It’s a brand new day for the Kottonmouth Kings and Sunrise Sessions
By Jasen T. Davis
No other independent hip-hop rock band has had a career as vast and victorious as Kottonmouth Kings. The first album, Royal Highness, won over listeners with aggressive songs about rocking the good life, but scared away the mainstream with street-real lyrics about cannabis and the smoking thereof.
Sunrise Sessions marks Kottonmouth Kings’ 18th studio album. The band sweated its brains out over this one, knowing that past, present and future fans are going to expect the very best the Kings can bring.
The band is amped over releasing its latest masterpiece. Far from being jaded rock stars, Kottonmouth Kings are more excited about Sunrise Sessions than many other brand-new groups who are cutting their very first record.
Not only is the band at the very top of their game, it is reveling in it, and the adrenaline high is infectious. Daddy X, D-Loc, Johnny Richter and Lou Dog met CULTURE in their Burbank studio to talk about the magic that makes their reign so glorious.
Let’s talk about your latest album, Sunrise Sessions. I like the title. It’s very positive.
Daddy X: The sunrise represents the beginning of a new day. We wanted to say that every day you have a chance to change your life. The sunrise represents new sounds and new ideas. Initially it was going to be an acoustic, organic record. But as we recorded more songs and everybody brought something original to the table, we looked up and had over 60 songs to choose from.
D-Loc: I don’t think people understand how many thousands of hours we put into this record.
Daddy X: The full-length album drops in July, and then later on in the year we are going to release an EP which will be a variation of Sunrise Sessions. Best Buy is going to have a special bonus disc, iTunes will have specially selected songs that will be released with them, so overall you can expect nearly 30 new songs floating around in July.
You experimented with a lot of new sounds on this album.
Daddy X: We used a lot of reggae, but that’s always been a big part of our sound. You’ll notice a lot of bluegrass influence, especially with the use of the slide guitar. I always liked dubstep, especially the sonic influence of dubstep. The bass lines really worked well with the Kottonmouth Kings and the way we create our music.
Johnny Richter: For me it was a chance to really get into a style of music I had never messed with before. Once I got a hold of some dubstep, I couldn’t wait to put some of it in the album. I’d get to the studio and say, “Yo, this shit is crazy, you gotta hear this.” It’s what we love to do and the beats are as bangin‘ as hell.
Daddy X: The bluegrass influence is what you are going to hear in the slide guitar, the B3 organs and the other acoustic sounds on the album.
D-Loc: You never know how fans are going to react, though. You work as hard as you can on a record and then you just have to let it go. Of course, by the time we release Sunrise Sessions, we’ll already be working on our next album.
Considering your past success, is the pressure on to outdo your previous accomplishments?
Johnny Richter: We don’t really think about trying to beat something we’ve done before. We just want to do the work and make a damn good album.
Daddy X: Because we are an independent operation, the real pressure comes with meeting deadlines and staying within our budget. We’re not like other bands that can just blow $5 million on advertising. We have to make every dollar count.
Has it always been a big challenge for your band to stay independent?
Johnny Richter: It forced us to show a lot of ingenuity, to make use of the Internet and to go out and really meet people. Artists who work for big labels don’t know how to get out there and grind like we do. But now with so many independent artists and so much music on the Internet, you really have to do something that lets you stand out from the rest.
D-Loc: Fans really want to know you. People are more a part of your life when you are an artist. There’s a constant communication going on, with all of us posting and Tweeting. You don’t make a song and release it in six months. Now, people are making music and it goes up online that day. Instant gratification, instant communication—that’s what we did back in the day. So, we’ve been embracing the new ways of doing it, but at the same time we try to stay on the edge no matter how we can.
Daddy X: Independent labels are suffering right now, too. Sure, some big artists like Lady Gaga can have multimillion dollar record deals and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on recording an album, but for the rest of us that’s all gone.
Let’s talk about Stonetown.
D-Loc: It’s a Disneyland for stoners. It’s a website that our fans can explore, and it’s based on the album art from Sunrise Sessions. We have a lot of different areas based on getting high and everything associated with it, the munchies, etc.
Daddy X: There are different characters that pop up and we have free things like, “The Nug of the Week.” It can be a free song, a new release, something you can download—whatever we can think of—but it’s to keep people coming back to the website to find something new. We know that it’s a tough economy and a lot of people are broke, so we try to put in something extra as a present to our fans.
D-Loc: The characters are like Pluto, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and all that, but instead we have the Bong Guy, the 420 Clock Guy, a talking joint—just silly stuff to make people laugh.
Daddy X: We always try to come up with a new way for our fans to reach us. We already had a website but it was time to go outside the box. We wanted the site to have new information, to be fun, but also tie into our plans for the future. Even if you are just coming to the site to see a new video, instead of watching it on YouTube there’s a whole presentation with curtains and popcorn and all sorts of animation. But our thought behind Stonetown is that it’s never going to end. We are going to keep changing it and adding to it to keep people interested.
Are you going to keep developing Stonetown with every new album?
Daddy X: We have a big discography, so when you go to the site you’ll be able to explore every phase of the band as a new section. When you click on an album, all of the images and pictures from that album will pop up. It’s a good way for new fans to learn about the history of the band and to explore our different time periods.
Since the very beginning, Kottonmouth Kings have been huge supporters for the cannabis cause. Now that so much time has passed and so much has happened, what do you guys think about the issue, now?
Daddy X: Well, I would love to see nature’s laws prevail. Let the plant grow. I really just want to see marijuana just decriminalized.
D-Loc: I think we’ve come a long way, but the prohibition has got to end. It’s just common sense. It’s 2011 now, and people want it.
Lou Dog: I want to see more people freed. There are so many people in prison who don’t need to be there.
Johnny Richter: With the vote in California it just got so close to actually being legalized. We’re lucky, though, because it seems like there’s finally going to be a changing of the guard. There’s a younger generation of voters now. It’s going to take a few more decades, but once the good old boy network goes away we will have real change. I think the new generation of voters is much more independent, and they want to make their own decisions.
D-Loc: It’s not like before, though. I think new voters want to have the choice. When we started this band, there was no such thing as legal weed. There was no such thing as a dispensary. There was no Proposition 215, it was just 420 and that was it. Now there [are] more weed shops than Starbucks in L.A.
Daddy X: I have a medical marijuana card, but it’s just insurance. We all smoke for a lot of reasons, from pain to insomnia.
Johnny Richter: Weed has so many medical benefits. You always see commercials for new drugs that have horrible side effects, and you never hear about how cannabis can replace so many of them. Part of the reason weed is illegal is because of the pharmaceutical companies. That’s the biggest racket.
D-Loc: I personally feel that weed helps me more spiritually than physically, though.
Daddy X: Because of the Internet people can look up a lot more information now.
Johnny Richter: It’s a great thing that there is so much information out there and people can hear the truth instead of listening to a lot of government propaganda. It’s so weird that it’s so long after the ’60s and ’70s and it’s still illegal. I can’t believe cannabis still has that stigma attached to it.
Do you think that because of the Internet at least now the average person has a much better chance of making an honest decision about smoking cannabis?
D-Loc: I think that what’s important is that no matter what, a week from now, a hundred years from now, no matter where, people should have the freedom to make that choice, and we don’t have that right now.