Side one, track one of Royal Highness, the 1998 debut rap-rock album from The Kottonmouth Kings, is called “Bong Tokin’ Alcoholics.”
Recent Twitter updates read: “It’s 420, who wants to burn a bowl?” “Who’s still high from yesterday?” and “Wow, it’s 11-11-11. Are we High or is there a deeper meaning?”
With messaging like that, it’s hard to imagine their fan kingdom consisting of more than a Dorito-strewn 15-foot radius around the couch.
But in the 13-plus years the Kottonmouth Kings have been around, the band has put out 17 albums and used their label, Suburban Noize Records, to release albums from more than 30 other groups and innumerable solo projects from the band’s members. And that’s just the start.
When BW was able to pry frontman Brad Xavier, who goes by Brad X or Daddy X, away from his home studio for an interview, he said that between albums, tours, an interactive animated Web series and a movie—it’s going to be a stoner comedy—the band and their staff of 12 are working on 25 major projects.
“We’re a highly functioning dysfunctional family,” Xavier said.
With such a focused effort to smash the lazy stereotype of stoners, the band might do better to change their name to the Kottonmouth Kaptains of Industry.
As a self-proclaimed early embracer of the Internet, Xavier idolizes the late Steve Jobs.
“What Apple did with iTunes revolutionized the industry,” he said. “I see nothing but endless possibility.”
Xavier said that when bigger labels were fighting the net, he saw it as a way for the band to cut out the middleman and do things their own way, on their own terms. And though the Kottonmouth Kings haven’t had typical mainstream success, they built a dedicated-enough fanbase to keep them around. When financial wizards write articles about how independent artist can make a living by branding themselves and connecting directly with fans via Internet platforms, they may as well call it the Kottonmouth system.
That level of success is something no one, not even the band, expected from a group Spin Magazine once called “a teen dream gone horribly wrong.”
“Looking back at that, did I ever think we’d be around this long?” asked Xaivier. “I didn’t think about it. I just thought about what was happening that year. We get so caught into making the albums and touring, there isn’t really time to stop and reflect.”
And yet, it seems a strangely natural course of action considering the band’s roots. Before starting the Kottonmouth Kings, Brad X fronted Humble Gods, a So-Cal punk-rock outfit that featured members of Pennywise and The Vandals. When he decided to start a rap group, bringing some of Humble Gods with him, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of punk-rock icons like Ian McKaye and NOFX and do it independently.
“Running a label was always something I wanted to do,” said Xavier. “I think it’s very rewarding to be in total control of our own destiny.”
To Xavier, even the pot obsession ties in to the band’s DIY ethic.
“It’s very symbolic of personal freedom, of personal choice,” said Xavier. “I think that’s one reason this band resonates with people so much.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s all bong rips and nachos. Xavier said that, occasionally, the business aspect of running a business becomes a drag.
“Let’s say I’m really good friends with a band and the record doesn’t do as well as we expect to, and then we get in trouble with the distributor,” he said. “It’s great seeing people succeed and giving them a platform, but when it turns sour, it turns extra-sour because there’s friends involved.”
Perhaps the most mystifying thing about the Kottonmouth Kings is, through it all, they continue to find new things to say about pot. There’s no shortage of common sentiments with songs like “Where’s the Weed At?” “Roll it Up,” “Get Your High On,” and “Light it Up.” Or there’s existential dilemmas like “The Munchies,” “Brain on Drugs,” and “Piss Test.” Then there’s “Stoner Bitch,” a love song. And let’s not forget their political treatises, “Weed War,” “Zero Tolerance,” and “Free Willy,” a show of support for Willy Nelson.
“I can’t believe how many different songs you can write about pot,” said Xavier. “They just keep coming and coming and coming.” But he’s also willing to admit his muse’s adolescent shortcomings.
“I think as songwriters, and as people, we’ve evolved,” Xavier said. “But there’s absolutely aspects of the group stuck in some kind of weird time warp.”
Both statements are true. While pot remains a dominant theme in Kottonmouth Kings lyrics, their beats have shifted from the ultra-heavy rap rock of the ’90s toward a dub and reggae sound. To quote the Grateful Dead: “What a long strange trip it’s been.” The group recently imagined the life they didn’t live in their music video for “Boom Clap Sound.” It features the band rapping as they flip burgers in a fast-food joint, occasionally ducking into the walk-in freezer for a toke. It’s a life Xavier seemed eternally grateful to have dodged.
“Just the fact that we had the staying power to make a career out of this,” he said. “Playing concerts and touching people’s lives.”
Xavier said he’s sure there will eventually come a day when the band decides to roll it up and pack it in, though he doesn’t know when that may be.
“I know it sounds very crazy to say, but in a lot of ways, I feel like we’re just getting going; like we’re about to tap into the next phase,” Xavier said.