An Interview with dUg Pinnick of King’s X

All images courtesy of dUg Pinnick/New Ocean Media


By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

Since the band’s inception, not a single act had been as consistently overlooked by the masses as King’s X.

Never to be defined, relegated, or told what to do, the non-compliant nature of dUg Pinnick, Ty Tabor, and Jerry Gaskill might not have elevated them to the top of the charts, but what it did do was ingrain the trio deeply within its devoted fanbases hearts.

As musical rovers, in the mid-80s, the threesome made its way to Houston, Texas, signed with Megaforce Records, and recorded a trio of now legendary albums which defied all genre norms associated with an era of lipstick-laden excess in Out of the Silent Planet (1988), Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989), and Faith Hope Love (1990).

By the early 90s, with its refusal to adhere to any one rock-associated label, King’s X found itself immune to the grunge onslaught massacring many fellow rock bands. As musical darlings, and the impending “next big thing,” King’s X shifted to Atlantic Records, and recorded King’s X (1992), but alas, Billboard-busting success was not to be. Undeterred, King’s X continued releasing album after album of emotionally turbulent, and musically torrential records through the 90s and 2000s.

Rock music’s most underexposed band continued on this way until 2008 when suddenly, the trio went silent. And while King’s X and its members would bob and weave through health scares, near-death experiences, and a world defined by general uncertainty, they remained silent from a new music perspective.

As for Pinnick, ever the clandestine warrior, he soldiered on making music with KXM, and Grinder Blues, as well as releasing records under his own namesake. With his creativity flowing, the erstwhile bassist never considered an end for King’s X, but he didn’t necessarily expect another album either. And so, for fourteen long years, King’s X remained silent. Life moved forward, and a new status quo was formed, one which no longer featured King’s X as a member of the new musical zeitgeist.

Until now.

After fourteen long years, the floodgates opened, and finally, the group began writing and recording together again, “I’ll be seventy-two next month, and I’m feeling that. I wrote lyrics with my age in mind, so it has become sort of my mantra for what I’m doing for the rest of my life. Basically, I’m gonna ride it out until it’s over. I’m starting to see the world as it is, and I drag my heart all around looking for lonely people, just like I’ve always done. And when I think about my friends, when I think about Chris [Cornell], Chester [Bennington], and Layne [Stayley], all these people that died or killed themselves, it just hurts, and I always think, ‘I’m never going to do that.’ They’re gonna have to put me under because I’m gonna ride this out. I don’t know what’s going on over on the other side, and I don’t know what could make me so miserable in this world that I’d want to move on to that other side; a place that I know nothing about. That’s my logic. So, that’s where I’m coming from with these songs,” said Pinnick.

Pinnick recently dialed in via phone with me to dissect King’s X’s new record, Three Sides of One, what both he and the band have been up to for fourteen years, as well as what lies ahead in these uncertain times.

Andrew:
Three Sides of One is seemingly contemplative in nature. What was the band’s collective mindset going in?

dUg:
Well, the guys didn’t want to make a record, because it had to be better than anything we’ve ever done. And they didn’t feel that we had anything to add to the repertoire of albums that we did. So, it took them fourteen years to finally go, “Okay, I think we got something here.” Me, personally, I was ready to go from day one. And, you know, I’ve put several side projects out and all kinds of stuff in the meantime, but when we got together, we just brought in songs and went for it. As for the songs that I brought in, I brought twenty-seven songs in and they’re all new songs, and Jerry [Gaskill] and Ty [Tabor] brought a bunch of songs in and they’re all new songs, too. So, we just went down the list, and actually learned all of everything that was on the list until we had enough, and then we just stopped.

Andrew:
As far as the title of the record is concerned, is Three Sides of One a direct reference to the trio, and the innate chemistry you three share?

dUg:
Yeah, I think that’s the way it comes out. We didn’t have a name. Usually, we have some kind of a running name for an album, but this time nobody could come up with anything, you know? So, our manager came up with “Three Sides of Truth,” and I thought, “No, how about ‘Three Sides of One?'” And everybody went, “Yeah, that totally makes sense.” And that’s where we left it. It’s like having kids after a while, the name, it’s not as important. [Laughs].

