Acid King Interview: The Blue Collar Stoner Doom Tour

Mondays are hard for me. I don’t get the Sunday scaries as much as some folks might. However, I always quietly say “Goddammit” when I wake up on Monday mornings. Getting roused and going to work on a Monday morning really sucks. But this particular Monday in September was quite different.

After the day trudged by, it was time for Acid King. I show up to the Marquis Theater in Denver to talk to Lori S., the founding member of Acid King. So many questions to ask and only a short amount of time. I walk up to the theater for the pre-show interview to find Lori and the gang tuning up for sound check.

I really love showing up early to shows like this. Bands that play in smaller rooms like this are usually their own techs. While there were 2 or 3 theater staffers helping out the audio tech, it’s really just them tuning up their instruments, checking their own levels, tweaking their amps. It always seems to me like you can really sense the passion for what they do when they’re taking care of their own sounds.

The tour manager recognized me. “Hey, Lori got caught up with the sound check. You mind hanging out for 15 minutes?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’m just glad to be here. Take your time.”

A few minutes go by, guitars tuned and pizza slices consumed, and it’s time to sit down. Lori approaches me to introduce herself. After being a fan for about a year, I’m a little surprised that I’m towering over Lori. This band creates such a monolith sound that it’s surprising to see this person as she is. I guess I just assumed Lori wasn’t so much a person as she was a formless being of psychedelia with a Les Paul Custom strapped on. That’s on me, though.

Pete: So you guys have been around for, what?

Lori: 26 years.

Pete: Yeah, 26 years. You’ve said before when you guys got started, this sound that you guys do wasn’t hugely popular, but there were a lot of bands around you guys that were going. Now that it’s 2019 and it’s so easy to find a distribute music now, what do you think is the difference now? Are there bigger crowds? Are the crowds different?

Lori: When we started, this was uncharted territory. There were bands like Hawkwind, Monster MagnetSleep, who was totally underground then. Bands that were touring like Kyuss and Monster Magnet, the Obsessed

Pete: Well, Electric Wizard was coming up.

Lori: Electric Wizard hadn’t quite started yet. Well, they might’ve been but I didn’t know about them until later. But in the mid-90s when Man’s Ruin [Records] came out, they started putting out those bands that didn’t have a home. High on Fire, you know, more of those kinds of bands coming out. There was a home for them, but it was such a small, niche market. “Stoner rock” as a name didn’t exist. No one really knew what to do with it. No one knew where to put it in their record store. It was one of those things, a new thing. It was heavy. It was kind of like Black Sabbath but not really. And there were some bands that already existed like that. It went beyond the metal label, and that existed for quite a while. We’ve been touring for a long time, and in the last 5 years things have completely blown up for a lot of bands.

Pete: You’re right, it’s kind of hard. Where do you put this exactly? This stoner sound straddles so many lines. Do you ever kind of put yourself in a box like that, or is it just, “This is what we create”?

Lori: No because I never felt comfortable in that stoner rock box. Because we’re not really like that. Obviously, we’re influenced by Sabbath and we have big heavy riffs.

Pete: Yeah, it’s not like you’re Sleep where every song is a reference.

Lori: Exactly. There’s a lot of Sleep-like bands out there, and we never followed in those footsteps to play like that where a lot of bands have. I think Acid King is a little bit different than that, just not so many straightforward “Children of the Grave”-like drums. It does touch in that category, for sure. But I also don’t think it’s a perfect fit into that category.

Pete: Something else I’m realizing right now is when I was in high school, my favorite band was Queens of the Stone Age. I was into a lot of metal and stuff, and one way I would introduce people to metal was through stoner rock like stuff. It’s not super dense tech death. It’s something I think anybody could like if you’re a fan of music in general. Do you see anything with crowds at shows? Is it a metal crowd?

Lori: It’s hard to say really. Look, we played with Queens back in the day. I don’t think we could play with them now. But we played the Man’s Ruin showcase. Would that showcase work now? No, obviously not. But back then when there wasn’t anywhere we could go, we all just kind of played together as a mish-mash of weird bands. I would say metal crowd is some of who shows up, like open-minded metal heads. But people that were totally into Iron Maiden and shredding, not so much. If you were into Sabbath metal then yes. If you were into Slayer metal then no. There’s not ripping, smoking guitar leads. It’s not the same. It’s heavy but not like testosterone stuff. (Sorry guys and ladies). It’s a different kind of thing. There are so many genres and subgenres of metal now that it’s hard to say. I would say there’s definitely a mix. It’s like a recipe. There’s a dash of metal and a dip of stoner and a teaspoon of doom.

