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Interview with Micah P Hinson

by Emma R. Garwood

16/11/18

Interview with Micah P Hinson

Micah P Hinson lived an entire life before he was even legally allowed to drink. Six years ago I wrote a piece about this boy’s journey into manhood, his substance abuse, homelessness and love of the wrong woman I felt so callous, writing about Micah’s worst of times without actually asking the man himself. Today I get to speak to him on the phone, and I make him a promise; no more press-agenda editing. You talk, and I will listen. To try and abridge Micah’s story is like saying Hansel & Gretel is a story about two kids that get diabetes. We spoke for an hour, and here’s the first two full chapters. It starts with some recent business; a crash in 2011, that would add another notch on Micah’s list of life-defining moments.

THE CRASH

One day we were just driving down the road and my back hurt really bad because of a previous thing – I don’t have a disc in my back – so I took a bunch of drugs, lay down, didn’t put my seatbelt on, and basically that saved my life. Next thing, I felt the car kinda shake violently. I didn’t open my eyes fully, but I could see a bit of light coming in. I remember seeing the ceiling of the car, then the seat again, then the ceiling and thinking, ‘fuck, this isn’t natural.’

Next thing you know, I was halfway outside of the window and the van had spun one and a half times off the road. I got trapped through the window and my shoulders were touching in front of me. I was completely upside down and my legs were free. This van was sitting on top of me, and gas was coming out; I had gasoline blowing into my face, I mean, it was the closest thing I’ve ever been to war in my whole life. Not that I know what it’s like, but that’s how I imagine; like one minute everything’s OK, then the next, everything’s fucking not OK. If I’d had my seatbelt on, I woulda been crushed, so thank God I wasn’t following any laws.

The rest of my band couldn’t find me; I could hear them speaking English, but I know they weren’t, because they’re Spaniards; they’re not gonna start speaking English in an emergency just because some asshole in your group speaks that language, so some psychic shit was obviously going down. So when my drummer found out where I was, like a dumb, kind person he began to try and push the van off of me. He was holding on to the exhaust pipes and so he badly burnt his hands.

When the emergency crew got to us, they were looking at us as if we were fucking dead people. They said they’d seen less heavy accidents with more people die. So yeah, after that they took me to a hospital, gave me an x-ray and I had no broken bones, but my left arm wouldn’t work at all, and my right arm worked about 28%, maybe less. No broken bones, which was like, ‘what the fuck?’ I was bent like an accordion! They gave me an MRI, but they couldn’t see anything wrong with me, so I spoke to a physician I have back here in Oklahoma and he was like, “if you can move the tips of your fingers” - I mean really Kill Bill that shit – “and you can do that in the morning, get the fuck out of there.”

It was interesting, having been in American hospitals and then in a hospital of another country, it’s such a different thing; one is not better than the other, but when you’re freaked out, and not surrounded by the ones that you love, then you kind of want to be with the familiar, you know. So I discharged myself the next day, and they were really fucking mad, but I went to a hospital in Texas when I got home. I didn’t want to, but my parents totally tricked me into it. They gave me an arm brace – I didn’t even get an arm brace in Spain; I even had grass still stuck to my arm – so they cleaned me up and that was it.

In Spain, they wanted to keep me in the hospital for, like, two months, but here they were like, ‘oh, here’s a better sling, now go see your doctor!’ From there, I had to have these really like medieval tests; they took these huge, long needles and they put them all inside my body and I had to flex. They made this distortion sound, like on a speaker, then when I was calm, they’d be silent. That was hell, but we found where the damage had been done.

Nerves only grow about an inch a month, so there was damage at my shoulder, and then at my elbow, so it had to go all the way down to my finger, then back up. My hand shed like a snake, like all the skin died and stuff - it was fucking gross. And yeah, the doctor said he could work it out mathematically and he was like, “after two years, we’ll know where you’ll be for the rest of your life. At this point, we can’t make anything better with nerves.”

That was like seven or eight months ago now, and my arms still feel like they’re made out of sandpaper. Anything it touches, like my shirt, it hurts. I’m getting better at playing the guitar now, but at first it was like, ‘OK, I need to play a G’, and it’d play like a fuckin’ D-minor, or something. Between my brain and my hand, it wasn’t making that connection.

