Malfunkshun guitarist Kevin Wood talks to LRI about his late brother Andrew Wood’s legacy and NEW gigs!!
Seattle, Washington, Mar. 19, 1990. A pretty sad day in general for rockers due to the anniversary of the plane crash that killed legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads, ended with headlines that shook the blossoming Seattle music scene to its core. After receiving buzzing fan support and press adulation both locally and nationally, Andrew Wood, lead singer and figurehead of northwest legends Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone passed away after suffering a coma and aneurysm following a lethal heroin dose. His death came days before the scheduled release of his band’s full length major label debut “Apple” and should have triggered an alarm on the Northwest music scene. Instead, in retrospect, it only seemed to signal the end of its fun beginnings and the dawning of an even darker era. Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament regrouped to form Pearl Jam and the Seattle scene rose to ridiculous prominence in the months and years following Andy’s death but it was absolutely never the same. Decades later, part of Andrew’s story would be told in the Pearl Jam “20” documentary and in greater detail in the film “Malfunkshun- The Andrew Wood Story”. Thankfully, another person who has kept Andy’s flame burning is his brother and former bandmate Kevin Wood, who is performing much of Andy (and his) classic music with a tight, revamped lineup of MALFUNKSHUN. The band have two gigs celebrating the birthday of the group April 5 and 6th in Seattle and Portland (details below) and Kevin called to talk to us about the past, his brother and all that is going on now…Read on….
(This interview is dedicated to the memory of rock pioneers Randy Rhoads and Andy Wood both lost Mar.19 but never forgotten)
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us a bit Kevin. I think it’s great that you decided to keep Malfunkshun alive, what is going on with the new gigs this year?
Kevin Wood: Yes, April 5 in Seattle at Studio 7 and April 6th in Portland at Tonic Lounge. This is our yearly “Birthday” show that we do to celebrate the beginning of the band my brother and I started Easter Sunday, 1980 but we are gigging out more often than that now. Especially now that I am here in California I am gonna book some shows later this year along the coast and Europe hopefully by fall. We are ramping things up for this year and beyond.
LRI: Obviously people are fascinated by the history of this band being godfathers of the Seattle sound but I checked out your website and was really impressed with your current lineup and new singles on iTunes. Your songs “Journey” and “Rains Of May” are good stuff….Is the writing split between you and your singer Jeff Loftis?
Kevin Wood: Thank you…’Journey” was a song I wrote and my wife Wind Hughes wrote lyrics to. I’m not too much of a lyricist, I do the “fuck me, suck me” type of lyrics but I’d like to move away from that at this point (laughs). I like to find people who are good with words and then make songs around their words. “Journey” was a song she and I wrote and I sang but the rest of our new material like “Rains Of May” are things that Jeff Loftis our new lead singer and I wrote. Usually if I’m singing them, my wife is writing the lyrics and if Jeff is singing them he wrote the lyrics.
LRI: Jeff has a great voice and does a good job of performing Andrew’s parts while still putting his own spin on it. I imagine performing that frontman spot in Malfunkshun would have been an unthinkable task twenty years ago but the passage of time and the acceptance of fans might make things easier.
Kevin Wood: Jeff is a superfan and has been following the band for as long as the band’s been around so pulling him in was no problem. Like you said, it’s been a long time and wanting to move forward with the band you have to do these things. I had Shawn Smith singing for a while too and they’re all good guys, Jeff’s a great guy and easy to work with and Miles Freeborn is our drummer and he is also a great drummer, amazing guy, they are very reverent about the shoes they’re filling, much more so than me. I mean, I’ll miss my brother till the very end but these guys have a lot of respect for the band’s history and exactly who it is they are filling in for.
LRI: To you, he’s your brother and to them he’s ANDREW WOOD!
Kevin Wood: Yeah, exactly (laughs).
LRI: Yeah, that makes sense to me, totally and I’m sure the fans appreciate that. I also think it’s cool that the band celebrates that Easter Sunday that you and Andy formed the band. That was 1980, a long time ago, but what do you remember about that day?
Kevin Wood: It was Easter Sunday, 1980. Andy and I wanted to work on some tunes and had just formed this “group” which was really just Andy and I. The family Easter dinner was going to happen and we just declined the invitation of going to grandma’s house and stayed home and put out our first tape. We made a tape (laughs).
