Why it took 8 years for MSI’s Jimmy Urine and Serj Tankian to drop an LP
As the ringleader for electro-punk avatars Mindless Self Indulgence, Jimmy Urine shook things up. His twitching, stuttering programming style raised his band’s notoriety in the planet’s electronic-rock scenes. But even the most groundbreaking artists get tired of being ahead of the curve. Which is why Urine (aka James Euringer) and his wife, Chantal Claret (ex-Morningwood), traded Los Angeles for Wellington, New Zealand three years ago.
In that space, Urine has been keeping busy. In addition to supplying scores and songs for various companies, he’s become the father of twin girls. And after almost 10 years, Fuktronic, his project with System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian, finally got out into the world through a fairly circuitous route. Yet, fans are still wondering when Mindless Self Indulgence will ever reconvene. Indeed, Urine loves them. But not that much.
Urine spoke with Alternative Press about a life without wildfires and mask-deniers. He filled us in on how convoluted Fuktronic got before it saw the light of day. Despite being a key figure in today’s glitch-pop scene and his band’s growing reputation, he has no reason to go back to the Way Things Used To Be. Because really, they don’t exist.
You’re on the other side of the world, but your phone comes up as Los Angeles.
I know, right? I’m an ex-pat, but my phone is still a pat.
How long have you been down there in New Zealand?
I've been coming down here since about 2014. And I've been down here—like not back in the U.S.—for about three years. It's great. It's really funky, Wellington in particular. And the rest of it is just like Middle Earth. Beautiful. Everybody's great. We're very, very lucky to be in a country with a woman prime minister. [Jacinda Ardern] is the bomb.
How is the COVID-19 situation there?
Good. It did pop back up a little bit in Auckland. But part of it is we don't have 300 million people. We have about five or six million people. And they also really follow rules here, and they crack down on what's going on. Like, this bar’s closed down and this park, you can do stuff, but don't do this. And everybody listens. And nobody's like, “You can’t have my information,” so they can trace everything really pretty well. It's not perfect, but it's way better than what's going on in the bigger countries where everything's just chaos.
So you four are never coming back.
We got out when things were fantastic in America. We had a Black president, and it looked like we were going to have a woman president. And we were like, “We're going to try something new.” And everyone's like, “Oh, you're crazy.” And like, holy shit, we didn’t just miss one bullet. We missed, like, 10 bullets! So we're super-happy about being here. Plus, it's a beautiful, wonderful place. Even if the world was an amazing, progressive place, this place would still be very wonderful.
Your buddy Serj Tankian has citizenship there.
Yeah, he introduced me to New Zealand. He's been down here for a while, and he was like, “Hey, you’ve got to come down and check it out.” [Chantal and I] had a summer that we were just floating around. And we were like, “You know what, let's go. What the fuck? We'll do it. And then we'll settle down in L.A. after we're done.” And we came here, and we're like, “Wait a minute, scratch that…” [Laughs.]
So you’re not coming back!
No, no! [Laughs.] Give me a good reason to come back!
Well, you had a band while you were here. Or is that how Mindless Self Indulgence work? Like whenever everybody wants to do something, they'll do something.
Yeah. But also think about it. What is next for anybody? With COVID, it's just shut everything down. I'm not trying to be a negative guy, but I'm a realist. Everybody [is] being like, “Oh, it'll be over in 2021. Just reschedule everything.” I'm like, “No, motherfuckers.” This shit is here. I think, personally, it's here for a long, long time. People are thinking about it like it's the flu, and it's going to come and it's going to go.
I heard a doctor say [this], and I think it's very smart. Think about it like the AIDS virus. We still live with that shit. That is still a thing. People are living under it. There are new drugs that will help you with HIV. I mean, I like that. [COVID-19] might be around for a long, long, long, long time, you know? I think people should look to the gay community as to how they handled that plague. [Learn] their knowledge of how they dealt with it when no one was helping them and how they persevered. That's going to be where you're going to get a lot of your answers for COVID in the future.
That's the dark take. But everybody wants it all. “We're just gonna go back to normal, and we're going to go back to a movie theater. We're all going to be back on the road.” I think it's going to be a long, long haul. And you’ve got to think outside the box. I like Travis Scott doing a concert in Fortnite—that's forward thinking. I feel bad for smaller bands that really just got obliterated by this. Especially metal bands where their whole world is the road. Metal got hit so hard. I feel so bad for metal bands because the road is where they live. That is where they make the bread, and they survive on the road. It's sad because metal has so many great bands. That's their livelihood. Mindless were in that same area.
Are Mindless Self Indulgence fans true believers? Like they’ll still be clamoring for the band to reconvene?
