A Conversation With Mike Moen of Neutralboy

Neutral 1I moved to Bremerton in 1998, and I can honestly say that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of Neutralboy’s Mike “The Pike” Moen but it wasn’t until around 2009 when his side project SGFY came out on tour with my band Tumbledown that I really got to know him. I quickly came to realize that this man who is a powerful, spitting, shouting, gravelly-voiced, and often drunk presence on stage, is actually a somewhat soft-spoken, extremely intelligent man with more life experience in the last week than most of us will see in our entire lives. I had the pleasure of joining SGFY for a short stint back in 2011, and had a blast playing music with him. He is a prolific songwriter, and an amazing performer. I met up with him at PLOY studios this past week to have the following chat. Enjoy.

JP: What are some of your earliest memories/exposure to music growing up?

MM: There were always guitars around. I think I was playing guitar before I even knew… I was basically just imitating my grandfather… as far as just getting music, and understanding it. As far as listening to music, I definitely got into Kiss, The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, shit like that. My mom was into hard rock, my dad was more into country, which probably stems from my grandfather listening to country. He always listened to Roger Miller. Roger Miller was an early influence for sure. But yeah Kiss, like with any kid just changes your life (laughs), but also the Ramones, you know stuff that I could actually play without having to open a book and try to read music.

JP: So how old were you when you picked up the guitar?

MM: Before I can remember. Probably 3, 4, or 5. There was always a guitar in the corner of the room. I was raised by my grandparents, so my grandpa always had a guitar. He played a lot of slide guitar.

JP: Did you grow up around here?

MM: I grew up in Bremerton, yeah. Born at Harrison Hospital right over there. I’m sure growing up here contributed to my curiosity for playing music, what with dealing with 9 months of misery a year, you can’t help but find interest in something. Being raised by my grandparents- they didn’t have a huge upper hand on me, but there’s something about getting in trouble and having to answer to my grandparents as opposed to my parents who I would be more rebellious against… you don’t want your little old granny being bummed at you! They never questioned my desire to play, but my grandpa would give me shit about playing an electric guitar, because that just amplifies your mistakes. I packed up and left pretty early… I think it was ’85 when I did my first west coast tour.

JP: I don’t mean to date you, but how old were you then?

Neutral 3MM: (laughs) Are you setting me up?! I had to have been like 16, but I didn’t have a driver’s license. I was still in high school. I didn’t have to keep a certain GPA, but I had to keep my shit in order because I didn’t want to have to do summer school. I just wanted to travel with my friend’s band, Hester Pryne. That was the first band that took me out on tour, and they showed me that being a roadie isn’t just hanging out with your friends. You have certain responsibilities.

JP: It isn’t a party. Well, maybe a little…

MM: (laughs) Yeah, it still is. There were a few tours where I probably partied too much, and they didn’t have me back.

JP: So you were a roadie for Descendents and ALL as well…

MM: Yeah, mainly just ALL. With ALL they worked even harder than when they were Descendents… just non-stop touring. That was all I did for 4 years, which was really cool. I think that experience really instilled my love for being in music. To this day at 46… oh shit, there it is (laughs), I still love it. At 46 I should be questioning why the fuck I’m still doing this… but I don’t!

JP: What was the first band you actually played in?

MM: Toxic Slaughter with Eric Smith (Know Nothingz, Jesusfish, Gentlemen of Leisure, Die Electric). Touring with Hester Pryne and ALL is where I really learned how to have a functioning touring band. All of my first bands were with Eric… he taught me how to write songs. He had the Beatles thing, and I had the Black Flag thing… he was writing the poppy songs, I was writing the heavy songs, and that just meshed together somehow, even though it probably shouldn’t have.

