For well over three decades, KIX has been spreading their unique blend of rock’n’ roll magic to music fans around the globe. In 2014, Steve Whiteman (lead vocals), Jimmy Chalfant (drums, vocals), Ronnie Younkins (guitars), Brian Forsythe (guitars) and Mark Schenker (bass) are back to write another exciting chapter in the history of this amazing band with the release their first new album in almost two decades via their new partnership with Loud & Proud Records. What makes the project even more exciting and anticipated is that the album features the band’s original line-up, with the exception of Schenker on bass.
KIX gracefully eased back into the public consciousness in 2008. After sold out hometown gigs, the quintet hit the stage at Rocklahoma in front of over 20,000 people, venturing out of the Mid-Atlantic for the first time in 13 years. The band was hailed by many music websites and attendees as “Best Performance” at the festival, where they played alongside Sammy Hagar, Alice Cooper, Tesla, Queesryche, Ratt, and more. After capturing their fiery reunion on 2012’s LIVE IN BALTIMORE CD & DVD, the band agreed to enter the studio once again. In order to deliver, the band enlisted the talents of producer Taylor Rhodes (Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne), with whom they had last collaborated on 1991’s HOT WIRE. Also, for the first time in the group’s history, each member contributed to the writing process, fostering an extremely creative and free environment in the studio. A new dawn commenced as they simultaneously harnessed their classic spirit. ROCK YOUR FACE OFF is everything fans know and love them for: a raucous, roaring and real display of rock ‘n’ roll.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with guitarist Brian “Damage” Forsythe to discuss how his exposure to the Beatles cut short his early dream of becoming a garbage man, the rich history of KIX, how putting the band back together lead to the creation of their powerful new album, ‘Rock Your Face Off,’ and what the future might hold for them in the years to come!
Every time I talk with a musician, I start with their early years. What are your first musical memories?
As far back as I can remember, my parents were always big music fans. The cool thing about them was that they were really open-minded. They grew up during the Big Band era, along with things like Frank Sinatra and things like that. My father was into things like Miles Davis and crazy jazz stuff, while my mother was into everything else. They used to listen to Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and all of this pre-Beatles stuff. Once the Beatles came it became the big thing and that was when I knew I was going to be a musician! I was 6 years old when I saw them. Before that, I loved music and I loved listening to it. Once they came along, it was all over! Before the Beatles, I used to watch the garbage men collect the trash. They would jump off the truck and grab the trash can, ya know? They looked like they were having so much fun! I thought, “Yeah! That is what I want to do!” Then the Beatles came along and I thought, “Nevermind! I think I want to do that!” [laughs] It was just the coolest thing watching those guys play. From the first time I saw them on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” my older brother and I would pretend we were in the Beatles! We would pretend we were playing guitar. I would beg my parents to get me a guitar. The other thing was that my grandfather played guitar. When we would go visit him, I would always make him bring his guitar out and play it for me!
Who was your earliest influence as an artist?
My earliest influence was Chuck Berry. That is pretty much where I learned how to play guitar, from listening to Chuck Berry. Then later on I got into early ZZ Top. Billy Gibbons is huge influence on my guitar playing. Dickey Betts and Duane Allman were big influences as well. I love all those southern rock guys. As far as image, I would have to go with Keith Richards. He came along during the ‘70s and that is when I got into him.
Kix came out of the Baltimore music scene and had a lot of success locally as a bar band before branching out nationally. Was that transition from local scene band to national band a big transition?
Not really. We used to do one-off shows a lot, even in the early days, around the Baltimore/DC area. Occasionally, we would get thrown on to a show. I don’t even think our record was out yet in 1981 and we got thrown onto the Judas Priest/Iron Maiden show at the Baltimore Civic Center. We always had these opportunities to do bigger shows like that but our very first official tour was with Triumph. That was different because it wasn’t our crowd. Around Baltimore, everyone knew who we were, so it was easy. We jumped on the Triumph tour and our first show was in Seattle. Nobody knew who we were and it was a total mismatch! We shouldn’t have been opening for Triumph! [laughs] We came out there and their crowd had no idea what to think. Of course, we went straight from the bars to that. Steve [Whiteman] is up there doing his whole “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” thing and trying to do the whole club act. We actually ended up getting booed off the stage. That was a little rough! [laughs]
Obviously, Kix has been at it for a long time with great success along the way. There was a point where you had a hiatus. What brought the band back together and lit the fire on bringing some new material to life?
