One of the stalwarts of the New Orleans metal scene, Jim Bower has had the distinction of playing with bands such as Superjoint Ritual, Down, Corrosion Of Conformity, Clearlight and the band from which he first gained notoriety, Eyehategod. Currently, Bower is focused on the impending release of a two disc live set from Eyehategod that will assist in raising funds to free that group's vocalist, Mike Williams, from jail, where he is currently on drug related charges. Eyehategod were one of the first American bands to bring doom to the forefront in the nineties and the band's syrupy, New Orleans sludge has garnered the band quite a following. In a recent interview with The Gauntlet, Bower reveals certain details surrounding the sensitive case, as well as talking about Hurricane Katrina's effect on the New Orleans music scene and the upcoming third record from Down.
The Gauntlet: What exactly is the situation with Mike at this time? Does it look like he is going to be in jail for a while here?
Jim Bower: Yeah, it looks like it because right now he's basically incarcerated on a narcotics charge, and he was on probation when he got busted. His bail is a hundred and fifty grand. But many people in the metal community have stepped up, magazines and such. It just really sucks because he's in a small town, he's got a high bail, he's on probation and it looks like it will be fifteen to twenty thousand dollars to get this resolved.
The Gauntlet: How do you feel about the fact that the bail was set at such a high amount?
Jim Bower: I can tell you this much. Basically what happened with Mike and his girlfriend was that they had no way of leaving town when the storm came, so they stayed. Mike was on a methadone program and he had one bottle of methadone left. So, he went to a Walgreen's, him and his girlfriend. There was a cop at the Walgreen's and they told the cop the situation and shit and the cop said, "Go ahead and try to get what you need", you know? So they went to the pharmacy and they took fifteen bottles and drove to Morgan City, which is a small city, because as Mike told me, he was sick of looking at the same dead guy on the corner everyday. That's basically what he was going through.
The Gauntlet: To be in his situation, that must have been something that was difficult to face.
Jim Bower: Well yeah, dude you have gangs that went into the sporting goods stores and they are looting guns. They took the Superdome over. Nobody really knows this, but Navy SEALS went in and killed all them dudes. There was about twenty thousand people in the Superdome at one point and a lot of them were elderly and couldn't leave, they basically found crawlspaces somewhere in the Superdome and just died. So, the Superdome is being torn down, it's full of E. coli, you know? So that's basically that situation.
The Gauntlet: This tragedy has affected so many musicians down there and I know that the NOLA scene is very closely knit�
Jim Bower: I'd say there are fifteen to twenty main people, you know?
The Gauntlet: As a group of musicians, how difficult is it for you to cope? I know that you and Pepper were forced to evacuate Phil went to Houston and Kirk lost his house.
Jim Bower: He had just bought it, too. And he lost it. He had flood insurance, but a lot of the insurance claims are not coming off as correct. They're trying to give people less than what they really deserve.
The Gauntlet: Right, the toll is so high, they are going to try and cut corners financially any way that they can�
Jim Bower: Well, they're fucking insurance companies. They're assholes to start off with. My dad had a house in a part of town called Lakeview, which was hit extremely hard. He had about five foot of mud in his house and just the lot that he lives on was about one hundred and sixty-five thousand and he had just recently built a three hundred thousand dollar home on it. They told him that they were going to give him about a hundred and fifty grand, and he had the best insurance you can get.
The Gauntlet: But the insurance companies know that they have the homeowners in a tight spot�
Jim Bower: Well in the Lakeview area, Phil from Pantera had a lot of equity. He owned a lot of property in that area and it's all gone now, so he's in the same situation as well. It's pretty depressing, man. Some insurance companies are stepping up and some aren't. I haven't gotten a FEMA check. So, the only help that I've gotten is from an organization called Music Cares. You reach that at grammys.com and they have a little thing that you can fill out and if you can prove on a website or send them a record to show that you are a musician, they give you a five hundred dollar debit card. So far, that's the only financial help that I've been able to get.
The Gauntlet: It's nice to hear that they are doing something positive to aid musicians affected by this tragedy.
Jim Bower: Yeah, they said they've helped over a thousand people so that's what? Fifty grand? It's amazing. They are also offering drug rehabilitation help, which I am looking into for Mike. Anything to make this case less worse than it is.
