By Jay Hale
If one had to list what were the most criminally underrated albums of the 90s, King’s X’s Dogman would be high on the list. Whether due to the changing tides of music at the time, the advent of grunge, the ripple effect of the death of glam metal, etc, it slipped under radar of many at the time when it should have been a huge hit. Produced by Brendan O’Brien, one of the ‘It’ producers of the day from his work with Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and the Black Crowes, Dogman sported gargantuan riffs, soaring vocal harmonies and hooks big enough to grab Cthulhu’s attention. It finally captured the ferocity of King’s X’s live performances, a trait lost on their previous releases.
This album should still be selling a zillion copies a week, but sadly, while it still sells, it never had the impact it should have. In fact, it could be argued that one of the main reasons this album was overlooked was the fickle nature of the music industry at the time of its release. Atlantic Records did what they could, putting out different color CD and vinyl pressings, making sure the band did massive press, MTV appearances, and to top that off, played the most coveted spot at 1994’s Woodstock festival. Unfortunately the music industry model was becoming more aligned with chasing whatever was hot that day, at that time tastes oddly happened to be turning towards boy bands and pop tart divas.
Bassist/vocalist Dug Pinnick doesn’t fault the label, though. Interviewing Dug is like a dream come true. He has a tendency to give such complete, articulate responses that he often answers what would have been your follow up question before you have a chance to ask it. He’s very open and easy to talk to. I met him for sushi near his home in Reseda to speak to him about his memories of the album and the times. The conversation was deep and far-reaching, touching not just on the band and the music industry at the time, and today – as well as cultural and societal influences in, and on, music. No punches were pulled; Dug tells it was, and is.
First off, what are your memories of the lead-up to recording Dogman? Where were you guys at musically and what was the band’s mindset at the time?
Well, Sam Taylor had just left. We were “once bitten, twice shy” and pretty much disillusioned with Rock n Roll world, and management, and all the other sh*t. That was the first time I got really angry. I’ve always been this nice guy who lets people be who they are, but at that point, the things that had happened before making that record changed us. And that’s why that record was so dark. We got Brendan O’Brien to produce, because we always wanted to sound that way.
That was my next question. Was the goal to make the record sound like you guys do live?
We’d always sounded like that, but the records never sounded like it. People say they’re great records, and that they loved them, but they didn’t sound like us live.
No, they didn’t.
Yeah. So, trying to make a long story short (laughs), but yeah, we got Brendan for that. And also, everyone at that point was doing Drop-D tuning that I remember, and I thought “Let’s go down lower.” So we went a half step lower, and I wrote several of the songs in Drop C – just experimenting, because I had never really heard anybody playing that low. And the songs were about… just being pissed off! (laughter)
I always loved the angry vibe of that album, yeah.
Really, we were in every way …relationships, management, it seemed everything we had built up was falling apart, and rock n’ roll had gotten to us. Under our eyes – we were just innocent bystanders. We got signed and they got a hold of us and tried to mold us into what they wanted us to be. We kicked and screamed the all the way, but finally at the end we saw through the bullsh*t and realized we had a chance to make the record we wanted to make. Brendan even said “What do you want out of this record?” and we just said “We wanna make a record that sounds like us live”. I mean, everybody else got to sound like that; uou put on a Soundgarden record, or a Rage Against The Machine record, and it’s slamming – and I’m going “We play heavy riffs, why do our records sound wimpy?”
The early records are super-clean, almost pristine-sounding comparatively. You guys breathe fire live.
Yes, just scrubbed – scrubbed. I mean, we had an engineer that was such a clean freak; you couldn’t touch a knob to tweak anything, once he thought the mics were just right. We couldn’t EQ anything. We’d ask “Can we compress this?” or “Can we add some more low end?” and he’d say “No, no.” Plus, this was back in the analog days and people didn’t mix until everything was done. So you put your track down and hoped it was perfect. Then you walked away and somebody mixed it a f***ing month later, and you never knew what you were gonna get.
That’s what it was with us. We’d get done with the songs and stand there and listen to these mixes, afraid to turn around and say “this sucks” because it would be a war with the people that were making the records with us. So we just put up with the BS, we really didn’t get it. Because today I listen back to those records and hate the sound of them. I know that other people are into them, but…
Take Pearl Jam for example. Jeff (Ahmet) always hated the sound of that first record, he thought it sounded crappy. So he said one day he was going to get somebody to remix it. So Brendan remixed it. Dude, the mix is Brendan’s mix. I hear things so clearly – things I didn’t even know Jeff was doing on bass. It’s amazing. But that endearment, the thing that made me fall in love with it… I miss that tin can Eddie voice with the echo, piercing through and the reverb… the whole…
How you originally perceived it.