That is a good question. It was kind of a long process. When we initially got back together, it was kind of funny. You see, I live out here in Los Angeles now and those guys are still on the East Coast. Ronnie had his band and Steve had his band. They would do shows together and at the end of the night Ronnie would get up with Steve and Jimmy and they would play a few Kix songs. It would go over really well. At one point, Steve called me and said, “Would you be interested in making a surprise appearance and jumping up on stage with us?” I remember the initial plan for the one show we were going to do didn’t work out for some reason but it got us talking. We said, “Maybe we should just put the band back together, play a few shows and see how it goes.” That is exactly what happened in 2003. Of course, it worked and it was like jumping back on the bicycle. It felt like we had never left. From there, we were just going to do the local thing to make a little bit of money and have some fun. It just kept growing! We thought it would just fizzle out after a few shows but it didn’t. A few years into it I started looking around at booking agents. We found this guy, Sullivan Bigg, at Bigg Time Entertainment. He happened to be a huge Kix fan! When I called him he was so excited and said, “I would love to book you guys!” We let him do it! That was even slower because Steve was a little hesitant. He was a little worried about his voice and wasn’t sure if he could do it. Once we got going and tested the waters outside the Baltimore area, we found out there were people still interested and everything took off from there! People kept asking us about doing a new record and at first we didn’t think we were going to do one. We were just going to play the old stuff and have fun with it. The longer it went we started thinking more about it! [laughs] What really got it happening was the fact we did the live DVD. Frontiers Records put that out and as part of the contract they asked us to do a new studio record. That is what got us working on it.
What were your expectations or goals when it came to creating ‘Rock Your Face Off’?
It was interesting because when we first thought about doing the record, everyone really threw in all their ideas. We had a big pile of songs. It started out with just Mark Schenker and me together weeding through all of the songs. We didn’t want to come out with something that sounded completely different from the way we used to sound. We wanted to keep it Kix-like, so we weeded through all the songs and found the ones that were closest or those we could tweak to make them sound Kix-like. That was really how it started. I think I was more concerned than anybody, so I was trying to keep everybody on direction. There is a lot of stuff that happened, musical changes, between the time we broke up and got back together. So much happened in the 1990s and early 2000s and there we a lot of new influences there. I was worried because I didn’t want to come out sounding like one of these new bands because that is not Kix. That was really the goal, keeping the spirit of Kix alive.
Did you run into any challenges when creating this album?
Yeah, there were some challenges. There were a few songs we worked on that really took a lot of work. Even with the finished product, I remember being hesitant. Once we put it all together into a tracking order and all of that, it really came together. It was almost comparable to baking cookies! [laughs] When they first come out of the oven, sometimes they aren’t quite there yet but if you let them sit there for a bit they are really good. That is almost what happened with this music. We got it done and I was still questioning if it was good enough but then it sat there, got mixed and I put it onto a CD and took it my car and drove around. It just came together! When I listen to it now I say, “Yeah! That is really good!” [laughs]
What can you tell us about the songwriting process and how it compares and contrasts to your previous work?
That is an interesting question. As you know, I also play in Rhino Bucket. Luckily for me, Rhino Bucket is similar! [laughs] I do have personal stuff that I write but I guess nobody has heard it yet! [laughs] It is just stuff that comes off the top of my head and goes in many directions. For example, I have written country songs! I have also written novelty songs and weird stuff like that. Usually, when I am working with Rhino Bucket or Kix, I try to think like the band. I am sure it is the same way with everyone else, although I can’t really speak for anyone else. I am really good at taking someone elses idea and turning it into something.
They say you learn something new with every project. What did you learn while bringing this album to life?
We did this album with Pro Tools and I know nothing about that! [laughs] I watched those guys work with Pro Tools and it was mind-blowing! [laughs] I have GarageBand on my computer and I can sort of get through it to get rough ideas down but I am so far behind when it comes to the new technology. I am one of those guys who plays guitar and shows up at the studio. I know how my amp is supposed to sound, how to tune my guitar and how to play my guitar! [laughs] Even in the old days with the console, I don’t know what is what! I can say, “OK. That is the compressor but what do you do with that?” I don’t know! [laughs] I have always been behind in the technical side but now it is even more with Pro Tools and all the new technology. I see there is a lot that I really need to learn as far as that goes.
Of the new songs you created for the album, which ones resonate the most?
So far, we have only been playing two of the songs live. We have been doing “Love Me With Your Top Down” and “Can’t Stop The Show.” Those songs go over really well live. Listening to the record, there are so many good ones on there! The funny thing is that I haven’t played them since we recorded them, so I am thinking “Uh oh! I need to learn all that stuff again!” There are a few really good ones on there I am excited about. There is one called “Mean Misadventure” that I think will be really fun to play live. “You’re Gone” is another good one. There are definitely a lot to choose from!
Does Kix plan to create videos for any of the songs? What are your thoughts there?
