dUg Pinnick is a “Prog” (Progressive) Metal vocalist, overly charismatic, mega talented front-man and bassis for the legendary band “King’s X”. I have listened to his work for well over 30 years, and he had the nerve to say I was old for that.
They were just a great band that got labelled as “Christian” and that was on their image for longer than they wanted. As you will read, it was not really working for who he really is. We talked for hours, and this is just part of our incredible conversation. He has the swagger on stage to keep you enthralled with his performances, and just killer good bass lines, and oh so much else. And as a straight guy, I can honestly say that dUg is a strikingly good looking dude.
JH: Hello dUg thanks for taking the time to talk.
DP: Hello Hello Hello, glad to be here.
JH: So, starting off, you are a pretty enigmatic character, a person of color, playing prog metal, and a left-handed bassist at that, like Paul McCartney.
DP: I hadn’t thought about that, I don’t know any other left-handed bassists.
JH: I am a sub-mediocre bassist, I can do every New Order and Joy Division song, and maybe a Killing Joke song here or there.
DP: Oh man, I LOVE Killing Joke, they are one of my favorite bands, good taste.
JH: Well, I have an interesting history with your music, I listened to a lot of King’s X in high school. When everyone was listening to Metallica I said “Well, I listen to intelligent metal, stuff like King’s X, Dream Theater, and Rush’. So I would fire up the King’s X for that. Back in 1990.
DP: Wow, that’s going pretty far back.
JH: Well, I think that the instinct readers need a lot more metal in their diet, I’m not ripping on Lady Gaga, she is wonderful, but some great metal is always good to have in your library. And what I loved about you was that you were this person of color playing in metal. Back then, there weren’t many black guys in rock, let alone metal like that. Then there you are, with the SWAG, and the Mohawk. I loved that you were this enigmatic “Art” dude, playing great metal. I know that image stuck with you for a long time, you were so out of the stereotype.
DP: Wow, nobody has ever said those things to me before, so I’m kinda taken back. I appreciate that. The personal thing you saw up there, was a gay may, who was in his closet, afraid of the world and hiding, and confused, and hating every moment because he was miserable and felt like he was the big class clown. That’s how I felt, I fought my way through it, at 70 years old now, I’ve had a long journey, back then I was a mess. But because of being a mess, that’s what you got and that’s part of the journey of who I am, and what people think of me now. I can’t complain about that.
JH: Did all of that contribute to your songwriting?
DP: Oh yeah.
JH: Well, cause there you were so enigmatic, and cool looking, and had this swagger, like Bono, Mick Jagger, and even David from Depeche Mode, that is how much you had it when you were performing.
DP: I was TRYING – I was always driven to do that, ever since I was a child, anytime I sang someone reacted, any time I did anything in art or music, someone reacted. It seemed like people turned their heads as long as I can remember, so I wasn’t afraid of it, and I never was afraid to get in front of people and show it because I was never rejected. I think that was the only thing that kept me going as a very insecure child. I was very introverted, but on the outside, I wanted to be liked, I wanted to be around people, I wanted to be a part of something. So I had to just go out and get it, it was in the back of my mind. From the first time I sang as a child, to now I walk on stage and I’m singing for thousands of people. I don’t remember all the little steps it took to get me there, or HOW I even got there, or even why I did it. Sometimes I’m still amazed that I had the nerve to do it, so I look around and say that ANYONE can do it. To become obsessed with doing something that you love and just go do it.
JH: That’s interesting, you are telling me about this whole situation of anxiety…
DP: IT WAS!!!! (Laughing)
JH: But there you are, the rock god, intelligent rock. You are the guy that musicians listen to and think “GOD THAT GUY IS SO GOOD”. You have been described as Jimmy Hendrix on Bass, you have been described as the guy Lenny Kravitz wanted to be. I mean, as a bass player myself, I put you up there in the world of Chris Squire (YES) and Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel), Ok, Tony Levin is 7 feet tall, but you are in that “Club”.
DP: Yeah, actually Chris Squire is my 2nd favorite bassist, I play most like him, as someone who influenced me, I remember I first heard “Roundabout” when I was 21 years old, I remember the tone. He had this sole groove, but he could play these fast notes, and then could just turn around and play on that. You had these prog bands that were “Busy” playing lots of complicated notes and riffs, and then you had this funk stuff, that was very chill and simple. Chris Squire could do both. I laugh sometimes when I put on early YES records, and think… Oh yeah, I forgot. I saw them in 73, and they did “Roundabout” which was a band like Led Zeppelin.