THE ROAD TOWARDS ‘MICAH P HINSON AND THE NOTHING’

After the accident I definitely thought, ‘I’m gonna retire, I’m gonna be finished and that’s OK.’ ‘…the Pioneer’ was the last record I had, and from ‘…the Gospel’ all the way up to ‘…the Pioneer’, I think I’d captured the sound, and I’d gotten better at the sound. I’d got it to where I wanted it, you know, and of course you want it to go further, or go to a different place, but I was OK with it. I thought I would go back to school, you know; I’m a Chickasaw so if I keep up my good grades, I go to school for free.

So there were all these avenues I could have gone down, but if you listen to the album, there’s all these songs like ‘The Same Old Shit’, I mean hell, a lot of the record – ‘…Just a Dream’, I wrote that song when I was like, eighteen. Some of these songs I’ve had around for a long time; the newest one was ‘God is Good’, and that was written like six months before the accident. But yeah, these were all songs that had never fit; I’d recorded them before, I’d messed around with them and tried to fit them on previous records and they just never seemed to work. I’m a firm believer in that songs make themselves, and then records in turn make themselves. They can get along, they can be patient with themselves, or they can just fucking hate each other, so you have to be aware of how they get along, and how they react to themselves.

There were all these tunes that I had, and I’d been playing for years and I wasn’t happy with where they were all going, but it seemed like they should all go together, this bunch of misfits. Why not – if I’m gonna start over with a new sound, or go a different way, why not just take these. So I took them over to the studio, I fucking hated them, like REALLY fucking hated them and then after the accident, it was like, ‘well, I could get better’. Like I said, I played with a string section – got to do the Frank Sinatra bit for a while – and I thought, ‘maybe I can do this.’

I started working with my staple, T. Nicholas Phelps and my string players that played with me when I was fucking hurt.  I got in touch with Band of Buriers, who were with me a couple of tours ago, and who will be with me on this one, and we just started working. So there’s actually like a first version of ‘…the Nothing’ that I did, and I turned it into the label that I was on at the time, and they said – and I quote – “none of these songs, or this record, are commercially viable.” 

They told me that here on the streets of Austin, when we were there for SXSW and I remember looking at them and thinking, ‘I’ve been playing some of these songs, like I’ve seen people mouth the words to ‘The Same Old Shit’, like people know ‘…Abeline’. They sing, they clap, they’ve watched them on the internet, and stuff.’

So to me, I felt like these were completely viable songs, but who cares? I’ve been going at this thing for, like, ten years professionally without making new fans; I’m fine with who I have. They’re the ones I try and make happy, so if they hear those songs, they’ll be like, ‘oh, I finally have ‘There’s Only One Name’, and ‘…L. J. Nichols’, I’ve heard him play every time I’ve seen him. To me, that’s viable. It’s more than commercially viable, it’s personally viable. For these people, it’s a bit like finding some treasure, and that’s definitely the way I see it.

STEPPING OFF THE TREADMILLYou know, when they took four years between The Cure albums, or Smashing Pumpkins or whatever, how did that make me feel? So there was this thing in the back of my head like it’s been too long since I’ve done something. So yeah, if this record had gone exactly like I’d have wanted it to, it would have been completely different and it would have been released right after my accident. But they didn’t like it, although Sean, at my new label, he fucking loved it. He loved it so much man, he thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. 

When I was not making music, I was reading a lot about Phil Spector, Brian Wilson and The Wrecking Crew. Have you ever heard of the Wrecking Crew? Do you know what this phenomenon is? It started in the late ‘50s with people like Carol Kay – she’s this really famous electric bass player – but there’s all these guys like the guy who played the guitar part in ‘Pet Sounds’, actually wrote and played the ‘Bonanza’ theme tune. So basically you have this band called The Wrecking Crew, and they were the American record labels’ secret, in the sense that every Byrds song that you hear from back in the day, that’s the lead singer singing and The Wrecking Crew playing. When you listen to ‘Pet Sounds’, that’s The Wrecking Crew playing and the Beach Boys singing. When you hear any of Phil Spector’s work, that’s The Wrecking Crew playing. That’s why it’s weird to think, ‘holy shit, I love all these bands so much and of course I do, because they’re all the same fucking people!’

