Kix Interview: Brian “Damage” Forsythe Celebrates the Return of Kix
It was a heady, delicious time for six stringers and their instruments. The ‘80s and ‘90s were seemingly dominated by loud, crashing guitars -- and the bass, drums, and searing vocals that go so well with them. Computer-generated pop music and cutesy pop stars weren’t so much the faddish rage they are today.
But in the hearts of those who were there, the rockin’ music of that era still matters. So much so that countless bands from back in the day are on the road and hitting fests in numbers not seen since MTV was young.
One of the more reluctant members of this brotherhood, until the past few years, was Kix, the Maryland-based hard rockers that lit up concert stages and the aforementioned MTV with hits like “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “Cold Blood,” and “Blow My Fuse.” The band was riding high on heavy video and radio exposure, not to mention better and better tour slots, when I first interviewed them at their Atlantic Records-supplied housing in in the early ‘90s. But by ‘96 they found themselves without a label, and drifting toward their various side projects.
The band eventually reformed in 2003, and played a few East Coast shows for their diehard fan base. Finally, by 2012, they ventured a little further from home, tearing up stages at fests such as Rocklahoma. And now, 19 years after their last studio album, Kix has released a rockin’ collection titled Rock Your Face Off. And it’s hard rockin’ guitar domination all over again.
In this exclusive Guitar.com interview, founding member, guitarist Brian “Damage” Forsythe discusses the band’s songwriting process, the craziness of their annual Monsters of Rock cruise appearances, and gives us a rundown of both his East Coast and West Coast guitar rigs.
Click the links throughout this article to see and hear Kix music, new and old.
Guitar.com: Hey Brian.
Forsythe: Hey, how’s it going?
Guitar.com: Good. So you got a new album that’s doing well in the charts man, that’s really cool.
Forsythe: Yeah, it is really cool.
Guitar.com: And it’s been a long wait, 19 years, huh?
Forsythe: Yeah. Yeah it’s a long time.
Guitar.com: What really brought this album together? I know the fans were pushing for it right?
Forsythe: Yeah we had a lot of people who asked and, you know, since we re-formed at the end of 2003, there were a lot of years that went by and a lot of people have asked. When we released that live DVD [Live in Baltimore, 2012], that’s sort of what pushed us in the direction. We started thinking about it. And Frontiers Records put out that live DVD and they asked us to do another studio record. If it wasn’t for that, we probably would have kept putting it off. But that got the ball rolling.
Guitar.com: And then you went out and did a few shows outside of the Atlantic coast right? And went and rocked out at Rocklahoma a few years back and got a great response?
Forsythe: Yeah we started branching out around 2008. That’s when we really started to go out of the Baltimore area. That’s when people started asking about another record. Then we discovered all these people that were still into us all over the country, which was pretty crazy.
Guitar.com: What about the way the music industry and record companies have changed in the years between albums? How did you approach that? How did you deal with that?
Forsythe: Yeah, it’s changed a lot. I mean I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. When we did that live DVD, you know -- we had these guys record this -- the live show and then we looked at it, we went “Wow, this is really good. We should put this out.
And Mark Schenker, our bass player, took it upon himself to sort of look around and shop the thing and try to find somebody to put it out. And that’s when he stumbled across Frontiers Records and, you know, they had a lot of the old ‘80s bands on that label. I think that’s why he went that way. But, you know, after we got into recording the record, he kept on sort of looking around.
We’re old friends with Tom Lipsky at Loud and Proud Records and Mark actually had a band that was associated with him years ago too. So he kept in touch with Tom over the years and as we were doing rough mixes, Tom was asking “Hey can I hear some of that?” So Mark sent the rough mixes out to Loud and Proud and when they heard that, you know, it was like “Oh man, I got to put this thing out.
It just made more sense to go Loud and proud than Frontiers because Frontiers is based in Italy. You know, they are more European and Loud and Proud is American. It just seemed like such a better deal. And they’re a small label and I guess that’s really the way to go these days, the smaller label. You know, the big companies, they have all the big artists; I don’t think they would know what to do with somebody like us, you know? Not like they did back when we were on Atlantic Records. I mean, they didn’t know what to do with us back then either.
