Unashamed metalheads, Ugly Kid Joe are back with their awesomely titled new album ‘Rad Wings of Destiny’. Formed in California at the dawn of the 1990s, and splitting before the decade ended, since reforming in 2010 they’ve barely looked back. “This has been a really neat experience, a healthy experience, a cathartic experience for us to be able to do this again”, confirms founding front man Whitfield Crane as we sit down for a chat. Chatting the new album, their split and rebirth, and the record company politics that almost prevented his appearance on a bona fide heavy metal anthem, we caught up with Whit. Letting the radness begin; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Whit, how are you doing?
I’m really good. I’m in Brighton. I’ve actually been here for two and a half months now. I’m going to leave on the 30th [October] for rehearsals in Leeds and then the U.K. tour. I actually lucked out as I was at the sea in Brighton when it had that heatwave. It was awesome!
You're a California native, so why have you been in Brighton all this time?!
We ended a tour for Ugly Kid Joe in Bulgaria I think, on July 17th, and then I stayed in Bulgaria for a while, and then I went and visited some friends and spent some time in Portugal, and then my friend and producer Mark Dodson lives in Brighton, and he has a really cool flat with like, incredible 30ft ceilings, I mean, it’s really neat to see the architecture, and so I came just to visit and say “hi”. And so I walked around this town and I’ve played here before numerous times, but I’ve never spent time here, and this town, I’ve got to give it an A+, ten out of ten; it’s awesome.
What do you like about it?
There’s all kinds of musicians here, jazz musicians, killer food, great pubs; it’s just a good vibe - an artist’s vibe so - I stayed!
Have you bumped into Brighton resident Michael Schenker yet?
I wish I’d bumped into Michael Schenker, he’s awesome! I was just at the gym yesterday listening to ‘Assault Attack’!
I want to rewind to that summer tour, and I loved how you introduced your Hellfest set by raising your arms and announcing; “let the radness begin!”, Ozzy-style!
That’s right! Yeah I came up with that, either that show or the show before. We sit before the shows and we all look at each other, and there’s always a little bit of trepidation, like; “hopefully the show’s good” as genuinely, we want to do good and express ourselves like that. And I went to the guys; “I’ve got an idea!”, and my ideas like, two or three out of ten, everyone agrees, are really good ideas, but seven out of ten are shit! So whenever I say; ”I’ve got an idea”, they all look at me like, no one’s really against me, nor are they excited, and I go; “here’s what’s happening; you guys go out, and before you guys go into ‘Neighbour’, before it happens, I’m going to walk out, I’m going to bust my hands up like Ozzy Osbourne and say… and they looked at me, they leaned in like; “what”; [says pensively] “let the radness begin”!
It was hilarious!
Klaus [Eichstadt, guitar] was like this – Klaus is kind of the boss – he goes; “that’s pretty good, dude, do that!” So that’s cool. I’m so glad you saw that! That’s the first time I’ve head anybody respond to it, so thank you!
That leads nicely to the title of the new album ‘Rad Wings of Destiny’.
Well we love Judas Priest. When I decided I wanted to be a singer I would listen to Bon Scott, Ozzy Osbourne, but particularly Rob Halford. If you want to learn how to sing, he would be the guy to mirror, so I would sit in my mother’s house in southern California and I would sit forever, all day long, trying to emulate Rob Halford’s vocals, and of course, the band itself; [Glenn] Tipton and K.K. [Downing], and Ian Hill, and Les Binks or any of the drummers. So, we love Judas Priest, that’s just a fact, and we say ‘rad’ every fifth word in our vocabulary, and if you follow the lineage of album titles, it’s just a great title.
You mentioned Mark Dodson who produced the new album, and he also produced ‘America’s Least Wanted’ back in 1992; what was it like working with him again?
Well, our back story is, when we first worked with Mark back in 1992 on ‘America’s Least Wanted’, we were really young, and I was convinced at that time that anyone who you worked with in the music industry would be your best friend for life. Like, I really thought that, and funny enough, that’s not true, but it was true with Mark. Like, Mark is my friend for life; we kept in contact, and I went to his fiftieth birthday party in England with some cool musos, and so we’ve always kept in touch; I love him, he’s my friend.
So, when we were at the conception of putting this album together, I was like; “you know what, while we can, we should all get together”. What I’ve realised is, for me – this is just my perspective – I really enjoy the process of making music, and what it leads to and who it brings together. It’s really beautiful. Mark is a special dude, Mark Dodson is a guy that produces in a way that no one knows how to do anymore. Like, the way he mics things up, and the way he gets his sounds, and the way he lets drummers be drummers, the way he does not embrace the click-track; he wants music to be alive, and not a lot of people do that anymore. So Mark is that, and I’m aware, conceptually, philosophically, and theoretically of that, and when we put everyone together, everyone was like; “hey, the gang’s back together!”, and it was a really awesome, loving, liberating experience.