That’s how we got it. So I’ll never cut those records down and say they weren’t what they should have been. But you talk to any musician… I’ve never met a musician that says “I love what we just did!” I do remember [on Dogman] every tune we did, Jerry (Gaskill) and I would go back to the hotel room and listen to the mixes on a big ghetto blaster at the end of the week, without vocals. And we’d sit back and go “Dude, this is brutal.” I mean, I remember sitting there going “I can’t wait for people to hear this!” we were really excited. For the first time, because we knew it was this record was brutal.
It was! I remember as a fan being excited for what it was going to sound like knowing Brendan O’Brien was producing. Let me ask, were you facing any label pressure at the time? Did the label ever ask for 10 more variations on “It’s Love”?
No, we never had any pressure, but we knew that, if you looked around – if you weren’t selling records, you were gone. We were on Atlantic, they had something like 400 bands at the time. And they really took us under their wing. They had money; I thought they pulled out all the stops for us. Everything they could do. They had a lot of stuff going on for us, then the tour with AC/DC… but what happened was: We played Woodstock (’94), when the sun went down, on a Friday night. The perfect spot, the one people would have paid for, and we got that spot. It was Sheryl Crow, Live, Jackal, Candlebox and a couple of other up-and-coming bands all at the same level. MTV doin’ their thing.
When I ran into Jeff Rowan – he’s the head of ICM Partners, he booked U2 and other bands – he came to see us when we played for Johnny Z and got signed in New York in ’87, he came along. You know, when we showcased and fell in love with us. Said we were the next U2. He put us on ICM immediately. We were always one of his favorite bands. So when I ran into him at Woodstock I said “Did you have anything to do with us getting this slot?” he said “Oh yeah, you’re my favorite band. I always said if I ever did anything this big I was going to make sure King’s X was on the bill. And I also put your set at the perfect spot. You’d be surprised how many bands were fighting for that.”
The thing with King’s X was, people inside the industry loved us, so they pulled out all the stops for us. They opened doors for us; they gave the world to us. But here’s the thing: When we played Woodstock that night, MTV said we “woke the crowd up.” USA Today said we were one of the Top 5 bands of the event. Metallica, Nine Inch Nails… I mean, we were put in that category. We sold 200 records in the New York state area that weekend, everyone else went on and sold millions.
How does something like that happen…?
When that happened, two nights later we played Jon Stewart and Ty shaved his head. I remember that night. We got done playing, and it was just this weird vibe. We were just like “Y’know, nobody gives a **** about us.” And that’s when we just said “**** it” and he shaved his head. At that point we were just kind of like lots kids. Our new manager left and we started working with Ray Daniels [Rush, Van Halen]. So we had some of the best people, and they would sit down with us and say “We’re going to make this work, we’re going to do this, this, and this” and “They don’t know what they’re doing.” Everyone that came into our camp; literally some big, huge people would tell us what they could do, and nothing ever happened.
Bottom line, Ray Daniels said to us “You guys are like a fine wine. Those that love you love you, and those who don’t just don’t care.” And that’s the sad thing about us; we were never hated, we were just ignored. Even at the beginning we were told “People will either love or hate you, but if they’re indifferent, that’s a bad sign.” They told us that in the beginn
ing, here’s another thing that confirmed that: Watching Beavis and Butthead. I used to panic all the time knowing one day they were going to get to us and just destroy us. But here’s the thing – usually they always agreed. Either something sucked – or they loved it. With us? One was picking his nose, falling asleep, the other was into it.
Okay, now I have to find that (episode, known as “Heroes”). I don’t remember that!
Everything we’ve ever done was like that! Even they didn’t hate us!
But for the creators to pick up on that, back then? That’s heavy.
I think we did everything wrong as a band back then. By that I mean we were never allowed to be ourselves. So we second guessed everything. I think that’s when you don’t see honesty. So by Dogman, I was just like “F*** this”.
So did you have a bunch of the material for Dogman already written, or did you just go into the studio furious and started writing?
No, back then I wrote a lot, but when it was time for a record I’d lock myself away for a month and sh*t out songs, so I’d have a backlog. Usually people think we do concept albums, but it’s more like whatever we’re going through at that moment turns into the story.
How was Brendan O’Brien as a producer? Did he let you do what you wanted, or was he a task-master?
