Q’s With Mojo Nixon: Now More Than Ever

Mojo Nixon
Jason Davis / Getty Images / SiriusXM – Mojo Nixon
Music City Mayhem: SiriusXM host Mojo Nixon introduces his Music City Mayhem at Robert’s Western World in Nashville in Sept. 2018.

Hey, I’m a troublemaker,” SiriusXM Outlaw Country Loon in the Afternoon and once upon a time cowpunk instigator Mojo Nixon practically barks. “I’m here to stir the pot! 

Anarchy! Hijinks! Trouble! It’s what I do.”
From the time the hellbilly renegade emerged from a raging ‘80s DIY San Diego scene anchored by Country Dick and the Beat Farmers, the self-proclaimed “free born man” pressed buttons and created chaos everywhere he went. 
Loathed or loved, with first his own Don Quixote-type Sancho Panza partner-in-crime Skid Roper and then his shredding roots band the Toad Liquors, the hyped-up, yapping roots quasi-rapper skewered all that were in his path. From his breakout “Stuffin’ Martha’s Muffin,” an ode to MTV’s then-Gidget Martha Quinn, he romped through “Don Henley Must Die,” “Burn Down The Malls,” “Bring Me The Head of David Geffen,” “I Saw Jesus at McDonald’s at Midnight,” “Destroy All Lawyers,” “Ain’t Gonna Piss In No Jar,” the faith-affirming “Elvis Is Everywhere” and the Winona Ryder-driven video that busted his frenetic promo-filming relationship with MTV “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant (with My Two-Headed Luv Child).” A loudmouth of the highest order, Neill Kirby McMillan, Jr. tapped into the frustrated adolescent male zeitgeist as punk’s second wave found the horizon. 
The Pogues, Dash Rip Rock, Dead Kennedys, Replacements, Georgia Satellites and X were all peers, and no less than Beck (“Piss On The Door”), Todd Snider (“Vinyl Records”), the Dick Nixons (“MTV”), Dead Milkmen (“Punk Rock Girl”) and Paranoid Style (“Turptitude”) have name-checked the tongue-twisting tornado in song.
Though he backed into retirement near the turn of the century – “be careful the jokes you make” – he mostly held that line. Short bursts of live sightings happened – for Kinky Friedman’s 2004 Lone Star gubernatorial run, a few dates for 2009’s collection of rarities, a short run dubbed the “Get the Piano Player Laid Tour,” following keyboard player WetDawg’s divorce – but they were trifles. Almost two decades later, the man who took on – and skewered – Pat Buchanan on his own CNN show, who recorded a hard country album with Jello Biafra and a live from Vegas lounge extravaganza with Dave Alvin and “Country Dick” Montana called The Pleasure Barons returns.
With the free-for-all documentary “Mojo Manifesto,” chronicling the frenzy of DIY punk in the ‘80s, Nixon’s smarter-than-we-knew perspective and farflung musical journeys, he’s gone legit. 

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before South By Southwest became the first major music-gathering casualty of COVID-19.

You’ve had quite a checkered career with South By. 
I gave the second South By invocation. It was the late ’80s, when music was wild – and everywhere.
Twenty-five years ago, me and Jello put out a country record. We played Liberty Lunch, and people were outside the club crying because they couldn’t get in. But then, it turned into this corporate thing. When we started doing the free, no-badges show, which seemed like a very Woody Guthrie thing to do, they were like, “Oh, no, Mojo!” And so, you know, they’re not gonna tell me what to do. 
So this is ongoing.
[laughs] A bunch of years ago, for one of the anniversaries, Peter Blackstock asked a bunch of people to write something about South By over the years for this booklet the Austin American Statesman was doing. Mine was all about (legendary Memphis producer) Jim Dickinson, drugs, me, Corky (then Statesman critic Michael Corcoran), craziness. 
Somehow mine got left out.
And yet this year…
I know. A “sanctioned showcase”! A movie premiere. Red carpets, famous people. Hey, I still believe in the spirit of what South By Southwest was. I’m hoping to get signed by a big label … preferably with a sense of humor. 
We’re doing the premiere at the big movie theater, which is crazy. I’d love to see this film get picked up for distribution or one of those streaming deals all the kids are talking about. Get “Mojo Manifesto” to the world!
It showed you as so much more of a social commentator than people realized. When you were mocking McDonald’s, or the malls, or fame, it was – oddly – prescient.
Being a hillbilly, it’s easier to play really dumb, to act the fool and then just say what’s on your mind. There was a lot more going on with me than yelling. I saw myself as an agent of social commentary in a popular form in the long arc of Walt Whitman, Woody Guthrie, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks … They were all shocking in their moment, crazy in what they said, but crazy like a fox. I wanted to speak truth, tear back the veil of mendacity and give people a peek at hypocrisy in a way they’d see it.
Which is crazy. Raging, snorting, shrieking about being “young, drunk and horny.” 


