Unbeknownst to him on March 11, 2013, Mikey Erg found himself as a candidate for the currently empty drummer's seat in Against Me!. An online petition was started, now with 800 signatures and counting, that was addressed to AM! asking them to instate the pop-punk legend behind the kit. Though the campaign wasn't his doing, Erg decided to ride the wave and now finds himself gunning for that number one spot.
In order to see how the campaign is going, Punknews features editor John Gentile met up with Erg where they discussed the rigors of a political campaign, what he can bring to Against Me! and whether his past record of doing hard time will hurt his chances of getting the drummer's seat.
Standing at a mere five foot five, Erg has a slender body topped by a surprisingly round head. His nose, eyes and mouth are so petite that he almost looks like someone pulled an anime character from the pages of a comic book and brought it to life. He's 32, but could easily pass for ten years younger. His trademark poindexter glasses rest on his nose with such an defiance to modern fashion that they seem to say, "These glasses are so dorky that simply wearing them shows I have grit."
As I talk to him, he gives short, directly honest answersâ??something that has been the foundation of his campaign. In lieu of flowery metaphors, nihilistic snaps or overly polite canned PR responses, Erg issues simple, straight to the point answers that leave little for interpretation and little that can be distorted. He's the kind of candidate that most parties say they want, but never actually choose: a drummer that speaks his mind, but never says too much.
Although modern mannerists boohoo the use of labels, the fact is, there are two types of people: On one side, there are those that drift from platform to platform, seeing where the winds may guide them. That's not to say that such a disposition isn't favorable. Some of our greatest artists, such as George Clinton, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Lou Reed and even Joe Strummer are of this sort. By allowing themselves the decadence of whimsy, they dance with ideas until something wonderful is formed from the unadulterated play.
But on the other side are the Alexanders who don't rest until the entire world are under their fists, only to wither and die when he had no worlds left to conquer; the Caesars, who smashed their own Gauls, conquer their own senate and assume the title emperor in their chosen line of work, only to be assassinated by those fearful of a star that had shone too bright; the Johnny Ramones, who strike downward on their guitars, never once moving their wrists upward for thirty years, absolutely positive that finally, one day, one of those strokes will lead to a gold recordâ??only to have fate, so insulted that a mere mortal would attempt to thwart the natural order of things, strike them down with cancer or something similarly tragic for refusing his lot in life. Mikey Erg is clearly bedfellows with these great men.
Simply by looking at Erg, you can tell that he was either born a drummer or worked himself into the perfect mold of one. His body is small and limber. His arms and legs are sinewy, but not burdened by massive muscle. He might not have the sheer strength of Keith Moon or John Bonham, but because his carriage carries so little but has such strong pistons, he can crack down on the skins with enough momentum to make it seem like there's a gorilla sitting thereâ??but with the dexterity and speed of a surgeon. He's Robo with a sensitive side. He's Topper Headon without the coke habit. He's Rat Scabies without the badditude.
"Pop-punk is my base. I love pop-punk," Erg announces from the bench. "It is definitely the music that I gravitate towards especially when writing. That's the music that I always fall into, but it's not all that I'm into. I made the Fucifier record because I wanted to make a hardcore album. I wanted to make that kind of music, too. I just wanted to show that I'm not only a pop-punk guy."
Erg clearly still has a reverence for pop-punk but in recent years, he's increasingly stretched his wings. Erg made a name for himself in the Ergs! who toured tirelessly from 2000 to 2008. Over the course of two LPs and countless singles, the band defined what modern pop-punk is and once they set the mold, countless band followed in their wake, ranging from merely taking inspiration to forming whole cover bands. Indeed, 2003's acclaimed Dorkrockcorkrod prominently featured the genre classic "Pray for Rain" which came to define The Ergs!, pop-punk and even Erg himself.
But in 2008, the Ergs! disbanded because some of the other members had grown tired of pop-punk. Erg, who had been the champion and main cheerleader behind the genre, expanded out into many different bands, playing music all across the punk map: He continued his pop-punk legacy by filling in for the Dopamines on drums and eventually joined the band for a spell as a second guitarist. He also played with The Measure (SA), who were more Midwestern gruff punk than the flightier stuff from the East Coast, despite being from Long Island, N.Y. He was a part of Psyched to Die, a harder, more muscular band that eschewed the lovey-doveyness of the Ergs! in favor of a darker outlook. Descending even further, he even toured and recorded an album with modern crust-punks Star Fucking Hipsters led by the infamous Scott Sturgeon, who has penned more than one song about killing cops and even more about doing heroin.
