Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Interview with King Dude

TJ Cowgill is a man of many interests. Aside from running his clothing line Actual Pain, TJ is the singer-songwriter of King Dude, as well as the owner and operator of his new record label Not Just Religious Music. His office is based out of Seattle, where he does everything from tattoos to shipping. In addition to King Dude, Cowgill played guitar and did vocals for the black metal band Book of Black Earth, which began in the early 2000s. As of now, his folk solo-project-turned-full-band-project King Dude tends to be more ubiquitous, though Book of Black Earth is still active. He's an impressively busy individual.

King Dude has put out three full-length records, if you include Tonight's Special Death, and a ton of EPs, singles, collaborations, and splits. As of starting Not Just Religious Music, TJ has released two seven-inch records, one of which is a collaboration with Chelsea Wolfe, and put up a preorder for his upcoming album Fear. It's an edition of one thousand with a varying assortment of colored-vinyl options, so hop on it quickly.

My introduction to King Dude was with his album Love, which I find to be flawless. It takes the formula of country a la Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and maybe even some Gram Parsons and puts a sinister spin on things. TJ's lyrics are informed by the neofolk tradition of Sol Invictus, Death in June, and others, though they also draw from haunted Americana. There's an edge of the spooky to lyrics of songs like "Spiders in her Hair," while also a spot of whimsy. On the same record, though, there's reverence and comedy - for instance, the song "Lucifer's the Light of the World," which is an objective but humorous look at the Genesis story.

King Dude has also announced a ton of tour dates, which I have included on the bottom. Be sure to check the band out on their Facebook Page

Jordan: So you work out of your house or your own office?

TJ: We have an office and we recently added a tattoo parlor to it. Can you hear that in the background?

J: Not really

TJ: There’s a needle going. Someone’s getting their leg tattooed. I’m just sitting at my desk preparing a shipment of clothing to Toronto.

J: Cool.

TJ: Anyway, how are you? You are well. You are friends with Jeffrey?

J: Yeah, we went on that Death in June tour.

TJ: Oh, how cool was that?

J: It was really cool. It was a lot of miles and we took Jeffrey’s dog in my car so it was the three of us in my car and like 200 pounds of Death in June mercy and we made our way out East.

TJ: What kind of dog does he have?

J: It’s like a big German Shepherd.

TJ: I was going to guess that.

J: Yeah, it’s a big dog. Super friendly.

TJ: Yeah, they’re great dogs. I had a German Shepherd growing up. She used to eat bees. But then she died of throat cancer, which I assumed was from eating bees.
The Upcoming Album Fear

J: Oh, I’m sorry about your dog.

TJ: Oh, it’s fine. I’m over it now. I have another dog.

J: German Shepherd?

TJ: Not a German Shepherd. She’s a lab mixed with a German short-haired pointer. She’s a big dog. I got her from this farm where they had puppies so I went and got one about six or seven years ago. I realized, though, that there was this massive mudslide out here in the Northwest wiping out parts of where she came from. Probably her whole family is dead and she has no idea.

TJ: Basically half the mountain came down. My mother works up there - she works at Boeing - she’s an aircraft mechanic and she told me that a dude she worked with was upstairs and was in the shower when it happened. He heard his wife scream and the next thing he know he was in all of this debris. It took out a river. The dude broke most of his body, but he only lived because he was upstairs. His wife downstairs passed away.

J: That’s not like a common occurrence is it?

TJ: Well, now they released some information that it may have to do with over-logging. They had been using some sort of outdated survey report saying they could log in the area. But no, it doesn't happen all the time.

J: That’s good.

TJ: No, it’s not like we have them all the time. It’s part of industrial harvesting of trees I guess.

J: Yeah, it destroys the earth underneath.

TJ: I guess the roots keep the mountain from just turning to mud and sliding off. I didn't even know it happened. I was in Canada and just listening to NPR. It’s pretty bad because it just obliterated a highway and a town from the map. They’re digging out people every day, trying to just figure out who’s missing before making a death toll. They dig them out and then they send them to the coroners to identify them. Only three or four people get found a day because there’s so much mud and debris. The ground tries to pull your boots off each time you take a step. Just viscous earth that came out of nowhere. There was no warning. 

