Ugly Kid Joe is back. Exclusive interview with Whitfield Crane.
Ugly Kid Joe are back after a 15 year break.
"The world is so great and music affords us this incredible opportunity to go experience it. What a trip." Whitfield Crane
An Exclusive interview with Whitfield Crane of UGLY KID JOE
BY KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Metal Sludge Contributor
By the time Ugly Kid Joe broke up in January of 1997, singer Whitfield Crane said, “Metal was not a good word to be saying out loud.”
The 44 year old, whose band’s albums were an amalgamation of hard rock, funk and heavy metal, went on to explain, “Grunge did come and just decimate everybody. It was over. We had humor, we had cynicism inside our songs and that shit was just not acceptable at that time period. People didn’t want to hear heavy metal screams.”
In the 15 years since he split for Istanbul, Turkey, a lot has changed.
No longer is the musical landscape as divided as it once was by the mid-Nineties, especially when it comes to rock music.
Earlier this year Foo Fighters, whose primary songwriter is former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, wrote and recorded material with Ratt’s front man Stephen Pearcy and guitarist Warren DeMartini. Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready recently appeared on an episode of the VH1 Classic series “That Metal Show” along with former UFO guitarist Michael Schenker and proclaimed to be a longtime metal head.
This past weekend a reunited Ugly Kid Joe – which features the seminal lineup of Klaus Eichstadt, Cordell Crockett, Dave Fortman, Shannon Larkin and Crane – performed at this year’s Download Festival along with headliners like Metallica and Black Sabbath as well as Soundgarden, who is among the few survivors of the Seattle grunge era.
The three-day festival hosted everything from metal-core veterans Lamb of God to the parody glam of Steel Panther as well as the punk sounds of NOFX and the popular ‘mock rock’ of Tenacious D.
For UKJ, it was one stop on a month-long tour through Europe – that also includes Gods of Metal in Milan, Italy; Belgrade Calling in the Republic of Serbia and a gig with Guns N Roses in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 3 – before heading to South America in support of their new EP “Stairway to Hell.”
UGLY KID JOE "Live" @ SWEDEN ROCK June 8th 2012 video right > HERE
“All kinds of different bands can finally just jam together, which is cool,” said Crane, when addressing what is or isn’t perceived to be acceptable in 2012. “I think everything is a go now.”
Crane and Eichstadt, who grew up together in Palo Alto, Calif., formed a variation of the band in 1989, but it didn’t take on the name Ugly Kid Joe until an infamous show a year later in which they shared the bill with Hollywood glam band Pretty Boy Floyd.
The show was ultimately canceled, but the name stuck.
In 1991, they released their first EP “As Ugly as They Wanna Be,” which would go on to sell more than two million copies worldwide.
“I don’t know if you would ever be ready for the particular journey we went on,” said Crane, before leaving for the European tour dates, “you know what I’m saying? I mean, we broke around the world at once.”
A year later they released their first full-length album, “America’s Least Wanted,” which also sold well in excess of two million copies.
Under the direction of Dennis Rider Management, they released 13 singles, including “Everything About You” and “Cat’s in the Cradle,” and appeared on the singles and album charts throughout the world in the years spanning from 1991 to early 1997.
If “Everything” was the single that established the band – it peaked at No. 9 on the U.S. chart, while reaching No. 5 in Norway and No. 3 in the U.K. – then the remake of the late Harry Chapin classic “Cat’s in the Cradle” cemented their place as something other than a one-hit wonder.
“Cat’s in the Cradle” became a Top 10 single in seven countries around the world and went No. 1 in Australia.
However, all wasn’t well.
“We didn’t fit in the musical landscape whatsoever,” Crane said. “All the masters loved us. Lemmy loved us. Ozzy loved us. Van Halen guys loved us. All the masters were like, ‘Come here guys’ and we’re like, ‘What’s up?’ They were very kind, welcoming and took us out and really taught us a thing or two. Our contemporaries, of course, we didn’t fit anywhere. Can you tell us where we fit in? We didn’t fit in with Alice in Chains and we didn’t fit in with the glam scene. We were like the middle ground between glam and grunge.”
The constant cycle of recording and touring was already taking its toll.
The band had long since replaced Mark Davis and Roger Lahr with Dave Fortman and Shannon Larkin. At one point, they had circled the world several times over a nearly three-year period.
They were 22 and 23 years old when they first signed with Mercury Records – “it was a good time for that to happen” – and following the success of their first two releases they followed with two more full-length albums – “Menace to Sobriety” (1995) and “Motel California” (1996).
“Motel” was released in October and two months later, during the holiday season, Crane split for Istanbul and wound up in Goa, India.
When he called his childhood friend to urge Eichstadt to join him in India, the guitarist and founding member of UKJ had news of his own. “He straight up didn’t want to be in a band anymore,” Crane recalled. “We grew up together, so we were best friends. He was over it. He was over every bit of it. It was night and day and you lived and breathed every bit of it. Everything was an interview, everything was a show and I like all that shit, personally, but for him, he had other things he wanted to go do.”
Crane added, “I love that shit to this very day. It’s very busy and very rewarding and very slippery as well. There are a lot of things you can fall into. … We did a lot of shit in seven years and seven years is a good pendulum as well for anything. A lot of things go down in seven years.”
In January of 1997 the band officially broke up.
Eichstadt spent his time doing anything but music.
After returning from India, Crane joined Agony of Life for a brief time before forming Medication, in 1999, with members of Soulfly. The band broke up in 2003 and three years later he formed Another Animal with the members of Godsmack, which by then also included Larkin.
Larkin, who previous to being in UKJ had been in Souls at Zero (formerly known as Wrathchild America), had played with Candlebox before joining Godsmack in 2002.
