INTERVIEW: Muck Sticky

Muck Sticky is your friend.

Muck Sticky is your friend.

I’ll be the first to admit I was not already familiar with the music of Muck Sticky before I was told he’d be co-headlining a tour with Afroman which would be stopping in Indianapolis. But there’s something about this Memphis native, who grew up steeped in the musical traditions of gospel, bluegrass and country, that just makes you want to shake his hand and thank him for being a really positive guy.

That’s what really shakes off the more you talk to him, that level of positivity he strives for. Which is a big part of why he fought so hard to make sure that tour would continue even without Afroman.

We don’t need to dwell on those negatives — just bear in mind that, in the week following the “Because I Got High” singer’s sudden media-encouraged retirement, Muck Sticky was responsible for re-focusing the tour to raise money to prevent domestic violence, donating proceeds to the Julian Center here in Indianapolis. It made me want to dig deeper into his music to hear what it was that has made so many of his listeners into committed fans, that positive message that all it really takes to make change for the better in society is to be yourself and be that counterbalancing force for good.

So I reached out, and the result was a revealing conversation with a man I am fully convinced loves everything about what he does. And if you come out to hear him perform with a slew of local artists on March 19th at the 5th Quarter Lounge, I suspect you’ll be converted as well. In a free-wheeling interview, he had a great deal to say about his own personal inspiration, the songs he feels define him as an artist, and why negativity has no place in the full Muck Sticky experience.

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For all the people who keep saying albums are dead, you’ve successfully self-released 14 of them over the last 10 years. So what keeps you inspired as a songwriter?

It’s just what I’m supposed to do, man! I just don’t know what else … it’s like the voice inside of me says to keep doing it. We all have voices inside of us and some listen to the right ones and others don’t. The voice inside of me has just always said ‘continue making music and put it out there for people to listen to.’ We’re fortunate because we have decent distribution, but I just love making music. It makes me feel good, it’s what I love to do in life. I wouldn’t know what else to do.

You grew up in a big musical family. Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?

Actually I didn’t. I started out in a very … how should I put this? I was led down a road to be more business and educational-oriented. I was encouraged to do something other than music, because music isn’t always the most fruitful thing in life. It’s very tough to make a living at. And all of my musical family, although some were very successful, other musical members of my family weren’t very successful and had to work at other things. They just did music on the side.

So they encouraged me to pursue something that was probably going to turn out to be more financially suitable for life. So I went to college to study psychology for four years, and when I got done with that I decided I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and listen to people bombard me with their problems all day long. So I decided to take what I’d learned of psychology, as well as from growing up in Memphis hanging out on the streets and listening to gangsta rap albums, being part of the crazy wild world, and I wanted to be a positive influence. I think it’s just worked perfectly, things have gone just the right way for me to brew this pot of stew I’ve got going here.

And I feel very confident it’ll live on way after I’m gone, for people to listen to and feel good, to help their lives be a little bit better while partying, having a good time and enjoying life. I grew up in a world a lot of other people grew up in, where you were told if you did any worldly things you were gonna be miserable and burn, and just be in torture and have a terrible life. I just couldn’t buy into that, you know? I felt you should be able to enjoy life, enjoy it while you’re alive and not after you’re gone.

It kind of goes back to “Free To Be Me.” You’ve spent all these years doing this on your own. Has that given you room to just be yourself?

Yeah, it’s my own world! I create the rules in the music, the videos, and how that world gets presented. I’m able to live my own lifestyle, the way I totally choose to. It’s like Frank Sinatra said, I do it my way. I’m gonna be able to say I did it my way when I get to the end. There are a lot of people who told me to do it another way and I didn’t listen to that. I chose to do it my own way and even though it’s been ten years of not having a record deal, and for the first four years I had to work other jobs before I was able to make enough money off music, we still make money off CD sales! We sell a ton of CDs at shows. I know people talk about how music sales are dead, but I’ve sold 15,000 CDs in the last year, shipping directly from here at my house. For people to say those sales don’t exist, I don’t know …

They’re just not working hard enough?

They’re just not trying. I make $10 a CD, and I autograph every single one of them as they go out too. We do everything personally. We handle all the packaging, ship out all the shirts, and I also sign posters and we send stickers and wristbands, extra things just to make sure people know they’re getting more than what they paid for. And the end result is that people feel good from the music, no matter how far it goes.

