Fireworks Magazine Online 53 - Interview with Ugly Kid Joe

UGLY KID JOE


Who doesn’t remember ‘Everything About You?’, ‘Neighbor’ or ‘Cat’s In The Cradle’? The culprits of those great tunes were bad boys Ugly Kid Joe, who sadly parted ways in 1997. Now, 15 years on, the Californian rockers return with a new adrenaline-infused EP, ‘Stairway To Hell’, which comes out as an independent release since they no longer believe in labels. Just a few hours before their onstage comeback debut, and days before their appearance at Download and Sweden Rock, charismatic singer Whitfield Crane (opposite) sat with Monica Castedo Lopez on the stairs of the London Underworld to share his contagious excitement about the return of the band. And although guitarist Dave Fortman and drummer Shannon Larkin were unavailable for the tour, they are still official band members, together with Whit, guitarist Klaus Eichstadt and bassist Cordell Crockett.

So, Ugly Kid Joe, coming back after 15 years! Can you tell me why you actually decided to break up in the first place?

I don’t know. We did our last tour through Austria in December ’96, and then I went to India. I called Klaus from India and said he should come to Goa, where I was, because I had a Portuguese mansion and a bunch of adventurers with me. I said: ‘Dude, I’ve got motorcycles and this and that’. It was super fun; one of my greatest experiences. He had a totally different vocal tone (and I guess he’d been thinking about it for quite a while), and he said he didn’t want to do the band anymore. And that was that. I mean, we grew up together; Klaus and I were best friends from childhood. We were still friends, but the band was done. And that was that.

In all this time, you’ve actually been in quite a few bands.

Yes, Life Agony for a year, and then I did Medication with some guys I met at the Ozzfest in ’98, and then I did a band called Another Animal, which is all the guys in Godsmack plus the old guitarist from Godsmack, Lee Richards, and me, and of course Shannon was in Ugly Kid Joe.

And the other guys, one of them is a producer now.

Yeah, Dave Fortman has gone on to be one of the biggest producers in rock and roll: Slipknot, Evanescence, Down. We always knew what a genius he was and it’s nice to see him being acknowledged. We knew what he was a long time ago, as far as producing; he had that certain something.

Did he produce any of your albums?

No. He just produced this EP we’ve done, ‘Stairway to Hell’. Well, we produced it ourselves but he mixed it. It’s a big luxury now because we know a lot of people in the game. So, like Dave is just our friend, who we love, and is also our guitar player, but he’s also this incredible producer. So, imagine: you don’t have to call a manager, you don’t have to call a record company. You just say: ‘Hey man, we should do this’. Or vice versa. In this case he called us and said we should make a record. It’s all first person, what we’re doing; we don’t have a manager, we don’t have a label. We don’t want one, you know? We don’t need any of that. We have forged a relationship with this merch company, Atmosphere; they’re awesome. We’re making art with them, first person. There’s nobody in between, whereas years ago we maybe needed some in-between people, like a manager or a handler. And that’s cool, that’s understandable, but we don’t need that anymore. And I tell you, being present for such things is cool.

I was going to ask you whose decision it was to come back, but you said it was Dave’s, yeah?

It came through Dave and Shannon. They were producing a Godsmack record, and they were shitting around, probably talking about old times, I mean, I wasn’t there. And all of a sudden I got a call: ‘Do you want to do this?’ And I’m like: ‘Fuck yeah! But have you talked to Klaus?’ because Klaus was totally against any of this shit. I’m best friends with Klaus from childhood, so every year over the years I’d say: ‘Hey man, do you wanna go make some music and go on tour?’ and the answer, really quick: ‘Fuck no!’ I’d be like: ‘Okay’. It bothered him when I asked him, and that’s fair. That’s okay. It’s an answer. And then we’d go on with our friendship. But to come at you when Dave’s at the top of his game and Shannon’s one of the best drummers in the world … So when me and Klaus talk to them, when it comes from those guys, with conviction and with energy and excitement, then that feels good. It feels right. If Klaus and I had asked those guys if they wanted to do something, then I don’t think it would have worked out.

Except for the last track, ‘Another Beer’, one could say the new six-song EP ‘Stairway To Hell’ is filled with aggression and darkness. You could tell someone is angry. How would you describe it?

It’s badass. It’s alive. We want to be there. I’m so excited about it, it sounds so rad.

I also saw the video for the track ‘Devil’s Paradise’ and that shows some crude reality…
Yeah, we filmed that in Tahoe and then I got all the transvestite hooker footage. Those are dudes: chicks with dicks. We love it! As far as making that video, it’s what showed itself. I was in Costa Rica and we had a lot of different ideas for what we should do for that video. But while I was there, in San Jose, Costa Rica, about to leave, I asked these guys from this band Sight of Emptiness, a death metal band I know, if they could go get this footage. So they went out to two of the crack neighbourhoods, and filmed all that shit for me. So I had that and all kinds of other footage too.

Are you planning on releasing an album, because in 2010 one of the guys in the band put a comment on the internet that the album was ready?

