Kix singer Steve Whiteman is a hard singing, fast moving rock and roll warhorse. You have to appreciate his consistency, his showmanship and his sense of humor even if you’re not a fan of the band. Then again, with a trump tight collection of hits and a legendary live show spanning decades it is hard to not root for KIX. They have done the time, done everything the right way and earned a loyal fanbase along the way. Last year the band released a kickass live CD/DVD package recorded in their hometown, “LIVE IN BALTIMORE” which pretty much documents exactly what they do best, playing loud, catchy as hell rock and roll. They are playing in Hollywood and Vegas this March, just before getting set to sail again on the 2013 edition of the Monsters of Rock cruise, where they find themselves again due to overwhelming fan demand. Steve and the band will keep on playing all through the summer including the M3 Festival in their home state of Maryland. There’s always a party when KIX is in town and I was happy to check in with Steve to talk for a bit, read on…
LRI: Hey Steve, thanks for talking to us. It was a huge hit on the “Monsters Of Rock Cruise” Facebook page when they announced KIX was coming back! That has to be a fun gig, I’m jealous I’m not able to afford to go.
Steve Whiteman: We are indeed playing again and it is a fun time out there for sure! We are looking forward to it and hope we can keep coming back. We are also back at M3 Festival again which should be a blast.
LRI: You guys blew my mind as an impressionable teen when I saw you live on the Blow My Fuse tour so I was literally grinning ear to ear when I saw your latest CD/DVD release, LIVE IN BALTIMORE. You released a live album before but this one is a little different, how did it come about?
Steve: That Kix live album on Atlantic was actually a “leverage” album for us, we were at the end of our contract with Atlantic and we wanted to go see about trying another label. In order to leave Atlantic we offered them a live album and they accepted. It was really our move to get off the label. This album, LIVE IN BALTIMORE, happened much differently and really came as a surprise to all of us. It was never really a conscious effort or something we had in the pipeline. It really just started with a group of guys who wanted to come out and videotape the band and kinda use us as a way to kinda get their name out there. They came and shot this show we were playing at a club called Rams Head in Baltimore, Maryland and when they came and brought it to us it really blew us away. It looked and sounded so good, so good that we thought “We gotta do something with this”. A couple years went by with the editing and mixing and trying to find the right situation to get it released and finally FRONTIERS RECORDS came along and offered us a deal to distribute and release it with the additional live CD, which was almost more of an afterthought.
LRI: Well, I have seen the footage from the show, KIX is such a visual live band, that makes sense.
Steve: Yeah, them releasing the audio CD was really just a bonus. Putting out another live album and just living off the past really wasn’t our intention with this project it was more about letting everyone see this video. It turned out so well that we were all really proud of it and wanted to share it. Kix has always been known for the live show, historically and still, that more than anything is what attracts people to this band and the DVD having the visual end of that really shows what it is we’re talking about. It’s high energy, it’s funny, it’s got all the fan favorite songs. Hopefully some of the people who thought we were dead and gone will see it and get ahold of us because they know “Hey these guys are still around and they can still get it”.
LRI: You being able to work in the Baltimore connection is also so cool, between you releasing this and still being a fixture at M3, it is clear that your hometown is still really special to you.
Steve: Absolutely. That goes all the way back to our days at the Hammerjacks club, which is one of the most famous east coast rock clubs historically. We were like the house band at Hammerjacks (laughs). The people of Maryland blew it out every time we played there and the Baltimore fans are the most fanatical, crazy rock and roll Kix-hungry fans you could ever have. We will always have a good connection with our Maryland fans.
LRI: You obviously went on to national success but do you think that the connection with those people in Maryland has helped keep your spirits up or keep you headed in the right direction when things haven’t always gone perfectly over the years?
Steve: That connection has always been our anchor. It’s been what has allowed us to survive. We started putting records out in 1981 but we didn’t really break through until 1989 during that time period from 81 to 89 when we were releasing records on Atlantic, those rabid fans in Maryland, D.C, New York, Carolinas, Florida and all those east coast places that we continued to play over and over again were the people who kept us alive. It wasn’t a string of hits or arena tours, it was that ring of fans out there in those areas. It wasn’t until “Blow My Fuse” that things broke through to the wider audience.
LRI: Frontiers Records is a great label that is getting a great foothold on all of these bands we love but they are overseas and a lot of the bands are still having to do quite a bit of legwork on their own. Is it in any way a relief to be free of some of the massive corporate politics that came with the territory at a label like Atlantic back in those days?
Steve: Well, you know, when you’re young and stupid and just willing to play rock and roll and quote, unquote “make it” you’re being led around by a lot of people who you’re supposed to be able to trust and believe in. Unfortunately, the music business is not always made up of very well-qualified people to do something like that. Sometimes you’re being led around by people who are just trying to get as deep into your pockets as they possibly can before they just cut you loose. That’s what we learned more than anything else. It would have been so much better had we been in charge of our own careers but that just didn’t happen, for us or so many other bands back then. It sure as hell didn’t happen at a place like Atlantic Records, people who were overseeing the careers of bands like Foreigner and Twisted Sister and bands like that. When you sign with them and don’t listen to them they’ll just drop you and move on to the next band. You have to have good agents, good management but lots of people in bands just ignored that, sometimes even if you have that you can still get ignored anyway (laughs).
LRI: Was there a point early on where you knew it was gonna be an uphill battle at Atlantic?