Guitar.com: I have actually been a music journalist since the ‘80s and used to do a lot of things with Atlantic Records, and Atlantic artists.
Forsythe: Oh yeah, I remember...
Guitar.com: Do you remember Kathy Acquaviva and Shelli Andranigian, your Atlantic Records publicists out in L.A.?
Guitar.com: And actually, I know they sent me over to your apartment at the Oakwood in Studio City one time, over in the hills above Universal Studios.
Forsythe: Oh yeah.
Guitar.com: That was a long time ago. A long, long time ago.
Forsythe: Was that the Blow My Fuse days or the Hot Wire days?
Guitar.com: Yeah it was Blow my Fuse days, like ‘88 or ‘89.
Forsythe: Yeah, yeah. Yeah we stayed there for both those records. We stayed at Oakwood.
Guitar.com: So it’s been a long road since then. When you guys were looking at a label and -- I ask these kinds of questions to a lot of musicians who will say “Well, I’m a musician, I know how to be a musician, they know how to be a label.” you know? But did you have any thoughts at all about not even going with the label, or is that just out of the question?
Forsythe: Well, I think by the time that we started working on the record we were already associated with Frontiers at that point. So we had never thought about doing the record before all that happened. That never really came up. And I’m the wrong person to ask about business.
Guitar.com: That’s cool man, I just wonder. Because I try to figure out some of the same things in my own world, in my own life you know? I was like “How do you deal with the world the way it is now?” You know? It’s very different.
Forsythe: Well, I didn’t even figure out how to deal with it back then, you know? We were on the label, and I think that’s part of the problem, I just sort of went “Oh, I’m just the guitar player” and I didn’t pay attention to anything and, you know, that probably hurt me business-wise. I’m actually trying to pay more attention now.
Guitar.com: Good move. So as far as guitar playing, what do you use it on this new album? I see lots of pictures of you with Tele’s and SGs and different things. What kind of guitars are you using these days?
Forsythe: My main guitar is a ‘71 Telecaster. And that’s what I use live. So on the record I use that one. I’ve also got a ‘52 re-issue Tele, made in Japan, that I used. That one is a beautiful sounding guitar. I use that on most of the rhythm tracks. And then I have my old ‘61 Melody Maker. It’s the one I was associated with back in the ‘80s, like for the “Cold Blood” video and all that. I use that on a lot of the solos. So those are primarily my three main guitars.
We recorded over Mark Schenker’s house, and he has a bunch of guitars just sitting around. So there’s a couple of times where I picked up one of his and used it. But I primarily used those three guitars. And one amp: I use this 1972 50-watt Marshall. That’s what I play everything through.
Guitar.com: A Marshall head with a 4x12 cabinet?
Forsythe: Yeah, a four-twelve cabinet.
Guitar.com: What about effects?
Forsythe: I’m like pretty much a non-effect kind of guy but, you know, of course they put effects on after the fact a little bit here and there. Occasionally I’ll use something you know? Like live, I carry around a little chorus pedal that I use for like “The Itch” and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” Those are the only two songs I use it on. I prefer to just play straight into the amp -- just crank the amp and that’s my sound.
Guitar.com: So you’re getting enough sustain out of that when you’re cranked up?
Forsythe: Oh, yeah.
Guitar.com: Are you working the volume knob on the guitar when you’re playing live?
Forsythe: Yeah I’ll back it off for rhythm. It’s pretty much like three-quarters of the way up for rhythms, and then I just crank it the rest of the way for solos, just for that little extra gain. Live I bounce back and forth between two amps. So I use that 50-watt for the clubs and then for outdoor stuff I have 100-watt JCM 900 that I use. So that one has a little extra oomph.
Even the 900, with the master volume and all that, I still have to crank that thing to make it sound right. I mean, it’s so loud. And I use in-ears, so I can’t really tell how loud it is until I take my in-ears out and it’s like “Man that’s loud.” But it sounds so good. If you back it off just, like, a 16th of an inch it will just kill the tone. It just dies.
