dUg Pinnick Dishes on Life, Love, and King’s X
Dialing in with dUg Pinnick is always an adventure. With his heart on his sleeve and a propensity to say what’s on his mind, Pinnick is one of rock’s most galvanizing characters. And so, as his name appeared on the backlight screen of my iPhone, I knew I was in for a treat, “Hey, man. It’s a good day to be alive. I’m just doing what I’m doing. I’m ready to get to it.”
Since the release of 1988’s Out of the Silent Planet, King’s X has imprinted their unique brand of rock music across an adoring yet admittedly cult fanbase. And while the band’s early years might have been defined by a relentless nature to compete and garner the attention of MTV’s Headbangers Ball, in the modern age, Pinnick and his cohorts aren’t holding their breath.
“Man, anyone who dreamt of us hitting it big is probably pretty fucking disappointed,” quipped Pinnick. “I know the three of us gave up on that a long time ago. And even when we were with Atlantic, we knew we were in for trouble ’cause they’d call us up asking for a certain sound, and we weren’t budging. We’ve always made the music that we wanna make, and it is what it is.”
Despite the mainstream’s general indifference – if not ignorance – to the genus of King’s X, the band does have its supporters. A loyal bunch of longtime listeners that have seen the trio of Pinnick, Ty Tabor, and Jerry Gaskill through near-death experiences, life-altering calamities, and the rise and fall of the band’s major label moment in the sun.
But for a long time, King’s X laid dormant – from a studio perspective, at least – instead choosing to pound the pavement across the touring circuit. And for what seemed like forever, the trio seemed content playing past favorites and deep cuts near and dear to their hearts. As for Pinnick, the veteran four-stringer took the 14-year studio respite to work on projects with George Lynch and enhance his chops via a solo career.
And then suddenly, without warning, King’s X reemerged once more with Three Sides of One, a musical tour de force the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, the last King’s X record. Indeed, the rumors are true; the mighty King’s X isn’t dead by any measure. What’s more, in the wake of across-the-board challenges, rock music’s most enduring trio seems more vital than ever.
“We ain’t going nowhere, man.” Pinnick continued. “We’ve got a lot of music yet to make. We don’t feel held down in any way, shape, or form, and we’re comfortable here. We stopped worrying about other people’s expectations, and we got nothing left to prove. At this point, we are what we are, and if people want to come along for the ride, then that’s their choice. From now until forever, if it’s not the three of us in it together, then it ain’t King’s X. After all we’ve been through, we don’t fear anything, not death, not lack commercial success, and not taking a long time to make a record. [Laughs].
Ever resolute, dUg Pinnick dialed in with me via phone to run through the origins of Three Sides of One, the band facing its mortality, and the future of King’s X as Pinnick, Tabor, and Gaskill find themselves more resilient than ever before.
Three Sides of One is the first King’s X record in 14 years. What was your collective mindset going in?
The other guys have been going through what they’ve been going through, and I guess it just got put on the back burner. I’m always ready, but for King’s X, being that it had been so long, it was a matter of us going back to the drawing board in a lot of ways. Because in the beginning, a bunch of friends get together and are excited about making music, which can be a very pleasurable experience. But that can change over time as things get stagnant, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why we didn’t make one for so long. But with this record, I think all three of us had some of the best times we’ve ever had making a record. It’s probably because, after 40 years, we know what we’re doing, what we want, how much to let go, and how much to fight for. We’re older and appreciate it more, so it was a lot more fun to make with that renewed mindset.
Is the album’s title a direct reference to the three of you?
Well, you could say that after the fact, but that’s not why we went with Three Sides of One. And if I’m being honest, it’s something that just happened. When you look at records like Dogman, or Ear Candy, I named those. But this time, we didn’t have a running name, and nobody seemed to be coming up with anything. So, our manager called us up and said, “Look, we need a title. The record is done. The record company has it. They’re putting a release date on it. You guys need to name it.” And we just didn’t think of anything, our manager came up with a few things that we didn’t like, and then we came up with Three Sides of One. And for some reason, everybody said, “Yeah, that works.” The title was important, though, because we wanted to give our fans the full vinyl experience with this record like we used to do back in the day. So, when you open this one up, a lot of the artwork coincides with the title, and it’s cool as hell.
As I understand it, Ty and Jerry weren’t necessarily keen on making a record. Can you expand on that?