The Gauntlet: So EHG is releasing a double live CD through your own label to help in raising funds in getting Mike out of jail?
Jim Bower: Yeah, we're in the process of putting that together right now. There was a benefit in London the other night and they raised, I think, five thousand American dollars and so that was great, it is a quarter of what we need to help Mike. Everybody has stepped up and I can't speak too much about Mike's case, which really sucks, but I can say that he had pills on him. He was allowed to take them and basically, got caught with them. They were all schedule two and three narcotics, you know? No morphine or anything like that and now he's in jail. It's just a strange situation, because Mike was on probation anyway, you know? So, he only had nine months left on his probation and his probation was immaculate. It's no secret that Mike was a drug addict.
The Gauntlet: When are you looking toward releasing the record? Within the next couple of weeks?
Jim Bower: Maybe even a little longer; we're working on the artwork right now. It's going to be a double live record. One record is going to be from when we played in Japan, the next one is from the last tour that we did. In Grand Rapids, a guy brought a Pro-Tools studio out and recorded it.
The Gauntlet: Is there a someplace that people can go to donate for Mike's cause?
Jim Bower: Yes. You can go to www.eyehategod.com or you can go to www.worldwidepropaganda.com . It's basically called the Katrina relief fund, but now it has more or less become Free Mike IX. We're making T-shirts to try and raise money that say "Free Mike IX." He's in a really Christian jail, so if anybody wants to, there's a way to donate that you can do by Pay Pal, money order, credit card, we have a bank account set up down here. Or, you can write Mike letters, I talked to Mike last night and he said the jail is pretty pissed off because he's gotten like five hundred letters in a week or so. It's almost a kind of a strategy to get them to think "Who is this guy?"
The Gauntlet: Well it is fantastic that some people care enough to do something for him. It's really important that when there is a tragedy or an injustice that needs to be dealt with that the people of the metal community do their best to band together and pitch in to do something about it.
Jim Bower: That's what sucks, because a lot of people want to help, but they want to know why they are helping. It's hard to explain to people why they are helping. They're like "I'll send money, but what's he in jail for?" Basically, it's a drug offense. The whole story of what happened, if you could print it. People would be so compassionate and would send even more money, I think. I have been advised by his attorney not to speak too much about the case, but Mike and Alicia, his girlfriend that used to sing for Thirteen, they've been together for twelve years. Basically, their entire house burnt to the ground. He has nothing but a notebook with two books of lyrics and he said that he has already written a book in jail. He's also kicked methadone. I go visit him every Saturday and it inspired me to kick methadone as well and I am now, completely, opiate-free. It is cool when you can try to get some positives out of negatives, you know?
The Gauntlet: Is there anything else that you can tell us about Mike's situation?
Jim Bower: Mike was already in a methadone program and was almost finished with it. Basically, they were running out of methadone and the methadone clinic was under water and they did what they had to do. The pharmacy that they went to was in New Orleans and they got a car and drove out of the city, about an hour away. Now, Mike is in a jail that has about thirty cells. It looks like a pre-school. They don't have television; he's on twenty-four hour lockdown. Three days a week, he gets to walk in a circle for an hour. That's basically it, you know. People can send him magazines; stamps, loose-leaf paper, pencils, cards, like playing cards, and stuff like that.
The Gauntlet: How are you holding up with all of this turmoil? You have been hit by more bad circumstances lately than a man deserves to take�
Jim Bower: Yeah, this whole year has sucked for me. My girlfriend overdosed in March and she passed away. Barry, the drummer for Trouble, died, he overdosed. During the Hurricane, Rambo, the original singer from Soilent Green died. Him and his mother and sister. He was a major influence on the New Orleans scene. He had epilepsy as well, the only happiness that I can find in that is that he's out of pain, you know?
The Gauntlet: How do you feel about the way that the government responded to the hurricane? Do you feel that they responded in an appropriate manner to this tragedy?