A lot of them were tried and tested jazz musicians, like when you listen to ‘Pet Sounds’, you think of them being all these young guys making this amazing stuff, but these are people who are like your fucking grandparents’ age. That just blows my mind, so with that, I’ve just been studying a lot of stuff and this idea of, like, ‘let’s go back’. People invented stereo just so we could go back to capturing what people did in mono. These songs, none of them ended up in mono but the piece of it that actually worked was where I pushed it to the point of that style, like where they would turn a Righteous Brothers record from mono into stereo, or The Beatles; the drums are all on one side, the bass is on that side as well, the guitars are all on one side, so it’s very separated, you know? Not all of them worked like that, but songs like ‘Love, Wait for Me’, that worked perfectly.

Also the sound quality of this record – even though I wanted it to be quite a large sound and stuff, at times I think it’s kinda lo-fi; there’s a lot of tape noise, ‘cause we were using tape, or reel-to-reel. I kinda thought that some people might not particularly like that because I’ve listened to the new Beck record and it sounds like it’s come out of a fuckin’ diamond mine, you know, which is great – I mean it’s a great record and Beck is a genius, I mean, I don’t hold him as high as other geniuses, but the fact that he’s just been able to recreate himself so much, I kinda got to put those people in the genius category. I don’t own a Prince record, but I can call him a genius.

So I’m glad people kind of accepted the record, because I didn’t know what they were gonna think. With this new record, I found out how some journalists felt about ‘…the Pioneer Saboteurs’, which at the time I thought was a complete failure, but reading some of the reviews and listening to some people, it seems anything but that in people’s minds. Music is a strange game.

This is the second time I’ve stepped away from music for a bit; with the accident, clearly this is the longest time, but me and my wife – before we were husband and wife – we had some issues. I wasn’t that good of a person, wasn’t making the right decisions, so I cancelled tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of shows; I cancelled Glastonbury and I’ll probably never be asked again! I mean, who says to Glastonbury, ‘oh, I can’t make it’! But my family was more important than music and I would never have played music again if that’s what it needed to take… but that’s on another train of thought.

Taking the break was weird, because for example, I was recently at SXSW and me and my wife – she’d learnt to play drums in six sessions. In six hours the broad learnt to play drums! I don’t understand where she comes from! She’s like a fucking alien, or from the jungle or something, I don’t know. She could probably kill a lion if you told her, ‘hey, you probably shouldn’t do that.’ So we’d wake up, rehearse, go out – maybe see part of a show, come back and take a rest, rehearse, have dinner, rehearse, play the show and then maybe go out. You do that for five days, unless you’re out on tour and then you do it for two months and then you stop and you look at your clock and it’s six and you feel like, ‘oh, I should be sound-checking. Oh, it’s 7:30, where’s the free meal? Oh, it’s the end of the night – where’s my pay?!’ You get in the habit of this, so that when everything stops, you kinda feel useless. I think using that idea of tour depression that you get when it ends and you expect things to be happening, that’s like a small part of what it was like after the accident.

It’s a very romantic idea, and I’m not talking smoochie, smoochie, but the full romantic notion; it’s like somebody who was really learned, well read and really respected as a scholar, or writer. I felt like I was wasting my life away, just reading all these books, because nowadays we’re taught to do 20 things in a day to still be worthless. I ask my grandma whether it’s more convenient now, or whether it was better back then when she had a dirt floor on Indian land. She says, “I don’t know how to answer that, but I do know that back then, if I’d have gone down to the creek to do laundry, then that was a productive day.” That told me so much, because we do live in a world where it’s ‘go, go, do, do…’ So to convince myself that it was OK to sit down and just read and study and listen to records – because it is a part of what I do. You do get better at what you do; if you’re a drinker and you drink all the time, you’re gonna be a great fucking drinker. So I was trying to stay in the game, at least with my mind and I think if I hadn’t done that, it might have just ended, I might have just retired with it. I don’t think the record would have sounded the way it does, ‘cause I’m really fucking proud of the record. I know we probably shouldn’t say that in this world, but it turned out alright.

Emma R. Garwood

Micah P Hinson plays the Norwich Arts Centre on April 22nd. For tickets, go to www.norwichartscentre.co.uk. To read the rest of Micah’s fascinating story, head to Outlineonline.co.uk for the remaining chapters.

Micah P Hinson lived an entire life before he was even legally allowed to drink. Six years ago I wrote a piece about this boy's journey into manhood, his substance abuse, homelessness and love of the wrong women. I felt so callous, writing about Micah's worst times without actually asking the man himself. Today I get to speak to him on the phone, and I can make him a promise; no more press-agenda editing. You talk, and I will listen. To try and abridge Micah's story is like saying Hansel and Gretel is a story about two kids that get diabetes.

