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Mike Ill offers a realistic look at what it takes to make it as a musician.

Antifolk Hero


As an artist, you can try to make people like what you do, you can try to do what people will like, or you can do what you do and find people who like it. — Mike Ill, "Antifolk Road Manual."

Mike Ill's voice crackles from a cell-phone as his girlfriend maneuvers her car through traffic in the couple's hometown of Hoboken, N.J.

You can hear the din of horns and frustration clearer than you can Ill, a musician, artist and Web designer, as he talks about his favorite job, promoting his solo punk blues show.

It's a job that keeps Ill busy, whether he's actually traveling from town to town around the country, sending out hundreds of e-mails to promote a tour, maintaining his Web site or trying to get distribution for his recently published book about life on the road, "Antifolk Road Manual."

Punks can't play and folk is for losers. It's what you do when you get old and have kids. Fact is, antifolk isn't a style of music as much as it's a scene.

Ill played bass in various bands throughout the 1990s, including Sweet Lizard Illtet, which released a self-titled album on Warner Brothers in 1992. "I couldn't afford to tour with a full band," he says, so he goes out on the road by himself.

Ill plays raw blues and early rock mixed with hip-hop and folk. He calls it punk blues, and aligns himself with other punk-influenced antifolk artists such as Billy Bragg and Ani DiFranco. On his recordings, he prefers "really simple production on a whole lot of songs." Some of them amount to one chord and a riff, played with a beat-up acoustic guitar plugged into an amp. He stamps his foot for a rhythm section.

Ill's been to Richmond three times this year, and will be back this Saturday night (July 29) at Hole in the Wall for a show with Tall, Dark and Lonesome and Pistol Pete and Popgun Paul.

There might be a seed in this book that will grow into something sung by an alien mother to her child a hundred and fifty years from now on the moon of Triton. So feel free to change the words, steal the riffs, cop the tunings.

"Antifolk Road Manual" is like a companion piece to the artist. It's full of anecdotes from the road, advice for other performers, song transcriptions, diary entries, poetry and photography. From the blurry line between friends and fans, to fast-food and drugs, to an extensive segment on how to hype yourself and get press, Ill offers a realistic look at what he does to make it.

… You could relinquish all things material. Word. And if that's your trip, bless you. …Otherwise, here's what I do for dough on the road. CDs are ten bucks and stickers are a donation, or nothin' if you're broke and really want one. (Publicity is good).

"Sometimes I feel like some bum with no money coming into town, expecting people to take care of me," Ill says over what sounds like a lot of slow-moving traffic. He's very blunt, on the phone and in his book, about money — not having it, getting it and what you should do with it. "Prosperity and material gain are worthy pursuits in this brief life," he says.

So why drive around the country alone, performing in bars and sleeping on strange floors? Sounds like a hard, scary and undesirable prospect. New York is a much closer drive for Ill.

Being out on the road is better, Ill says before a New Jersey tunnel ends the conversation, because "you move energy from place to place."

It's "a life that inspires you … and inspires people."