JP: So after Toxic Slaughter where did you go from there? Give me a timeline…

Neutral 4MM: That was probably ’87, and then we started Anorexic Youth, and then The Lithium Kids, and by that time I left on tour with ALL. When I came back we started the Soberphobics. After that Mandy Reed (Hell’s Belles, Hafacat) got a hold of me… I had just gotten back from Europe with ALL, and had been hearing all these bands that sounded just like Fugazi, Husker Du, and Descendents, and I was pretty tired of all of that. I really just wanted to take a break and rest my ears, and my liver. Mandy and I were talking, and she was telling me about this band she had started with 3 other girls from high school. I asked where they practiced, and it was at Butch Haslip’s place where his bluegrass band Rural Delivery practiced. I asked what their name was, and she said “Cameltoe.” (laughs) So just from that I immediately wanted to come check out their practice! I had never sang, or played guitar in a band, and Mandy just handed me a guitar and a microphone and told me to make up whatever I wanted. They had a few songs already that were written by this girl Hazel (Devitt) who was the singer. She didn’t really like being in a band, or singing, so I eventually took her place. I had these lyric sheets with her words. When we started Neutralboy we kind of got thrown in to the “homo-core” scene at first, playing gay bars and stuff, because I was still singing these lyrics written by a girl! The other girls eventually left, but Mandy who was/still is a true rocker stayed, and we decided to start a new band, a punk band. That’s when we started Neutralboy in 1992. Mandy and I really pushed each other to be better musicians over the better part of 15 years. Then it got to be so crazy with her Hell’s Belles schedule, that she had to leave eventually. I don’t blame her one bit, because Hell’s Belles is awesome. If I could get up there with a bunch of girls and play AC/DC I wouldn’t play in Neutralboy either!

JP: So when did Hafacat figure in?

MM: Our drummer’s Mom had been diagnosed with cancer, so we wanted to give him some time away. We didn’t want to get another drummer, so Mandy (guitar) had a couple girlfriends that she had been jamming and writing songs with (Heather Moritz [Handlebar Mustangs, Trailer Park Tweed] on bass, Eileen Bogle on drums, and Renee Liana [The Big Bang] on lead vocals), so I just came in and kind of helped give them some structure. I’m sure they hated me because I didn’t care that it was the middle of summer… if we’re practicin’ we’re practicin!’ But because of that we had a fucking rockin band, you know. It got to the point where I just disappeared, because they didn’t really need me anymore. They were a great band.

JP: What are your biggest influences when it comes to songwriting/lyrics?

Neutral 2MM: They all come from other people. I don’t write songs, other people write them for me, you know? I’ll be hangin at the bar talking to a buddy, and he’ll say something funny, and I’ll be like, “Man I gotta write that down!” I’ve always written words first. For influences though, I guess I’m still there with Kiss and the Rolling Stones. Taj Mahal is actually a huge influence on me. Not in his style, but the way he defies traditional “rules” for his specific genre. He doesn’t follow the traditional laws of blues, but he is still a bluesman. I use that same school of thought with punk rock. Like it doesn’t always have to go 100 miles an hour, or talk about hating the government, or use cussing (even though sometimes it still does). Mike Herrera (MxPx, Tumbledown) is a big influence on me, just the way he has that pop thing… or like Jon Snodgrass (Drag The River, Armchair Martian) too. And Frank Zappa for sure. That’s where I got my love for orchestrating things more.

JP: That reminds me of your SGFY record…

MM: And I never put that record out!

JP: (laughs) You probably should though, because it’s really good!

MM: Yeah, I probably should. Totally different from Neutralboy. Scooter Haslip (Mos Generator) was one of the people that handed me an acoustic guitar, and told me to play my songs acoustic, and that’s where the SGFY thing started. I also did that record for my friend Megs who passed away, which is partially why I haven’t released it.

JP: I talked with Tony (Reed) last week, and he told me about this band with you, Tony, Art (Gillett) and Scott Reynolds (ALL)…

MM: Yeah, Goodbye Harry. When I was on tour with ALL, Scott and I would get in these conversations… he had these songs… and we ended up recording at Greg Ginn’s (Black Flag) studio, and he put the record out on SST. It’s called “Foodstamp Barbeque.” I wrote about half of the songs on that record, mostly about Bremerton. I think that was in ’94. Playing in that band definitely made me a better musician because of playing with badasses like Art, Tony, and Scott.

