Our U.S. correspondent, August Forte recently took the chance to chat with Seattle 'black-and-roll' singer TJ Cowgill AKA King Dude, after his support slot with Swedish theatrical uber-rockers, Ghost in Chicago.
You put on a great show at The Vic Theater in Chicago recently. Were you surprised by the turnout and reception?
Thanks, yeah in a way I guess we were still getting used to playing in front of that many people since it was one of the earlier shows of this tour. It's been great to play for [headliner Ghost’s] audiences, although they seem a little confused by us at first. But by the end of the set they're usually singing along.
In what way was the Chicago show different from other tour stops? I thought that the crowd was really eclectic in terms of age, gender and fashion.
Chicago is probably one of my favorite cities in the world. A lot of great bands, people and labels are either from Chicago or have resided there at some point. And I feel like I've played there a lot more than other mid-west cities. I think the show at the Vic was the fourth time I've been there in about two years and [it was] our first ever all ages’ show in Chicago. We do our best to reach a very diverse crowd including men and women, young and old. Women, in particular, seem to like the romantic nature of the songs... but who knows? I know that when I was in a death metal band I couldn't ever write a song like "You Can Break My Heart" or a duet like "Be Free." Duets are completely out the death metal equation.
To the casual music fan, a Ghost/King Dude tour might suggest a metal bill, but both bands are considerably more complex than what passes for mainstream metal these days. Do you personally feel a kinship to some of the indie metal bands or black metal bands that are pushing the envelope by referencing psych, shoegaze and electronic music?
A long time ago I played in a band that people considered to be pushing the envelope of black metal and hardcore, but really we just had no idea what we were doing. I wasn't trying to push any envelope as much as I was just trying to make heavy metal music with a group of people that felt as though they didn't belong to any scene. I have very complex feelings about metal. These days I only tend to like it in its purest and most bestial forms. Mutations happen occasionally that are interesting enough I suppose, but how can one perfect what so many others [have done] and still have it be considered heavy metal?
Who would you cite as your top influences and what music are you currently listening to?
I listen to a lot of modern electronic music, actually. I really love Raime from London; it was probably one of the best shows I saw last year. And William Bennett's project Cut Hands is another one I can't get enough of. I had the pleasure of booking a show for him and Black Rain in Seattle last year. That was a great show.
What are some of King Dude's stage rituals and do these rituals extend to recording music in the studio?
Yes, both in the studio and on stage, ritual is very important to me. I have these four-foot tall iron Algiz rune shaped candle stands, but since they don't collapse we can't bring them on planes. For this tour I had my demon brother David build these four-foot tall wooden Nauthiz runes out of reclaimed oak from the 1930s. Our black American flag is big part of our show as well; it's been all over the world with us. In Dallas, a guy threw a drink at me while we were playing and nailed me right in the chest. Turns out he was a combat veteran, with really good aim, who didn't appreciate seeing old glory turned black. I told him “It's not an "anti-USA" statement, in fact it's the opposite. To me it reflects the intention of my songs perfectly as both American and Luciferian at once. The ritual elements of our stage design are not accidental nor occur by happenstance. Every night I stand up there with symbols with intention and my band does too, so I'd better know what it all means. My personal nightly ritual involves two or three glasses of bourbon, which in a way helps me to channel the great spirit in song. Bourbon is like a powerful demon itself, it's a great tool for singing the blues. Although if I'm not careful it can consume me, stand in my boots and destroy everything I love - while I watch trapped helplessly from inside my own body. I do my best to not let that happen very often.
Can you tell us a little bit about your "Be Free" single with Chelsea Wolfe? How long have you known her and what is she like to work with?
I've known Chelsea longer than anyone it seems. We met years ago when a friend introduced us and suggested that we do a split record so that he could put it out on his label. That never happened but we became really good friends, nonetheless. She's great to work with. She has such an incredible voice and is such a talented and accomplished songwriter, not to mention she's also so kind and funny. She's basically a living saint with the voice of an angel who knows how to send a funny text message.
Also can you tell us a bit about recording your upcoming album, Fear, with Bill Rieflin? What did he bring to the table?
Yeah, Bill is like a mentor to me. He brought so much expertise and talent to that session. So did Don Gunn, the engineer Bill brought in. I learned more about recording and producing the week we were in the studio tracking Fear than any other session I'd ever done before; it was incredible. When it was all done and I started tracking other stuff on my own, like the split with Chelsea, I felt like I had leveled up or something. Bill is the first producer I've ever worked with and I was very nervous about it since I barely knew him. He's such a great musician, composer and now I'm lucky enough to call him a friend. I feel very blessed.
Learn more about King Dude at kingdude.bandcamp.com