The movie’s about me, but it’s also about rock ‘n’ roll, what it is and how it exists. We tapped into the essence: sex, drugs, hormones, frustration, being out of your mind and not giving a… 
And your bass player Earl Freedom did this?
Who knew? He shot all the interviews five years ago, had all the remnants and pieces in boxes. He couldn’t seem to finish. Then, I guess, he Googled “How do you edit a movie.” And here it is.
People don’t realize how hard you worked, both as a duo and later with the band.
There were only three places to play in San Diego, so we played them all the time. I’m not that good a singer or a guitar player, but I know how to grab people and entertain ’em. Whether bullshit, sheer will or controversy, I’m gonna get you. Early on, we played some lawyer’s picnic, and it took a while. But we got ’em up and screaming along. Thing is: everybody wants to cut loose and throw down – and they all have stuff they think is bullshit, but they’re afraid to say anything. I’m that inner voice, those naughty demons, that throbbing party monster dying to come out. But I knew it was about getting out there and playing. Country Dick took us out with the Beat Farmers, a lot of times the venue didn’t even know we were coming … We’d go anywhere, play with anyone.
It was definitely jacked up.
Country Dick and Shane (McGowan) showed me your public persona could eat you alive, but the pace we were working at? There was lots of speed in San Diego, and I’m addicted to Mountain Dew. I was on a train in Europe, literally had a psychotic break because I couldn’t get any Mountain Dew.
During the height of the Mojo hysteria you toured everywhere. Europe, Canada, Australia. 
People came to see the monkey show, hear the B.S. I said between the songs. But when we played, it was wild and entertaining. Crazy stuff. You know, it’s that Jerry Reed/Ray Stevens/Coasters thing: all capable of being funny, but if you listen, there’s more going on.
But the velocity of the actual touring…
In 1987, we did 362 shows. Things were happening. “Elvis Is Everywhere” was literally everywhere. The calls kept coming in, and we wanted to stoke the fire. The secret of my success is simple: “Say YES.”
And now…
We’re like a bunch of guys who’ve been married. We’ve been in the van together, we’ve been in the foxhole. When we started talking, remembering all the crazy stuff, we laugh. So, we figured, “If there’s ever a time to go out and play, this is it.”
Is there “a plan”?
We don’t have an agent. We haven’t toured in 15, 20 years in any real way. ‘Can you sell a hundred tickets at $20? 200 or 300 at $35?’ No idea. Look, the reality is: “He’s old, fat and gray, but he’s still a funny motherfucker.”  A lot of people spent a lot of their misspent youth with us. A lot of people got laid and babies got made out behind the dumpster at the club because of us; they got drunk, threw up, threw down. If this documentary connects, we’ve got a reason to go … and whole new generations of insurgence to sow.
And your radio show…
Shows! There’s the Loon in the Afternoon on Outlaw and Manifest Destiny on NASCAR Radio. I did a political show, but (SiriusXM) being a big multi-national corporation and all…
So, how will this whole touring thing work?
It takes so little equipment now, I can just do my daily show from wherever. We’re only talking about three-week runs, maybe, with three shows over the weekend each time … Stack a few of those up, and honestly, make ’em part of the Outlaw Country show. The cities, the clubs, the crazies? That’s good stuff to talk about in the moment … So the tour’ll just be more of what I do. If there’s one thing about the Toad Liquors and me, and you saw it on the Outlaw Cruise, we’re serious. 
We set up to play, and we’re gonna do it! It’s intense, it’s loud, it’s crowd participation. Like a punk rock call ’n’ response church meeting, only with WetDawg playing high velocity piano, those drums just pounding like tomorrow’s hangover and Earl Freedom keeping it moving on bass. It’s like a nitro-fueled funny car. It doesn’t last long, but man, does it burn! We’re not gonna do three hours, but it’ll be the most fun 60-75 minutes you’re gonna find. And we’re trying to come up with a couple surprises to bring back what happened even harder.