Steve: Yeah, absolutely. The second album, Cool Kids. Between the record company A&R people, management at the time and the producers that they hired that was a frustrating time for the band for sure. They made us go in and do some other people’s material which we hated, then they made that material the focus of the promotional push as far as singles and videos. That record was a real foul-up point for us but when we got to work with Beau Hill it was a step in the right direction because Beau was a real performer/songwriter before making his name as a producer. His input on “Midnite Dynamite” was really essential and really helped us take that album to another level. When we finished that album we all thought “Ok, we’ve got one here, there’s no way this record can’t hit” but it didn’t and we were all really disappointed during that whole run.
LRI: When “Blow My Fuse” came out and you were out on the Britny Fox, Kix, Ratt tour it seemed like it was all green lights. Do you recall that tour fondly?
Steve: Absolutely. That was the very first arena tour that we had ever gotten and it was right when “Blow My Fuse” had come out and “Cold Blood” was starting to get attention on MTV. At that point, a lot of bands had heard about out live shows and a lot of them, to be honest, didn’t really want us on their stage. We were out for the kill and full of piss and vinegar and were basically avoided by a lot of arena bands. Ratt was the first band that had enough confidence to see that “Yeah, KIX would be great as a band on our tour”. Between us and Britny Fox and RATT you are right, that was a great show and a great time for the band. All those bands were great people to be around and we all got along really well and that tour is definitely one of the highlights of our career.
LRI: I’m a huge RATT fan but even more so a huge Robbin Crosby fan, did you guys get a chance to become close with Robbin during that time?
Steve: Yeah, we really did. Robbin was in our dressing room more than he was in RATT’s dressing room. He really liked us. Also, they were trying to keep him on the wagon and there was no beer in his dressing room (laughs). We hung out with Robbin a lot but really all of the guys on that tour. When we had a night off we would all go out and hit the bars and just have a big ol time.
LRI: I saw the show here in Illinois and it seemed like there were a shitload of KIX t-shirts in the crowd, do you think the band’s music translates just as good to the midwest as it does to the east coast?
Steve: Yeah, totally. We would like to play more midwest shows. When we were starting out we would hit Chicago and Detroit once in a while so we knew we had a little bit of a fanbase in those areas. Then it started to spread, which just proved the power of MTV and radio. When Atlantic promotion finally hit their magic “money” button and finally allowed us the budget to make decent videos and go to all the stations for promotions with regional reps everybody got on board and everything started to happen for us. Why that button wasn’t pushed years earlier we’ll never know. That’s something we’ve never been able to figure out.
LRI: I was one of the kids on the Kix street team who got guitar picks and shit for pestering DIAL MTV to get “Don’t Close Your Eyes” pushed up the ladder (laughs).
Steve: (laughs) Thank you. We were on that show for so long that they had to change the rules of the whole thing because our fans would not stop calling.
LRI: I guess that VH1 “Where are they Now” special that featured KIX was good exposure but it sort of bummed me out as a fan. I have no problem with musicians having day jobs believe me but it felt condescending and burned this image of the band climbing light poles and painting houses and all this unglamorous non-rock and roll shit.
Steve: Yeah, that whole “Where Are They Now” thing was really misleading. They really focused on Brian (Forsythe) who had been out of the band for quite a few years and gotten into trouble with drugs and lost a lot of his guitars and equipment. He was basically bottoming out when they were filming that and putting that together so they focused on him. The rest of us were all doing things and were active musically. I was out teaching vocals (including a certain Lzzy Hale of Halestorm) and had my own new band project and VH1 didn’t talk to me they just wanted a collection of down and out stories. That was kind of unfortunate and more than a little misleading but luckily Brian got his shit together and we all found a way to make this appealing again. There was a period of almost ten years where we thought it was over, stick a fork in it, it’s dead. Little by little it grew from playing some local shows to getting an agent and playing some big festivals to more festivals and more shows and now a new record on the horizon.
LRI: You are rightfully known for your stage presence and sense of humor live. Were there any direct influences on that stage persona like Bon Scott or David Lee Roth that moved you or was there just no template going in?
Steve: I don’t really know if there were any outright influences when I started doing this. Initially when we started I was behind the drums doing all the lead vocals from behind the kit and we were known as The Shooze. At that point they decided to throw me out there as the lead singer. In the beginning I was just an absolute turd, I didn’t know how to do anything or how to relate to the people and I just felt stupid out there. We used to play these clubs like six nights a week, five sets a night and sometimes there would be absolutely nobody in these clubs during some of the sets. The club owner would make us play anyway and it was ridiculous so we just started to make fun of the situation and develop our sense of humor and let that take over. Soon enough, we found that was becoming a get over point and it worked. So instead of trying to be super cool and expect people to love us and warm up to us for doing nothing we decided to make the audience laugh and make them a part of the show and make the whole thing a real one on one party instead of waiting for everyone to love us just for playing music. It kind of evolved and it was after that when I really started to take being a frontman seriously. I knew I could make the crowds laugh and get their attention but I also wanted to look cool doing it. That’s when I started really looking at people like Steven Tyler who is the essence of cool and guys like Mick Jagger. Mick to me is still the best frontman of all time for a million reasons including his perpetual energy, he is definitely a big influence on what I do.
LRI: Thanks so much for talkin to me man. I can finally say I spoke to the leader of the goddamn Kix band and all those phone calls to Dial MTV paid off. Good luck with the rest of your 2013, it looks like your schedule is already filling up.
Steve: Well, thank you. Yes, we have Monster of Rock Cruise of course, but before that a couple shows, one with another Monsters band Femme Fatale, March 8th at Key Club, then Freemont Steet in Vegas the next night. Then we set sail, come home and have a bunch of shows leading up to M3 and more shows beyond that. We will be out there and hopefully see everyone having a great time for the rest of this year.