Where Are They Now? Rob Grad of Kik Tracee
For a brief moment in the early '90s, many rock insiders predicted huge things for Kik Tracee. The Los Angeles melodic rock group had already conquered their famously competitive local club circuit and signed a record deal with RCA. Their debut album, 1991's No Rules, featured hook-heavy rockers like "Trash City" and its title track, but Kik Tracee offered many more sonic treats.
On "Big Western Sky" the band throw in some country rock into the mix while "Lost" is a stark acoustic number with a haunting vocal melody. Musicially speaking, No Rules had everything going for it, but the record still failed to crack mainstream radio and its sales ultimately disappointed the group and RCA.
After releasing a Chris Goss (Masters of Reality) co-produced EP entitled Field Trip in 1992, Kik Tracee went their separate ways.
Today, Noisecreep catches up with former Kik Tracee bassist Rob Grad to see what he's been up to since the band broke up all those years ago. The affable California native also gives us the skinny on Kik Tracee and what eventually lead to their demise.
Let's talk about Kik Tracee's early days. I know Stephen, the singer, was originally from Minnesota and you're from Southern California. How did the band initially hook up?
All four of the original members were neighborhood friends from Los Angeles. We met when we were 10-years-old. There were a couple different incarnations of the band with various singers and different names, but none of them had any legs. I started adding my own song ideas to the mix and approached the guys about going a different direction. They agreed. We just needed a singer. Thus started the auditioning process.
It took almost a year and we auditioned over 80 different guys (it got so ridiculous that we started keeping a tally). None were right for us. Finally, Stephen [Shareaux] answered an ad we placed in a local paper. He had come to L.A. to find a band and try to make something happen. We liked him initially so we gave him a couple song ideas to go home and mess with. The day he auditioned, we rented a crappy PA from a store nearby. We got half way through the first song and the hair on my arms stood on end. I knew we found our guy. It was incredible. I'll never forget that moment.
Watch 'No Rules' Video
Everyone talks about the hedonism of the Sunset Strip scene of the late '80s, but what was it like for you guys?
My drug days were already over by the time Kik Tracee happened. I was in rehab at 16 and got cleaned up. Hedonism wasn't really our thing. We genuinely loved and believed in music. It saved my life as a teenager. We wanted to do something different. Make an impact. So we were pretty focused. We rehearsed 3 or 4 days a week, and wrote as many songs as we could in between. I was beginning college at the time and didn't have much time or energy for anything else.
It's hard to describe what is was like back then for anyone who wasn't there. I took it for granted in a way. In hindsight I realize I was fortunate to see this once in a lifetime moment in musical history from the front row. I saw Motley Crue at the Roxy when I was 12-years-old before they were signed to Elektra. They were like gods. It just all seemed so natural. The first time I played music in public was at my 9th grade talent show. I had zero social skills at the time. People actually talked to me afterward. It broke the ice with the world, and I wanted more. Of course being in a band helped me to meet girls later, but even with that, I was pretty clueless.
Dana Strum (Slaughter, Vinnie Vincent Invasion) produced your debut album, No Rules. What was it like working with him? I know you guys also shared management at the time.
After we signed to RCA, they hooked us up with Sharon Osbourne as our manager. She was helping us to get a booking agent and find a producer along with the record company. I was such a huge Ozzy Osbourne fan for so many years, it was a dream come true to just be sitting in her office, let alone working with our band. I remember her sitting behind her desk in beautiful sun dresses with big hats ripping people's balls off on the phone. She was a delicate tornado. We were considering Mark Opitz (INXS), and Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper) to produce our album. Bob really wanted to do it and we loved him, but his schedule was too booked up, so he recommended Dana. Slaughter was just about to release their first album and Bob thought a lot of Dana. Dana was very confident, and wanted to push us. We liked that idea. RCA didn't think it was a good fit and some of the band members agreed. But ultimately we went with him. It was only after working with him for a while that we switched to his manager and stopped working with Sharon. Dana was a very persuasive guy.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the decision to work with Dana. Had we chosen someone else and finished our album a year earlier with a more alternative flair as was originally intended, the fate of the band may have turned out differently. Who knows? But I will say this...he truly wanted us to be successful and he pulled out every stop he could think of to help make that happen. I don't think I would make the same decision again, but I'm grateful to him for pouring his heart into KT like he did.
