(this interview originally appeared in issue #42 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2004).

Musically, nobody has done more for the legalization movement than California’s own Kottonmouth Kings. For nearly ten years now the Kings have been speaking out about legalizing the plant, personal freedom and how fucked our government can be.

Sounding like a bastardized version of the Beastie Boys meets Black Flag, there is something for everyone on a Kottonmouth Kings record. Whether it be the optimism of a song like ‘Positive Vibes’, the bounce of ‘Bump’ or the fuck you attitude of ‘Bring It On’, KMK has what you need.

Fire It Up

After years of being signed to Capital Records, the Kottonmouth Kings have released their latest offering “Fire It Up” independently. I spoke to Kings front-man Daddy X about being independent in recruitable times, the Bush administration and why a plant is illegal, yet weapons of mass destruction are not.

Congratulations on landing at #37 on the Billboard charts for “Fire It Up”‘s first week of release.
Daddy X: Well I don’t look at it like that. I knew it was possible for us to sell a lot of records because I know we have a lot of fans, but as far as chart position and all that I thought it was kind of ironic that we were the only truly independent band on the chart. I think that was a testament to how hard we all worked on the record. It feels very empowering to be able to do this without the assistance of any major label; It’s gratifying.

Did you ever think that the album would sell 29K independently in it’s first week?
I didn’t really have any expectations and one of the hardest things as an independent artist is getting your records in the stores. Luckily, this time around we hooked up with a great distribution company called Navare that got our records in stores. Hopefully this will have a great effect on getting some other Suburban Noize artists into record stores. A lot of the records that we just released before the Kottonmouth Kings record, like Big B, Saint Dog and the Judge, weren’t in stores until we just changed distributors. They kinda got caught in the crossfire.

This must be the ultimate fuck you to Capital Records because you outsold every album in their catalog except for 3. You even outsold the new Vines record that had a huge push from the label.
I’m really just stoked that we’re independent now and don’t really think of it as a “fuck you” kind of thing. The whole thing with Capital was just a relationship that had expired and they weren’t fulfilling our needs and we weren’t what they wanted, which is a more mainstream band. Everything happens for a reason; it’s all part of the journey and Capital helped us get to where we are today.

Who came up with the idea to include a DVD with the record?
Well we wanted to include a DVD with our last album but Capital didn’t want to spend the extra money. On those kinds of things we were always butting heads with them. When it came time for us to put out our own record, we wanted to give our fans the most for their money. We’ve had a bunch of DVD’s that we’ve consistently released almost with every record, so with this one is more of a documentary about the band, our movement and our fans. We’ve also included a bunch of different music videos from other Suburban Noize artists as an added bonus. When we did the “Wicked Wonka” tour with ICP and Bone-Thugs our soundman put this DVD together.

The one fan on this DVD says his girlfriend is pregnant and yet he’s there at a Kottonmouth Kings show.
It always trips me out when I find out how well people connect with this band or when I see someone with a KMK tattoo. People really connect with this band and that alone keeps us moving forward and propels us to make the best record we can make or put on the best live show we can.

Do you ever think mainstream press will show support for this kind of movement?
Well the Kottonmouth Kings represent a whole underground and subculture movement and that movement is not part of the mainstream. I think the mainstream is fine for certain bands but not for Kottonmouth Kings. When you look back over music you’ll see bands like NWA and the Sex Pistols that weren’t really supported by the mainstream. The most influential music in my life was never supported by the mainstream and with Kottonmouth Kings, we make records that we want to make and then hopefully the people will want it as well. As far as making records or having expectations beyond our control we don’t put any energy into that. As far as who will accept us and who won’t, we’ve never been accepted by the critics or mainstream and that’s fine with us. We make records for people that enjoy what we do and the people validate our music.

Do you think that part of the reason why the critics and mainstream have ignored the KMK movement is because you are so outspoken about marijuana?
I don’t think they would ever read into our music enough to find out what we’re about. I think that critics immediately toss us into the category of rock/rap and if you’ve ever listened to a KMK record then you know that’s not what we’re about. When I was growing up I was into punk rock, not rock, and that’s why those elements are in our music.

Were the harder more punk rock songs on this record inspired by the current state of affairs in America and Iraq?
Well “Angry Youth” and “Who’s the Criminal” kinda touch on that. We live in a society right now that deems weapons acceptable when a plant that grows naturally is illegal. It doesn’t make any sense and that’s what we’re trying to touch on with, “You’ve got a gun, we’ve got a plant, who’s the criminal?” The creator that created all, I think he created that plant for a reason and I don’t think he created guns. The whole Bush administration is outta control right now. We just waged war on a country and killed hundreads of thousands of people and it was done on the premise of a lie. To me that’s a war crime right there. I have friends over there right now and I never want to see them put into a position where they could lose their lives.

