CKY have released “The Phoenix,” their first album in eight years, with guitarist Chad Ginsburg taking over vocal and frontman duties for the group, joined by Jess Margera (drums) and Matt Deis (bass), and signaling a rebirth of the band that has held a cult following for two decades.
Rei Haycraft was able to catch up with drummer Jess Margera as they performed on the HIM “Bang and Whimper” Farewell Tour at The Fillmore in Charlotte, NC.
REI: Rei Haycraft here at the Fillmore Charlotte with the Jess from CKY! How’s your tour been thus far?
JESS: It’s been really good. Today’s a little rough. Like I was saying earlier, I’m kind of hungover, because Brent from Mastodon came to the Atlanta show last night, and that’s always a good time, but now… I’m paying the price.
REI: That’s awesome! Did he get up on stage with you guys for his solo?
JESS: No. We were talking about maybe doing the song that he’s on the record [“Days of Self-Destruction”] but he kind of just wanted to hang. He showed up a little late, and stuff, so we were like, alright just have a good time. We’ll party later.
REI: What was it like working with him on a song?
JESS: I actually was not there. We did the record and Rancho De La Luna … well we did most of the music there, and then Chad went back to his place in LA and cut the vocals, then he had to go to Henson Studios to record Brent’s solo, because, I guess Mastodon was mixing at Henson Studios, which is pretty funny. There’s probably an Elmo taping going on next door, or something.
REI: Eight years since the last CKY record. You’re probably getting a million questions about what is it like coming back after all that time and as a three-piece. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
JESS: I think it was really good to take a bunch of years off. You know, go mess around and do some solo projects, and stuff. Chad did a solo record. I did some stuff with the company band, which is a band I’m in with Neil Fallon from Clutch, and Jim Rota from Fireball, and Brad from Crew Manchu. So, that was fun. Yeah, after a few years, you get itchy and you’re like, “Alright, I gotta go back to home base. The band I’ve been in since high school.” It was pretty great getting back together with a new energy to the band, because we got pretty burnt out for a while.
REI: Do you feel like The Phoenix is a rebirth for CKY?
JESS: Absolutely. We kind of hit a wall, I guess 2009-ish, and we did that record Carver City, which it has its moment, but it’s kind of like CKY on steroids, and we just went completely over the top and focused more on creating a crazy sounding record versus writing super catchy songs. We really wanted to get back to writing good hooks, and catchy melodies, and timeless choruses. Like we used to do on Infiltrate, and stuff like that. More about the song, less about the, “Hey, look at me. I’m a good musician,” or whatever. You know musicians appreciated Carver City and stuff, because we went a little over the top with it, but at the end of the day, most people just want to hear a good song.
REI: The latest music video that came out was “Head for a Breakdown,” but that was tour footage, kind of compilation.
JESS: Yeah, that was kind of funny how that worked out. We were doing a UK tour, and then we were playing two nights at this place in London, and the Costa Sisters came out. We’d known them forever, and they were like, “Let’s film something.” We’re like, “What?” They’re like, “We’ll just follow you guys around London.” It worked out perfect, because we had a press day, and then pretty much everything got canceled because of the Arianna Grande thing [the Manchester bombing of 2016] happened right then, and so we just had all day to cruise around town. It’s kind of funny. I’ve been to London probably 20 times, but I’ve never done the whole thing. Like, went to see Parliament, London Bridge, and all that stuff.
REI: Did you see where Harry Potter was written?
JESS: I don’t think so. I went to a bunch of cool pubs, where William Shakespeare used to drink and stuff. I nerded out on a lot of stuff like that. I love old pubs. It’s funny, because right by my house in Pennsylvania there’s a 300-year-old pub that’s really cool, but over in England it’s like, “Yeah, this was built in 1210,” you’re like, “Holy shit, the Knights at the Roundtable and shit were drinking there probably.”
REI: It puts things in perspective for sure.
REI: Then your other music video for Replaceable, that’s a little bit more on the whacky fun side. What was that like to shoot?
JESS: Yeah, it was cool, but it was stressful because we had basically one day before we left for Warped Tour when we found a director and everything. It was like… we were just so busy putting the finishing touches on the album and they’re like, “You guys got to shoot a video for this,” and it’s like, “Well, we have Warped Tour coming up any day now,” so we just scrambled and found a director. Luckily, he was a somewhat local guy. We just made it happen. It all came together.
REI: What was the process like of shooting it with all of the actors, all the props and sets. Do you all have a big hand in that?
