“…when we disbanded in 1997 that was a good time to do that, no one’s heart was in it anymore, it was over, we all love each other but we just ended the band, and then fast forward to the making of this full length record as you call it, everybody wanted it, and everybody was in a good space…”
After a nineteen year hiatus, rockers UGLY KID JOE are set to return with a new full-length album entitled, ‘Uglier Than They Used Ta Be’. Known predominantly for their massive hits of the early 90’s, which saw ‘Everything About You’ and ‘Cats in the Cradle’ achieve huge chart status, with other albums following before the band’s hiatus in 1997. Then they returned in 2012 with an EP which then saw the band back out on the road, and now with ‘Uglier Than They Used Ta Be’, Ugly Kid Joe are back and ready to continue rockin’
Jetlagged in London, we caught up once again with Whitfield Crane of Ugly Kid Joe to fill us in all about the band’s new album, touring, the state of the music industry and much more…
Name wise the album is a great throwback to your debut EP, whose idea was ‘Uglier Than They Used Ta Be’?
I gotta say that was Daniel Mercer the artist, the guy who did all the art. We all had our ideas for the album title and Daniel Mercer’s like a super fan that does all this kick ass art for us, he did all the artwork on the CD and the vinyl, and the vinyl artwork is incredible, so it was his idea *laughs* and we’re all like ‘huh’… Here’s how it works for the creative process for us whether it be a song or a lyric or a riff, or in this case the title of the album is you know right away if it should be that or not, you know instantaneous, it’s a snap call, so it came through Daniel Mercer.
What was the experience like with the pledge campaign to make this album?
It was first person which is really cool. As you may or may not know the record industry or whatever you want to call it is dead, it’s over how it was, you’re never gonna sell a million records, you’re probably not even going to sell a lot of records either way so that said there’s not a lot of people that are going to back you up financially to make a record except for your fans which is first person and super cool. So basically you outsource it and if people are down with whatever you’re doing, if you’re writing a book, or making a video or a movie or whatever you’re trying to do to make money, in this case it’s an Ugly Kid Joe record you go first person and I was sceptical at first and fair enough, I was like ‘what is this?’… It’s really neat if you have a fan, somebody that is in to what you do, they’re involved in the whole process from nuts to bolts, so they invest in an album that doesn’t exist yet, they witness the whole process of making the record and they can ask questions like ‘what about this?’ and you can instantly communicate with somebody first person. So on that level I think it’s very liberating because there’s no middle man and there’s nothing better than no middle man.
Now this is your first studio album in nineteen years… man, what was it like going in and doing a full Ugly Kid Joe album with so many years between drinks?
*laughs* It was great, when we disbanded in 1997 that was a good time to do that, no one’s heart was in it anymore, it was over, we all love each other but we just ended the band, and then fast forward to the making of this full length record as you call it, everybody wanted it, and everybody was in a good space and everybody had gone and done so many other things with their lives that to have a reprise of sorts, to go in the same room and we brought everybody in, we brought everybody that’s been involved in the band the last seven years. We had Shannon Larkin was there, the old school drummer, we had Zac Morris the new school drummer, we had Sonny Mayo in there who replaced Dave Fortman *laughs* you had Dave Fortman producing, writing and playing on the record, you had Klaus Eichstadt, Cordell and myself, we flew some tracks to Wales where Phil Campbell the guitar player from Motorhead, he played on three tracks. So it was exciting, we went in there and we literally went in with no preconception, no direction, nothing like that, and we went in there for twenty one days, that’s twenty one days in a row, straight up, and thirteen hour days and it was gruelling but I think we came out with something really cool.
The band was coined a ‘seven headed monster’ so what was it like now working with such a big band musically and different guys who are all different players?
Awesome, it could’ve been a train wreck but it wasn’t, everyone was focused and excited, you know there’s so much history with everybody, like Zac’s brand new for the band so he’s kind of learning from us, he’s never toured the world and it’s a brand new thing for him. His skillset is incredible, but he’s an incredible player, but in a sense it was probably more of a learning curve for him to see how it could be done. For us, the guys that have known each other for twenty years there’s such a familiarity there and once again, I can’t highlight the point enough that everyone wanted to be there, it wasn’t a pain. The interesting thing about the state of music as far as a business construct goes now, there’s not a lot of money to be made off the music itself which means there’s nobody around there trying to make money off you because there’s no money, right. So that said if you’re in there making music at this point, making records, it’s cause you want to do it, there’s a purity to it that’s pretty liberating, plus just the fact of saying hi to everyone again. It was cool.
