In one of the more anticipated comebacks of 2014, glam metal heavyweights Kix have returned with their first album since 1995’s ‘Show Business.’ From a musical standpoint, ‘Rock Your Face Off‘ offers a newly crafted batch of concrete hard rock that doesn’t gallivant any radical reinvention or alternation in musical approach, and dedicated fans of the band’s earlier efforts wouldn’t have it any other way.
The chemistry featured on the album’s lead single “Love Me With Your Top Down” is an instant giveaway of what’s in store on the remainder of the effort, and that’s the swooning singing style of lead vocalist Steve Whiteman defended by a formidable backbone of distorted guitars, grinding bass lines and striking percussion work, as Whiteman weaves a tale highlighted by sexual innuendos and nitrous-propelled engines.
I recently sat down with the founding Kix frontman to discuss the band’s return-to-form found on ‘Rock Your Face Off,’ the inspiration and songwriting formula behind the effort, the drastic changes within the music industry and the veteran rock groups who influenced the formation of Kix.
William Clark: ‘Rock Your Face Off’ is the first Kix studio album in nearly twenty years, and appropriately features almost the entire lineup that appeared on the band’s 1981 self-titled debut. Did you feel as though if Kix was to remain active, that it was important for the band to continue to create new material?
Steve Whiteman: We didn’t feel it was important, just this whole process of making a new Kix album just kind of fell into our laps. It wasn’t really a preplanned conscious effort. We hooked up with some guys who wanted to come down and shoot Kix live in a big Baltimore room – it goes crazy whenever we play there, and they wanted to be a part of it so they shot a live video, and when they start sending us live clips back we were all so impressed by what they shot we thought, “We should get this out to the fans, somehow.”
So we got Frontiers Records, they agreed to come in and distribute the live DVD/CD called ‘Kix – Live in Baltimore’ and in return for that, they said, “We want the rights to the new studio album, if there is one.” That just got everybody turning, got everybody thinking about it. It’s like, “You know, that would be kind of cool to put out some new material.” So it took about two years, two-and-a-half years before we could finally get the material we felt would sound like a Kix album, and we could get Taylor Rhodes to come on board and join the team, so in the process there wasn’t any rush and when we finally got around to doing it, it was a ball. It was liberating as hell having all five of us sit in a room with music, tearing it apart and putting it back together. It just started out really well, it was kind of effortless once we got the ball rolling. It was fun, everybody enjoyed it and I think the results are pretty good.
William: I agree, for a band that hasn’t released a new album in almost two decades, Kix does an admirable job at remaining true to their original approach on ‘Rock Your Face Off,’ right down to a solid production quality, like you mentioned, from Taylor Rhodes [Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne]. It seems as though the message here is that if Kix is going to create new music, no corners are going to be cut in the process.
Steve: Yeah, that was the idea, that was the concept and that was the path that when we decided to do this we thought, “It’s gotta sound like Kix. We can’t take it to another level or take it to an area that our fans wouldn’t be familiar with.” So it was essential that we got Taylor on board because he was a co-writer of Kix material and a co-producer of [previous] Kix albums, so we thought having him on board and without having our main songwriter involved, he could keep us in line, he could help pick the material, he could help drive the material that he feels sounds like a Kix album. So he was like the lion tamer, he kept everybody in check and kept everybody all going in the same direction.
William: You and the members of Kix first returned into the fold back in 2008. Did the band work on any new material around the time of this reunion, or wasn’t it until the ‘Rock Your Face Off’ sessions that the band started to write and record?
Steve: It really wasn’t until Frontiers Records brought it up, we were perfectly comfortable just playing the old material for the fans who come out to see the band. At that point we weren’t really playing a lot of dates, we were just doing regional stuff and we all had our own projects which is what really allowed us to nurture as songwriters on our own.
I had my own band Funny Money that I had written four albums or co-wrote four albums for, Brian was in Rhino Bucket writing and creating with them, Ronny had a project called Blues Vulture, so we sort of found our own writing wings after Kix stopped playing in ’95. So when we got back together, when this whole concept about an album came up there was a lot of material to root through.
I wasn’t writing for Kix, I was writing for Funny Money so a lot of the material didn’t quite make the album, a lot of stuff that Mark wrote did, and a couple tunes that Brian brought in did. So like I say, it’s a collaborative effort and we let Taylor pick the tunes, I think he picked the right tunes and I think we made a good record.
William: Do you feel the album is a more varietal effort because of how each of the members of Kix contributed in regards to the songwriting?
Steve: Absolutely, yeah. It was like I said before, the word I use a lot is “liberating.” Before when we would do demos, when Donnie was doing all the writing, we all sat in a room and listened to everything, every direction, every idea that he had. Any of [the rest of] us had ideas, they usually got shot down, or we just really stopped inviting ideas because we knew it was a waste of time. So when this group of guys got together to record a Kix album, it was what you got: “OK, I like that song, I don’t like this part.” Jimmy could speak up and say, “Can we change this, can we cut this out?” Everybody contributed with their ideas, nobody felt intimidated or felt that their ideas wouldn’t be taken seriously. So having that kind of an atmosphere while putting this record together really was essential to us all enjoying it, and just the way that it turned out because everybody wanted it to be good.
