|There is an elite group of living performing songwriters whose mere mention bring awe and admiration from even the most casual music listener- Springsteen, McCartney, Costello, Bono, Sting… To some, that list should also include the names Jerry Gaskill, Dug Pinnick, and Ty Tabor- a trio better known as King’s X. Hyperbole? Not to countless popular musicians who count the band as their muse. The saga and misadventures within the recording industry of the much maligned Houston based trio have been documented extensively elsewhere. Despite that history, King’s X continues to write and perform some of the most accessible yet challenging songs in the history of rock. New FOON correspondent and King’s X enthusiast, Señor Cuckoo, recently caught up with bass player and singer Dug Pinnick prior to a show in the second leg of their tour promoting their latest release: ‘Ogre Tones’.|
Interview and photography: Señor Cuckoo
First thing I must ask about has to do with the location of tonight’s gig. The Alrosa has become an infamous club after what happened to Dimebag.
Columbus Ohio’s Alrosa Villa, one of the US’s longest running rock clubs, was where former Pantera guitarist, Dimebag Darrell, was murdered while performing. Dimebag, a close friend of Dug’s, often professed his admiration of King’s X as one of his favorite bands. Ed.
What are your thoughts on playing here given that history?
It’s just another gig.
It seems like everybody else out there has problems with it. I don’t. I love Dime and Dime is a good friend of mine. And he’s dead and it’s tragic… and it’s horrible, what happened to him. And I think about it all the time- what happened to him. But as for the club that was just a one-time deal. You know it’s like getting on an airplane. You’ve got to go. You’ve got to move on…. So, for me, I know what happened; I block it out and just play.
I was here at the first gig that you played after his death. It was one of those situations where, though you made no mention of it during the set, there was this unspoken thing…
I don’t know… everybody else that I knew was kind of like… 'Dug- how can you…' it must have been weird and blah, blah, blah… But it really wasn’t! It wasn’t at all. Like I said the two are separate to me. I mean, everything that happened with Dime, I’m still devastated over it. But this is just a room with four walls. They have shows every night. I can’t let that bother me.The other thing, you know is that I didn’t go to the funeral. So Dime is still alive in me. Even though I miss him and I know I’ll never see him again. I didn’t get to go see that part of it. I don’t go to funerals anymore. I want them to stay alive in my head.
Let’s switch gears a bit and talk a little bit about your songs. You have built up quite a challenging songbook; the band has stylistically been all over the place both musically and lyrically…. Personally, I have never thought of King’s x as a Christian band…
Even in a record like Gretchen… I could see a lot of agnosticism in it…
People just didn’t get it…. I mean, we were Christians when we first started. And that was our faith and that’s what we believed in. We tried to go by the rules. And we believed the whole bit about Jesus. But all of the records are always me questioning. Is this really it? Because I grew up in a religious family all my life and I have always been going: something ain’t right here. So I have always sung about what I thought wasn’t right- my confusion and my disillusion with it. And then finally when Dogman came out I just spewed it all out. I was pissed at that point. Everybody was like: ‘he’s not Christian anymore’. Everybody got freaked out.
But come on… a song like ‘Don’t Believe It’; (from King’s X’s second recording, the classic- Gretchen Goes to Nebraska) that pretty much says it…
Or ‘What is it?’ I am just asking questions. Or ‘Power of Love’ (both from King’s X’s debut- Out of the Silent Planet- Ed).
what is left the will to be
the power power of love takes me takes me from here
oh the power of love
I mean… you don’t have to do anything else.
I don’t know. People just took it that way. We did have a few symbols, Christian symbols like Ty put the word ‘dove’, ‘symbol of the dove’ (‘in the new age’ also from their debut Out of the Silent Planet Ed.) you know, the holy spirit. And Christians just latched on to it…
…But it was kind of neat because we had the Christian market and then the secular market going but then Christians started finding out who we really were…. And you know how that goes.
Hate the sin, not the sinner…
You can do a hundred things that are righteous and try to ‘save the world’ but one little sin… they turn their back on you. So I think organized religion is the stupidest thing in the world.
And now, look at the current White House….
And they say that there isn’t a Jihad. This is a religious war. It’s the Christians against the Muslims. Bottom line. The Christians are always going to support Israel no matter what they do. No matter what they say. In their mind, the Bible says that if you don’t support Israel then God will wreak havoc upon your country. And so since there are things in which we don’t agree with Israel. And the Christians are going: ‘God is going to judge us’. It’s bullshit! Nobody is looking at the truth. It’s a bunch of fucking people in the Middle East that hate each other and have nothing better to do but blame each other for their problems and call it: God.You know, the bottom line is that they’re all useless to me. I mean, there are good people there as well. They are all humans. But when it comes to the religion. It’s just…it’s just… wrong! To me, it’s wrong. I see very little good coming out of it.
