King's X: The US band together for a decade

Monday 1st February 1999

Alex Figgis conducted an in depth interview with KING'S X's vocalist and bassman Doug Pinnick.

Kings  X
Kings X

Within King's X's 10 year recording history, whilst being hailed a 'musician's band', Doug Pinnick (lead vocals/bass), Ty Tabor (guitar/vocals) and Jerry Gaskill (drums/vocals) have never seemed to rise much above word of mouth popularity outside of their solid fan base due to a number of factors. However with the release of 'Tape Head' - King's X's latest project and debut for Metal Blade records - a new dawn appears to be breaking over their musical direction, which arguably had become somewhat stagnant under their strained relationship with former label Atlantic Records.

"The good thing about Metal Blade," explains Doug, "is they will let us put anything out, let us put live music out and EPs and things like that, which [are] things that we've always wanted to do; plus come to Europe and play, because Atlantic wasn't too up on us coming. They wanted that big hit single in the US and they kept concentrating on that."

With new found artistic freedom and the pressure gone for the band to sell millions of records, King's X are now starting to see lasting fruit from their labours. "I have enough money to live from week to week, month to month, you know. I think that's all [that] all of us really want," says Doug. "With Metal Blade, their concern is that they say that they give their artists a decent living," something which Doug, Ty and Jerry were not used to. "It's the first time that I can say that after 28 years of playing rock music, that I have something really to show for all these years of work; which I did not get with Atlantic, because the money that they spent and the money that we spent just trying to keep up with the Joneses, you know, in that dog-eat-dog world just took everything. Our manager, Sam Taylor; spent most of the money on the business aspect of King's X and the Wild Silas organisation, where he was bringing in other bands." Needless to say, the road thus far has not been easy; paved with disappointment and unfulfilled promises, being left with nothing to show for their endeavours, to finally join forces with a record label who are intent on seeing their bands succeed, is extremely refreshing. "We have it all back again," states Doug. "We have control and things are going well again for us."

It has been a little over 10 years since King's X released their phenomenal debut 'Out Of The Silent Planet' for Megaforce World-wide, a tiny independent metal label ran by husband and wife team Jon and Marsha Zazula. But the story of King's X began in the late 70s when a young Doug Pinnick met Jerry Gaskill as they entered into what proved to be a short stint with Petra, "a long, long time ago, 1979 I think it was," reminisces Doug. "We stayed with Petra for a month, we didn't practice, didn't rehearse, [and then] the band broke up. Jerry and I were both sort of lost and Greg Voltz -the lead singer of Petra at the time - told us that he was starting up a group with Phil Keaggy." After a year or so with Phil as his backing band, both Doug and Jerry left to pursue other avenues. It wasn't long before they happened upon guitar virtuoso Ty Tabor "He was playing with some friends - just jamming I guess - and I liked the way he played so I got hold of him and asked him if he wanted to jam with Jerry and I and from then on we decided to stay together"

Located in Springfield, Missouri, Doug, Jerry and Ty went on to release an album under the name Sneak Preview. "We made 1000 copies and I think we gave away most of them. It's not a very good record, I mean, I don't think it's a very good record," muses Doug. "The bands in Missouri used to play new wave but played very heavy - like Nirvana - with very distorted guitars; [but] no one was ready for it at the time because that was the era when jangly guitars were the big thing. So we have this album of sort of new wave Police type music with heavy guitars. My voice sounded like I was 12 years old," Doug laughs. "It's very embarrassing."

Noted for their unique musical style and expression, it would be a number of years still before King's X would be given the platform from which to launch their particular brand of rock. It was in 1985 that Doug, jerry and Ty were invited to come to Texas by some associates within StarSong Records. "They asked us if we wanted to be on the label but we didn't want to be on a Christian label," explains Doug. "So they asked us - since they knew we were struggling, starving musicians - if we wanted to come down and be backup band for one of their artists called Morgan Cryar for a year" During their term with Morgan Cryar; they met up with Sam Taylor, former vice president/general manager for ZZ Top. "He heard us play," recounts Doug, "and for some reason he seemed to feel that we had some potential. So he started work with us as our producer and he became manager for us." In spite of circulating a four-track demo around a number of record companies, nobody seemed interested in cultivating their potential. It was not until a providential mistaken identity occurred that King's X's recording career began. "A friend of mine," Doug shares, "suggested that I send a tape to Johnny Zezula in New York. It's a metal label and I thought, 'Well, we're not a metal band,' but we said, 'Why not?' So we sent it and they loved it.

