UKJ rode on the crest of the 90's indie rock wave and gained success with Everything About You and a cover of Harry Chapin's Cat's In The Cradle. After three albums the band went their separate ways and to inevitable solo projects before reforming in 2010. Their long awaited new album has now been released and they have just been on a UK tour, showing off their new tunes which are sounding better than ever. Photogroupie caught up with lead singer Whit Crane to talk about the new album and what the future holds for UKJ.
PHOTOGROUPIE (PG): YOU HAVE A NEW ALBUM OUT (UGLIER THAN THEY USED TO BE) AND HAVE PLAYED SOME LIVE SHOWS, HOW HAS THE RESPONSE BEEN?
WHITFIELD CRANE (WC): It's been good, we did 11 gigs in the UK and a lot of them sold out. We had my acoustic band Richards/Crane opening for it. It was kind of scary, but we figured it out. I've just come back on the Eurostar from Paris where I did three days of a lot of press. I'll tell you this, there's a good buzz on the record. I love it, I'm really confident about what it is, what it sounds like and what it represents to me. Historically when we started the band that's how we created; we didn't think about anything we just made music for ourselves and, funnily enough, that's when we were successful. In a sense, this is kind of a bookend. It's been fifteen years since we made the last record, it's been a long time. Dave Fortman is a busy guy. He's our producer but also our guitar player and primary songwriter. It's like the old adage necessity is the mother of invention, so we had 21 days to get it done because Dave is a busy guy. He said 'I can do an album with you guys, but it has to be done in 21 days. So if you guys want to get here, concentrate and get your shit on fire, let's do it!
PG: NO PRESSURE THEN?
WC: (laughs) No Pressure! It wasn't a musical direction either. We have such a long history together, there's a familiar flow in the studio with all of us and it's fun and gruelling. It's gruelling because of the 13 and 14 hour days in a row.
PG: THAT'S PRETTY HARD GOING.
WC: Yeah, but we got something magical out of it.
PG: WHAT MADE YOU REFORM UGLY KID JOE AFTER SO LONG AWAY?
WC: I think you'll get a different answer from each guy. But for me, we didn't have to worry about producing because Dave is our producer and with the label dead and the computer here you can make a body of music and release it worldwide at the push of a button. You might not get paid for it because nobody really buys music, but you can make music, share music and be part of that process without a lot of middlemen. If there's one thing I don't like it's a bunch of middlemen around me!
PG: INTERESTING THAT YOU SHOULD SAY THAT BECAUSE THE NEW ALBUM WAS FUNDED BY PLEDGE MUSIC.
WC: That's right. First person to the fans.
PG: IT'S BECOME A VERY POPULAR WAY OF MAKING AN ALBUM, IT'S A BIT DIFFERENT FROM HOW THINGS WERE IN 1992. A LOT OF THINGS HAVE CHANGED IN THE INDUSTRY IN THAT TIME. DO YOU PREFER THE WAY THINGS ARE NOW?
WC: I do! I'm grateful for my musical travail and those experiences. We got a record deal, toured around the world, we sold 6 million records, toured with Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen and Motörhead. I'm grateful for all that but in my younger years I didn't understand the business side of things, it made me uncomfortable, I didn't like the hypocrisy of it. Now I can totally put on two hats; the managerial hat – because we self-manage – and I can take that right off, go on stage and sing a song. As far as Pledge goes, I was totally sceptical about that, what if nobody cares, you don't know! You put your target up there to fund the album and what if only my Mom invested! That could have happened. But instead we hit our target in two weeks. We actually went over 200% or our target, so that money can go into other things when we go on tour next summer. The interesting thing is that it's first person to the fans who are investing in an album that isn't made, that you want to make. So that line is just pure and that circle is just acceptable to me and it works for us amazingly. We find ourselves in a pretty good seat at the moment. UKJ is smiling!
PG: WAS THERE EVER THE FEAR THAT THE ALBUM WOULDN'T GET MADE?
WC: No. I'm driven and I let go. I don't sweat it, I just go with my gut. I was really confident that we'd make the record hook or by crook. As far as making the record independently of the Pledge campaign, the main thing was did we really want to do it. Does everybody involved in this project want to do it from their heart? In this case, we released the Stairway To Hell EP in 2010 and toured with that knew people remembered the band. We had faith in the talent pool in the room to get the songs written and finished; we worked our asses off, but it was passion based.
PG: YOU'RE NEW ALBUM OBVIOUSLY HAS A MORE MATURE SOUND, WERE YOU AIMING AT THOSE TEENAGERS WHO LOVED YOUR MUSIC BACK IN THE 90S WHO ARE NOW GROWN UP, OR FOR A NEW AUDIENCE ENTIRELY?
