"I think I just wanted to be on radio for one day," laughed Whitfield Crane, vocalist for Ugly Kid Joe on his early vision for the band. "That was it. I listened to the radio and thought wouldn't it be great to turn on the stereo in somebody's car or apartment and hear it and that was pretty much it. It's interesting because nobody really knows what they're doing. We're so fortunate for all the stuff that's happened to us and it's great that we're here to celebrate but the truth is you're pretty limited by your experience so at that time I just wanted to be on the radio - one day on a local show."
That humble ambition came to fruition early on in Crane's career, with the bands first single 'Everything about You' propelling Ugly Kid Joe into the upper echelon of the rock world almost overnight. The song featured in the smash comedy hit 'Waynes World' which led to their debut E.P becoming the highest selling of all time. As Ugly As They Wanna Be propelled them into the ears and hearts of a disenchanted youth searching for acceptance and caught the attention of record labels eager to capitalize on their newfound rock status. The resulting album, America's Least Wanted, which spawned the hit singles 'Neighbour', 'Milkman's Son', and a cover of Cat Stevens 'Cat's in the Cradle' quickly found Crane swept from the local stations he once coveted to an international market that was smitten by the youthful arrogance and unbridled petulance that filtered through the bands music.
That journey has led them to this years 25th anniversary of that album and sees Ugly Kid Joe show their appreciation with a massive tour which kicks off in Australia in December.
"It's surreal that it was twenty-five years ago," Crane enthused, shaking his head. "We made a record and we didn't know what we were doing or what it was and it took us around the world and now it has been twenty-five years and we've decided we're gonna celebrate it and we're gonna take it back around the world and the first stop - and I think it's the right decision - is Australia."
Suddenly thrust into a professional environment with adoring, yet expectant fans, Crane admits the band was overwhelmed by the sudden expectations going into the album.
"We were so young then," he recalled. "We were really naive to a lot of things; a little excited, a bit scared. Particularly for me going in the studio was like going into an alien world, I didn't really understand it. I've always been a live singer - and still am - plus at that time I hadn't had the repetition in a studio to feel comfortable. I am now, but at the time I wasn't. We landed Mark Dodson to produce the record and he had done Judas Priest records and Anthrax, and Suicidal Tendencies and all these bands we admired and all of a sudden we were making a record with him and we were like wow, this is crazy. Back then MTV was still going so we made a video and they played it then all of a sudden we got a call from Sharon Osbourne asking if we wanted to go on the Ozzy Osbourne No More Tears Tour in America and we just thought no way. Imagine a big wave in the ocean that sweeps you around the world, well that took us for two years so it was a lot to deal with. I'd never really left California - certainly never been out of the United States - but we made it to the other end and here we are sitting talking about it so we have a lot to be grateful for. To be honest it's really nice for all of us to get together again because we all love each other. To play America's Least Wanted songs or Menace to Sobriety songs or anything from our catalog feels really natural. One of the things that feel very comfortable is we're not chasing anything. We're not running away from anything. We have nothing to prove so there's a center in that that feels good. It's cathartic for sure."
'Everything About You'
After the massive success of Ugly As They Wanna Be, Ugly Kid Joe found themselves in the position of quickly following up with an album that not only matched their debut but surpassed it, and Crane nods when asked if the weight of public expectation weighed heavily on their task.
"100%," he affirmed, "but the thing is we didn't understand what that pressure was. We were young so there was that pressure but we just didn't understand it at the time. They just stuck us in the studio and said we need an album, get it done, so we were like okay. We kept on telling the label we were right and they were saying do you have the songs and we were like of course we do - but we didn't (laughs). We didn't have the songs to fill a whole record up, we were just drinking beers and hanging out with Mark Dobson and tracking music. Sure, the pressure was there, but we weren't wise enough to know that we were being pressured. We were kids. For instance, when Mark said hey, do you guys have any more songs I said why don't we put 'Cats In the Cradle' on because I love that song but that wasn't a manipulator or let's make a single type thing. It was more to fill the record up so we agreed and we tracked that song and moved on. We weren't chasing anything there but all of a sudden there was a radio station in Texas that picked it up and it hit number one and all of a sudden it was a big song. We were like no way and there it was again. There was more wind in the sails for us to travel around the world and experience life through music."
Just as it seemed that Seabreeze would blow eternally, the music world was revolutionized by a new genre of music that quickly left existing tastes obsolete. Ugly Kid Joe's next two albums, Menace to Sobriety and Motel California returned diminishing numbers in both sales and crowds despite being critically acclaimed and it seemed as though the tides of change were suffocating the impact of their music.
"Grunge happened," Crane shrugged. "It decimated everyone. Nirvana came in and that was it, it was over, and that's fine. Change is coming either way and the music industry needed to change. If you go through time and space and history from Chuck Berry to now everything is on a cycle and everything has its day from big giant hair and spandex to heroin. We're an enigmatic band. We've always been outsiders. We've never fit in, never had any peers. We're a strange hodgepodge. We don't really fit in anywhere - which is fine with me - so we were able to go on tour with people we admire but as far as peer groups and all that and why didn't Menace to Sobriety work it's because the whole swell of Seattle came and took everybody out, which is fine, and objectively it was needed."
Although suffering a potential career-ending setback, Ugly Kid Joe refused to yield despite breaking up in 1997. The band returned in 2010 with a renewed vigor and after releasing their fourth album Uglier Than They Used to Be in 2015 Crane says Ugly Kid Joe have settled straight back into the position they occupied in the days before their music exploded.
"We fit in just where we fit in before," he laughed. "Nowhere. The thing is, we don't have a choice. We just have to embrace it. We don't fit in, we never did (laughs)."
Catch UGLY KID JOE on their FIRST STOP on the 25 year anniversary 'America's Least Wanted' WORLD TOUR
at the following venues
Sunday 3 December - Manning Bar, Sydney 18+
Monday 4 December - The Zoo, Brisbane – 18+
Wednesday 6 December – Capitol, Perth – 18+
Thursday 7 December – Fowlers, Adelaide – 18+
Saturday 9 December – Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne – 18+