"Haha, I think the world is more pleased than I am, it's not that I don't like it, it's just that whatever I am a part of, I can never step outside of it to see it for what it is!" ~ dUg Pinnick
dUg Pinnick is more of a walk the walk kind of guy than a talk the talk kind of guy. He's largely content to let the music do the talking, but with the success of his latest project, Pinnick Gales Pridgen, he's up early and doing press - no big surprise, for PGP has taken the hard rock world by storm, debuting at #1 on the Amazon Hard Rock Charts, and also #1 on their Progressive Rock Charts on the first day of its release, and the world is at their doorstep.
Pinnick Gales Pridgen is going to be a tough record to top for anyone in 2013 - I proclaimed it record of the year in mid January, and while I'd love to see someone knock the rock off my shoulder, I'm not holding my breath. Pinnick does what he's always done, Eric Gales puts on the lead guitar performance of a lifetime, and Thomas Pridgen's whirlwind drumming has left even his bandmates mystified.
I had spoken with Gales at length at last month's NAMM show in Los Angeles, and he excitedly told me that the band was already discussing the follow up record, so this project is growing wings - when offered a chance to talk about the record with dUg, well, of course, I couldn't wait.
Before we jumped into the new record, I had to ask about dUg's bandmate for the last thirty years, drummer Jerry Gaskill of Pinnick's full time band, King's X - Gaskill suffered a heart attack in early 2012, and then had the misfortune of having his home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Pinnick was pleased to report that Jerry is doing better than ever:
dUg: "Jerry's doing great! After the heart attack he recovered completely - we've done some shows and he has a new found life. Man, he just brings life to the camp, y'know, it's pretty cool. We've got some shows set up this spring, and we're planning some recording, but there's no date yet."
In this economic climate, having your band on the shelf for a year is a tough thing, so I asked dUg how PGP came together, how Mike Varney got involved, and how the record got made:
dUg: "Mike was probably the focal point, in that he called me up and said, 'Hey, I want to do this record with you, Eric, and Thomas,' and I go, 'Sure!' Next thing I know, we're in the studio ten days later and we've got a record."
I asked if there was any time for demos, or preparation before hitting the studio:
dUg: "No preparation before - I brought in five songs, and we collaborated on five more, I think. It was really quick, it was like we all knew what each other was capable of, so we went in and let everyone do what they do. There was no arguing, there was no telling another person what to do, or somebody going, 'I don't like that part, why don't you change it to this.' Nothing like that happened, ever. It just seemed like everything we came up with worked.
"We did the drum tracks in three days. We had to have the drums ready, because the drum tracks are the most important part of the song - and Thomas had to leave after the third day! So, he put down his drum tracks and left. Then we pieced it all together - we had the basic tracks, but we had to make up vocals and melodies, Eric had to put on his leads, and stuff like that."
Listening to Pridgen's performance, it's not just incredible that he laid the tracks in three days, it's also incredible that Pinnick and Gales could always follow his hyperkinetic masterwork. I asked dUg how difficult it was to adjust to Pridgen's fiery style:
dUg: "It's real hard! To play with somebody that busy - but, I wanted him to play that busy because that's his style, and that's what his appeal is! I think it really added to the band and the make-up of the band. I really do think that he did an exceptional job, but it's like I said, it's hard to play with him, because sometimes I don't know where the one is - he finds his way back there, but I don't!"
Pridgen aside, it's also a whole new ballgame for Pinnick playing with Eric Gales - Gales has a style like no one's and I had to ask how it was for dUg to play with Eric after working for three decades with the equally different, and very eclectic Ty Tabor, the legendary six string wizard of King's X:
dUg: "The difference is Ty doesn't think he's any good. Whatever he does - he always doesn't care about it, and he thinks that other guitar players don't care about him. He doesn't think he has anything to offer, even though he does.That's just who he is.
"As for Eric? Eric loves everything that he does. Watching him do leads, watching him get excited about his leads, and watching him stop in the middle of a lead because he just did something incredible, and he'll look at us and go, 'Y'all hear that? That was deep!' I mean, he loves what he does in a really innocent and beautiful way. I wish I could love what I did like that.
"That's the biggest difference to me, besides playing-wise, because they're both just phenomenal."
Sticking with Gales's performance on PGP, I asked about all the layers of guitars that were laid down after the basic rhythm track - it's a masterful performance with Eric throwing down lead after lead after incredible lead. One of the performances of the century to my ears, and from most of the other reviews I've read. Surprisingly, his performance only came at Pinnick's prodding:
dUg: "The raw tracks were just his rhythms. Then, he just came in and re-did the leads, pretty much. We knew what we were getting from the beginning - there were no surprises. It was just really great to make him play as much lead as he could on this record, because he didn't want to!
"He didn't want to do a lot of leads, but I thought, 'You know, this is his strength,' so, you do a lot of leads, you could do leads all night long - I said, 'This is what people wanna hear,' so he just went for it, you know? And that is the whole point in this band is that everyone tried to grab a hold of their strongpoints. Forget about weak points, we got no time for that!"
