Kottonmouth Kings Interview: Going Green

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by Alex Shtaerman

For nearly a decade and a half the Kottonmouth Kings have championed their own unique brand of Hip-Hop and punk rock fusion, dropping at least an album a year while touring virtually non-stop across the United States and abroad. Since 1994 the Kings of Rip-Hop have cultivated a cult like following sharing the stage with everyone from Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Cypress Hill to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Greenday and 311. The Kings’ latest opus, The Green Album, hits stores October 28th and features collaborations with the likes of Tech N9ne, Brother J of X-Clan and Dirtball. The video for the LP’s blues flavored lead single “Where I’m Going” stars motorcross legend Seth Enslow as the famed daredevil rides his chopper across desolate parts of the Southwestern United States. As Kottonmouth Kings frontman Brad X puts it “not too many bands nowadays have the perseverance to be around for over a decade and still consistently make records every year”. But what is important to point out is that, not only have the Kottonmouth Kings persevered, they’ve done so almost completely on their own terms. The band owns its own record label and makes music that is, for the most part, outside the boundaries of any clearly defined genre. “When you talk about underground music,” asserts Brad X, “to me ‘underground’ means existing outside of the mainstream, and that’s exactly what the Kottonmouth Kings have created”.

Click here to listen to “Where I’m Going”, brand new music from the Kottonmouth Kings.
Click here to listen to “City 2 City”, Kottonmouth Kings featuring Tech N9ne.
Click here to listen to “Put It Down”, Kottonmouth Kings featuring Cypress Hill.

RIOTSOUND.COM: For fans who might not know the full history of the band, the Kottonmouth Kings came together in California around 1994; what were the circumstances under which the band formed?

BRAD X: Well, I was promoting nightclubs out and around the southern California area and I played in punk rock bands and stuff like that. D-Loc and Johnny Richter, we kinda grew up in the same area. DJ Bobby B and Pakelika, I met through the club scene. Bobby B was a DJ and I would hire him for the clubs we used to play. Pak used to just come all the time; he was such a trippy dude. Pak is the dude with the mask, we call him the Visual Assassin; he’s just such an entity onto himself.

So we would just kinda hang out, I had a little home studio at the time, DJ Rob Harris was my roommate, and he since has passed on, rest in peace. When he passed, I pretty much invited the guys to come up and stay with me if they wanted to work on music. I had this idea of forming a group and we pretty much just came together and started writing songs. We definitely wanted it to be a Hip-Hop group, we were making beats and it was all Hip-Hop oriented, although I was playing in a punk band at the time. It was a little later on down the road where we started incorporating the punk rock into it; I’d say that was a couple years into it. But I think we got into it at the start just wanting to make Hip-Hop songs, basically making beats, writing rhymes and having a good time, getting high and hanging out.

Then we started doing shows and started making more and more songs. The band started getting kinda popular so I decided to start Suburban Noize Records to release the first Kottonmouth Kings album, which was Royal Highness. We wound up doing a joint venture deal with Capitol Records at the time, and the rest is history. Now fast forward to 2008, we just finished recording The Green Album, which is our tenth full length studio LP. We’ve also had a series of other albums, like the two Kottonmouth Xperience releases, and we also have a Hidden Stash series which has three volumes to it. Also, we have a live record, a couple of EPs and some other stuff as well. We’ve been doing this for almost fourteen years now, so we’re still going strong.

“Growing up in the suburbs and skateboarding and
surfing and growing up in southern California and
being influenced by punk rock and Hip-Hop and
extreme sports, I wanted to write about that. Because
a lot of Hip-Hop comes from an inner city perspective,
so I was like – listen, I want to be true to who we are”

RIOTSOUND.COM: With The Green Album being the band’s tenth full length LP, how would you say the sound of the Kottonmouth Kings has evolved over the last fourteen years?

BRAD X: Well, right from the outset, I think one of the things that always set us apart and the one thing that I always emphasized to the guys – ‘cause D-Loc and Richter were very young, they’d never been in a band or made music before, so I was kinda like teaching them the trade or showing them the ropes of songwriting – the most important thing was – hey man, we’re not going to write about anything but stuff that’s real to us. Don’t try to perpetrate something that you don’t know. You like to skateboard, you like to smoke weed, that’s what you’re going to write about. So, it’s like they say “keeping it real”, I just wanted the music to be about what we experienced.

Growing up in the suburbs and skateboarding and surfing and growing up in southern California and being influenced by punk rock and Hip-Hop and extreme sports, I wanted to write about that. Because a lot of Hip-Hop comes from an inner city perspective, so I was like – listen, I want to be true to who we are. And then musically, we always kinda took a punk rock approach to the whole thing. The mentality of the band was always very much “do it yourself”, very punk rock, very in your face at all times. So we didn’t pull no punches. It was always real raw and musically, through the years, we just evolved.

