By: Craig Hunter Ross
For over 30 years, fans have known Dug Pinnick as the lead vocalist and bass player for the hard rock/progressive metal band King’s X.
But, to his fellow musicians and those who may consider themselves more along the lines of being music aficionados, Pinnick is recognized as one of the premier “go to” vocalists and bass players. He’s sought after when someone needs something special on a project.
Consistently, one of the most prolific players in the industry, Dug finds himself now teamed with guitar legend Eric Gales and the mighty ex-percussionist for Mars Volta, Thomas Pridgen.
Their first, of what many are already hoping will be several recordings, is simply titled, Pinnick-Gales-Pridgen, and it’s an explosive offering of original raw, powerful rock.
Dug recently took some time to chat about his long and storied career, as well as this new PGP release.
Craig Hunter Ross: You started out as a vocalist. What drew you to the bass?
Dug Pinnick: I remember I was four or five years old and I heard this song by Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers called, “Why Do fools Fall in Love?”. I remember hearing the bass line more than anything, even more than the harmonies or Frankie’s high voice.
I thought he was a girl.
But, it was all about the bass line. From that point on, I just really liked the bass.
Craig: Did it come naturally to you as a player?
Dug Pinnick: Yeah, it did; only because I wanted to be a bass player all my life.
I was always playing bass in my head. I found the groove in every bass player I listened to. I was 23 years old when I started playing for real though.
A friend of mine came over with a bass and told me to give it a try. He’d bought it for his girlfriend for Christmas, but told me I could practice on it for a month or so before he was going to give it to her.
But, I wouldn’t give it back to him. And I have been playing bass ever since!
Craig: And he never got it back.
Dug Pinnick: Nope, he never got it back!
Craig: Did you find it natural to be able to play and sing at the same time? Often times, you will hear of musicians, even some huge household names, who get into a jam when the need to sing and play, usually live, at the same time comes up.
Dug Pinnick: I learned to play and sing along at the same time. I’d been singing my whole life and anytime I’d be practicing bass I’d sing along. There was never an issue.
I love to sing, so it was never really difficult. Perhaps had I learned bass and not sang it would have then been more difficult after the fact.
There was no struggle, really, since I was always so happy each time I learned something new on the bass. I’d be singing anyway!
It didn’t matter if I was playing along to a ZZ Top record, or trying to learn a new YES song. I never had to think about it. It just kind of came together.
Craig: Would you advise younger musicians to make a particular effort to try to ensure they can sing and play at the same time?
Dug Pinnick: Yes, definitely. I think the greatest thing you want any musician to be able to do is to have the ability to just sit down and sing a song while playing a guitar.
Without being able to do that, you don’t know what might happen. I tell guitar players all the time about this. I stress to them that they need to be able to sing, as well, because the time may come when that lead singer isn’t going to be around.
I remember one time at an Oasis show when one of the brothers decided he wasn’t going to show up or something… so the other one, the guitar player, he just picked it all up and song all the songs. He sang them perfectly! I even thought he sang them with more conviction. I was really blown away.
Craig: A lot of your influences seem to be pre-Beatles, and so many musicians speak of having had that “Beatles Moment” watching the Ed Sullivan Show and then wanting to become a rock star, etcetera. What was your moment that made you decide music was going to be your life?
Dug Pinnick: You know I never had that moment. As long as I can remember, I have been singing in front of somebody and they always react. I didn’t do it for that reaction; I did it because I loved to do it. All of the sudden, there would be this reaction.
I have to say something along that line. You know I was watching Saturday Night Live the other night and Justin Bieber was on there and he sang these two ballads. They were really good songs. I was asking myself how he had so much conviction for such a young guy and I thought to myself as I looked at his eyes and he would look to the crowd for acknowledgement that here was a guy that doesn’t get it.
He’s been doing this all his life. I have felt that same moment so many times as you acknowledge the crowd in a moment of “thank you”, where everyone is like “yeah!” and I think to myself “I don’t understand, this is what I do, I’ve done this my whole life, this is what I love”.
The reaction you get, which people see and think must be the greatest thing in the world, sometimes we’re thinking that we blew it. I saw that in him that night. We just get up there and do what we do, it’s hard to explain.
Some people decide they are going to do something and they work so very hard at it. Then there are some that just kind of have “it” when they come out of the womb. They have a gift and they just have to do whatever it is they were born to do.
Craig: Well, that’s the extreme few…
Dug Pinnick: So, when you ask if I had that moment, I really never did. I have had many moments and received many reactions. That’s what I remember. Playing Woodstock, giving my speech and hearing the crowd chant back 300,000 strong, you just kind of walk away from it and go get something to eat. [Laughs]
Craig: To you, it’s your life and for the most part regular experience, moments will be special, but it’s just you living your life and doing your thing.