You know, that hasn’t been mentioned yet but I have had a lot of people asking me about it. A friend of mine out here in Los Angeles works for NBC. He has access to studios and equipment to film things. He has even offered to do a Kix video. He said, “If you guys need a video, I could probably get one done really cheap but done really well.” We have resources but the subject hasn’t really come up yet, so we will see.
You experienced a lot of success in your career as a musician. What do you consider your biggest milestone?
There are many! One that comes to mind is when Atlantic Records sent what was to become our A&R guy to hear us. We did a show in Waldorf, Md. and he came down to the club and saw us play. Then they flew us up to New York a week later and we had to do a showcase for Doug Morris, who was the CEO at the time, and the bigwigs at Atlantic. We went into SIR Studios up in New York City where a handful of executives sat there as we went through our set. It was cool! At the end of the set, Doug Morris came up and said, “So boys, how would you like to be on Atlantic Records?” We were like, “Yeeeaahahhhh!!!” [laughs] That was a cool moment. Even our A&R guy said, “Once you get signed once, you will never experience that again.” That really sticks out. I also think when “Blow My Fuse” came out, I felt this magic in the air. It just felt like we were taking off! Of course, “Don’t Close Your Eyes” got to number 11 on the charts and that was a big deal. Also, the first single, “The Itch,” was big. It was our first single and I remember my older brother lived in Reno, Nev. at the time. He heard the song come on the radio and he trapped it for me on a cassette. It was so funny because the song comes on and you can hear him, all of a sudden, crank the volume and it was a distorted version of “The Itch.” [laughs] He got so excited he got the volume up too loud! [laughs]
Kix has a lot of energy when it comes to the live show. Has performing become easier for you over the years?
With experience, I think it is a little easier. I don’t get nervous, I get a little excited right before when the intro tape is going on and we are about to run out there on stage. I still get the little butterflies and stuff! Well, I can’t say I don’t get nervous. If I am not prepared I’ll get nervous but as long as I am prepared I am fine. Experience has taught me to be prepared and give it 100% no matter what. We have played for so many different sized clubs and crowds, even arenas. We have played for one guy and we have played for 20,000 people. No matter what the size or numbers, we do the same show!
Where do you see Kix heading in the future? Is “Rock Your Face Off” more than just a one-off?
That is a good question. I don’t know! I was thinking about that this morning, as a matter of fact. The way the music industry is, I don’t even know how it works anymore, as far as radio or any of that. I am sort of just in a place where I am excited to just wait and see what happens. I don’t know. Maybe we will get a tour or one of the songs might take off but do things like that even happen anymore? [laughs] I am just going to keep an open mind and whatever comes, I am open to it!
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to aspiring musicians looking to follow in your footsteps?
The biggest thing is to never give up. Practice and don’t give up. If you just keep going, something has to happen if you are good. If you practice, you will get good! In this day and age, I know a lot of people think they can be a rock star right off the bat and sometimes that does happen but it is rare. The biggest reward for me, back in the early days when I was just starting out and learning to play guitar, was what came from practice. There was something in me that caused me to be obsessed with it and I put hours, hours and hours into it, just learning other people’s songs. I am self-taught and learned from ear from records. I would play with different people and play and play and play until I had what I would call a spiritual experience. I had this thing where it felt like a bolt of lightning hit me and all of that practice paid off! It was like BOOM! All of a sudden I got it and it was like “That’s how you do it!” I compare it to learning to ride a bike or learning to roller skate where you are trying and trying and all of a sudden it happens! The only way you are going to get to that point is to keep going and practicing. No matter how frustrated you get, just keep pushing. That is my advice. As far as the record industry and the way things are going, I don’t have a clue! [laughs]
Is there still musical ground you’re interested in exploring as an artist?
I don’t know! [laughs] It’s weird. I love country music, which is kind of weird seeing as where I come from! I have always been a big southern rock fan, as well as a country fan. The older I get, the more I appreciate it, especially the guitar players. There are some great country players. As far as being a guitar player, I would love to get more into that just to do it. It amazes me how some of these guys play. When it comes to playing, I have to admit, I am a little lazy. [laughs] Sometimes I won’t even play my guitar unless I absolutely have to, which is really bad! [laughs] It would be nice to get into something and become obsessed with it like I did when I was younger. Maybe it is the country thing! It would be a lot of fun to learn to play like that! I can sort of fake it a little here and there but it would really be nice to get into another style and pursue it!
That sounds very cool! Thank you so much for your time today, Brian! It has been a pleasure and we are excited to spread the word on this awesome new record from Kix!
I am excited! I can’t wait to see what happens with the record. Thank you for your time, Jason! Talk to you soon!
For the latest news and tour dates on KIX, visit the band’s official website at www.kixband.com. Connect with them of Facebook and Twitter. Check Brian “Damage” Forsythe’s official website at www.brianforsythe.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.