It's hard to have regrets. I always knew there was more for me and I never would've been happy in that band in the long run. Had we become more popular I'm not sure I ever would've had the desire or courage to take the creative leaps I have since then.
Watch 'You're So Strange' Video
You guys had the image going, but I always felt like Kik Tracee's songwriting pushed further than any other of your so-called contemporaries. Looking back, do you think that dreaded "hair band" tag hurt you guys once you wanted to branch out musically on all of the post-No Rules stuff?
Thank you and yes! I was and still am a song guy. I have always felt that if the song doesn't work, it doesn't matter how much imaging and marketing you pile on top of it. You've got nothing. When the smoke dies, the hype dwindles, and I'm sitting alone listening to a song, does it give me the chills? Does it enlighten me, make me smile or remind me that I'm not alone? Ozzy did that for me. Jane's Addiction did that for me. And I wanted to do that for someone else. No Rules was engineered and marketed to make us fit into a genre that we never felt totally akin to. Absolutely. But it's not like we were playing jazz and marketed as a hair band either. We were a rock band who was partially influenced by alternative bands at a time when rock bands weren't really doing that. RCA partly signed us because they saw the opportunity for us to cross over. Our original sound reflected that. But No Rules didn't. I do wonder what Mark Opitz would've done with those songs. Once we were lumped in with that scene, we had lost our identity internally and we were never able to gain our compass back.
Watch 'In Trance' Video
After releasing the Field Trip EP in 1992, Kik Tracee just disappeared. What happened? That unreleased stuff you sent me sounds fantastic. Did you even try and land a new deal?
There was no new deal to get. RCA didn't drop us. We split up. It just wasn't fun anymore. We all saw the path forward differently. The demos I sent you were the pre-production work we did with Garth Richardson (Rage Against the Machine) to follow up No Rules. We tried to hold it together to make the album, but we just couldn't. Too much water under the bridge at that point and we didn't have anyone close enough to the band to help us get through it. We were young, disappointed and had made a series of bad decisions.
What did you do after Kik Tracee broke up? Did you handle the commercial failure of the band well?
The year after KT broke up was rough. I immediately dove into songwriting, recording and started learning to sing. No more singers for me. I went back to work in the warehouse at my father's book company. Then I met her. Then she left. And that was it. I wound up in a depression and even became suicidal for a period of time. Scared myself. Not because the band broke up, but because everything fell apart. My mother actually called me one day to let me know that the women at the office were complaining because I stunk. Literally. Hadn't showered in weeks. I just didn't care. That kind of woke me up though. Then started the long build back. I got back into meditation and started a band called Superfine. I got my life together. Music saved me once as a teenager. It saved me again during that time.
Let's talk about your life now as an artist. How long have you been painting? Did you study it at school at all?
I'm totally self-taught. I originally started painting during my days in Kik Tracee. As the band turned into what felt like a day job, I needed a new creative outlet that was more pure. I vaguely remember making a couple of pretty bad paintings, but the seed was planted. I've always loved museums and been fascinated by visual art as well as music. I never thought twice about it because I was so focused on music.
I've been doing graphic design to supplement my income in recent years and I think that trained my eye as to what works in a space and what doesn't. About 3 1/2 years ago, I took a life-changing trip to Europe by myself. I was just finishing my first solo CD and trying to think of new things I could do. I took photographs throughout the trip and realized that some of them were actually good. Then while standing in front of a Robert Rauschenberg painting in Madrid, I was struck with an idea to blend my music with visual art around common themes. The world stopped for a split second like lightning. At that same moment I realized a visual idea I had been messing around with on my CD demos could work in a fine art setting too. I decided I should try painting again and see if I could pull it off.
It's been quite a ride since then. A few months after that trip, I put all my belongings in storage, and moved to Madrid for the summer. I painted and worked on my art+music idea. I had my first gallery show in LA the following spring and it's been going amazing since then.