Have you had a chance to see United 93 yet?
I don’t want to.
For me, it’s like going to see The Passion of the Christ. I’m not going to set foot and watch a barbaric story about a man that all he does is get beat. What good is that? That is going to get me saved? You know, and the pastors- they bought thousands and thousands of tickets and they took all these kids to see it. To scare them. It’s bullshit! It’s just wrong!
I agree, I thought it was essentially a snuff film...
Right. Exactly. It’s just propaganda. A film to trick people into following Jesus- “look what he did for you’. Bullshit!
I have more respect for Jesus now since I stopped believing he is the Son of God than ever because of what he really did…. I mean walking into Jerusalem on Passover when every Jew was there. And he stood up and he did his thing. He made a statement … and they killed him. And everyone in the Middle East knows that…. If you stand against your religion, they kill you. It’s not brain surgery. You do that… you’re going to get killed. And everybody thinks it was this great great thing. And it was a great thing in the sense of his boldness of standing up for the poor people…
The bottom line: the Middle East? It’s just a big fucking mess! We all know that but people won’t admit it. It amazes me. I said something political on the stage a couple of nights ago. All I said was: “We’re from Texas but we don’t necessarily agree with all the politics that come from Texas’. And I get an email from some guy saying: ‘Dug, man- don’t get into politics. You are going to lose all your fans. Blah, blah, blah… And I’m going… fuck you! I just told the truth; we don’t necessarily agree with all that comes from Texas. It’s like, what was his problem? We did ‘Freedom’ (from King’s X’s latest- Ogre Tones) and I said: ‘In this day and age, in the United States- home of the free and home of the brave- our freedom, our rights are being taken away. And freedom seems like a prison’. He got all upset about that. I emailed him and I said: ‘I am just telling the truth’. He says: ‘I am well aware of politics and I am well read. And blah, blah…. And he’s bragging about how much he knows about politics. Like he is telling me something. And I’m like: that’s stupid! You know, Ty’s dad was a Colonel. Ty’s wife’s dad was a Colonel. Ty’s son is in the Navy right now working on computers. I have friends over there right now that tell me what is going on. I know what is going on…. It just blows my mind that people can stand there, both left and right, stand there with conviction in their heart and feel that they are right. There is no left or right. Both sides are fucked!
There is an obvious parallel to fundamentalism…. This ‘black and white’ mentality…
I know! We’re never going to agree on abortion. We are never going to agree on Gay marriage. We are never going to agree because Christians say it’s wrong and they CAN’T change. They can’t compromise. The Bible tells them they can’t. So what are we going to do? Why try to discuss things with a bunch of people who are not willing to change their minds. It’s the same with Muslims though…. They’ll believe what they want to believe. All we have to do is send them MTV and commercials and McDonald’s over there and wait about 20 years. You’ll see what happens…. As long as people get something outside the Box, they are going to run to it. I can’t believe all these people really believe in Mohammed. They believe that because that is all they know.
What they’ve been taught….
Exactly. Same thing I was in Christianity….
And that’s one of the many refreshing things about your band. Here is you, strongly agnostic, playing alongside of Ty who still considers himself a Christian It’s so rare now in our society: civil disagreement….
The three of us went to our journeys separately but we all of us pretty much consider ourselves agnostic; all of us, now. We look at each other and go: ‘You know: I don’ t know. I just believe in my heart. I can’t look at you and judge you and tell you what to believe and what not to believe’. And that’s how we feel towards each other. And we respect ourselves much more because of it….
Can I recommend you a book?
I don’t read much anymore but go ahead…
The name of the book should appeal to you…. Doubt: A History. Essentially, it deconstructs every major philosophy and religion conceived so far….
I have read similar books. And it’s why I believe what I believe now. Some of the things that I have learned about religion; the history of it…. I took a course on the history of Christianity- 2000 years. And when I got done with that… I’m going: (laughs) ‘It’s all bullshit!’ What does this have to do with God? I mean everything that’s happened, it’s just a bunch of men pushing their thing on somebody else and forcing somebody to believe this or do that. Like, the King James version. He had it interpreted from Greek which was interpreted from Aramaic… and then we are going to say- this is the truth! This is God’s word. It’s bullshit. The Catholic Church is the true Christian Church- and IT is bullshit! I’m sorry, I say this but in my heart it IS bullshit. I love you anyway.
It goes back to the whole notion of distinguishing between someone and his or her beliefs….