By the same token, Pinnick's bass tone is unlike any other. He gets his sound by sending his high end signal into a Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx II, giving his tone some grinding distortion and time based effects, while sending his low end through a more traditional bass amp rig. The result is a steamrolling sound that is as broad as it is long. At times on the record it's occasionally not easy to decipher whether you're hearing Gales's guitars, or Pinnick's bass - I asked if Gales's had any difficulty adjusting to Pinnick's huge tone, which is perhaps the most unique this side of John Entwistle's roar with The Who:
dUg: "Eric has known my sound since his band toured with King's X when he was fifteen, so he knew what to expect. I don't know....we never discussed it at all, and he didn't seem to have any problems with it as he put his parts down. Yeah, it wasn't even discussed, really."
Mike Varney was the Svengali who dreamt up the lineup of Pinnick Gales Pridgen, so I wondered about his role, once the band got into the studio:
dUg: "He was the ring leader! He just kind of pushed us to keep going. We were sort of frustrated at first, because we were thinking, 'We've gotta make a record in ten days?' He kept us focused and kept pushing us, which was really cool.
"I wrote about 25 songs in the last year, and some of them went on my solo album that will be out in May, then there were some more left over - Mike said, 'I want you to bring in five songs,' and I brought in ten, so we picked five of them, then we just kind of did them."
Again, I was pretty amazed that a record that sounds so rich and complex could have been laid down so quickly. It's down to seasoned pros knowing exactly what they're doing, and having the skills and confidence to proceed. Things haven't always come so easy - both Pinnick and Gales have on occasion had to battle with personal problems that made their lives difficult - I wanted to know what effect dUg's personal life had on his art, and the making of that art:
dUg: "It effects it 100%! I think I write better songs when I'm being tortured - when I'm happy and everything's going great, I have nothing to say, and there's no passion, or drive in my music. But, it seems the moment I'm hurtin', or angry, or frustrated - I write a song about it.
"It's sort of a way of releasing a lot of my feelings. Also, because if I didn't have music to release the things I go through, and how I feel, if I couldn't talk about it - I'd go crazy."
When can we expect to see Pinnick Gales Pridgen on the road?:
dUg: "There's talk - it'll happen when we can figure out when. People are doing all their own thing, and we've all got so much going on in our lives that it's going to be a difficult coordination, but we'll do it.
"It's a lot easier on stage now, because I'm more confident. Studios always intimidated me, because you're under a microscope, and I've never been....I'm a very insecure person, especially when it comes to my talent - when you're in a studio, and everybody's looking at you - watching everything you do, and making sure that you're in tune, and in time. Trying to get an emotion out of you that maybe you don't have, or they see something that they want you to get out of you, but you don't feel it.
"The whole mindset of recording is so much different than playing live. Now days, when I go into the studio, it's like, I'm better at what I do, so I'm not as insecure about it.
"When I sing - it's like, as soon as I open my mouth everybody either freaks out, or starts crying! So I go....well....I listen back to the take and I'm going, 'Man, I suck,' and they're looking at me like, 'This is the greatest thing in the world!'
"I just roll my eyes, and go, 'We just do what we do, and we hope people will like it.'"
After recording both a solo record that features Pinnick playing, singing, and engineering nearly everything to going into the studio with a high powered producer like Varney, and a couple of super capable bandmates, I asked dUg which was easier?:
dUg: "It's easier with a bunch of individuals, because when I do everything myself, it takes forever - I engineer it myself, and I don't always know what I'm doing.
"I'll try a vocal track a hundred times, and the first was probably incredible, but there's no one around to tell me to stop! Making a solo record is a nightmare for me. I'm real happy with the results, but it's a lot of work. Working with other people is the easiest thing in the world - if all I've got to deal with is my bass, or just vocals? Hey, that's a piece of cake. You got the engineer, the other guys doing their thing - lately that's been the most fun for me.
"I've had four projects with bands in the last year, and I've just went in and played bass and sang, and it's just been so much fun to not worry about the guitar parts, or the drums, or to have to tell somebody how I want the groove to be.
"In these side projects I'm doing, everybody's does their own thing and there's a trust that we all have with each other. Everybody's been around a long, long time - when you've been playing for twenty, or thirty years, if you're accomplished, you don't need somebody coming in and saying, 'Man, I don't like that chorus, why don't you change it?' What I like is, if I go into a chorus, I go, 'OK - what is my bass part going to do for this chorus to make it better, or make it comfortable for me?" I don't go in there for anything other than to make it work.
"A riff is a riff, a song is a song - there's millions of them out there, and we continually shit out songs left and right. But, the thing is, when you allow everyone to do what they do, and stand back and say, 'OK, this person says this picture is green and yellow - and I have blue in my hand. Well, where you gonna put the blue at to make this a good picture? Or add to the picture - and that's how i look at it now is, let's just build a song.
"There's no deconstructing a song - whatever you got, we can make it work! It doesn't matter what the riff is, or what the song is - if you can put a great melody on it, put some attitude to it - you got it."
