Skateboarding, nose-picking, foul-mouthed children of the Nineties, this one is sure to get your attention! If you’ve heard of a little band called Ugly Kid Joe before, this interview is going to get you hyped for their Australian Tour at the back end of 2017. If you haven’t heard of them, and have been living under a proverbial rock, allow myself to give you the rundown.
Ugly Kid Joe is an American Rock band hailing from Isla Vista, California, formed back in 1987. The band’s name spoof s that of another band by the name of Pretty Boy Floyd. Ugly Kid Joe’s sound attributes the band to a handful of genres including rock, hard rock, funk metal, and heavy metal. To date they’ve released four studio albums, the most notorious of the bunch being America’s Least Wanted (1992) which is certified Double Platinum.
As for mentioned, Ugly Kid Joe will be touring Australia later this year, in which they’ll be playing America’s Least Wanted in full to mark its 25th Anniversary. OVERDRIVE were fortunate enough to get a hold of front man Whitfield Crane to discuss the tour, the album, and the experiences that he’s had surrounding the two.
When it came to the reflection of America’s Least Wanted now being 25 years old, Crane’s answer was simple, “It’s surreal”. He followed up by discussing the point of not realising how big of a deal America’s Least Wanted would ultimately turn out to be. He explained, “Absolutely not, we had no idea what we were doing. We were kids in a studio, rocking out to Judas Priest, drinking beer; we didn’t know what we were doing (laughs). And, uh, miraculously it took us around the world, you know we hadn’t really ever been around the world, we’d barely left California by that time. I certainly couldn’t have imagined 25 years later, you know we were 24, it’s a lifetime.”
One of the most famous tracks of the album was their cover of ‘Cats in the Cradle’, which is absolutely brilliant (if you haven’t heard it, what have you been doing with your life?). Curiosity killed the cat (see what I did there), and I had to ask if there was a certain inspiration behind selecting that song to cover. Crane’s explained, “Well, uh, the honest answer (is) we were in the studio trying to make a full length record, we didn’t have enough songs to fill the record, we just didn’t have enough material, and the record label we were working with at the time wanted it to be full length. I just said to the guys hey, we’ve played this song live a few times, we kind of knew this song, kind of. I love that song, I grew up with that song, and it meant something to me, it was pretty seamless but there wasn’t really a point to it, we were just trying to make a full length record. I love that song, I really do, I love Harry Chapin, I love all that stuff. I love Elton John, so. So we just put it on, and you know it sounds good, we didn’t think of it as a single and there was a radio station in Texas in the United States, and that radio station got a lot of positive response for it and all of a sudden we made a video. (Laughs) But it wasn’t on purpose.”
Ugly Kid Joe fans were reeling in 1997, only five years after the initial release of America’s Least Wanted, when the band disbanded. They went on to do their own thing, and in 2010 they reunited and hit the recording studio again, much to the delight of the fans who has supported them many years ago. Crane briefly spoke of the feelings of coming back together, and making music again. He explained, “It felt natural, it felt cathartic, and it felt good. To get back together and not have to find a new producer and have a friend do it, and then have them take care of all the essentials. Imagine if you got together with your High School buddies and went to dinner together, your real friends you haven’t seen in a while. It was like that, but it wasn’t dinner it was making a record.”
Look, when you compare Ugly Kid Joe to some of the bigger, and more notorious bands sure there’s going to be a huge contrast in experiences. However, Crane’s experiences in which he discussed with myself are some of the largest that I’ve heard of, and some of which other musicians and artists would only dream of! Crane took a trip down memory lane and spoke of some of the most notable moments of his career, including taking the stage with some legendary performers. He explained, “Americas Least Wanted we got to tour with Motorhead and Ozzy Osbourne at age 23, or whatever we were. We went from skateboarding, drinking beers and burning couches in California to touring with the masters! They were super cool to us, we were so young and so excited. That was a cool tour, we had a tour bus! I’d seen a tour bus but I’d always wondered what was inside. So that was pretty cool. America’s Least Wanted took us around the world, I’d never thought that would happen. I could never see past like Southern California and all of a sudden we were in Belgium, or Sweden, or England, or Japan, it was insane and it went on for two and a half years. It was mind blowing.”
