Kix interview with Steve Whiteman
In Baltimore, Maryland, Kix is rock and roll royalty, but outside of the band’s regional territory the mention of the group name is likely to be followed by the statements, “Oh yeah, I remember those guys,” or “Aren’t they the one’s that did that one so?” Kix is one of the greatest little rock bands that far too few people know, but most seem to enjoy once they discover them. This summer the quintet returns with its first album of new material in 19 years, and fans are chomping at the bit to get their ears on the record dubbed, Rock Your Face Off. The debut single, “Love Me with Your Top Down” is already turning heads and shaking derrieres. This week, vocalist Steve Whiteman checked in to talk about the new album and take a look back at the band’s early years.
Kix began life in 1977 as The Shooze, when bassist Donnie Purnell and guitarists Ronnie 10/10 Younkins and Brian “Damage” Forsythe connected. Whiteman joined the following year and drummer Jimmy Chalfant the year after to round out the line-up. After a short-lived name change to The Generators, the band began the 80s as Kix, recording their debut album for Atlantic Records. Legendary producer Tom Allom, who had just produced Judas Priest’s seminal British Steel album, helmed the eponymous debut. Long mislabeled as a glam band, the Kix sound encompasses and combines infectious power rock riffing with tongue-in-cheek punkish street smarts and a feel good pop frivolity: Think AC/DC meets Slade.
Kix thought they had hit the big time when they entered that New York studio, but they soon learned their first big lesson, offered Whitman:
“We had high hopes for that one and felt that it was a great record–great material, and the record label led us to believe they were going to push it and we were going to be rock and roll stars. That never happened. It was a major disappointment.”
The band, like so many young groups of the era, was pressured by the record label to commercialize its sound. Kix’ 1983 sophomore effort, Cool Kids even featured a track penned by Canadian pop star Nick Gilder, which was forced on them by the label.
“We got pushed in a direction we weren’t happy with,” shared Whiteman. “That whole Cool Kids record, we went out with a fake smile on our face and tried to present that record to please the record label and the management. We weren’t real happy with that record. It’s not the record we wanted to make.”
Midnite Dynamite (1985) would mark the beginning of the band’s breakout. They tabbed producer Beau Hill (Alice Cooper, Warrant, Winger) who had just had huge success with Ratt’s debut album.
“Beau Hill locked all the record people out of the studio and we made a great record. Midnite Dynamite to me should have been a hit record. But once again Atlantic records dropped the ball.”
Kix finally broke through to platinum status and arena tours with the release of its fourth effort, Blow My Fuse in 1988. The album reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989 and launched five singles, including the popular power ballad, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. Offered Whiteman:
“I think Blow My Fuse hit, mainly because we were relentless after Midnite Dynamite. When Atlantic Records saw our fan base they pushed that magic money button and the rest is history.”
By the time Kix released its fifth studio effort, the brilliant but tragically overlooked, Hot Wire in 1991, Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene had staked the heart of pop metal and left it to die. Big hair and big hooky choruses had been buried beneath an avalanche of flannel and brooding angst.
It would take four years and a record label change before the Baltimore rockers would deliver its final album, Show Business. While the record was full of the classic Kix sound, the market for the band’s sound remained in stasis as alternative rock cleansed the Aqua Net generation from pop culture. Kix disbanded that same year and it would be eight years before the band would reform.
In 2003, all of the original Kix members sans bassist and principal songwriter Donnie Purnell would reunite. Purnell, would be replaced by Mark Schenker who played with other Kix members in the band Funny Money. It would be Schenker who convinced the band to allow some young filmmakers to record a howtown show at The Rams Head which Frontiers Records picked up and released as a CD/DVD in 2012. The label encouraged the band to record an album of new material, but the band remained unconvinced. Purnell had run Kix with an iron fist and his songwriting had dominated the previous Kix records. Under his regime very little of the other members ideas had been used.
The band reached out to songwriter and producer Taylor Rhodes who had worked with Kix on its most successful albums. Once he signed on, Whiteman offered, everyone was on board.
“We needed somebody outside of the band that could steer us in that direction that Kix fans would expect us to be in. So he was essential in harnessing what he felt would make a good Kix album. I trust Taylor’s judgement.”
The band inked a deal with Loud and Proud Records and began working on material written by all members of the band for the first time in the quintet’s history. The result is Rock Your Face Off, a collection of addictive, hard rocking, party and roll songs that embrace everything that is Kix.
Check out the full interview with Steve Whiteman below and get ready for the new record, Rock Your Face Off, August 5 on Loud and Proud records.
You can also check out our 2012 interview with Steve here.