King Dude, the alter ego of TJ Cowgill and his band of comrades play a more intimate and acoustic based dark folk/ country / rock … To my surprise the mostly hardcore based line up of Ieperfest featured King Dude this year to play the festival at the Marquee stage on Friday. With a new release just around the corner, we met up with the dude himself to find out all about what drives TJ to create his music and of course the in and outs of his new upcoming album Sex.
Welcome to Ieperfest, first time here?
Yes, i've never been to this city or this festival. I like it. Is this a city? I should probably check it out.
King Dude has a new album coming out soon, October will be the release of Sex, 11 new songs all about…sex. Can you let us in on the new record?
It's pretty much sex, it says itself. Whenever i do a subject, like Fear is about fear and Love was about love. Sex has the subject of sex. When i approach those albums i have an idea of what i want i think i'm making. But it never comes exactly out the way i think of it. It's kind of strange when i started writing the album called sex i was thinking what is the most sexual music that exists. And that of course that leads to funk, soul disco, R&B and pop music. So i've studied a lot of that music.
You think of sex your mind goes automatically to George Michael or Madonna. Like Madonna espaciall, she had an album named Erotica. Or someone like Prince. These are subjects that a lot of people have written about. I hope that my perspective is a little bit different. I think it is. It's not a pop record but it has more of a rock 'n roll element, more country songs at times. To me it's really imortant. It's a good subject. There's songs you could fuck to if you want. Or just listen to and have an enlightening experience. It can go any way. It has to be done with such care. Especially in this age that we're now in, this is the subject that people should be talking about it and understanding more. All the different kinds of sex that exist. Not just my perspective. So i cover other things.
There's this song on it called Swedish Boys. It's about wanting a Swedish boy. Not necessarily where i'm at but it's a very fun subject to write. You know that kind of songs where the girl is too good to get, she will never be with you. I wrote that about an entire country worth of men. Which is fun. It is different.
Two songs have been released on your Bandcamp, Holy Christos and Our Love Will Carry On. Two different type of songs that reflect the full album?
Soft is a good way to describe it but it is a heavy song too in it's own way. When the chorus comes in and it's subject. It's one of the most love songs on the album. I wrote that one when John Murphy passed away. From SPK and he played in Death In June. He played in a lot of bands. I didn't write it about John but i was that kind of heartbroke. We were supposed to meet up one more time and we never got to meet up again. I was really depressed when i wrote it and it made me feel better. It did it's job. That's what a song is supposed to do.
Holy Christos it's way different because it has bass on it. That song started with the bass guitar. Which is a new instrument to me. I obviously played bass and i play guitar but i never started playing songs from a bass guitar. I did that because it's sex. You've got to think of sexual instruments like the bass and drums. It has something you feel in the frequencies. It's body music, it doesn't hit you in the head. That's also when you think about sex, it's here. You don't want intellectualize it too much. It's kind of ironic because that's what we're doing now. That song sounds a little bit different. It has a more upbeat kind of drive to it.
I wasn't sure which two to pick. With that kind of record there's a lot of different kind of songs on there. I think that's consistent with me. I don't want to make the song track over and over again. I've been accused of being a two trick pony, i'm more of a five trick pony. It's a type of song i really like to write. There's not another song like Holy Christos or Our Love Will Carry On on the album, there's more upbeat songs. Since i started writing with piano too, there's stuff that starts from there. Like this song The Leather One thats starts with the organ and clarinet, which is a weird instrument, very funky. To me it has a Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man kind of vibe to it. I'm trying to really exploit that similarity i have.
You also cooperated with Julee Cruise (Twin Peaks theme song) on a split EP. How did this occasion arise?
She's a beautiful singer. Facebook, Julee is pretty active on Facebook, a mutual friend saw that she posted a Jezus In The Courtyard video. King Dude, what a great band name, this video is so great check it out. Weirdly enough i had already written that song Animal. I was searching for someone to sing it. I had my girlfriend trying to sing it but she hasn't got the right range. I have a demo version of me singing it. I was racking my brain, who can sing it. Then i see this thing, it clicked. If she likes my band i can write here and maybe then she can sing it. Withing a couple days we were scheduling it. It was meant to be. I watched her perform in North Bend Washington for the Twin Peaks festival, where they filmed Twin Peaks. She performed the song and that was probaly my proudest moment i've ever felt. She's an idol to me, i idolize her since i was young. It's so cool. Julee is brillliant.
On previous albums one of the main topics is duality, light and dark, good and bad, love and hate,…The eternal quest for balance?