TJ: I wonder what it sounded like. That will keep me up. Just what it sounded like.

J: I imagine like a huge waterfall.

TJ: Have you ever been in an earthquake? Like a big one?

J: Really small ones. I was born in LA. For a couple years yeah, and then last week I was in LA and there was a small one, but I didn't realize it.

TJ: I heard one once. The biggest one we had recently was in like 2000 or 2001. There was a low rumble and then everything moving. And since the streetlights and metal were moving, there was a clanging, which gave a higher frequency. The combination was really unnerving.

J: Yeah, I mean, it’s the earth breaking.

TJ: It’s just a strange frequency that’s below your ears coming from everywhere.

J: So where all have you been in Chicago to play shows?

TJ: We've played the Empty Bottle. I’m sure you've been there.

J: Yeah, that’s my favorite venue.

TJ: That’s a good venue. I like the people who work there a lot. And then we played the Cobra Lounge, which I thought was strange. It was during a big festival - I think Pitchfork.

J: Oh yeah, that was the show you played with White Mystery, right?

TJ: Yeah, those are the two redheaded siblings, right?

J: Yeah.

TJ: They’re sweethearts. I like them a lot.

J: That was last summer, wasn't it?

TJ: When was that? Yeah, probably right around last summer. It was with Sailor Jerry’s. Sometimes they fly us out to play shows, like they just did with SXSW. I don’t really like doing the corporate things - music festivals or corporate festivals aren't what I like to do. It’s our drummer’s friend, though, who picks all the music for Sailor Jerry’s so it’s a cool chance to see him and hang out. That’s usually the best part. Then you play in front of a bunch of people who are like “what the fuck is this?” That’s the worst part. But, you know, there’s always a good portion of those people who are familiar.

J: You probably have a variety of people in your fanbase, huh?

TJ: Yeah, you would think. The music is appealing enough to people of all ages I find. I have seen really old people at our shows, who were in their 70s. I was once playing a free show here in Seattle and an elderly couple was walking by, who had to be in their 80s. I was playing a song called “Lord I’m Coming Home,” which is about an old person who’s telling his wife that he’s dying, but says not to worry because he’s connected to his maker and they’ll see each other soon. It’s a good, beautiful thing. And they were holding each other and crying. It was the most beautiful, accidental moment.

J: That’s heavy.

TJ: Yeah yeah. And then there are times when I’ve played a show where there are babies at shows and I’ve played in bands where babies wouldn't even be allowed in the venue. It’s been pretty interesting. We played a place in Georgetown at a place called the Morgue and there was a kid who had to be four and he was on his dad’s shoulders. It was really strange.

J: Is that flattering?

TJ: Yeah, it was flattering. I try and make music that’s suitable for everyone. I don’t want it to be so obtuse that only a niche group can understand it. I try to make music for human beings. I know in terms of subject matter, I’ll lose a few of them, but I think the music itself is very listenable.

J: I hear a lot of Johnny Cash and a lot of that is because of the acoustic guitar.

TJ: Yeah, the strumming is pretty basic. It’s usually fairly country-like. I assume you’re talking about the songs off Burning Daylight.

J: Yeah, that and Love.

TJ: Yeah, Love too. Cause that’s when I bought a Gretsch - right before Love. Once you get a Gretsch guitar with that tremolo, it changes the way you play guitar. Before that, I played an Ovation because that’s what Douglas [Death in June] plays, who I saw. And before that, I played my dad’s Martin. Actually, it wasn't even a Martin, it was a kit, like a copy that you build yourself. So he’d bought it a long time ago and the headstock was cracked and so I thought “I should get a guitar.” At the time, I had just discovered Death in June. That was about seven or eight years ago and I got an Ovation, which sounds so bright. It’s a limiting instrument, though, in a way compared to a Gretsch.

