Let’s Get Ugly Again 1-on-1 w/ Klaus Eichstadt of UGLY KID JOE

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Not many bands can claim to be the soundtrack for a generation, but if you were alive circa 1991, Ugly Kid Joe blared relentlessly from your radio, your cassette player, and your angsty teenage heart.  Everything About You is and was a masterful hook filled hit that, even when revisited today, sticks in our collective consciousness in a way that few songs can.  Ugly Kid Joe’s EP, As Ugly as They Wanna Be sold over two million copies and still holds the world record (yes, world record) for the bestselling debut EP of all time.  Their follow up full length release, America’s Least Wanted, was an international success and went platinum in the U.S.  But, as with many artists, Ugly Kid Joe (UKJ) fell victim to the popular musical shifts of the 1990s and called it quits in 1997.  Thankfully, the connections, both musical and personal, brought these talented artists back together intact and ready to deliver more unforgettable songs.

Screamer Magazine recently sat down with guitarist/songwriter Klaus Eichstadt to discuss success, struggle, and reconnection.  UKJ is back with another release, Rad Wings of Destiny, and tour.  It’s time to get ugly, again.

Unlike many bands, UKJ has managed to maintain ongoing relationships between original bandmates.  As members moved on to other often successful careers, they have never forgotten where they began.  When asked how they reformed after a thirteen-year separation, Eichstadt returns to their friendships.  “It was really Dave and Shannon’s idea.  They were working on the Godsmack record together.  Most of us have remained friends and stayed in touch, but for some of us?  We did have to do a bit of Blues Brothers [searching].  There was a bit of ‘have you seen Cordell?’  Uh, no I haven’t.  ‘Well, I’m gonna go look for him.  I’m gonna go to his house in Korea Town even though I haven’t seen him in years,'” he laughs.  “Now Shannon, being in Godsmack, couldn’t tour, but first things first.  Let’s record the EP and see where it goes from there.  It’s not like everyone is on speed dial, but let’s call up and see who can do it.  After that, we didn’t really know what was going to happen.  Obviously, the dream would be, ‘what if a song becomes a hit?’  That didn’t happen, but we managed to produce an EP we are all pretty proud of.  It hasn’t been a real thought out process, but more a slow up-and-down curve finally going upwards until ‘us’ actually being a working band [again].”  Heading back to Europe, where they had initially put their career on hold, UKJ resumed touring in 2012 and continues to do so today to a dedicated audience.  Returning after a long absence, bands can find empty clubs and cancelled road schedules.  But, there is somethings that resonates with UKJ fans, both past and present, that keeps them coming back.

UKJ, at its core, has always been a collaborative effort.  Each member plays a role in the output of songs and ideas.  On Rad Wings of Destiny, Eichstadt explains, “It started with saying, ‘everybody just go home and write some songs, demo them, email them to each other, and we will pick out a few or whatever.’  With Whit (Whitfield Crane) not being a musician, meaning he doesn’t play an instrument, he has most of his stuff in his head.  So, he gets with one of us, or some of us…or just writes in the studio.  He’ll always have a bunch of ideas.  It’s a trip.  He never writes anything down!  It’s all in here,” Eichstadt taps his forehead. “Lyrics.  Melodies.  Everything.  He doesn’t tell me, ‘Here are my lyrics.’  He’s more like, ‘I’ll sing them to you when I get there.’  So, that’s the process.”  In the age of Pro Tools, emailed sound files, and long distance demos, Eichstadt, Crane, and the band, can still use the intimate immediacy of person-to-person songwriting when necessary.  That spontaneous spark, from head to composition, gives Rad Wings of Destiny, like previous releases, a palpable energy.

As Eichstadt admits, Ugly Kid Joe is a band with deep roots in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that emerged during the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden made a lasting impression on Eischstadt and UKJ.  Listening to the opening track of Rad Wings of Destiny, That Ain’t Livin, one can hear echoes of Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny and Stained Class.  UKJ, masters of the ironic, have skipped the tongue-in-cheek here and given us the thunder rumble guitars of those classics.  Crane embraces the screeching sparseness of Rob Halford, using space to create anticipation for the heavily melodic choruses.  Eichstadt talks about developing their sound.  “The main thing was to be original, but we were really big fans of metal, honestly.  I would say our main influence goes back to early 80s metal like Priest, Scorpions, Ozzy, AC/DC.  That kind of stuff.  And Dave (Fortman) brought in a lot of southern rock influence.  We’ve all been fans of Skynryd, but he is really a fan of that stuff, and you can hear it in his writing. He is probably the most prolific writer in the band.  He writes songs all the time that vary in what type of music they are, but people will say, ‘Is that a Fortman song?’  He’s got a little bit of the southern rocky thing going on.”  While Rad Wings of Destiny brings the molten steel worthy of casting any metal god, songs such as Dead Friends Play would easily find a home on the A-side of a ZZ Top or Molly Hatchet release.  The new album comes at you from many musical angles, pulling from decades of rock riffs and cliches, but remaining acutely UKJ—heavy rock but with that iconic UKJ satirical side-smile.  Listening to the album, we get that unsettling feeling we’ve been abandoned at the circus of life, and things have gone terribly wrong.  It is thoughtfully fun and darkly hilarious.