When we go in and start writing songs, some songs will start off on acoustic guitar, some will start off with a beat. The goal is always to challenge ourselves to write better and better songs. I think everyone in the band through the years has grown as an artist and become better at their craft. We’ve become better songwriters, better rappers, better singers, so I think it’s been a living and breathing thing. We put out one or two records a year and we constantly tour, so through that you could actually document the growth of the band. And it’s kinda cool because not too many bands nowadays have the perseverance to be around for over a decade and still consistently make records every year. There’s just not too many bands around that do that, really.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As you’ve mentioned, the Kottonmouth Kings have continued to release records pretty much nonstop since the band’s inception. What gives you the collective inspiration and ambition to work at such a high pace to keep re-supplying the fans with new material, sometimes even dropping multiple projects in a single calendar year?

BRAD X: First and foremost, we love doing it and number two, by having our own record label that we own and control, we are able to have our own studios and make our own records at our own pace. A lot of artists are put in positions where they’re at the mercy of their record label as far as when they can put a record out. Sometimes with major labels, they want you to put a record out every three years or something. As we were starting out, the internet was really starting to pick up momentum and kids were wanting all their information quicker and faster, my whole philosophy was that we have to stay ahead of the curve. I’m thinking this year we’re going to start doing something like where we go record a song at night and the next day it’s up on the internet. I just want to start pushing the envelope from that angle and really start embracing the internet even more, which we already have been doing but I’m talking about the pace at which the kids want to get the information.

Having our own label and being able to make our own records and put them out when and how we want to, there’s no limits really, and we love doing it. As far as creativity and being inspired to write songs, that’s just living. We travel the world so much; we’re in every city in the US a couple of times a year touring through every nook and cranny of this country. We just get such life experiences everyday just from waking up and doing what we do. If you can’t find inspiration in something to write about in this world, especially in this crazy time we live in and what’s going on with the economy, the wars; if you can’t find inspiration in day to day life, then, you know, maybe you shouldn’t be making records. Because for us [inspiration], that’s never a problem.

RIOTSOUND.COM: With The Green Album you also intend to raise awareness about some of the potential environmental calamities that we could be facing in the near future. For one, you will be donating a portion of the proceeds generated from sales of The Green Album to the Surfrider Foundation, an organization dedicated to the cleanup of polluted beaches in California. As far as environmental issues in general, there are so many things to contend with, from global warming to deforestation to the poaching of animals, and on and on. Personally, what are some of the issues pertaining to the environment that you are most concerned about?

BRAD X: I think number one, personally, this is just me speaking; I think one of the most important things is clean energy. We need to have clean energy where we’re using natural resources such as the sun and wind and breaking our dependency on the oil that we’re addicted to in this country that drives the economy and is putting us in such a hole because we’re so dependent on it, when we could be thriving if [we adopted clean energy policies]. As far as the Surfrider Foundation which we are donating proceeds to, that is an issue close to us because we grew up in southern California by the ocean. Surfing was part of our life. In California, I would say about every other month the beaches are closed down from contamination or sewage runoff, it’s crazy man. Bobby B who’s our DJ ended up in the hospital. He’s a world class kneeborder, he was sponsored for years and he almost died from a bacterial infection he got in the ocean. It’s just common sense kind of stuff where we need to just get back to living in balance with nature. Obviously we all love the modern creature comforts that we’re all used to but I would just say that the more we can do using natural energy and resources the better we’ll be off as far as thinking about the generations ahead.

RIOTSOUND.COM: On The Green Album you collaborate with Hip-Hop artists such as Brother J of X-Clan as well as Tech N9ne. Through the years the Kottonmouth Kings have made blending Hip-Hop and rock one of your hallmarks. When you create music that draws on multiple genres and sometimes even multiple mindsets, how do you achieve that magic medium where everything is properly represented and nothing feels forced or out of place?

BRAD X: I think sonically with the roots of the songs, even the acoustic stuff you’ll hear Hip-Hop drums and 808’s in there. Some stuff we’ll do stripped down with a live band, like an acoustic classic rock sound, but even most of the acoustic stuff we have a Hip-Hop element to it. With the punk rock stuff, we also invented this style that we call Rip-Hop, for people that don’t know. It’s where we actually fuse Hip-Hop and punk rock into one song. So it’ll go from a punk part where we’ll totally flip the beat right in the middle of the song into a Hip-Hop beat. We call it Rip-Hop because that style nobody’s ever really done until we came up with it. Of course people have done rap-rock and other things but to me, where we grew up in southern California, there’s a huge difference between punk and metal, you know what I mean. So we’re coming more from the punk side of it then the metal side.