King Dude's first album Love
J: I think it’s a very elegant guitar. Hearing him practice while touring was a bit overwhelming because of his legacy. You end up feeling like it’s a dad talking.

TJ: You kind of have to respect your elders. He created a massive inspiring movement to hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of bands. And John [Murphy] was with Douglas too on that tour, right?

J: Yeah, talk about a guy who’s legacy is overwhelming!

TJ: Seriously. I met him in Berlin at one of our shows. I was like “You were in SPK.” And he was so nice and talked about how he had been roommates with Nick Cave or something in Australia. It was one of those “what the fuck” moments. In the Birthday Party era, I think.

J: For a little bit, I talked to him at this bar by Heaven Street and I was sitting next to him and we had normal conversation, but every now and then he’d say something like “Oh yeah, when I was with the members of Whitehouse” and I was like “Wait a minute.”

TJ: Yeah, “wait a minute.” You know who produced our new record is Bill Rieflin, who played drums with Ministry.

J: Chicago band!

TJ: Yeah, Chicago band! He’s on a bunch of old Wax Trax stuff. He played on that Acid Horse 12”. You know that one?

J: I do not know that one.

TJ: They only did one 12”. It’s Al Jourgensen and Bill Rieflin and it’s like a Desert/Western techno.

J: I may have to discogs that.

TJ: The song “No Name No Slogan” is the jam. That’s a good song. Wait a minute…Bill’s not listed on this - maybe I’m full of shit. I don’t know. According to this Wikipedia page…Actually that would make sense, because I asked him what he played on that Acid Horse song and he was like “I don’t remember. There was so much shit going on…probably bass!” But he has stories like that.

J: So you recently started your label Not Just Religious Music. Why’d you start the label and why did you start with a 7” repressing/remake of “Spiders in her Hair?”

TJ: Well, I think it was after we played a show with Pierced Arrows. You know them?

J: Yeah, the Dead Moon guys.

TJ: Yeah, and Joey, our drummer, was talking to Toody. We were looking for a label for our new record, Fear, and we wanted it to reach the right audience. The list of the labels our old manager gave us didn't have any labels we liked. We were trying to figure out what people thought and we asked Pierced Arrows and they said, “well, all record labels are pretty much the same.” And it just sank in. If you’re capable of doing it yourself, then why do you need a record label? Pierced Arrows releases their own records.

TJ: So what does a label provide? Well, a lot, like distribution and press, but you can do those yourself too. It’s really liberating too. You also run into the problem of disliking artists on the label you’re signed to, which happens on bigger labels. And then small ones like Dais, which is a great label, has less people. So I just decided to do the 7” series to have something to start on that I could record myself. It’s an exercise in consolidation.

TJ: And that attracts people to it too. Like Scout Paré-Phillips.

J: Oh yeah!

TJ: Working with her has been a pleasure. It reminds me of Buffy Sainte-Marie, who was a strong singer. A lot of people are like “what is this,” because it’s folk music but it’s difficult. Scout and I have a lot in common, though, like we both make difficult music and we both like dogs. I’m gonna bring her on tour in Europe. She writes songs about dogs.

J: Dude, I swear to God, if someone likes dogs, there’s a good chance you’ll get along.

TJ: (laughs) Well, animals in general. I like cats too, but I can’t have one at the same time as my dog at this point. But if I got a kitten, she might get used to it. On the other hand, with a litter box, there’s not really a great solution. I’d rather follow my pet around with a plastic bag and pick the shit up and throw it away then have it shit in the house.

J: It’s kinda gross.

TJ: No matter what, and some people train their cats to shit in the toilet. Have you heard of this?

J: I thought that was like an urban legend.

TJ: No, it’s totally true. You can do it. I met a cat that did it once and it was the most fucked up thing to walk into the bathroom at my uncle’s house. The door’s open so you walk in and there’s a cat taking a shit. It’s awkward. What do you say? “I’m sorry, I didn't know you were in here because you can’t open and close doors because you’re a fucking cat.” There’s just not a good solution. The cat will shit somewhere in your house. Unless you have a really big house and you can devote a room to it and I swear some people just do that.