He continued the nostalgic reminiscence of his past, namely a show he was asked to play at Hyde Park with the one and only Motorhead. He explained, “Jamming with certain artists has been cool. I got to jam with Rob Halford of Judas Priest. I’ve jammed with Motorhead about 25 times over the years. Back in 2014 I was just kind of on the bus hanging out with them and they played a show in Hyde Park in London, I’d heard about Hyde Park but I’d never seen it. The bill was literally like Soulfly, Motorhead, Faith No More, Sound Garden, Black Sabbath, I mean that was the bill. And they said come jam with us, so I’d come out and Lemmy would say ‘Whitfield Crane’, you know no one knows who I am so people in the crowd were like ‘who is that dude’. It doesn’t matter, I was jamming with Motorhead at Hyde Park! Stuff like that, a lot of stuff like that has happened. I’ve got to jam with cool people.”
Crane is a person full of humility, and it was no surprise that he’d shift his attention to the other people that he’s come across in his life. He explained, “Beyond the creative there’s a bunch of cool people I’ve met that are friends for life. Music will afford you a lot of moments, and you can meet a lot of cool folks through music. I could go on for five hours on this, so good question!”
Being the fact that America’s Least Wanted is now 25 years old, it’s always intriguing to get an insight into how an artist, or band, feels when tackling something they produced a lifetime ago. Crane explained, “It feels familiar, you know. I’m not lying. We just came off our tour in Europe, and we played some of the songs off that record. It’s so interesting we’ve been touring since 2012, but Fortman hasn’t been in the band, like we’ve had guitar players but they’re not Fortman, you know? He’s a powerful guitar player, so imagine that element of familiarity, you know how you go and see a band and there’s a piece missing? But you know it’s cool, it feels really natural, everyone reverts to the early sounds we were making and it’s like ‘Wow, there it is’.”
There’s no denying that Ugly Kid Joe aren’t the young kids they once were, but returning to this album 25 years later has seemingly painted a sense of youthfulness and familiarity within the group. Crane explained, “I would say 100%. We just got off tour for two and a half months in Europe and Fortman was on the tour, and he’s a badass mother fucker. For sure, reinvigorate, I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but I’ll use it. But it’s familiar, like wow. Half of being a band, like you can go to rehearsals which can sound killer, but when you go play a club, or a stadium, or a theatre whatever and it’s packed out and good it’s a really neat moment. It’s not really about you, it’s about we, like the audience and stuff. So like imagine for us, I can’t speak for the other guys, but you can see that the people really enjoys these songs. Yeah, reinvigorate is a good word. It feels really familiar, and cathartic. How about that.”
As mentioned a couple of times already Ugly Kid Joe will be touring Australia in December, and Crane gave OVERDRIVE an insight as to what the Australian fans can expect from them. He explained, “I’m going to rip apart the old catalogue and play a lot of old, cool stuff. I’m sure we’re all going to jam together. I can see, and don’t really want to answer, but I can see a lot of guest coming up in Australia. I always try to be personal, and make each show a little bit original. I really like community, I like jamming with people. So sure we’ll play the album, which will be killer, but we’ll put it all together. Maybe an acoustic section, maybe bring up some people that really admire Australians, I can kind of see it. Does it make sense? I want to jam with some big dogs, I’ll be making some calls. How about that?”
Every band comes equip with an ace up their sleeve when it comes to touring, be it in the form of special guests, performing unexpected tracks, and everything in between. Crane spoke briefly about some plans he is tinkering with in his head. He explained, “The way I do art is I want to feel good, I want to feel centred and excited about my life, when I do stuff like that if it’s in Australia or Italy or wherever I may be, if I am really excited about something then everybody else is, so for sure. But the main thing is I’m trying to make myself feel excited about music and life, and I’m going to bring that wherever I go. But Australia, that’s the thing you have you have special musicians, and iconic heroes that exist in this plane so I’m going to jam with them for sure.”
Some of you might not know this, but Crane has made Australia his home for a short while now, which is pretty damn exciting considering his wandering nature. When asked what it is about Australia that made him want to call it home, his humility shone through, yet again. He explained, “It’s a good frequency for me you know, I travel a lot, I don’t live anywhere. I have a backpack, a credit card, and a passport, and I just wander around the Earth like I have for the past 25 years. Sometimes I’ll live in Costa Rica, sometimes I’ll live in Italy, or wherever I end up. But in 2014 when I was here I was like ‘Wow’, I always keep coming to Australia but I never really stopped and like embraced it, and I knew I loved it, and I did stay here. I really like the music scene, the people are cool. It’s hard to put into words, but imagine it as a frequency and I feel good here. I like the communication here, the music here, good food, the people are cool. I love living here.”
Crane had one final message for the Australian fans. It’s simple. “This tour is going to be fucking badass. If you’re into a really kick ass Rock and Roll show, then come on down!” He’s not wrong, folks! Be sure to get on down for what is bound to be one of the biggest nostalgic trips you will take all year!
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