I don’t know about that, but no, we don’t have any plans about making an album. We made an EP, we love it. We’re going to go promote that and play our old songs, and some new stuff too. I don’t think I’ll ever make a 13-song record again. What’s the point? There’s no point, no one wants to hear 13 songs from anybody; I don’t. I’m 44 and when I grew up, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Van Halen, Lynyrd Skynyrd were my bands and they did vinyl records with eight songs on them. The only reason there was 13 songs in the first place is that is how you got paid full royalty. So if you think about it, which I do daily, there’s a lot of filler on 13-song CDs and maybe eight or nine great songs. So I don’t need to make any kind of album with filler on it. We don’t have to, we don’t have a label anymore. It doesn’t matter. We can go make our own music, with our own producer/guitarist/friend that we love and admire. We can go master it with the best mastering guy in the world, Ted Jensen, we can go get great art done and we can release it with a button on a computer. The ball’s in our court. So I will never make a 13-song album again. Eight songs is the most I will ever do again. Although that’s with Ugly Kid Joe because we have a back catalogue. If you go to see us, you want to hear the old songs; you don’t want to hear 13 new songs from Ugly Kid Joe.

The way you started was with an EP…

Yeah, we’re book-ending our career [laughs].

So, I thought after this new EP you would make a full album.

You know? We don’t know what is going to happen. We’re amazed that we’re playing a show tonight. We’re amazed that we’re going to play Download. We’re so grateful and excited. We go to play Sweden Rock in two days, to 50,000 people on a main stage. We can’t believe it. So who knows how it will be received? We’re excited, and grateful and happy and filled with a lot of energy and ready to play. So if people enjoy what we’re doing, we’ll make more music, sure.

Did you play any shows in the States?

No, this is our first show in 15 years, tonight.

After this you have quite a few dates in Europe.

Yes, in the Eastern Block. We even go to Israel as main support to Guns N’ Roses. Cool, right? I’ve never been to Israel. Romania, Bulgaria, Istanbul… Think how cool, music is taking us to these adventurous places with all this legendary shit. As far as making music, we just did. We made six new songs, and they’re all great songs. As far as thinking into the future about making more songs, I’m not thinking about that. I don’t think it’s time to think that. I also have other musical projects I’m involved in. I also sing in another band, Another Animal. And in Another Animal there is a guy called Lee Richards who’s a vocal genius, a magus song writer. He’s amazing. He’s also in a band called Dropbox. His singer John Kosco, himself Lee Richards, and I are doing an acoustic record – two acoustic guitars and three singers. And Lee is a harmony master. Think of the Beach Boys, that harmony stuff. I don’t really understand it myself but if Lee helps me along the way I can be part of something amazing, in terms of musicality, harmony and beauty. It’s called Kosco, Richards and Crane. And that will probably have more than eight songs, as we need more than eight songs to play live, but for a band like Ugly Kid Joe, you don’t need more songs.

You always mention that Black Sabbath was one of your favourite bands, and this weekend you’re going to play with Black Sabbath at Download…

I love Black Sabbath. I played with Ozzy in ’92 on the ‘No More Tours’ tour with Mötörhead, and went to Birmingham on December 3rd, 4th and 5th 1997 and sang sound check every day with Black Sabbath, 17 songs, with Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Tony Iommi, on Ozzy’s mic, full PA. Because they were recording it for a live record and Ozzy didn’t want to blow his voice out, and I was there, and what did they say? ‘Whit, can you help us?’ They gave me the mic, and there I was, inside Black Sabbath for real. I’d never sung any of those songs but I knew all the lyrics. I wasn’t scared. Tony Iommi was looking at me like: ‘What a crazy person!’ [laughs]. So, yeah, I love Black Sabbath. I love Judas Priest, Van Halen, AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd … those are my bands.

Looking back at the period of 1991 to 1997, when the band were young and wanting to do everything, do you think that you were unprepared for fame and fortune?

There’s no way you could prepare for it, so yeah, totally unprepared. We were lucky, we broke around the world. We once toured for two and a half years straight, no break. That drove our first drummer insane. He was like: ‘I can’t fucking do this anymore’, and he went and got married to this beautiful woman, and had a family. And that’s okay. It’s a weird thing to be young [and given this success], it has all the pitfalls you can imagine, in that people rip you off. All those stories are real and there’s a responsibility for being in the room in the first place. If you’re a very young band and you want to get a record deal, and you surround yourself by these people that rip you off, or whatever, that’s part of your responsibility. So we did all the things you were supposed to do, good and bad, and both are very important. I believe the currency of my life is all my friends, so there’s some people I don’t consider friends because of the experiences I’ve had before, and that’s okay too. But my friends are my friends, and a whole lot of cool people are coming together and I can feel this. It’s exciting, like there’s wind in the sails. I can’t believe it.

What is the message for your fans?

I am really excited about the EP ‘Stairway To Hell’. I think it’s great and I haven’t felt like that in a long time. We’re excited we’re playing again, without a doubt, and we are very grateful.

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