America’s Least Wanted – Ugly Kid Joe’s seminal album containing the hits Everything About You, Neighbor, Busy Bee, and the Australian number one single Cats In The Cradle is now twenty five years old. It really doesn’t seem that long since Whitfield Crane’s vocals were barraging our ears with the aforementioned hits. Ugly Kid Joe, having been back together since 2010, have delivered a recent EP and also an album (Uglier Than They Used To Be) to the happiness of their fans. The band has also recently announced they are hitting Australia’s shores in December 2017 to celebrate the twenty fifth anniversary of the America’s Least Wanted, the album that heralded their arrival on the scene here, and right around the world. Because of that, I get to talk to the one and only, Whitfield Crane.
There are some connection issues with the line which makes communication on both sides difficult. These phone line issues are a bit of a funny point considering Whitfield tells me he’s in Fitzroy, Australia, and you can hear the smile in his voice as he tells me he’s living there – “Straight Up”. He’s even got the answer for my question calling him on about what’s the weather like – “it’s four seasons in a day, I suppose”. I can tell this will be a fun interview.
It’s been twenty five years since America’s Least Wanted. A very strong album in all aspects, it spawned a number of hits throughout the world, did you ever expect that it would get the response that it got? “No! We were kids, in fact we still are kids in a lot of ways. You don’t know what you’re doing, in fact, no one knows what they are doing in general. You get in a band; you get into the studio and you get to work with the legendary Mark Dodson. He’s produced Infectious Grooves, Suicidal Tendencies, Anthrax and Judas Priest, it’s really like WOW, that’s the names of a bunch of really cool people, we didn’t know anything. He steered us in the right direction and was good enough to nurture us and not only make a great record but have a lot of fun doing it. Still we certainly didn’t know what we were doing, nobody knows that. I mean it, not one person that you will meet will know what they’re doing, including us”.
That is a good way to look at it, we learn as we go. “Kind of, but then there’s the next shoes you are wearing and you don’t know them yet. You can hypothesise on the past, which is cool, but then you can make sure you can say I know that, so I don’t repeat some action but in the end, you’re still just winging it. Anyone who ever tells me they know something, I don’t believe those people. I don’t know anything… that I know. Including making records, because I don’t know what I’m doing. No one does”.
I read that the America’s Least Wanted album was recorded inside two months in the studio, so the band would be able to get out on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. You also introduced a new band member in the process of recording, how much stress were you guys under as a result and what do you remember most about that time? “Well, Klaus (Eichstadt), at the time hated me for this, but I’m a passionate guy and like a beer. I bought Dave Fortman to the studio, and he’s just quit a big band in LA (Sugartooth) so I said you’re in the band, we’ll still drink beers, there’s beer in the band. I didn’t tell Klaus, my best friend, and our guitar player. I just showed up in the studio and like ‘Here he is!’ Klaus is like ‘Here he is what?’ I’m like ‘Dude, he’s in the band.’ And Dave’s like ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You were Sugartooth’s guitar player and I am the lead singer in the band.’ Mark Dodson is just watching all of this thinking this is just hilarious. But you know it (bringing Dave in) was a correct decision, I’ve made some horrible decisions in the past. I’ve bought some lemons to the show, but Dave is a good choice – he loved us, we loved him. As far as experiences go, we made that record and all of a sudden we’re on tour in America with Ozzy Osbourne and Motörhead –My heroes. Imagine all the things you should do at twenty three or twenty four on an Ozzy Osbourne/ Motörhead tour – being on a tour bus, like we were “the thing”, it wasn’t evil, it was fun. Those were good times man”.
One of my favourites off the album is Madman, what inspired you and did you cop any flak from Disney at the time? I know how protective Disney can be of their image so I know how a song calling out a dude running around killing people in Disneyland may be viewed. “Oh yeah, (Michael) Eisner was the head of Disney at that time. That song was just pretty satanic and evil; let’s just be honest, it’s evil. We were young and naive, we didn’t know you could get sued over anything that was original. We just thought art was free, I mean you just thought naturally it would be OK. Klaus was the genius force behind this one and we even had the artwork worked out. In your mind’s eye picture this, Mickey Mouse staring at you with his arms behind his back and saying ‘I’m Mickey Mouse’. Then when you get to see the back of him, he’s holding a giant meat cleaver. We thought we were funny and a little evil, but Disney are very protective of their image and that’s cool and I understand that. But when you think about what Disney really is, it pretty fucking evil. So yeah, we got some shit”. (laughs).
