UGLY KID JOE – “We’re Just Fans On Stage Ourselves”

October 28, 2022, a year ago

By Aaron Small

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UGLY KID JOE – “We’re Just Fans On Stage Ourselves”

Rad Wings Of Destiny, released October 21, 2022 via Metalville Records, is the first studio album in seven years from Ugly Kid Joe – the band who achieved global success with their debut single, “Everything About You”. “It’s pretty neat in the sense of a full circle,” begins vocalist Whitfield Crane. “Thirty years ago, we released an album called America’s Least Wanted, which was produced by Mark Dodson (Judas Priest, Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies). When we were conceiving the album Rad Wings, I thought it a good idea to bring Mark back in. He’s one of the last guys, or women, that knows how to produce like he does it. He’s pre-Pro Tools, he’s pre all that sh*t. I’m excited because I love that we all got in the room together. I’m really pleased with the songwriting; the parts that I was able to write, and the parts I was able to sing. It’s full circle magic going on.”

“When we first had success in the early ‘90s, I thought everyone you met through music would be your best friend and everything would be great,” continues Whitfield. “I really believed that with all my heart – anybody from the t-shirt guy to the producer, the A&R guy – I thought we were all part of some magical thing, which of course we are. But it didn’t mean that you were going to retain these friendships for life. The fact that we have retained the wonderous friendship with Mark Dodson is so nice! It’s really been awesome and humbling to work with him again.”

Looking back on the creation of Rad Wings Of Destiny, Whitfield reminisces, “It’s interesting, the pandemic sidelined everybody, including us on our quest. We made the girth of this in 2019 at a studio called Sonic Ranch, which is in El Paso, Texas. Then we sat on most of it, we sat on the album because of the pandemic. Rad Wings originally had eight songs on it. Then at the 11th hour – basically, during the pandemic I went and lived in Costa Rica for ten months. That was really good and I got super creative; more creative than I’ve ever been. Some of that creativity encompasses songwriting. Songs – nuts to bolts – done in my head, which is really interesting and weird and fantastical, and a bunch of other words to describe it. Anyway, at the 11th hour for Rad Wings, which was this last January, I went and hung out with (UKJ guitarist) Dave Fortman, and I had two songs in my head. One song was ‘Dead Friends Play’, the other one was ‘Up In The City’. And (drummer) Shannon Larkin lives in Fort Myers, Florida as well. At the last second you could stuff two more songs on the album, we did. And I’m really pleased with how those songs fill out the album. Obviously, we named it Rad Wings in honor of the mighty Judas Priest, our heroes.”

Judas Priest released Sad Wings Of Destiny in 1976. There’s no title track to that album. Priest never wrote a song called “Sad Wings Of Destiny”. Did Ugly Kid Joe try to write a “Rad Wings Of Destiny” song? “No, I hadn’t even thought about it until right now,” admits Whitfield. UKJ has quite the history with Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford. Not only have the two bands played together, but Halford sang backing vocals on the song “Goddamn Devil” on America’s Least Wanted. “That’s true, and that was awesome! It’s one big crazy thing,” affirms Whitfield. “Mark Dodson worked on Sin After Sin and Defenders Of The Faith. So, in ’92, I was dating Karen Duffy, the MTV veejay. She was in New York and Halford was rolling through with his solo stuff. And Mark Dodson knows Halford, for real. That was back when there was fax machines. Somehow, we got the word to Rob that we’d really love him to come down to the Studio Devonshire in Hollywood – and he did come down. He walked in the room, we put up the evil lyrics of ‘Goddamn Devil’. Halford really listened to it deeply, he’s a super pro. He looked up at us and goes, ‘I like the lyrics.’ We said, ‘Do you want to go sing on it?’ He said, ‘Yeah’ and went in there. At that time, I was really uncomfortable in the studio. We were always a great live band, and I’m really good at being in a live situation; that’s what I shine in. But the studio was so weird to me. I was able to basically produce Halford singing, and to watch that guy do his thing. Being at the soundboard, looking past the glass, Halford with his headphones on – the cans, as we call them. I watched the dude become… the term Metal God is appropriate. I watched the dude get possessed! It was so radical because I was like, ‘Wow! That’s how you would do it if you were the greatest at it.’ Not that I instantly mastered what he does, but I got closer to it through the years. It was important for me to witness that first person.”