"What had happened," continues Doug, "was that Johnny's wife had seen the tape and saw the name Sam Taylor as a return address on it.

Well, she had a friend called Sam Taylor but wasn't the same Sam Taylor So she immediately opened the package and played it. When she found out [it wasn't her friend], it didn't matter because she immediately loved [the demo]." As a result, Johnny Zazula invited the band to present a showcase show for Megaforce World-wide in New York and was so impressed that he refused to let them go until they had signed a deal.

Every aspect of our lives has a particular motivation. Whether consciously or not, all we think, say and do is influenced by a myriad of factors. In music, it is safe to say that whatever is expressed - both sonically and lyrically - is the result of what is within that person. "I've always had a healthy diet of music," states Doug. "That's all I remember, music. I don't remember much else." In the '50s, Doug recollects hearing Frankie Lyman And The Teenagers for the first time. "This is 1955 when I was 5 years old and rock and roll had just begun. I remember the harmonies, the base line, the whole song; it's like music for me has always been an ongoing information thing."

One undeniable aspect of King's X music is Doug's distinctive bass playing. Critically acclaimed, he has been featured in many relevant music publications; it has been argued that he is, in fact, one of the best bassists around. "I love the sound of the bass," Doug declares. "As I got a little older I used to listen to all music only to bass. I didn't know anything else existed. I didn't know there were guitars or drums, honest; I just heard bass. So when I was actually 22 years old, I used to tell my friends I wanted to play the bass. But coming from the ghetto, for some reason, I never thought I could even have one. It didn't occur to me to go and buy one. I just figured I'd never have one." It was not until a friend came by with a bass guitar for Doug to try, that he actually picked one up. "I was just so happy," exclaims Doug. "I remember the first riff I played; I was jumping up and down yelling because I was so excited. I don't know if it was any good or not, I don't remember ever learning to play bass; all I remember is I've been playing it in my mind. So when I got a bass guitar, it just translated into my hand. If I did struggle, I don't remember because I was so excited just to do it!"

Inspired by what he sees and feels, there has always been a desire within Doug to translate all these aspects via the music he has within. "I've always written from my point of view; the way I see things. Earlier I used to sort of point the finger and say 'why can't we all get along?'"

Kings X
Kings X

Through listening to early U2, Doug found an example in Bono's honesty. "He taught me not to be afraid to speak about the way I felt. Not to be embarrassed about my shortcomings; not to be afraid to say, 'I don't know who I am and I don't know where I'm going'." But it was not until he met up with Jerry and Ty that Doug's desire was truly fulfilled. "We suddenly started to make the music that I heard in my head. I didn't understand it and to this point today, I still gravitate towards that soul groove type of music which is low and dark but yet has my life in it."

For those of us who have followed King's X's musical journey, there can be no denying their early gospel-fused material; one need only bring to mind songs like "King", "New Age", "Out Of The Silent Planet", "Difference", "Silent Wind" - even "Flies And Blue Skies" - to name but a few. More recently, however; King's X's lyrics have expressed struggle and doubt. "You can tell on all King's X records where I'm at and what I'm going through," explains Doug. When 'Ear Candy' came out, it was evident that certain members of the band were showing signs of inner struggle regarding their faith. Doug comments, "I got to a place where I questioned God and his existence and this whole Christian thing that I lived all my life. I wasn't afraid to question it. I wasn't at that point afraid to say it [although] I knew that if I'd said that, many people who were believers that listen to King's X would totally throw the baby out with the bath water

"What I was trying to say," continues Doug, "is that I'm not afraid to say I don't know anymore if God exists. What I've been taught all my life is that God is in his little box and he's all figured out; I stepped out to find the truth, because if God is supposed to be everywhere, then he's there also. I had a very, very rough childhood when I grew up and a lot of problems because of it; I still deal with a lot of it and for some reason I always felt alone, like there was no one there and for some reason I gravitate to the people who come from very bad backgrounds also. A lot of my music that I write is from the aspect of saying, 'Look, you're not alone. I'm here and I understand.'

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