Ugly Duckling Interview

Long Beach trio Ugly Duckling dropped by Crossfire HQ to share some words with us about their upcoming European Tour and new album Bang For The Buck, but before as soon as he saw the posters in the office, Dizzy proclaimed it was great to be around skateboards and told us that the last thing he did skating was bust his tailbone.

So the guys decided they were going to take over and chat amongst themselves about skating. When Abjekt managed to grab a word, he got talking to them about everything from clean socks to animals fighting.

Ugly Duckling, you are Caught in the Crossfire!

Andy Cooper: What do you do when you’re caught in the crossfire?

DJ Young Einstein: Duck

Andy: What about you Diz?

Dizzy Dustin: Get hit, I’m a big dude.

Andy: Now, talk about your skating experience.

Dizzy: Man, I used to love to board. My favourite skater was Mark Gonzalez back in the day, he had the Gonzo decks. I tried to jump in a pool for the first time and I fell down and hit my tailbone and that was it, no more skateboarding. And I saw all my friends around me blowing up and I saw how much money they were making.

Andy: Who you talking about? Who was blowing up?

Dizzy: Rob Gonzalez, Ray Barbie, Ron Chapman, Danny Montoya, you could go on and on especially Southern California. What about you? Who was your favourite skateboarder?

Andy: I was a crap skateboarder, I never got beyond the point of doing 180s, I could turn around. I begged for one of those Air Hosoi skateboards. That was my Christmas wish. But the day before Christmas vacation, at school, its really loose in the classroom and the teacher writes my name on the board and puts a check like “Andy you’re talking too loud” and I said “Miss Carroll I don’t care if you put 10 checks”

Dizzy: What?!

Andy: I dunno what I was thinking but she sent me to the Principal’s office and I got thrown outta school that day and my dad was real adamant that you have to behave, and so I didn’t get the skateboard, I got this basketball thing and that kinda became the thing for the rest of my life. So that event took me outta skateboarding and I didn’t even get past the veraflex or the nash cheap skateboarding stage. What about you Einstein?

Einstein: I wasn’t that good of a skater, but in Long Beach they had the Vision Streetwear factory right by my house, so I used to get to go buy pants and shirts for 2 bucks from those guys, they’d sneak it out the back door, give me deals. But my favourite skater back in the day was Steve Rocco.

Andy: Who was the Vision Psycho Stick thing?

Dizzy: Yeah, the Psycho Stick was a bad board.

Andy: But who was the guy?

Dizzy: No, it was just a deck.

Zac: You’re thinking of Gator

Andy: Oh the Psycho Stick was just a brand thing?

Dizzy: Yeah, you remember when they brought in that fibre glass board shit? That was terrible.

Einstein: What about bonite? The ingredient that Powell Peralta came up with. It was basically paper.

Zac: Don’t leave your board out in the garden.

Einstein: Don’t get it wet!

Andy: The crap boards I used to use used to come with nose guards, guard rails, the backflip thing, it was like trying to skate around on an armoured vehicle.

Dizzy: My favourite skating moment was when Natas Kaupus came to the neighbourhood and us and Jeff Ramos used to skate through the neighbourhood and he was like “we’re gonna go skate” and he had the whole camera crew with him, that was my first time dealing with a camera crew. And there’s a very famous picture of him in Thrasher magazine of him ollying a cow from a dairy and was front page of Thrasher magazine and that was one of the best moments on my skateboarding life.

Andy: Do you remember the skate video where it was like, the search for Ho Chi Minh or something?

Einstein: Animal Chin

Andy: Ho Chi Minh was the Vietnam War, they were searching for him. But yeah we did a mock up of it in our neighbourhood with a little video camera and we were trying to do some of the stuff they did and they did a rap in it, a really bad rap. It was like “I knew a [high pitched] guy, his name was…

Dizzy: [high pitched] SLY!

Andy: Yeah something stupid like that, and I remember making a mock up rap of that, about my cat, which was one of the first raps I ever wrote. So there you go, a skateboarding connection with music.

Yeah, the music! You guys are over for a big European tour? Looking forward to that?

Andy: Well big is a generous word, we will be playing many shows and there will be people in attendance, we assume, and we’re happy to be here promoting our new album called Bang For The Buck.

I think you’re undermining yourself dude, last time I saw you at the Jazz Café, it was packed out, the most packed I’ve ever seen that venue.

Andy: We had a really good show there, Einstein loves playing there most of all. We went there yesterday actually, who’d we see…

Einstein: A group called the Art Ensemble Of Chicago

Andy: Free form wacky jazz, Dizzy couldn’t take it.