I'm just working on my first release now that will include both art and new music. Totally excited about it. I performed it live at an art installation in Paris in September and at my most recent gallery opening in LA a few weeks ago. Unforgettable moments for me.
How would you describe your style?
I work in layers, because to me that's a reflection on life and reality. Everything operates on multiple levels, from the physicality of our bodies to our emotions and experiences. I blend photography with paint and anything else I can think of to create the feeling or idea I want to convey. I came up with a process that allows me to work with the photos in a unique way. In my most recent show I used Saran Wrap, aluminum, steel, fur and Chinese satin fabric in various pieces. It's like speaking a new language. I love it.
You've also kept busy playing solo, in a more pop-rock kind of vein.
I've never stopped with music and I have no plans to. My work in the visual arts has changed how I approach and view music. Totally opened me up. I 'm not too concerned about what genre I fit into these days. I don't think that matters anymore. If it's good and you connect, then it works. I called my solo CD No Apologies and my focus was honesty. I didn't want to hide behind a wall of sound like I felt I had for so many years, so it seemed fitting to have it more pop semi-acoustic rock. I didn't really see it as all that different...just a stripping down of what I've always done.
I like choruses, so that's going to keep me somewhat in a pop realm no matter what I do. Having said that, "pop" is a tough term for me. Most of the traditional "pop" music I'm hearing on the radio right now makes me nauseous. As soon as I hear that formulaic trend follower sound, it drives me batty. Kind of interesting how things are. When Nirvana came out and killed all the hair bands in the early '90s, it was because they appeared real in a scene that had become detached from reality. The whole world rebelled against corporate rock. Now we've come full circle and no one thinks twice about being corporate. In fact most of the big stars flaunt it. People seem completely unphased. Maybe that's why mainstream is having such a hard time though. The rebellion is still on, but more under the radar. I prefer it above the radar.
I find the EDM scene interesting. Those guys are connecting. Some of them are artists in the truest sense of the word. Manipulating sound. That's excited to me.
Watch 'No Apologies' Video
Not that I'm going all "house" or anything, but again, dress it up how you want....it's about the song. The groove. The feeling. For the new thing I'm working on, I've really tried to impose myself as little as possible on it. I sat here and listened, only adding things that felt appropriate. It was really fun. Still somewhat pop-rock I'd say, but the sound is expanding. And I'm not finished, so anything could still happen. It may wind up different enough that I'll need to give it a new name. We'll see.
What are the other members of Kik Tracee up to these days?
Johnny [Douglas], our drummer is the tech for Alex Van Halen and goes on tour with them. He's also an artist and does custom drumsets for everyone from ZZ Top to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alex Van Halen, etc. I think he even did the cover to Joe Perry's solo album a year or so ago. Stephen was doing a stage show of Tommy a couple years ago by The Who. I'm not sure what he's doing now. Mike [Marquis] and our original drummer, Scott, still play together and have done multiple musical projects (The Hal LoveJoy Circus, Taking Candy From Strangers). And I think they may do another one soon. Scott also has become a producer and done a project with Greg [Hex] called Deep Audio. There was a lot of talent in that band. Everyone is still busy.
Many of the bands that Kik Tracee played with back in the day have reunited, either for good, or for sporadic shows. What will it take for you guys to play together again?
I get asked every so often about us doing a show. As much as I'd love to do something special for the people who have supported and remained interested in KT after all these years, I just don't think it's going to happen. There's no real bad blood there or anything, but we had to connect with each other recently about something specific and everyone still exists in completely different realities. We had a good time at one point in the band, but the end was hard and we all spun in our own directions. The creative common ground just isn't there. I would never say never, but today I'm not interested. And I'm not the only one. I'm grateful for the experience I had with those guys.
It was awesome...until it wasn't. I could write a book about everything I've learned stemming from that experience in regards to myself, ego, creativity, and working with others. It gave me confidence as an artist and served as a springboard for years of artistic exploration. It caused me to find new talents buried inside me I didn't know were there. Do I wish it had gone different? Sure. Do I feel even more strongly about the power of what I'm doing now?
Head over to RobGrad.com for more info on Rob's music and artwork.