UKJ has grown as a band, and their sound has evolved.  However, as with many influential bands, a sonic thread runs from song to song, album to album.  Eichstadt’s guitar is that thread.  There is an undeniable but unique Gibson SG tone underlying each UKJ track, but it is a tone constructed by Eichstadt himself.  Asked about his guitar choice, Eichstadt reaches out and grabs a lovingly battered and chipped guitar.  “There it is!  I made this in high school wood shop.  It’s an old guitar, but this is the guy…as seen on TV,” he jokes.  “It’s the same one I’ve been playing forever.  It’s been through a few fix-ups here and there.  I’ve added pick-ups.  It’s rusted out a few parts, but it’s basically a mahogany [build].”  While growing up, he continues, his parents had bought him an SG when he’d shown commitment to the instrument and has always loved that sound.   “So, I researched what SGs are made out of.  Mahogany.  Thin body.  Even though it’s a Strat-style, I planed the body to be thinner, like an SG, because I just assumed that was the magical sound.  I’ve been happy with it ever since.  It’s usually been on every record as the main rhythm guitar tracks.  Angus and Iommi, that SG sound.”  Eichstadt has created a signature sound that has produced two double-platinum recordings.  Why mess with success?

Klaus Eichstadt

UKJ achieved international fame on the back of a single track, Everything About You, in early 1992.  Because of that particular radio repeat, along with their distinctive comedic album covers and biting lyrics, the band were frequently labeled as humor metal.  Some bands, in response to success, have refused to perform their signature charting songs.  When addressing the issue of cutting Everything About You from performances, Eichstadt, clarifies.  “We actually did that for a minute, but looking back, we all agree it was a mistake.  You gotta play the hits for the people that pay money to see you.  When you’re young, you don’t think that way.  You don’t think of it as a job so much.  You’re thinking people are saying, ‘you’re faking it,’ but you’re not faking it!  You wrote the song!  There are certain things you have to do, and you definitely have to play your hits.  Yes.  You’re overexposed.  It’s kind of a silly song.  It’s super sarcastic.  It’s not exactly heavy metal, and you want to be a metal band.  At the same time, you gotta take it, man.  You gotta take that hit that just got you the Ozzy tour.  It didn’t just open the door.  It blew that door wide open and got us the ability to do all this cool shit, the shit we’d dreamed about.  Most people don’t get to have a hit and don’t have those doors open up like we did over a short couple of months.  Especially, when you get older, you realize how fortunate you are to have a big hit.  There’s so much ridiculous positive…and the cons?  You just kind of throw that out.”  Although Everything About You may not have been their first choice for the definitive UKJ tune, it does carry many of the essential elements that define the band: heaviness, those reggae upstrokes, and that laugh-out-loud joy that has connected with their audiences for three decades.

Whitfield Crane

UKJ, since reforming in 2010, have recorded and toured, united by a common musical history and soul.  They move forward with a positive and creative outlook.  “Okay, we’ve got the album coming out October 21st.   We’re going on tour, hoping to do a U.S. tour next, but back to Europe in the summer.  Every year goes like this: ‘Are we gonna go on tour?’  I hope so!  It’s not day-to-day, but it’s year-to-year.  Like I said, we feel lucky to be able to do this.  To be healthy, and to be physically able to play.  We’ll try to do this as long as we can.  Of course, people have to actually want to come see you.  But, if they’re there, we will come.”

UKJ remains ever committed to their fans and each other.  The band is a collection of individuals who have found success in other bands, in production, and a variety of careers, but they have always found their way back to UKJ.  Missing from current artistic output is the ability to laugh knowingly at our tragedies.  In the age of COVID, low wages, and global conflict, we sometimes need to laugh at our shared frustrations.  We could cry, or we could just listen to more UKJ.  Commiserate with some solid rock n’ roll or hate everything about the world?  The choice is clear.  Let’s get ugly, again.

Ugly Kid Joe’s latest release, Rad Wings of Destiny, is out now.


Photos by: Simon Walker, Eve ov Beer, Gav McCaughy and Eric Duvet

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