You’re not planning on touring as a seven piece are you?
No, no, no, Dave Fortman is a big time producer, Shannon is in Godsmack, so all the guys are meeting up today, I’ve got my other band Richards/Crane is opening up for Ugly Kid Joe, Richards/Crane is a side project I have with this guy Lee Richards, and this guy Tim McMillan, so I’ve got my acoustic based project opening up for Ugly Kid Joe on a two week tour that starts tomorrow.
Double duty? You’re gonna be a busy man…
Yep, it’s true.
Song wise for the Ugly Kid Joe record, what was the process like in putting these tracks together?
It’s similar to how it always is, some of the guys will have songs pretty much done, mostly not, and you just go in there and let it happen, there’s no practising, you’ve got to do it right then and there, in a twenty one day experience and here’s how it goes, I’m just quoting Dave Fortman who was the producer… “What we did in twenty one days is what usually would take three months” so that said you have to shuck and jive, you bring up a song to everybody, you track it, you know right then and there if it’s going somewhere, that means should you follow where it’s going or should you discard it and move to the next song… so once again some of the songs were pretty much done, most of them weren’t, so I would say we literally kind of let the music dictate what we wanted or what we should be doing.
Let’s talk covers, not only did you have our Aussie, Dallas Frasca on ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ but to have Phil Campbell from Motorhead as you mentioned on ‘Ace of Spades’… how did that come about?
We have a great relationship with Motorhead and always have *laughs* since 1992 and Ugly Kid Joe when we blew up in 1992 meaning when we had our success in ’92and we immediately got on the Ozzy tour and that tour had Motorhead, Ugly Kid Joe and Ozzy Osbourne, and so ever since then, Lemmy’s rad, those guys are rad, I mean they’re really salt of the earth type people and they’ve always looked after me whenever I’m around or if I’m at a show they’ll invite me to sing on stage, and stuff like that, so we’re always hanging out. Over the last couple of years I’ll be touring in Europe and then Motorhead will be touring, so what I’ve done over the last few years is I’ll show up to their bus and knock on the door and they’ll go ‘what?’ and it’ll be me with a backpack on, not touring, just a backpacker and I’ll go on tour with Motorhead and just hang out and sing every third show, so that said that kind of highlights the relationship I have with those guys. As we were making this record I love to make music dimensional and a lot of times that dimension will incorporate other players and I love to share with other people music that I love and admire and all that. So we called Phil and he was all excited and like, “Alright, I’d love to do it” and I go “It’s Ace of Spades!” and he was like “What?! I’ll play Ace of Spades but how about you let me play a couple of other songs?” and we’re like of course… so he played ‘Ace of Spades’, he plays on a song called ‘Under The Bottom’ which I think is Ugly Kid Joe’s Heavy Metal opus, and then he plays on another song called ‘My Old Man’, he plays the first lead in ‘My Old Man’ and Klaus plays the outro lead, so that’s a big honour for us for sure.
And that Dallas Frasca has got a set of pipes on her, huh?
Oh my god! That’s incredible; she’s the bees knees, man.
You were back in Australia last year and played some amazing shows, were you happy with the reception the band received after so long away?
Yeah we were blown away, I think we played the last hard rock show at the Palace Theatre in Melbourne which is a great room, I can’t believe they took that down. Yeah Australia, that was one of our bigger markets in the world back in the day and I love Australia across the board and the people of Australia remind me of kind of California, everyone’s like ‘Hey what’s up?’ and they’ll party really hard but they’ll recycle the cans you know…
Also your voice is on point too, when you were here it was unbelievable, how do you keep it up?
Sleep, singers should just sleep and not stress, those are the two components to life.
Obvious question is, when do you think we might see you back?
Oh I don’t know, man, let me let you know on the skinny here… the whole thing we’re doing right now is we’re being creative, the record’s done, it’s Ugly Kid Joe ‘Uglier Than They Used Ta Be’ and now hopefully what we can garner from this is killer tours, like we’d love to come and do, I know you guys have got a couple of festivals there in Australia, we’d love to do that, or we’d come back and do some clubs or whatever it is. We want to tour and that’s the whole quest, do we want to come to Australia? Straight up, we love Australia.
It’s not going to be twenty years between tours like last time though, right? *laughs*
NO WAY! We’ve got a new record, gotta come tour, come on!
So let’s jump back twenty four years to when you released ‘As Ugly As they Wanna Be’, what for you is the biggest difference in the way the band works and makes music now compared to how it was in 1991?