Yeah, man. Those two guys didn’t want to make a record at first. They didn’t feel like we had anything to say that would be better than we’d already done. And we didn’t want to do something for the sake of it or just because everybody expected one. We wanted to make sure that all three of us were behind it. But I’m the kind of person who is ready to go all the time. I’m ready to make a record whenever, I don’t care. [Laughs]. I write songs all the time, but Ty [Tabor] and Jerry [Gaskill] aren’t like that, at least not in the same way I am.
Ty and Jerry were more concerned about how we’d be perceived. Because, yeah, we could have made a record at any point over the years, but it would have been us going through the motions. So, that’s not something we wanted to do, and it took a long time for us to get on the same page where we could make a record. So, I waited for them to decide when they were ready, and I went out, got three or four side projects going, and kept doing what I do. But in King’s X, we work well together, mostly because everybody gives each other freedom and space to do whatever they want. It’s less stressful that way, and it keeps us moving forward.
How do those side projects allow you to grow musically, if at all?
Honestly, they don’t alter how I operate in King’s X. Nothing ever does because I always keep writing the way I write, regardless of if it’s King’s X or another project. Whatever the project is, I go into it knowing that I’m gonna write songs, and we’re gonna work together to make something happen. And with songwriting, I think some days are better than others; I can’t write a great song every day, and I can’t write a bad song every day, either. [Laughs]. But whatever I’m doing, I’ll throw it out there and see what happens.
Jerry was more active as a songwriter this time around. What spurred that on?
Well, I came in with 27 songs, and we used 7 in the end. It was different because Jerry brought in more songs this time, which he usually doesn’t. So, we had to compromise because you can’t put 100 songs on a record. But we’ve worked together for so long that it all worked out great. It was a good reputation representation of the three of us, maybe more so than any other record we’ve done before this. But with Jerry, I think with everything he’s been through, he felt more inspired to write music.
Maybe what’s gone on in his life has gotten him to a place where he’s thinking about things in a new way. But I will say that Jerry wouldn’t bring songs to the table in the past when we did records. I’m not sure that he was comfortable playing that role, or maybe he didn’t think Ty and I would be into them. It’s hard to say, but his tracks gave this record a fresh perspective and made it unique. In the past, it would break my heart when certain songs didn’t make it on a record, but I’ve learned that everybody has got to be happy, and that’s been a learning curve for all of us. I think that factored in for Jerry, too.
One of the themes that is apparent on this record is death. Are the members of King’s X feeling their mortality?
Well, I am. But I can only speak for myself. Everything I wrote, like “Flood,” “Let it Rain,” and “Give it Up,” all of those are me thinking about death. Look, I’m 72 years old, so I just felt like, “Well, what else am I going to sing about?” I have to be honest with myself and the fans. So, I don’t want to sing about hating my life, woe is me, or how fucked up the world is because everybody writes about that. And there’s not much else to say about it anyway, and even if I did sing about it, in this day and age, everything you say is held against you anyway. So, I decided to write about what I feel about my life with the idea that other people who have been with us for a long time and are around my age might be listening. Maybe it might be a little of encouragement for those that life ain’t that bad and to take care of themselves.
Do these songs represent a fear of death, or are you simply facing it head-on?
Nah, I’m not afraid to die. If it happens to all of us, and it’s going to happen to me, sooner or later. But in my family, we live a long time; I have an aunt who is 104 and tons of relatives in their 90s, so I’m hoping it goes that way for me. But I don’t know if I should hope because who knows what’s gonna happen in the next 30 years, and maybe I won’t want to be here. At this point, I live my life the best I can and try to deal with all the shit that comes my way. But the cool thing about getting older is that certain things bother me less. Honestly, man, I couldn’t care less about a lot of the things that used to bother me a long time ago. Shit like insecurities, what people are saying, or what people think of me, I don’t give a fuck anymore. I work on being me and taking it as it comes.
Your career has been defined by struggles and how you’ve risen after facing them. How has that altered your outlook?
I think it’s been good for me because the whole thing is like the song says, I’ll never give up until the lights go out. I ain’t gonna kill myself. What would be the point of that? So, that leaves me to wonder, “What’s my biggest fear?” It’s freeing because I don’t know what will happen when I die, but I’m not in a rush to move that process along, either. [Laughs]. I am more than content to wait my turn to find out. I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way, like Layne Staley and Chester Bennington, to suicide, and I ain’t gonna go out like that. If I was gonna go out that way, I woulda done it a long time ago when shit was hitting the fan, and I was struggling with who I was. But now, I feel like I should live my life and let it run its course like it’s meant to.