“We wanted to, at the beginning of the song before the gunshot and the people screaming, use It’s a Small World after all. We delivered the song to the label, and thought you’ll definitely use that. Their thought was, well why? We tried to do a stand-off, with a you know it’s just art stance. But the label was like, ‘No! It’ll never happen.’ We were like why, we really didn’t understand all the rules and I still don’t. But in the end it didn’t happen and Disney really didn’t like that song”.
Take me through your favourite tracks off the album and why do they resonate with you? “Neighbour, Come Tomorrow, Busy Bee, Cats In The Cradle, So Damn Cool… Mr Recordman because I didn’t have to sing it. Panhandlin’ Prince is pretty cool, I talk shit about Donald Trump in that song, funnily enough. In 1992. I was definitely on to something. I’m like a wizard with a crystal ball”.
Everything About You was picked up by the movie Wayne’s World, tell me how that came about and what was the feeling to get that extra exposure? “I don’t really care about Wayne’s World at all, it’s a cool movie. Not my favourite movie, I’m more a Caddyshack or Animal House guy. Everything About You was already big by itself. I do get asked that question a bits and sometimes around the world I’m told that we’re the Wayne’s World band. I’m like ‘No, we’re not!’ It’s cool that the movie was successful, but it didn’t make us or change us. The movie was so successful a lot of people do think that it was that movie that broke us, but it wasn’t”.
Cats in the Cradle went to number one here, it was a great cover. What was the reasoning for picking it to cover? “The truthful answer to that is I was little boy, about five or so and my sister had a record player and Cats in The Cradle. I’d sneak into her room, in my pyjamas and we’d get the 45 vinyl record and put it on. We’d listen to it really quietly as if we’d got caught we would’ve got in trouble. I really like that song, it’s one of my first really good memories. So as we were recording, we wanted to make a really cool record but we didn’t have enough material. I said “off the cuff” let’s do that and the band and our producer said yeah that works. We just threw it on there, we didn’t think too much about it, then a radio station in Texas started playing it. Next thing you know it became a big song. It helped us keep travelling”.
The band is out here in Australia in December to do a twenty fifth anniversary tour, and you are performing the album in totality. What’s the most exciting part about that? “Just working with my friends, we’ve known each other for good chunks of our lives. Music brings people together in general, that is why we are doing this interview and that is a great thing. But to answer your question, what am I looking forward to? Just jamming with my friends and going ‘ha ha ha, remember that’.
I guess that is what life is about, spending time with your friends. “Yeah your friends, and your family, all people. People rule”.
What can fans look forward to at an Ugly Kid Joe gig? “You can look forward to kick ass rock ’n roll show, and that’s what we bring every time. We’re going to play stuff off America’s Least Wanted, off the catalogue. We’re going to jam with various bands, we’ve got Dallas Frasca with us, and she’s the most bad ass singer in the world so she’ll come and sing with us. Tim McMillan, an incredible guitar player, look him up on the internet and look at that freak play guitar. It’s a family; I want everyone I work with, including the crew to have a cool experience which bleeds right into the fans. So it’ll be that, an enormous, pulsating, kick ass rock and roll show”.
What are the plans after the Australian tour? Are you taking the twenty fifth anniversary worldwide? “We’re playing England and Europe in April, but we’ll take it around the world. All the interviews, making records, talking shit about me drinking, for me I love it all. But really, for me it comes down to wanting to play, I want to just sing songs live and I want to connect with the fans, with the crew, the promoter of the show, catering, et cetera. So the tour is kicking off in Sydney, Australia on December 3rd, then ends at Melbourne, which, of course I’m in Melbourne now (laughs). I’ll take it around the world. There’s a good vibe around this tour, everything is cool”.
You did a fair bit of touring in the day, what’s the best place to tour and why do you find that? “Well, I don’t know; there are passionate crowds in Australia, really passionate crowds in America, Chile… It’s really hard to say just one place because everywhere has its own great points. I’ve never played Argentina but have you ever seen AC/DC Live at River Plate? have you ever seen that crowd? I’ve never seen anything more intense than that”.
Thank you very much for taking the time out to talk with me; I am really looking forward to catching you guys in Sydney!
Ugly Kid Joe are on tour in Australia during December.
UGLY KID JOE TOUR DATES:
Sunday 3 December – Manning Bar, Sydney 18+
Monday 4 December – The Zoo, Brisbane – 18+
Wednesday 6 December – Capitol, Perth – 18+
Thursday 7 December – Fowlers, Adelaide – 18+
Saturday 9 December – Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne – 18+
Get your tickets HERE