In 1987, Ugly Kid Joe formed in Isla Vista, a small beach town in California. Their 1991 debut, As Ugly as They Wanna Be, would be the first EP to be certified platinum.
Their 1992 debut album, America’s Least Wanted was certified double platinum, helped largely by the singles Everything About You and their straight cover of Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle. They followed it up with a further two albums (Menace To Sobriety and Motel California) before eventually calling it a day in 1997.
The band reunited in 2010, and their most recent album, Uglier Than They Used Ta Be, was released last year.
Here, vocalist Whitfield Crane picks his 11 favourite songs from the band’s back catalogue…
EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU (As Ugly As They Wanna Be EP, 1991)
Whitfield: “I guess it’s only fair that I start with this one. When people think about Ugly Kid Joe, this is probably the first song they think of. Klaus [Eichstadt, guitar] wrote Everything About You and it’s about a childhood friend of ours called Farrell Smith. To this day, he’s really good at telling you why life sucks – but he’s a good dude and he’s funny with it. He was Klaus’ muse for this anti-love song.”
CATS IN THE CRADLE (America’s Least Wanted, 1992)
“When we made our first EP, the label thought we might sell 20,000 copies. We thought that would be amazing, because we were just kids from California playing rock music. But the EP sold an amazing amount of records, so the label wanted us to go in the studio and make a full-length record. So we made America’s Least Wanted with a badass producer called Mark Dodson. When we were kids, my sister Cathy and I used to listen to the original version by Harry Chapin all the time. We didn’t really have enough songs for the album, so I suggested we track this song to help fill the record. A radio station in Texas played it one day and it went to number one. All of a sudden, it became this big song. It wasn’t on purpose – it was all by the seat of our pants.”
COME TOMORROW (America’s Least Wanted, 1992)
“This was my first stab at songwriting. We’d sold a bunch of copies of our first EP and all of a sudden, people wanted to hear what we were singing. It was scary, but I think the song came out great. It’s really bluesy and soulful.”
PANHANDLIN’ PRINCE (America’s Least Wanted, 1992)
“This is another Klaus song. He was the primary songwriter of that whole record, really. When you think of the essence of Ugly Kid Joe – the cynicism, the humour and the heaviness – that’s all Klaus. I wrote the middle part myself. I go, ‘Yo, Mr. Trump, can I ask you a question? You got some spare change for me sucker? ‘Cause I’m down and out and there ain’t no doubt that I am here to stay.’ I made that up on the spot. The song’s about people who hustle on the streets, which can be a good cash cow if you sell it right. People still do that in New York. They have full-on bum costumes and cruise the streets and hustle – they can earn up to $30,000 a year.”
TOMORROW’S WORLD (Menace To Sobriety, 1995)
“We’d come off the success of America’s Least Wanted and sold six million records or whatever. But then grunge happened and we could feel the wind was out of our sails. We still had a badass band by that point. We had Shannon Larkin on drums and Cordell Crockett on bass; that’s a badass rhythm section right there. So we went in to make this record anyway, and I think to our credit we made the record company leave us alone. We went beyond being just a funny band – and we are funny, because life is funny – and made a fucking heavy record. This song is fucking ripping.”
FATHER (Motel California, 1996)
“It’s about my dad. I sang that whole record on an SM-5 microphone. We’d bought an Ampex 456 machine to make the record by ourselves, and I sung the whole record by myself – just me, a microphone and the machine. Depending on who’s in the room with you when you sing, it’s going to affect you. But if nobody’s there and it’s just you, then there’s a sense of great freedom and you’re not scared of anything. There’s a groove in this song that was really odd to write over, but I found it and sung my harmonies – it was a small miracle!”
WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE THERE (Motel California, 1996)
“The cool thing about Ugly Kid Joe, as far as its evolution is concerned, is we all let each other shine. Dave [Fortman] has obviously gone on to be an amazing and celebrated producer [Slipknot, Evanescence], but he’s an incredible songwriter as well. He wrote this one. He’s really into aliens – or at least that’s how I see it.”
NO ONE SURVIVES (Stairway To Hell, 2012)
“Dave wrote this bonus track on Stairway To Hell. He has the capability of going into really dark places and coming back out. This is one of the best songs that we’ve ever done. It’s so powerful. Stairway To Hell was fucking badass.”
I’M ALRIGHT (Stairway to Hell, 2012)
“Klaus wrote this song and it’s kind of about him. I’m not really supposed to tell anyone about that, but I’m going to anyway. He’s really good at being self-deprecating and honest about his life, so he wrote this song and it came out great. We also got Neil Hamburger to appear in the music video. He’s like an anti-comedian and he’s absolutely fantastic. It’s a coup that we got him.”
SHE’S ALREADY GONE (Uglier Than They Used Ta Be, 2015)
“I think everyone has gone through what these lyrics represent. When we released the Stairway EP, we were all curious as to whether people gave a fuck about our band. We toured around the world and it was an amazing and healing experience. We decided to make another full-length record, so we did a Pledge campaign and raised enough money to fly everyone to Louisiana to work with Dave in his studio. It was so great that everyone showed up because you’re not going to make money selling songs – at least not rock ‘n’ roll songs. So everyone was there for the right reason, to just make music. This is that record.”
UNDER THE BOTTOM (Uglier Than They Used Ta Be, 2015)
“This is the heaviest song that we’ve ever written, in my mind. It’s an opus. We’ve always loved to bring in people that we love and share musical space with them, whether it’s Rob Halford [Goddamn Devil] or Lemmy [Little Red Man]. This song has Phil Campbell from the mighty Motörhead ripping your face off with the guitar lead during the heaviest bridge we’ve ever written. It rules!”
For more information on Ugly Kid Joe, visit their official site.