I wasn’t around for say, when Ty was tracking leads, Jerry and I had other things we needed to do, but when I was working with him? Brendan’s a fan. I didn’t feel like I was “produced” – and by that I mean no offense. I mean I went in and sang five takes, and he’d go “This is so great.” That’s all I got. He would never sit down and say “I think we need to work on this” or whatever, it was more like “Okay, I think the first part of the drum take is perfect, but for the second part…” He could hear it. And he would take 24-track tape and splice it. He had them all taped up to the wall with notes. He’s a genius. But if you’ve ever heard the Dogman demos, they sound close and it’s a 4-track! But I’m more comfortable with my vocals on the demo because I’m more relaxed. Another thing, Brendan would have me do five takes, and he picked what he liked, not necessarily how I would’ve settled on; I have my own way of phrasing, and some of the stuff he used was where I was experimenting, and he put together what he liked. But I’m not complaining, except that I kind of have a hard time listening to it.
It’s odd to hear you say that, but totally understandable the way you explain it.
I can tell you one thing; “Black the Sky” is probably my favorite mix of any song I’ve ever heard in my life, okay? That mix, oh my god – the guitars the drums, the bass, the snare – just everything was in your face. I love that, and I love that song. It was my dream come true, because I’d heard Brendan’s mixes for years, and I’d dreamed of that sound for years – and there it was. I pull that song out now to mix stuff against.
Another way I look at it… I mean, we were really jaded from our last manager/whatever-you-want-to-call-him, so we weren’t really open to anything. So Jerry tells me Brendan suggested a couple of things on a couple of songs that would have made them more “hit” orientated, sonically – like he wanted to put a vocal or something on one song, and I think Ty and I said no. I think everything Brendan wanted to do we didn’t know or didn’t realize, because we were so jaded.
So I know from reading about the recordings back in the day Ty was experimenting with Rectos, for example. Did you do any gear experimentation at the time as well?
Oh yeah. Usually when Ty is trying out an amp I’m like “Give me one, too!” Every guitar amp Ty has had? I have one! [Laughter all around] And I use them for my high end. So I used the Rectifier for my high end on that recording. Sometimes I think using the same amp as Ty really helped us sonically.
Your tones do mesh really well.
Yeah, we can hit a note, and… One of our friends who has perfect pitch says when he listens to us and we hit a note together we cover the entire spectrum that your ear can hear. We’re both using Fractals now.
Funny, you already answered what was going to be one of my follow-up questions: When you guys heard the tracks played back, you knew you were on to something.
Ah, you know I like to talk! Yeah, it was an exciting time for us. We had high hopes. I remember having a few long conversations with Chris Cornell at the time; they were tracking Superunknown. And we were laughing at each other because we were both singing in the stratosphere all the time. Chris said “Man, I start a song off so high, I’ve got nowhere to go!” and I’m going “Me too!” so we kind of made a deal to intentionally sing lower on both of those records. So you hear (sings “Black Hole Sun”) – both of us stopped screaming.
Brendan produced both of those, and in my opinion the productions have aged really well on both. You also answered another one of my questions already – I wanted to ask if you thought the label did enough at the time to help promote the release and you indicate you think they did more than enough.
What I liked about working with Atlantic was when Doug Morris took me aside in his office. I don’t know what it was; I’d go in these places wide-eyed like a little kid because I love records, so everyone would always show me around! Doug took me in his office one time and said “You’re one of my favorite bands, as long as I am here you will be on Atlantic.” Then he left a year later. The next guy that came in as CEO was always like “We’re trying, but we suck, we can’t make King’s X big.” They’d always apologize to us, and he was the biggest apologist. Then they started firing all the other bands. We were looking around, we were about to do Ear Candy and we said to Ray “Get us off Atlantic.” Doug and Ray went golfing, almost got in a fistfight, but finally he agreed to let us go for 2 million dollars. So [after 1996’s Ear Candy] we had a 2 million dollar debt. And now we can’t get anything we’ve ever done from Atlantic, ever. It’s over. Maybe we should have stayed, I don’t know. But that record was my last attempt to write ‘hit’ songs. I mean, I worked on hooks…
I don’t think it was for lack of hooks. I’d blame it more on how screwed up the industry became, wouldn’t you?
It’s funny when people talk about what they blame for our lack of success, or what everyone expected. Here’s what I think: It’s not that America’s racist, but a white kid can sing a song to white suburbia and it’s okay. A black guy in a rock band, people aren’t gonna listen to that, because they can’t relate. Unless I’m rapping, about the ghetto or something they can fantasize about? They’re there. Kids in the suburbs, white kids LOVE rap – but there’s very few black rock bands that white people will embrace, because we don’t look like them.
You’re preaching to the choir.
You know? I mean understand, if we had a white lead singer, and I was just a black guy in the band? It would have been working. Look at Guns N’ Roses, look at Rage Against the Machine, you can go down the list of bands where there’s a black or mixed guy in the band and no one notices, but…
Make the person of color the focal point, people are suddenly uncomfortable.
