Interview: CKY

interview by james wright

Bands in the hard rock genre live or die by word of mouth and touring. Touring is essential. This type of music is no longer painted all over MTV. Word of mouth is also a key ingredient to a bands success and CKY know that all too well. “Word of mouth is almost as powerful as being shoved down people’s throats on MTV or radio,” states CKY drummer Jess Margera. CKY has built a loyal underground following through word of mouth, touring and the Internet. In fact, CKY is cited as the most downloaded band on the Internet, which is probably due to them being plastered all over MTV’s Jackass. It wasn’t until recently that the band started gaining more mainstream popularity and high profile tours with bands like Guns and Roses and Godsmack. The bands latest single, ‘Flesh Into Gear’, has begun gaining airplay across the country and given the band the momentum they need to “Infiltrate, Destroy, Rebuild” the mainstream. Modern Fix recently had the chance to sit down with Jess Margera about this enigmatic band.

I gotta be honest; when I first heard the name CKY I thought you were a hardcore band or something like that.
Jess: Kinda like the initials A.F.I or something like that? (Laughs) We never really thought too much about the name all that much. Our name is Camp Kill Yourself and we went with that for a while but then everyone just shortened it and it stuck.

This is actually the 3rd CKY record right?

We did the first one, “Volume 1” a while ago and then we put out kind of like a soundtrack with, “Volume 2” so this is kind of our third album. The first record was definitely an underground thing and for a while the only place to find it was the Internet. We sold about 40,000 copies through the mail and then once labels got wind of that they wanted in on it.

I was reading that you guys are the most bootlegged band on the Internet.
I believe it! We had a video on MTV before we even had a record deal so I think people saw that and wanted to check us out, but our record wasn’t in stores. Because of that I think people just turned to the Internet to find it. “Volume 1” is kind of hard to find but you should be able to find it now. What’s funny about “Volume 1” is, this past week, was actually our best week of sales for that album. (Laughs) It’s been out since 1999 but it’s selling now better than it ever was back then.

You think that’s due to word of mouth?
Word of mouth is pretty powerful. Word of mouth is almost as powerful as being shoved down people’s throats on MTV or radio.

Has that helped to allow you some more leeway with the label? It’s not like CKY spent 3 years on the road for each record or anything like that.
It’s funny because even when we’re not on tour, the album still keeps going. I’m amazed when I look at how much buzz it’s created.

CKY has a close relationship with their fans. So close, that you had a meeting with your fans to address concerns about the new record?
It’s not just that, because every show we play, we always hang out with kids after the show. We hang out for a couple hours and just talk to people. I always love to hear what they have to say and our fans are cool and deserve a lot of respect from us. They were the ones who sought us out even when we weren’t on MTV or radio. We’re starting to get a bit of airplay now but some of our fans have been with us right from the start. ‘Flesh Into Gear’ is starting to get quite a bit of airplay and that’s amazing.

In past interviews the band has stated that it intends to change the world and show kids there’s more than just what’s in the mainstream. Does the idea of mainstream success appeal to you?
I don’t know. I just think that mainstream rock music has wussed out a bit. It seems like one band comes out and has some success then it seems like there is a million other bands are right there ready to copy it. I think that’s pretty lame. The whole movement to bring back the retro thing, like The Strokes, it’s just like lets move forward not backward. Bands like the Rolling Stones did that shit better 30 years agoso why would I want to buy it now when I could buy the real thing.

The problem I have with The Strokes is that they’re boring. Watching some guy star at his shoes and look uninterested is not something I wanna pay $30 to see.
I would much rather buy a Stones record and see Mick Jagger or even Iggy Pop raging like that instead of The Strokes. Those bands originated that whole thing and usually the originators are the best.

But once someone does something new and it becomes successful, record labels want to jump on the bandwagon to cash in.
That’s the problem. Record labels are out there to make the quick buck. They just want to get their copycats out there and make as much money as they can before the band is gone. It seems like everyone is a one hit wonder nowadays. Where are the hit makers from last year? They’re already gone! That’s just a complaint that I have and we’re definitely trying to change that with CKY. It might not happen this year or tomorrow but at least we’re out there trying. Rock used to be way better in the 70’s and bands were original. Those bands didn’t care about whatever trends were going on or any of that stuff.

Do you think the lack of originality in music today is attributed to labels signing these copycat bands?
That’s a big part of it. There are definitely bands out there though that are doing their own thing. Look at Queens of the Stone Age. They’re awesome and I love those guys. I think they’re on the same page as us in that they just make rock the way that they want and they aren’t concerned with whatever trends are going on right now. They just do whatever they want and now they’re huge! Some of that may be due to the fact that Dave Grohl was playing drums, but whatever it takes. They’re a great band and I’ve been listening to them since 98′ when their first record came out. It’s really cool to see them getting more recognition cause they deserve it.