When you step outside the box and you put it in front of you, it’ll make sense. When you’re inside the box… you can’t see it. And that’s why I don’t argue anymore with people about religion. They say: ‘What got into you, Dug? God is real and you will have to face judgment one day’. And I look at them and say- if the Christian God is the real God then I’m fine. Because God knows exactly why I am who I am and why I do what I do…. And he can’t fault me for that. Because what is put in front of me is what I have to take and put into my heart and believe. And what has been put in front of me is this. And I say: I am agnostic! If God has a problem with that then he is not the Christian God.
Oh…. And they say it is a ‘he’. The Bible says that it is not male or female yet we call it ‘he’. The Bible is a male chauvinistic book designed to keep women in their place and to control the masses with fear. And that’s just how I feel about it….
You talk about love and how if you go to Christ then he will set you free. And you will get all this love…. Well I didn’t get any of that until I left Christianity. When I got out, I experienced everything that Christians say happens to them when they accept Jesus. It was the opposite for me. And I can’t go back. People tell me: ‘Come back to the Lord. Why are you mad at God?’ I am not mad at God. I don’t even know God! Why would I be mad at God? If God is God, what am I going to do? I can’t stand there and change anything. I’m pissed at Christians for giving me all this bullshit and telling me they know what God wants me to do… and they know what God wants from everybody else. Nobody knows what God wants! If they looked inside themselves, they’d see that they are confused; they are full of doubt about the whole deal…
They refuse to doubt….
They panic! If you do that then something is wrong. And the whole thing about fear about going to hell… about being separated from God. It’s a cult! As far as I am concerned, Christianity is one of the biggest cults in the world- society sanctioned brainwashing. I may be stating the obvious, but there is no hell in the Old Testament. In the Jewish tradition nobody goes to hell. But that is all Christians talk about nowadays: hell. When I stopped believing in the Devil, everything changed. Life is now so much more peaceful. I was afraid to go to the woods. I was afraid to go to bed at night…. You know what I’m saying? It’s all fear. And it’s all wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. I wish most people would see it but they can’t.
So many children suffer under the hand of Christian families. And they end up becoming: a mess. They say that most kids that are Gay and kill themselves come from Christian families. Statistics-wise, there are very few atheists and agnostic people who do crime. Everybody in prison is Christian or Muslim or belongs to some kind of religion.
It’s that age-old argument. Who is the more moral person- the person who is moral out of fear or the one who is moral out of their own principles and convictions?
Yeah. I don’t think most do it out of convictions. It’s got to be out of fear. Who would want to leave their life the way the Bible tells you to unless you didn’t have something pushing you to do it- the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell. Those are the two things that get people. Without that… there is no religion. (Laughs). At least the Christian religion…. There are other ways to be: yin/yang, reincarnation, the ‘spirit god’…. It’s all crazy!
I hear you…. But let’s get back to the music….
As a disclaimer, I am a frustrated bass player. When you are writing a song, what makes you think: 4 or 8 string?
I don’t play 8 string. I have 8 strings but I don’t like the way they sound. But Tom Petersson plays a12 string in Cheap Trick…
…which is so cool but I never thought twice about it. But we were on tour with Cheap Trick; on our second record I think it was. And we were hanging out with them because they are really cool people. And they were getting ready to walk on stage. And I said: ‘Tom, that is such a cool twelve string!’ And he says: ‘Check it out!’ He hands it to me as they are standing there getting ready to walk on to the stage. And I started playing it and I said: ‘This is awesome! I want one of these’. And he said: ‘Get a hold of Hamer. Have them make you one.’ Then a few months later, they approached Ty to see if they could make guitars for him. And I said: ‘What about me?’
'Well…we’ll make some for you too, Dug.' And I go: ‘Will you make me a twelve string?’ And they go: ‘Sure’. So they made me three of them. And I have been playing them ever since…. And people think I originated it but, no, Tom Petersson- he is the guy! I tell everybody that Tom did it…. But I get credit for it. (Laughs).
Strange coincidence. I’ve been listening to Cheap Trick a lot lately since I just got their box set…
I have to get that! I’m from Chicago so I have known about them forever. I saw them all in bands before they were Cheap Trick. There was a band called Fuse. I don’t think you can find it on CD. It was an album on Epic records. Tom Petersson played bass and Rick Nielsen played keyboards….
Yeah…. They sounded like Bloodrock… if you remember Bloodrock.
I have no idea who Bloodrock was.
Basically, late 60’s early 70’s rebel rock. So, yeah…. I remember seeing the lead guitarist. He had a wall of Fender dual showman heads with Fender cabinets. I mean this is before even Marshalls…. Tom Petersson played a regular four string but it was an acoustic bass. I don’t think they make them anymore…
Have you ever played stand up?
