TOWARD THE TOP OF ANY LEGITIMATE LIST OF GREAT ROCK & ROLL
BANDS THAT NEVER QUITE ATTAINED THE POPULARITY AND ACCLAIM
THEY DESERVED, YOU’LL FIND KING’S X. FORGED IN MISSOURI IN
THE MID ’80S AND SHARPENED IN THE HEAT OF HOUSTON, TEXAS,
THE TRIO OF GUITARIST TY TABOR, DRUMMER JERRY GASKILL, AND
bassist dUg Pinnick released its debut, Out of the
Silent Planet, in 1988, following up with the powerful
Gretchen Goes to Nebraska in 1989. On Faith
Hope Love , King’s X , and Dogman
, the band continued to play to its strengths:
smart lyrics, lush harmonies, and a heaviness
ahead of their time, accomplished via the oracular
employment of drop tunings long before the
sludgy sea change out of Seattle made the practice
Leading from the bottom, frontman dUg Pinnick
brought with him a fantastically diverse
mixture of ingredients—gospel-tinged vocals, a
groove sensibility steeped in R&B, and a penchant
for gnarly bass tones. With his frequent use of
12-string basses (slung super low by the terrifically
tall southpaw) and bi-amped rigs, Pinnick created
one of the most distinctive bass sounds in rock &
roll, in and of itself a tremendous achievement.
A prolific songwriter, Pinnick has long collaborated
with artists outside of King’s X, and his catalog of
solo albums continues to grow. That the caliber
of his collaborators would be high should be no
surprise, but dUg has outdone himself in Pinnick
Gales Pridgen, in which he teams up with guitar
badass Eric Gales and drummer extraordinaire
Thomas Pridgen. As the power trio was preparing
to enter the studio—mere months after recording
its self-titled Magna Carta debut, dUg took some
time to talk shop.
How did the Pinnick Gales Pridgen project
Mike Varney [of Shrapnel Records] called me
up and said, “Hey man, do you want to do something
with Eric Gales?” I’ve known Eric for years,
and we had always talked about doing something
together. So I said, “Hell yeah!” I had just written
around 20 songs for my solo record, so I had about
ten songs left over. We ended up taking five of my
tunes, and we co-wrote the rest of them. We did it
all in about 10 days. The fun was in letting everyone
do what they do and be themselves, especially
with Eric and Thomas.
How does bass factor into your songwriting?
Writing songs on a guitar for the past 20 years,
I haven’t thought a lot about my bass playing or
how to approach it; I’d just put what was needed in
the song and keep going. It’s stupid, because bass
is what I love to do the most. But in the last few
years, I’ve been jamming with a lot of people, and
I’ve been able to just make up bass parts, nothing
else. It’s brought me back to that place I was
when I started making up bass lines and having
fun. It’s just, Hey, let’s get this groove going and
dance underneath everybody while they dance on
top. I’m really enjoying that.
Let’s talk tunes on the PGP album. “Black
Jeans” is great, with its haunting chord progressions.
I think that’s what Eric liked about it when he
first heard the demo. I went to that second chord,
and he turned his head and went, “Ooh!” Th en he
stepped up to the plate and took the song where
it needed to go. My version was faster—I was
thinking of a Johnny Cash kind of twang, but it
turned darker. The first thing Tom said after he
heard the demo was, “Hey, can we slow it down?”
When they did what they did to it, it turned into
another animal to get excited about. It’s actually
my favorite song on the record.
The riff on “Hang On, Big Brother” is
pretty killer, too.
That’s a hard f’ing thing to play! I’m doubling
Eric on the bass, and then I’ve gotta sing. . . . I tell
you, I don’t know how I’m going to do this stuff live.
But I’m up for the challenge. I come from King’s X,
where we pull off a lot of crazy-ass shit, so I know
it can be done. I’ve just got my work cut out for me.
Does the band have tour plans?
We’re working on it. Nothing’s final yet because
everybody’s busy. But we’ll make it happen.