Dizzy: Yeah I got to the point where the horns were just piercing my eardrums and giving me a massive headache.

Andy: It sounded like they were killing puppies

Big crowd for that show too?

Andy: Pretty good

Dizzy: Yeah it was decent, they’re a legendary band so it was cool to see them, it had a cool little vibe.

Where else are you touring, round Europe right?

Dizzy: Yeah we’re all over the place, Germany, Holland…

Andy: Ireland, France, a few in Scandinavia and the Hague. They offering us a gig at the Isle Of Wight, but it’s a gig where we have to pay, and if we sell it out, its like a 200 person venue, if we sell it out then we might make like, fifty quid. I’ve never been there before, is going there worth the financial risk?

The only thing I know about it is that they used to have a massive rock festival.

Andy: That I know of.

And my dad went in the 70s to see Hendrix but he took so many drugs that he passed out and missed him. And his one regret is that my mum has seen him and he hasn’t.

Andy: Actually, I read a Hendrix book and that was like a week before he died too.

So that’s all I know about the Isle Of Wight.

Andy: Anti-drug message right there, don’t take so many drugs that you pass out before the star comes on. We mostly lose people who don’t watch our show from apathy rather than drugs.

Zac: Is that a new drug in Long Beach?

Andy: Got that apathy!

So do you guys have a favourite place to play and a least favourite place to play?

Dizzy: Its hard to say, every place we play at has special things about that area. I love to travel so when I go out and see certain spots, you always catch something a little different and special about that place. But I love sunny spots, I’m a fan of Australia, I love the scenery in Australia. But I love coming here because the support from the fans is so good, so like I said, there’s always something special we’re in.

Andy: I know easily where the place I like to play least is, no question: Long Beach California. It’s the worst. We got nobody who likes us and its all our friends who wanna get in for free. And we always have disastrous results when we play anywhere near where we live.

Is that because you’re not gangster rap?

Andy: That’s part of it, but its really not a great town for live stuff, its just not one of those kinds of place.

Dizzy: Nothing really jumps off in Long Beach except the Marley festival, that’s it.

The Marley festival?

Dizzy: The Bob Marley festival, comes every February, and gets like 15,000 people?

Andy: Yeah but they come from all over the place. I’m sure there’s towns like that in the UK, where there’s lots of people… It’s a commerce town, a port town, so there’s just not a college support crowd and its really ethnically diverse.

Dizzy: That’s weird, we have Long Beach State there, how come Long Beach State ain’t like any other college area.

Andy: Long Beach per capita is the most ethnically and economically diverse city in America. And so its really hard to have a consensus or a cultural event happening there. Its interesting to be from that place and that’s a lot of what goes into our music and eclecticism, but yeah we can’t do a good show there to save our lives. We can’t even get our friends to go now!

Have you played any shows with the new material?

Dizzy: Yeah our first show was in New York where we tried out some of the new stuff, well, before that was San Diego, then New York and of course we did Switzerland before here and a University gig out here. So we got a pretty feedback and its nice to do new material for a change instead of all the stuff we’ve been doing.

You got a good reaction then.

Dizzy: The thing with Bang For The Buck, we did the album with the live show in mind so it really transfers well onto the crowd, so far it’s a good thing. We’ve got another 40 something shows so we’ll see.

I don’t wanna kiss your arse too much…

Andy: Nah, go ahead

When I saw you guys at the Jazz Café, it was the most fun show I’ve ever been to.

Dizzy: Oh man, thank you.

People were really coming out smiling.

Dizzy: Well, we love to have fun man and if the crowd are willing to have fun then its gonna be a good night regardless.

And from what I’ve of the new album, which I love, I can imagine it’ll be more of the same.

Dizzy: Definitely.

Andy: I always think when we do the new songs, it starts off really well and people are always enthusiastic, but around the second chorus or halfway through the second verse, you see the lull starting to take over. There’s something about hip hop that going to a show is a celebration of the records as opposed to… well, when we went to see the Arts Ensemble, people go there to appreciate the musicianship and want something artsy and wanna capture a moment in time. Whereas if you go to a hip hop show you want to hear the songs you like and you wanna support the band who you follow. So when you do something they’re not familiar with they kinda…

Especially with hip hop, people like to sing along, especially on the chorus.

