By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
It's 13 stories to the circular rooftop of Capitol Records headquarters, although the Kottonmouth Kings can tell you many more than that. "The seed of this band comes from back in the punk rock days," says front man Brad X, still bleached-blond and spiky-braided but now thirtysomething and very formerly of an Orange County outfit called the Humble Gods. "The seed comes from the school of hard knocks, when we did bands, did tours, put out records, and never saw a penny for it. Back then, we didn't care if we saw a penny 'cause that wasn't—at the time—why we were doing it."
Times have changed. Well, sales figures have, anyway. Promotional techniques, too. The Kottonmouth Kings sold more than a quarter-million copies of their 1998 debut album, Royal Highness, which was jointly released by Capitol and the band's own imprint, Suburban Noize. The Kottonmouth Kings and their consortium of companion acts—Corporate Avenger, Grand Vanacular, Dogboy—have a major online presence, direct marketing their music (www.kottonmouthkings.com) and merchandise (www.merch.com). They also have their own management company, SRH Productions.
The music they make is just as amalgamated, tapping into hip-hop, punk, psychedelia, reggae, and rock—and significant amounts of THC and testosterone. Brad X has grafted a pair of young MCs, D-Loc and Richter, to his punk roots. Together they rant and rap over a soundscape created by two turntables, via DJ Bobby B., and a live drum kit made out of a low-rider bicycle and presided over by Lou-dog, while a masked, 6-foot-5 mascot, Pakalika, wordlessly pop-locks and puffs on joints.
"We're just a community of artists—an extended family," summarizes Brad X. "Like the Wu-Tang Clan."
As for the timeless, old-school punk purity of the Kottonmouth Kings' artistic motivation? Well, that's harder to quantify. "The whole concept here is to continue to be self-empowered," says Brad X, "and hopefully, to postpone having to deliver pizzas again for as long as possible."
The Kottonmouth Kings have spent this afternoon autographing copies of their newest CD, High Society. They've got an appointment this evening to be interviewed on KROQ. Now the guys are killing time by clowning around on the rooftop of the same world-famous building where bands as dissimilar and successful as the Beatles and the Knack have gotten goofy before them. There are publicity pictures to prove it. Up here, the view in any direction—even down, where the star-studded concrete of the Hollywood Walk of Fame awaits —can seem to reach toward a gladdening future. That seems to be the Kottonmouth Kings' frame of mind, anyway, as they take turns standing obliviously close to the edge of this shaped-like-a-stack-of-records structure to scrawl their autographs on its distinctive spire.
Of course, they've been smoking weed all day. "Marijuana is part of our symbolism," says Lou-dog, squinting through the camcorder he takes almost everywhere, compiling footage for a Hoop Dreams-type documentary on the Kottonmouth Kings that he hopes to title Pipe Dreams. "Marijuana is our common—uhh, something we share—bond . . . or ritual, maybe?"
As they cavort above the rush-hour commuters stalled on the Hollywood Freeway, the Kottonmouth Kings are still passing blazing fatties back and forth, never minding that one false step could deliver them to the Walk of Fame as an anonymous stain. D-Loc is trying to pick out the building across town where the band shot the video for the single "Peace Not Greed," which featured a four-story burning banner picturing Pakalika—and a guest appearance by punk legend Jack Grisham.
"The new record is a lot more positive," says D-Loc. "It's about peace and freedom, legalization and anarchy. Plus, the beats are tighter."
Brad X is memorializing the antics of a former roommate, extreme-sport psycho Rob Harris, who died skydiving on a snowboard while filming a Mountain Dew commercial. "Once Rob drove up beside me on the freeway, and when I looked over, he was sitting in the front passenger seat—like no one was driving," says Brad, still giddy with the memory. "He was reaching over to the gas pedal with his left leg."
Corporate Avenger, who does not smoke pot, is explaining the meaning behind the black lines he has drawn on his painted-white face and the chain that connects the leather collars he wears around his wrist and throat. "I paint my face for my Viking, Celtic and Basque ancestors, who would paint their faces when they went to war," he says gravely. "I believe I am going to war—the war of ideas. The chain and collars bind me to the truth of what I say."
Kevin Zinger, the Kottonmouth Kings' manager, sits off to the side, between a thick brown briefcase and a voluptuous blonde in a red tube top, alternately answering his cell phone and making small talk with two men wearing black stocking-cap masks. "We're not your normal band, and getting the record executives to understand what we are trying to accomplish didn't happen with one explanation," says Zinger. "When you've got guys up onstage smoking weed and every other word is, like, 'Fuck this, fuck that.' Well, I get a lot of flak. We've definitely caused controversy here in the round building. These days, though, it's pretty much in one ear and out the other. Selling 250,000 records definitely made my life a lot easier."