Hate em or love em, Southern Cali-bred rock/rap outfit, the Kottonmouth Kings, are legends in the indie music game, who formed in the mid-1990s, not knowing what was ahead. Nearly two decades later, they’ve built an empire and have garnered a cult following through hard work, dedication, and… a whole lot of weed.
The group — consisting of D-Loc, Brad X, Johnny Richter, The Dirtball, Lou Dog, DJ Bobby B, and Tax Man — dropped their latest album this week, entitled Mile High. It’s their 13th together as a group, and that’s not counting the multiple solo and side projects each have gone on to release. How have they been able to stay relevant after all these years? They run their own label, play by their own rules, and don’t have any plans to stopping any time soon. They are the epitome of what being independent is all about — not conforming, doing what you want, when you want, and not having to apologize for it.
We caught up with Kottonmouth Kings frontman, Brad X, who discusses their independent success in a business where change is constant, the group’s evident hip-hop influence, and of course, what their latest album, Mile High, is all about.
13 albums is quite an accomplishment. Being in the game this long is a milestone. How does it feel to be here after all these years, being able to do the music you want, and still have a core fanbase?
Brad X: We have never stopped pushing and grinding Kottonmouth Kings. We do things on our own terms and we have a super loyal fanbase that has allowed us to evolve, grow, and push musical boundaries. We started this group 17 years ago, so to keep it together requires constantly breathing new life and music into it. We really built our fanbase from word of mouth and live shows. There is no secret other than hard work, sacrifice and loving what we do.
How does KMK approach a new album? Obviously all the members have grown over the years, you all have your own houses and businesses, solo projects, etc. How does a group album coming together?
Brad X: Getting everybody on the same page is the hardest part. The process begins and everyone has a chance to input ideas or songs. The songs start to take shape and the magic happens. There is a great chemistry with this group that can’t be explained in words. The Kottonmouth Kings are blessed to still be in a creative position to constantly write songs and create music.
This album is special because of the return of Saint Dog, who hasn’t been with you guys since the 1990s. He initially flew him in from the Midwest to record on one song, but it’s obviously turned into more. Can you tell us about how it felt to be together again with him, and how it turned into him recording on several tracks?
Brad X: Saint has been a part of the Suburban Noize label as a solo artist and [the group] DGAF. He has battled his demons and addictions that have left him in some bad places. I was not sure how it was gonna be, but D-Loc had a song called “Smoke Rings”, and wanted to bring back Saint for it. We got into the studio the first day and just started vibing and I started just pulling up beats and Saint just kept knocking out verses. We went back in for another couple sessions and a lot of music came out of it.
For those who don’t know. Why did Saint Dog originally leave? Was there any hard feelings when he left? And, has everyone got over it completely?
Brad X: Like I said, before Saint has had to battle with some heavy demons. I don’t think it would be in good taste to go into his personal problems. He does talk about his brush with death from a overdose on the song “Judgement Day”. The funny thing is: there has always been a lot of love with Saint. He is like a brother to the Kottonmouth Kings, but there comes a point where a group can’t function if members can’t make the commitment it takes to be in a group.
Dirtball has been with the group since, at least, your last album. What has been his contribution, and how does he fit in with you guys?
Brad X: Dirtball has been a solo artist on the label for seven years and we have toured for many years. He is a amazing human being and a very talented artist. We wanted to inject some new fresh energy into the group after years of touring and making music together, so we invited him to join. I think Mile High really displays his integration and importance to the group. He has elevated the Kotonmouth Kings to another dimension and his work ethic and talent are second to none.
Mile High is the title of the new album, can you fill us in on what that means to you? And, it’s intention, as far as the album’s theme?
Brad X: It started as The Mile High Club, which has a funny connotation, but we shortened it down to Mile High just because it felt like it fit the record better. We are using the term “Mile High Club” as online fan club for Kottonmouth Kings.
“Boombox” is a dope track. It has an old school hip-hop feel to it, and an awesome visual to match. While KMK has a lot of rock elements in the music, you’re very hip-hop influenced. Is there still any hesitations of doing a song that’s too hip-hop, or too rock when recording?
Brad X: I think the Kottonmouth Kings have always had more hip-hop than any other element, but we do use guitars and do some punk stuff. Mile High is just a banging record, from top to bottom. We produce our own records and try to create a unique soundscape that makes it original and create our own sound. The whole purpose was to never sound like anybody, but the Kottonmouth Kings.
Overall, is “Boombox” a reflection of what the rest of the album sounds like?
Brad X: “Boombox” is a very stripped down track. It has minimal music happening, but the beat is banging and really carries the track. It has a dimension of a very complex and slamming record; its just the tip of the iceberg.
The landscape of music has really changed over the years, especially in hip-hop. How does a group like KMK stay relevant? Is it difficult to compete with the younger artists? Or, is that something you even think about?
Brad X: We just make music that feels right to us, as we don’t follow trends or fads. There are some great new artists out there making great music, but we really we just focus on our world and what we do. As long as we evolve and make records that we love, and people keep coming to the shows, that’s all that matters to me.
Sub Noize has become an indie powerhouse. Is that something you guys ever reflect on? The success you’ve had with the label over the years, and how much of business it really has become?
Brad X: We have been lucky enough to work with so many great artists and make a impact on the industry. The music industry has taken such a radical hit, as far as the business is concerned, but we just try to stay ahead of the curve with technology and the Internet. We just try to put out interesting records and stay smashing.
I recall seeing X-Clan drop an album through Sub Noize. Other artists like Sen Dog, Saigon, and Glasses Malone have also released projects. These types of artists don’t necessarily seem to fit into a punk-rock driven label. What was the thinking behind teaming up with them? What was that experience like?
Brad X: We are a very diverse label. Music was meant to break down borders and bring people together, not separate and divide, that’s what politics and religion is for. We do take a very punk-rock approach to our business: break the rules, search and destroy. We also took a lot of influence from some of the renegade indie hip-hop labels.
What’s the plans for KMK in the coming years? 13 albums is a lot. Will you continue to release albums and tour?
Brad X: We will keep playing shows as long as people still coming out to see us. No one is promised tomorrow, so we will just take one day, one show, and one record at a time.
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