Dug Pinnick: Yes, very true.
Craig: You often quote one of your cousins on stage, who once told you, “It’s a terrible thing to do thing you don’t want to do for the rest of your life”. That sounds like something you have lived by and something that has kept you going…
Dug Pinnick: Yeah, it has. Especially at times when I am down, or things aren’t going the way I may want them to, I have to think about that. What if I just gotten a real job and a real education maybe I would have been better off, but then I stop and think…You have to do what you love to do and you never have to answer to anyone. I’m pretty lucky. I took that chance.
Like I always tell everyone, there are no guarantees in this life. You go for whatever you believe in and hope that it works out. It’s like winning the lottery. Not everyone gets the chance.
For me to be able to go out and do what I do, see the world and meet so many people, do what I have done, it keeps me in my place when I want to complain about things.
Walking down the street, I may look at a house and think to myself what the people that live there are like. Where do they go, what do they do? Have they even ever left the state? Maybe all they know is their own little world. I then have to think to myself how lucky I really am.
I don’t have any responsibilities, no wife, no family, those other things too that so many people feel they want and need. That being said, those who decide to go off and pursue what they think it is they want to do might lose all of the things they wish they had held onto.
But, you still have to figure out a way to do those things you want to do. You won’t have any peace if you don’t.
Craig: Your over 30 year history with King’s X is so well documented and at this point in the band’s journey you have a great deal of generational fans, ie parent and their kids at shows. Good for them for passing on good music! What do you attribute that longstanding appeal to? Did you see the music standing the test of time?
Dug Pinnick: [Laughs] No! I never thought about that, and then it happens. I look around and see we have released twelve records and am like ‘Wow!” I’ll see someone on the Internet who says they were born in 1989 and I think to myself “Our second record came out in 1989!”
What do I attribute it to? The only thing I can really say is when I see every ten years or so a group of my friends will get married and start to have kids and here I am still living like a teenager!
It’s like they don’t have the time to do what I do because they are busy with their new life, so I then stumble across a new group of people to hang with where I keep getting old and everyone else stays the same age.
I just see this big family of friends all around. There’s something about the way I live, I guess I don’t age, I hang out with youthful people that like to bounce off the wall so I get to stay young!
Craig: The joy that is evident coming out of you when you play, especially live is probably a large contributing factor to keeping you young.
Dug Pinnick: Maybe it is! There is some heredity in there too though. Look at our presidents. After four years they come out looking ten years older.
I try to live a life without stress. Then you don’t age as bad! People are under too much stress. It wears them out. They don’t have time to take care of themselves, they aren’t eating right and their bodies fall apart.
It’s all about lifestyle. I have been lucky, I try to live a healthy lifestyle, since I was in my twenties I have been aware of the foods I eat, etcetera. I’d write a book on it, but it doesn’t matter, I don’t have time!
Craig: Speaking of not having time, you always have so many side projects going, it’s amazing! You’re singing on this tribute, you’re playing on that person’s cd…
Dug Pinnick: People forget, in the last year I’ve done maybe ten shows with King’s X. I’ve got five projects coming out here in the near future.
People come up to me and are amazed and are like “you must be working your ass off” and I could actually be putting way more than that out! Prince said he could put out a song a day if he wanted. But, sometimes I spend my days being bored or depressed because I ain’t got nobody.
Craig: Well what attracts you to one of those side projects? When you are writing do names pop into your head and you then reach out? Do they reach out to you more often? For example, on the new Pinnick-Gales-Pridgen album, your song, “Black Jeans”…did you write that and think to yourself that it would be killer to have a guitarist like Eric Gales play on it? What’s your process?
Dug Pinnick: Actually that song, I had written here in the house for my solo record after just thinking about a bunch of blue jeans commercials. Since I moved out here to Los Angeles, I now talk to a lot of folks about hooking up to write for TV and movies and stuff. It’s difficult to get your music placed, but if you do, it’s a paycheck for a good while.
I wrote a couple of songs that I thought had really great hooks and one refrain was “I’m gonna keep my blue jeans on”.
Mike Varney, who produced this current record, suggested I change it to black jeans, so I did. In the lyrics, I guess from watching TV, I was watching something about the Patriot Act and how our rights are being taken away everyday and such…that’s basically what it was about. That no matter what I was going to keep my blue jeans on.
Craig: Do you have a different approach to side/solo work that you do to King’s X?
Dug Pinnick: I never think of stuff like that. I have the same approach to everything I’m doing or working on.
When my first solo album came out people commented that they thought I was trying to sound like King’s X, but I was really just sounding like me! It’s what I sound like, so that’s what parts of King’s X sound like.