The opening track on Rad Wings Of Destiny, “That Ain’t Livin’”, is AC/DC through and through. “You know it is! That’s a tip of the hat to AC/DC – Powerage, to be exact,” clarifies Whitfield. “I wrote that riff on an island called Patmos, in Greece. I was there, hanging out; that’s where Saint John wrote the Book of the Apocalypse, by the way. So, I went to the cave where that was written – wow, that was heavy! Greece is awesome! I was driving a little motorcycle, with an Australian girl on the back of it – and all of a sudden that riff came to me. I’m like, ‘No fucking way!’ It was a beautiful, poetic, magical moment in time and space. Perfect temperature, just coming back from dinner, going to the flat that we’re staying at. I said to her, ‘Do you have an iPhone? Please, put it in my face right now.’ She did, and I got that riff. So, that’s where it came from.”

“We played Full Metal Cruise, it’s a German thing. That dumped the entire band off on an island called Majorca in Spain. We rented a villa there and worked on a bunch of songs, but in particular, ‘That Ain’t Livin’. Then everyone left, except the Yellowcake guitar player Jeff Curran and I stayed, and we jammed with this drummer, kind of a prog rock drummer really. That drummer didn’t speak any English, and we didn’t speak Spanish. But we jammed with this dude all the time and worked on this song. Then we had a song! We weren’t sure if it would be for Yellowcake or for Ugly Kid Joe; we didn’t know what would happen. So, push came to shove, and as I’ve hinted to, we ended up at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas. And Jeff, the guitar player from Yellowcake, flew over and hung out with us the whole process and played on some songs. Everybody welcomed him! Ugly Kid Joe – if you’ve jammed with us in the last 20 years, you’re in the band for life! Our goal is to build community, build family; and we do manage to do that.”

“That song in particular, you’ve got Jeff Curran playing guitar with Fortman, with Eichstadt; and Shannon Larkin had rolled in. He flew in from Florida – on his own dime, I might add. He's like, ‘I got this.’ Shannon showed up with incredible energy; he’s a magic guy, and quite a drummer at that. He just went in there, Mark Dodson’s nudging it, and all of a sudden that song got tracked – bam! Everything was cool, but there was a couple of songs that I wasn’t able to finish. Fair enough, we had X amount of time; I think it was three weeks. I was living in Lisbon, Portugal, and my producer Mark Dodson – who we’ve highlighted in this story - was like, ‘You should come to London and sing these f*cking songs.’ I said, ‘Okay, that’s totally true.’ So, I went and sang ‘Lola’ and ‘That Ain’t Livin’’ in London. It was quite a travail to get ‘That Ain’t Livin’ done, but it’s an homage to Bon Scott, to Malcolm Young, to Angus Young, to Phil Rudd, all those dudes. We love those dudes! We’ve played it a couple of times now. We played it at Hellfest and some other places. But it’s my most terrifying vocal that I’ve written and sung because it’s a f*cking gnarly rock vocal. It’s a big vocal. We’re giving it all on that song, 100%.”

The second track on Rad Wings Of Destiny, “Not Like The Other”, is undeniably surprising. Prior to the vocal kicking in, parallels are drawn with “Rock & Roll Part 2” by Gary Glitter. “Yeah, good,” proclaims Whitfield. “I wrote that song specifically… when I hang out with my sister and her husband and their family, we watch a lot of college football. On those football games, at half-time when the commentators are talking, you always hear these f*cking songs – sometimes it’s Green Day or “Iron Man”, whatever it is. There’s these big marching bands playing these songs. So, I had this idea that I would write a song that would be made specifically for the big bands, they’re like 80 people, at college football games. Of course, that’s a crazy dream, but then again, you know I’m a little nutty. So, I wrote that song. My mantra, when I stayed at my sister’s house is, I would go to this coffee shop, pretty much five or six times a week. I would sit, hidden behind a car, smoking a cigarette and drinking a coffee – because you get a lot of stink-eye for smoking a cigarette in California these days. But I would sit there and space out and think about where I want to go with music. What’s possible, what’s impossible? I always kind of go for the impossible. And that was the second song, ‘Not Like The Other’. So, I had that riff, for sure, specifically written because I want it to be a sports anthem.”

