On Beyond Christian Rock
"I think I'm pretty hungry tonight," says Doug Pinnick, vocalist/bassist for Houston-based, internationally-known, hard-rock band King's X, glancing over the menu at Mama's Cafe on Westheimer. "I think I'll go with the catfish. Grilled. With a side of spinach and corn." It's a full meal, though he probably should be eating more since his frame is thin enough to make Kate Moss feel bloated.
When the order arrives, the fish is fried, and the disappointment registers on Pinnick's face. "Oh no. It's not grilled," he notes, in an almost childlike tone. The revised order comes back quickly, but the effect that lingers is that Pinnick's looks, voice and nervous giggle hardly jibe with the publicity-photo image of the raging musician who finds himself with not one but two new releases out. There's Tape Head, the latest release from King's X, and Massive Grooves from the Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungalism Rock Music, a solo record he released under the name Poundhound, which is also the name of Pinnick's Houston studio. Both releases mark a new start in the direction of the band and the man, and he's clearly drinking from a rejuvenatory tonic.
That's owing in no small part to the enthusiasm the band feels for its new home, Metal Blade Records. The small but well-respected home of acts ranging from Fates Warning to Cannibal Corpse and GWAR quickly picked up the band after their longtime relationship with Atlantic Records ended. Metal Blade released Massive Grooves ... and King's X guitarist/vocalist Ty Tabor's solo release, Moonflower Lane.
"When we left Atlantic -- or they dropped us, whatever -- Metal Blade was the logical choice for us. We did our share with a corporation whose bottom line was to sell records or else. And with that pressure looming over us, it makes you do things differently," Pinnick says. "We saw the freedom come back, and we did a lot of things we always wanted to on the new one."
In addition to recording and producing the entire effort themselves in both Poundhound Studios and Tabor's Alien Beans Studio in Houston, Pinnick, Tabor and drummer Jerry Gaskill did something else that they never have before: They wrote almost all of the material together.
"We were tired of King's X just interpreting our individual demos. This time we just decided to do it together," Pinnick says. "And we gave each other the freedom to create the music that we wanted to. To me, it's our first record all over again. And we needed that."
And, indeed, songs such as the irresistible "Groove Machine," "Over and Over," "Cupid," "Hate You" and "World" make Tape Head the band's strongest effort in years, further expounding on their melodic hard rock and three-part Beatlesesque harmonies. The lyrics, however, have taken a turn away from the mostly positive vibes of their previous material, which balanced Pinnick's dark view with Tabor's sunnier outlook.
"That's because I came from sort of a dark place. Someone once said it's that tension that made us who we are as a band, but I don't know ... I don't know," Pinnick laughs. "Both of us are very dominant, and there is that tug of war in the music."
Still, Doug Pinnick is not a morose guy, at least not anymore. "I feel better about a lot of things now and can enjoy them -- sort of smell the roses," Pinnick adds, giving the impression that he's not upset the band has yet to really break through on a national level. "I can't get down on anything because we make [the records], and then we go out and play for people, and they're listening, and they've even paid to listen. And there's nothing wrong with that ... we're just a bunch of dreamers who got lucky. A lot of [bands] don't even make it this far."
Doug Pinnick was born in 1950 in Joliet, Illinois (though he looks far younger than his 48 years) and grew up in a Chicago suburb. An unstable home meant that a strictly religious grandmother raised him. And while Doug was the only child of his mother and father, he had 14 half brothers and sisters from his parents' other marriages and relationships.
As a teen, he found solace in a wide array of music, from church singers and musicians to Motown, Sly and the Family Stone, Yes and even Black Sabbath. And though he sang in bands in high school, he didn't pick up a bass until he was 22, learning it while living in a Christian community in Florida and playing in an evangelical art-rock band.
In 1979, he relocated to Springfield, Missouri to join a re-formed lineup of Christian rock band Petra along with Gaskill. The band broke up after only a month. The pair began to spend time with Gaskill's friend, Tabor, and in 1980 formed the Edge with another guitarist, playing a mixture of originals and covers for anyone who'd have them. Five years later, the band was now a trio calling themselves Sneak Preview and playing much harder-edged material, though still with a spiritual bent à la U2, one of Pinnick's favorites. In 1986, the band moved to Houston, originally under the auspices of a Christian rock label, though they actually found themselves working with ZZ Top associate Sam Taylor.