Guitar.com: Have you had these amps modified or anything, or are they just straight up stock amps?
Forsythe: No they’re just straight stock. And the ‘72 50-watt, that one I just crank it. I usually have it on around 6 or so but if I had to pick up my Strat for like “Cold Shower,” I’ll crank it up to eight or nine. But it’s all just cranking it up, that’s how I get the gain out of it.
Guitar.com: Do you replace tubes on a regular basis or do any other maintenance to these amps?
Forsythe: No, if the amp sounds good I just leave it alone.
Guitar.com: So, wow, no effects live, except maybe that chorus pedal?
Forsythe: Yeah and the chorus -- I actually have it sitting on top of the amp. I don’t leave it plugged in because I hate going through anything. Right before the song I’ll just take my chord out of the front of the amp and plug it into the pedal and then plug the other chord back into the front of the amp. So I only use it for the song and then I just pull it out right after the song.
Guitar.com: What kind of pedal is it?
Forsythe: It’s just a little Boss Chorus. One of those old, little baby blue pedals.
Guitar.com: Yeah, right, right. Like the CE-5 or something like that.
Guitar.com: Yeah, cool. What kind of strings do you use?
Forsythe: D’Addario. I use 10 through 46 standard.
Guitar.com: Okay and did you do anything with the pickups in your guitars?
Forsythe: Yeah, the ‘71 Tele -- I bought that guitar probably at the end of 1979 or beginning of 1980. I bought it from a friend of mine and it didn’t have the original pick-ups in it. Somebody had taken them out and put some Seymour Duncan or something in there and it didn’t sound good. I figured that out later because it wasn’t wired right, but I took those out and I bought a set of Joe Barden pickups and put them in there. So I’ve been using the Joe Barden, they’re like the Danny Gatton set. They sound really nice.
Guitar.com: Yeah you like that?
Forsythe: Yeah they’re not the best looking pickups. I prefer just stock stuff. Most of my guitars are stock but that guitar, because it didn’t come with the original pickups, I didn’t feel bad changing them.
Guitar.com: Since you grew up in that area, did you ever see Danny Gatton play live? Were you a fan?
Forsythe: Oh, yeah. I saw him several times. I used to go down to D.C. and see him in these little tiny clubs. The cool thing about it was, you know, they’re small clubs and it wasn’t a huge crowd. You know, I mean it’s a decent crowd. And then at some point I guess they put him on the cover of Guitar Player magazine. And then you go down there and the place will be just jam-packed with these people. But you’d sit there -- he played three sets, and by the third set it was all the die-hard fans left. The room would clear out because at the beginning of the night it was all the people that just saw his picture on Guitar Player and just came to be cool, you know?
Forsythe: But yeah, I saw him a bunch of times and his tone was just phenomenal. I knew he use the Joe Barden’s, and then at one other point, I’d gone out to see some blues band playing. The guitar player was playing a Tele through like a Twin or something, and it sounded so good. At the end of the night I went up and I said “What kind of pickups are those?” and sure enough they’re the same ones, you know, the Joe Barden’s. So that’s when I went “I got to get those for my Tele.” So that’s what convinced me.
Guitar.com: Do they have a little more gain? Because I play a Tele and it’s just stock pickups. Do they have a little more bite than the stock pickups?
Forsythe: No, they’re sort of modeled after the old ‘50s sounding Tele pickups but they have -- I think there’s a little bit of extra mids to it, so like when you get up to the high strings, it doesn’t get all thin. You know, like a regular stock Tele pickup, especially for solos when you get up to the high-strings, it gets a little thin.
Guitar.com: Yeah, yeah.
Forsythe: This sort of retains the fullness at the high-end but it doesn’t lose the Tele sound which is cool.
Guitar.com: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been thinking about those pickups for a couple of years.
Forsythe: Yeah they’re expensive but I bought mine, I think -- Joe Barden was around back in the ‘80s. I think the company went away for awhile, and then they came back. So I bought mine back then and now I think just one pickup has the same price as I paid for both my pickups.
