Kid Rock is a ‘Rebel Soul’
By Gary Graff
More than a decade ago, in the 2001 hit “Forever,” Kid Rock introduced us to punk rock/hip-hop/Southern rock musical manifesto. Add some blues, funk, soul and country to that, and you have the all-American mix that Rock (real name Bob Ritchie) has stirred into sales of 27 million albums worldwide with the occasional mainstream hit such as “Picture” (his duet with Sheryl Crow) and “All Summer Long,” Rock’s feel-good mash-up of Lynyrd Skynryd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” The approach is no less diverse on Rebel Soul, his recently released ninth album.
Produced by Rock himself––following 2010’s Born Free with Rick Rubin––Rebel Soul covers a lot of ground, from the Southern-fried opener “Chickens in the Pen” and the over-the-top pomp of “Mr. Rock n Roll” to heavy rockers such as the first single, “Let’s Ride,” the vintage soul-rock of “Celebrate” and a joyous, Motown-spirited shout-out to his home town in “Detroit, Michigan.” There’s also plenty of Dixie moxie in the title track, “Redneck Paradise,” the mournful “Cocaine and Gin” and “Happy New Year,” while “Cucci Galore” marks a return to Rock’s hip-hop, pimp of the nation roots.
Rebel Soul came toward the end of an already eventful year for Rock, which included a charity collaboration with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra––whose members sported Rock’s trademark fedora––that raised $1 million, and an open and very public endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Rebel Soul also ends Rock’s long holdout against iTunes, bringing his music into the digital world where it, no doubt, will find favor from buyers in an array of genres.
Music Connection: Nine albums in, what did you have in mind when you started making Rebel Soul?
Kid Rock: I had an idea of what I wanted to do musically for the record. After coming off the Rick Rubin record, Born Free, which was a very poignant record where everything was pretty straight and narrow across the board for me, on Rebel Soul I kinda wanted to go back to making Kid Rock records the way I’ve done it for so many years. I wanted to make kind of a greatest hits feeling record with all new songs, basically everything I’ve kind of touched on in my career to this point. I was basically just doing whatever I want to do––not listening to anybody or anything. If I wanted to get crazy and write one of the old-school Kid Rock songs, fine. That’s the way I like to make records.
MC: It certainly keeps the listeners on his toes from track to track.
Kid Rock: It’s funny; I was saying to somebody, I was trying to explain the record, and I said, “It’s really confusing––so it’s a perfect Kid Rock record.” (laughs)
MC: You do have this kind of creative fearlessness, though. Where does that come from?
Kid Rock: Sometimes I struggle between trying to grow old gracefully but at the same time saying, “Fuck growing old!” I’m still gonna say what I want and be this person. You find yourself weaving in and out of all these different paths in life, but at the end of the day I’m just going to be who I’m gonna be. I think people understand that about me at this point.
MC: You brought Rebel Soul back in-house after Born Free. What lessons did you learn making that album that you applied to this one?
Kid Rock: Just how to really not take the feel out of a song by making it too perfect, by letting musicians get in there and play and not giving them too much direction. Rick was really strict on no direction, just have everybody get in there and play, do it a couple times, talk about it, go play it three or four more times, done. Now, I like to make some more parts than that. I look at the Eagles records where they have these great parts, whether it’s a keyboard riff or a guitar line. So I took a lot of that, which I’ve been trying to do for years, and put it with Rick’s sensibility for keeping it organic and letting the song breathe. I spent a little more time making parts and stuff, but I was careful not to change the feel or start doing too much shit on Pro Tools and taking all the feel out of it. I really think I found a happy medium with everything on this record.
MC: A lot of this album was recorded at The Warehouse, your rehearsal facility. What impact did that have on the sound and feel of Rebel Soul?
Kid Rock: It totally did. What happened was we were rehearsing for some shows and we had a bunch of songs written, and we were just learning them to see how they felt live and everybody was playing really good. At the same time I was rebuilding my (AllenRoadHouse) studio and we had everything dismantled and all the gear stored up at the Warehouse. So I said, “Let’s hook this shit up and take a crack at it. If we don’t use it we don’t use it, but we’re gonna learn something about all these songs as we play ‘em, so it’s worth doing. And lo and behold, about 80 percent of them just came out and ended up being used for the bed tracks.
MC: Having your Twisted Brown Trucker Band do most if it had to make a difference, too.
Kid Rock: Definitely. The real difference between studio players and live players, I think, is a mind space. The studio cats can play everything because they’re that good. And your band, you play good together and do certain things, and this sound comes out, which is good. It’s not necessarily about being the greatest players in the world, but it’s what we do that no one can, I guess, duplicate.
MC: Earlier you referred to Born Free as poignant. Is Rebel Soul a return to fun?
Kid Rock: Yeah, it’s a fun record. There’s definitely some poignant songs on there, too, some stuff that would be more in line with Born Free, like “Rebel Soul” and “Midnight Ferry.” That’s there. But there’s the other stuff, the Kid Rock songs––even “Cocaine and Gin”––that’s a total country song, but no one in Nashville would record that song. “Chickens in the Pen” is totally Kid Rock shit; even though I’m not rapping in it, it’s still got the big beats and I’m doing my scream thing. I can just tell that a lot of this stuff is going to go over really well live.
MC: Speaking of old-school Kid Rock, “Cucci Galore” sounds like it could have been on Devil Without A Cause or something from the ‘90s.