JESS: The director, Joffe, he hooked everything up and came up with the concept. We were going to try and maybe somewhat recreate that Phil Collins video where he just keeps firing directors and stuff, like, “hey, you’re replaceable.” We loosely based it on that, but made it our own as well.
REI: Did you keep the sock puppets?
JESS: I think, yeah, I think Chad has them maybe. Chad’s like really into puppets and … you know I’m sure he loved going to Henson to record Brent Hinds. He loves like the Muppets and stuff.
REI: That’s not where I thought that was going.
JESS: Yeah. I know. He came over to my house once. I have four kids. He was just armed with Muppet videos and stuff and was like, “Scarlotte, did you ever see Muppets Take Manhattan?”
REI: What song do you feel has been resonating the most with fans since the record came out?
JESS: I think “Head for a Breakdown.” That was my pick to go to radio with first. I guess a lot of other people saw it differently, so they went with “Replaceable,” but it’s funny, man, you could see as soon as we dropped that video it got … I think it’s up to 200,000 views already, or something. Only came out a week and a half ago. I’m stoked to see people really getting into that song, because probably one of my favorites off the record.
REI: What’s your favorite to play live?
JESS: I have a lot of fun with “Escape from Hellview.” We’re not doing it on this tour, but on our headliner shows, we wrote this whole intro before it kicks in. It’s super Stranger Things-y, John Carpenter-y. It’s fun. We only get a certain amount of time on this tour, so we kind of had to chop that, but yeah, that’s probably my favorite song to play live.
I kind of want to say The Phoenix is the album that should have came out after Infiltrate in my opinion. We kind of branched off on An Answer Can Be Found and Carver City, and tried new things. It was hit or miss. Some songs really clicked, and some were kind of whatever. Most people like the first two albums the most, and I feel like the new album is very on par with those. I feel like “Head for a Breakdown,” or something, could have came out with Infiltrate. It would have fit pretty well on that record in my opinion. It blends good, flows nice, and gets a great reaction every night.
REI: What do you hope that fans take away from this new album?
JESS: We really wanted to try something new, and we went to Rancho De La Luna in the desert, and Joshua Tree, because we’re huge fans of that whole scene, you know Kyuss and Queens of Stone Age, and Eagles of Death Metal, and stuff. The opportunity popped up to go there and record. I mean, it’s just such a one of a kind place. The amps. Everything about it. We were trying to make it sound like if Quincy Jones recorded an album at the place where Kyuss made Welcome to Sky Valley.
REI: I think I heard a quote where it said this album was “as if Quincy Jones had run amuck with CKY”?
JESS: Yeah. Somebody said that I was like, perfect. That’s completely accurate description of that because we love those bands … like stoner rock bands from the desert, and we like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson stuff, so try to blend that together somehow.
REI: What also would you like fans to know about the band or things for them to look forward to?
JESS: Well, we’re definitely going to keep touring and keep making records, much more faster pace than we have been. Yeah, those days are over of taken five years in between albums and stuff. We want to stay busy. We feel extremely fortunate that we still have a pretty impressive cult following after 20 years. Not every band can say that. We don’t take it for granted at all. It’s just really cool to come out here, and do tours with our friends. We’re going to UK with Skindred coming up. Really cool band that we’ve been friends with for a while. Now, we’re doing our own headlining tour in February and March. Yeah, it’s mainly just getting out there again, and touring, and letting people know we’re actually back for real this time.
REI: No more hiatus.
JESS: Yeah. Lots of apologizing. Damage repair or whatever. Half these clubs we’ve played it’s like, “Sorry about last time, man. I think we lit that couch on fire, or something backstage…. Sorry about that.” We’re not like that anymore. It’s been a lot of apologizing and repairing damaged relationships.
REI: In a good way, and giving people new music to boot.
REI: Do you have any last words of wisdom for fans back home?
JESS: Have a good time, all the time.
REI: Unless you’re burning couches.
JESS: Right. That’s a Viv Savage quote from Spinal Tap, of course—
REI: And, as a drummer it’s dangerous to quote Spinal Tap, because your own fate may hang in the balance.
JESS: I might implode on stage or something.
REI: Well, let’s hope that’s not the case, or else all of your promises of new records are going to go flat.
JESS: If I’m going to implode, it’ll probably be today, because I’m very hung over, but I just had a Hair of the Dog beer, and a bunch of coffee, so I feel a lot better now…. ’cause, this morning was rough.
REI: I’m sorry. [laughs] Well, thank you so much for taking time with us and have a fantastic set!
JESS: Absolutely. Right on. Thank you.