Beyond the grand stage of popularity lies a no man's land occupied by one band that knows neither failure nor major success. If you are a scholar in the world of music, perhaps you have heard of the Austin, Texas-based power rock trio King's X. Then again, maybe you haven't.
This is because for over 20 years, this three piece led by Doug Pinnick (bass and vocals), Ty Tabor (guitar and vocals), and Jerry Gaskill (drums and vocals) has gone largely unnoticed. While many of their counterparts in the industry have basked in the limelight, King's X has remained relegated to the bottom of the pecking order in album sales and radio airplay. While it is easy to suggest that perhaps King's X doesn't play the type of music that meshes well with the mainstream, it only takes a listen to songs like "Dogman" and "Ear Candy" to realize that there are few if any bands who can match the powere of King's X. After 11 studio releases and countless shows--including supporting arena acts such as AC/DC and Pearl Jam--the band today still struggles to find the respect it deserves. Strangely enough, industry insiders voice an unbridled support for the band that is constantly spoken about in various media circles. But these insiders are nowhere to be found when the chips are down and it's time to select an opening act for a big-name band to take on tour.
It's difficult to guess what goes on in the minds of these talented musicians when they embark on the journey of promoting an album with little or no fanfare. Why would they continue to go out on the road if no one is listening to or buying their music? Their career has been no road of gold by any stretch.
The band gained major label status with Atlantic Records during the late '80s and most of the '90s. At the time, their lyrical approach had a cognitive feel that was draped with what was perceived as religious overtones. This was strike one in the rock industry considering rebellion, attitude and an in-your-face approach ruled the day and of course, the radio markets.
This left a following of Christian listeners who believed King's X represented what they, the buyers of Christian rock music, had longed for: an MTV-worthy product draped in peaceful meanings and safe illusions. While the band's cohorts participated in late-night drinking binges and overblown drug usage, the band quietly produced some of the most soul-inspiring instrumental formulations to date.
Secondly, the band was (and still is) lead by Pinnick, a new generation/Jimi Hendrix type/left-handed guitar playing black man--creating an image that metal hungry crowds couldn't adjust to.
Then, in 1998, King's X faced their third and perhaps most difficult obstacle: Pinnick came out as gay. While other famous musicians had comfortably left the closet by that time, Pinnick's public outing only deepened the divide that King's X experienced with their fan base and musical outlets. Many record stores promptly took the band's CDs off the shelves and the band began receiving hate mail on a daily basis.
Additionally, all three band members voiced their non-affiliation with Christianity. The band explained they played music for the willing listener, nothing more and nothing less. Each band member voiced his discomfort at conforming to the buying public's perceptions of what the band's identity should be. This was the final straw for many of King's X fans, who were mostly young impressionable Christian rockers.
Now when King's X plays, it's obvious they have matured. In the past, the band had commented on their lack of support from the industry, but now they find the seclusion to be a harbor from the critical mass of commercial pressures.
On November 27, King's X performed at the Big Easy. The show was enjoyable and included support from the California-based Mardo and Boise's own Midline. While these two groups warmed the crowd, King's X rested on their bus preparing for yet another attempt at winning over a fan base that contained many who had probably never even heard of them before. Being the fan that I am, I requested a short interview with the band before the show.
When I initially asked to meet the band, their tour manager informed me that they were probably still sleeping and so wouldn't be available. Not available? These two words sum up what this band has always been in terms of record store shelf space. Don't expect that to change with the band's latest offering, Ogre Tones, and that is just fine with King's X. From a band that witnessed the now laughable "hair band" approach, and withstood the "grunge" scene, King's X continues to do what they do best: play with feelings and vision regardless of how they are accepted.
After the show, I asked Pinnick why his good friend Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam isn't pushing the industry to take his [King's X] band on the road. Pinnick merely shrugged and said "It's pure politics," thus reiterating the band's stance on their popularity and marketability. The members of King's X know this and are content to express their own truths to their audience even if it means always playing in the shadows.