definitely going to be doing more music like this, more Mindless stuff in the future, and more work with other people and see what happens. That’s what’s going on right now.
Is there anybody in particular that you’d really like to work with, given the opportunity, that you haven’t yet?
Urine: I would say if I just had to do it off the top of my head, I think I’d love to do more video games again. It’s so much fun to do video games. And I would love to do a full, old-school horror score a la John Carpenter, because that’s really fun, and I don’t care if it’s a small indie movie or anything; just kind of retro throwback movies, just because I love doing that type of synth work and to be able to do one of those. I mean, I could knock it out of the fucking park. So if a cool ass retro movie showed its head anywhere in my vicinity, I would totally jump at that. It’s just so much fun to do and I’ve been… those guys were my heroes growing up – John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, and Vangelis, and Ennio Morricone – so something along those lines would be fucking bonkers awesome.
It’s funny that you have this solo record coming out now that, as you said, everything that it’s touching upon is very timely as your generation and mine becomes the popular culture.
Urine: Yeah! It’s a more niche popular culture. There was a big explosion of nerd about five years ago where everybody was like, ‘Nerds are cool!’ and ‘Nerds make millions of dollars!’ and they make giant superhero movies that make billions of dollars and you no longer get thrown in a locker because you read The X-Men or that kind of shit. And that all kind of became the forefront of we all know what D&D is, we all know what Magic: The Gathering is, but now the real sort of niche stuff is bubbling to the surface, but it’s not… it’s cool because it’s not taking over. It’s slowly simmering to the top in a really nice way, which I like. The superhero explosion was a little traumatic because you had these people who were like, ‘Hey, we fucking busted our ass running around the underground, getting the shit beat out of us for liking video games and doing all this stuff,’ and now everybody likes video games? All the pretty people love fucking video games, the jocks love comic books; like, come on, give me a fucking break! There’s sort of a cool niche for people who like soundtracks, people who like cool art and posters and stuff like that. All that kind of stuff is slowly bubbling to the top, but in a really kind of chill way, which I love. It makes it more subtle.
Are we going to see you doing one-off shows by yourself? Just you and a keyboard all John Carpenter style?
Urine: I don’t know. I’ve never… it’s not out of the realm of thought, but right this particular second, I didn’t plan on it. I just sort of, like I said, I just sort of threw all this together. (Laughs) And slapped it into a setup where this kind of works, and I got a friend of mine, Brendan, to do the artwork and Kitty, who has always done all the graphic design for the records, no matter who the artist is or who did the art, Kitty’s going to be the one to put all the graphics together and make it work and stuff like that. She slapped all the graphics together and we’ve always loved working together on art direction stuff. So it was all kind of thrown together. Now it’s like, ‘Oh shit, people actually like this.’ It’s not outside the realm of possibility. I’ve kind of given it a peruse while I was falling asleep watching stuff on Netflix. Depends on how lazy or not lazy I am! (Laughs)
That’s what success is measured by, right? By how lazy or not lazy anybody is.
Urine: Yeah. (Laughs). How lazy are you?
What kind of equipment did you use to make the record? Anything in particular you were really stoked about using?
Urine: A couple of the synthesizers that I had as a kid I really enjoyed. There’s a Sequential Circuit six-track that I had as a kid and it has all the sounds and it was great because it had like a little built in sequencer. It wasn’t very good in the sense that it was all kind of free; there was no grid or any MIDI to the actual sequencer, so you couldn’t download the MIDI to something because there weren’t really computer sequencers when it was built. But I did most of my stuff in there back in the day, so it had all the sounds that I had back in the day and I’ve always used an Atari computer with 40FP. Before Mac came on the scene in the late ’80s, there were two computers that were kind of big – this was post-Commodore 64 but pre-Mac, around ’87 – the Atari and the Amiga. And the Atari was huge in England and the Amiga was huge in America, but for some reason, the Atari had a couple programs, some of which still exist, like Qb and they had a couple others like Creator and Notator. The guys who worked on that eventually ended up making Logic at some point. And so, that Atari, I’ve used that on tons of my Mindless stuff… just a very versatile sequencer. So using that and hooking that to a lot of the old synths that I had as a kid really was fun because I got to bust those out of storage and dust them off and hook all the MIDI stuff up. Because nowadays, it’s so convenient to have plugins, we’re kind of past even the point where like, five years ago, you could have a pure Moog that has that richness that you’re never going to have in a plugin. Nowadays, you really can’t even say that because that’s the future, and it makes sense. I love doing the vocals somewhere and then editing it on the plane and then getting to the next studio and just opening it up and having the plugins. But, it was nice to bust out a lot of those old synths and get those sounds that you just remember. It wasn’t even about quality; just about sound. Like, I want that exact sound I had on that cassette from 1983. Well, here’s the fucking synth that I got it from… fuck it. I’m not going to try and find a plugin that can emulate it because I just fucking bring it out, you know? And it helped with the whole experience. It’s kind of therapeutic, like my 12-year-old self would really enjoy this and be like, ‘Oh shit, you got paid to put this shit out? I was just doing this in my basement in a cassette!’ (Laughs)
It really sounds like a dream came true for you with the success that you’ve had, doing what you want to do and being paid for it is the ultimate dream, right?
Urine: But it’s also nice to be in this sort of middle ground; like, we’re nice guys over in Mindless Self Indulgence and we like people in other bands that are nice guys. We’ve always been sort of… we’ve been prophets, but we’ve never been a Jesus Christ. We’ve never been up there going, ‘Hey, we’re the shit. You should love us.’ We’ve always been, ‘This is what’s going to happen in the future, and good luck, motherfuckers.’ (Laughs) Just talking about shit that’s out there. We’ve always had kind of simple tastes so we like simple stuff. It doesn’t take a lot to make me a happy guy. A good example is the other night at the premier of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, there are all these people, there’s tons of red carpet, and I’m part of the cast. So I’m walking the red carpet and all these fucking Hollywood elite and huge stars and everybody, and who do I fucking geek out over? Jim Starlin, who’s a comic book artist and writer from the ’70s whose work I grew up with. He’s the first person I fucking recognized and I’m like, ‘Holy shit, dude! I grew up with all your comics like Dreadstar, Metamorphosis, Cosmic Odyssey,’ and I totally geeked out on him. I took a picture and was like super happy. Okay, great, that’s so cool, let’s go see the movie! I’m a simple guy. I got simple pleasures and if I can achieve them, great. Cool.
Photography by Steve Agee – courtesy of Jimmy Urine/The End Records