Back to the tunes, the groove on “Angels
and Aliens” is deep.
When Eric came up with that riff , all I could hear
was the bass line to Sly and the Family Stone’s “I
Want to Take You Higher.” When I started playing
like that, Thomas immediately put four on the
floor, and we just locked into it.
Aside from Larry Graham, who else do you
like to borrow from?
Jamie Jamerson, except I play with such a wiry
tone. And Chris Squire, all the time. One of the
things I love about him is that he’s so funky. On
“Roundabout” or “Close to the Edge,” he’s a f’ing
monster—he commands. I try to incorporate that
in all my bass playing now. If you’re going to be
in the background, command the band. Connecting
a note or playing staccato or leaving holes literally
changes the mood and groove more than
anything else in the band.
What gear did you use with PGP?
My Schecter Model T, with custom Seymour
Duncan pickups. I have five sets of those pickups,
and I put them in whatever bass I’m playing. I’ve
never found pickups that growl quite like them—
they’re crucial to my tone.
Initially I was thinking that I didn’t want my
King’s X tone—I thought I’d try a new approach,
with just an Ampeg SVT. But when I got up to the
studio, I realized I hadn’t played like that since I
was 20 years old, and I just couldn’t find the sound
I used to love. So I pulled an EQ out of their rack
and used an Orange [guitar] amp that was there
in the studio, with a miked 4x12 Marshall cabinet.
What about picks and strings?
I use medium picks and DR Strings Hi-Beams.
With every other bass string I’ve used, the low
string always goes dead right away. But DRs last
a long time.
Just months after releasing Pinnick
Gales Pridgen, you’re going back in to record
This time I don’t know what’s going to happen,
because I’m not going in with any songs. The three
of us are going to try to write together; I think it
will be even better.
The band is unique in that everybody seems
to be a southpaw.
Eric and I play left-handed, and Thomas plays
right-handed. The weird thing is that Eric is actually
right-handed. When he started playing guitar, his
brother was left-handed and played upside down,
and he taught Eric to play that way.
And I’m actually ambidextrous—I bat left handed
by throw right-handed, for example. When
I bowl, I’ll use both hands. It can mess with your
brain, because both sides of the brain are dominant,
so it can make your brain freeze up. Somebody
will say, “Go left,” and I’ll go right. As for
playing bass and singing, that’s easy. Th ere are two
things going and once, and they have complete independence.
You play with the low strings on top. Have you always played that way?
I started upside down. After about six months, a guy told me it might
be easier if I switched it. I just did whatever anybody told me back then, so I
switched around. I sometimes wish I hadn’t, because then I’d be able to pick up
anybody’s bass and play it.
It seems as if you never rest from writing. What’s your process?
In the last few weeks, I’ve been mixing my blues band in the mornings, and
then I’ve been putting vocals on another band I have with George Lynch and
Ray Luzier from Korn in the afternoons. It’s given me a lot more energy just to
be really busy. I’ve played all over the world for a lot of people—I’ve done a lot.
It’s not that I don’t want that anymore, but writing and recording is just more
fun now that I’m older.
You recently relocated from Texas to Los Angeles. What precipitated
I’d been living in Texas, and the music business turned to shit. So I called
my brother up and said, “Move into my house.” He moved in, and I grabbed my
guitars and came out to Los Angeles. I told myself I’d give it five years. I’m going
to play with everybody I can, have some fun, make some music, and see if I can
get a check coming in every month.
When I got out here, I ran into a lot of people who’d say, “Hey, let’s do something.”
If I can be in a studio making music with somebody, I want to do it. That’s
been rejuvenating—I feel like I’m a teenager again.
The fun part about it is that I’ve been playing and
writing for so long that I’m no longer insecure about
things. And the people I’ve been working with are
top-notch, so I’m not in there thinking we’re writing
a bunch of crap.
King’s X was one of the first bands to droptune.
How did that come about?