Lori S. (Photo: H. King)

Pete: I was thinking about this earlier. To be honest with you, I knew of you guys but hadn’t really explored until the last year or so. This sound and Busse Woods has become one of my very favorite sounds.

Lori: Thank you.

Pete: You’re welcome! It’s a great record, and I’m really glad you’re touring on it. There is something about that sound. When you’re talking about popular music these days, it’s really all around the guitar. There is something about a Les Paul through an amp stack with a lot of fuzz on it that I think anybody could enjoy that. There’s a huge sound. I always wonder about that sound. Was that combination something you came up with naturally just playing guitar and thinking, “I wonder how hard I can push this thing”?

Lori: Yeah, I started as a punk rocker back in the day. As my music evolved and what I liked and played evolved, I think I got really influenced by Sub Pop Records. When Sub Pop came around in the early 90s, I was in an all-girl band and I definitely had my Marshall and MXR distortion pedal. I think what happened was I had this Marshall head I bought from this metal guy. Somebody put a wrong fuse in it, and I watched my transformer melt in front of my eyes. I borrowed another head from the guy that fixed the amp. It was a modified amp with 200 watts. It was crazy. I plugged it in and it just sounded so good. It was the first time I realized, “Oh my god, tone!” I came into my own instead of plugging in and playing it. I had never thought about my tone or my sound or what was I even doing. I had to give it back and I got a new head, the JCM I have now that I bought in the 80s, and I spent a bunch of time figuring out how do I get that same tone from the last head.

That’s how it happened. Back in those days before people knew about it, guys would call it that Joe Walsh sound. It was the closest thing they could relate it to. I ended up messing around with some distortion pedals like a Boss overdrive. I found a Big Muff in Seattle at some store and bought it. I had some Sovtek Big Muffs and didn’t like them, so I plugged in the Big Muff and it was amazing. That’s how I came up with the Acid King tone.

Pete: Did you have the Alfred Hitchcock zoom in moment? Like, “WHaaaaaaaaAAA????”

Lori: Totally! The powers of ten of getting the heavy sound! It all started out with that loaner amp and that tone that I got. I was endlessly searching by stumbling across things and trying them. I had a Melody Maker at the time, but once I got the Les Paul and the Big Muff, it was just, “This is it.” It took a lot of years to get there though.

Pete: It’s so odd considering that bands like Acid King, Sleep, Electric Wizard, being influenced by Sabbath and a lot of ’70s riff-rock that dudes called it the Joe Walsh sound. It comes from this other stuff. That’s so weird that it wasn’t a huge thing before that.

Lori: I don’t know why. It’s just weird.

Rafael Martinez (Photo: H. King)

Pete: So Acid King is a band that’s been around for a bit but very much benefitted by the ease of finding music on the internet now. Do you find that crowds are bigger at shows, do you play bigger venues than you used to?

Lori: We haven’t done a US tour since 2015. We’re definitely playing some of the same venues. We just started our tour in Portland and Seattle, which were great. We’ll have to see, but the crowds are a bit bigger. We’re getting offered festival shows that we wouldn’t have gotten in the past. Yeah, there has been more interest and everything else that goes along with it in the last 5 years. We’ll see who comes out on a Monday night in Denver and a Tuesday night in Omaha. Unfortunately, not every night can be Friday or Saturday. It’s not easy to come out on a weekday.

Pete: I dunno, I’ve found that metal crowds are inherently different. Like if you’ve got a band that you really like or something like that, you make the sacrifice. Metalheads also get kind of territorial where they take ownership of the music, saying, “This is MY thing.”

Lori: Yeah, I know the last time we played in Denver, we sold out Hi-Dive. Obviously a much smaller venue, but I was still really surprised by that. You have to take into account a lot of other things and all the factors. Besides the weekdays, there’s a lot of bands touring. Like the Melvins just played, Brant Bjork is playing, Boris was just here. A lot of bands are touring at the same time. That weighs into it. You can’t go out every night, even if you can afford it. I gotta go to work in the morning.

Pete: It’s also a different thing for you. Like you have to ask around. “Hey guys, are y’all touring right now, too? Ah, damn. Okay, we’ll reschedule.”

Lori: Yeah, it’s hard! You set these things up and find out after the fact. It’s the way it goes, and sometimes it’s unfortunate. It’s just part of the whole experience of touring.

Pete: Where are you in the tour now?

Lori: This is just the third show.

Pete: Gotcha. In the last few years, it’s gotten so much more popular to tour on the anniversary of some record. And obviously with Busse Woods…wait, is it BUS Woods?

Lori: Actually, it’s BUS-EE.

Pete: Dammit, I’m an idiot.

Lori: Don’t worry, no one pronounces it right.

Pete: So that came out in ’99. Being the most consistent Acid King member, do you put yourself back in that place when you were first putting these songs together?

