EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: DOUG PINNICK OF KING’S X
King’s X frontman and bassist Doug Pinnick is truly a metal warrior. At 61 years old he’s still battling it out in the trenches, be it with his main band or one of his myriad side projects, touring all over the country and writing music day in and day out. Even more impressively he’s happy as a clam, extremely humble, and grateful for all his success: “Living month to month like the average person isn’t fun, but hey, that’s quite a life. No one ever guaranteed that I would be rich doing what I do. I’m lucky enough to do it and be able to continue to do it and get paid for it. That’s great. I don’t think a lot about what I do or where I’ve been.”
Anyone who’s seen King’s X live knows how positive and inspiring Doug is, and thankfully he was the same way when we chatted on the phone last week. We talked about the upcoming King’s X “First Church of Rock and Roll Tour,” the meaning behind its name, Doug’s side projects (he’s working on a new solo record and a project with Eric Gales), the future of making a living as a musician, and what keeps him going in life on a daily basis.
What are you up to? Are you doing alright?
Yeah, I’m doing great. I’m just working on my next solo record.
Oh that’s awesome. I didn’t even know that that was happening.
Yeah, I haven’t talked about it. It’s almost done. Jerry is doing his solo record in Nashville, and Ty is doing something with Jelly Jam I think. We’re all doing our projects, and then we’ll get back and go on tour and then come back and make a new [King’s X] record hopefully.
If you take elements of Meshuggah and mix it with dark groove and poppy attitude, that’s what you’re going to get.
Wow, sounds excellent.
Yeah, it’s low tuned, groovy and heavy. It’s typical more me. I want to sit here and say “oh this is something new that I’m doing and I’m excited about it” but at the end of the day it’s still me doing what I do. I think I’m just refining it a little more.
How do you mentally separate what you do on your solo records from what you do with King’s X? Is there a different approach to writing?
No, there’s no separation. I just write and write and write. I’m in the studio writing music all the time. When it comes time to do a King’s X record and somebody asks if I have anything written, I go, “Yeah, I got about ten here. Check them out”. Or I’ll say, “Here’s twenty. You pick ten and I’ll put the ones that you don’t want on a solo record,” and then just keep on going.
Do you feel that with King’s X that you’re kind of pigeonholed in a way into having to write something that sounds like King’s X?
No, we don’t even know what the King’s X sound is or how to make a King’s X sound. We’ve always just made music and it comes out King’s X. People tell me that no matter what we do, they can tell that it’s King’s X. I don’t know. I’m too close to it. We never think about what somebody is going to think because we believe that our fans want us to be free to do what we want. They are ready to hear what we’re going to do and not what we think that they want.
You guys have a tour coming up here, The First Church of Rock and Roll Tour. People that have gone to see King’s X over the years know that you say that from the stage all the time. What does that mean to you – the First Church of Rock and Roll?
Growing up with black gospel music in the early days of my life, going to church and hearing the preacher preach and the singer sing. The entertainment that I received from that and how I learned how to perform and just get my emotions through. Because in gospel music it is very emotional. It was really good schooling for me to open my heart up and be able to express how I feel.
Basically we went out making music and people would say to me “it’s like going to church but without religion”. They would go to a King’s X show and feel great when they leave and all this good stuff. During “Over My Head” there’s always my little speech [from the stage] at the end of it, but now I call it my sermon. I approach it like it’s a sermon, like I’m in church. I’m pretty much mimicking what I grew up watching except that it’s from my standpoint and about what I believe, and not the church or the box that the church is in.
It is inspiring. It’s great. Over the years the message of what you’re saying in your songs has changed. What in your life led to the change from more of the religious overtones to the Church of Doug?
I wouldn’t call it the Church of Doug as much as it is what I’ve evolved into. As you do what you do, one day you wake up and realize “oh, this is what I’m doing”. When I realized that a King’s X show was like going to a church without religion, I thought “I never heard of a church called ‘rock and roll’. I’ve heard of the ‘electric church’ – Buddy Miles and Jimi Hendrix talked about that. Since I loved Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles so much, why don’t I just call it the church of rock and roll?” I put the First Church of Rock and Roll because where I grew up, when you drove down the street all you saw was “The First Church of the Apostle of Jesus”, “The First Church of the Complete Christ”, “The First Church of” – everything was the first church. I thought as a spoof I would add “The First Church of Rock and Roll”. When I was a kid, I went to the First Baptist Church. I thought it was so ironic, so I thought I’d call it The First Church of Rock and Roll. One day on the stage while we were playing, I just said, “Welcome to the First Church of Rock and Roll” and it stuck for some reason to the point where we even make t-shirts now.
That’s great. It definitely is inspiring for fans so that everybody feels like they are a part of the experience along with you.
Yeah, that’s what we want.
What inspired you to do this particular tour right now?
[Laughs] Always money.