J: That’d be a down-the-road investment. You could just bulldoze the room once a year.

TJ: Oh man, I stayed in a punk house like that in Austin once. They were like “here’s the room.” And there was just cat shit everywhere. I woke up and the cat was barfing. And there was a smell of ammonia. I thought I was getting physically ill.

J: Have you seen Trainspotting?

TJ: I have, but it was so long ago. I remember a guy crawling through a toilet.

J: There’s a junkie in it who dies because he’s nodding out the whole time and his cat doesn’t get let out so the air gets so putrefied that he develops a sort of brain tumor. It’s totally a real thing.

TJ: Yeah I've heard it’s real and I think a lot of people try to associate it with schizophrenia.

J: Just goes to show.

TJ: I hate that ammonia. It’s specifically cat shit. I would want it outside. I had a cat, but it was an indoor, outdoor cat. She did get run over though. But at least she lived. She really lived her life though. She wasn't trapped inside looking at the birds. She was out there. She may not have had as long of a life, but it was a better life. That’s how I rationalize it.

J: Do you find that cat’s lifestyle to be inspirational towards you?

TJ: Yeah, I think so. I attempt to do everything I can do, like my cat. Like the label. I just thought “Let’s start a label.” I didn't need to mull it over. I’m kind of like George Bush in that manner. George Bush Jr. “Oh, let’s just go to Iraq! Let’s just do it.” I like to think that I make better decisions though.

J: That’s probably a good thing.

TJ: I don’t really have control of anything like that, but I’m also not planning any wars. That said, the way we tour, or the way we treat it, is serious. It’s like a music war.

J: Have you had a consistent touring lineup?

TJ: No. It’s actually only been about two or three years that I've had anyone play with me at all. I've always had Joey on drums with me. And then a revolving second guitar player. But now we’re on our third one. The first guitar player, Nick, is a good friend of mine. His wife was pregnant though. Jason was a great guy, but I think he was more into heavy metal, so we mutually decided to part ways. King Dude just didn't have much room for other leadership. There’s not much room to write more or anything.

J: Yeah, cause you pretty much write all the music, right?

TJ: Yeah, I do. Occasionally, Joey will contribute if we’re just messing around. But that’s as far as any co-writer goes and that doesn't happen often. Usually, I know what the drumbeat should be. There’s just not much wiggle room for other people. For better or worse, I think I know the best way to do stuff. The third guy, though, is great. He plays guitar, piano, and bass, and we’re thinking about introducing bass on the next record.

J: Are you writing a new record now?

TJ: Yeah, yeah. It’s basically all written and partially recorded and then there’s a record Fear that we did last year that’s going to come out in two months. But I have a whole other record coming out after that.

J: Wow.

TJ: Well, and then I know all the records that this band is going to make and then it will end.

J: You know when it’s going to end?

TJ: Yes. We’ll announce our final album. It’s not anytime soon. Let’s see. There’s four more after Fear.

J: Wow. So you've got this whole thing planned out already. Do you have subject matter and stuff for the other records?

TJ: Yes, without revealing too much, because I don’t want to tell everyone what it is. Each record has its own concept. And then all the records looked at in its entirety will make another concept that people can unlock and figure out. But that’s not until however many years it will take us to do it, probably about six. But yeah, we’ll announce when there is the final album release. And I think that’s good. It’s good to work in those parameters. It lets you know what to do. It isn't willy-nilly. We’re not just gonna make some disco album. It’s fun for me too. It’s helpful in the writing process to have a bit of narrative in the writing process. It won’t be obvious until the end I think and then it’ll be obvious. Certain people like you, or Jeffrey, or our friends will, probably by the record after the next one, probably have a good idea about the arc or at least from where I’m drawing the ideas on the records.

J: That’s really cool. I’m extremely excited.