JP: Did that band ever go on tour?

MM: They did, but without me and Tony. He was already doing Twelve-Thirty Dreamtime pretty heavy, and I just always wanted to play in Neutralboy, and didn’t want to have to answer to a label.

JP: Give me a good tour story or two…

MM: It’s so hard after so many years… I almost died a few times. When I was doing Love Songs From The Hated (just Rebecca and I) and I don’t drive. So she had to do all the driving, and the fuel pump started going out right outside of Las Vegas, and it would stall. We never knew how long it was going to go, it could go 20 miles, it could go 100 miles, it could go 5 miles. We were going up over the hills getting ready to go into Vegas, and it died. We pulled over to what we thought was the shoulder, but it was actually a truck lane. One truck came around the corner just as I had reached over to turn on the hazards, and that truck saw the hazards and moved out of the way just in time with that air horn blaring, and right behind him was another big truck tailing him. She started the van and floored it so it went about 20 feet, and that second truck almost took our mirror off. We were so scared we didn’t even say anything for a couple of hours after. That definitely put a lot of things in perspective after that. I almost quit touring altogether. I’ll never forget that.

JP: Damn. Now THAT is a tour story. So what’s next for you and Neutralboy?

MM: We have a record coming out in the fall… I’m actually going to put that out!

JP: Finally!

MM: Yeah… we worked hard on it. When I came to Mike (Herrera) about it, that was one of the conversations we had… he said “hey dude you’ve got like 75 songs recorded here (Monkey Trench Studios), and you’ve never put a single one of them out, so if you’re going to do this you gotta put it out!” So I didn’t want to do a million-dollar record, but I also didn’t want to do a 20 dollar record… just somewhere in-between. We recorded it mostly live, which was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had recording.

JP: Who is the band on this record?

MM: Billman (bass), and Dirty Ray (drums). Oh and Mike (Herrera) is actually on lead guitar. We are in the final stages of getting that sent off right now.

JP: What’s the title?

MM: We All Come Here To Die. It was originally going to be called We Live In A Trailer Park In The Water, because I wrote the majority of it when I was living on a sailboat in Oakland. I didn’t have a guitar, or pencil and paper because I wanted to do the whole minimalist thing, so I wrote it all in my head. I was there for 2 1/2 months, and I wrote a bunch of songs, but only the best ones made it on the record. When I got home and picked up my guitar I knew how all the songs went already, which is pretty crazy. I’ve never done that before.

JP: That IS crazy!

MM: It was really fun. Now I want to do more like that! We’ll see what happens.

JP: Any big shows coming up?

MM: We’re opening for The Supersuckers this Friday, August 29th at The Garage in Bremerton. Then there is a big punk show the next day (8/30) at the Manette with us, Wyrdos, and a ton of other bands. Those will probably be our last Washington shows until December.

For more info on NEUTRALBOY! check out: www.reverbnation.com/artist/neutralboy

And on Facebook www.facebook.com/pages/neutralboy/230386542316

About Jack Parker

Over the span of his 20-year career, Jack Parker has taken his life-long journey through the peaks and valleys, and shaped a musical sound reminiscent of a timeless America. For years, Parker has been the ingenious six-string slinger interpreting other people’s songs from “stage-right” in bands like Tumbledown, and Rocky Point All-Stars, but more recently he has taken center-stage to write, sing, and play his own songs that have an air of rambling down the open road, but ultimately a longing for coming home. His first solo album "Homegrown" is available on iTunes, or at www.jackparkermusic.bandcamp.com. In his spare time Parker has written several articles, and tour blogs while on tour with various bands for Paste Magazine, Property Of Zack, and is now a featured writer for Northwest Music Scene. Follow Jack on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jackwparker (@jackwparker)