There are times when I may try to reinvent here or there or try something different, but for some reason, it still comes out the way I do it. You can’t get away from yourself.
Craig: So tell me how this new Pinnick-Gales-Pridgen project came to be. I know you have some history with Eric Gales going back to the early 1990s when he, at 16 years old, opened for King’s X…Did you all stay in touch through the years?
Dug Pinnick: I would run into Eric every now and then, but we kind of each went our own way. When he came through town, of course I would go and see him, we’d call maybe around Craig: istmas, you know?
But really, Mike from Magna Carta called up and asked if I wanted to do a record with Eric and Thomas Pridgen and I was like “Uh, yeah”, so he figured it all out and the next thing I know we were in the studio making a record.
When we got together and I looked around and got a feel for what was really going on I was like ‘Wo, this is like Hendrix on steroids!”
I knew it was going to be cool. Then someone was mentioning that we were the first black rock band since Living Colour and I started looking for more angles.
Craig: Like all being left handed? [Laughs]
Dug Pinnick: Yeah, we’re all left handed!
Craig: Did you each come with material already prepared?
Dug Pinnick: I had about five songs that were ready that were mine, “Black Jeans” was one of them; we wrote a couple together, Mike brought in a couple. That’s really how we did it.
Craig: There is so much raw energy on this recording and amazing synergy. It sounds like you have been playing together for ten years…
Dug Pinnick: Eric and Thomas have been playing on Eric’s last few solo records, so they are familiar with each other. I could see they were used to each other.
The biggest thing though is that we had ten days to make this record, with only the first three to nail the drum tracks. So those first three days were like really pedal to the metal. We pounded out the ten drum tracks and then Thomas had to leave, so Eric and I reworked things, overdubs, etcetera. You know how it works.
The original basic tracks, man that’s where all the energy is, there was no time to stop and think about it. It really was a marathon. You have to give it everything you got, this boat had to float and no one there was a slacker.
Craig: Do you think that premium on time created a different intensity to the end product? It really just sounds at a level that bands that have been together for years could never dream of attaining…
Dug Pinnick: It might have. It was just a matter of focus and to do it. It was a vision quest for sure and raw, pure playing. I remember the feeling I got watching Thomas with my headphones on and playing and thinking to myself “People are gonna like this” or really “I can’t wait for people to hear this”.
People have been asking what I would call this or describe it as. I think it’s like Band of Gypsies on steroids.
Craig: Did you have to resist the technology to keep tweaking it?
Dug Pinnick: Man, I have had to do that my whole life, but then I get to the point I have to just let it go. If there is a knob to turn, I’ll turn it until someone pulls me away! Lately, I have just had to let go when someone says it’s time to finish.
That’s the biggest thing I have to remind myself of. No matter how the song is coming off sonically, if people don’t get it musically it isn’t going to matter. That’s a love-hate thing with me.
Some of my favorite songs of mine ever were actually awful mixes. We have so much technology man.
Someone told me they were in the studio; this black chick comes in, sings a song and just nails it. She did like three takes, all were flawless according to the engineer and then she left. Later on that afternoon, this hot white chick with big tits comes in and she had to sing the song for over eight hours. When she left, the producer then says, “Ok, let’s start with the first syllable”. That’s what you are hearing on the radio now. People know the difference though. The real music will always stand out.
There’s music and then there’s entertainment. Until we realize that, we’ll always be stuck with this. The other stuff that’s real, jazz, other genres, even what we do in real rock; it will always be here, but it will never get to be as huge as it was in the ’70s and ’80s.
Once corporations realized they could take hold and jam down our throats what they wanted, that was it. Now everyone thinks that’s the norm. Everyone thinks they are going to be mega huge. It’s not like that anymore. It’s not the gold rush it once was.
Craig: Do you think we’ll get to the point where the corporations are out of music and artists just release material as, say a download on their own budget and schedule?
Dug Pinnick: Yeah, that’s what a lot are doing and it will be that way for awhile until things get more focused.
When The Beatles came over, no one would have known without Ed Sullivan. He was the only person people would listen to. Here’s something along those lines I noticed…
When Whitney Houston died, she was supposed to have sung on the upcoming Grammy awards. So, she dies and they have Adele, who was going to be on the show already in some capacity, come out and get to sing her hit and ends up selling over half a million units over the next week.
Again, that tells me, no focus. So the bottom line is, until the artists can focus, they’ll continue to sell product out of the back of their car, or rather on line as the case now may be.
Craig: Are there any chances of Pinnick-Gales-Pridgen touring?
Dug Pinnick: I think we have to, the response has been overwhelming and we need to capitalize on that, we’re all excited and hope it continues to grow. We’ll see what happens!