That’s just the way it is. And the blacker you are the less comfortable [laughter]. Yeah, and I realize that. I mean, if I’d looked like Biggie Smalls, I wouldn’t even be here! In a rock band? No.
My mom said “If you played soul music, you’d be famous!”
Yeah, thanks mom! [more laughter] Maybe someday as a society we’ll get past that. But it makes you wonder – if Slash had instead been the singer of GnR, would they be as successful?
True. But another thing: I can’t be mad like the Black Rock Coalition. White people didn’t “steal” the music, we gave it to them. Don’t blame them! I mean, what record in hip-hop or soul, since the 70s, has had lead guitar in it?
Black folks don’t want no guitars! Especially distorted guitars. It’s been that way for years. I mean, they didn’t give a **** about Jimi Hendrix!
Which is just weird, I agree. He was the pioneer,
and he was rejected rather than embraced by the community. That could be a whole other in-depth discussion. But back to Dogman, I know you said you love “Black The Sky”…
But what songs do you still love today, and love to play live?
We’ve been playing “Dogman” since Ty and I wrote it; I’m tired of doing that one, and “Over My Head,” but I understand that everyone wants to hear it. I don’t know… “Human Behavior” is one of my favorites musically, because when I wrote it, I was so happy with it before we put vocals on it, but as usual, when we put sing over something that brutal it becomes… prettiness.
Yeah, but I just felt like I could have done better with the storyline, better melody, better chorus. Every once in a while I’ll pull something like that out and try to like it. The older and farther away from it I get, like I listened to it a few weeks ago and I think “Okay, that’s not that bad”. I mean, I don’t hate it. It is what it is. It’s sort of like, when I wrote the lyrics I really didn’t know what I was saying, so when I hear the chorus I feel like I could have explained myself better, or been more cerebral, or been more clever. That’s something as a songwriter I try to work on, the flow and the cadence of the melody. I used to just go and do songs all these years and you just throw out what you feel, but I realize that’s not the way you do it. There’s being in the pocket with your voice.
Listen to Robert Palmer for example. There’s a groove in his singing. And everything is like a drum, and it’s moving. I’m ahead of the beat, behind the beat, trying to show off, and I’ve just been trying to be better and just add to what I know about music to finally hone in on…trying to be as great as the people I think are great. To learn their ways and to incorporate that into what I’m doing. I’m blown away that at this age I’m still learning.
Speaks volumes that you think you still can. A lot of people get to a certain age and say “I’ve got my s*** down”. And that’s when they stop growing. You won’t. Speaking of the present, so you’re currently doing vocals and bass for the next KXM release, your blues project’s CD is done except for a couple of vocal tracks, you’ve done work on Tommy Baldwin’s solo debut – you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire!
And King’s X is talking about doing another album! That’s all I know right now, but we’re talking about it! And of course we’ve always got King’s X shows coming up. Gotta pay the bills, right? I’m going to start working on another solo album, too.
That – is awesome, fans will be happy to hear that! In addition to all that, you have a signature bass amp out?
Yes! It’s by Tech 21, and it’s called the DUG Ultra Bass 1000. It’s 12 lbs, 1000 watts of digital power, and it has a high and a low channel. The high channel is the crystal clear distortion sound I use, and the low channel mirrors the low end I use, and you can blend the two together to get your sound. What I love about it is the low end is compressed; the high end isn’t. It’s very user friendly. I’ve been finding that almost everyone who plays through it says they want to go play it again, because it’s so much fun to play. From Jazz, to Blues to whatever the tone you can dial it in, and that’s more than we thought it would be. What it does it translates what your hands are doing, so you can be an individual. It sings to your fingers. Everyone that’s tried it, be it at the jams [Dug is a regular at Ultimate Jam Night in Hollywood] or whatever, asks me to dial them in, and then after they play it, they tell me they want one, immediately. Robert Trujillo from Metallica got one, Jeff from Pearl Jam already got one, and I just saw him playing it on the Colbert show. I thought “His bass sounds good, what amp is he using?” And then I saw it! I’m very proud of that.
And I have a signature bass from Schecter now (the Baron H), and it’s selling!
That’s awesome! Does it have the special Duncan Custom Shop pickups you were using in it?
No, I ended up switching over to Pro-Active P-Bass! The old ones we talked about were getting to the point that they couldn’t be rebuilt. Then I found that with the new amp, it has everything I need. I ended up trying it with a bass that had the regular pickups and thought “Wow, I don’t need those pickups anymore”. So I’m using the regular Pro Active P-Bass (APB-1) now.