Rechristening themselves King's X, they soon signed with Megaforce Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, releasing Out of the Silent Planet ('88) followed by Gretchen Goes to Nebraska and, in 1990, Faith Hope Love. That record was intended to be King's X's big break, and things looked good as their "It's Love" single and video both got admirable playing time on radio and on MTV. The band even had something of a visual hook in Pinnick's distinctive high-flying bushy mohawk. "That hairstyle took me two hours to pull together each time! It was a lot of bother!" Pinnick laughs of his former 'do, preferring his current short Afro shaved into a circle on top of his head. In any case, it's lower-maintenance.
But a flurry of reasons including managerial and tour problems, a longer-than-expected layoff, a glut of hard-rock bands and the undeserved tag as a Christian rock band seemed to keep King's X from really breaking out despite some critical acclaim. That last reason is still one that bothers Pinnick, who has changed his views considerably over the years.
"I never understood that, why we were [labeled] so much. U2 comes out with a record, and they're called 'spiritual,' but we were called 'Christian rock.' But they had three members who were Christian and one who wasn't, so it was okay. With us, since we were all Christians, then that was it. They kind of held us up after that and said, 'Look! We got one!' But Christians are still some of our [biggest] fans." Pinnick says. "But now, I've started to live my life for me and not worry about what's going to happen after I die. I'm just a person who doesn't really know what happens out there, though I've got a lot of different answers."
Some of those answers come through, loud and clear, on Massive Grooves ... It's decidedly harder than Tape Head and chronicles Pinnick's feelings about music, lost love, lost friends and the shaky foundations of society on tracks such as "Jangle," "Darker," "Psycholove," "Blind Eye" and "River."
"I wrote those songs without thinking of King's X and just for me. I had to do that to find myself," Pinnick says. After playing some demos to Metal Blade just for kicks, he says he was surprised when they encouraged him to polish the material and offered to release it. Pinnick subsequently did that, writing all the words and music, singing and playing all the instruments except the drums, and bringing in several guest skin-thumpers to help him out.
"With King's X, it's always been the Three Musketeers. And with Poundhound, it was all mine, but it was also all up to me. And that's good, because I'm used to letting other people take care of me," he says. "I'm the lazy musician who sits on his butt and dreams. All I want to do is make music."
As for the surprisingly spare lyrics on most of the tracks, Pinnick says it's part of an overhaul he's trying to follow in his personal life. "I used to talk too much, just saying anything that came to my mind. Now, I'm trying to find out ways to say things [more briefly]. I mean, I get on my nerves sometimes," he offers. "And I'm also at a stage in my life where I just don't have a whole lot to say anymore. I used to do all that heavy meaning stuff in the early days. Now, there are just little things that bother me."
He picked the name Poundhound, which he first heard about ten years ago and had always liked the way it sounded. "I didn't want to put out 'the Doug Pinnick solo record,' although I will," he says, before letting out another nervous laugh, "and that will probably be me doing some kind of Boyz II Men pop music!"
For now, Doug Pinnick has a pretty busy 1999 planned. He'll be moving to a new home in the Katy area, closer to Tabor and Gaskill ("there's a lot of space out there, and it's cheaper to live"), and will continue to work in his studio along with two partners. King's X will tour parts of the United States, Europe and Japan, and then Pinnick wants to take his Poundhound band on the road for some gigs. As of now, King's X has no confirmed plans to play in their hometown, though a Houston date is possible in the first few months of the year.
"We always have great shows here, and it's a good time. People in Houston still talk to me about the show we did at the Tower Theater on the Faith Hope Love tour," Pinnick says. "And we played the Music Hall and filled it up." Still, he says, he'd rather play a club date here than a large arena, to keep the show as special and as intimate as possible for both longtime supporters and new fans that might pick up Tape Head.
"There's not a [huge number] of King's X fans out there, but those who are, are very loyal wherever we tour," Pinnick says, smiling. "It's like a bunch of old friends showing up.
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