JH: So, here is my embarrassing story about you…
DP: Ok shoot.
JH: So, I had seen Living Color in 93, or so, and they were fine, not outstanding, just good. I got a hold of the bootleg video of the Amsterdam show in 94. Now you gotta be a real fan to watch a single-angle shit video shot of a gig like that.
DP: I have watched many. I remember that it was one of the warm-up gigs, a small venue.
JH: Right, it was the Paradise Theater in Amsterdam, so you get that, the audio was excellent, but the video was bad. I remember listening and thinking “Man, Glover really upped his game, he really sounds fantastic this time around”. Then I found out sometime later it was you. I couldn’t see clear enough to see it wasn’t Corey Glover, and, well, I can say, you do Glover better than Glover. Have you heard that one?
DP: I haven’t heard that one, I would like to though. I have one bootleg from the Slovakia gig, and it was 40 thousand people, and we played right before Iggy Pop. I didn’t think it sounded that great but it was me doing Corey’s music, and it was a lot higher than my voice. Most of the time I was struggling, but it was really fun. It was 12 shows in 12 nights.
JH: Yeah if it was a band I liked I wanted the bootlegs, so I scored so many from that time.
DH: It’s all on YouTube these days, but it’s kind of a family thing to collect shows.
JH: So, here is what got me sold on your music in the early days, aside from the “Intelligent Metal”. I was really Mormon at the time, and I liked “Christian Themed” rock, so I was listening to U2, and Peter Murphy (He was Muslim actually), and The Waterboys, and it was “Wholesome” to listen to, it worked for me as a teenager. BUT Billy Connelly the comedian said, “Christians should stay the hell away from Rock & Roll”. You were pigeonholed into that for a while, weren’t you? As this “Christian” band.
DP: Yes, it was my fault though, we just didn’t know any better, we were just trying to be a band, and still hold to our beliefs as Christians, we were trying to be like U2. We were pretty strong Christians at that time, Ty and Jerry were both going to Christian College when we met, and we were all from that world at that time in our lives. But we were always outside the box. I think all three of us felt like we didn’t belong there, but we didn’t know how to reconcile this “Jesus” thing without it. I asked the guys to put a band together, and that God just wants us to be a band. So we would be a band, but not go out and preach after every song. Just be a band, and play your music, and say what you feel, and make no apologies. So we went out to do it, but the first thing people were asking was because we were so different, as people wanted to know everything about us. They were asking “What are these spiritual lyrics?” for us, and back then to deny you were a Christian was not kosher in the Christian world, we say “Yeah but we aren’t a Christian band”. BAM!!! We told them exactly what to name us, and that was the first mistake. I just saw that U2 got a lot of good press, I watched MTV, and Bono was saying “Jesus” and nobody cared. It was the 80s, and the “J” word was not cool in music. Bono embraced it, and they championed it for it. After all, he had this guy in the band Adam, who was a “sinner” because he was drinking a lot and fucking chicks. So it was OK. So it was a game that was being played. Rolling Stone did the same thing, The head interviewer came and did 3 days with us. We all promised each other we would not talk about Christianity for any sort. He prodded them and they told him EVERYTHING they wanted to hear except about Christianity. Then I went out with him and it was the same thing. Then at the end of it all, he said “Well, off the record” then he started asking me those questions, and I spewed it all out to him. Then he made me sound like I was this evangelical out to save the world. And we all knew that was the one that hurt us. That was my fault, I was naive enough to talk to a person from any magazine “Off the record”. NOBODY TALKS OFF THE RECORD. Back then we didn’t know any better. I remember when the record came out and I was excited about it, and they gave us 4.5 stars, then at the end of it “It’s a great record if you don’t mind getting beat over the head with loaves and fishes”. Out of all the great things they said about the album, they said that, because it was the 80s, and evangelicals was a joke, and they hated it, and we hated being a part of it. We are out of that world now, I was excommunicated when I came out. Our records were banned from all Christian bookstores, and we are happy. It’s been a great journey.
JH: I remember reading a lot of C.S. Lewis, there is a band The Waterboys…
DP: Yeah, love them.
JH: Mike Scott spent a lot of time on Christ in C.S. Lewis, and he said “If I were Christian, I would burn down every church”. I was able to listen to them and keep a foot in both worlds.