Basically we just write songs and we’re not afraid to try different things. It was real important for me, especially when we really started growing as a group, I really wanted to be innovative. I wanted to create our own unique niche sound. I wanted to do something new and not try to follow something other people did. Of course we are influenced from all kinds of different stuff but I wanted us to have our own unique brand of music. And it’s been a blessing and a curse because obviously [our music] has been too “out there” for standard Hip-Hop and too Hip-Hop for the rock stations. So we don’t get a lot of radio airplay but the people seem to really latch on to it and love it and feel what we’re doing. So at the end of the day the people validate the music and that’s probably why we’re still around fourteen years later, because we try to make interesting records that are unique onto themselves. It’s not like we make the same record over and over, we try to always to push ourselves on our production and songwriting.

“We don’t get invited to your random Warped Tours
and whatnot, although we have through the years
played with everyone from Cypress Hill to Eminem
to Method Man, Redman, Snoop Dogg, 311, Greenday,
Pennywise, Offspring, Red Hot Chili Peppers”

RIOTSOUND.COM: In 2006 the Kottonmouth Kings headlined the Cannabis Cup festival and were named band of the year by High Times magazine. What is your view on cannabis consumption as well as the greater war on drugs being waged here in the US?

BRAD X: I believe in personal freedom and as a human being to be able to make that choice. It’s not about whether you smoke weed or don’t smoke weed, it’s about having the choice as an individual and a human being to decide whether you want to plant a certain type of plant and then either eat it or smoke it or whatever you want to do with it. The plant grows naturally and I don’t think any government or police agency should be able to make that choice for you. I believe in personal freedom and people making that choice. I just don’t like the idea of somebody telling you that you can or can’t interact with something that grows naturally. It’s really bizarre to me.

I’d love to see the legalization of marijuana, of course. I could go into arguments about pharmaceutical drugs and alcohol but I think those are all pretty obvious as far as the statistics behind comparing marijuana to some of those legal drugs. So I do definitely believe in legalizing but most importantly I believe in personal freedom. There’s a lot of people who listen to Kottonmouth Kings who don’t smoke weed. Hopefully we’re interesting enough musically that people can find something about the group to like without having to smoke weed. But of course there are also a ton of people who also do smoke weed and really relate to that aspect of us.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You obviously have fans from a wide range of traditional music genres; from rock, to Hip-Hop, to punk. Despite having a very loyal and committed following, is there a downside to not having a very strong foothold in any one genre? You used the phrase “it’s been a blessing and a curse” earlier…

BRAD X: I think the same thing that people love us for, other people hate us for. We’re one of those types of bands, it seems like the middle ground isn’t really there. But we really have been so blessed, we’ve been to every place and wherever we go we just have amazingly fanatical fans that follow this band and get us. I think we have been pretty lucky in having been able to develop our own market that exists outside of anything. When you talk about underground music, to me “underground” means existing outside of the mainstream, and that’s exactly what the Kottonmouth Kings have created and developed with Suburban Noize Records. And there is no rhyme or reason to it; we exist completely outside all of that. We don’t get invited to your random Warped Tours and whatnot, although we have through the years played with everyone from Cypress Hill to Eminem to Method Man, Redman, Snoop Dogg, 311, Greenday, Pennywise, Offspring, Red Hot Chili Peppers; we’ve been able to play with every kind of band that I’ve ever wanted to play with. To me, as long as we made our own mark and we did it our way, that’s all I really care about.

RIOTSOUND.COM: For fans that know of the Kottonmouth Kings but might only be familiar with a couple of songs, what would be the one thing you’d like them to know about the band?

BRAD X: Obviously I would tell them go to the websites and check out [the music] but it’s hard for me to say [one thing] because we have so many different styles of songs. The Cloud Nine record or the new Green Album are great records to check out if you want to see the music stylings and all the musical depths of the Kottonmouth Kings. And of course you can also go deeper into the catalog prior to that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You got The Green Album dropping, what else should everyone be looking out for as far as the Kottonmouth Kings go?

BRAD X: We just got done shooting the video for a song called “Where I’m Going” and it features Seth Enslow, who’s a legend in the motorcross world, he’s riding his chopper and he plays kinda like the outlaw [in the video]. That’s on the internet now, so check that out. And also look out for the Kottonmouth Kings tour, which will go from late 2008 into 2009. In March and April we will be out on the east coast, and then of course look out for our summer tour. Hidden Stash IV is gonna be dropping sometime in spring, I think on April 20th, 4-20. And just stay tuned to the websites for all the latest news. There’s a whole online community that surrounds the Kottonmouth Kings, so feel free to pop in and become part of it.

For more news and info on the Kottonmouth Kings stay tuned to www.KottonmouthKings.com and www.SuburbanNoizeRecords.com