Whitfield previously mentioned that anybody who’s played with Ugly Kid Joe in the last two decades is family. It’s almost like an extended band situation on Rad Wings Of Destiny, with both Zac Morris and Shannon Larkin playing drums on the album. But when Ugly Kid Joe toured this past summer, Cam Greenwood was behind the kit, due to the fact that Zac started a new career as a substance abuse counselor. As a result, Cam is now the new drummer of UKJ going forward. “Yeah, 100%. He’s a special dude,” attests Whitfield. “It’s really fun to be in a band with Cam. The most important reason is because he’s just a bad-ass f*cking drummer! The dude’s gnarly. But past that, he’s in another band called Terrorvision – they’re pretty big in The UK, but Terrorvision doesn’t necessarily tour outside The UK, not that much. So, for Cam, who’s a stand-up guy, super pro; got a little Viking in him. But he’s never played a big Hellfest show, he’d never been anywhere. I think he’s 31, right around there. For us, I’ve done quite a lot of that – and I’m super grateful to get to do it. But to be part of, not only kicking ass live with a new drummer Cam Greenwood, but to watch how grateful and excited he is, to have all those experiences for the first time.”

“The most important thing is Cam’s chops; he’s an undeniable bad-ass. But other than that, the synergy of the band, and everything that happened on that last tour was just good. The shows were f*cking awesome! The pandemic’s part of that. You go play a show in a club or a soccer stadium or a festival – whatever the f*ck you do. There’s a subtlety right now. Even going to dinner tonight. The fact that people, all of us, our freedoms – for lack of better terminology – were staggered. That’s just how it goes. To get to play, to get to work, and to get to be part of that whole thing; we’re just fans on the stage ourselves. And the fact that it was Cam’s first experience in all these different countries, it was really special. But yeah, Cam’s in the band, and he plays a single kick, which is really interesting. It actually affords me a different way to attack the songs. We also have Mike Squires, who took Fortman’s place; Fortman’s producing his ass off in Florida. We met Mike Squires in 2012 when he opened up for Alice Cooper with Duff McKagan. He played with Duff, and he’s still in Loaded. First, I was just talking to Squires in general cause we’re friends. I was like, ‘Wait a minute dude, you could be in the band!’ He’s like, ‘That’s a rad idea.’ So, I text Duff and said, ‘Is that cool with you?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he’d be great for you.’ So, there you go.”

Ugly Kid Joe covered “Lola” – a song written by Ray Davies and released by The Kinks in 1970 – and stuck it smack dab in the middle of Rad Wings Of Destiny. “Well, I wanted to do a cover,” confesses Whitfield. “I wasn’t quite sure what cover, and the great voices that reside within my head between my ears told me years and years ago, right before the pandemic, ‘You should do a Kinks cover.’ I’m like, yeah! But then I completely forgot about that. When we were making the first part of the record – once again, at Sonic Ranch, you’re stuck out there in the middle of nowhere. It’s not like you can walk outside and go get a cup of coffee. You’re 24/7 with your crazy band members, and whoever else is on that property. So, we drove to El Paso, proper. And on the way there I had to pee, like more than ever! We were in a van, and God damn it, I had to pee! They said, ‘Just wait until we get into town.’ Can’t we f*cking pull over? As we’re cruising into the town, I said, ‘Just stop right there.’ There was a Burger King. It’s a pretty sketchy universe, wherever we were. I made it to the bathroom, made it to the urinal, and f*ck yeah, I peed, happily. A very long, long pee. In that bathroom, with a bit of a cacophonous sound on shitty speakers in the Burger King, was a different Kinks song playing. As I stood there – wait a minute. I wanted to do ‘Lola’. I forgot all about that. Then I pleasantly finished my duties at the urinal, went back out, and said, ‘Hey guys, guess what? I got the answer to the cover. It’s f*cking Lola.’ Everyone thought about it for two seconds, and went, ‘yeah.’ That was it.”