The album kicks off with the supercharged ‘That Ain’t Livin’, which comes from the AC/DC-style hard riffing approach.
Well I wrote that riff on an island in Greece called Patmos. When I work with my guitar players, once again they’re really patient with me [laughing] – I’ve got so many ideas and they’re always like; “okaaay” – and I showed up with that riff and they go; “fuck, this riff’s KILLER!” So, we worked on that song, and then we tracked it in El Paso, Texas, in a studio called Sonic Ranch. We couldn’t finish all the vocals on that experience, so I ended up living in Lisbon, Portugal in December 2019, and flew to London, met Mark, and tracked the vocals there, and yes, that song to me, I am mirroring AC/DC ‘Powerage’ Bon Scott on purpose. That’s what we’re doing.
‘Not Like the Other’ is quite surprising, with its big Beach Boys harmony vocals.
Well yeah, Mark mixed that like a Beach Boys album. I wrote that song, the riff. I go sometimes to visit my sister in northern California, and her husband, he’s a super cool dude, and he loves watching college football, and whenever those games are on, there’s these big marching bands that play with horns, an you’ll hear like, you know, an Ozzy song, or a Green Day song or whatever it is, and I’m like; “fuck, I wish that would have a song at halftime!” So I went and got a coffee and smoked a cigarette and came up with this song in hopes that one day we too will be at the halftime at the college football game!
One of my favourite tracks on the album is ‘Everything’s Changing’; is that directly related to the song ‘Nothing Ever Changes’ from your last album 'Uglier Than They Used Ta Be'?
Yeah, they’re definitely related, and they’re both written by [guitarist] David Fortman. So, you’d have to ask Dave what his intent is with all that, but to me, that’s song’s like rear view; that’s the deepest song on the record. I mean, to me, it reminds me of Tom Waits so yeah, it’s a heavy song.
On the other side of things, ‘Dead Friends Play’ is a real celebration that references Malcolm Young, John Bonham, and Eddie Van Halen, to name just a few.
Absolutely. Those are, you know, my leaders and my father figures are all those bands. I think you feel the same way; like, when you listen to your favourite music from when you were a teenager or whatever, don’t you go right back to it? Don’t you feel alive?
So, that’s for sure. So that song celebrates all our heroes, certainly.
Speaking of your heroes, and in 1997 you got to record vocals on Glenn Tipton’s ‘Baptizm of Fire’ album.
It was crazy! And once again, guess who produced that? Mark Dodson! So by then I had met the Priest guys. The first time I met Glenn and K.K. was on June 6th 1993 when Ugly Kid Joe played Sheffield with Def Leppard. I was backstage, and I barely made the show – I was off seeing Metallica somewhere else – and I was in this rock and roll ether, and I was like; “wow!”; like, it was all happening; my life was happening, and we were drinking these little mini-Heinekens, and my tour manager at the time, Billy Morgan came up, and he had this weird look on his face, and he said; “hey man”, and I go; “what’s up?”, and he had this look like something bad had happened, and he’s a southern guy, and he goes [affects southern drawl]; “I’ve got some people who wants to meet you”. I’m like; “who?!”, and he goes; “I can’t tell you”, and I’m like, something bad is about to happen!
What a set up!
Everyone in the dressing room knew except me, and I was scared! I felt kind of pukey, So I cruised out, and there they were! I was like; “no fucking way!” I got on my hands and knees and I think I kissed their feet! But anyway, push comes to shove, I love Priest and built a pretty cool rapport with those guys, and don’t forget Rob Halford sang on 1992’s ‘America’s Least Wanted’ song ‘Goddamn Devil’.
So your friendship with Priest lead to your appearance on Glenn’s album?
When Glenn was doing his solo thing with Dodson, I don’t know where I was or what I was doing, and it was before cell phones, so I don’t know how Mark got a hold of me, and he said; “hey, do you want to come down and sing on Glenn’s solo record with him? There’s some little parts he wants you to sing on”, and I was like; “oh fuck, yes I do!”, so I went down there and it was such a fucking amazing experience; there was Glenn Tipton sitting there on a blue and white Igloo cooler, playing a Stratocaster, and it was Mark Dodson behind the Neve board at Devonshire Studios, north Hollywood. What an experience! And if you look at the credits, it makes me feel like a Christmas present that I want. I don’t really want anything, but in the credits it says; “my voodoo bother Whitfield Crane”, and that just makes me feel good!
You got to work with another hero when you recorded ‘Born to Raise Hell’ with Lemmy and Motörhead in 1994.