DP: Yeah, us underground Christians, we would just close the door on those that didn’t understand it, and we just enjoyed the music.
JH: Well, when you toured with AC/DC and Iron Maiden, how was that received being Christians.
DP: In the music world, they never cared what our beliefs were, they loved us because of the music we made. We were embraced and had no problem with that, we never saw any backlash in the music community, the media, whose job it is to sell, couldn’t get a profit off us because they didn’t know how to market us, so we were on our own. SO when we went out to play, kids didn’t care if we were Christian, they weren’t reading into it, they just liked it. If the media doesn’t drive the masses you don’t sell records. Another thing is that if you aren’t wearing your heart on your sleeve, that frontman who is ready to die for Rock & Roll, it’s hard to rise above. There were so many rock stars there were hundreds of bands making videos on MTV, and making Millions of dollars all of a sudden, so you have to find your way through it. We had that chance like any other band and we were out playing for lots of people. I mean, we played Woodstock in 1994 in front of 300,000 people. At the time it was depressing because that’s the only one we got to play at. In this frame of mind to say “you have to be successful” no one sat us down and said, “It’s all about the journey”. I wouldn’t change anything looking back on it.
JH: I see you tearing it up at 70 years old, because you love it, not because you need the money. I’m sure sitting at home is driving you crazy.
DP: I’ll be honest, being home is nice, I’m old enough now, I get social security (Laughing) and you know after playing for so many years, royalties will always trickle in. I like waking up, and looking around, and thinking I’ll listen to music, and thin I don’t hear anything new and inspiring. It’s all rehashed and mixed with something else. Nothing wows me anymore, then I try to write music, and … well, I’m now WOWING me either? Well, and I going to retire? No, I’m still up for the challenge. I’m still going to write that song that changes the world like The Beatles did, regardless of whether it happens or not, it’s all about the journey. I’m here to tell you but, IT’S BEEN A GREAT JOURNEY.
JH: So, when did you realize it was safe to come out?
DP: I have been honest all my life, as far as I know, I cherish honesty. It’s always gotten me in trouble, I remember I just got to the point where, you know growing up in the 50s, and 60s, being gay wasn’t accepted. You couldn’t even say it was “Barely legal” at that, and in the Church, you were worse than a murderer.
JH: Yeah Mormonism’s the same way.
DP: Yeah you get that, so, that was going on, and here I am singing about being true, and “The Truth” from that point of view, and I thought “you detest hypocrisy but you are one of the biggest hypocrites” so just tell them. So I never gave it any thought, It just happened at the spur of the moment, I was doing a Christian rock magazine. They asked me “Why aren’t you married? OR have any kids?” And I just said, “Because I’m gay”. I never told anyone, I never said I had a big announcement, it just slipped out. It felt like it was just time to do it. The only people that got upset about it was the record company, just said “Please let us know before you do something like that”, so they could deal with it. So we got banned from the Christian record stores, and we lost a lot of money. But, Ty and Jerry didn’t care, and we went on with our lives, and a lot of Christians didn’t care. I feel like Michael Stipe from REM, we never made a big deal out of it. Just stay away from the subject, it’s just not worth talking about at that moment. There was not one complaint from the fans, I remember a handful of fans from the thousands, “I was taken back for a moment, but… THAT’s dUg, I LOVE dUg”. I also think that a lot of people who are gay, or bisexual, or transgender, I am singing to myself, but them also. One time we were playing in Charlotte North Carolina, and during our song “Belief” I give a speech I say “Don’t give a fuck about what people think about you, be who you are, just go do it”. It’s over, the show is done, you go home, you come back a few years later, after the show you meet this guy, he says “I want you to meet someone, I brought him to the show last time you played. And he was a she, and he was going to kill himself until you played that song, and said, “Be who you need to be and don’t let them take that away from you”. So I know it works.
JH: That is such a beautiful story man, I’m here in Utah, and we have the highest rate of LGBTQ suicides in young people. That’s what got me involved was because one suicide is 10 too many.
DP: I have a godson who just came out, and he tried to kill himself twice. He was gay, he is a she now, I said “Why didn’t you talk to me?” He said, “I knew you wouldn’t understand”. That’s when I realized that is something I didn’t understand, and I had to embrace too.
JH: Well, it’s like when Halford came out (Rob Halford, the metal vocal GOD).