Guitar.com: So you’ve been happy with those pickups for a long time?
Forsythe: Yeah, I’ve had those since, I think I bought them in like 1990 or 91. Somewhere back then.
Guitar.com: And which of your Teles do you have those on?
Forsythe: The ‘71 Tele, the main one that I play all the time.
Guitar.com: So with the new album, with Rock Your Face Off, how did you approach the songwriting? Did you each come in with a couple of ideas? How did it work?
Forsythe: Everybody had a bunch of ideas just laying around. Like demos or songs, and everybody just brought them in. I think all together we had about 35 songs and, you know, there were some that weren’t complete, they were just instrumental ideas and stuff. But there were probably about 35 songs that we had to choose from.
Mark and I got together first at his place. And we just went through that list of songs. It was a long process. At that point everybody was still a little hesitant about doing it. So it took a long time to get everybody involved in it. Whenever we had shows, I’d fly in like a week early and I’d just stay at Mark’s house and we’d go through these songs and pick them apart: change keys and change tempos. So we got it down to maybe 23 songs and then that’s when we got producer Taylor Rhodes involved at that point. And then he sort of helped us sort them out even better down to the 12 that we ended up with.
Guitar.com: When you were working with Taylor, did he go through each song and -- well, obviously -- he was your producer, right?
Guitar.com: But from a pre-production and songwriting point of view, did he -- and Brian, I ask questions like this because I’m a guy who likes to educate readers, you know, especially hopefully younger people that might be reading about the true professional process of song writing. So with Taylor, who I know has written for Aerosmith and Celine Dion and produced one of your early records, how does pre-production work with a pro producer like him? Does he literally take songs apart in pre-production and make suggestions for like, a change in a chorus, or adding a pre-chorus or something?
Forsythe: Yeah, exactly. We started out just dealing with him over the phone and through the internet and we would send him song ideas and he would suggest changes. Then Mark and I would go back in and tweak a chorus here or there, and then send it back. And when we got it pretty close, that’s when he -- Taylor lives in Nashville -- that’s when he would come up and stay for a week at Mark’s place to do pre-production. And we just went in to this little room with these small little practice amps and this little electronic drum kit and just banged these songs out.
There were a couple that were a little iffy. We didn’t even know if we were going to use them and we just took them and tore them apart and put them back together. A couple of them don’t even sound like they started out.
So it was a really cool experience. I mean we’ve done that before, back in the old days, pre-production with producers. But back then it was more like -- I mean Donnie [Purnell, the band’s original bassist and main songwriter] was such a thorough songwriter. His songs are pretty much there, you know. They would have to tweak a couple of things but here we needed all the help we could get because, you know, we’d not done it without Donnie before.
And Taylor was one of Donnie’s songwriting partners too. He co-wrote several of the songs on both Blow My Fuse and Hot Wire. So, you know, having done that, he had an insight to the way Donnie wrote and he also understood the Kix sound, which really helped us focus it. That was a big concern going into it -- keeping it sounding like Kix.
Guitar.com: It can’t hurt to have your old producer working on this record with you -- and with him having gone on and written a bunch of hit songs with Aerosmith -- and especially if he knows your sound real well. That sure doesn’t hurt, does it?
Forsythe: No, no. It’s very helpful.
Guitar.com: There’s definitely a consistency between this album and your old material. I realize Donnie was a big part of the songwriting in the old days, but it sounds like Kix to me.
Forsythe: Yeah, yeah. It’s so cool because like I said we were all hesitant, you know, going into it and that was -- personally for me, that was my biggest concern: It has to sound like Kix. Because there were a few ideas that were in there, like Mark, our bass player, has a songwriting partner guy that he writes his songs with. And his guy’s songs come from more of a heavy metal, maybe Van Halen-ish kind of background. So there were a few songs that were just a little too modern and heavy sounding, even tuned down, like to a D. You know, that modern sound. And I heard that, and I was like “No, we can’t do that because we can’t come out sounding like some new band because that’s just not going to work.” You know, that’s not going to sound like Kix.
