Doug Pinnick Reveals His Songwriting Breakthrough With KXM

For almost 40 years with King's X, bassist and front man Doug Pinnick has been searching for a great song.

Despite what many longtime fans would argue, Pinnick insists he's never written a great song — not even close.

Fortunately, the flaws he sees in his own work have never discouraged him. Pinnick tells Q104.3 New York's QN'A those shortcomings are what motivate him to keep looking forward, writing and pursuing projects beyond King's X.

After starting his most recent side project, KXM, in 2013 with Korn drummer Ray Luzier and Dokken/Lynch Mob guitar hero George Lynch, Pinnick says he finally had felt like he was getting somewhere as a songwriter.

"There was a moment, it was about maybe three or four years ago," Pinnick says. "I feel like I finally got to a place where I’m writing songs that are actually good. I’m not gonna say they’re great or the best songs in the world, but I can say, 'Man, I’m finally starting to write some good tunes.'"

KXM's new album, Circle of Dolls, is 13 tracks of focused thunderstorm grooves and well-orchestrated heavy metal soul that lands right in your stomach. Now three albums into its career, KXM's ongoing collaboration is the result of lots of mutual admiration and even more musical ideas. Like Pinnick, the band is always looking forward, trusting its instincts and trying to improve on what it has built.

Pinnick called QN'A after wrapping up a month in the studio making the long-awaited 13th King's X album. He talks about his hopes for the new King's X release, KXM's shoot-from-the-hip creative process and how age ain't nothing but a number. Read the interview below!

Get all King's X's live dates here. Keep up with everything KXM is up to here.

 

I want to ask you about the album title and title track, Circle of Dolls; can you tell me where that lyric came from and what it means?

Well, here’s what happens. When we write songs in KXM, we don’t have a name for the song, because I don’t have any melodies or lyrics — we always write the music first. In every song, we just make up a name. Some of the songs, I keep the name and use it in the chorus.

“Scatterbrain” [the title track from KXM's 2017 album] was the name of the track and I wrote lyrics around that. There’s a couple other songs that were like that.

“Circle of Dolls” was called that before it had lyrics.

 

“War of Words” comes off to me as a commentary on the way people communicate in the year 2019.

Yes, completely. Just watch CNN and Fox News, it’s like ... Nobody’s talking about the issues; they’re all talking about what somebody said: "He said this wrong. They said that wrong. He used this word instead of that and now he’s a racist and stuff like that." It’s such bullshit.

Is “Lightning” a song about writing songs?

[Quoting lyrics] “Struck by lightning, hammers and nine inch nails.”

(Laughs) The chorus really doesn’t mean anything; it’s the verses … A lot of times, if I find a chorus that sounds cool and flows and you can sing along to it, I’ll use it. But the verses will always have the story or a meaning or something.

I think that’s a song that’s just about being yourself. Stop worrying about what other people are thinking and saying because that’s what we’re doing. … We’re just judging each other over superficial bullshit. We forgot that people are people, people are human, people have feelings, and we’re trying to be happy. That’s all we want, to be loved and to be happy.

It seems like the world is geared to do the opposite… Where’s the love? What happened? I sing about that a lot.

 

How far back to you go with George Lynch and Ray Luzier?

Ray, I can’t even remember when I met him, but he’ll tell you. It’s been since back in day 1, I guess. Ray has always come to see [King’s X] play all over the country, really. He would always hang out until everybody was gone, and he’d be the last one there and we’d talk.

It happened all the time to the point where we became friends.

When I moved out to L.A., he invited me over to his son’s birthday party — he was one year old at the time. George also happened to be there. I had met George several times, but we never really had any conversations or hung out. We always knew each other and respected each other. I think George suggested we jam and see if we can come up with something.

George found a rehearsal space and next thing I know, 12 days later we made a record. And that was the first one.

We have so much fun doing thing because it’s not a band that has to deal with all the bullshit. We make the record and we go home and we have fun. There’s no real pusher or a band that has to prove something. We’re not Dokken, we’re not Korn, we’re not King’s X, we’re just a bunch of guys having fun.

I'm a bassist, too. I understand that, like me, you're an acolyte of late-Yes bassist Chris Squire.

