“You know what else I noticed?” says Ugly Kid Joe guitarist Klaus Eichstadt as he talks about what he feels are the similarities between his home state and Australia, “You all say ‘rad’ and ‘dude’. English people don’t say ‘rad’ or ‘dude’. On the east coast they don’t say ‘rad’ or ‘dude’. When we were on tour, the [Dead City Ruins] guys would say ‘That was rad’ and I was like, ‘Are you saying that to take the piss out of me?’ and they were like, ‘No, dude, that’s how we talk!’ That’s the connection between California and Australia: ‘rad’ and ‘dude’.”
Whether the connection comes down to those two simple words or not, Australian fans certainly felt one with Ugly Kid Joe in the early 90s. Racking up a small string of hits here at a time when other Californian heavy rock bands were being forsaken for Seattle grunge acts, Eichstadt and Ugly Kid Joe toured Australia for three weeks in 1993 – the biggest tour they ever did as a headliner.
“Three weeks in front of the biggest crowds we ever played to on our own. Huge, fun crowds… loved the country, loved the people,” Eichstadt says. “As I said, loved the shows. And you know what it reminded me of, in the end? It kind of reminded me of a big, giant California with weird accents. The environment, the people and the attitude, that was all really cool.”
Ugly Kid Joe’s run originally ended in 1997. The rocket to success that had taken off with their debut EP ‘As Ugly as They Wanna Be’ and the 1992 album America’s Least Wanted sputtered out when the follow-up, Menace to Sobriety, got no support from Mercury Records and they were dropped. Another album later and the band was done. Drummer Shannon Larkin eventually went on to join Godsmack and singer Whitfield Crane had a brief turn as the vocalist for Life of Agony before forming Medication with Logan Mader and Roy Mayorga. Larkin and Crane later teamed up once more in Another Animal and the seeds were set for Ugly Kid Joe to return. Two years after the announcement of their reunion, the band released the EP ‘Stairway to Hell’ and hit the European festival circuit, also playing shows with Guns N Roses and Alice Cooper.
“I can tell you right now,” Eichstadt confesses, “I never thought we’d ever tour again. Never. So ahead of the first tour, here I was thinking we’d get one cool tour out of this, a couple of festivals. It’s gonna be great! That’s kind of what I hoped for, and it happened. Then the next thing I know we’re about to go on another tour and I’m like, ‘OK, how’s long this going to happen?’ And then, we’ve got another two tours after that, and that’s Australia and New Zealand, and we’ve never been down to New Zealand. So it’s been great. I’m so happy we’ve been able to do it.”
Their last tour was a five-week stretch across Europe with Skid Row and Melbourne hard rocking upstarts Dead City Ruins. It’s the same package they’ll be sharing Australian stages with next month. Touring with a much younger band was “inspiring”, Eichstadt says: “We’ve been through everything they’re going through, so it’s really cool.” They also gave him and the other bands a lesson in the Australian vernacular, which the guitarist admits wasn’t an easy one to learn.
“’Put a small on yer face!’ they would say,” he says, in a terrible Aussie accent. “And I’m like, ‘What? A small? Oh… a smile!’ No worries, mate. No worries!”
He was also given pause for thought after long discussions with them about their musical influences, most of which are the same as his own despite the twenty-plus year age gap between them.
“When you think about it… when Led Zeppelin came out, what was that? 1970 or something? I was three years old. They were the top band touring the States and I was three, four years old. So it’s the same for everybody. The bands you like, someone’s gonna turn you onto them eventually. Jimi Hendrix is someone that I like a lot, and he was dead by the time I was four years old. I never thought about that until I met those guys and they explained to me, ‘Oh yeah we just happened to really like AC/DC’, big bands from the early 90s, the 80s, the early 70s.”
It was the same way with the crowds as old fans and younger people filled their shows, which sold out across the continent.
“We saw tons of people in their 20s at our concerts. It was a really good mix across the board,” the guitarist says. “It doesn’t matter about age. If they’re hearing something they like, they’re liking it. Of course, a band like Skid Row, they had so many hits that young people today know those songs and you have the situation where people who come to our shows are in their 40s and they bring their teenage kids to the show for their first rock concert. Teenage age kids are hearing us because their parents are dragging them to shows.”
Considering Ugly Kid Joe’s popularity in Australia on that previous visit 21 years ago, there’s every chance that they will be looking at a successful tour here this time as well when they bring their brash, funk-laced humour-ridden heavy rock back in April. Klaus Eichstadt is very much looking forward to coming back to the land that played host to his band’s most successful headlining tour.
“The biggest shows we ever played on our own were in Australia,” he says once more. “We played Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and a couple other places… Canberra, Surfers Paradise. We had a really great time there. It was awesome. That fuck-it-all attitude goes over well with the Australians. Not just as a band, but people. I think that’s got something to do with it. The laidback California irreverence and attitude… it worked well over there.”
Ugly Kid Joe is touring Australia with Skid Row and Dead City Ruins:
23/4: Metropolis, Fremantle WA
25/4: Palace Theatre, Melbourne VIC
26/4: Eatons Hill, Brisbane QLD
27/4: HiFi Bar, Sydney NSW