DP: Dude, we ALL KNEW…
JH: I know, the joke was on the rest of us. But there he is, he came out, said “I’m gay, going to sing metal, fuck everything else” and this is the happiest he has ever been.
DP: Oh yeah, it was hard for me, because I grew up in such a suppressed gay culture, when he came out, I was so happy but I was so horrified for him because I knew what the timing was. It was media suicide (professional) I thought how is he going to weather this, I watched him being ridiculed. I hurt for him, I felt bad, but on the other hand, he had to do that, like I had to do that, and we had to deal with what we did. It hasn’t hurt him at all anymore, but back then it was hard to deal with the backlash from other people, only because I’m one of those guys and I’m sensitive to that because I understand how hard it is, and how for myself still needed to come out. It was scary for me too. All I saw was what I thought was going to happen is the jokes and the shit, and I thought “Do I want that?” so much was going on in my head back then, just like any gay person. Being in front of the public is the last thing anyone wants is to be ridiculed in front of the world, you find yourself in a place where that could happen to you. What are you going to do about it? That’s what was so scary about it. And there was NOBODY to talk to.
JH: YES, thank god now there IS somebody to talk to, which is wonderful. How many people have said “I had to come out, or kill myself”, and that was it for SO many people, I think Halford was the same way. I have so many friends who said they had to come out and be who they were. Finding places to be saved, and people to be with, was difficult, but they got there. You have Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons putting this Loveloud Foundation, to bring an end to the suicides. I got involved just because I wanted to help, which got me to where I am now, talking to a prog metal god. But to go to these events and see these kids, wonderful kids, and see what they are going through. It was always heartbreaking, so I admire and am grateful to people like you, to lay that foundation, and say say “Hey, I’m this very successful metal guy, and what I have done, and nothing about it changes”. I know it wasn’t easy for you, but you made it easier for the next guy to come out.
DP: I understand, I’ve got stories to tell too.
JH: Was coming to terms with it what eroded your faith?
DP: I’ve always been inquisitive about what I believe, so I study, do my research, you know what does Vitamin C do to your body, I want to know how it gets through your stomach and how it gets to where it’s going. I’m a very inquisitive person, so religion was a very big part of my life. I went to church 3 times a week with my grandmother till I was 14. I have heard every single fire and brimstone sermon about how you are going to hell if you dance if you drink if you smoke if you go to bars. I mean, it was very strict, just like Mormonism. So I would ask questions that didn’t make sense, and people tell me to stop asking questions. And I’m not gonna stop asking questions. And there was always somebody outside the box that I lived in that was honest and would just say something like “Dug, you know that ain’t true” and walk away. You don’t forget that. It encourages you to keep looking for your truth. I believed everything, I was abstinent, I didn’t even jack off, I prayed every day I read my bible, I did everything I could to be that perfect fucking Christian because I was afraid I would go to hell. But I knew I was gay and I didn’t know how to deal with that. And one day I was reading the bible, and it said “Do not question God, God makes vessels for his destruction and his glory.” and at that moment something said to me “You are a vessel of destruction, you were made to go to hell”. I had a panic attack, I was laying on this bridge by a river, looking up at the sky, and I remember saying “Well, if that’s the case, then FUCK THIS!!!” I was tired of fighting, I was 27 years old, I was so tired of battling with me and god, and in falling in love with every guy that I saw, and they were straight so I couldn’t have them. And I sabotage everything so I wouldn’t find love. Being the most insecure person in the world, and never trusting love. I was just a wreck. So I just gave up, and said “I’m just gonna go be me” and it took me 5 years to be able to say “I do not believe that Jesus Christ is my lord and savior, and I never will”. It took me a long time to reprogram myself.
JH: So, the final question What would your message be to the young gay kid who’s? Afraid who’s in the closet is in that vulnerable state.
DP: I can only speak from my own experience and everyone is different. It’s very hard for me because everything that I would say there is a counter to it. You know something opposite open your eyes up, be wiser than everybody else. You know and do it you know. I just threw myself out there and you know whatever happened to happen. You know and it’s a journey. You know it’s not worth killing yourself over, because every day does get better trust me, I’m seventy. It does get better. I was just going to say that’s a lot of wisdom from a seventy-year-old gay man.
JH: Thank you. So much feeling it’s been one hell of a conversation
The full conversation and tangents can be heard here