Andrew:
Since we last heard from the band, the three of you have all faced various health issues. How have those issues affected the creative trajectory of the record, if at all?

dUg:
Um, well, Jerry wrote a lot of songs from basically a near-death experience perspective. And Ty wrote his songs from just his observation of life right now. And I’m the same way, you know, I’ll be seventy-two next month, and so I just see life differently now. Because it finally hit me that I don’t have that much longer to live compared to what I’ve lived already, right? So, I just see the world differently, and I just wanted to talk and sing about it. So, I think that’s affected all of us. Also, I mean, Jerry doesn’t really submit songs to the band, because he always thought we didn’t like his songs. But in essence, his songs are the best songs of all of us, I think sometimes. And so he just came in, and we said, “Bring your songs in here. Come on, Jerry.” So, we really put our heads together to make this record our own, instead of just doing each other’s songs.

All images courtesy of dUg Pinnick/New Ocean Media

Andrew:
There’s a great quote floating around out there attributed to you that goes, “As familiar as it is, I feel like I’m in a new band.” Can you expand on that?

dUg:
Well, they must have translated what I was thinking differently. [Laughs]. I’m not sure that I feel like I’m in a new band, I think it’s more that we’ve just discovered ourselves. I don’t know, I think it’s something like realizing that you actually are good, you know what I mean? In the end, after you’ve been away from the studio for so long, and then you start playing, there’s some doubt. I mean, we always hate everything we do, and we are always negative about our art, as a true artist would be. But I remember with the first track that we did, I went into the studio to listen to the basic tracks, and for the first time in my life, I went, “Oh, wow, man. Okay, I finally get it.” There’s just something about the way we play together that I never noticed because I was always too busy looking at all the flaws. And so it was really exciting, and it made me want to keep going and explore.

Andrew:
How did that renewed mindset manifest itself in the lyrical content of the album?

dUg:
Oh, it’s obvious. I mean, Jerry’s talking about dying, Ty’s talking about people dying at festivals, and I’m talking about getting old and dying. And, you know, with the state of the world, which appears to be hopeless, even though I still hope that there’s some kind of salvation or reconciliation of humanity, that really dug itself into the lyrics, I think. So, I don’t know, I’m just thinking about what I see going on around me. We all are.

Andrew:
I think it goes without saying that there are definitely some personal songs on this record, dUg. Which one of them is most meaningful?

dUg:
Oh, god, they’re all meaningful, and there are deep reasons why. I think “Give It Up” kind of speaks to how I feel. I often hesitate and wait until it’s too late. You know, time was made to kill, do you think I shouldn’t make a will? I don’t even have a will yet. I just don’t get around to it. I look around at the world and it’s fucked up, and I drag my heart around, looking for lonely people like I always have. I remember, Jerry looked at me when he heard that, and said, “Man, that is you, dUg.” And, you know what? I’m never gonna give it up until the lights go out. I’ve seen my friends die and kill themselves like Layne [Stayley], Chris Cornell, Chester [Bennington], and on down the line. And I remember writing those lyrics around the time Chris died, and I thought, “I’m never gonna give it up until the lights go out. What’s my biggest fear? I might not know what’s over there. Or might not like what’s over there. I’m sorry,” and you know, that’s my thing. I don’t think about dying. I want to make the best of what I can right now. I want to stick around until they put me under. This is all I know, and I’m gonna ride it out until it’s over. To me, that is wisdom, and that’s what I’m doing. The rest of it, that’s other people’s choice. But I put that out there and we’ll see if you agree with me, and if you do, then hey, let’s keep on running down the road.

Andrew:
One of my favorite tracks is “Nothing But The Truth.” Break down its origins for me.

dUg:
Ah, yeah, man. So, I’ve only had one relationship. Well, I wouldn’t even call it a relationship. I really liked someone and they acted like they liked me. And I tried, you know? The closer I got to them, the more they pushed me away, but when I backed up, they’d come back, and they’d pull me back in. It was this fucking mind game, and at the end of the day, it really bothered me. And so, I wrote exactly what I was feeling.