LRI: That’s something a lot of kids would do, you were using a boombox then?
Kevin Wood: Yeah, exactly….we were down in the basement with a boombox making all kinds of noise.
LRI: You’re about 18 and playing guitar and Andy’s about 14. Was he playing any instruments or just singing?
Kevin: He was singing and doing some percussion. We had this device, I don’t know what you would even call it now but you could hit it with drumsticks and it would make these horrendous sounds, sort of analog warping sounds. Then I would plug in the guitar and play and Andy would scream over the top of that and then hit this thing and it was just the loudest, most insane thing. I still have the tape somewhere, it’s quite amazing (laughs).
LRI: You mentioned your penchant for suggestive lyrics, how do you remember Andrew’s early lyrics?
Kevin Wood: Andrew was an accomplished lyric writer from early on and it wasn’t all just about the same thing, you would have songs that were esoteric in nature I guess. I remember one in particular that I’m thinking about right now called “Human God” and it was about a guy who realized his divinity and that realization was causing him to go insane. So….that’s pretty involved (laughs). I remember other songs with semi-religious content, we had a song called “Punish the Sinners” about judgement at the end of your life and the trip to hell but I also remember love songs too. We had a song which was an early, early one about a girl Andy had a crush on called “Bobbie Jo”. Our stuff was really all over the board.
LRI: Since Andrew wore the whiteface and was a vocal KISS fan there has been much made of KISS’s influence on Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone. What influence or influences were just as strong and maybe contributed to those more sophisticated lyrics?
Kevin Wood: Oh, that would be Elton John I’m sure. We loved Elton growing up and of course his lyricist Bernie Taupin who is just one of the very best, beautiful words to go with that beautiful music. It was a great writing team and I know that Andrew and I were both very influenced by Elton’s music and Bernie’s writing. The flamboyancy and the showmanship also made it into the stage shows too, especially for Andrew, he really took to that. You know, when he was little he got a pair of glasses that were shaped like stars that my dad picked up for him at an airport when he was traveling and he was just beside himself with joy.
LRI: He’s been photographed, famously, a few times in similar wild glasses but these were the originals??
Kevin Wood: Oh yeah, he was probably eight or nine. Over the years he picked up others but it was when we were little kids that our dad gave him those star glasses.
LRI: Is it fair to say that those early club years in Seattle were more of a fun time less characterized by the drugs and darkness that seemed to follow?
Kevin Wood: Yeah. Oh yeah, it was a great, fun time. It was where we cut our teeth and it was an adventure and yeah, I was a little bit worried about it at first because we were playing in the punk circuit. These were like makeshift shows at places that weren’t necessarily always even clubs and we came out there with loooong hair and crazy makeup concepts and outfits but we were accepted and embraced by that community. So, after the initial concern over whether we’d be accepted it was TOTALLY fun and nothing but. It is what’s kept me in the business for so long, it’s just really fun to go out and do it, even to this day.
LRI: I’ve interviewed a number people from that early Seattle scene like Pamela Moore who was more pop and the Queensryche guys who were more metal and I wanted to ask you….Was there a clear cut line between the metal and punk scenes as you saw it?
Kevin Wood: There was a clear delineation yeah, not just in the style or look of course but also in the beat itself but sometimes there would be experiments. I remember a band called Culprit played with a band that featured some guys from The Fartz, I don’t think they were The Fartz at that time but it was Blain Cook and Paul Solger. Anyway, they were like the top punk band and Culprit were the top metal band and they had some kind of show at a skating rink in Bellvue and it was like a battle between the punk and metal guys. Everyone got along and all but it was just kind of an experiment to see what would happen when you got the two worlds together like that. It was two musical genres a world apart aside from one thing which was the level of sheer volume that both displayed.
LRI: The funny thing is that while there are plenty of differences between Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun the one thing they have in common other than Andy is that they both seem to not fit in with any particular scene, be it punk, metal or whatever….
Kevin Wood: Yeah and that was an intentional thing in Malfunkshun just because we always steered away from whatever the other bands were doing and always wanted to have our own look and our own sound. We’d hear bands coming out with the “chunka, chunka” sounding rhythm that the punks were doing and while we would experiment with that from time to time we would eventually move towards that feel that you hear. It was just an intentional avoidance of what everyone was doing.
