Bursting onto the scene in 1991 as brash as the brat on the cover of their debut EP, Ugly Kid Joe made an instant impression. A string of “big dumb pop songs” defined their early output, but beneath the hooks lay a heavier beast. Parting ways in 1996, they returned in 2012, and have been touring and recording ever since. Out on another run of summer dates, we caught up with founder and front man Whitfield Crane at Ramblin’ Man Fair to talk their rise, demise, and plans for a new album. Uglier than he used to be; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Whit, you’re just off the stage at Ramblin’ Man Fair 2019; how was it for you?
It’s awesome. We love to play. It’s a natural flex for me; I was born to do it, for sure.
There’s a lot of classic songs in the set; how does it feel to be playing them more than twenty-five years after they were first released?
It’s a beautiful thing. Remember, Ugly Kid Joe took off like, fifteen years. We broke up in, I guess December ’96, and we got back together 2012, right? By the end of Ugly Kid Joe, we did a stadium tour with Bon Jovi and Van Halen in ’95, and by that time, we just really wanted to prove ourselves on our heavier record which, at the time was ‘Menace to Sobriety’. So there were moments at those stadium shows where we didn’t play ‘Cats in the Cradle’ or ‘Everything About You’, because we were young and we wanted to prove ourselves.
Those hits are back in the set these days.
Now, years later, the very songs that used to annoy me, I see the joy in it, and you know for us to be able to play whatever song, and see people react, and realise that we may be the soundtrack of their lives. I mean, Ozzy Osbourne and Sabbath and Priest, AC/DC; that’s my soundtrack to my life, so we’re part of something. Music is really special, as you well know, and so it’s beautiful.
You had so many big pop hits early on; is it strange that some people miss out on the fact that the band has some really heavy material?
It used to be strange for me, because we knew what we had in our back pocket, but it’s also understandable. In the MTV generation, which is where we came up, if you have ‘Everything About You’ - which is a massive worldwide hit - if you have ‘Cats in the Cradle’ - which is a massive worldwide hit, what else would you gauge us on? So it’s totally understandable, but you know, our fans know what’s going on, and then when we play live in front of people, they get it, and it this point, it just doesn’t matter.
‘Goddamn Devil’ for example, is something that shows off that heavier side.
You know Rob Halford sings on that song? On ‘America’s Least Wanted’, 1992, Rob Halford of Judas Priest fame, sings on ‘God Damn Devil’; go listen to that – that’s Rob singing!
You did a mean impression of Rob Halford up on stage today!
Yeah! Listen; yesterday, we played K.K.’s [Downing, original Judas Priest guitarist] Steel Mill in Wolverhampton, and lo and behold, there was K.K. Downing. I spent a good hour with him talking, and then at the end of the day, he said is it cool if he introduced the band? And listen to me, we love Priest, so we’re living in the dream. And today I met Jimmy Barnes! It’s amazing, yeah.
You mentioned ‘Menace to Sobriety’ being your heavier record, but ‘Uglier Than They Used Ta Be’  is probably your darkest, and certainly most mature release.
That’s right. Well, if you really think about it, us making records in out twenties, what did we have to work with in our twenties? Like, how much life did we earn? People have had families now, people have had joyous things and sad things happen. People have lived their lives, so we have a big pool of experiential travails to pool out of. You’re just a mirror of where you’re at, so we’ve been at a couple of strange places along the way.
It’s been a four years since that album came out; when are we likely to see a new Ugly Kid Joe release?
We’re going in the studio. We’re all leaving on our various journeys right now – families, and all this stuff – and then we’ll come back, November 1st to the U.K., and then we stuff ourselves in the studio, and we’re making a new record, just now, this next November, November 1st. When would I expect it to be released? I don’t know. When it shows itself.
During that break of fifteen years that you mentioned, you kept yourself pretty busy.
I was with Life of Agony, Medication, Another Animal, Richards / Crane, Yellowcake; lots of bands.
Ugly Kid Joe however, is arguably where you belong.
Yeah, yeah; I think yes, that’s a fair assessment. It’s cathartic. Not only to just to go do it for myself, but like, we all love each other, and the currency that keeps us together is music. So, when we weren’t playing together we might see each other at sushi, or say “hi” over the phone, but we were not working together in the capacity that we should be, in my opinion. So, it’s beautiful; it’s beautiful and it’s familiar, and it’s loving, really.
Going back to the band’s initial impact; what was it like when it blew up huge in 1991?
You know, we were so young that when that song [‘Everything About You’] hit, we didn’t know it hit. We were on tour with a group called Scatterbrain, and all of a sudden the rooms started filling up, and we didn’t know why, because we had no clue. And then we got the Ozzy / Motörhead tour, and we were like; “hooray”, but really, it just kind of all… ‘Eye of the storm’ is a good way to put it, because, it just was all happening, and it was happening at a deadly fast gait. And it was a lot, it was beautiful, and also, very challenging, because you ended up in a political stripe, with labels. There’s a lot of people that surround the business of music that are full of shit – which is okay, that’s part of it – but when you’re 23 / 24, you don’t know how to negotiate that, so on one hand it was super fun and we did all the things you should do at that age, and on the other hand, it was too much for me. But we survived it, and I can deal with it all now, so no worries.
Is it important for you to continue making new music and not rely on nostalgia?
I don’t think of it like that, man. I go make music, and I like what I do, and sometimes I love what I do. Whatever feels good, I do it, and that’s it. But I don’t sit with a chess board and think about that question.
So what’s next for Ugly Kid Joe?
Well, we’re going to make a new record, and then we’re going to go tour around the world.
Before all that, you’ve a solo U.K. tour coming up.
That’s right. It has me singing, and it has the Haggard Cat guys – that’s a drummer and a guitar player, they’re bad ass – as the band, with a guy named Toshi – that’s our drum tech from Japan on bass, and what it’ll be, it’ll be an amalgam of songs that I’ll sing. When I say amalgam, I mean I’ve been in seven / eight bands, so I’ll cherry pick cool cuts from all those bands, and I’ll go sing the songs, and we’ll see what happens!
Like this interview? Like us on FaceBook and follow us on Twitter for regular updates & more of the same.
Whitfield Crane's solo UK tour kicks off in Nottingham on 4th September 2019. For tickets, click here.
Whitfield Crane 2019 UK dates:
09/04 Nottingham, UK – Nottingham Rock City
09/05 Guildford, UK – The Boiler Room
09/06 Stoke-On-Trent, UK – The Sugarmill
09/07 Liverpool, UK – Phase One
09/09 Sheffield, UK – O2 Academy
09/10 Glasgow, UK – Cathouse Rock Club
09/11 Newcastle, UK – Think Tank
09/13 Huddersfield, UK – The Parish
09/14 London, UK – The Garage
09/15 Birmingham, UK – O2 Academy
09/16 Manchester, UK – Rebellion
09/17 Bristol, UK – Thekla
09/18 Southampton, UK – The Joiners