Jim Bower: I don't know if people have compassion for us because of the situation of where the city is, how it's like a bowl. People are like "well, if you're stupid enough to live there�" And it could happen to anyone, anywhere. A tornado could go through any town. It's not an isolated situation. I evacuated to Lake Charles, and that's where Rita hit. So I had to evacuate back to New Orleans and thank God that my house didn't sustain any damage. I actually have electricity and a computer and cable, which has really helped me out with trying to help Mike.
The Gauntlet: Obviously, you are always involved in a lot of different things musically. Are you thinking about your next project at this point, or are you still in recovery mode, with everything on hold for you at this point?
Jim Bower: No. There's talk of doing a Down record in January. There's also the release on our own label, Press Pause Cassettes, that's the name of the label. We're going to be releasing something by Clearlight. I found five songs that were recorded�I just need to get somebody with Pro-Tools to make it a little better. Also, there's talk of putting that band back together, just because it was so much fun, you know? It's pretty certain. Everybody wants to do it. It's just that right now, the majority of the music scene has their equipment in the place called Fountain Blue. All of their equipment is between the sixth and the eighth floor, and there's no power there. So if you want to get your equipment, you have to walk your equipment through eight flights of stairs in the dark. So there are a lot of bands that want to do something, but can't do anything, basically talking about smaller bands that are keeping the scene going. In New Orleans they keep the shows going, keep people coming. And as far as Eyehategod, if Mike wasn't in jail, we could be playing tomorrow, you know? I've also spoken with Philip from Pantera. He's told me that if we have to, he'll get in a van and do the whole tour singing with us, just to try to help get the money for Mike. For someone of his status to jump in a goddamn van�
The Gauntlet: How is Phil doing now?
Jim Bower: Phil is detoxing as well and he is going to assess his back operation, which he has been putting off for a couple of years and he is looking forward to the operation. I think it is supposed to happen in December or January. He's looking at about six months of that and then we can get back to business. Actually, we can record the record and write the record while he's still going through rehabilitation. We just can't tour. Right before the storm hit, we had a dinner scheduled with everybody except Rex. Rex lives in California now, and we were going to talk about touring Europe in January. Down has never been to Europe and I think it would have been incredibly successful and now, it is unfortunate that we can't do that. As far as putting the new record out, that would be even better.
The Gauntlet: Now, Pepper had evacuated with you when the storm hit�
Jim Bower: He basically evacuated with me and he was in Lake Charles with me and we hung out and shot guns and shit. All of my cousins in Lake Charles are rodeo riders and stuff like that, real good, down-to-earth people. So we had a good time. I was actually kind of bummed out to have to go back to New Orleans. Now that I'm back here, there's a lot of people that have not come back and don't intend to ever come back, which means it is going to make the economy in New Orleans better. For instance, if you go apply at Burger King, you get a six thousand dollar bonus for getting hired. But, they give it to you over ten months. Are you familiar with the food chain Rally's? They're offering twelve dollars an hour to work there. To flip and wrap burgers, you know?
The Gauntlet: How were the venues affected by the hurricane?
Jim Bower: None were hit in the Quarter, House Of Blues is fine. This other big club called Triropa, that one is fine. Dixie Tavern, which is kind of like the punk place, EHG used to get a lot of our late nineties shows there. The club has a good vibe, cheap drinks and the shows are always five bucks. It actually made it through too and I talked to that guy and he's planning on opening as soon as he can and when he does, I am going to try and set some shows up.
The Gauntlet: Do you feel like this event might actually make the scene stronger?
Jim Bower: That depends on how hard we work on it. Not being egotistical, but there's only a handful of people that made the scene what it was. People like me, Phillip, Kirk from Crowbar, the Soilent Green guys, the Eyehategod guys�there's a plethora of different styles of bands. To be honest with you, I think that it's just a matter of time. It's really fucked up down here and it is going to take six months to a year to get things halfway going.
The Gauntlet: For those that do write in to Mike, the band is asking that the name of the band not be put on the correspondence, right? Because it is such a fundamentalist facility, they need to be careful what to put on it?
Jim Bower: Please, anyone that writes a letter to Mike, please don't mention anything about the band. Don't mention the name of the band. If you do, just write EHG or something like that. That's really important because we don't want them giving him a lot harder time. Mike is in jail but it really wasn't his fault. He's in a bad situation, but it is not really his fault.