LRI: Did the “funk” part of Malfunkshun ever become a driving force in the band or an avenue you seriously tried exploring?
Kevin Wood: The funk part is mostly just a play on words but we were always influenced by funk bands, I mean who doesn’t love great funk music but to tell you the truth we had tried to do some funk type things but they didn’t really come off too well because you’ve gotta know how to play that kind of stuff (laughs). You’ve gotta have the right musicians and the right techniques to pull that off, it was something we aspired to and thought well maybe someday it would be cool as we were sitting around dreaming but we were always pretty much a rock band.
LRI: As a musician, did it seem like Mother Love Bone was something of a Aerosmith/Guns N Roses/Red Hot Chili Peppers amalgamation?
Kevin Wood: Well I think it was a sign of the times in some respects, all of those bands were pretty popular at that time and I think every band does that to some degree, maybe Malfunkshun a little less than others just because we were stalwart anti-whatever was going on but I think it retrospect it was a smart move. If you really want to make a move you have to fit some kind of a category in order to be on the fast track to getting into people’s ears in the mainstream.
LRI: You have mentioned before that you had originally wanted to get Stone and Jeff into Malfunkshun rather than Andrew into their band. Did you ever have serious conversations with him about that? I know he was torn and even in his last interview in RIP magazine was mentioning as much.
Kevin Wood: Well, during those days I didn’t hang out with him that much other than doing band stuff and Andrew was very much a “Yes Man” but I really don’t think we knew that much what the full dynamic of that concept was. I never brought it up to Stone or Jeff because Andrew was more friends with them than I was. I lived over on Bainbridge and they lived in Seattle so there was this big chasm of water that was between us. Honestly, I don’t know if they would have been open to that or not but that was something I kept harping about because Andy wanted to put down the bass and just sing and it would have been great to have a second guitar player in Malfunkshun and I did trade licks with Stone a few times and we could have melded pretty well I thought but it’s all water under the bridge of course at this point. I never brought it up to them personally but I did bring it up to Andy, who knows, who knows what would have happened?
LRI: That same interview Andrew mentioned something about working with you on a solo album concept. What were you immediately up to after Malfunkshun went on hiatus and Mother Love Bone was going on?
Kevin Wood: I was staying busy because I knew it was a matter of time before I would find another situation that clicked. I was writing songs and experimenting with other groups and Andrew got a deal for a solo project and I was working on some of that with him. He was gonna have me on board with that and we had started doing pre-production right before he passed away.
LRI: It is a question that is pure conjecture and has been asked so many times of so many people that I almost feel silly saying it but how much different would the entire scene have been had Andrew lived?
Kevin Wood: If he hadn’t passed away I don’t know if it all would have…..well, Pearl Jam wouldn’t have come about which definitely put Seattle on the map. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if Mother Love Bone would have gotten as big as Pearl Jam, they just had a different vibe and attracted a different crowd. That guy who sings for them, Eddie Vedder is really one of the best singers in the business as far as rock music goes and just a major talent that rose up. The music world would definitely be a different place if Andy had lived, a lot of us would be a lot happier of course. I just don’t know (laughs).
LRI: I am very happy for Stone and Jeff that they ended up in one of the biggest bands in the world but despite seeing them live numerous times and hearing all of their music I just could never get into Pearl Jam. I don’t think it has anything to do with Andy or Eddie it’s just the overall vibe of the band doesn’t appeal to me. I am WELL aware that I am in the minority on this so I was wondering, do you ever hear from people who were fans of Malfunkshun or Mother Love Bone that just never flipped for Pearl Jam?
Kevin Wood: Sure, I’m one of them. I respect them immensely and I know that they put out quality music but it’s just not something that I’d put on my spin list because it just doesn’t do anything for me. I’m glad that it does for other people but I mean, I’m still friends with Stone and when I lived in Seattle we would get free tickets for me and my family so I’ve seen shows and have checked out the band. I’ve seen some awesome shows but nothing that ever made me think “Oh, I’ve gotta go play that record”. Like you said John, they appeal to a different crowd and god bless em for doing that. The success level that they’ve experienced is phenomenal and you can’t take anything away from them for that but it’s not the kind of music that I really dig so much.
