Bongzilla are the smoke-fuelled stoner band you have to see live

Bongzilla are the smoke-fuelled stoner band you have to see live

Words by Ellen Rosie

We chat to the US outfit before their huge Australian tour.

Bongzilla, hailing from Madison, Wisconsin in the States, have been together for 24 years and will perform Down Under for the very first time this May. Made up of Mike “Muleboy” Makela on guitar and vocals, Jeff “Spanky” Schultz on guitar, Cooter “Black Bong” Brown on bass and Mike “Magma” Henry on drums, the band have wanted to come to Australia for a long time, but the closest they had gotten was Japan. As they prepare for their landmark foray to Australia, Mike Makela says it’s rare these days that the band goes to a place that they’ve never been before.

The band has been preparing a show of old and new songs including a number of fan favourites from albums Gateway and Apogee, released back in 2002 and 2000 respectively. “We’re actually going to do a lot of new stuff, there’s three new songs and then a reworking of an old song,” Makela explains. “There’s a song called ‘Free The Weed’, ‘Space Rock’ and then ‘Earth Flower’. Then we have a new version of a song that used to be called ‘Smoke’ and it’s called ‘Smoked’ now, so we’ll be playing that which is new.”

In recent times the band has been busy touring, but they are working on releasing new material. The name of their upcoming album is set to be Weedsconsin, a play on the name of their home state, something Makela says the band has always called it.

“We’re like three-quarters of the way through the record, I mean we’re so close to being done but we kinda want another song, like a ripper. The material sounds to me like Gateway meets Apogee, it’s really riffy but it’s slower than [what] we were playing previously.”

Bongzilla are also recording Black Sabbath’s ‘Snowblind’ for a Volume 4 compilation being made by a producer in New York. The record features different bands covering songs from the acclaimed heavy rockers’ fourth studio album.

The album has been a slow burn due to some of the bandmembers living quite a distance away and Makela says that the best time to write songs is when they’re practising. Magma will start a beat on drums, somebody will play a riff and then minutes later they have a whole song.

“Three of the songs we’ve had for almost two years at this point, because we’ve just been touring so much and just doing shit that gets in the way – we’ll just get ready for a tour or get ready for a show and not really practice.”

As they steadily prepare Weedsconsin, Makela says the band are also about to start their own record label and re-release their second album Apogee, with plans of releasing 2000 copies of the record.

Touring these days is different for the band than it used to be. When they first started, they’d have to save up to tour and shared turns rotating drivers as they drove between locations. Touring in Australia will be different than touring the US because they’ll be out of their van, instead flying between cities. “We’re driving a little bit but mostly flying, it seems like. I like it to be a surprise every morning. I don’t look at the itinerary these days; I used to, but now I don’t really care.”

Makela doesn’t think this will be the first and last time Bongzilla come to Australia, and hopes the band can come back soon. After their Australia and New Zealand tour is finished, the band will be going through the whole cycle again, and will finally find the time to complete their upcoming album.

Bongzilla come to The Bendigo Hotel on Thursday May 23 and Saturday May 25 (sold out). Head here for tickets.