That was a really interesting experience. The true story of that, which I don’t know if I’ve ever communicated was, that was right when grunge was overtaking the world, and Lonn Friend, who is still my friend, organised – do you remember that movie The Three Musketeers? It had like, I forget who it was, there was three of them; Bryan Adams and Sting and…
Right on! So, that was that, respect to that, whatever that was [Nb; the three performed the song ‘All For Love’ on the movie soundtrack], and then Lonn Friend’s answer to this via the Airheads movie [soundtrack] was me, Motörhead and Ice-T. But my label, Mercury Polygram pulled me aside and said; “do not do this”, even though it was already done. And I said; “why?! It’s Motörhead! It’s fuckin’ awesome!”, and they said; “do not do it. It’s not good for you, it’s not good for your career”. And I said; “it’s the greatest thing to ever happen to me, I’m doing it 100%. Are you out of your fucking minds?!”.
And so, what a cool happening. It was very surreal. It was a very surreal time in my life, and the Motörhead guys are such awesome dudes, so that was cool, and to hang out with Ice-T, and just having chats with them. The cool thing about it, it’s like, I’ve always thought about videos in general; the video is really beyond selling a song or whatever that is, its documenting a moment in time, so I’m so glad that it exists. I go; “wow, there’s me!” – and with humble intent I say this – “with Motörhead and fuckin’ Ice-T!” It’s really cool.
Going back, what do you remember about the writing of ‘Everything About You’?
That’s 100% Klaus. I mean, I probably wrote some of the rap lyrics at the end. Klaus wrote that at his mom’s house, I would have to say 1986 / 1987, right in there, right when we were kids, and he wrote it on piano at his mom’s house. I think he would tell you that glam was really big, love songs were really big, like a big cock rock band would release two heavy songs and then the love ballad - that’s how it went, and they sold three million records – what a cool model! And Klaus was like; “well, what if we did this?”, and there you go; Klaus Eichstadt wrote that song and it took us around the world.
What was it like handling the fame that came with it, at such a young age?
It was fifty / fifty, so it had two extremes; one was super awesome and experiential, and we got to meet all our heroes and go on tour with them, and go to different countries and do all the things you should do at the age 24, and all that, and then the other side of it was… dangerous, in the sense of; I didn’t understand the business of music. There was a lot of toxicity in how the business of music works, and I didn’t understand it one percent, so it was just really uncomfortable. And then, of course the people that were around success, like the people who were making money off us – which was fine – weren’t the coolest people. So it came with this, like it as a fifty / fifty thing; fifty per cent of it was just the greatest experience ever, and fifty per cent of it was a curious, dangerous experience which I survived somehow, and I’m talking to you.
What was it that split the band in 1997?
I was ready to go forever, but you’d have to ask Klaus and those guys. I went to India in December 1996, and in January / February 1997 I was in India riding an Enfield motorcycle around, and I called those guys to say; “hey, I’ve got a Portuguese mansion in Goa; we should make an album. Come over here!”, and they had already had a meeting and they said; “you know, we're done. It’s over”, and I’m like; “really?!”, and they said; “yep, that’s it”. So, you’d have to ask Klaus what the reasoning was. They just, they were over it, and that’s okay. That said, I don’t know if the word’s ‘sad’, but nothing ends well, and it was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. We didn’t put the band back together for fifteen years, so for us to even be in this conversation right now? I mean, the band right now has been together over ten years, and the original band was only together for seven, professionally.
So, this has been a really neat experience, a healthy experience, a cathartic experience for us - at least for me - to be able to do this again, because I love Klaus, he’s my best friend, so for us to have this template to go, you know, I’m going to go meet him in Leeds, and I’ll go; “there he is”, he’ll have his guitar that he built in wood shop with his father. So, things end, and when they do, nothing ends well, typically – marriages don’t end well, bands don’t end well, jobs don’t end well – so, you’d have to ask why he wanted to end it. I would have gone on forever.
As you said, you’ve been back together now longer than on your original run, and have a brand new album just released, which must excite you.
Yes, we’re excited about the songs, the artwork, the vibe, and there’s ten songs, so it’s like ten children! I really enjoy the process, and I love going to the studio, and I love who’s at the studio. I love going on tour, and I love to see who the bus driver is, and I love to see the techs and the band and everybody, and I love playing the shows. I really do love the process of making music and playing music, so, you know, when you make an album, you know, through COVID, it’s quite a journey, quite a trail to get to this moment where I’m talking to you, so yeah, we’re fucking excited for sure.
You're also playing Bloodstock Festival next year; you must be looking forward to that.
Yes, of course! We love Bloodstock.
Before I let you go, I’d like to ask about The Wedding Band, the group you occasionally perform with that includes Metallica’s Kirk Hammett.
Well, The Wedding band’s just fun. So here’s what The Wedding Band is; when you’re fifteen years old, and you get in a room, and you find your friends and you’re not very good at music, but you get in, and somehow you have a garage where you’re playing in, and it’s the funest experience ever, you’re playing cover songs, and you’re not trying to get anywhere; The Wedding Band is that. It’s totally fun, it has a bunch of different players that come in a out, and we play cover songs.
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Ugly Kid Joe's 'Rad Wings of Destiny' is out now.