Every CD or anything that goes out, that’s one person who’s going to have more of a positive experience here in life. Then maybe they’ll share it with another person. To me that’s how you make change in the world. You don’t do it in one single moment with one single group of people and all of a sudden the world is enlightened and everyone’s living happily, hunky-dory ever after. That’s not gonna happen. But you can change the individual experience for certain people.

My personal experience has been changed by music that inspired me. So hopefully with the music I’m making does the exact same thing.

Right, let’s talk about your songs. You’ve recorded a lot of CDs but do you prefer to work the songs out in the studio, or to tweak things out in front of a crowd?

It goes both ways, I enjoy both equally. I enjoy being in my own private world where there’s nobody watching and I’m able to be free and experiment, I don’t have to think about anything. Though at the end of the day I wouldn’t care if people were watching anyway, but I do like the freedom of being by myself. Then, I also enjoy the social gathering of a live show. That’s an amazing feeling, an amazing experience to have people out there singing along to the songs you wrote while you were by yourself.

When you’re writing all these songs, how do you know when you’ve struck gold?

I’d say at this point I’ve definitely got a good rhythm, a good groove, but there is no formula, method or pattern to the songs, because if I did that then it would end up being all the same. I just like to let it happen as it should. I’ve been inspired by a lot of other music, styles of music, so I try to take things that I feel from each genre and incorporate it into my own thing. And I’ve got certain instruments and things that I know make my own unique sort of sound, but there are no limits except for the rule I have that it all has to be positive.

I have written a few sad songs back in the day, love songs and things like that, a few things that weren’t positive or upbeat. But it didn’t work for me, it’s not something I feel is true to who I am. I feel I’ve gotten free from all that negativity in my life and any time it comes my way I’m able to let it pass through me pretty easily. I try not to hold onto any negativity, and therefore when I’m making music the only things I feel okay with coming out are positive. I want to inspire and perpetuate positivity rather than negativity. If I get to have this platform for making and performing music, I’m not going to say or do anything that has a negative impact on someone else.

If you could pick one of your songs to define what Muck Sticky is about, would you be able to settle on one?

Oh good gracious no! They’re like my kids, it would be like saying which one of your kids represents you the most or which one you love the most. I can’t do that because I feel differently about each one. Now having said that, I could give you a handful that give you a better idea — go listen to these five songs and this’ll give you a good summary of what Muck Sticky’s all about.

The first one would be “Feel So Good” because that has my mom in it and the video has my buddy Little Hollywood and my sister in it. Another one would be “Let’s Go To Work” because I’m a very motivated, driven kind of person and I really dug deep for that song right there.

You’d have to be to put out album after album after album.

You have to just search your soul, it never gets old to me. I never find myself writing the same thing. Even though there are some things, you can only say so much about smoking pot, sex and whatever, you can twist it only so many ways. You’re still talking about the same thing, so I’ve found myself exploring newer categories.

Another representative song would be “Ovulating Ostritch,” because of what we were just talking about. I try to free-flow sometimes, and think things that only make sense to me, they don’t make sense to anyone else. And they will not, unless you make your own thing that it makes sense in its own way to you. Then I’d probably add “Party On” because it has a lot of different things about who I am, how I am. And then maybe number five would be “One Day At A Time.” That rounds out the category.

If you had to pick one of the songs about your “personal member,” do you have a favorite off those?

About people in the group?

No, like among the songs about sex and your penis. You’ve written several that stand out, including “Thingy Thing” and “Popscicle.” And I’ve probably only skimmed the surface.

Oh yeah, we’ve got hundreds of songs. But “Popscicle” is a really good one! Schnickelfritz is probably one of my top two or three favorite albums. They’re all their own individual things, of course. I’ve read that people who create art may always be able to show we’ve developed personal taste, but what we create doesn’t necessarily live up to our tastes because of our ability to fully express who we are and how we are. I think in these later albums I’ve figured out what I do really well and who I am. I’m able to fully be me. That’s not saying that when I first got started I was anything less, but back then I was actively trying to push boundaries as far as I could push them. I wanted to make people go ‘Oh my gosh!’ These days I’m still able to do that, but I think we live in a society where language isn’t quite such a taboo thing as it was when I was getting started. Saying provocative stuff wasn’t necessarily as commonplace as it can be today.

