INTERVIEW WITH STEVE WHITEMAN – KIX FRONTMAN
July 26, 2015
ALMOST A YEAR AGO, KIX RELEASED ‘ROCK YOUR FACE OFF’, THEIR FIRST STUDIO RECORD IN NINETEEN YEARS. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH KIX’S STRAIGHT SHOOTING AND CHARISMATIC FRONTMAN STEVE WHITEMAN TO DISCUSS MANY TOPICS INCLUDING ‘ROCK YOUR FACE OFF’, WHETHER A NEW STUDIO RECORD COULD BE IN THE WORKS AND THE FUTURE OF FUNNY MONEY.
Sleaze Roxx: Let’s talk about Kix’s new record ‘Rock Your Face Off‘. I take it that it must have been both a pleasant experience yet uncharted territory since you did not have Kix’s former chief songwriter Donnie Purcell involved in the process?
Steve Whiteman: You know what, it was the word I used a lot for recording this record, “liberating”, because it was actually a group effort. It was not one guy writing everything, controlling everything. It felt really good that all of us had a say in the structuring of the songs and the composition of the songs. Ideas were actually taken seriously and everybody got to contribute. We all sat in a room and when we came out after going pre-production for about three or four days, we realized something very cool had just happened. The word “liberating” just keeps coming to mind. It was the most fun record we ever made.
Steve Whiteman: (Laughs) You know what? When I sing a song, it’s going to sound like Kix! When Brian and Ronnie play guitar, you know, there is a style. You can write a song but there is a style quality that these musicians contribute to the sound of the band. So, you know, (laughs) we have been hearing that a lot that it sounds like a Kix record but it is a Kix record (laughs) and in the writing, we still implemented a lot of our own style in the songs.
Sleaze Roxx: Yes. But what I mean is that it’s been 19 years since Kix released a studio record and yet, it sounds like vintage Kix?
Steve Whiteman: And that was our goal. I mean when we set out, that is why we brought Taylor Rhodes who has done work with the band as co-producer and songwriter. We thought that he would be the perfect guy to keep us in line and remind us of his opinion of what Kix should sound like. So it was essential to having him around and keeping us honest to our roots.
Sleaze Roxx: Now, bassist Mark Schenker has been with Kix for more than 10 years but really it’s the first time that he is part of a Kix record and I understand that he had a big part in the new record. What were Mark’s contributions to ‘Rock Your Face Off’?
Steve Whiteman: Mark sort of got the whole ball rolling. When we agreed to do a live CD/DVD for Frontiers Records, Mark was all about getting it done and pretty much handled everything. At the end of that record, Frontiers wanted a new Kix CD so we mulled that around for about a year. And when we felt it wasn’t a bad idea since we had a lot of material lying around and if we put it all together and got Taylor Rhodes involved, we would let Taylor pick the material. And then when we got Loud And Proud Records involved, that is when everything kind of fell into place. So Mark was essential in steering that whole thing. Him and Brian kind of spent the first year after we agreed to do it of listening to music and going through all the music that we had written and then they narrowed it down to about 25. And then we sent it to Taylor and he narrowed it down to about 15 and we recorded 10 or 12. (Laughs) I am not sure how many that we recorded!
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) obviously, the record industry and album sales have changed a lot since Kix last released a studio record. Are you happy with how ‘Rock Your Face Off’ has fared considering how the industry has changed?
Steve Whiteman: Well, you know, it was kind of a shock to me as to how little records sell when we were talking to our kind of promo person for Loud And Proud Records. I was asking him about one of the successful acts on the label with The Winery Dogs. And I said to him “How many did they sell?” and she said at that point it was about 40,000 and I am like “Really? That’s it?”. I was surprised at that and nobody sells CDs. I mean Aerosmith can’t sell CDs. The fact that we sold close to 20,000, everybody considered that really good (laughs). We got on the Billboard Top 50 the first week. You know, we just thought, well this is just lame because we used to sell 100,000 records in the first week just in Baltimore alone. So it is quite different and we are still learning how to continue playing the game.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough, Now, I am going to have to swear you to secrecy on this next question, Is that OK?
Steve Whiteman: Yeah!
Sleaze Roxx: Alright! As you might know, Sleaze Roxx has two year end best of lists for record of the year. One is compiled from voting by the site’s readers while the other one is compiled by Sleaze Roxx. So we have never had this before but Kix’s ‘Rock Your Face Off’ has actually landed number one in both categories!
Steve Whiteman: Wow!
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. So we have never had that happen before and I just wanted to congratulate you on that. Were you expecting the record to be that well received?
Steve Whiteman: You know, you never know what to expect. I mean, our first two albums were considered flops and actually, our first three albums were considered flops. So you go in trying to make the best record that you can and you believe that you are doing your very best and then all you can do is put it out there and hope people get it. So we had no idea how it would be received but everything that we heard, all the critiques, was all very positive. You know, you can’t tell on sales these days as there is so much downloading and thievery (laughs), you don’t really know how many people that you are actually reaching these days. Everybody pulls up Kix radio on Pandora and they get it so it’s just, it’s a whole new world that we live in.