As we get towards the back end of Rad Wings Of Destiny, there’s a song called “Drinkin’ And Drivin’”, which is musically light, but obviously a serious topic with life-altering/life-ending consequences. That’s a very interesting juxtaposition. It’s almost like a country music tune with heavy subject matter. “Well, I wrote that song… I’ve got a bunch of songs where I could just sing; I hear how it goes. I’ve had that song completely done in my head for a couple of years. Sure, drinking and driving is dangerous; but it’s also a metaphor. It could be heroin or cocaine. It could be any kind of toxic relationship you have with yourself and others. It’s pretty self-explanatory in the obvious, but probably a little deeper in the sub-conscious.”

“Failure” is a standout song on the album. Again, the lyrics are interesting. Initially it seems to be about failed romantic relationships, but then Whitfield keeps saying, ‘I’m a failure.’ There’s no way the frontman of Ugly Kid Joe could be considered a failure. Who is this really about? “Klaus Eichstadt wrote that song, it’s classic Ugly Kid Joe. If there’s anybody that would have been proud of that song, it would have been Lemmy. That’s f*cking full-on, bad-ass Motörhead. I wrote the bridge, and the chorus was a little different. I just decided to turn it into a massive Bon Scott vocal. But that’s Eichstadt rolling, shining f*cking bright, ripping a solo, giving it all. That song could have easily been on America’s Least Wanted. It’s Eichstadt being dark and funny.”

Speaking of the late, great Lemmy Kilmister, he’s one of numerous deceased icons named in “Dead Friends Play”. That song also pays tribute to Ronnie James Dio, Malcolm Young, Eddie Van Halen, Dusty Hill, John Bonham, and Ronnie Van Zant. That sounds like it would be an easy thing to do, but when you listen to the lyrics, Whitfield’s not just spouting off names of people who have passed. He’s using album titles and song titles that are immediately associated with those musicians. That must have taken some time to put together. “Well, I wrote the hook in Costa Rica. I played this game with myself in Costa Rica. I lived in the barrio with a tin roof, with this dog named Rugus; he’s a Shar-Pei. He was the greatest dog. He's still alive somewhere; he’s my buddy. I would walk to the gym every day, and I purposely wouldn’t bring my phone, to force myself to write songs and retain the songs. So, leaving the front door of my tin roof flat – to the gym, to the beach, to food, to take the bus back up – took on average four to five hours.”

“If I could retain the hooks, then I felt they were worthwhile hooks. I came up with that hook just walking into the gym. I went, ‘Oh my God!’  I was almost scared that I didn’t have my iPhone with me, because you can talk to the iPhone and retain it; you can tape sh*t. But that hook was no problem. So, I had the hook. I had the Malcolm part, I had the Sabbath part… man, we sat there. We tuned into the Gods. The way that Fortman and I work, we’re really quick together. We’re not scared to look at each other and be like, ‘No, that sh*t sucks.’ Or ‘Woah, that was crazy!’ All that is first takes out of the sky. Something was coming through us, if that makes sense. I don’t really think you write songs; I think songs are written through you – which is pretty flighty, romantic, and idealistic – but I’m all of those things. Something special was going on with that particular song. I love all of those artists! Think of the delta blues. Think about the lyrics, ‘It’s hard to break a habit in the world today, It’s good to hear the music with your dead friends playing.’ That’s a heavy f*cking statement. When it came through me in Costa Rica, I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I was almost scared of it. It was like you wanted it, here I am. Oh f*ck! I’m really happy, grateful, pleased how it turned out. It’s so bad-ass!”

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