Andy: That’s it, and it’s a participatory music and culture so when you do that sometimes it’s interesting. Its hard to go “ok I want everyone to pay attention to the song, try and listen to the lyrics, this is a brand new one” so we try not to overpush it. We have a song on our last album called Turn It Up and when we first did it it went off really well, like one of our best songs ever so that’s also a good place to find out what works because if it goes off really well and no-one’s ever heard it then you know it must be a good song. And that’s one of those things you can’t tell until you get up and do in front of people.

So, you’re touring with Giant Panda, are you fans?

Dizzy: Yeah I really like what they do. It’s very seldom that you see a group come out of the area, or come out of the States that loves to keep the roots involved with hip hop as far as going back to the old school, sampling and the good party vibe and they’re good people as well. So its gonna be interesting doing this tour with them.

Andy: We’ll find out if they’re good people.

Dizzy: Well see I’ve known them for a while…

Andy: But everyday, in a car together for hours, you find out someone’s true character

When they start stealing your things or eating your food.

Andy: Well exactly, but they find out that stuff about you as well so…

They’ve been getting quite a big billing over here and I’m really looking forward to seeing them. I have a friend in Florida who has seen them a few times and he raves about them live.

Dizzy: Yeah they have a great live show.

Andy: Remember that movie with the rugby team who crash their plane in the Andes and half of them had to eat each other to survive? And at the end of the experience, you’re closer than you’ve ever been but you never wanna see each other again. That’s how it always is, you’ll never know someone better than spending every day with them and performing in front of people with them and watching their performance every night, the same thing. So at the end of the tour you know everything about this personal both artistically and personally and you just have no want to call them for a long, long time.

So, who would in a fight between a duckling and a panda?

Andy: I’d probably pick the panda.

Especially if its giant right?

Dizzy: I’d beg to differ, because ducks have that duck call, there’s more coming. Giant panda’s gotta be pretty slow. And ducks can go for the eyes, so if a duck goes for the eyeballs…

Airbourne attack too!

Dizzy: Yeah! Exactly.

Andy: Bear in mind, an ugly duckling is actually a swan, and those things can be very feisty.

Dizzy: And a long neck too, that whole attack mode.

Andy: Plus, let’s be honest, of the two, which is the endangered species? It ain’t the duck, we’re survivors, we’ve thrived. The panda, they’ve gotta put an armed garrison around those things to keep them alive. Gotta feed them bamboo. Why are they called Giant Panda?

Dizzy: I have no idea actually

Andy: I’m sure we’ll get the answer every day…

You guys are playing Dublin soon, are you upset that you missed St Patrick’s Day in Dublin?

Dizzy: Sorta. I was hoping that we’re coming out here so close to it, I’m Irish as well, so for me it’d be awesome to spend St Patrick’s Day somewhere in Ireland, Dublin, Belfast. I think every day in Ireland is like St Patrick’s Day.

First port of call is the Guinness factory for everyone I know that’s been there.

Dizzy: I definitely have to go there man. It’s like what, a pound and you can drink as much Guinness as possible, sounds like a great place for me to be.

One thing I have to ask, you’re going on this long European tour, what three things must you have?

Dizzy: Mine’s Iced Tea, I can’t live without my Iced Tea, I’m just glad its finally out here in the UK.

Zac: What about the rapper?

Dizzy: The what?

Zac: The rapper Ice-T

Dizzy: Oh! He’s an actor now, if you’d have said “what about the actor Ice-T?” I’d have got it. Yeah I can do without Ice-T, the rapper, but the Iced Tea is important.

Andy: What’s your item of necessity?

Einstein: Clean socks are a big one for me.

Andy: What’s important about clean socks?

Einstein: In clean socks, you kinda feel a bit cleaner. You wearing dirty socks and it brings your whole mood goes down.

Andy: With clean socks, you don’t even need to take a shower right?

Einstein: …uuuuh…

Andy: Einstein’s famous for not being the showering sort.

Dizzy: If that’s the way not to take a shower, just to have clean socks on, I’ma try that out. What about you Coop? I know what yours is. The magic pillow.

Andy: It’s true. I have a pillow, that I carry from my bed, its very big and very long, suitable to my large frame. And especially in Europe, like in Germany, the pillows are very thin and you can’t any head rest action, so I have this all encompassing pillow that I’ve taken on every trip we’ve ever been.

We don’t want you cranky when you get up!

Andy: That’s it, and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

So this new album took a while to record, is it because you wanted to go back to basics and make the best record you could. Do you think it’s the best record you’ve made… I mean, I know you’re not going to come out and say its shit.