He’s my favorite bass player! Chris Squire and James Jamerson are my two guys. Motown and Chris Squire, yes!

What’s your favorite Chris Squire moment from his career?

One of them is … [“City of Love”] … from one of the albums [90125] where Trevor Rabin is playing in the band. [Chris] did this riff ... then they do kind of a break and he hits the bottom note. It was just the baddest thing I ever heard.

The other song is “Close to the Edge,” when he’s playing whole notes … that’s Chris Squire! He could play a zillion notes and then turn around and play whole notes through half of a part. What he did on the bass dictated the whole vibe of the music. That’s why I love him because that’s what I try to do with my bass, create a vibe with what’s going on underneath everyone else.

He was very interesting. He was out front, but he never drowned out the rest of band.

 

Do you generally write songs on bass or do you reach for other instruments?

I always start out with a drum machine and I think about a vibe and I think, ‘What do I feel?’ Do I want to dance, am I sad or happy?

I’ll just make up a beat and from that point on, I’ll grab my guitar, my six-string, and start just making up things. I’m not a real good guitar player, and that’s what I like about it. I come up with things that I hear in my head because I don’t know how to really play it. I’ll hear something in my head and figure it out on the guitar, and then I play that.

Then I start working on the song. Bass is usually the last thing I put on the track, musically. It’s the last real thing that I attempt.

I wish I started out with bass, but when I start writing a song with bass it really doesn’t go anywhere because I need chords and I need things to dress the song up. After I figure out what the song’s doing, then I’ll take the bass to reinforce it and try to create something underneath it.

You mentioned that you were a late-bloomer, musically. It occurred to me that you were in your mid-30s when King’s X finally got a record deal.

Yeah, I was 38, I think.

How discouraging was that period between starting the band and getting a deal?

All I know is I just felt like it was always a struggle to get people to respond to anything that I did. I was always in bands and we always went out and played, but we just never could get a big following. One of the reasons why is because the songs I wrote probably sucked. But I always believed in everything that I did.

 

Was there a time when you felt like something changed in your songwriting and you were writing better stuff?

There was a moment. It was about maybe three or four years ago. I feel like I finally got to a place where I’m writing songs that are actually good. I’m not gonna say they’re great or the best songs in the world, but I can say, "Man, I’m finally starting to write some good tunes."

It takes a lifetime to learn how to write a great tune. It takes a lifetime to learn to sing. It takes a lifetime to learn to play bass. It takes a lifetime to do anything if you want to be good. You’re not good until you get to 100.

Creating something new all the time gives you something to look forward to.

When we make a record, I’ll play that record everyday until it’s released. And the day it’s released, it’s over. I will not listen to it. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that I’m done now; it’s time to make another record.

I don’t listen to what I’ve done after it’s been put out because I can’t change it (laughs). Everything that I do, I can always go back and go, ‘Oh, I could have done this better or that better.’ But when the record is released, it’s over and you’ve lost control.

The new King’s X record; how much more do you have to do on that?

Mix it and we’re done. We just put violins and some cellos and stuff on it a couple days ago on some songs. I think I’m going back in there to stack a vocal track that needs another voice on it.

With us on this record, all of us are singing on every song. We really, really want that sound of the three of us. …When the three of us sing, there’s this sound that happens and we just want to utilize that this time, like what [CSNY] or Queen does.

People tell us that they know that’s King’s X when they heard us [all singing]. I’d rather go out and do harmonies instead of just singing a lead song all night. This is gonna be fun.

I hope that we can do most of the record live.

So what are your touring plans going forward?

King’s X is always touring. Every month we’re out doing something. We do a lot of weekend gigs — fly in and fly out. That’s not going to stop. Hopefully when the new record comes out we’ll be able to book a more complete tour and go out and stay out for a while.

KXM has found a few windows where we can actually book some dates. So right now we’re in the middle of trying to figure that all out; see if we can find some promoters who want to get behind us so we can go out and do some KXM shows.

And I’ve got to figure out what I can sings and what I can’t. There’s three records now that we’ve never played live, ever. We’ve constructed all those records in the studio. We’ve never played them all the way through, except in the videos. That’s when I’ve actually learned, "Oh, I’ve got to figure out how to play and sing this at the same time."

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