A sincere chat about childhood and misunderstood Juggalism with the mysterious silent member of Insane Clown Posse.
The Insane Clown Posse have released a new video for the single “It’s All Over” from their last full-length Bang Pow Boom, and I'm somehow lucky enough to be on Psychopathic Records’ PR list. The video features an appearance of ICP's producer, Mike E. Clark, who makes all their music and gets name-checked on all the records. Despite most Juggalos and Juggalettes knowing his name, Mike E. is as elusive as a leprechaun. For a long time I had no idea what he looked like or what his working relationship with the group was. When I managed to land an interview with Mr. Clark, the other ICP fans I know were pretty surprised and impressed.
I’ve been a fan of ICP since the late 90s. They aren’t the best rappers or the best-looking guys and they know it. Despite their obvious shortcomings, ICP still manages to come up with awesome records that are incredibly catchy and funny—largely because of Mike’s eclectic production. No one can make unpredictable hip-hop beats that can jump from spooky carnival organs to garage rock guitars and back again like Mike.
Needless to say, getting to talk to Mike E. Clark is a pretty big deal for me. I hope all true Juggalos dig this. MMFCL.
VICE: You've been the secret third member of ICP from early on. How has your relationship with them changed?
Mike E. Clark: I would say it gets better with age. We continue to grow as friends, as family, and as business partners. We get along very well and have a great deal of respect for each other. I love the fact that Shaggy, J, and I can be brutally honest with each other and it’s cool.
When you think about Shaggy and J, do you see them as Joe Bruce and Joe Utsler or as their psychopathic clown alter egos?
Interesting question. I see them as both, I guess.
Do you have a favorite ICP project that you’ve worked on?
It is usually the project that I’m working on currently that I feel most excited about. We just finished the Mighty Death Pop. That was a great experience and we killed it! Now we're doing a cover album and it’s awesome. We’re having so much fun recreating some of the popular songs of our time with an ICP twist. I’m really looking forward to the release of these albums.
How do you feel about Juggalo-sploitation? It seems like most of the time people are making fun of Juggalo culture?
It brings me back to my days in grade school. I used to get made fun of a lot. I was not the popular kid. I was a bit of an outcast. I definitely grew a thick skin in the process of my childhood. So, I identify with the Juggalo culture. It seems like people make fun of everyone. Juggalos are just an easy target and people tend to make fun of what they don't understand and or are afraid of.
I was really annoyed when people got hung up on the line "Magnets, how the fuck do they work?" from the Bang Pow Boom single “Miracles.” Even with scientifically knowledgeable people, asking how magnets work is the beginning of a paragraph-long explanation. A while back VICE asked a bunch of random people on the street how magnets work and only one person knew.
The whole “Miracles” thing was crazy. It was just a song! Joe wrote that song through the eyes of his five-year-old son. To a five-year-old child simple things can be amazing. The point of the song was to look around and see that the world is an amazing place. So many of us take things for granted the older we get. It’s a good lesson to slow down and live in the moment. I find when we worry too much about "the future" or what we cannot control, we tend to get a bit anxious, uneasy, and make mistakes.
Would you call yourself a Juggalo?
I'm a pretty complex person. Juggalo would be one of my many facets. I’m proud to say I have been Juggalo since I was a kid, but there just wasn't a word for it back then.
To a lot of people being a Juggalo just means you're an ICP fan, but it's really a word that means "unashamed outcast." It's kind of like being a punk, but even less about trying to be cool or accepted.
Yes, exactly! Juggalos are so misunderstood. The FBI wants to lump us all into a gang and make something bad out of us. It is amazing what our government will waste our tax dollars on.
Do you ever go to The Gathering of the Juggalos? Do other Juggalos recognize you as a member of ICP?
I get recognized more since I started doing the live Murder Mix shows. And I get mad love at the Gatherings. It’s great to see people taking care of one another and getting along without the police. It’s an incredible lesson on society. I’m not saying everyone is perfect. There will always be a few bad apples but you can't judge a whole group of people based on the actions of a few. For the most part, we are all good people.
Your production work is so eclectic. What music are you listening to these days?
I haven’t listened to too much in the past year since I’ve been writing my own music. When I do listen to music, it’s usually the composition I’m working on. Listening to music is like a job. I like talk radio like Howard Stern. If anything, I’ll tune into Little Steven's Underground Garage. They play some cool shit.
Detroit, of course, is known for garage and psych rock. I’ve heard that J looked to Gong for inspiration on Bang Pow Boom. Who are you favorite groups in the garage, psych, and/or power pop genres?
There are so many. I am punk rocker at heart and it shows in my production. I love the energy of the garage bands of the early '60s and late '70s. The Ramones and early Rolling Stones are my absolute favorites. That’s what I grew up on.
When did you first realize that ICP were huge?
After the release of Ringmaster, we sold out a local club called The Ritz in Roseville, Michigan. That place was "huge" at the time. I knew we had something going. That was ‘94 or ‘95.
What was it like making the new video? Were you surprised by how it looked at the end?
We did it in front of a green screen so everyone performed by imagining what would go on in the background. When it's all done and created, it's pretty fascinating. It’s a long process from the time the performances are taped until the video is complete. There were a lot of changes. But I like how it turned out. It was definitely another learning experience for us all. I was glad to be a part of it.
Are there any Easter eggs or cameos in that video?
Yes, you can see Violent J's daughter Ruby crawling out of the orange detour barrel. I think his son JJ is somewhere in the video as well.
I told some people I was interviewing you and they were pretty surprised because they see you as a mysterious Boba Fett-like figure, lurking in the shadows. Were you aware that there is a contingent of people who are curious about you?
Not really. I guess I don't get out much. I keep my head buried in my studio and into my work. I don't do too many interviews.
Can you tell me about any musical directions you are interested in going on the next record?
I did all of the music programing and writing for The Mighty Death Pop. While in the studio creating the music, I really like to experiment, have fun, and not think shit over too much. I try to create a mood. The direction I took and take with all the ICP records that I have done is just to do what feels right and "fuck shit up." I don’t try to fit in to any format. I don’t worry about what’s hip and I don’t follow trends. When making an ICP record, I often ask myself "what would an Insane Clown do?" and "what kind of music would a crazy person make?" I’m not trying to be cool. Remember, I was the kid that got picked on. I’m just trying to piss off the cool kids. Fuck ‘em.
For serious. Thanks for talking to me!
Watch the new ICP video below and be on the look out for the upcoming Joker's Card, The Mighty Death Pop.