Sleaze Roxx: Now, I am going to take you back a little bit. Ronnie “10/10” Younkins has been one of Kix’s guitarists since the beginning but he was actually replaced by Brad Divens for a short time in 1982-83 and Ronnie also did not play on the ‘Cool Kids’ record. So why did Brad replace Ronnie and why did Ronnie come back into the band?
Steve Whiteman: Ronnie has an addictive personality. Ronnie has had his battles with drug problems throughout his life and at that point, he was of no good to us so we had to find a replacement for that period of time. Brad was a young guy in the area and we moulded him into what we needed for another guitar player. So he came in and did a great job and recorded ‘Cool Kids’ with us. And then we got wind that Ronnie had recovered and gotten better. It just felt weird not having Ronnie in the band. So when we knew that he was ready to come back, we got him back and cut Brad loose and set him off to — what’s the name of the band — Wrathchild America was his next band. And he did quite well after that.
Sleaze Roxx: I believe that Kix is the only band that has played every one of the seven editions of the M3 Rock Festival. As the years have gone by, Kix has also morphed into sort of the defacto headliner on the Friday night. This year, Kix officially even got to play 35 minutes than any other performer, which I think says a lot. What role, if any, do you think that the M3 Rock Festival has had with Kix’s resurgence?
Steve Whiteman: Hmmm. You know, around in this area, in this region, I don’t think that it had much to do with it. Our popularity has always been very strong around here and that’s why we are able to headline M3. We could not headline any other venue that size in the country — only in our backyard. It has been the other festivals and the casinos and the Monsters of Rock cruises and all the other things that have made our popularity grow and got us back in the limelight again. So it’s great. Our fans love seeing us in that finally, they feel finally, we are getting our due.
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) that’s true. Speaking of the M3 Rock Festival, I have had the pleasure of seeing Kix during the 2014 and 2015 editions. One thing that has struck me is how much energy that you expand on stage. What are your secrets for staying in such great shape?
Steve Whiteman: Hmmm. I have always worked out and the people that I respect the most are frontman that are visual — that don’t just stand there and sing like a Mick Jagger, a Steven Tyler or a Peter Wolf. Those are the ones that always drew my attention to being exceptional and I’ve always tried, not to copy, but emulate those guys in my show. I think that the show should be more than just audio. I think that it should be visual as well. I take good care of myself and you know, I hit the stage and something goes off in me and I don’t really know what it is but I am so glad that it is there (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that you are a vocal training coach and have had some pretty well known clients such as Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale. For how long have you been doing that and do you find it more difficult teaching than doing the actual singing?
Steve Whiteman: I have been teaching for about 19 years now and it is rewarding as well when you get people like Lzzy or people that you know that you are helping, Than on the other side, there are people that just do it for recreation so it is not as rewarding than. Hmmm. As far as the difficulties, it is just the hours that you got to put in and the concentration that you put in while you’re with your students. To me, playing a show is much easier than teaching.
Sleaze Roxx: Given how well ‘Rock Your Face Off’ has been received, can we expect another studio record from Kix in the foreseeable future?
Steve Whiteman: You know what, once we see what this thing has done and how many people that it has actually reached, is it furthering our career, is it keeping us around a little longer, I’d say probably 100% definitely because we did enjoy it. And it so nice to go up there and actually play some new material during our set now. So we’ll send out feelers to the fans, and we’ll see if Loud And Proud is interested in doing another record. So there’s a lot of “ifs” involved but I would say more than likely, we would do another one.
Steve Whiteman: Funny Money is on hiatus at this point. I got to the point where Funny Money — because we play Kix material during the Funny Money shows and that is what the Funny Money fans enjoy — and I thought that it was taking a little bit away from our Kix appearances in the area. So I decided to put Funny Money on hiatus for now. No regrets yet at this point but who knows if down the road, this could pick it back up.
Sleaze Roxx: Last question for you — what are your top three favorite records of all-time and why?
Steve Whiteman: Oh my. That is so hard. Really (laughs)? The top three records of all-time? Ooooh. Man.
Sleaze Roxx: You got to have at least one tough question.
Steve Whiteman: That is a hard question. There are so many bands that I love. I could tell you my favorite bands but I can’t really tell you my favorite albums.
Sleaze Roxx: Well, how about your favorite bands then?
Steve Whiteman: Okay. The most influential bands for me were The Beatles and you know, any Beatles album is my favorite. The Stones — I love The Stones. I love Aerosmith. I love AC DC. I love Queen. That is just too hard! There are so many bands to choose from. Yeah. That is an unfair question (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) how about this? What album comes to mind when you think of one of the greatest?
Steve Whiteman: One of the greatest… hmmm. God! Probably when Deep Purple’s ‘Machine Head’ came out, I went through three or four copies of that record. I could not get enough of that record. There’s been some Alice Cooper records. ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ I have wore out. ‘Killer’ I wore out. A lot of Grand Funk Railroad, I wore that stuff out.