Honestly, I have no idea. Our booking agent keeps putting the word out and calls us and says, “Look, we have a bunch of people interested, and I think I can put a tour together and make it work”. We go, “Okay, go for it. Book it”. Until then it’s really nothing. If people don’t want us, we don’t go and play. In this business, you put the word out to all the promoters all over the U.S. and the circuit and say “we’re available for a tour”. If nobody calls back and says “hey, I’m interested” or they can’t afford us because we’ve got to get paid, [then we won’t tour]. We can’t do this for free. It either makes sense or it doesn’t. Like Ty always says, “We’ll tour if it makes sense. If it doesn’t, then we’re not going to do it.” It’s just the way it is.
How do you summon the energy to keep going year after year?
Obviously you’ve been doing it for a long time now. King’s X is very much singular in what it is. It’s not a band that can be easily pigeonholed at this point. Do you feel comfortable in your status and where you are within the heavy music world?It’s just who I am and what I do. I’ve always done it for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been in front of somebody making some kind of music trying to get their attention. I’m a little ham, and I’ve always been that way. I’ve always been doing things in your face and luckily people have responded in a positive way instead of saying “get the fuck out of here. You get on my nerves”. People have been good to me, so I keep doing what I do.
I’m really comfortable with it because it doesn’t matter where I go, musicians love King’s X. For some reason, we’ve been a big inspiration to so many musicians from Mike Ness to the kid down the street. It’s like the respect is crazy. I’m real excited about that. Living month to month like the average person isn’t fun, but hey, that’s quite a life. No one ever guaranteed that I would be rich doing what I do. I’m lucky enough to do it and be able to continue to do it and get paid for it. That’s great. I don’t think a lot about what I do or where I’ve been. To me it’s day by day pushing and trying to perfect the day and write a good song and love my neighbor as myself and to learn about who I am and the ways of the world so that I can be at peace with myself and the world. That’s the most important thing to me.
Absolutely. What do you keep busy doing when you’re not on the road or writing a record?
I’m always writing music. There’s nothing that I do. I get up in the morning and I’m with the guitar or porn.
That’s fantastic. I wouldn’t say “living the dream” like the way most people would utter that phrase, but it is living the dream. You’re just doing what you enjoy every day.
Oh, I’m totally living the dream. I’ve had 3 jobs my whole life, and the last job I had I was 29 years old. At 61 years old, I think that’s pretty good that I’ve been able to do what I’ve wanted to do all my life. When someone asks what I’m doing today, I say “whatever I want to”.
What’s coming up around the corner for King’s X beyond this tour?
We’ll probably do a new record. That’s always in the works. We haven’t really set it down nor had a discussion, but I know we’ll have some good conversations about it on the road. I haven’t seen Ty or Jerry in a good while. We’re like 3 brothers getting together. We sit in the back of the bus and drink wine and do show and tell, talk about what we’ve been doing, and then we encourage each other. We’re the type of guys who never take ourselves for granted, and we’re so thankful that we get to do what we do. Sometimes we just doubt ourselves and we’ve got to stop and go, “Look, this is what we’ve accomplished. Let’s go out there with our heads up and play music”.
Having no money and being broke is a degrading thing for anybody. In America right now, everybody is broke and everybody is struggling, including me. I was looking at Rolling Stone yesterday, and Adele sold 2.5 million records and this is supposed to be a big deal. I’m going “wow, 10 years ago Pearl Jam sold 10 million the first week it was out.” It’s really bad, not just bad, really bad. Then I’m finding out that either Ford or Chevy is not putting CD players in the next batch of cars that they put out. I’m realizing that CDs are old too. No one is buying CDs. They’re either getting it for free or downloading it. Everything has changed. I’m just trying to figure that out.
The worry is over now. It’s in my face. I’m broke and nothing is coming in. I’m not worried. I just go “okay, now I got to make this work” and figure it out. I’ll do some side projects, I’ll get together with a couple of people and do some stuff. I was just talking to Eric Gales and the drummer from The Mars Volta. Shrapnel Records called me up and said, “Hey, let’s put a super group together and put a record out.” I said, “Let’s do it,” and maybe we can do a little tour. So Eric will write five songs and I’ll write five songs and we’ll put it together. That’ll be fun.
I have a lot of things happening. There are a couple of guys called the [Inaudible] Brothers who are good friends of mine. They’re in the blues circuit and do a lot of blues. We’re going to get together down the road and do a straight-up ’50s type blues like Muddy Waters, real lo-fi foot stomping, simple blues. It’ll be a three-piece and we’ll pull out vintage equipment and just have some fun. I got a lot of things that I can do to make a living which is always good. I’m lucky with that because a lot of musicians can’t do that. I have such respect in the music world that there aren’t many people that I find that don’t want to do something with me. It’s really encouraging.
That is. You’re definitely very fortunate to be in that situation but it’s not through a lack of hard work that’s gotten you to that point in the first place. So the answer is then more work, keep working.
Yeah, keep working. Like B.B. King and Mick Jagger, I’m going to keep doing it until I die.