You’ve turned down quite a few tour offers from other bands. Why? Isn’t the whole point of touring to turn other kids onto your music?
There are some tours we get offered and it’s nothing against the bands but we’re just not fans of a lot of bands out there. I don’t want to pick on anybody and I’m sure they could care less because they’ve already made their money. I don’t want that. I want people’s respect and I want people to hear our record and have people think we’ve done our own thing and have them like it because it’s good instead of the face on MTV.

So it’s about longevity and a career instead of making one hit record?

Definitely. I want to be around for a while and have a solid career instead of get in and make my money and leave. It seems like every band nowadays is like that and they just don’t care.

You’re embarking on a headlining tour by yourselves in February?
Yes we are. We’re just going to have bands we like open for us on this tour. I’m not sure what bands we’ll have out just yet, but I’ve suggested a few. There’s this dude White Buffalo in California right now and he’s awesome. He’s signed to Hurley, the same company that makes clothes, and they just started a label. I’m so into his record right now. They need some exposure and I’m hoping we can give it to them.

What’s it like to go from arenas with Guns and Roses to a headlining club tour of your own?
It’s cool to go out there and play arenas but the people are so far away. It’s just not as cool as a 1,500 or 1,000 seat club where people are pretty much falling on ya’. I want people falling into my drums! (Laughs)

What’s next after the headlining tour?
We have a DVD we want to finish up. We did a video for every single song on the new record. We have 7 of them done already and 4 more to go. It’s a lot of work and a lot of money, but I feel that every song on this record deserves a video. Honestly, if you asked me to pick my favorite song off this record I couldn’t because I like em’ all.

What was the G’N’R tour like for you guys?
It was awesome. It was one of the best tours of the year and I’m just glad Axl asked us to be a part of it.

What was it like performing in your hometown of Philly when a riot broke out?
We got word that it wasn’t gonna happen and we just got the hell out of there. Our bus was parked in the parking lot with all the other cars, so god knows what would have happened if we hadn’t. They probably would have tried to flip it over or something! (Laughs) I don’t really know all that much about why it happened but I’m just glad we got to be part of it for the month or so that it lasted and that was good enough for me.

A lot of kids know CKY from the CKY videos and from Jackass. How instrumental were those in exposing the band to new audiences?
Of course, a lot of people found out about us as a band from one of the episodes of the show cause they played one of our songs. Supposedly the most asked question on the Jackass message board was, “What was that song that was being played?” It’s cool that it had such an effect because we’ve had our music on a ton of other shows but just for some reason it connected on that one. It’s also helped get our music out to kids that wouldn’t have heard of us otherwise. We get fan mail from all over Europe and the U.K and kids say, “What are you doing? Get here to play shows,” and we’ve never been anywhere overseas yet. We were in Iceland filming the CKY2K video and we’re in this small little town and kids were like, “Oh my god, its CKY!” This is back before we had an album in stores so I guess it comes back to what you were saying earlier about the Internet. Downloading is a powerful thing.

So downloading music isn’t an issue for CKY?
Not really. With the way Mp3’s work and downloading, it’s cool, but I don’t think you should be able to get the entire album. A major label record costs anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 to make so why should it be free? I don’t have a problem with 2 or 3 three songs being on the net for kids to check out but to get the entire record is just really unfair.

Well CKY isn’t exactly a gold or platinum selling artist yet so each sale helps.
I’m not worried about the money aspect of it because I have enough money. I think it’s just unfair to be able to get something for free when it cost us so much to make it. Unfortunately the artists have to pay for everything, the promotion and the tour support, all which gets billed directly to the artist.

Do you think your antics in the videos takes away from the music?
No because I think most people realize that there is a hell of a lot more going on. People tell us all the time, “I heard about you through this and wasn’t really expecting too much but I got the record and it just kicked my ass!” I think it’s cool that we’re kind of raising everyone’s expectations a bit. A lot of people have told us that they heard a song and after that they bought the record cause the song was stuck in their head. Every time I ask someone what his or her favorite song on the record is I get a different answer, which is really cool.

‘Plastic Plan’ is definitely on the top of my list.
Yea’ I’m all about that one too! It’s got that driving disco vibe kinda thing! (Laughs) The melody is pretty infectious and Deron did a great job of writing that.

10 years from now how would you like people to remember CKY?
I don’t want them to remember us but be into our music. We’ll still be making records but if for some reason we’re not then I think our albums are pretty timeless. I think these albums can be in people’s CD players for years to come.