So in those instances, that’s where I would take a song, and say “That’s too down and too D and let’s raise it up to E.” You know, tune it to E standard. And then we would just tweak it and make it a little less heavy. And by the time Ronnie [Kix guitarist Ronnie Younkins] and I got on there with our guitars, it definitely took on that Kix sound. There’s just something about it. When Ronnie and I get together, especially the two guitarists, we just start sounding like Kix right off the bat.
Guitar.com: Yes it does. Now, what’s up with you and Rhino Bucket, is that band still something you’re involved in?
Forsythe: Yeah, you know, obviously Rhino Bucket had slowed down, especially because Kix has picked up. And I just haven’t had the time to put into it. But yeah, I’m still involved with them. They want to try to get another record recorded this year at some point, maybe in November or something. But that band, I really enjoyed playing with them. It’s just a really super stripped down, raw, AD/DC-ish kind of a thing. And I love it, just a straight hard rock, blues-based hard rock kind of thing.
But the thing with Rhino Bucket is it’s so hard to get that band gigs, especially in the U.S. I mean we go to Europe and do really well, so we’ll do that. We’ll go over there maybe a month or two a year but that’s pretty much what I do with them.
Guitar.com: You’re using the same gear in that band? That’s your stuff right?
Forsythe: Yeah I use that Tele. But for West Coast shows that we drive to where I use my own gear, I have a Satellite amp that I use. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Satellite amps but I’ve got a 36-watt head and it’s got like the -- I forgot the tubes now. I should have written it down. But anyway, yeah I’ve got a little 36-watt head. All it has on the front is a volume and a tone, and that’s it. And two inputs.
And on the back it’s got an ohm selector, and then it’s got a switch that you can go from solid state to a tube rectifier. And that’s pretty much the amp. And this guy -- his name is Adam Grimm, and he’s based in San Diego -- he builds these amps, and he’s got several different models. I’ve got the 36-watt head, it’s called the Atom. And he’s got a 25-watt amp and an 18-watt. He’s got a bunch of different lower wattage amps, and he’s got a couple bigger amps, like a 50-watt and maybe like a 65 watt or something. I forget. It’s his biggest. But they’re really nice amps.
Guitar.com: And what is it you like about those amps? Why do you use those? Why don’t you use those with Kix? Is it a different tone?
Forsythe: Well with Kix I needed a little more... something… and also I couldn’t travel back and forth with it. So I leave that at home. And then I have a whole separate set of gear on the East Coast, and it just happened to be that 50-watt Marshall. But with Kix I needed a little bit more volume, even though the 36-watt head is probably about the same volume as my 50-watt Marshall.
Guitar.com: Cool, yeah I’m checking out this Satellite website, very cool.
Forsythe: Yeah, really, really consistent sounding amp. But I used to- before I had the satellite on the West Coast, I have an old ’66 Blackface Fender Bassman that I would use. I’ve had that amp since junior high and I was taking it out with Rhino Bucket when we were doing some U.S. touring, and at some point I started blowing tubes in it, and I just decided I didn’t want to blow that thing up. So I decided we’ll leave it at home and that’s when I got the Satellite head.
Guitar.com: Yeah, yeah. Yeah I actually had a Fender Bassman when I was in junior high and somewhere down the road I made the poor decision to sell it. I’ve regretted it ever since.
Forsythe: Yeah, luckily I never did that. I always hung on to this one. I’ve had other ones come and go but that one Bassman, it’s like the magic Bassman. That Bassman is what you hear on the Rhino Bucket records that I played on.
Guitar.com: Oh, okay.
Forsythe: That thing is just beautiful. That with the Tele is just magic.
Guitar.com: Yeah, yeah. Well they’re meant to go together right?
Forsythe: I guess yeah.
Guitar.com: It seems like you pretty much have your gear and you stick to it. You’re not out there checking out all kinds of stuff all the time?
Forsythe: No. I’m not one of those guys, but, if somebody asks me to check something out, I will. You know, if there’s some amp guy that says “Hey can you check my amp?” I’ll play through it. Or if a guy has got some kind of guitar that he’s building, you know, I’ll check it out for him and give him suggestions and stuff.