TJ: That’s cool! I hope you like Fear. It’s my favorite thing we've done and it’s really fun. I just got the mock up in today. It’s a die-cut kind of like Love. The art has to work together though perfectly so much that they actually have to send me a mock up. There’s actually a hidden message in Fear that can be decoded as well and there’s a ritual process that goes along with the vinyl. It will be known once it comes out.

J: So do you get a lot of satisfaction out of the visual and physical act of creating music, like when you get a product done?

TJ: Definitely. It’s like I fetishize it. I like it when other people make beautiful looking records. Or perfect records. (Laughs) I think about records too much.

J: Yeah, there’s that new Genesis P-Orridge book that came out and the special edition had like three 7” picture discs and it makes me respect the process, even the intellectual content, more because of the packaging.

TJ: Yeah, it shows that they care. Things aren't just slapped together. There’s a lot to be said for the punk movement, but I think it’s kind of run its course. Now you see bands emulating sloppiness. Perfect sloppiness. It doesn't make sense. It’s a feedback loop. And the bands are emulating bands who are emulating sloppiness.

J: It’s kind of like a game of telephone.

TJ: Yeah, and the mutation doesn't really appeal to me. I like things to draw inspiration from places other than music. I obviously draw inspiration from music, but I think I’m happier when it comes from a better place.

J: Yeah.

TJ: Either a book or a movement or a concept in science. That’s more fun for me.

J: Will you be releasing Fear on Not Just Religious Music?

TJ: Yeah, it’ll be May 6.

J: Nice! That’s the day before my birthday.

TJ: We made a couple videos for it too, which we’ll release soon. I think people will like it. It’s a rock record, which is a little different than Burning Daylight. It’s all over the place too. It’s eclectic. There are acoustic songs on there too. It’s definitely the most produced record we've done. We went to a studio and I didn't mix or master it. It was a pretty far out process for me and I felt like I was losing my mind a little bit. It’s a brutal process. I don’t know if I would do it again, but if I did, then it would be with Bill Rieflin. He’s a good guy to work with.

J: Have you ever thought about going into writing literature?

TJ: Yeah, that’s a dream of mine. I think everyone who fancies him or herself a poet or a writer wants to write their first novel and I do have a draft of a novel that’s sitting at like one chapter long. I’m kind of interested in children’s books right now and I have the opportunity to possibly publish one so we’ll see.

J: Who’s your favorite children’s book author?

TJ: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know any of them. Probably like Shel Silverstein. It’s more of the idea, I think, of the book. The focus of the book is important because it has to do with the future. So that’s why I would like to do that, not because I like children’s books. I actually don’t like children’s books. I just read an article or maybe it was on NPR that said books for teens are good for adults so I went out and bought one. I was so bored. A lot of what happens in Harry Potter is so boring to me because there’s no risk of horrible events. Not that I need that in a book, but I like every action to be available. Like, a character won’t be racist or entirely shitty. People don’t have to be like…who’s that really drunk author that everyone likes?

J: Bukowski?

TJ: Yeah, Bukowski. It doesn't all have to be like that, but maybe a splash of that every now and then and that gives a little more reality. Some of my favorite fiction writers do that. Roberto Bolaño does that.

J: Oh, he’s one of my favorite authors ever.

TJ: Yeah, and I don’t read much fiction. He was a poet.

J: Yeah, he was a poet.

TJ: A failed poet who decided that he would write novels if it would pay the bills, but he ended up drinking himself to death. The fluidity of his narratives is awesome.

J: Reading 2666 changed my world. I keep it everywhere I go.

TJ: Do you have the three-volume one?

J: Yeah, I do. I’m looking at it right now.

TJ: Me too! I’m looking at mine. Yeah, I read that while on tour with Book of Black Earth. In El Paso I was reading the part about the murders or about the private detective in Mexico. It was just so intense and I’d look out the window and I couldn't get out the novel! The way that he describes stuff too is kind of how you think it.

J: The translator did a great job.

TJ: Were they originally in Spanish?

J: Yeah, I speak Spanish, so I've actually read a book of his poems in both Spanish and English and they’re really well done.

