KING’S X – Rules Again – A Conversation with dUg Pinnick

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dUg Pinnick – Photo courtesy: Facebook

One of the most influential bands of the last forty years, King’s X, has returned after a fourteen year recording hiatus to deliver a masterpiece that is both musically and socially relevant. Three Sides of One is the long awaited follow up to 2008s XV, and it is as reflective as it is contemporary in its execution. Longevity is a difficult thing in an industry marked by youth and formulaic carbon copies. Too often, artists risk becoming parodies of themselves, recycling the musical tropes of past triumphs, desperate to recapture earlier successes.  While King’s X might look back on its seminal 1988 release, Out of the Silent Planet, which is undeniably a monumental shift in metal music, establishing the medium’s progressive sound, they have instead created a musical meteoric strike that moves the goal post, yet again. Their work is solidly planted in the present, both personally and historically. Three Sides of One might not only be King’s X best album, but the best metal album of 2022.

Screamer Magazine recently sat down with dUg Pinnick, lead vocalist and bassist for King’s X, to discuss Three Sides of One and the future of the band.

King’s X has never conformed to the whims of popular musical shifts.  Since the beginning, it has been a deeply personal artistic endeavor.  When addressing the question of fitting within commercial constraints, Pinnick is unsurprisingly defiant.  “We threw all that out the window after we did Ear Candy.  Eventually, you realize you don’t know what it is people want, and you finally wake up and say, ‘look, we’re going to just do what we do, and those that like it, like it, and those that don’t? Well, what else can you do?’ So, that was the approach we took. And, all that darkness and that ball and chain left. We didn’t have to worry about that shit no more.”  This may sound counterintuitive from artists obsessed with honesty and precision on every track, but it makes sense when success becomes secondary to being true to outcome…when success is defined differently and the number of albums becomes secondary to the quality of the content.

While many bands chase a formula, King’s X remains unapologetically organic in their songwriting.  When asked about their approach on Three Sides of One, Pinnick confesses that not much has changed over the years.  There has been a regular irregularity to the process.  “The approach has never been written in concrete,” Pinnick explains.  “It might be a song that doesn’t have a key change or it might be a magnum opus.  It’s whatever you might be doing at the moment. It’s a good thing and a bad thing, kind of.  I’ll put on Mushuggah and then I’ll put on Cold Play and get just as much out of both of them.  It’s what I produce. There’s going to be melody. There’s going to be harmony. There’s going to be heaviness. There’s going to be butterflies. There’s going to be everything.  We put in everything but the kitchen sink then added the kitchen sink.”  True to form, Three Sides of One winds its way through a sonic wilderness of psychedelic guitar solos, grooving bass, chaotic time signatures, darkness and light.  Each track is singular, yet undeniably unified under the King’s X banner.

On the opening track, Let it Rain, we see a perfect synthesis of seemingly discordant musical influences: blues, funk, metal, but always identified by King’s X’s signature sound. In the hands of lesser musicians, Three Sides of One might devolve into a schizophrenic collection of competing songwriters. Instead, each song maintains the essence of its author, be it guitarist Ty Tabor, drummer Jerry Gaskill, or Pinnick himself.  It is finally and completely King’s X. The album’s title could not be more appropriate: the three are one…and impressively so.

As with much of their previous work, Three Sides of One feels like a concept album, planned with a single focused idea, connecting each melody and lyric.  However, it is more the result of a sincere relationship between bandmates and musicians.  These guys have gone to instrumental war with each other for decades, and, even if they tried, they couldn’t sound disconnected.  As Pinnick relates, “Every song that we write is about what we’re dealing with at that time, even from the first song that we ever wrote.  Whether it was inside or outside, it is always us trying to make sense of things.  I’m always asking those answerable questions…because it leads to more songs.” Three Sides of One may not have been conceived as a single concept, but Pinnick admits why it may seem so. “This album was a concept in one way. All the songs we brought in we wanted to record them, mix them sonically, and play them physically, like they were a single. One song that we were going to give to everyone. This is our best piece of work, right here.  And here is another song, and it might sound totally different, but it is still King’s X.”  Different but expertly weaved together.

Three Sides of One

King’s X is one of those rare bands that has produced three equally talented songwriters and vocalists, where competition might seem inevitable; however, this has not been the result.  Seemingly conflicting voices have produced collaboration rather than disagreement.  Pinnick, looking at King’s X long history, says, “In the past, everybody wanted me to sing everything because I’m the lead singer and that’s the way the band was set up. Then Ty started bringing these songs in, and I was singing them.  I’m thinking, ‘he sings them better than I do.’  Ty has a vibe that he creates with the songs that he writes. And I say, ‘Hey Ty, sing these songs!  Jerry, sing these songs!  You’ve got great voices!’ And, the fans of King’s X seem to enjoy all of our voices. That’s kind of the way we do it now.  Whoever brings a song in, you’re gonna sing it.  I don’t wanna sing your song! I wanna play bass on your song!” he laughs.  Tabor, Gaskill, and Pinnick respect each other and that has resulted in Three Sides of One containing songs that are uniquely individual yet sonically fused.