WC: I'll tell you something, we weren't aiming for anybody, we were writing for ourselves. Personally, I'm a bit idealistic, I don't think anybody writes songs anyway, I think it comes through you. We worked as a collective, if anyone felt something we'd try it as a collective right away, if it sucked we'd let go of it right away, if it felt like it was going somewhere we'd work with it. There wasn't anything like 'I wonder if someone will like this, or we should sound like that' there was none of that. It was Darwinian if anything.
PG: HAVE YOU FOUND ALL THE ADJUSTMENTS IN TECHNOLOGY AN ADVANTAGE TO MAKING MUSIC OR A STRAIN ON CREATIVITY?
WC: It depends on how you use it, The Beatles used a 4 track recorder and figured out how to split it into 8, but they had one time to record the vocal so they all had to do it together and get it right so it had to be perfect. So, all that is still there if you limit it, you could start auto-tuning and moving it around and being really lazy and suck the soul out of your song. Depending on how you use the technology, it's liberating and shackling at the same time. I manage the band so I had to get and iPhone 6, right? I had a flip phone for as long as I could remember, I'm a Luddite. My phone didn't have a computer and I was so proud, you could drop it and it was indestructible! (laughs) Technology is a little overwhelming to me, I'm always about ten years behind the times. As far as music goes it's now all changed nobody really buys music, the genie is out of the bottle. At this point that, I have rock star friends who are really angry that nobody is buying their music, and there are really great arguments to that; but my statement to all of that from my heart is; listen, if you are music fan, it would be great if you can support the band and buy the music, go and download it from iTunes of buy a hard copy if you have the patience to do that. But, if you don't have the patience, go ahead and steal it and enjoy it because that's the reason that we make the music in the first place. And maybe if they come to the show they will buy a shirt and help us out there. That battle is already lost, it's already in the ether.
PG: WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO COVER PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE AND MOTORHEAD'S ACE OF SPADES ON THE ALBUM?
WC: We were actually trying to mimic the Rare Earth version. That was a song that needed a home. I was in Australia a year and a half ago on tour, and I stayed to see the world and we went down to this bar and saw this Dallas Frasca she was the real deal! Jeff Curran was her guitar player. He was this little Angus Young sized guy with a beard and played left handed dyslexic guitar. They were so kind and we connected immediately after the show. Two days later we found ourselves in the studio with them and I picked that song. We got into the studio, we didn't know these guys, we wondered in as a collective and tracked the song. I'm actually singing falsetto on that track, I sound like Curtis Mayfield! (With emulates Curtis singing Move On Up) When I heard her sing, I immediately felt small as a vocalist, because she's fantastic. So I had to do something else, so I started to sing this crazy high vocal, I've never done that before! I had that song in my back pocket for a year, and now we are our own label and our own bosses, we can do what we want to do. I gave it to Dave and said here's this vocal, it's already been mixed, let's do something with it, Dallas Frasca needs to be celebrated and the song needs a home. There's no good reason why that song is there, but I'm glad it is!
PG: THE BAND ARE BEST KNOWN FOR THEIR HITS CATS IN THE CRADLE AND EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU, BUT HOW WOULD YOU LIKE THE BAND TO BE REMEMBERED?
WC: A good rock and roll band!
PG: DID YOU COME FROM A MUSICAL BACKGROUND?
WC: My Mom's a pianist and a singer, but that's not where I was at, but I tortured my Mom as a child! I have art and music in me, but my attention span is not childlike, it's childish. I can't sit down and learn guitar and I know that had I practised an instrument, particularly the piano, then I'd really know what I was doing. But music is within me 100%. I ended up being a singer because I already knew how to talk. I grew up without me Dad around, so my Father figures were Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, Bon Scott, Cat Stevens, Ronnie Van Zant. So I listened to a lot of rock n roll music as a kid. To say I was obsessed wouldn't be an understatement. I was in my room as loud as I could go, like I was possessed, saying 'I'm gonna be in a band! I'm gonna be in a band! I'm going to be a guitar player and tour around the world.' I was crazy.
PG: WHAT FIRST FORMED YOUR LOVE FOR MUSIC?
WC: Jimi Hendrix! He's magical, he's from the source. My room was covered in Jimi Hendrix posters.
PG: ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY PROJECTS OUTSIDE UGLY KID JOE?
WC: Richards/Crane, that's my other side project and there's a single called Black and White and that features Myles Kennedy and it's really beautiful. I filmed it all in London on the cheap, it's a special video. And that album is out now on the interweb. That's singer/songwriter based stuff, that's a calm record. If you listen to the drumming there are no overhead cymbals, that's based on the Al Green Call Me record, you won't find any overhead cymbals on that you'll just find the vocal shining bright. So check that out.
PG: WHAT'S NEXT?
WC: I'm pretty sure we're going to manifest a summer tour and keep building the fire of this record, throw on some more kindling and see if we can get a big bonfire going!