TJ: it’s not direct but they made it work. Did he do it?

J: No someone else did it. And a bunch of his books came out after he died.

TJ: Yeah, I read that he wanted the novels to come out in episodes so that his kids could have money. He knew he was dying so he wrote at this fever pitch and ended up writing this massive behemoth of a book. I generally like to read non-fiction though.

J: What’s some good non-fiction you've read?

TJ: Well, a friend got me a book about natural disasters in the Northwest that’s a lot of fun to read. It’s a bunch of firsthand accounts. I got a book on cryptology. I was reading Texe Marrs’ book on religion and cults, which reads like an encyclopedia. Texe Marrs is a Christian author who’s worried about cults, like Buddhism, which he considers a cult. It’s fun.

TJ: Constance Cumbey wrote a book called Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow. It’s about the infiltration of an Aquarian cult imposing itself into Christianity to change the true meaning of Jesus Christ and she’s a really intelligent person. She’s a lawyer, but she also believes in this nightmarish scenario. She’s done tons of research though and found really interesting links. Her terror is really fun to me to read.

King Dude Tour Dates:
4/17 Phoenix Theatre (Toronto, ON) w/ Ghost
4/18 Stage AE (Pittsburgh, PA) w/ Ghost
4/19 Vic Theatre (Chicago, IL) w/ Ghost
4/20 Pageant (St. Louis, MO) w/ Ghost
4/22 Granada Theater (Lawrence, KS) w/ Ghost
4/23 Boulder Theater (Boulder, CO) w/ Ghost
4/25 House of Blues (Las Vegas, NV) w/ Ghost
4/26 House of Blues (San Diego, CA) w/ Ghost
4/27 The Fonda (Los Angeles, CA) w/ Ghost
4/28 The Observatory (Santa Ana, CA) w/ Ghost
5/1 Emo’s East (Austin, TX) w/ Ghost
5/2 House of Blues (Houston, TX) w/ Ghost
5/3 House of Blues (Dallas, TX) w/ Ghost
5/4 Civic Theatre (New Orleans, LA) w/ Ghost
5/6 The Beacham Theater (Orlando, FL) w/ Ghost
5/7 Revolution Live (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) w/ Ghost
5/9 Center Stage (Atlanta, GA) w/ Ghost
5/10 Track 29 (Chattanooga, TN) w/ Ghost
5/11 Lincoln Theater (Raleigh, NC) w/ Ghost
5/12 The Orange Peel (Asheville, NC) w/ Ghost
5/14 The Fillmore (Silver Spring, MD) w/ Ghost
5/15 Trocadero Theatre (Philadelphia, PA) w/ Ghost
5/16 The Chance (Poughkeepsie, NY) w/ Ghost
5/17 Best Buy Theater (New York, NY) w/ Ghost

EUROPE DATES (w/ Scout Paré-Phillips on select shows)
5/22 Death Disco (Berlin, Germany)
5/23 King George (Köln, Germany)
5/24 Vera (Groningen, Holland)
5/25 DNA (Bruxellles, Belgium)
5/26 The Macbeth (London, England)
5/27 Escape B (Paris, France)
5/28 DB S (Utretch, Holland)
5/29 Market Halle (Aurich, Germany)
5/30 Loppen (Copenhagen, Denmark)
5/31 Muskelrock Festival (Tyrolen, Sweden)
6/02 Pussy A Go Go (Stockholm, Sweden)
6/03 Revolver (Olso, Norway)
6/04 Truck Stop Alaska (Gothenburg, Sweden)
6/07 Manifest Club (Moscow, Russia)
6/08 TBA (Odessa, Ukraine)
6/09 Chemiefabrik (Dresden, Germany)
6/10 Die Bäckerei (Linz, Austria)
6/11 Freakout (Bologna, Italy)
6/12 Lazzaretto (Ancona, Italy)
6/13 Cox18 (Milano, Italy)
6/14 Impetus Festival (Lussane, Switzerland)
6/23 Bar Del Fico (Rome, Italy) *Solo Performance

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