Before we got a record deal in King’s X [in 1987],
Ty played a lot of bluegrass with his dad, and bluegrass
often calls for dropped tuning. Ty wanted to
write a song that sounded like “She’s So Heavy”
by the Beatles, so he wrote “Please” in Drop D. He
played it for us and he said, “This is really different.
I don’t think it’s any good, but I just played something
that I felt.” When Jerry and I heard it, we
looked at each other and went, This is awesome! I
went home and drop-tuned my guitar, and I realized
how easy it was to play. We both started writing
in that tuning, and we’ve been there ever since.
What’s your preferred tuning these days?
I play in Drop C [CGCF], and I write everything
in C or lower. When we started pulling out my demo
songs for PGP, they were too low for Eric. He said,
“Let me drop my guitar one step, not two.” No problem.
And that gave it all a different flavor.
Did you start out as a bass player?
I played saxophone for a semester in school when
I was 12, and then learned the bass. I was in choir
from middle school through college, and I was always
in some kind of group that was singing. Bass was a
dream. The first time I heard bass I was three years
old—it was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers playing
“Why Do Fools Fall in Love” on my cousin’s old
record player. I liked the vocals, but it was the bass
line that got me. From that point on, all I listened
to was bass. I played bass for the first time when I
was 23, when a friend of mine brought one over and
said, “Here, check this out.” When I could play my
first lick, it was one of the most exciting times I’ve
ever felt in my life. I couldn’t give that bass back.
A lot of people identify you with 12-string
bass, even though you mostly play 4-string.
I did play it a lot of 12-string on Faith Hope Love
and King’s X [1990 and 1992]. I got the idea from
Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick. He’s the originator,
the godfather. King’s X was touring with Cheap
Trick in 1988 for our first record. Cheap Trick is one
of my favorite bands in the whole world, so I was
trying to hang out backstage and be cool. At one gig,,
right before they went on stage, I said to Tom, “Man,
that 12-string is cool.” He said, “Check it out,” and
he took it off and handed it to me. I went, “Dude, I
want one of these,” and he told me to get in touch
with Hamer and ask them to make me one. About
six months later, Hamer called Ty and asked if he
would play one of their guitars. I called them up and
said, “What about me?” They went, “Well of course
you, dUg!” So they built me four 12-strings.
Do you still play 12-string?
I try to pull it out on at least one song per record,
because everybody wants to hear it and see it.
Why did you move away from 12-string?
I got lazy. One thing about a 12-string is it
doesn’t work well if you’re just playing along with the
guitar. You’ve got to write a song on a 12-string—
like Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.” But I usually don’t pick
up the 12-string when I have a song to write. I’ll
grab a guitar instead. So it just slipped away from
me. I wrote “Human Behavior” [Dogman, 1994] on
a 12-string. That’s why it’s real minimal and primal.
The 12-string has all these harmonic chiming artifacts
that turn it into a huge sound.
The instrument is notoriously difficult to
play. Can you off er any pointers?
First off , you need to get the action really, really
low, and you have to use light-gauge strings all the
way around, even on the bass string. If you’re a pick
player, you want the little strings on the top, and if
you’re a fingerstyle player, you want the little strings
on the bottom. Because if you hit the big string first,
you’re going to miss the octave strings.
Whether it’s 12-string or 4-string, you have
one of the most distinct bass tones in rock &
roll. How did you cultivate it?
When I was coming up, I was listening to James
Jamerson, “Duck” Dunn, and all those soul players
who played finger style and had a nice beefy sound.
And then I was really into Sly and the Family Stone
and Stevie Wonder, who were playing that percussive
kind of sound with a clavinet. When I heard “Roundabout”
by Yes, I went, What the hell is that? Here
was this clanky clavinet piano sound on a bass—
the thing that I love the most. I remember I ran to
the music store and said, “How do I get that kind of
clangy, twangy sound?” The guy looked at me and
said, “What you talking about?” For a year or more
I couldn’t find that sound; I’d turn all the treble up
and all the bass down, but I never could get it right.