And now, with many smaller bands circled on his to-do list, Erg has set his sights on the empty drummer's seat in Against Me!. Or rather, he has had his eyes pulled towards the Against Me! drummer spot without first being asked. On March 11, 2013, an online petition appeared demanding that Against Me! hire Erg as their new drummer. The strange part of the petition was that Erg had no knowledge of its existence until it was launched. Following the campaign's launch, Punknews.org named Erg as its officially endorsed candidate for the Against Me! spot. With little warning, Erg went from being the drummer for numerous regional punk bands to being the leading candidate for Against Me!'s drummer, all without his doing. As of the time of this writing, the petition has over 800 signatures, showing that fans do indeed want Erg in the slot.
"I'm enjoying the ride," Erg says before pausing. A woman approaches him, holding out her baby like it's a sack of potatoes. She asks, "Are you Mikey Erg, the man running for the Against Me! position?" He confirms that he is and then dutifully kisses the baby on the cheek. Several news reporters suddenly appear from nowhere and snap the picture, a perfect press shot as well as fodder for the cover of national newspapers, no doubt.
"At first, I though that the petition was pretty funny," he says. "But, I sat there and said 'Let's see what the people are saying, what the comment section says.' It's all been pretty positive. I thought that it wouldn't go over a hundred people. Now it's almost up to 800. That was pretty cool."
The pairing of Erg and Against Me! might be surprising at first glance, but it makes sense. Like Erg, Against Me! have rapidly evolved despite making landmark monuments in their own genre. Against Me! started out in 1997 playing what could be referred to as "folk-punk." Their full length debut, 2002's Reinventing Axel Rose, is still cited by many as one of the greatest punk records of all time. A simple, but powerful combination of acoustic string pulling and wild, emotion-filled screams, the record expressed a reflective, angry rawness that punk hadn't seen in years.
But as soon as the band built a hearty base, they rapidly evolved into an equally reflective, but more aggressive punk band on 2003's As the Eternal Cowboy. With the divisive New Wave record in 2007, the band manifested as a straight-up punk band with new wave tendencies. Now, they are currently working on their most ambitious release to date, a concept record titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, no doubt influenced by the changes frontwoman and principal songwriter Laura Jane Grace is enduring.
Perhaps due to their ambitious nature, Against Me! have faced roadblocks in their evolution. When they first signed to Fat Wreck Chords in 2003, the tires of their tour bus were slashed. When they signed to Sire Records (home of Ramones), they were labeled sell outs by many, as if that term meant anything in the post-Napster age. But really, the attacks on the band's label choices were just proxies for something else. A small, but vocal, contingent weren't assaulting the band's distribution choices; Rather, they were saying, "Your music is changing and I don't understand what is happening."
By contrast, Erg's eyes light up when discussing Against Me!'s unprecedented evolution. "I'm pretty sure that I learned of Against Me! [when] a friend of mine played their first acoustic EP. I heard [it] and I loved it. Then on Fat Wreck Chords, somehow I got more into them. The Eternal Cowboy really sold me on them, and then, my favorite records are New Wave and White Crosses. I just love the songs on those two records. New Wave, especially. It just blew me away when it came out."
Erg is quick to point out that the band's evolution mirrors his own desire to spread his musical chops, in lieu of being painted into one small, poppy corner. "I listen to so much stuff. I like playing stuff that isn't just the typical punk rock. It's boring to play one specific sound all the time. As much pop-punk as I listen to, I take a lot from everything."
Of course, with rapid change often comes conflict. Though Against Me! have increased their evolution, there have been multiple casualties along the way. In the past four years the band have parted ways with three different drummers, almost mimicking the famous running gag from Spinal Tap: Warren Oakes, who drummed AM! for almost ten years, was asked to leave the band in 2009. George Rebelo left the band after a year to rejoin Hot Water Music. Jay Weinbergâ??son of famed E Street drummer Max Weinbergâ??replaced Rebelo and was received enthusiastically by the fans, but left the band in December under unclear circumstances. It was assumed by many that when the band toured Australia with Rocket From The Crypt's Atom Willard that he was there to stay, but after the tour ended, it was revealed that Willard was just a fill-in. Then, quite surprisingly, the band canceled a tour with Bad Religion a few scant weeks before the two-month long run was set to start, issuing the statement that they were without a proper drummer and wanted to focus on completing their new album.