William: From a lyrical standpoint, the themes of sex, drugs, fast cars and general kickassadry are native to Kix’s earlier efforts. What was the writing process like during ‘Rock Your Face Off,’ and does your current approach differ from how you crafted lyrics three decades ago?
Steve: No, I’ve always liked to approach songs with fun and double conjures, no preaching, no seriousness. Kix is about having fun, so the music has to be about having fun, so the lyrics have to be about having fun. I always try to keep it light, non-preachy and if somebody really digs into the lyrics and listens to the double conjures, you’ll hear the sexual innuendo and just the humor side of it.
William: You have previously said that there was moments during the making of ‘Rock Your Face Off’ where you were nervous about how the album would ultimately turn out. What stages during the making of the album do you recall feeling nervous about the end result, and are you happy with how it turned out?
Steve: Very happy with how it turned out. I think I had reservations when the idea was pitched, you know, “Let’s put our heads together and do a new Kix album.” And I thought without Donnie’s writing and all of the material that we’ve written wasn’t really written for Kix, it was written for all of our other projects. So there was time to write some new stuff, and I didn’t really know how it was going to go until all five of us and Taylor got into the studio and did some pre-production and started tearing these fifteen songs that we decided, we feel are the strongest contenders for a Kix album. So we started tearing these songs apart, and when we started demoing them it just kind of fell together, we got excited about it and I got excited about it.
William: This is something some musicians of the same era as Kix have voiced in the past: Was there initially some hesitation in putting out a new album, in regards to potentially being unable to reach the same commercial success as in the 80s?
Steve: That’s impossible these days. There’s no way that you can sell the amount of records nowadays that you could – we used to sell more in Baltimore in a week than probably this whole record will sell altogether. The whole climate has just changed, I mean if you sell 50-60,000 records these days that’s considered a success, where back in the old days you wouldn’t even get an opportunity to make another record. There’s so many other outlets, so many other ways of obtaining the music that actual sales, I think, doesn’t even come into play anymore. With the ease of pirating these days, a lot of people don’t even buy products anymore, they just steal it.
William: Now there are a lot of rock musicians, I think Jay Jay French from Twisted Sister is one of the most recent people to go out and say that the band probably won’t make new music again because of the way the music industry has transitioned. How do you feel about that?
Steve: That’s his prerogative I understand where he’s coming from, I kind of felt like that, too. I didn’t feel there was a need, when you’ve already got five or six pretty damn good records under your belt that you can go out and play that music from, the fans seem to enjoy it but the concept of actually being able to play new material isn’t really meant for everybody. It’s not meant to be put out for your own ego, it’s meant for those diehard fans that would love to hear new material from you. We know it’s only going to hit a small percentage of the fans out there, but that small percentage has the word-of-mouth over a period of time. It’s gonna grow, and it’s going to keep us around for a little while longer.
William: From the position of an artist, the person going out and creating music, is it interesting shifting from the goal of trying to sell a certain amount of albums to catering to the diehard fans?
Steve: You know, there’s no real conscious effort to do that. You just make the record, and you hope the record company can get it out there to enough people that can have access to it. I don’t think we put that much thought into it. For those who want it, it’s out there. For those who don’t care, then they don’t care and there’s nothing you can do about that.
William: The critical and fan reception to ‘Rock Your Face Off’ so far has been largely positive. Would you be interested in creating another Kix record sometime in the future?
Steve: We haven’t really given it that much thought yet, this one’s only been out for a little over two months so we’re going to let this one run it’s course, see what it actually generates. How much interest? What are the actual sales? See what kind of reaction the music gets when we play it live, when we go out of our little comfort zone in the Baltimore/D.C. area. When we go to say Denver and play new material, we’ll see how it hits over. If it’s hitting over and people are hip to it, then I think by all means we would like to do another one. If we hit deaf ears and all people want to hear is the old shit, then it may be kind of pointless but unless everybody feels we can come up with some killer tunes, that again is only going to hit that small percentage who really want to hear new material, then we would probably consider doing it again, as much fun as we had writing ‘Rock Your Face Off’ and as proud of it we all were and we were all able to work on it together.
William: A fair share of hard rock and heavy metal groups have ventured into the realm of cover albums, where bands such as Stryper and Queensryche have offered their own takes on the music of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and other artists who influenced them early on. Is this something you think Kix would consider doing? I know you have done something similar in the past on a Def Leppard tribute album.
Steve: Yeah, when somebody calls you up and says, “Hey, can you sing this song? It pays a thousand dollars.” Uh, yeah! I can do that! (laughs) At that time I needed the money, so… if it was something we all believed in, yeah, we would probably take part in that.
William: Off the top of your head, what bands played a strong role in your personal musical development that you would like to give your own take on if Kix moved in that direction?
Steve: There’s a slew of ’em. I mean, the one that comes to the top would be AC/DC, after that would probably be Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, the [Rolling] Stones. I mean, there’s so many influences that I have. All the bands from the 70s I grew up with, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Grand Funk Railroad, all those bands were essential in putting together my musical direction. When we were a young band and we were called The Shoes, and we were playing clubs night after night, we could nail AC/DC. And that brought a bunch of people into our shows, and at the same time we were shoving our originals down their throats, so that got us a lot of exposure ’cause we could do AC/DC so well. So I’d probably say I’d put them at the top.