I tried. Me and fretless don’t work. I don’t know how Sting does it- sing and play fretless. You have to have a really sharp ear for that. And, as much as we play in the dark, I can’t tell where I’m at.
Are you familiar with Michael Manring?
I’ve heard that name.
He takes it to a whole other level…. He was a student of Jaco’s at one point.
I love Jaco.
He plays a custom bass. A fretless, which he can alternate tunings in as he is playing.
It’s absolutely insane. Absolutely ridiculous.
I’d like to see him once. After that, I’m done. Wanking…. to me it’s like jerking off without cumming.
I mean- where is the climax? I mean, I will give them credit for what they do. For what they do and how they do it; the time it takes, the dedication. I’m in complete awe! Billy Sheehan is a great friend of mine. I think he is such an awesome bass player. And to this day I don’t understand why he calls me his favorite bass player. Cause I am playing 16th notes. And here he is rippin’. He can play beyond what I can think. But I am the kind of person…I just want to lay back and groove. I mean the testosterone…. Back when I was younger, it was a different story. First person I heard like that was Stanley Clarke. I had never heard anyone play fast before. (Imitates extremely fast bass notes). So I sat home in my early twenties going (imitates extremely fast bass notes, again). I was trying. But it was just too much. And I thought- I can’t find myself. I just want to have fun. I gave up on it. I respect those people. And as for watching them, I’ll watch them once. I’ll stand there and go: ‘That’s awesome!’. But give me a good song. Give me a good groove….
But that’s the one thing about Manring….
If he can blend them together, I’m there!
He did a lot of stuff with Michael Hedges. He was the house player for Windham Hill. So he can do both….
Awesome! If you can do it all then you have my respect. But there’s a lot people that can play fast but can’t groove or who can groove but can’t play fast. I can’t play fast. But give me both and I go- I’m there!
There’s a record he did with all these great players: Herb from Primus, Steve Morse, Alex Skolinck, Steve Smith…
Must be crazy. Anybody sing in it?
No. All instrumental. I know, you need singing…
I just get tired of just music. I used to listen to instrumental stuff but at my age, I’ve listened to so much music…. I’ve just settled into what I like now. Years before, I was just like a sponge. You play everything. It’s all new. But now, I’ve heard just about every genre of music…rehashed. I was born in the 50’s. And I have watched rock and roll- every ten years just regurgitate itself. To the point now that everything I hear, I have heard before. There is nothing that anybody does that I go: ‘Wow, that is something new I’m inspired by!’ That’s cool, bless their heart- they’re 20 and it’s new to them- have fun! But I just sit back and smile. I mean nothing impresses me anymore…. The only thing that impresses me now is how many genres you can put together and turn into something else. If you can do that, then you got me…. But nowadays, nobody is doing that.
Some try. Did you ever get a chance to listen to Puya (a band from Puerto Rico who fused speed metal and salsa- Ed.)?
I love Puya! I know those guys.
You mean, you loved Puya. They don’t have a record deal. They’re no more!
See… I bet they couldn’t get arrested, probably. When you come up with something new and interesting, nobody wants to hear it unless you’re pretty and you have a million dollars of publicity behind you….
I thought ‘Fundamental’ was an amazing, amazing record…
I liked those guys. They’re a really good band. I just think the whole Caribbean vibe…like Soulfly; their first record blew me away. In fact, the drummer in the first record, I’m going to do a project with him someday. He’s got the jungle in him, man. And, it’s awesome! I love that stuff, the jungle rhythms and put it to metal.
Record companies…. They are just not letting bands find their voice.
Record companies are doing so bad. They are not interested in developing anybody. We went to Atlantic and said: ‘Here. You want Ogre Tones. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done…and it’s produced by Michael Wagner. We’re proud of it. It’s a really good record! For once in our life, we thought we had a really good record! I mean, we don’t like anything we do because, you know, we’re human.
But, this record- we’re very proud of it. And we went to Atlantic with it and they said: ‘We’ll pass’.
(I groan in disgust.)
And my friend in Atlantic who is way up there…I mean she’s like the second in command; she said she took it to the head guy and he says: ‘ We’re just not interested in old bands. We just want the new ones’. She said: ‘You can just throw it out there! You don’t have to do anything. I mean if they threw it out there, we could probably sell a hundred thousand records. And they’d make all their money back. It would be a no-brainer but they wouldn’t event take it on. Clutch is the same way. The band Clutch was on Atlantic too and they want back with a record- all done, everything done…. And they wouldn’t put it out.