Anyone who knows me or has listened to my music knows that I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve. I’m always writing and singing about how I feel, and I’m going to do that until I do. So, all my songs are very meaningful to me. Everything I’ve ever written has been a part of my journey; they’re all my babies. Each one has been me in the moment, and sometimes I look back years later, and I cringe a little bit, but that’s who I was. It’s the same now, so my outlook has been an evolution, and my songs are the living proof of who I was, who I am, and the ones I’ve yet to write are who I will be. I’ve always looked at it like that, and that ain’t ever gonna change.
You mentioned the band’s initial concerns about making a record that stacks up to the King’s X legacy. Why do you feel Three Sides of One accomplished that?
I’m not sure I can answer that because while I’ve looked myself in the mirror and wondered if I like what I see, that’s still only my opinion. I can tell you that we wanted to make this record as analog as possible. We wanted it to be authentic and not fucked with. We didn’t want digital edits or any ProTools shit on there. Even the mastering was done with tubes, and EQ was done in a way that left the tape saturated so we could get the compression we needed. And that was a big thing because we wanted to give people a pure record. The music stands up to what we’ve done; I believe that. The lyrics aren’t the same as 30 years ago because this ain’t 30 years ago. But it sounds like a King’s X record, so if you like King’s X, you’re gonna like this record. So, literally, what we were most worried about beyond that was giving people something that sounded like it was supposed to and making it pure.
Social media is the linchpin of artists’ success these days. Do you feel that’s corrupted art in a way?
Well, it’s funny you mention that because one of the tracks I wrote about that was “Swipe Up.” It’s basically about how people are on their iPhones all day, swiping up and immersing themselves in that world. Like you said, the algorithms dictate what we know and believe, which trickles down to music. The scary thing is that the AI knows what we want before we even do. And it will tell us about it and plant that seed; it’s very deceptive. But the thing is that we all go along with it; we choose to absorb all the misinformation and all the bullshit. And we’re just wrapped up in it because it never stops coming to us. So, that’s where we’re at now. It’s hard to say if it’s good or bad for music, but maybe it doesn’t even matter because they got us, and that ain’t gonna be undone.
When it comes to King’s X, do you have any regrets?
I wouldn’t have done anything differently because it is what it is at the end of the day. It’s not fruitful to stew about it now. It’s like what’s done is done; if we had done anything differently, things might not be what they are now. Or, if we had done things differently, we might have hated the outcome. Sure, we could have altered our approach, been more mainstream, and sold more records, but that’s not who we are. We’ve never wanted to change anything about who we are, and we’re now at a place in our lives where we’re comfortable with who we are.
We know who King’s X is, and I hate to break it to you all, but we’re never going to be a million-seller. [Laughs]. Not everybody’s not gonna love us, and for those that wanted it to happen, they’re gonna have to stop crying about it because me, Ty, and Jerry, I promise you that we’re not. There are days that we sound shitty or rough, and there are days that we kill it, and that’s fine with us. Our personal belief is that when we walk on stage or make a record, you get all of us; whatever it is, you’re getting it raw and unfiltered.
Was there ever a point where you thought King’s X might not survive?
Nah, because we kept playing, we just didn’t make any records. We toured up until the pandemic hit, and we actually had the record done before the pandemic. So, there’s never been a question of King’s X ever stopping – not for me – we just didn’t make a record for a long time. And from my point of view, we’ve got more records to come until we’re dead. Because after being in a band together for over 40 years, making all these records, we know what we’re doing together. And with us being one of the few bands in rock history that’s still together with the original band, I think it’s a vision quest now. So, we’ll ride it out and see how far we can go with it.
Would you ever consider a future for King’s X that doesn’t exclusively include all three of you?
At this point in my life, no. Because I’ve played with other people trying to do King’s X songs, it just ain’t the same. We have been married for a long time and play in each other’s hands. And other people that come in here to jam, you can feel it; they don’t get that thread of togetherness that the three of us have found. The only way I can describe it is that we’ve got a direction based on faith and love, which can’t be recreated with anyone else. The restlessness of being young is gone; now, we do what we do because we love it; it’s art, and it’s a paycheck. We’ve been married so long that I don’t want to go anywhere; those guys are my home. And I’m to the point where I’m excited to go home.