A visionary of the American gothic musical movement, alongside the likes of Cult of Youth and Ledfoot, King Dude has rapidly gained recognition in the last year or so due to the popularity of his 2014 release ‘Fear’ which is arguably his most accessible work to date. Since 2010 King Dude has steadily put out a stream of dark and moody folk-tinged records, akin to what Johnny Cash may have sounded like if he chose for his guitar and lyrical themes to flirt with the Devil and all his demons. Originally an interview that was never intended to be, a little luck and perseverance saw demons smile upon Ave Noctum as we took to the backstage of The Black Heart in Camden, for a quick chat with TJ Cowgill, the man behind the moniker, following his sold out Old Empire show.
Do you see King Dude as an alter-ego or merely a stage name? If so, can King Dude says things that perhaps TJ Cowgill can’t or won’t?
“That’s really great question…thank you for asking me that, actually! Yes it is an alter-ego, but no it isn’t formulated, so I still am who I am when I’m on stage, but I’m also the band name. I’m both, I suppose; there isn’t one without the other and both feed into one another.”
Did you make a conscious choice to adopt an “American gothic” type style or did you just sort of fall into it?
“I think it was more of a fall into thing, with the way it sounded as I was writing and recording. What happened is that there was a divergence in my influence and I got a Gretsch guitar right before I recorded ‘Burning Daylight’ and with that guitar it has a big tremolo bar which makes it easy to play that classic sounding country/Americana style. While I was playing it I thought it would be fun to actually write some songs that sound like that. Actually, the first song I ever wrote on that guitar was ‘Jesus in The Courtyard’ and that’s where you can see my signature sound start to creep in.”
Where does your interest in the Devil and the occult come from?
“It comes from life and my childhood. I believe in this and I know it exists; I’ve seen it and I live in that world and I feel like I have a demon that lives with me at all times. It’s like having these dark feelings within you that become more tangible when you transmutate them into a deity and it becomes easier to contain. It doesn’t have a name, whatever my demon is, I don’t worship it; it works with me and I work with it and all our work is for the Lord, and is for good. Although it pales in comparison to the likes of King Solomon who was able to wrangle demons and evil deities and use them to do good for the Lord; that’s essentially what I’m trying to do now, but on a smaller scale and in a more natural way.”
You’ve done some great collaborations – most noteworthy of all with Chelsea Wolfe – who else would you like to work with if you had the chance? What’s the attraction to these artists for you?
“There’s a lot of people I’d love to work with BUT I’ve said stuff in the past and it hasn’t happened, so I’m really hesitant to say. There are good collaborations that are coming, that I can say, and incredible duets that everyone will be very, very happy about, that don’t include Chelsea Wolfe, but other great, incredible women. It’s not always me approaching them either, sometimes it’s the other way around. As a musician, you’d be surprised about the people that approach you and ask to work with you, people you’d never even expect. There’s lots of people I want to work with, both men and women, but mostly women, I think. The Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood style duet works better with women, I find, and I prefer to work with people who I respect and am friends with, rather than it be a business type affair; that never works. I would never do a duet for money, it has to be out of love and mutual respect.”
You’ve gained a lot of recognition since releasing ‘Fear’ – why do you think this is? Would you consider the material more accessible?
“‘Fear’ was an attempt at a more accessible record; it was a conscious decision to make it more pop-orientated and to add the instruments that people are more familiar with in pop music, in particular The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and things people are really familiar with. Although it’s my mutated attempt at making those types of sounds, so it doesn’t sound exactly like it. If you’re making a record called ‘Fear’ and you want it to be dark and scary then you’re fucking up and you’re in the wrong territory. If you’re gonna make a record called ‘Fear’ it needs to be accessible, much like Alice Cooper. He snuck in the devilry throughout his music, but it was very soft sounding – I wasn’t trying to make that exact thing, but that was something I looked at.”
What is an average day in the tour life of King Dude like?
“Haha, that’s a really good question! I get up, try and shower if I can, eat breakfast, get in a van, drive to where I’m going – if it’s a long drive then eat again on the way there, listen to a lot of records or talk radio, get to the venue, sound check, then start drinking – whisky, usually, then perform. Unfortunately, I have a bit of an old blues tradition in the way that I perform and use whisky in particular, or alcohol as a method to perform. There’s a lot of us like that and it’s not alcoholism exactly, but it’s something like it; it’s a tool. It might be seen as taking off the edge, but for me it just cuts me completely loose from my consciousness and connection to nature. In order to channel the spirit that I do I need to disconnect my consciousness from my body, so a depressant drug like alcohol is a really great blues tradition. A lot of blues musicians drank themselves to death, but they made the best music because of it, because they were able to disconnect completely. I’m not trying to do exactly like that, but something like that.”
What’s in store for the future? Any new material in the works?
“I have a whole new record that’s coming out June 16th, it’s called ‘Songs of Flesh and Blood in The Key of Light’ and I think it’s an incredible record, and I think everyone’s going to really enjoy it.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“Just thank you very much. It was a pleasure.”
(Interview by Angela Davey)
Photos with thanks
© 1 Natasha Xavier https://www.facebook.com/pages/Haste-Malaise-Photography/116426321710414
2 Antony Roberts http://www.metalgigs.co.uk