Do you think Bush will ever be held accountable for his actions and crimes?
If you look back over American history, those people making these decisions are never held accountable. The bottom line is we all share this planet and universe together and we all have a right to be here. Obviously we have to go back through history and repeat our mistakes, the only thing that’s getting scarier is the fact that we now have the ability to destroy the whole planet. The exact same week they went into Iraq they also launched “Operation Pipe Dream” where Ashcroft and all these guys went and busted every single glass bong and pipe company in this country. Anyone that was using the internet to sell their product got busted. They busted SeedlesS and Jarome Baker who had a school for making glass pipes and blowing glass is an art form! They came and shut down the whole school and seized their warehouse and put them in jail. That’s why Tommy Chong is sitting in jail right now and it’s funny because the same day they launched bombs overseas they launched an attack on glass bongs and pipes.

On the other side of the coin, there are a few songs on the record that deal with substance abuse and addiction.
Addiction can be anything from gambling, sex, drugs, alchohol or any of that. We’re all susceptible to these things but it’s about having that balance between them. We all have friends that kinda go over the edge and overdose, wind up in jail, commit suicide or whatever, but we all have to walk that fine line and watch that we don’t fall off the edge. I think it’s also about acknowledging that you may have a problem as well. The first line of defense is knowing that you have a problem. You have to be able to check yourself and say, “Hey, maybe I do pop too many pills,” or whatever it may be.

Is it hard not to succumb to the “party lifestyle” when you’re on the road?
Well everything comes in cycles and when you’re on the road you’re living in a van or a bus and you’re in a different city every day worrying about putting on a great show. When you’re on the road, it’s hard to look past the next day or the next show. When I first started going out on the road, I definitely found it weird coming back and having to adjust to the rest of the world and it almost felt like the rest of the world stood still. Everything comes in phases and you learn to adjust. I have a daughter so I really do treasure every minute of every day with her.

Kottonmouth Kings have existed for almost ten years now and for the most part, you are a testament to the DIY theory. What advice would you have for any up and coming artists out there?
My advice would be to do something that you love to do with your art. Make music that moves you and is true to yourself so that it will drive you with passion. Then, as far as any illusions you have about living that whole hip-hop lifestyle, where you’re drinking Crystal everyday and driving the Rolls Royce, isn’t a reality for more than 99% of the artists out there. This is reality, you have to work hard at it and stick to your guns. There is no easy way in this business and there are actually a couple of good books out there about the music business so you can empower yourself. Those books will tell you everything from publishing, to working with labels, to touring and then the rest is just kind of learn as you go. A lot of it is also about respecting people and not burning bridges because it is a small business and that one promoter that you trash his venue when you’re drunk can come back to haunt you. Respect other people and take responsibility for your actions.

You mention touring, is it hard to tour when Clear Channel owns almost every venue available for a band like you to play at?
Clear Channel is what it is. That’s beyond anyone’s control but it seems as though they sub-contract a lot of smaller shows out to other promoters. Just like in the record industry where there are only really 3 major labels left out there right now. Radio is all owned by two people, Clear Channel being one of them. I look at things like that and because it’s like that it gives way to the underground where things like the internet flourish. It opens up opportunity for things like independent labels and artists to get out there; it’s actually an exciting time.

Well 6 or 7 years ago it was relatively unheard of to sell 60,000 copies of a record.
To sell even 5,000 or 10,000 records on an independent label is hard work! There are a lot of politics to this business and for us it took almost ten years to even lock down solid distribution for Suburban Noize. That’s a huge part of the puzzle to helping us get to certain markets and a huge part to us being able to operate and even keep our doors open.

What’s next for the Kottonmouth Kings?
Well we’re doing this leg of the “Fire It Up” tour here in the U.S all the way through August and you can get all the dates fromou website. We’re also doing a series of in-stores in the towns we’re going to be playing in. Then like I said we’re going to be releasing the Kings Spade record, the Daddy X “Organic Soul” solo record, as well as a record by OPM who will be doing this tour, as well as Big B doing a set from his solo record. Then we’re also working on a Kottonmouth Kings record that’s all punk rock and hip-hop called “Rip and Tear”, that’s kind of a theme record. We just got back from Japan where we did some shows and just set up Suburban Noize Japan, so hopefully we can get back there by the end of the year. We’re also doing the Seattle Hemp Fest, which for people who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a free concert where all the staff work for free, all the bands play for free and every year they have between 20,000-30,000 people. Anybody that is involved with the legalization movement is there from High Times Magazine to Cannabis Action Network and they even have speakers talking about personal freedom and spreading awareness, down to understanding your rights. It’s open to everyone for free and it’s a worthwhile event if you’re planning on taking a trip this summer, especially with this year being an election year. I encourage anyone to go take a trip to this event.