Then I read an article in Circus magazine with
John Entwistle. I had just gotten a glimpse of his
live tone [on The Who’s Live at Leeds], because the
bass wasn’t as clangy on the Who’s studio records.
When I heard that tone, it turned my ear. In the article
he talked about Rotosound strings, so I went to
the store and bought some. They were something
like 50 bucks, so I used them until they died—after
a week or so.
So I’d found a sound for my bass, but not for my
amp. A kid had given me an Ampeg BT-15 with two
1x15” cabinets. They rocked, but they didn’t have
that clang I wanted. One day, another kid showed
up where I used to practice when I lived in Florida,
and he had a Traynor YBA-1 amp. I plugged into
it, and all the sudden, there that sound—clank. I
traded my Ampeg for the Traynor, and kid looked
at me like I was an idiot. But I wanted that sound-
I’d found it, and I wasn’t about to let it go! I ended
up getting seven of those heads, and I used them
up to until Faith Hope Love. They were pretty old at
that point, and I began to move over to other amps.
Those Traynors were the key to my tone.
What specifically did you like about them?
They had a crystalline, bright high end that danced
around you. I haven’t found in any other amp yet-that
tone is just gone. I pull out my Traynors and listen
now, but I can’t get used to it anymore. Times have
changed, and sounds have changed. We’ve gotten
bigger, louder, and deeper, so those old Traynors just
don’t sound right anymore. It’s an amazing sound,
but there’s very little low end.
You’ve long been a big proponent of bi-amping,
using guitar amps for your highs and bass
amps for your lows. How did that come about?
I went to a Yes show and saw that Chris Squire
had both guitar amps and bass amps. I couldn’t afford
that, but I kept it in the back of my mind. For the
second King’s X record [in 1989], I told our manager
that I wanted bass and guitar amps, and he got
them for me. From that point I experimented with
lots of different guitar heads. Mesa Boogie, Fender,
Egnater—I’ve tried a lot. I used an Ampeg SVT for
the low end, dialing all the high end out for a fat,
compressed sound. Th e high end on top tells you
what the notes are, so you get a solid wall of low
end that doesn’t step on anything.
How do you view the role of bass tone in a
Bass is the most important instrument, but it’s
the one that has to figure out how to fit it. Guitar
players are married to their sound—you don’t want
to mess with that. Drums are what they are. Bass
is ambient, so you need to dial your sound around
the band and still give that audio illusion that you’re
getting bass in your face.
I’ve spent years EQing, dialing frequencies in
and out. When you put bass through a guitar amp,
you just get mud. So you need to take the low end
out of that channel and treat it like a guitar. You
have to drop out from 4kHz up to 20kHz, because
up there is just clunk—no sound. Your tone sits
between 500Hz and 2kHz. Down low, I keep it flat.
My tone is an animal that needs to be mixed
right or it’s really annoying. I Iike the growl to come
through, but not to be in your face. A lot of engineers
bring the high end up because they think that’s
what I want, but it’s not.
Where does the grind in your tone come from?
The guitar amp. You can turn the gain up to the
point where it’s just big fuzz, or you can back it up
to a place where it’s just about to break up. If you
do that and put the low end with it, it works really
well. The other thing is that the low end has to be
compressed really tight. If it’s not, the two signals
fight each other. That’s why I say the low end has
to just sit in that one spot and let the high end give
you the emotion.
What’s your cabinet preference?
There’s something about Ampeg 8x10 cabinets
that I haven’t found in any other bass cab-the
consistency of the deep low end. If you’re going
to use high end, you’ve got to get deep along with
with it. The higher you go, the deeper you’ve gotta
to go. And if you narrow it up, it will just turn into
this nasally, ugly thing. They don’t make them any
more, but I used to use Ampeg SVP-Pro preamps.
In the early days, that helped me perfect my tone.
I’ve never been able to get back to that. I’m happy
with what I got now, but that was heaven for me.