Dizzy: I look at it like if it’s the best record we’ve made, we might as well stop doing what we do, because you should go out on top. But I think it took a long time because Andy and Einstein really worked hard as far as the samples and listening to records, and that’s what takes the majority of the time on the album. Whereas if I’ve gotta write lyrics or Andy’s gotta write lyrics then we can wrap that up pretty quick. The progression of it is just digging, finding the right loops, finding the right samples, 9 months is actually pretty quick.

I was gonna ask Einstein, what with Kanye using the most obvious samples ever in every song he ever releases, how important is it to you to go digging, rather than just throw some James Brown or Chaka Khan in?

Einstein: We’re a musical based group, so I think its maybe the most important aspect of our songs, the sample basis, because otherwise we’ll just sound like every other group and I think that’s one of the unique characteristics that we have, our sound.

Dizzy: And the fact that we can’t afford those samples. The more…

Andy: Obscure…

Dizzy: Yeah, the more obscure the sample is, the easier it is to get away with. And when Kanye can put out I don’t know how much money for the sample, and the writing credit, we can’t even touch that.

Andy: Plus, I saw that Kanye video for Touch The Sky, with the Curtis Mayfield sample, and it’s a cool song but when I hear it, I think of the Curtis Mayfield song and that’s one of the reasons you do it, because you already have an association with it and you flip something slightly familiar on it and make it into a new song and update it. But for us, its fun to dig deep and find hidden treasures and present them anew, because no-one will ever have heard these, no-one in our audience at least. I mean, we hadn’t heard them because we had to find them. So the idea of using the Bee Gees or James Brown or whatever it is, and reworking it, it’s already been done on a popular stage, whereas you find something obscure and rework it so its something brand new…

Dizzy: Plus if you sample a hit, it might be a hit again.

Easy option.

Andy: I always used to think Wyclef would do that, where they’d do remakes. Or even Mos Def, who is really good, but they would always use choruses that we already hip hop choruses, and like, we’ve done some of that too, but you wanna have your own identity and your own sound, and if you use something that is so obviously familiar then it kinda cuts you our own song.

And especially with something like Curtis Mayfield, I just think of the Curtis Mayfield song and think the Curtis Mayfield song is better.

Andy: The original song is always better, but at least with us, you’ve haven’t heard the original version! I just think of that Bend It Like Beckham movie, because they play that Curtis Mayfield song every scene.

Einstein, your gold chain, that’s gotta be the best weapon in rap music.

Einstein: It is. Sometimes when I have to defend myself, I use it like a pair of nunchucks

See, 50 Cent comes with his bullet wounds, but you get Einstein’s dookie gold rope and he’s going down.

Andy: Wouldn’t it be better to brag about not being shot? “I been shot a bunch of times”, that just sounds like bad judgement.

Einstein: I been shot AT but never hit.

Andy: I caught it in my teeth!

What would you say the most influential record that you could listen to over and over again or that got you into the music?

Dizzy: I would say 3 Feet High And Rising by De La Soul, that’s like my favourite, my top hip hop album ever.

Einstein: It always changes, but right now the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique.

Andy: I’m with Einstein in that its always changing, but one that really inspired us a lot on this record is It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. And not so much the political side of it, or the anger, but the excitement of those tracks. And we even did a few bites, at the start of Bring The Noise, the music’s doing this big build up, and at the start of one song on the new album called Yudee, we had a horn build up and tried to emulate that excitement and build up. Especially with the horns and squealing brass. We wanted to communicate that excitement, because that’s one thing in hip hop, the older records showcased a bit more was that enthusiasm.

Because it was a new thing as well.

Andy: Yeah and maybe because it was that part of the evolution. Like, hip hop started off with disco breaks and in the mid 80s there was the Def Jam and the LL Cool Js and for some reason at some point towards the end people started sampling and getting into funk. Ultramagnetic and Public Enemy and Jungle Brothers, it just really rocks.

Well thanks guys, it was great having you in.

Dizzy: Thanks for having us, great being out here in a skater environment for a change.

So do you have any final words for the Crossfire readers?

Einstein: Yeah, don’t do a lot of drugs.

Dizzy: Just do a little bit of drugs.

Einstein: Don’t gamble.

Dizzy: And pick up the Bang For The Buck album

Andy: I got it: Save the drug money and use it to buy the album

Dizzy: And you’ll get high off the album. And I heard if you lick the cover, you might even have an acid trip.

Andy: We’re Out

Dizzy: Check out our site at

The album Bang For The Buck is out now on All City Records, make sure you grab a copy today!