Shiny, Happy Peephole

Ugly Duckling's Amazing Journey

"To a degree, if you're an artist trying to sell a project, you have to keep in mind that you are trying to deal with someone who might want to purchase the record," Andycat allows. "But if Journey to Anywhere doesn't sell, I won't think it's a bad album."

They're hoping to at least double the sales of Fresh Mode, which moved 20,000 copies. They're also hoping to expand their touring, which last year included three trips to Europe and stops in 45 states, where they opened for the likes of the Jungle Brothers, Del the Funky Homosapien and the Long Beach Dub All-Stars. But on those tours, Ugly Duckling usually did their set for fans of those bands and mostly impressed college-radio DJs and magazine critics.

"But we have seen people at shows wearing Ugly Duckling shirts they drew themselves," Dizzy interjects. "And we got an e-mail from a guy in the Navy who said he'd been all around the world and our EP helped him get through it."

"We don't have a lot of fans in any one place, but we've got, like, four hardcore fans in every place," Andycat continues, almost smiling again. "Yeah, it's always no more than 10 and no less than two. We're spread thin everywhere. We even sold 200 records in Algeria."

"We got the map covered," summarizes Dizzy. "We just got to make it thicker."

If the infectiousness of Journey to Anywhere generates increased sales, they will be a byproduct of artistic advancement. Einstein's soundscapes are the stars of this 14-song collection, and Andycat and Dizzy wisely check their egos in deference. But their lyrics, although often still derivative, more frequently reach into unexplored territory. For all their perky enthusiasm and sweet reminiscence, Andy and Diz are at their best when they venture into the quasispiritual realm. The title track slips in and out of consciousness, from childlike dream state to ethereal afterlife, emphasizing the consequence of our mortal end even as it hints at the mystery that follows.

"It's our 'Riders on the Storm,'" Andy says, half-joking.

It's also reminiscent of "Kiko," the bewitching title track to one of Los Lobos' poorer-selling albums from the early '90s.

"This kind of spirituality is kind of maligned in hip-hop," Andy continues. "But I think you have to justify continuing to make music. You have to try to do something a little bit different, and hopefully you eventually get so out of control that you have to go back to where you started and repeat the cycle."

Meanwhile, Ugly Duckling have come down from their spiritual mountaintop. The men are sniping at each other about whose goof caused them to miss out on a recent four-show tour of Europe. They're squabbling about whether it is-or ever was-difficult to be a white rapper. They're insulting the message on the new Chinese-script tattoo that Dizzy has inked on either side of his neck; Dizzy says it reads "peace" and "unity"; Andycat says it reads "white" and "trash."

"If we were all the same and got along good, our music wouldn't be good," Einstein reasons.

"We all bring different issues to the table," says Dizzy, "which is why we're equally adept at rhyming and getting at each other's throats."

"It's a strange dynamic," says Andycat. "Being involved with music is a labor of love, but it doesn't always feel that way-and that's not necessarily bad."

Ugly Duckling play the Lava Lounge, 3800 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 597-6171. Tues., 9 p.m. $8 before 10 p.m. 21+
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