Andrew:
How about “Swipe Up?”

dUg:
You know, the thing about that is as I wrote that song, I thought it was going to be an instrumental because I thought, “I’m not gonna sing on this at all. This is just a heavy Mashugana kind of song.” It just had that vibe to it, and then Jerry came in and said, “No, we gotta add to this.”“Well, what do you want to do?” So, Jerry, he turned the John Bonham switch on and added that heavy kick drum, which made it badass and turned it into a King’s X song, which was so awesome. And I remember when we finished it, and we were mixing the record, they called me up and said, “Dude, you’ve got to sing on this song. Come on over and make up some lyrics right now.” And so a couple of days later, I literally went over there, made up these lyrics, and that’s basically “Swipe Up.” It’s all about being on the internet, or on your iPhone, and it’s all about that experience. We just keep swiping up, and the algorithms give you what you want in your own little world. So, the whole song is about that. It’s the little world that we live in with our iPhones.

All images courtesy of dUg Pinnick/New Ocean Media

Andrew:
To that end, what sort of detrimental effect do you feel that’s had on music in general?

dUg:
I don’t think in those terms, because when progress happens, art changes. It’s like this, when they came up with the first drum machine, a lot of drummers lost their jobs. But all of a sudden, this sort of steadiness and timing came in, and that changed us all and made us start to play with click tracks, and it made drummers better. Now, in this case, the old school is still here, people still buy records, and people still buy CDs, but the new world sees and listens to music differently, right? They listen to their music on iPhones, and the music they like is totally different too. It’s their music. It’s the next generation’s music, and it’s kinda like when I was young, and I went and listened to The Allman Brothers, my folks would go, “That’s not blues. Listen to BB King.” So, it’s all about progress, what we can learn from it, and how we can morph our art into it. I try to look at everything as a positive. I mean, it’s hard. I sometimes look at it the other way also, because when Napster came along, yeah, everybody started giving our music away, and that sucked. Of course, if someone gives your music away for free, you’re not going to be able to make them pay for it again. So, that fucked us royally. So what happened? We had to learn how to make great merch so that people buy that, and also have better concerts so people come to see us live. With everything that happens to you, you’ve just gotta adapt to it in your own ways. Man, this bullshit with people crying because of what happened, it’s just that – bullshit. You can’t keep crying. You stand up, and you fucking get on with it.

Andrew:
I wanted to touch on the album’s closer, “Everything Everywhere.” What’s the meaning behind that track, and what made it a perfect ending to Three Sides of One?

dUg:
I wanted to write a song that sounded like The Beatles. [Laughs]. I’d like to sing it with people in the crowd crying and singing along. That was the thought there. It’s like, it’s just my anthem. I just hope I can watch a whole crowd singing it with their hands in the air because that will make me feel good. And I think it has an element of truth in it, because we’re all looking for love, and it seems that love has a way of wading through the bullshit, a way of healing all of that, and seeing us through the bullshit. That song was my way home, and my way of healing, and blah blah blah. [Laughs].

Andrew:
You mentioned that Jerry and Ty didn’t necessarily want to make an album unless it was better than everything else. So, after fourteen years, do you feel you guys hit the mark in terms of bettering everything that you’ve done before?

dUg:
Oh, yeah, this record is better than anything we’ve ever done before. In our opinion, it’s the best we’re done, only because we’ve been doing this as a band for forty-three years, so whatever we do has got to be better than what we already did. I believe that in every sense. Here’s an example, if you take a child, give them a marker, and say, “Draw a straight line on the wall every day,” by the time they’re fifty or sixty years old, that straight line will be so straight – and so emotionally straight – that it will scare the shit out of you. So, the way I look at it is if you just keep doing what you do, you’ll get better. It’s just a given. Even when I go out to see bands who have been together as long as we have like ZZ Top, Meshuggah, or whoever, you can go down the list; when you listened to them twenty or thirty years ago, and then listen to them now, it’s like, “Oh my god, it’s the same song, but why does it sound so amazingly better?” So, I believe that this record is better because of that. When it comes to songwriting, you just keep writing songs and hope people like them. I don’t know if I’ve gotten better as a songwriter or not, but I keep trying to push the envelope in every way to learn how to write simple, or learn how to write complicated, and pull it off. I mean, somebody’s always gonna complain, “Oh, that sounds boring,” you know? So, it’s about what’s in my head, and it’s about what I can pull off when I want to be able to write that song that the whole world can get. Even though it’s a blind fantasy that will probably never happen, that’s still my goal, and it’s rewarding just to do it. I mean, just to keep doing it, whether people get it or not, that’s what means the most to me.