Lori: Hmm…no, not really. I wouldn’t say that. Not at all. That time period was so awkward. We wrote the songs, and Brian the bass player quit right before it came out. It was back in the day when it came out on Man’s Ruin and it came out on CD. There was no social media. We didn’t really tour or do anything with it. It came out, it got as much press as Man’s Ruin could give it, and that was the end of the line. We did tour with High on Fire in 2000 for a short bit, and that was it. Just like any record that you put out when you’re in a band and not expecting anything, you’re just playing your music and you’re doing it to find out that in 20 years you’ve got a million listeners for one of your songs. Your top songs are “Electric Machine” and “Drive Fast Take Chances”. You can never know that until now.

Pete: You just didn’t have the metrics then.

Lori: Yeah. So that was cool. But when I play it now, I don’t think about those times. To me, I just think it’s really cool that those songs carried on.

Pete: Sure, and a person like me who’s only really even been aware of Acid King in the last few years. I just didn’t have the access until recently. I’m from semi-rural Georgia and the closest thing I had was MTV2. And if you weren’t on MTV2, someone like me wasn’t going to hear of you.

Lori: Yeah, because back in the old days, unless you were completely tuned into Man’s Ruin or some other label or getting the fanzines or something, you didn’t hear about it. There weren’t webzines then. You just went to the record store. If there was a band you liked, you had to ask what other bands were like that. Or you called the college radio station. It was so much harder and you had to put the effort in, which I actually like and thought was fun. Nowadays, you’re just on your computer and you’re on Spotify. You’re playing Electric Wizard and then it’s Acid King. So now it’s just easier to find things you know you’re going to like.

Pete: Was it ever about making records and earning a living for you? Or are you just doing the thing you love doing?

Lori: No, I just love music and playing. I never, ever expected to be a rock star and make a living off of it. I just do it to enjoy it and to get the creative side going. I like having a lot of things going on in my life. I don’t want to be a full time rock star. But, hey, if I write a hit and I make a lot of money, I’d probably consider that route! But that was never the intention. To get into a band and to think you’ll put all of your efforts into getting somewhere, wherever that is, I think that’s a lot of pressure and letdown. What do you do after you quit your job, you’ve toured for years, you now have no money or a resume of any skills and you’re 40. I dunno, I don’t want to be that person. I want to have a well-rounded life, and this is the awesome creative part.

Bil Bowman (Photo: H. King)

Pete: It’s almost very blue collar. “I’m just doing my thing, man.” Are y’all working on anything now?

Lori: We have some new riffs, but we’ve been getting ready for this tour and this record. Whenever you tour, at least for us, we have other things going on in our lives. That’s one of the downsides. It takes forever to write a new record. You practice for a new tour, you’re playing the songs you’re gonna play, and you’re not writing music. Next year, we’re going to focus on writing and not tour. Maybe go to Europe for a bit. But no big tours, maybe a few festivals.

Pete: Now that you’ve mentioned Europe, I gotta ask this. Have you guys toured Europe?

Lori: Oh yeah, probably more than the US. It’s easy to tour in Europe. There’s more interest in our kind of music in Europe than there was here. You can make more money, you can fly there, it’s just easier. A lot of those countries give more money for the arts so they have money to pay. They have companies with tour vans and gear and a driver. You get off the plane, your driver, van, and gear are all there. A lot of the venues have sleeping areas and rooms in the venues. They give you food. You get more taken care of Europe which makes it so much easier to go. You’re always gonna have food and somewhere to sleep. Here it’s totally DIY. You’ve gotta get the bed, bring your own gear. When you’re finally at a level, a club will give you food and beers. But you have to stay on people’s floors or book a hotel.

Pete: Especially when you’re in the west where everything is so much more spread out. A few months ago, I met another band from Europe who was talking about it. When you’re on the east coast, it’s super easy. Everything’s so close.

Lori: Yeah, it’s more like the European tours. You go to Boston then New York just like going to Belgium and France. I mean, we drove to Denver from Seattle. That’s 21 hours in the van, and then we’ve gotta go another 8 to get to Omaha. It’s gnarly until you’re in the Midwest.

Pete: The closer you are to the coast, it gets easier. You’re in Boston then 3 hours to New York.

Lori: Yep. You’re either gone for 6 weeks or you’re playing really weird small places. We wanted it to be compact and hit the spots.

Pete: Is there a difference between American and European crowds? Especially in the 90s when a more underground metal sound was more popular there than here.

Lori: I would say now it’s pretty similar. Back then, we had more of a crowd there than here. But now they’re pretty even.

Pete: Well, I appreciate you taking the time. Looking forward to the show!

Lori: Thank you!

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