I think if you go away, you become more like Obi-Wan Kenobi, and you're more popular. It's like MSI are more popular now that I'm dead than when I was alive, you know? [Laughs.] It's just the way it is. It's really, really odd. I notice that with other bands and people, too. You take a break, and people are like, “Oh, shit, where are they?” Those songs have lasted pretty well, and it allows people to come back to them again and again.
A lot of people sound like MSI now, which I find very interesting. Especially that we were 20 years ahead of our time. Now in 2020, people are just automatically, instantaneously drawn to stuff like that. And I think that's fucking cool.
So what’s Jimmy Urine doing to pay for that McMansion in Wellington?
Oh, I wish I had a McMansion. I love when people get that all wrong. No, I got it. If I had millions of dollars, I wouldn't be talking to anyone. [Laughs.] I like to get involved in lots of different projects, and I like a lot of culture underground stuff. I tend to gravitate toward it being a movie or doing a soundtrack or doing stuff for a TV show. Luckily, it's always been stuff that just pays enough to pay my rent. And also it's very cool stuff. I haven't had a million-dollar gig that I hate yet. [Laughs.]
Fuktronic, the project you did with Serj, didn’t come out with much fanfare. Wasn’t the idea to make a fake British gangster movie?
It happened a long time ago, actually. Serj is a really great guy, and he's also so talented and into everything. He's either doing a jazz record, [and] then he's making an opera or he’s out saving the world somewhere. He's got a million projects on the table. One day he just came to me. I think it was sometime around 2011. He said, “I wanna make an electronic record together. I'll do half the tracks, you do half, and I’ll put it out.”
When I was working on my tracks, I started sampling movies. What I really liked about old soundtracks from the ’80s was that they would have dialogue from the movies in between the tracks. At the time, Serj was on a kick of watching U.K. gangster films on Netflix, like Snatch and The Long Good Friday. But we can't sample those movies because that will cost us a million dollars. So I started writing these wacky scripts within a gangster film. There’s a car chase, and there’s a bank robbery. [There are] these fucked-up people, and there’s a Russian guy. And so I started writing random scenes, you know, a big scene from a fake gangster film.
And then we were like, “Great, let's hire some people [and] get some friends to come in and voice them.” It was really reverse engineering because we started with the soundtrack. Then we have this almost radio-play version of these songs.
So we were like, “OK, we'll just release it.” But then we were like, “Maybe it can be something more than just a record,” so it was going to be maybe a comic book. Then we were talking to people, and it was going to be a motion comic that was going to be a video game or an augmented-reality thing. Every time, something would happen. A company would go out of business that was making the video game. Somewhere around four years ago, an animation company called ShadowMachine had gotten in touch with Serj about the project. They make BoJack Horseman and a bunch of other really cool animation that you've probably seen. They wanted to make a little teaser and try to get this made into a cartoon. And we were like, “OK, so let's do that.” Then we spent the last four years doing that. And you shopped it around. People pass on it for various reasons, whether it was “We have an animation project already” or “We have an English gangster film already.”
Then we were just like, “Fuck it, let's just put the damn thing out already.” It's been like almost 10 years. Like, we've been talking about this week. So we had our little teaser trailer, and we have our artwork. So we got all the art, and we made some nice vinyl, and we literally like, “OK, finally we're dropping Fuktronic. And then what happened the next month? Fuckin’ COVID. So it came out piecemeal on Record Store Day.
That’s an adventure. So what are you currently working on?
A few projects I can't talk about because when you do deal with either Hollywood or TV or video games, you sign NDAs, and you've got to wait. “This is going to be animated. It’ll take two years,” that kind of stuff. So you're gonna have to sit on shit. There was actually a bunch of stuff I was going to hopefully be able to talk about around this time, but again, COVID delayed a lot of projects. But I've already done four different documentaries and video games and stuff.
Any new Jimmy Urine records to follow up your previous solo rec?
When I do soundtrack work after about three or four years, I make a compilation record. I released an album called The Secret Cinematic Sounds Of Jimmy Urine. It was a lot of different electronic styles, some of it sounded very John Carpenter, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream-style stuff. I'm going to do another Cinematic Sounds record. I'm definitely working with New Zealand artists. I got this amazing New Zealand artist who's done concept work for WETA. I've got other guys who are arranging real strings. There's so many artists and people here that are very talented and very cool.
So there’s that. And raising two girls and trying to make them lawyers. But people keep sending them musical instrument toys, and they're playing a little piano and singing into a little microphone. They’re really good at it. But I want them to be lawyers. You could be an entertainment lawyer, but be a lawyer!
Jimmy Urine is the world’s best dad. And he's preparing for his retirement.
I never knew how much touring life would prepare me for being a dad. You never know what time it is. You never know where you are. You're grabbing anything you can to eat at any moment. And you have a little audience that’s always throwing shit at you. It’s the same as an MSI show but with less cursing.