For the members of CKY, there journey has been nothing short of a long, strange trip. When the band exploded onto the scene with two epic albums, 1999’s ‘Volume I’ and 2002’s ‘Infiltrate·Destroy·Rebuild,’ it didn’t take long for music fans to take notice of the raucous, anarchic, hard rock sound. It was never a gimmick and CKY’s authenticity immediately resonated with the listener, allowing then to quickly amass legions of dedicated fans, lovingly dubbed the CKY Alliance. As their legend grew, even hard rock royalty began to take notice. Rock icons Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and Deftones reached out to invite the band to tour the nation, cementing CKY’s legacy as a hard-charging live act. Over time, the hard-partying lifestyle, dizzying highs and devastating lows began to tear the band at the seams.
At one point, the band stood at the brink of destruction but refused to go silently into the night. In 2017, CKY rises from the ashes with there undeniably powerful new album, ‘The Phoenix.’ The album serves as a new era for the band as Chad I Ginsburg, the band’s guitarist and singer, steps into the frontman role with a renewed passion and unrelenting drive. He’s joined in enduring partnership and musical and personal chemistry by fellow CKY cofounder, Jess Margera, the drummer whose extracurricular work in projects like The Company Band (with guys from Clutch and Fireball Ministry) expanded CKY’s horizons as much as Ginsburg’s solo work has as well. The duo returned to their primary project refreshed and reenergized, with bassist Matt Deis (ex-All That Remains), who first joined CKY in 2005.
The goal for ’The Phoenix’ was to make an authentic, organic, and “real” rock n’ roll record, uncompromising in its dedication to capturing what CKY actually sounds like playing in a room together, experienced at that gut-wrenching level of artistic intensity and swinging groove. In keeping with CKY tradition, The Phoenix was recorded at the famed Rancho De La Luna studio in California, which has played host to Daniel Lanois, Queens of The Stone Age, Victoria Williams, Fu Manchu, and Mark Lanegan, among others. The studio was founded by David Catching, touring guitarist for Eagles of Death Metal (among many credits), and late “desert sound” visionary Fred Drake. CKY’s sonic rebirth sounds as incendiary, expansive, and groovy as the Joshua Tree desert where it was made, and as decadent and funky as the strip-club adjacent rehearsal room where the songs were jammed out into submission. ‘The Phoenix’ touches on anger, revenge, good versus evil, desperation, recovery, growth, knowledge, survival, enemies, friends, and more. There’s heavy, dark, signature CKY grooves, “fun shit,” “fancy shit,” driving and almost danceable stuff, big melodies, total ear candy, immense diversity… There are even parts that sound like maybe Quincy Jones was given the keys to Rancho De La Luna and just ran amok with the dudes in CKY. Additionally, CKY commissioned chandelier maker and artist Adam Wallacavage to create a one of a kind piece for art for the cover. ‘The Phoenix’ serves a exciting new era for a band and shows there is plenty of life left in their tank creatively. With their past in the rearview and brighter days ahead, CKY will soon take the music to the people with their high-anticipated return to the 2017 Vans Warped Tour.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the legendary Chad I Ginsburg to discuss the longevity of CKY, the process of breathing life into ‘The Phoenix’ and his evolution as an artist.
Before for we get into the latest on CKY, I wanted to go back to your early years. How did music first come into your life?
Oh shit! Music was always playing in my house. I grew up on disco and soul. I heard a lot of that early on and was made to dance around the house to that music. It was like Disco Party U.S.A. The 70s had a good hold on them. Then it turned into my aunt showing me David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, which I was really interested in. I also got into The Jackson Five and Michael Jackson big time, and that was my first concert in 1984. Rock ‘n’ roll became inbred with that once I started hearing more guitar and metal. I started to be a shredder and listened to a lot of the albums released on Shrapnel Records. When it comes to musicianship, I originally tuned in from soul. The beat has always kept me in there, along with melody. Regardless of what style the music might be, if there is a four on the floor and a good melody, I’m in!