Probably experience and fear, when we were kids, we’ve always been a great live band, we’ve always had that element to us, right, the moment… I can only speak for me but the studio and going into the studio was like going on a foreign planet, you had to have all this patience and it wasn’t live, there are some components that were live but tracking record I felt caged and weird and I was scared of all that and fear can be used as currency for sure, but anyway, so now I’ve been in lots of different bands and I’ve tracked a lot of different times in the studio and I’m not scared whatsoever to go in the studio and I get what my placement is there and I’m way more patient than I was in twenty four and I have a macro amount of experience of the studio. Equally in that experiential bubble is I’ve had a lot of experience in let’s say 1991 I wasn’t quite sure what to embrace and to hold on to that would be healthy for me and then what would be something that I could look at and let go because it all looked the same to me. So now, at least from my perspective and I could be right or wrong, but I feel like I know what was good for me to hold on to and what was a good idea and a healthy idea and this has currency and forward motion, and then over this other side it’s all the stuff and it could be from people to the whole thing of rock and roll. So I get what to hold on to and I believe I know what to let go of.
We did talk before briefly about the industry is a much different beast these days too, with social media now such a driver in the way bands promote themselves, essentially negating record labels, how have you personally seen that side of it grow in your time away and back now?
Well once again its first person, right? Ugly Kid Joe since we’ve come back, we’re our own manager, we’re our own label, we’re our own everything, so you’ve gotta be first person, you’ve gotta want it. So you know, there’s no middle man like I said before, so there’s a great responsibility to that and there’s a great liberation with that, with the labels and all that it was a weird thing and let’s just be honest, the idea of commerce and art mixed together is a weird marriage you know what I mean, to make some kind of art and sell it is weird to begin with. So you get yourself in a pickle doing that anyway and that said, if you’re just first person and like Sonny Mayo is really great of posting stuff up on tour, like you’re on tour, you’re in a moment, you’re getting a coffee in Scotland or whatever and you take a picture and you can immediately put it out there and keep people in the know of what you’re doing. Funny little idiosyncratic things or like actual tour shots, just interesting stuff and that’s personal and I like being personal, so in a sense it’s got this one thing and the other sense you’re not going to sell any records, it’s not going to happen. From a financial vantage it’s a crazy thing to want to do if you want to put bread on the table, but that’s never really been my first plan of attack, but if you’re just out there for the band in garage you can go make music and make whatever, you can master it or not master it, you can make it really great or really crap, it doesn’t matter, and you can release it around the world therefore inspire somebody and that’s exciting. So it’s an exciting time, it’s the wild west, I think how I look at it, I look at a broken model and still kind of hold on to pieces that are there but you know, it’s change and change is certainly coming, change is here and it’s important to embrace that particular change.
Let’s jump back to ‘Richards/Crane’, how did this project come about?
Well I was in a band with Shannon Larkin called ‘Another Animal’ in 2007 and that band made a killer record, I don’t even know if you can get that in Australia but it’s great, and inside that band’s matrix I met Lee Richards who’s this prophetic song writing freak, he’s awesome, and my goal is to be creative and sing songs and to use all those things I just highlighted. So I went and made a record with Lee and we had Dave Fortman play on it and Shannon played hand percussion it and we have this record done. We had Myles Kennedy sang on a song called ‘Black and White’ which you can actually go look at… people of Australia… go to YouTube and put in Richards/Crane which is the name of the band and then the song is called ‘Black and White’ featuring Myles Kennedy and it’s a great video and a fantastic taste of what’s going on. That dude is amazing, you know what’s really interesting about Myles, is you think of him as a singer and he’s a fantastic vocalist but what he really is, is a guitar player, he is incredible at the guitar… he’s soulful, magical player and he’s been out with Slash, imagine all the magic he picked up from that guy… so that’s the guy! Keep an eye on Myles Kennedy for sure.
Lastly, let’s look ahead to the future, so finish this sentence for me, in 2016 Ugly Kid Joe will…
Rock the world… we shall rock the world… I’ve got to be honest, it feels good to be singing songs and touring, I really enjoy and for me personally that’s what it’s all about. You do all these things and hopefully you get to the stage and you have a live moment with your songs and you communicate through music. So 2016 we shall rock the world…
From: California, USA
Band members: Whitfield Crane (Vocals), Klaus Eichstadt (Guitars), Sonny Mayo (Guitars), Zac Morris (Drums), Cordell Crockett (Bass), Dave Fortman (Guitars), Shannon Larkin (Drums),
Latest release: Uglier Than They Used Ta Be – (Out Now – UKJ Records)