Crockett played in various bands in Los Angeles, while Fortman returned to his home state of Louisiana.
It was at home that Fortman quickly established himself as a world-renowned record producer. In the 15 years since he last wrote, recorded and toured with UKJ, he’s produced everyone from Slipknot and Anthrax to Simple Plan, Mudvayne, Superjoint Ritual, Eyehategod and, of course, Godsmack.
Fortman also worked on the multi-platinum Evanescence albums “Fallen” and “The Open Door.”
“Me and Klaus, we grew up together,” Crane explained, “so after the band broke up and after a little time passed we went back to just being friends. Every now and then we’d talk about music, but I wouldn’t look at him like a guitar player nor would he look at me as a singer. He was just my great friend that I love, but with the other guys – who I love immensely – the thread that kept us together was music, so when that wasn’t there I might see them out and about every now and then. I was great to see them, but I missed that thread that kept us and made us a unit.”
According to Crane, there’s “chemistry” between the five members – Eichstadt, Crockett, Fortman, Larkin and Crane – he said who make up the “strongest version that ever showed itself.”
The passage of time also helps.
“Now 15 years is a fucking heap-load of time or water under the bridge,” he said. “I mean, here’s the thing man, nothing ends well—nothing really. Jobs don’t end well. Marriages don’t end well, friendships. Bands don’t end well either. Ours didn’t end horribly, as far as that end of the storyline goes, but it’s also very weird when something that close knit dissolves.
“It’s cool to reprise this.”
The first mention of a reunion came in December of 2009 when Eichstadt was quoted in an issue of “Metal Hammer” magazine saying the band had begun making plans to reunite in the summer of 2010.
Over a one-year period they recorded a collection of eight songs that would comprise their latest EP “Stairway to Hell,” which Larkin already confirmed a year ago had been completed, but because of other commitments the release was held off until June of 2012.
Crane said he and Eichstadt approached Fortman, whose wife recently had a baby, several times over the years about reforming and that neither he nor Larkin were interested; or had the time. He added, the timing for the band to finally reunite “had to come through Dave and Shannon for it to feel comfortable.”
The band is self managed with Crane and Eichstadt handling all the heavy lifting and, according to Crane, they expectations are nothing sort of “having fun.”
“No one is going to sell a million records,” said Crane, who likened their eight-song release to the classic albums he grew up on—Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Van Halen. “Those were all eight songs. In the 90s, albums were 13, 14 songs.” He went on to explain that if those albums were stripped down to eight songs “they’d all be masterpieces.
“It’s the wild west,” he continued. “The paradigm is broken and that’s a good thing.”
At the moment Fortman is spending time with his newborn and will join the band in South America as well as any future plans – they are hopeful promoters and agents will be interested in a U.S. tour later this year – while Larkin is finishing a Godsmack tour and will also rejoin the live show in South America.
Sonny Mayo and Yael are touring Europe in their place.
Mayo has previously played with Snot, Sevendust and Hed PE before, like Fortman, pursuing a career in the recording studio. The guitarist previously played with Larkin, who recommended Mayo for the gig, while Yael is no stranger to filling in as well.
Yael, a Hebrew name from the “Book of Judges,” is taking time away from The Love Project. She has previously performed with Fireball Ministry and recorded with George Lynch.
Whit on the set of their debut video for "Everything about you"
“Collectively we have a great attitude,” concluded Crane. “I’m real excited about it. I’m sitting here in Lake Tahoe, (Nev.), and I’m looking at Klaus’ dad, who’s 83, and I’m genuinely in awe dude.
“I’m looking forward to going to Istanbul and listen to the Cult of Prayer, check out crazy silhouettes of crazy buildings and taste crazy tastes. The world is so great and music affords us this incredible opportunity to go experience it. What a trip. What are the chances of me going to Romania—pretty slim, but I’m going to Romania to play and I’m playing a club show in Prague.”
Looking back at all he and his band mates have endured, Crane added, “There were moments in that 15 years, where I was like, ‘Fuck, am I every going to sing again? It was like a far away dream or mirage that I remembered, but I wondered if I would ever do it again. I realize how much a gift this is, really.
“Everyone’s alive, everyone’s healthy.”
UGLY KID JOE European Shows 2012:
Wed 6th Jun Underworld, London SOLD OUT
Fri 8th Jun Sweden Rock Festival, Solvesborg Sweden
Sun 10th Jun Download Festival, Donington Park
Tue 12th Jun Melkweg, Holland
Wed 13th Jun Le Forum, France SOLD OUT
Thu 14th Jun Matrix/ Rock Palast GmbH, Germany
Fri 15th Jun Reload Festival/ Alte Ziegelei, Germany
Sat 16th Jun Die Werkstatt, Germany
Mon 18th Jun SO 36 Kreuzberg, Germany
Tue 19th Jun Feierwerk, Germany
Wed 20th Jun Szene Vienna, Austria
Fri 22nd Jun Gods Of Metal @ Fiera Open Air Arena, Italy
Sat 23rd Jun Earshakerdays Festival, Switzerland
Sun 24th Jun Graspop Metal Meetin, Belgium
Tue 26th Jun Lucerna Music Bar, Czech Republic
Wed 27th Jun Hafen, Austria
Fri 29th Jun Usce Park, Serbia
Sun 1st Jul Rock The City Festival Bucharest, Romania
Tue 3rd Jul Hayarkon Park, Israel
Fri 6th Jul Istanbul Open Air Festival, Turkey
Sat 7th Jul Sofia Rockz Festival, Bulgaria
Keith Ryan Cartwright is the senior writer for PBR.com. In 1993, he interned for Dennis Rider Management, while Ugly Kid Joe embarked on a worldwide tour with Ozzy Osbourne. Cartwright currently resides in Fort Worth, Texas.
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