Micah, as an independent magazine, we really do appreciate your time today.

Oh, of course. Thanks for the interest in talking to me. The reason I have a – quote, unquote – career in music is because people are interested in me, and interested in listening to my music. It’s not anything that I fucking did, so I’m glad when people want to come out and ask me questions and watch me play my guitar. You guys are the ones that impress me, not the other way.  It’s strange though; I thought that four years later, with this world’s attention span and how long it’s been since my last record, I thought people would forget about me. It’s not the same as the days of, like, The Cure, when you could wait four or five years between records. And it’s not like the old days when you had to release five full-length albums in a year, and shit.

I’m astounded that it was six years ago, in 2008 that you were last here. Time rolls on so fast nowadays. A lot has happened in that time with you, hasn’t it?

Yes, a LOT has happened in that time. It’s weird, and you’re exactly right – me and my wife talk about this a lot, about when you were a kid and a year of school is like forever. A summer seemed like a long time, but now you get older, you go to bed at night and a month fucking passes. I’ve been over to England since then, but yeah, not to Norwich. One of the last tours was quite difficult, ‘cause it was when my arm wasn’t working too well, so I was using a string section.

I wanted to ask about your health, Micah. How are you now? Fully recovered?

No, no, no, I’m not fully recovered and I’ll never be, regretfully. And this isn’t like a hound-dog eyes, like people should feel sorry for me, but one day we were just driving down the road and my back hurt really bad because of a previous thing – I don’t have a disc in my back – so I took a bunch of drugs, lay down, didn’t put my seatbelt on, and basically that saved my life. Next thing, I felt the car kinda shake violently. I didn’t open my eyes fully, but I could see a bit of light coming in. I remember seeing the ceiling of the car, then the seat again, then the ceiling and thinking, ‘fuck, this isn’t natural.’

Next thing you know, I was halfway outside of the window and the van had spun one and a half times off the road. I got trapped through the window and my shoulders were touching in front of me. I was completely upside down and my legs were free. This van was sitting on top of me, and gas was coming out; I had gasoline blowing into my face, I mean, it was the closest thing I’ve ever been to war in my whole life. Not that I know what it’s like, but that’s how I imagine, like one minute everything’s OK, then the next, everything’s fucking not OK. If I’d had my seatbelt on, I woulda been crushed, so thank God I wasn’t following any laws.

The rest of my band couldn’t find me; I could hear them speaking English, but I know they weren’t, because they’re Spaniards; they’re not gonna start speaking English in an emergency just because some asshole in your group speaks that language, so some psychic shit was obviously going down. So when my drummer found out where I was, like a dumb, kind person he began to try and push the van off of me. He was holding on to the exhaust pipes and so he badly burnt his hands.

When the emergency crew got to us, they were looking at us as if we were fucking dead people. They said they’d seen less heavy accidents with more people die. So yeah, after that they took me to a hospital, gave me an x-ray and I had no broken bones, but my left arm wouldn’t work at all, and my right arm worked about 28%, maybe less. No broken bones, which was like, ‘what the fuck?’ I was bent like an accordion! They gave me an MRI, but they couldn’t see anything wrong with me, so I spoke to a physician I have back here in Oklahoma and he was like, “if you can move the tips of your fingers” - I mean really Kill Bill that shit – “and you can do that in the morning, get the fuck out of there.”

It was interesting, having been in American hospitals and then in a hospital of another country, it’s such a different thing; one is not better than the other, but when you’re freaked out, and not surrounded by the ones that you love, then you kind of want to be with the familiar, you know. So I discharged myself the next day, and they were really fucking mad, but I went to a hospital in Texas when I got home – I didn’t want to, but my parents totally tricked me into it. They gave me an arm brace – I didn’t even get an arm brace in Spain; I even had grass still stuck to my arm – so they cleaned me up and that was it.

In Spain, they wanted to keep me in the hospital for, like, two months, but here they were like, ‘oh, here’s a better sling, now go see your doctor!’ From there, I had to have these really like medieval tests, like they took these huge, long needles and they put them all inside my body and I had to flex. They made this distortion sound, like on a speaker, then when I was calm, they’d be silent. That was really like hell, but we found where the damage had been done.

Nerves only grow about an inch a month, so there was damage at my shoulder, and then at my elbow, so it had to go all the way down to my finger, then back up. My hand shed like a snake, like all the skin died and stuff, it was fucking gross. And yeah, so the doctor said he could work it out mathematically and he was like, “after two years, we’ll know where you’ll be for the rest of your life. At this point, we can’t make anything better with nerves.”