As far as a favorite song about sex, “Popscicle” is a really good one, I would certainly get behind that. “Bad Girl” is a good one. “Thingy Thing” was kind of done in more of a comedic funny fashion, just to be silly. I’m not really sure how that song went so viral.

It’s the angle it takes. Every guy dreams of the day he’ll walk into a party and a women will just fall all over herself to be with him.

Yeah, you walk in and the first hot chick walks around, dissing all the other dudes and comes straight up to you, pulls you straight back to the bedroom. And that has happened to me numerous times, so there was true inspiration behind it. But the way I word things, horny as a unicorn, things like that, were just done to try and figure out all the funny ways you could talk about private parts without actually saying the words.

Is there a song you wish you’d written?

Oh wow. There’s lots of ’em! I could go back to the Beatles, but I’d have had to be born first. Beck is my favorite artist of all time, and has been since I first heard his first single on the radio back in ’94. When “Loser” came out there was a radio station here and I remember Diana G, the DJ, introducing it as it had just come out. I immediately went and found everything I could by him. I went to the local off-beat record store and got Stereopathic Soulmanure and One Foot In The Grave, the albums that came out before Mellow Gold.

And he’s actually the one that made me feel that I could make music. Because growing up, of course, my family made music but I never went into the studio or anything like that. We’d sit around campfires and at holiday parties where we’d play guitar and banjo. But as far as recording music, I always had the notion that it cost you $250 an hour to go into a studio and record a song. It took me a week to make $250 working odds and ends manual labor jobs.

I figured I could never go into a studio, it’d take more than an hour to make a song, for one, and when you’re first getting started in music you don’t really realize how things work so it’d probably take even longer. I’d listened to music all my life, but the business end wasn’t really part of my wheelhouse. The business part had been taken care of by my great-grandparents who had passed away before I came around. For my father and grandparents on that side, music was just a hobby. My dad was a construction worker, my grandfather was a college professor.

And I know I get way off subject, but back to your original question: ‘Is there a song I wish I’d written?’ The reason I gave you all that back-story is because my songs that I’ve created would have probably had better “musicality” if I’d had better ability to record, but hearing that Beck had made his first few albums the way he did, it inspired me. If you go back to listen to those albums now, he’s a completely different artist than the one that won Album of the Year.

But now he’s also shown you that you could someday win Album of the Year too!

Exactly. My original recordings weren’t as great as they could have been, but if there were songs I could have recorded first, “Corvette Bummer” is probably my favorite song by him. It was on the “Loser” Import single, a real off-beat song. And I’ve actually got the audio worked up and recorded, but I haven’t recorded vocals yet. I’m gonna be releasing a whole bunch of cover songs. I’ve never released cover songs because I’ve always been confused about the legalities of it. I’ve never been able to contact a favorite artist, much less the record labels.

And there are complications when it comes to selling cover songs, particularly if you transform the original song in any way. You have to get with the copyright holder and work things out. Weird Al can’t just go parody anybody’s songs. He has to have permission directly from them to say ‘yes, you can do this and release it, we’re cool.’ A lot of the songs I’ve already recorded have verses where I’ve inserted rap and restructured the song. I don’t do them just exactly the way they are because I want my own creativity to be involved. I don’t want to just re-do somebody’s song, to be a singer re-singing someone else’s song.

I’ve got a couple dozen cover songs I’ve never released that will be coming out here very soon. So to answer that question, there are several of them I wish I’d written. And they’ll be happening soon.

What do you wish someone would ask you but they never do?

Well, considering you’ve heard me talking for a little bit, you know how crazy off-course I can get, so usually people don’t have to ask me things to get stuff out of me that I want to get out in an interview. I’m very opinionated and say what I want to say. But I guess the one question I get asked more than anything, and I understand people’s reasons for asking, is how’d I get the name? I’ve had to tell that story a gazillion times. It’s probably not easily accessible unless you’ve gone back and read an interview. I don’t have it posted on my website or anything. So I understand people are interested.