I'm coming across this type of attitude more and more often, as the budgets for recording are smaller, and the demands of labels now non-existent. I suggested to dUg that I am reminded of the way in which old jazz records were made, often in someone's living room with one microphone:
dUg: "Yeah - that's it! I've got two other projects, there's 3rd Ear Experience with Robbi Robb from Tribe After Tribe, that record will be out soon, we're just getting the mixes together. Then I've got a blues band called Grinder's Blues up in Vegas - I drive up there, and we've just finished that record, and it's being mixed."
If you've ever wondered why so many musicians are involved in so many projects, much of it comes down to one thing. While in many ways it is great for the listener, and it is easier for players to cross pollinate amongst themselves musically, it really comes down to making a living, and keeping body and soul together. I asked dUg a question I'm asking all of my interviewees these days - dUg, what effect has illegal downloading and pirating had on you?:
dUg: 'It killed us! It killed me. It - the whole Internet killed all of us. I mean, you know, not just music, but if you look around, the Internet changed everything. Everybody lost their jobs. You can't even go to the mall anymore, because people can sit at home online and buy stuff. It's across the board.
"Yeah, I'm starvin' to death. I'm doing everything I can to make a living, I live month to month, and there's just no way out. People just don't buy music like they used to. There's no venues where people can go to know what's going on, there's no MTV, there's no serious radio, and all we've got is a big wall of information sent at us. It's up to the person to decipher, or sift through it to find if there's any genius in it. It just killed us.
However, Pinnick doesn't come across as bitter, or hateful - he gladly admits that the Biebers and that ilk are talented, and simply a commodity for corporations. He sees it as just part of a bigger picture:
dUg: 'Even Jimi Hendrix, when he first came out - he sold a million records, and that was a big deal, because very few artists ever sold a million records back in 1968, or '69.
"By the '90s, you could sell a million records in a week. I remember Pearl Jam was at number one and sold ten million copies. Pantera hit number one - ten million. Now, we're back to ground zero, and back to where it used to be. A musician struggles, and he's unknown.
"My hypothesis on this all is that everyone thinks because the '90s, and '80s were so huge, and even the '70s after Peter Frampton put out that live album, corporations saw that millions would buy records, and it became a big boom - like the oil boom in Texas, or the gold rush in California. But, sooner or later it goes away, and it's done. We got slim pickens - everybody's got their pitchforks out, and they're digging!"
Having brought up Jimi Hendrix himself, I felt it fair to ask a question I think I already knew the answer to - I asked dUg what Hendix would have thought of Pinnick Gales Pridgen's new record?:
dUg: "From what I know of the people that have known him, and the people that talk about him, or just know his history - I'm sure he would have loved it! As far as I know, Jimi was just like the rest of us - not sure of himself, and he didn't think he was the greatest. He just had the heart to do what he did. I think when he saw other guitar players, he was intimidated sometimes, just like when they saw him.
"But then, I don't know - because I remember that story about when he first went to England - Chas Chandler said, 'OK, I'm going to take you to England to play,' and Hendrix said, 'OK, but you gotta get me a gig with Eric Clapton, I want to play with him. Then, when he did, Hendrix got up and blew Clapton out of the room. Jimi knew what he was doing, so sometimes I wonder how much of a big head did he have? Hahahaha!"
I insinuate that perhaps on occasion Eric Gales has a bit of the same gunslinger in his makeup:
dUg: "He knows what he's doing, haha - He's a genius in his own right - that's for sure!"
To wrap things up, I thought I'd ask dUg what he was listening to these days for both pleasure, and inspiration. In letting me know, we may have found him yet another potential side project:
dUg: "Djent music from Meshuggah, Tesseract, Sikth - the Meshuggah-type djent music they call it - it's so heavy and low tuned, it's a completely different vibe and sound - a whole different mindset for thinking up riffs.
"Plus, I go to the opposite extreme and the last Coldplay record (Mylo Xyloto) that I play a couple of times a week. It makes me smile and makes me happy, which I don't hear in most music. A band hasn't made me excited since early U2, and Coldplay does that for me. I also love Rival Sons because they've brought back the '70s the way I remember them, and they move me.
"Then there's this guy named Wilson T. King - that dude! I just got turned on to him, and I got both records from iTunes, and I pretty much have played both records every day for the last week. I would love to meet him!"
I mention that I know Wilson T, and that I will certainly pass this information along:
dUg: "Please do - that would be awesome! He is - it's amazing, it's so reminiscent of Band of Gypsys, and Maggot Brain, all that stuff by Funkadelic. That's some of my favorite guitar playing, and I heard those were some of his influences, so when I heard him, I instantly related to it.
"Cool, I'd love to get to know him - when I write some new solo stuff, I'd like to send him a track to put some leads on. That would be awesome!"
dUg Pinnick is on the move - with the incredible Pinnick Gales Pridgen album tearing up the charts, another record in the works, a solo record out May 7th, tour dates with King's X, and several exciting side projects slated for release, we should have no shortage of dUg for some time to come - let's just hope the business is as good to him as he is to the business.
Thanks to dUg Pinnick, Eric Gales, Thomeas Pridgen, Barbara Lysiak at BLI, and Magna Carta Records.