CKY has been around for many years at this point and it has surely been an interesting ride for you. To what do you attribute the longevity of this band?
The fans set the standard for that. If they weren’t there, we’d be playing in front of nobody. We just got back from a sold-out UK tour, and we are still on a high from that! We weren’t really sure how, after a long break, people would respond. It’s the people, man! The people love this band and it’s such a cool atmosphere at a CKY show within the fanbase – The CKY Alliance, as they’re dubbed. There is something about that atmosphere and everything we have done together as a family. It has a bit of heart that I think people can relate to. It’s real. Every record we have done, I’ve produced and mixed, so there is a consistency to the sound. We have done it our own way for a really long time and maybe that’s admirable, I’m not sure. Living it, it’s a trip, man, and a really good time. To see those people smiling out there is everything!
It’s been a turbulent few years for the band. What made now the time for a new record?
We had reached a point in our lives where I think we understand what we have. We know how lucky we are to play music and have the fan base we have. After a certain amount of time in a band, you might think you have your head screwed on tight but it’s falling off every step of the way. I guess when you reach a certain age, perhaps you’ve lost a bit or things have come down a bit and your career kind of slows, you don’t really have an honest perspective. You think you deserve things when you really don’t deserve anything. It’s all hard work and anyone who does it is very lucky to be doing it because there are so many talented people out there. We just have a really honest perspective of who we are and where we are at this point. The individuals who are actively in the band right now feel that there is nothing that can break us. We are also not drunks anymore. In the past, we had excessive drinking habits. We are very much a better band these days. We actually rehearse. The new record, ‘The Phoenix,’ was written out of rehearsing together. This record is not a copy and paste record or a forced record to make. It was as natural as the first two albums were. At some point, everything changed. People started getting older, started having families, moving across the country and not talking to each other. At this point, we are able to see a good perspective of where we were and where we are at.
The most notable changed with CKY is that you have stepped into the role of frontman. Was that a difficult transition for you to make and are you enjoying it?
Ya know, I’m having a great time. Was it something I really ever wanted to do? No. I never really wanted to front this band. I have always kind of done the majority of talking into the microphone and the jabber-jabber be it insane, sober, or the opposite. I have done a lot of talking for the band. I’ve done a bunch of tracks and I make the record but I have also sung in other bands and put out a solo record, so I’m not a stranger to singing. Vocal production is one of my strong suits. Going into a position like this, taking over a job that you didn’t necessarily want can be a challenge. We had a guy named Daniel Davies in the band, who is the son of Dave Davies from The Kinks. He was singing for the band for a minute and went on to perform with his stepfather, John Carpenter, and tour around the world. He wasn’t able to continue the spot in the band. We made a bunch of songs with him that were really cool. Maybe they weren’t so CKY as it is just with me. He said, “I can’t do it. Can you do it?” I said, “I can do it but I don’t want to do it.” However, since I have been doing it, I’m really having a great time. The reactions from the UK audiences were insane. Onward, the new music is everything we have been wanting to do and it’s not hard for me to sing any of the stuff. Honestly, it’s a blast and it’s the best the band has ever been!
Did you have any particular goals in mind for this album when you started preparing for it? Was there anything you wanted to try you hadn’t done in the past?
We wanted to make sure every song worked in a live setting. The only way to make sure that would work was to make sure the songs were written in a room together and we rocked them out before we recorded them. We demoed them, did pre-production, and put in the due diligence to make sure the album was exactly want we wanted to do and wasn’t the result of a time crunch. We had all the time in the world to do it and we stayed very quiet while we were doing it. We also picked the right studio to do it — Rancho De La Luna. It’s out in Joshua Tree. It’s real relaxed with great people who run the place and keep you grounded. We kept all good people around us. Every step of this new direction of CKY is keeping conscious of where we made mistakes and missteps in the past. Making a fully computerized record with fake fucking amps, bullshit copy and paste stuff and autotune is not what we wanted to do for this record. ‘The Phoenix’ is a very real record with real drums, not auto-tune on any vocals, real microphones on real vintage amplifiers; it’s a real album. There’s no hocus pocus involved!