Although King’s X had kept up a rigorous touring schedule and participated in numerous side projects over the years, they hadn’t returned to the studio together for well over a decade.  “People were so mad at us! My god, the complaints!” Pinnick jokes but reflects on why King’s X experienced such an extended creative pause.  “The morale in the band just wasn’t there. We were kind of just going through the motions. No one seemed to be interested in each other’s songs. It was just like we’d been doing this for so long, and the lack of success, and everything we were going through at the time. For Ty and Jerry, it was like ‘I don’t wanna do another record until we really got something and we really want too.’  I got to the point where I was thinking maybe they don’t wanna play with me.  Maybe, they don’t like me no more?’’  Pinnick laughs, but there is a seriousness there.  “So, when we put this record together, it was like a love for each other’s songs again, and all I wanted to do was play the best I could play on Jerry’s songs and on Ty’s songs.  They felt the same way about my songs.  We were a band [again]. For that to happen, we needed to get away from each other for a while.”

The return happened in a way similar to their writing process—spontaneously.  “So, I brought these songs in,” Pinnick recalls, “and I was scared to death if they were even gonna like them.  Should I even play anything for them?  We had been drinking wine, you know, and I played them Flood.  Jerry said, and I remember what his exact words were: ‘I feel horrified and encouraged.’  I knew exactly what he meant because, he’s thinking, ‘I’m going to have to learn this crap that he (Pinnick) comes with, but yet, this is a cool song.  Now, we can make a cool record. I’ve got some cool songs too.’  And, Ty was like ‘I’ve got some cool songs too.’ We brought all our songs to the table, and that’s what you’ve got.”  Coming through four decades, the three members had found themselves again.

As with any family, there are troubles, but there is also love.  Pinnick describes his bandmates with a thoughtfulness often reserved for combat vets returned from war. “I hate them as much as I love them. There are things I can’t stand about them,” he says with a sly smile, “and I know there are things about me that they hate.  But, we love each other.  We’d die for each other.  It’s us against the world, and it’s always been that.  No matter how I feel, no matter what I’m going through, when we get into a room together and start talking and go make music, it’s like I’m home.  You’re safe. This is home.  I never had a home like that. I’ve never been around anyone that long in my life that knows me that well.  Even growing up, I didn’t grow up with my parents…with Ty and Jerry, it’s been a consistent forty-two years.  They know me better than anybody.”  In an industry that recycles players as dispensable and replaceable, King’s X has managed to maintain both friendship and chemistry among the same individuals.  Rare indeed.

Live performance has been a hallmark of King’s X, but for the casual fan, the challenges of touring are often lost.  Although Pinnick doesn’t see the band slowing, he is introspective on the topic.  “Is touring still fun?  No!” He chuckles at the thought.  “It stopped being fun a long time ago.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had a lot of fun doing this.  Anything that you work real hard at and get rewards from is hard.  Hard. Now, I do feel fulfilled, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had fun.  You go back to King’s X, and you’re playing the little clubs for the people that love you, and we’re doing our thing.  That is work. Ronnie James Dio said something once.  He said, ‘At the lowest points in your life, that is when you should be doing what you do the most.’ King’s X has embraced this advice and challenge: do what you do, not only when times are good, but especially when times are tough.

On the horizon, King’s X doesn’t show any signs of stopping.  They have, quite literally, been to war and back and are looking forward to the next deployment. After forty-two years together, Pinnick, Tabor, and Gaskill are musical soldiers, brothers, and family.  When considering what comes next for the band, Pinnick has a simple reply.  “Playing.  Playing as much as we can for as long as we can physically.  I’m in perfect health.  Ty’s had some immune issues.  Jerry’s better than ever since having the heart attack.  But, I’m gonna put this out there, and I don’t mean to be negative.  You get to a point sometimes when you go, ‘how long are we going to do this?’  It ain’t that we’re going to quit or that we don’t like each other, but how long can I move my fingers,” he laughs and continues with that infectious smile.  “We’re just gonna keep doing it until our bodies don’t work anymore.  I’ll probably just be walking on stage with a walker, set me down on a stool, and strap the bass on!”

l to r: Jerry Gaskill, dUg Pinnick, and Ty Tabor – Photo Credit: Mark Weiss

If it means we can hear more albums as relevant and inspired as Three Sides of One, there will be no shortage of volunteers to push the wheelchairs, Mr. Pinnick.  Welcome back, King’s X.  Your return has made the musical world more the richer for your continued existence.  Long live the King.

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