KIX Rock-and-roll band wonders why it climbs ladder of success so slowly

September 06, 1991|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic


When: Sept. 6-7, 8 p.m.

Where: Hammerjacks, 1102 S. Howard St.

Tickets: $11.

Call: 752-3302 for information, 481-6000 for tickets.

There's no need to tell the members of Kix that good things XTC come to those who wait. What they want to know is how much longer that wait is going to be.

Don't get them wrong -- these guys don't have anything against patience or perseverance. How else could they have held together over the last decade, slowly building an audience from album to album?

Certainly, there has been progress. Although "Kix," the band's 1981 debut, sold a mere 60,000 copies, "Blow My Fuse," its last album, moved almost 900,000. As for "Hot Wire," the latest Kix album, it passed the 250,000 mark in a mere two months.

But where some groups go from minor to mega in the blink of an eye, Kix seems stuck with having to climb the ladder one rung at a time. And frankly, they can't help but wonder why.

"We look at the bands that influenced us, like AC/DC and Aerosmith, and I don't know that we're doing things much differently than they did," says singer Steve Whiteman, over the phone from his home in Hagerstown. "We are forever scratching our heads, going, 'What are we doing that isn't the answer? What is the answer?' "

According to the record industry, the answer is "ballads." Because Top-40 radio has, of late, turned a deaf ear to the aggressive, good-time rock and roll that has been Kix's stock-in-trade, the group has been under tremendous pressure to put "Tear Down the Walls," the slow song from "Hot Wire," out as a single.

Which, it turns out, is something Kix is kicking against. Never mind that a similar single -- "Don't Close Your Eyes," from "Blow My Fuse" -- was the band's biggest success to date, climbing to No. 11 on the Billboard Top-40; forget the fact that without radio support, Kix will spend even more months struggling up the ladder.

The band just doesn't want to get a reputation for being something it's not.

"What we lack in brains, we have in integrity," says Whiteman with a laugh. "We just don't want to be known as a ballad band, because that's not what we're about. We want people to realize that this is a hard-rocking, kick-ass rock and roll band.

"We were hoping to get more mileage out of 'Girl Money,' " he adds, referring to the driving, AC/DC-style rocker that was the first single from "Hot Wire." Whiteman says the band figured it had "a whole different feel" from anything else on rock radio, and that it would give Kix an edge on radio play.

Unfortunately, he says, "It had a shorter life than we wanted. So now everybody wants to naturally go for the ballad. It's like the ace in the hole."

Interestingly, what seems to annoy Whiteman the most about this pro-ballad campaign is that it seems to him to reek of desperation.

"It makes it look like everybody is running around, going, 'Oh God, we've got to do something now,' " he says derisively. "And we hate that. We hate when people panic. Because we have never panicked.

"For 12 years we've been busting down walls. If we hit a wall, we just back up and we go right through it. We're not used to just turning and going the other way."

But Whiteman appreciates that these are tough times on the hard rock circuit, and understands why a certain amount of panic might come into play. "Kids aren't coming to shows, and bands that were arena openers or even headliners have to resort to the clubs right now," he says. "And even the clubs aren't a guaranteed sellout.

"I was talking to Kip Winger [from Winger] the other day, and Kip was saying the same thing. He said, 'Rock and roll is in tatters right now.' "

Even so, Kix is likely to make out all right. Twelve years of non-stop touring may not have put the band on the cover of Rolling Stone, but it has given it a dependable base of support.

"We've always got our area," he says. "We have [clubs] from Boston to Florida that we can just keep playing, because no matter how many times we play there, it will sell out. Because we've got a great, loyal following. So we have that in our back pocket, and we do appreciate that. That'll sustain us.

"And I'm sure 'Tear Down the Walls' is going to be out as a single real soon," he adds, "because they're hellbent on it. But we're trying to get them to release a hard rock track along with the ballad, just so it's established that we are a hard rock band."

It won't be easy. It may not even make that climb up the charts any faster.

But if any band understands, this one does. "All we can do is go out and just keep knocking away at it," says Whiteman. "Our motto is, 'Never give up.' And we never will.

"We're here for the duration."

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