How did your time at Rancho De La Luna impact the record and you as an artist?
Ya know, that spot, I don’t know what it is! It’s just a house in the middle of a very small town in the middle of California near Palm Springs in the Palm Desert. It’s just a magical spot! It’s like the center of a universe. I’m not sure how many universes there are but it’s the center of something! You can feel it! You can also feel it more if you go that far to try and feel it a little more! [laughs] It’s an incredible spot and music just works there. We trusted that. It could have been hype but it wasn’t. We took 5 days and made that record there with a bit of pre-production ahead of time. It’s blessed by good people in addition to being such a magical spot.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in bring ‘The Phoenix’ to life?
That’s a good question. I’m a very control freak type of guy. I don’t know if I could have it any other way anyway. The only thing running through your mind when you make a record is “I love this. I hope that it goes the distance and I hope it comes out.” As you are making it, it’s complete tunnel-vision. You just stay focused and it’s very hard to see the negatives while you are doing something you love so much. It is complete tunnel-vision until you get to the point we are at now, which is talking about it. There were a few songs on the record where I lyrically re-wrote at the last second. Several of them had revisions along the way and some had revisions 5 minutes before I was about to master it because I’m such a nut when it comes to how perfect it should be. The record is always obsessed over until the last second. There are always changes along the way but no one particular song gave us more trouble than the others.
“Days of Self Destruction” was the first song we were able to get a taste of from the new album. What was it about the song that made you lead the charge with it?
That song was chosen to be released as an instant gratification track based on the recommendation of one of the guys who runs the CKY Alliance, a trusted fan who runs our stuff named Damion. I normally trust the core base, which we had originally, when it comes to decisions like that. All of the songs on the album are personal to me. I consider the core fanbase members of CKY in a way. I always have felt that way. With that said, you don’t want to just shoot to please yourself, then hope to please your fans and then hope to gain some new ones. I always go to the CKY Alliance and say, “Hey, what do you guys think?” I have a couple of trusted guys there and they said, “I think you should put “Days of Self Destruction out first. It’s got a classic CKY riff, it’s instantly recognizable and it’s got Brent [Hinds] of Mastodon on it.” It wasn’t the first official single per se but it’s a great intro track. There are so many good songs on the record that I’m always touchy about saying which song represents the album completely. “Days of Self Destruction” is one of the first songs we wrote for the record.
You seem very focused when it comes to the future of this band. Do you feel there are any misconceptions out there at this point in time?
I’ve been working hard for quite a few years to be the best person I can be. No bullshit and no excuses anymore. Whether it’s getting off prescription medication years and years ago to watching what I eat, staying healthy and shit like that. Personally, I can only hope to be the best I can be, help anyone else I can, and put some smiles on people’s faces. That’s where I’m at. A lot of people might perceive me as what was edited of me back in the day, which was kind of a psychopathic, GG Allin style, Jim Beam swinging nightmare! [laughs] In reality, I always did all of the business for the band and produced a lot of records. That character kind of disappeared at the bottom of the bottle, ya know?
Clearly, you have evolved along the way. How do you view this creative evolution?
It’s really about understanding that evolution, instead of thinking you’ve already got to the point of perfection. It comes down to understanding you might never be perfect and there is always something to conquer and prove to yourself. I don’t think that is something I have always known. Maybe in my heart but it’s more in my consciousness now.
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
Keep trying. Never make excuses for yourself on why things are bad or can’t happen. Don’t believe the lies you can tell yourself and realize that things can get better. They will if you try!
Well said! Thanks for your time today, Chad! ‘The Phoenix’ is absolute fire! Can’t wait to catch up with you guys again soon on the road!
Thanks, Jason! I appreciate the support! Talk to you soon.
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.