Thinking Out Loud: Whitfield Crane
The Ugly Kid Joe frontman on money, fame and Lemmy
Born in Palo Alto, California in 1968, Whitfield Crane is best known as the lead singer in Ugly Kid Joe.
The California quintet released their debut album America's Least Wanted in 1992, then broke up in 1997 before reforming thirteen years later. To date, they’ve released four studio albums and two EPs, and shifted over six million records worldwide.
He’s also enjoyed a brief stint as Life of Agony’s frontman, after which he went on to front Medication with ex-Machine Head guitarist Logan Mader, and Another Animal with his former UKJ bandmate Shannon Larkin and members of Godsmack, including guitarist Lee Richards.
Most recently, Crane teamed up with Richards for an acoustic project and the duo plan to release their debut self-titled album Richards/Crane next month.
With over 25 years of musical experience to his name, here’s what he makes of his journey so far…
“Fame can be seductive but it’s not real. I spent a lot of time with Lemmy and we used to talk about all kinds of things. He would always defuse the idea of fame and call it what it is – an illusion. The dream is to be a working musician, and that means being able to do what you love for a living. That’s it. I guess fame is good for getting a table at a restaurant, but fame in the case of Madonna or Michael Jackson is a real horror. If people like your music or your writing or your acting, or whatever it is, then you can inspire people through being known and that’s cool. And when Angelina Jolie says she wants to do some philanthropic things, that inspires me. Not many famous people inspire me, but every now and again someone like Angie goes and does something great. You can get lost in the malaise and the illusion of fame. You can water the wrong roots to quite an ugly flower. But in the end, it’s pretty simplistic. Whatever your outlet is, that’s what you want to do. So my ultimate goal is to be a working musician, and that’s it.”
“Money is an illusion. I’m amazed that I can float around the earth with a backpack and small pieces of plastic called credit cards. That’s a trip! Money is good to have, and it can get you a plane ticket or a sandwich, and it can fill your car with gas. And not having money is limiting. But that said, you can watch people play games with money. I come from a town called Palo Alto in California. When I was growing up, it was a middle-class area, but now it’s one of the richest places ever. My sister still lives there and she lives just down the street from Larry Page [Google co-founder]. You know when you’re around people with real money because it gets really stiff and weird. For me personally, I don’t like that. So money can be really ugly or can be liberating. It’s the root of all evil. The haggle is good though. Money’s funny, man. It’s good to have some but you don’t need too much, because the last thing you want to be is the richest man in the cemetery. Spend it if you’ve got it.”
“There are two kinds of family – there’s blood family and your friends. If you’re lucky enough to have a sibling or two, then that’s great, and hopefully you get along. I’m lucky enough to have a really cool mom, too. Every family has their dilemmas and their drama. Some people are born in really awful situations and others are born into amazing situations. I’ve seen some people come from nothing and turn it into everything, and others come from everything and turn it straight into nothing. So family is super-duper important to me, particularly the family that I create around the world. You can talk about money and fame or whatever, but people are the currency of your life and that’s it. That’s the good fight. Those are some roots that will really grow into a beautiful flower if you water them well.”
“I think all politics is bullshit. What are my politics? I vote for us. I vote for the present moment. If my calling was to be Martin Luther King, Jr. or some badass motherfucker who’s supposed to change the world, then I’d take more of an interest in politics and I’d go do that. But my calling is music, so I do what I do and I affect who I affect, hopefully in my own positive way. Politics are gnarly, man. It seems to me to just be a dog chasing its tail, around and around and around. I just don’t want any part of it.”
“I’ve been searching for God my whole life. I went to church but I didn’t really like that. I went to a cool Baptist church where everyone sang, and I liked that. I went to see a guru in India and that was extremely enlightening. The common theme across all religions is to be nice to each other. Everyone seems to be saying the same thing but with a different face, but they all seem to think that they have the only God and everyone is like, ‘My God’s the one!’ That’s hard for me to palate because it’s divisive. I like things that bring people together, and I think that the idea of faith is fantastic, whoever you pray to. It’s a beautiful thing. But money and religion is a really ugly sight, particularly when people are getting milked. So just like anything, there’s a yin and yang to it. Do I respect it? Sure. Is it beautiful? Sure. Is it ugly? Sure. All of that’s true, at least from my perspective. I’ve been exploring religion my whole life and there are a lot of flaws in it, but I’m not against anything. I’m open to spirituality, a positive message, love, and all that stuff. But you have to get past the anger and manipulation of a lot of religion to get there. I haven’t really found it yet, except in music.”
“Rock ‘n’ roll is kind of like my father figure. My dad split when I was a young kid and that was tumultuous for me growing up. I was always trying to fill that void. I liked sports and what not, but then I found Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. I was hooked immediately, and all those motherfuckers – Halford, Bon Scott, Ozzy, Ronnie Van Zant, Hendrix – became like my father figures. When I talk to some people they don’t quite know all the lyrics to a lot of songs, but I’m obsessed with lyrics. Those are my teachers. I used to ask Lemmy all the time, ‘What does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you?’ And he’d always give me the same answer: ‘Chuck Berry and Little Richard.’ I first visited him at his apartment in Hollywood in 1994, because I just wanted to pick his brain. We’d just sold like two million records or whatever of America’s Least Wanted. I was lost so I wanted to go and ask my rock ‘n’ roll guru what the fuck I’d gotten myself into. I was sat down with him and I asked, ‘What is this?’ He looked me straight in the face with his pirate scowl and he said, ‘You’re born into it.’ So what is rock ‘n’ roll to me? It’s my outlet. It’s my safety net. It’s my home.”
Richards/Crane will release their self-titled debut on May 20. For more information, visit their Facebook page.