That was like seven or eight months ago now, and my arms still feel like they’re made out of sandpaper. Anything it touches, like my shirt, it hurts. I’m getting better at playing the guitar now, but at first it was like, ‘OK, I need to play a G’, and it’d play like a fuckin’ D-minor, or something. Between my brain and my hand, it wasn’t making that connection.

But there was never a moment where you were like, ‘I’m gonna have to knock the music on the head for a bit’?

Oh yeah, oh yeah, definitely; after the accident I definitely thought, ‘I’m gonna retire, I’m gonna be finished and that’s OK.’ ‘…the Pioneer’ was the last record I had, and from ‘…the Gospel’ all the way up to ‘…the Pioneer’, I think I’d captured the sound, and I’d gotten better at the sound. I’d got it to where I wanted it, you know, and of course you want it to go further, or go to a different place, but I was OK with it. I thought I would go back to school, you know; I’m a Chickasaw so if I keep up my good grades, I go to school for free.

So there were all these avenues I could have gone down, but if you listen to the album, there’s all these songs like ‘The Same Old Shit’, I mean hell, a lot of the record – ‘…Just a Dream’, I wrote that song when I was like, eighteen. Some of these songs I’ve had around for a long time; the newest one was ‘God is Good’, and that was written like six months before the accident. But yeah, these were all songs that had never fit; I’d recorded them before, I’d messed around with them and tried to fit them on previous records and they just never seemed to work. I’m a firm believer in that songs make themselves, and then records in turn make themselves. They can get along, they can be patient with themselves, or they can just fucking hate each other, so you have to be aware of how they get along, and how they react to themselves.

There were all these tunes that I had, and I’d been playing for years and I wasn’t happy with where they were all going, but it seemed like they should all go together, this bunch of misfits. Why not – if I’m gonna start over with a new sound, or go a different way, why not just take these. So I took them over to the studio, I fucking hated them, like REALLY fucking hated them and then after the accident, it was like, ‘well, I could get better’. Like I said, I played with a string section – got to do the Frank Sinatra bit for a while – and I thought, ‘maybe I can do this.’

I started working with my staple, T. Nicholas Phelps and my string players that played with me when I was fucking hurt.  I got in touch with Band of Buriers, who were with me a couple of tours ago, and who will be with me on this one, and we just started working. So there’s actually like a first version of ‘…the Nothing’ that I did, and I turned it into the label that I was on at the time, and they said – and I quote – “none of these songs, or this record are commercially viable.”

Which label was that? Full Time Hobby?

Yeah, Full Time Hobby was the label I was on. They told me that here on the streets of Austin, when we were there for SXSW and I remember looking at them and thinking, ‘I’ve been playing some of these songs, like I’ve seen people mouth the words to ‘The Same Old Shit’, like people know ‘…Abeline’. They sing, they clap, they’ve watched them on the internet, and stuff.’

So to me, I felt like these were completely viable songs, but who cares? I’ve been going at this thing for, like, ten years professionally without making new fans; I’m fine with who I have. They’re the ones I try and make happy, so if they hear those songs, they’ll be like, ‘oh, I finally have ‘There’s Only One Name’, and ‘…L. J. Nichols’, I’ve heard him play every time I’ve seen him. To me, that’s viable. It’s more than commercially viable, it’s personally viable. For these people, it’s a bit like finding some treasure, and that’s definitely the way I see it.

You know, when they took four years between The Cure albums, or Smashing Pumpkins or whatever, how did that make me feel? So there was this thing in the back of my head like it’s been too long since I’ve done something. So yeah, if this record had gone exactly like I’d have wanted it to, it would have been completely different and it would have been released right after my accident. But they didn’t like it, although Sean, at my new label, he fucking loved it. He loved it so much man, he thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He was just really in love with it, then I got invited to go to Spain and that’s when I got all these musicians together to work on it. 

A lot of the record was actually made all at once, so it’s very much a live record. In this day and age, and with a lot of my old records, you put down the drums,  then you put down the guitar, then the bass... You build this song, but this time I actually got to ask people what they thought would sound good, and we got to work with people on the arrangement.

That was really rad, because when I was not making music, I was reading a lot about Phil Spector, Brian Wilson and the Wrecking Crew.

Micah P Hinson And The NothingMicah P Hinson2014Interview