Andrew:
In your heart of hearts, was there ever thought in your mind that King’s X might never make another record again?

dUg:
I really didn’t think about it. The only time I thought about not ever making a record again was when Jerry had his first heart attack. I remember his wife texted me and said, “Jerry had a heart attack. 50/50 chance.” I saw that, and I hopped out of my bed and I thought, “Oh, my God, is it just over? Is one of my best friends in the whole world going to be gone? I won’t have a band. I’m going to lose everything I have – that we have – everything is going to change.” And that’s when I wrote “Ain’t That The Truth,” which made it onto my Naked record. I mean, I remember writing it about a week later, and the first line has that 50/50 chance thing, so you know, it really affected me. Other than that, I don’t think about the end of King’s X. I just think about pushing on and keep making music. So, I guess it was never a thought. Wow. That’s kinda crazy to think about.

Image credit: Brian Rasic/All images courtesy of dUg Pinnick/New Ocean Media

Andrew:
You may not have thought about this, but 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the band’s 1992 self-titled record. When you look back on it now, dUg, how do you measure the relevance and meaning of that record?

dUg:
Well, it was our last record with Sam Taylor, and that was meaningful. Up to that point, I think we had explored that King’s X sound to the max. I think that the first three records were experimental in many ways because I was just writing anything that I was inspired by, trying to find myself, and trying to find a sound. But when we got to the fourth record, it just seemed like we nailed it. When it comes to songwriting, take a song like “The World Around Me,” which is what I call “a Looney Tunes riff,” that was amazing to me. I mean, I used to watch Looney Tunes as a kid. I watched Bugs Bunny and all that kind of stuff. And I used to love the way Carl Stalling used to write the music for Looney Tunes, it was so off kilter. So, I said, “I’m gonna write me a Looney Tunes riff,” and that’s how “The World Around Me” came up. I did that, and it felt good, so at that point, I’m going, “Okay, let’s keep on going here.” And when we got done with that record, we liked that record, and I think it sounded sonically good, but it was also an ending for the band and an end of a certain type of sound. After Sam Taylor left, the next record was Dogman, and Brendan [O’Brien] said, “What do you want from this record?”“We want to sound like we sound live. We just want to sound like a rock band.” “I can do that.” So, with Dogman, Brendan stripped away all the layers, and just let us pound a record out, which was refreshing for us, and maybe for the fans too.

Andrew:
King’s X also represented the band’s first official record for major label, Atlantic Records. What sort of pressure did the band feel, if any?

dUg:
We’ve never felt pressure from any record company because we’re defiant enough to tell them to go fuck themselves. [Laughs]. We always have been that way. We had been on Megaforce, which was a subsidiary of Atlantic, and when “Over My Head” came out they called us up and said, “Why is it that when you write a song that we might be able to get on the radio and get a hit with, you always put something in the middle of it, that fucks it all up?”“Well, that’s how we write music. We always like to put the train wreck in the middle of the picnic, or vice versa. It’s just the way we write.” I remember that people had a hard time describing us or putting us in a category, and the record companies gave us probably more chances than many people. At one point, we were the darlings at a certain time in the life of the music industry, and everybody was rooting for us to be huge, so they’d push buttons for us. But the bottom line is, if the world doesn’t like clear Coke, they’re gonna keep drinking the brown Coke. And even though the clear Coke tastes exactly the same, they’re not gonna switch to the unknown. They’re gonna stay with that brown coke, you know what I’m saying? It’s just all about consumption when it comes to that, but we can’t let that affect us, we’ve got to do what we do. When you become a billionaire, and you’ve sold millions of records, that’s when the corporation comes in. That’s when the lawyers come in. That’s when the label comes in and says, “You can’t do this, and you can’t say that, because we don’t want you to lose your fans, because of all this money that’s coming in, and you’re paying all of these people to take care of you.” So then, all of a sudden, you’re not doing what you want to do anymore, and mark my words, most of those bands out there that are selling millions, they’re not doing what they want to do. And I’ll tell you this, those bands, they wish they could go back, and do something real.

