When Bob Skoro, senior vice president of A&R at Mercury, signed Santa Barbara, Calif., rockers Ugly Kid Joe, his goal was to sell 15,000 records. Talk about aiming low: Five months after its release, As Ugly as They Wanna Be, the Kids’ debut, has sold 500,000 and risen into the top 10 on Billboard’s pop album chart. That’s pretty amazing for a six-song EP recorded in three days by a band that had previously played only about 10 gigs.
”We were like hi-fi, dude!” says Ugly Kid singer William Whitfield Crane IV, 24, about his reaction to the group’s overnight success. ”We’re like the luckiest people. I mean we’re just a garage band. We never really tried to get signed. We grew up in upper-middle-class suburbia, you know, like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood — ridiculously conservative — so our sarcastic songs are a way to have some fun.”
So how do five bratty (and unabashedly lazy) kids get the attention of one of the largest record companies? Pure luck. A local radio deejay saw $ ”potential” and took the band’s demo to Dennis Rider, an entertainment lawyer. Rider, who’s now the band’s manager, shipped the demo to Skoro, who flew out to see them play, and the rest is, like…well, hi-fi.
Already, Ugly Kid Joe — whose name is a mocking tribute to L.A. glam band Pretty Boy Floyd — is at least mildly controversial. Disney chairman Michael Eisner — reacting to the EP’s opening track, ”Madman,” about a killer who kidnaps little girls in Disneyland — axed a pending deal for the band to perform two songs in Pauly Shore’s upcoming Disney movie, Encino Man. ”Disney is such a happy place; we wrote this song as a joke,” Crane says. Comments Bobby Carlton, Mercury’s West Coast A&R manager: ”Everyone was cool to go with the project and then Mickey Mouse doesn’t agree with this song!”
”I don’t care if they don’t get our humor,” Crane adds. ”We’ll stay scrappy. They’ll stay happy, ya know?” Disney declined to comment. Others have taken more kindly to the band’s sarcasm. Ozzy Osbourne picked them as opening act for his summer tour, and their single ”Everything About You” — a song about hating everything about you — landed on the Wayne’s World soundtrack (though not on the soundtrack album), which, with the movie such a runaway smash, may help account for Ugly Kid’s success. ”Music is supposed to be fun,” says Crane. ”I mean there are too many serious bands who spend way too much time in the studio and stuff. What’s the point if you’re not having a good time with good friends?”
Crane says a full-length album is set for July, tentatively titled The Ugly Truth, and will poke fun at, among other things, Mr. Rogers’ ”f—ed-up neighborhood.”