That just doesn’t make any sense…. Who the hell is going to remember who Ashley Simpson is five years from now?
All they want are bands that sing like this: “La-la-la-la’ (imitates bubble gum punk). I hate that shit! I am so sick of that shit!
The Emo crap?
I mean, at first I liked it…when it first came out. ‘Cause I thought, this is cool but then now there’s a thousand bands that sound exactly alike. I did a compilation tape of Emo bands one time and I was playing it one day and somebody said: ‘Dug, is this the same band?’ Cause they all sound the same. Sonically, everything.
It’s like 1988 all over again. Everybody trying to sound like Guns N’Roses…
Now everybody is trying to sound like Weezer….
Or Green Day, yeah…mmm hmm…. I just wish they all would want to sound like King’s X….
I would love to wake up one day, turn on the TV and say: ‘Everybody sounds like King’s X’. My mom says most bands sound like us anyway. And there’s something to that…. Almost every band I meet now tells me how King’s X was a big influence to them. Dropped D tuning- you know, we did that first. And now everybody drop D tunes now.
Any band that I run into now- they’re fans. It blows my mind! I mean, Jazz musicians, Country musicians…. I got an email from a fan, from the band Alabama saying ‘we love you’. It’s the weirdest thing….
What I don’t get is the disconnect between that and the record labels who don’t see that….
Well, the things is- musicians don’t buy records. And that’s the bottom line. We are a musician’s musician band. They look to us. They love us. They’re inspired by us but everybody else out there, the regular people who buy records, they could care less about us.
To me an obvious pairing, touring-wise, would be you and Rush.
At one point, we had the same managers. They tried to work that out but just…conflict of interests. The bottom line is political. Any band that plays arenas, if they take a band out, they want that band to draw x amount of people. They have to have some sort of clout or the record company has got to be paying them a phenomenal amount of money to get them to open in front of a big crowd. It’s all about money. It’s all about politics. And we just didn’t have it. Nobody takes you out because they like you. Because every rock band out there say they love us. And can’t understand why nothing happened. Nobody wants to take us out. And when any of them pops out and says: ‘Let’s do it!’. Their management shuts it down. They say there’s no money…. They’re not blah, blah, blah…. And we get pushed out of the way. The only band that ever did anything for us…. Pearl Jam took us out for a week. And they did that because they liked us and Jeff is a good friend of mine…. and I’m thankful for that. AC/DC took us out for four months….
I was going to say AC/DC….
…And they requested us. And that was awesome! They treated us like kings. They said we were the only band they took out to dinner.
It was awesome working with them. It was great. But other than that, everybody else is just…. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not like it’s a pity party, like nobody cares. Everybody is too busy trying to keep their own boat afloat. I can’t expect them to take care of us when everybody is struggling. I’m not angry or bitter about it. It’s just the way it is. Politics. So we just have to keep getting out there, doing what we do and, hopefully, it will snap one day.
You know, 13 records and all these songs. All these great songs, I think. Through the years… When I was younger, I hated everything I wrote. But now I look back- you know, that’s not a bad song, really. Especially, like when a 15 year old walks up to me and says: ‘Goldilox’- that’s the greatest song ever!’ And I’m going… it sounds like crap! It’s 1988! What are you talking about? And they love it. I don’t know anymore. I just stand back and do what I do and let them deal with it….
This is going to sound really strange. Are you familiar with ‘Movin’ Out’, that Broadway show built around Billy Joel songs? I could see something similar to that made out of your songbook.
I wish some of these bands would just come out and say: ‘Hey, can we do one of your songs? Put it on a record? What if like, Audioslave, put one of our songs in their record? We’d make some money…(laughs). I just want to make some money. I want to pay some bills. You know, it’s hard. It’s hard for everybody. It’s hard for us. We go home broke. We tour and we do this and we make a living on it but we go home broke. Bottom line. So, I’ll be back home for four, five months with no paycheck. I have to figure out a way to make money. And we do. We survive. Ty’s projects… I take people to my studio and produce them. You know, all kinds of stuff. We’re always working, doing something. Ty masters records. We all have to work, you know. And everybody is going: ‘Oh man, that sucks!’ But….
It’s a business….
Yup, it’s a business…. Don’t be bitter. Don’t be mad. I hate it when musicians are bitter because they think they didn’t get what they deserved. Whatever we deserve, we’re getting it. This is what it is. You can never say ‘what you didn’t get was unfair’. Life isn’t fair. It never has been fair. Some people are lucky and some people ain’t. I just wake up. I walk out and I just duck and move so that I don’t get knocked out. Just keep on going. And hopefully I can stand until I die. That’s the way we look at it. Life’s just much easier that way.