Sometimes, a band's best career move is to break up while they're still in their prime. If nothing else, it can do wonders for mystique and cult status.
New Orleans sludge mavens Eyehategod have appeared to do just that at a few different points during their lengthy, often tumultuous career. Their old label, Century Media, released a contract-filling odds-and-ends compilation in 2001 entitled Ten Years of Abuse (and Still Broke). The title seemed like a fitting epitaph for a hard-living band that had dealt with all sorts of adversity: drug problems, jail time, an opening slot on a Pantera/White Zombie stadium tour—you name it. They vanished again after a brief flurry of activity in 2005, which included a couple of 7"s, another compilation CD (Preaching the "End-Time" Message) and a brief series of tour dates with an assortment of guest vocalists stepping in for then-incarcerated front man Michael Williams.
Yet despite being inactive for much of the past decade, they never officially broke up. And their following and stature have only grown in their (near-)absence. The band's early albums, most notably 1993's Take as Needed for Pain and 1996's Dopesick, have attained cult-classic status thanks to both their influence on countless stoner/doom/sludge metal acts and their staying power as quality records in their own right. (Not since the first handful of Black Sabbath albums has a band delivered such a high quotient of first-rate air-guitar riffs.) That influence has been increasingly acknowledged over the years, as evidenced most clearly 2007's For the Sick, a two-CD tribute/benefit album that featured more than 30 bands covering songs from the Eyehategod back catalog.
As it turns out, the group's recent hiatus — and a more recent return to touring and songwriting — has had more to do with logistics than anything else. For example, guitarist Jimmy Bower also plays drums in the Phil Anselmo-fronted metal supergroup Down (a far more marketable outfit than Eyehategod), which toured heavily in support of a 2007 album, Over the Under. Meanwhile, the group's other four members — Williams, guitarist Brian Patton, drummer Joey LaCaze, and bassist Gary Mader — forged ahead with the Eyehategod spinoff band Outlaw Order. As if that weren't enough, Patton is also a key member of avant-grindcore group Soilent Green. (Both Outlaw Order and Soilent Green released records of their own in 2008.)
As Bower puts it, ""I guess the resurgence has been [due to] the fact that we now have time to do it. It's never been shelved, it's just ... we were busy, you know?"
The band's current leg of touring is third this year, with previous stints taking them to Europe in April and much of the East Coast and Midwest (but not Indiana) in June. Bower says the band was "blown away" by the audience response on their first two tours this year.
"It's definitely bigger now," Bower says of the band's draw. "Obviously, we had a good ten-year lapse of touring. I mean, we did a little short tour in 2005, but that was about it. So [there's] a new generation of kids that are going to shows to get a chance to see the band. And obviously they've had enough time to dig on the material."
The group's longevity is remarkable not only for the band members' "extra-curricular" activities (both musical and otherwise), but also when you consider the motivation for forming the band in the first place back in the late 1980s.
"It completely started out as a joke," admits Bower. "Everybody [else] was into Slayer. Reign in Blood had just come out, and every band in New Orleans was thrash." Still teenagers at the time, EHG began accosting audiences with a trudging, feedback-heavy sound influenced by the Melvins and My War-era Black Flag. "It would more piss people off than anything," he remembers. "And we loved it — it worked perfect."
Asked whether he's surprised that the band is still going more than two decades later, Bower responds, "Oh, definitely. Not in jail or fucking dead. I mean, we've definitely been through rough shit, but everybody's still breathing. We have more passion for the band now than we ever have. We have more fun live. We sound better than we ever have. And we've just been enjoying the fact that we can still do this this many years later. Hopefully we can do it another 20 years."