Kid Rock: Yeah, early Kid Rock. That was around before Born Free, from, I think, right after (2007’s) Rock N Roll Jesus. I showed it to Rick for Born Free but he wasn’t interested, so I held onto it. It was real easy to do, and a lot of fun. We did the video for it and it reminded me of some of the old, crazy videos we used to do for “Cowboy” and “Bawitdaba” and stuff like that. I was looking around this crazy mansion in Bel Air and there’s all the ingredients for fun there––girls dancing, people on stilts, breathing fire, there’s midgets everywhere, a pony walking around. I was like, “Yeah, this is fun!”
MC: Rebel Soul is available on iTunes…
Kid Rock: Yeah. Welcome to 2003, right? (laughs)
MC: You were a long and notable iTunes holdout. What changed your mind?
Kid Rock: I still feel the way I’ve always felt. If you make a good product, people will obtain it no matter what it is. But I don’t agree with iTunes when they say all music’s the same price. They’ve kind of switched away from that a little bit; there’s different prices on different albums now, but still the singles are all a buck, a buck-29 or whatever it is. And it seemed like this was a new way to present how to have some transparency in the music business with your record company and all that…but that didn’t happen. So I held out. Now I’ve got the deal I want with my record company, so hopefully this is the beginning of some transparency.
MC: Was part of the reservation also the fact that you’re an album artist and iTunes and other digital outlets, the whole concept really, champions the song over the album?
Kid Rock: Nah. If I make a good album, people are gonna buy the album. That’s the end of the story with anybody. I remember when singles became big in the hip-hop era and then it went back to albums with CDs and now it’s back to singles with iTunes and it’s probably gonna go all streaming in a minute, so who knows. I’m not gonna fight the technology. I embrace it like everybody else, but at the same time I stood up for what I believed in and I proved my point. I said I wouldn’t hold out forever, and now it’s just the right time. Eventually the older stuff will be out there, too.
MC: You made your first real foray into politics this year, endorsing Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. What was that like for you?
Kid Rock: It was a great experience. I learned a lot about the whole poop show behind the political window. I always said I’d never sit there and preach politics, and I don’t believe I did. I might’ve slipped a few times here and there when someone caught me off guard, but it was never my intention. I leave that to the pros. I’m not going to be Bruce Springsteen and sit there and tell you what’s wrong with the country. My main thing in being there was to pick a side, because I believe you have to stand for something. I think it’s okay to disagree, and now that we’ve elected our president it’s time to move forward and give him a shot, and if you don’t agree in four years we’ll be able to do this process again. So many people have died to protect that, I think it’s important to be involved in some way. But it was pretty interesting overall. We had some fun doing it.
MC: Is it too soon to be thinking about a next album yet?
Kid Rock: Well, now that I’ve got the new studio and (engineers) there full time, we’ve got a lot of videos and live recordings and stuff I’d like to finally get to. And I’m planning to jump back into the studio in the next year and put another record out in the fall (of 2013). It’ll be my last record with Atlantic, and right now I’m thinking I might do a record like I’ve never done.
MC: That would be saying something.
Kid Rock: I know. (laughs) But what I’m thinking about is going out and getting some song submissions and doing four or five country tunes, country rockers, and getting a Nashville producers for those. Then I’ll get some of my old school buddies in the hip-hop business––Rev. Run, D-Nice, whoever––to write some rhymes for me and to produce four, five tracks of that. So it’d be half country, half hip-hop songs, I won’t write anything on it, turn it into Atlantic in the fall and be done. It would be interesting, that’s for sure. It would kind of go out on the weird side while I’m focusing on the next Kid Rock record after that.
MC: You’ve also mentioned re-recording Devil Without A Cause for its 15th anniversary (in 2013). What makes you want to do that?
Kid Rock: ‘Cause I’ll own it! (laughs) Obviously it’s a great incentive to make a record and own the masters to it, and it’s my biggest selling album to date. But, y’know, people who have seen us live know the versions we’re doing now of “Cowboy” and “Wasting Time” and “Bawtidaba,” “Bullgod,” “Only God Knows Why.” We’ve twisted them all up so much it’s very interesting, very cool, and I’d like to put them out like we do them now. I’m not gonna say they’ll be better than the originals. That’s tough to top. But I think there’s something special about them that people will dig. And I think “Wasting Time” could be a very big song the way we’re playing it now, without the Fleetwood Mac samples. I just think it could be fun.
MC: Would you think about playing Devil in its entirety live?
Kid Rock: Yeah, why not? That seems like a fun thing that fans seem to like with other bands doing it. Even though it’s not the most original idea at this point, I think it would be something cool for the fans to see.
MC: What do you see on the further horizon, after you finish your current deal?
Kid Rock: We’re always talking about it, and we’re still not sure yet. Maybe if I do my own label I’ll work twice as hard. Whatever happens, I know I’ll always keep releasing records and touring. I’d be happy to be blessed enough to keep my fan base and be able to tour. I would not be upset doing what Tom Petty does––just put out a fucking record, play one show to promote it and move on and forget about the radio and the political thing of going on this TV show or dealing with that magazine and having to have extra content and all that rigmarole. I’m fortunate enough to have that rigmarole, but also fortunate to be able to say, “Y’know what? Maybe I don’t have to have it.” So I’m not sure where it’s gonna go. I just want to be happy making music