Forsythe: But I’m not like this guy that’s always checking out new gear and stuff. Once I find my sound, I just stick with what works, you know?
Guitar.com: Right, right.
Forsythe: Through the years I had played through different stuff. Back in the ’80s my main amp was a Boogie Mark IIC and I used that pretty much all through the ‘80s.
Guitar.com: So are you guys working on some tour dates right now? I see just a few scattered dates on your calendar right at the moment.
Forsythe: Yeah, yeah I know it is kind of scattered. Those were sort of the dates that were already in-place before the record came out. So now that the record’s out, I’m hoping it’s going to pick up. And in fact, we’re open to whatever’s going to happen. You know, maybe even like a real tour or like we hook up with somebody and just go right around the country. Actually the dates that we have now are just fly-in dates. That’s what we’ve been doing over the last few years.
Guitar.com: I lived in L.A. most of my life but I live in Chicago now. And there’s a lot of ‘80s rock and ‘90s rock happening in the Chicago area, and a lot of events. And there was really a lot this past summer. I’m friends with the guys in Warrant, and they played in this area four times this summer. Fly-in festivals and events, you know?
Forsythe: Yeah, I wonder why we weren’t on any of those.
Guitar.com: Well I guess with the new album it’s time to push it, right?
Forsythe: Yeah, definitely.
Guitar.com: I know you have the Monsters of Rock Cruise for next year right? And you did that this year too, right?
Forsythe: Yeah I think we’ve done it every year since they started.
Guitar.com: That must be a good time.
Forsythe: Yeah. When they first asked us to do that the first time we were going “Huh? A cruise? I don’t know about that.” But since we’ve done it, it is a good time and it’s pretty crazy. I mean the part that scared me about it initially was being trapped on a boat with a bunch of fans where you can’t get away. But it turns out that it’s not so bad, and they’re actually pretty polite about it. People don’t really bug you that much.
Forsythe: The only time it can get a little sketchy, up on the pool deck where the party people are. And that’s where all the bars are. So if you walk up there, you’re bound to get swamped because people are drunk and they’re hanging out. So as long as I avoid that part of the boat, it’s pretty cool.
Forsythe: But this next year coming up, I’m doing it with both Kix and Rhino Bucket. So I’m going to be busy.
Guitar.com: Yeah, that will be kind of cool.
Forsythe: Yeah I’ve done it twice before with both bands.
Forsythe: Yeah. And it’s cool because Kix gets the big deck stage. We’ll do one there and then we’ll do the big theater. And then for Rhino Bucket, the little lounges is where we play. So it’s really cool, you know, going from the big outdoor stage and then playing in this little -- it’s almost like a small nightclub kind of stage. It’s more of the Rhino Bucket thing. But I love both situations.I I have this thing about the small enclosed area. It just sounds so good, you know, when you crank it up and people are close.
Forsythe: So it’s a nice little contrast.
Guitar.com: Yeah, absolutely. I’m looking at the line-up for this cruise for next year, and man, there’s a lot of acts on this thing. It’s not just like five or six, There’s like 20 or 30 acts on this.
Forsythe: Yeah, sometimes it’s hard for people to see everything because it’s crowded. And before one thing ends, there’s another thing starting. And it’s at the other end of the ship, so you kind of run from one to the other.
Guitar.com: The cruise goes from like Miami to the Bahamas and back right?
Forsythe: Yeah, they’ll do a couple of stops in the Bahamas like at an island, and then in Nassau, that’s usually one of the stops. It is a lot of fun and the food is not bad. They have the big buffet, which is my favorite, because I can sort of sneak in the back and get what I want and go sit in a corner somewhere. But they also have really nice restaurants on there too. Well the cool thing about being in the band is we can eat at any of those restaurants, they have a special section for artists, where we can go down and get like a nice Italian meal or something. iIt’s pretty cool.
Guitar.com: Very cool. Well hey man, I hope that you’ll pass through my way sometime in the near future and I can get out to see you live.
Forsythe: Yeah we haven’t been to Chicago in a while. So it’s about time.