LRI: I really hate to think it’s the fact that I can’t get over Andrew or Mother Love Bone because I think Eddie and Mike McCready are awesome but that’s probably it. They are SUCH a different group and there is just an element of fun or swagger Andrew brought that is almost completely absent in Pearl Jam.
Kevin Wood: Yeah, I know. I agree, Andrew was just such a master of the crowd and he was fun and flamboyant and immersed in engaging and performing. Pearl Jam is just not a “fun” band. I remember at one point in their career when they were talking about “Bee Girl” on a radio station interview or something and the overall feeling was just “Man, these guys just take stuff way too seriously and cannot crack a smile”. It was like “Man, you guys are living the dream, what is so wrong??”.
LRI: I am glad that they’ve played some of Andrew’s songs onstage. Eddie has often stated that Andy would have been pleased with some of the massive fame and venues that Pearl Jam wound up in like Madison Square Garden. Do you think that’s true for the most part or would he be shaking his head going “What the fuck??!!”
Kevin Wood: (laughs) I think he would be pleased to see the rise of that band because unfortunatley his demise really set his buddies back. Mother Love Bone had a big buzz and had a real shot there and he kind of messed that up with his extracurricular behavior there. I’m sure that if he had some realization of what happened with Mother Love Bone, which I’m sure he did on some level, in some other realm, he probably felt really bad about that. I think that he would be overjoyed to know that his buddies went on and created something with Pearl Jam that was successful beyond anything that they could have imagined. I’ve gotta tell you from my point of view, what Stone and Jeff did, with Eddie and Mike and their various drummers, is really inspiring.
LRI: You have a wife and family and those guys do too at this point. Do you think that Andy was so swept up in music and his career that he never really thought ahead to settling into a family situation with Xana?
Kevin Wood: I know that Andrew was in love with Xana like crazy and I don’t know if they ever talked about having kids or starting a family or anything but I know that he was driven to a point where he probably didn’t talk too much with anyone else about settling down, especially given the whirlwind he was involved with at that point with Mother Love Bone. He had all of his dreams at his fingertips and it was all happening so taking care of immediate business was likely paramount in terms of getting in his psyche.
LRI: I know that you’ve mentioned you had a dream about Andrew relapsing before he died and you mentioned it to him. I’m no Marilyn Manson disciple but he did say something interesting once to the effect that he believed a lot of dreams are really things that have either happened to you or are going to happen to you. Do you think that dream you mentioned to Andy was some kind of subconcious sibling coversation or foreshadowing? What else do you remember about that happening?
Kevin Wood: Right before he had his accident there I had a dream about he and I talking and he was telling me about how he relapsed and had a beer, breaking his sobriety. I called him up the next day and told him about the dream I had and asked him if he was still on the wagon and then it was just the day after that when my father called me up and told me “Your brother’s in the E.R, he overdosed on heroin” and I was like “Fuck”. You know, we’re all connected on a level that we don’t all realize. Everybody on this planet, everybody in this universe, we’re all connected and we’re all part of the same trip so it’s not really that fascinating when you see that and you realize and know that. Having said that, when you see it and it happens to you and you get that realization it is kind of a trippy thing.
LRI: Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk. I wish I could hop a plane to check out one of your shows out west. Are you thinking there might be some midwest or east coast dates too? Maybe Chicago?
Kevin Wood: Thank you, yes that is something we are really gearing up for. We are going to be doing more dates in more places all over the globe and look forward to getting back to Chicago and the midwest for sure. If you keep up on our Facebook and Twitter or our website www.malfunkshun.org it will all be posted.
To purchase original music along with items from the Andrew Wood estate visit
Fri Apr 05 13 08:00 PM | Seattle, WA US
Venue: Studio Seven
Address: 110 S Horton St, Seattle, WA, 98134-1812, US
Details: The “Godfathers Of Grunge” Malfunkshun are back in Seattle on April 6th with special guests from Dublin Ireland, Lace Weeper and Seattle favorites Catatone
Sat Apr 06 13 08:00 PM | Portland, OR US
Venue: Tonic Lounge Portland
Address: 3100 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR, 97232, US
Details: Day two of the Malfunkshun Birthday Tour!
With special guests Lace Weeper from Ireland, and Seattle’s Catatone!