It comes from a couple of things. Beck’s one of ’em. I’ll answer a question you might have had on your list, but Beck is one of my favorite artists. And when I was writing the first song I ever wrote as a solo artist, I was working in a heavy metal cover band. When I got out of college and figured I wasn’t going to be a psychologist, me and some friends, prior to being in the metal band, had been recording silly songs on our karaoke machine kind of the way Beck did his own four-track recordings. I’d heard Beck made his first two albums on a four-track recorder, and then I realized I didn’t have to pay $250 an hour for recording! I could go buy a machine for $1,000 and record my own!

And even before that we’d figured out we could take karaoke machines and just do tapes. So we would take old rap songs like “Whoomp! There It Is!” and some Dr. Dre songs that had instrumentals on the flip-side, and we would make up our own rap songs to it and record our own songs off the karaoke machine. So then I got in the heavy metal cover band and did that for about six months and then I was sitting at a friend’s house one day, picking on the acoustic guitar. I’d grown up on country music, gospel and bluegrass — my grandparents were gospel singers, my grandfather recorded a bunch of songs at Sun Studios with Johnny Cash and Elvis, Charlie Rich and guys like that. So I’m picking at my acoustic guitar and just thought wouldn’t it be funny to put rap lyrics to this?

So I came up with my own comedic white-boy rap lyrics and made that first solo song called “Homie,” and realized in that moment I was supposed to make songs that were funny and corny, silly, goofy, whatever. And since Beck was my favorite artist, I said I was just gonna call myself Muck. I was gonna be a one-named artist called Muck. And because I was a big fan of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, and he used to say that all the time: ‘mucking around,’ ‘out here in the muck.’ And then I heard the word “sticky” in a Snoop Dogg song when I was driving home from a friend’s house, and once I heard that word it just stuck. I was a big pot smoker and still am a big pot smoker, so Muck Sticky just fit together. ‘Dude, that’s my name right there!’ So here we are 15 years later.

It’s funny, because the more of your videos I watch, the more I keep thinking you should be acting, maybe in something like a sequel to Half Baked or something.

Thank you! A lot of people tell me that I should be an actor, and I plan on pursuing more of that. I’m spending time in Los Angeles these days. I actually wrote and directed my own short film, and it’s not a comedy at all. It’s more like a horror movie about a crazy inbred family that lives on the outskirts of town, that kidnaps and abducts girls to try and keep their family genes going. I play a guy whose girlfriend got kidnapped by the family, and he goes to rescue her. My mom and I wrote and directed the movie and filmed it ourselves, our own indie low-budget sort of thing. We’ve never released it but there is a trailer out there, it’s called Muscadine Wine: The Strength of a Family. So you can go watch the trailer. I’ve done a little bit of acting, and hope to do more, but a sequel to Half Baked would be a great idea. If Dave Chappelle’s down for it, I totally am!

People in Indianapolis are looking forward to your show. And I think it is interesting that they’ve re-branded it to help raise money to fight against domestic violence. But I’ve noticed you’ve had a hard time getting fans to understand that you may disagree with the Afroman situation but, as it applies to your career, you have to go on and live your life. I wondered, does it bother you that people expect you to apologize for or condemn someone for something you didn’t even do?

You know, that’s a very very good question. Props to you on that. That is a crazy thing that we have such guilt by association going on. Even considering the fact that the tour was booked before the event happened, regardless of how everything transpired, I do understand the need for people to respond to things in certain ways. I don’t want to get off on a tangent and comment on that specific situation, but to answer your question I do understand people’s need to hear my point of view on it and how I feel about it.

Do I want to be part of something that is related to something that is so bad and terrible? Absolutely not! I want to be as far away from it as possible. Do I understand that there are lots of complicated things that go into the whole thing? Absolutely! Do I understand people need to hear from me that I don’t condone violence and that I have founded my entire career on the opposite of that very thing? Obviously. Am I glad that I am able to continue on the tour on my own? Yes! Because I still want the fans to be able to come to a show, to have a good time at an event they were looking forward to, and have that positive experience!

You come to see Muck Sticky play and that other stuff has nothing to do with me. My show is all about positivity and having a good time, walking away at the end of the night feeling inspired to go make the world a better place. I think we should make the best out of a bad situation. What people should be doing right now, period, regardless, is to not make it worse.


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