Although a lesser drummer would fear stepping into such a volatile spot, Erg seems to have little reservation. Perhaps because he has been in so many bands, he understands the nature of the beast more than those who have been in one or two acts and have suddenly faced the pressure of being full-time rockers. "A lot of things go into bands. You have to find the right fit," he says. "Certain people just don'tt get along with other people for whatever reason. Being in a band is like having four spouses. I don't know the drummers in Against Me! but for myself, it's worth trying to see if it works. If I'm playing music, I'm usually happy."
Perhaps Erg's confidence is buttressed by the fact that he performed a similar feat once before. In 2011, the ever volatile Star Fucking Hipsters needed a new drummer, having completely collapsed two previous, nonconsecutive times. Erg was brought in as the band's backbone, and surprisingly, the band which had shattered so many times before, became more or less stable. More surprisingly Erg, often seen as a beacon of youthful positivity, seemed to get along swimmingly with SFH mastermind Scott Sturgeon, who had many, many troubles with bandmates in the past.
"I had a blast," Erg reflects on his time with SFH. "There's a lot of stuff going on with Scott. I found him to be really cool. He's a great dude that gets a bad wrap."
Sturgeon is as divisive a character as the punk scene has ever known, but between his self-destructive imagery, urging for better economic systems, persistent drug use and battle for equal rights, there is a certain messy genius within (or messy cleverness, if you are a particularly ardent detractor). Which is why Erg might just be the perfect man to take the Against Me! drummer spot.
While in SFH, Erg covered "Media Person" by Rudimentary Peni. That band is led by Nick Blinko, who is literally institutionalized, is as much a madman as a genius, and has lyrics that frequently address concepts of mortality and the futility of life.
Then, but a short time later, Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace was featured in a peppy episode of MTV's House of Style. Not twenty seconds in, Grace flips through her record collection revealing not one, but two records by Rudimentary Peni. The appearance of those dark, distressed and anguished records is in stark contrast to the lightheartedness and smiles strewn throughout the episode. Those records are on screen for a total of six-tenths of second, but their impression is interminable. Certainly, their placement isn't coincidental. Could it be that Grace is saying that "Sometimes I am happy. Right now, I exude joy. But, I, too, have drunk from the dark chalice of Nick Blinko. I know pain."
Compare this to Erg's vocals from that cover of "Media Person." He screams, "Green to feel blue / Is your vision purely golden?/ Is your humor black or olden? / Do you find that you're getting yellow / Though you know you're in the red dread / Red dread! Red dread! Red dread! Red dread! Red dread!" It could be that Erg is just what Against Me! needs. A positive light that knows the depths of reality. A man that walk among the lost without becoming one of them.
Still, despite his sunny nature, Erg does have a terribly black mark on his record that may threaten his campaign. In April 2011, Erg was arrested for drinking in public. He wound up doing eight full hours of hard time. Though he technically wasn't convicted of anything, he did have to pay a fine by mail. Will such a dark past affect Erg's chances?
"No," he says assertively. "I hope that wouldn't affect me. That was a long time ago. I was a totally different person then."
Erg pauses. Next to him on the bench is a box of Chicken McNuggets. Although Erg was once known for being a fast food junkie, his tastes have matured and he finds himself eating more like a healthy adult. Still, politics are hard and as any candidate knows, before the final ballot falls, you have no true friends. Campaign managers will only tell you what you want to hear. The opposition will only tell you want you don't want to hear. Even your family will alter their perception if only to appease or hide from you. Thus, during the campaign, the golden crispiness of a McNugget is Erg's only true constantâ??his only true friend.
"It's hard to talk about yourself in a positive light," he says, referring to the rigors of the campaign. "I like to think that I'm a fairly confident, good time keeper. I really liked Warren's style. He had a certain style and I like to think that I do too. I have a certain self taught style."
Suddenly, he pauses to allow himself the vision of actually taking the coveted seat of drummer in Against Me! He sits there, transfixed, while his arms begin to pantomime their actions behind a kit. "If I got the position," he says, "I would listen to the songs a few thousand times and make sure I had them down so we could just get on the road." Much like the ancient Romans and Greeks mentioned early, the cold, steely determination in Erg's voice makes "a few thousand times" seem like a task no bigger to him then picking up the sticks themselves.