This is a common protagonist. It's an easy thing to write. Everyone does walk a fine line. No one is good, no one is evil. People do evil things and they do good things. But to say one person could be completely one thing. Obviously there are like psychopath murderers and things like that. they probably still have people that love them and that they love. There's more of a different shade of it. I think i'm more of a balanced person I try to lean towards good. Sometimes you have to embrace darkness. You have to stare in it. There's nothing in the darkness that can hurt us. We all are rocketing towards it if we like it our not, we're heading there as fast as we can and that's death. If you're not willing to stare into the darkness and what death is then you're not really living a prepared life There's nothing in the darkness that should be terrifying. It's just the unknown. The things that go bump in the night, the theing that we are afraid of, the things that aren't real, those things are there to keep us safe from what we can discover about ourselves. That totally makes sense with how i write songs and the kind of protagonists i work with. That's what i'm working on for myself. You have to go past that fear. It's about challenging. I want people to be better, you could get the record and be like, that's a good record. Or you could get the record and listen and read the lyrics and dig down, when it's done really well you could get even deeper into it. You could find possibly spirituality or religion, you could find a lot of things. It doesn't end at the surface. But there is that kind of stupid surface to the whole thing. It's King Dude for god's sake.
Paganism, religion, symbolism, these are all of influence on your music. Like the band logo, the Nauthiz rune. It's like a sigil?
Definitely. It's just a rune. That all it is. People think it's more to it. Some people think it's edgy other people know that it's not. To me it represents the desire and the path that i am on. The need for fire, the need to create, the journey i which. Not the goal but the path. It's a concept that we don't have that often in religion. Just doing it, the cathartic process of making yourself better is also valuable. Not being perfect. It doesn't even represent the attempt, it represents doing.
That's something mostly 21th century i believe. We're used to instant gratification…
I hate that. I hate these things, i hate phones. You have to have a computer, i'm a graphic designer as well at home. This thing is a tool i have to use. That's why i record my own music, i record with this computer. I don't mind that process. If you look back at the past. If this had been presented to A.P. Carter who started the Carter Family, he would have probably done it himself. We live in a time where the tools are presented to us. The technology is presented to us. There's no reason no to do things. You just have to be smart willing and really in line with your will and make sure that is good for other people. You don't want to manifest negative ways that hurts people in the process. I'm very intent about keeping this band, this project, keeping people employed around it, keeping the fans very happy. Having a good impact on people. I'm saying that now but my next record might not be like that. I know what's it's called. You might be in for a surprise. I'm writing it right now. The title is done, the title for the record after that is done but i'm not working on that album yet. It will wrap up a chapter. Basically an eight album arc that i've been working on. Tonight's Special Death would have been the first, Love the second and up untill Sex now which is the sixth. Then there will be a seventh and an eight. So hopefully when you listen to all eight albums you could see that, but i don't know who will listen to eight hours straight like that.
Before King Dude, you've played in full bands. King Dude is mostly a one man operation with additional musicians for the recording and live side. A huge difference of working and getting your music out there?
Oh yeah it is. There's so many things to consider. From how they play the material, to how they get along with each other. Whether they're able to do it, to take the time of work. I wouldn't say we're the busiest band in the world but we are touring three to four months out of the year. That's difficcult for some. Not reaping possibly all the benefits from the other band that they play with. I looked at the classic dynasties, Johhny Cash, James Brown, he's not the best example, people who had bands that were very good. They were more or less treated good. They treat their bands really well. That should be their top priority. Johhny Cash and people like that. I read a lot about what Quincy Jones did with a twenty piece band, when he was just gettting started with the Jazz orchestra. There's was times when he was losing so much money but he had to keep going because it's twenty people on the bus. And that's a lot of people. That's the kind of grind i like. It's encouraging to me. It puts me in a position where i have to care for these people. And there's even more people. Like the people i run the record label with in the States. Just make sure everything works. There's a lot going on.
Today you'll be playing Ieperfest, a hardcore festival featuring a diverse range of bands that quite differ from King Dude. Do you adjust the set for certain occasions?
We'll feel it out. At these festivals sometimes, like we played Wacken and we played Brutal Assault in the Czech Repulic. There's like ballads that might have to come out. We feel that as we go. We don't put the setlist down every night like some bands. We know what we're going to play. There's a lot of process and care there as well. There's some that i pluck some nights. If this is going to be the voice and piano song you might not hear that here. Because it might not be the right environement. Clubshows are better for those. It's more or less the same. I might take one out. We have to consider time as well.
It's really spur of the moment. I always call it out, they have suggestions. But there is only so many songs that they know. So we'll reach a point where they can't play anymore and i can play forty more songs if i wanted. It's too difficult to be really good and train over fourty, fifty songs, for that they have to love me to death. No one does, no one loves my song enough to learn fifty of them. To keep them all fresh. That's my job. I got to do that.
Any last words, plans,… ?
The new record is called Sex. We talked about that a lot. That will come out October 28th. I hope you guys enjoy it. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Interview : David Marote
Photography : David Marote