Andrew:
You touched on the uniqueness of the band and your collective defiant nature, but if you had to boil things down, how would you define the sound of King’s X?

dUg:
We are a three-piece rock band. That’s it. I mean, we can play a punk song just as good as we can play a rock song or even a funk song. As long as it’s just drums, guitar, and bass, we can lay that shit down. We’ve always had a really good rhythm section, and we’ve been told that by some of the greatest musicians I’ve ever known. And I think that’s the magic of King’s X, it’s that we all play within each other’s nuances. It’s not just music. It’s feeling when somebody hits something or feeling when they play the note, how they shake that note, and how you match them with your feeling instead of just whatever. In fact, King’s X is the only band I’ve ever played in where everybody listens to each other so closely. It’s so close that it’s psychotic, and in every other band that I’ve ever played with, I look around and they ain’t listening. They don’t listen to each other and they don’t listen to me. Nah, they’re all listening to themselves, and what they’re doing, and as a result of it, you can tell the fucking difference.

All images courtesy of dUg Pinnick/New Ocean Media

Andrew:
The great debate amongst your peers seems to be, “Is rock dead?” What’s your opinion, dUg?

dUg:
Rock is not dead. It’s just stupid people not going out and looking for music anymore. Bottom line? They just want to cry and complain about shit because they don’t have any good music left in them. There are so many rock bands out there right now that are killing it. I can go down the list and name them, and I’m not talking about Greta Van Fleet. If Greta Van Fleet wrote good songs, I’d like them, but their songs suck. But there are kids out there recreating this stuff, and you know, I hang out with them, and these twenty-somethings, they’re playing Black Sabbath and Bon Jovi at the same time, they’re soaking that up, and they’re coming up with real shit. The problem is that there’s nowhere to go to do it. There’s no record companies to pick them up. There’s no MTV. There’s no FM radio for new rock. No one wants to give them a chance, so they’re all on the road, but I’m telling you, they’re out there, they’re pumping it up, and pumping it out. And when you go see those bands, they pack places out, but nobody knows about it, the greater masses that is. As for the “rock is dead people,” I say to those people, “Man, stop fucking crying. They’re out there. It’s never changed. Where are you?” I mean, there are these prodigies that you see on YouTube and on Tik-Tok that are sitting there doing this incredible music, so it’s out there. And there was a time when we were all those kids, we just didn’t have Tik-Tok and YouTube. It ain’t never gonna change. All the others are always there, and they keep coming. They never stop. And I bet that there’s a band down the street who is probably getting ready now to go blow Led Zeppelin out of the water, you know? So, that’s the way I see it, and I believe I’m right.

Andrew:
In the spirit of rock being alive and well, to what does King’s X owe its longevity in an age where many of your contemporaries have crumbled or given in?

dUg:
We’re dumb. [Laughs]. We stuck it out. You know, against all odds, we just kept doing what we do, and we still do. And when we walk on the stage, it’s us against the world, and it’s a great feeling to just go do what you do and have the right to do it. And the other reason why we stay together, and we say it jokingly, but we stay together for the kids. When it comes to this band, no one is going to break it up because they’re not going to take the blame for it happening. I’m not going to quit this band, and neither is Ty or Jerry. Nobody’s going to quit because we’re not going to take the blame for breaking the band up. We ain’t gonna do it. Our egos are too big, and we’re too good to do that. So, somebody’s gonna have to die, and then that’s it. They’ll never be another King’s X that exists without the three of us. That’s just not gonna happen. I don’t care. I won’t ever do it. I mean, there can always be tribute King’s X things, and maybe I’d even play in them if I’m the one that’s still alive. But there will never be another King’s X without me, Ty, and Jerry, and that’s just what I feel in my heart. That’s the way I feel, and other people may have a different opinion, but that’s me.

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

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