All well and good for four guys who've known one another since they were ten years old and have a strong affinity for Motörhead, Thin Lizzy and the Ramones on the one hand and Bob Wills and Merle Haggard on the other. But these days front man Eddie Spaghetti and guitarist Ron Heathman are married with children, the band runs its own label, and there have been complications and lifestyle changes that once seemed unthinkable. For starters, Heathman's daughter was born with truncus arteriosis, a severe heart defect. He missed last year's tours as Ruby underwent a series of operations.
"This thing changed my whole perspective," Heathman said. "After all the years of craziness, it took this to make me realize I had to pull back and slow down." Heathman not only quit drugs and drinking, he stopped smoking. "With her condition, the last thing she needs is to breathe my smoke."
Ruby will require another operation when she is five, but at 15 months she is walking and beginning to talk. "I never thought we'd see a day where we could forget what she went through, but we are beginning to have those days." With a long tour beginning the following day, Heathman cut our call short to take Ruby to the zoo. "Rock and roll keeps the bills paid, but I don't ever want her out on the road or in the bars, so I do all I can with her when I'm home."
Spaghetti is also married and his son Quattro has traveled on tour, and nowadays the van is strictly no smoking. Spaghetti admits his life is hardly the stuff his songs make it seem.
"I like to embrace these rock and roll clichés and use them as a template for my songwriting. I admit I dumb it down, but for me good rock and roll is remedial anyway. We've always played up to the wild image, the whole devil thing and all that, but we're pretty much able turn all that off when we walk off the stage. Not that there aren't nights when we blow the roof off."
Starting a label has also meant walking a straighter line. After four albums with Sub Pop led to a major-label deal with Interscope, the band found itself artistically handcuffed and frustrated. After a year without releasing an album, the band parted ways with Interscope. A little later, with no label interference, the band delivered Evil Powers of Rock and Roll, a heat-seeking missile of a rock album mostly recorded live in the studio. Enter Chris Neal, who scouted the band for RCA, but had other advice for the band.
"Chris saw us and he was like, 'Start your own label,' " Heathman says. "We got him onboard because he knew how to make the label thing happen."
These days Neal directs the band's own MidFi operation, which Spaghetti describes as "a revolving cast."
Their first release on MidFi was Must've Been Live, which showcased the band's ragged-edged alt-country side. Compiled from two-track gig tapes made by sound engineer Dave Fisher, the album proved to be a shrewd business move. It sold more than 1,000 copies a month with little overhead.
They've followed up with Motherfuckers Be Trippin'. With that title and a track list that includes songs like "Pretty Fucked Up," it's doubtful any major label would have released the album without demanding changes.
"That was originally just a working title," Spaghetti said, "but once we got used to calling it that, everything else we came up with just seemed pale. It's like with 'Pretty Fucked Up,' that song's got a great beat and a solid hook, so radio might've considered it if we'd called it 'Pretty Messed Up.' But once you sing, 'She used to be pretty but now she's just pretty fucked up,' it just seems so false to water it down."
Lyrically and stylistically, the album sounds like a continuation of Evil Powers, although Spaghetti and Heathman note subtle differences.
"Evil Powers was the record we always dreamed we'd make," Heathman says, "where the new one has these really strong individual songs." Spaghetti agrees. "It's a songs record, where Evil Powers has an album feel. But I think the new one is just as good, and I think both records show how well we're getting our sound template down as a band."
One standout is "Sleepy Vampire." "I think songs like 'Sleepy Vampire' are where we're headed," Heathman says. "We've been tossing that one around as something to push at radio. When I first heard Eddie do it acoustic, I knew that was gonna be a killer song." Spaghetti acknowledges that the song's Golden Earring feel is something different. "It's the first time I've ever really written about being in love with somebody."
Songs like the flippant "Bubblegum and Beer" and the blistering opening track, "Rock and Roll Records (Ain't Sellin' This Year)", are more typical of the Supersuckers. On the latter, Spaghetti parodies Willie Nelson's lyric, "Sad songs and waltzes aren't sellin' this year." The line "Playing through the pain, watching shit bands get rich" seems to be ripped directly from the band's career experience.
Trippin' is already exceeding sales goals after three weeks, and Spaghetti is looking ahead. "We'll tour hard on the album until early winter, then we're going to record another country record. The songs are already written."
The band almost lost its audience with 1997's Must've Been High, a sudden creative swerve into alt-country produced by Houston's Randall Jamail that featured locals Jesse Dayton and Brian Thomas and included a cameo by Willie Nelson. Spaghetti proudly notes that the Supersuckers may be the only hard rock band on the planet that can -- or would -- risk doing a country album. Heathman and Spaghetti relish the band's split personality and the fact that Must've Been High has become the band's highest-selling album.
"That's not something bands like Metallica or AC/DC or Motörhead would do, just make a country record," Spaghetti says.
One new fan of the band, an English teacher whose first exposure to the Supersuckers was Motherfuckers Be Trippin,' summed up the band like this: "You've got to admire the Zen ability to remain adamantly adolescent and perfectly free of reflection or concern for consequences well beyond their time." Spaghetti doesn't get nearly so intellectual, but the gist is much the same when he sings, "Ain't got time to waste with that mopey dopey shit / so cut the crap and bring the hits."