What’s your rig now?
I use a Fractal Axe-FX. I basically programmed
my old rig right into it, and now I can’t tell the difference.
I just run that through my Ampeg power
amps and cabinets. Now I can just stick the Fractal
in my suitcase and go.
How do you apply compression?
I’ve found you need to apply compression at
the end of any signal; otherwise, you’re going to
get a weird DI-type sound. Even with my Fractal, I
put compression after the speaker emulator, so no
matter how big the room is, there’s still a compressor
squashing the whole thing.
What’s happening with King’s X?
We’re getting ready to do some shows in May and
June, and we’re going to do a new record sooner or
later. We needed a bit of time to evaluate the last
20 years. In recent years, it’s been a struggle to
make a living on tour and selling records, so we’re
figuring out what we want to do. We’re all proud of
each other and encourage each other because we
love each other.
When it comes time to tour, what do you
need to do to prepare?
For us, if we practice for a couple days then
we’re good to go for a few months. Even if we have a
week or two off , we can still show up and do sound check
and warm up a little bit and go do it. If it’s a
longer run, we need to practice for a couple days to
reconnect. But a lot of times we don’t even have to
rehearse. We went to Europe one tour and didn’t
rehearse. Before the first show, Ty said, “You know,
we haven’t rehearsed.” I said, “I know.” He said, “Well,
it ain’t the first time—we’ll wing it.” And we went
out there and stomped it.
Like Fishbone, and Bad Brains, King’s X has
long been on the verge of mainstream success,
never quite getting there.
When we first came out, people who were really
honest said, “Look, you guys are ahead of your time.
Just know that.” They say there are two things you
don’t talk about in rock & roll: politics and religion.
We talked about both, so there you go. But
that’s who I am and that’s what I do. I’m a hopeless
romantic when it comes to doing what I want to do
and hoping that somebody will buy it. I can’t bow
down. I tried. We tried to write pop songs in certain
areas in our career, and you know what happened?
Nothing. So I’m done with that.
The people that love King’s X are deep thinkers.
We’re unique in where we’re coming from—the way
that we grew up. I come from a dark place, and there
are people that come from that place that understand
that loneliness, feeling like you’re worthless
and that nobody cares. But you’re not angry and
you don’t want to beat everybody up and scream.
That’s the kind of stuff that I write. The people that
grab hold of that are there forever. They’ll buy everything
I put out, because they know I’m speaking to
them as they know I’m speaking to myself about
just getting through this f’ed up world. There just
aren’t enough of them! [Laughs].
How is your solo album, Naked, coming along?
It’s really good. It’s coming out in May, and I’m
excited about it. All my friends love it. They could
be lying to me, but they seem to be more excited
about this than anything I’ve done in a long time.
I’m playing everything on it, and using Toontrack
for drums. Lyrically, it’s deep. When you move
to Los Angeles, in the first couple years you either
leave, kill yourself, or suck it up and figure it out.
So for the last two years, I just told myself, Hang
on, it will straighten out. I did a lot of soul searching,
asking how I could get to this point where I
can’t make a living doing what I’m doing. It was
very frustrating. But I’ve realized that I did and
now still do live a great life. I got to live my dream
for a second—it doesn’t last forever. That was the
biggest lesson I had to learn. When you get to the
mountaintop, you’ve got to come back down and
let somebody else get up there. I’m okay with that
now. Th e thing that I love is I have enough respect
in the music community where I can make music
with people, and there’s value in the marketplace
for at least a little bit.
You’re putting the album out yourself?
I actually had a couple of record deals I almost
signed with, but at the end of the day I thought to
myself, You’ve written music for fifteen King’s X
records, five solo records, and however many side
projects, and you own nothing. So I decided I wanted
to own this record. I got a couple friends together,
and we’re putting it out on my own label, with a distribution
company behind it. Hopefully I’ll recoup
and pay bills for the next few months. That’s good
enough for me. I’m really excited about it—you’ve
got to hear it.