Flamboyant frontman Matt Sims, who provides vocals and plays bass guitarforCitizen King, asserted, “We are going to be, hopefully, the band people think of that is not a rock ‘n’ roll band, not a funk band, not a hip–hop act with live instrumentation,” according to Warner Brothers Records. “We are trying to break a bunch of pigeonholes.” The tavern–funk/alternative rock band, whose members also include drummer DJ Brooks, keyboardist Dave Cooley, records man Malcolm Michiles, and guitarist Kristian Riley, hail from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the same Midwestern city famous for its bratwurst and beer.
However Milwaukee also gave the world a host of talented artists, like pianist Liberace, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, guitarist Les Paul, and the soul band Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds, one of Sims’s favorite live acts. Hoping to add the name Citizen King to the list of well–known Milwaukee natives, the group released their first album, Brown Bag, in 1995 for the independent label Don’t Records. Then, after signing with Warner Brothers, the band returned with Mobile Estates in 1999. The album, which included the single “Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out)” that entered the Billboard modern rock chart, brought Citizen King a wider audience outside their hometown.
Before joining forces to play music, the members of Citizen King spent most of their free time during high school at a Milwaukee bowling alley, the place where they first met. “We’re the bombast bowlers this side of the Mason–Dixon,” Sims boasted to Carrie Bell of Billboard magazine. “In fact, we challenge any band that thinks they can beat us. They will go down.” The five young men became fast friends, discovering that in addition to being bowlers by nature, they also loved listening to the same styles of music.
One night in 1988, they attended a concert featuring the Beastie Boys, Run–DMC, LL Cool J, and Fishbone (a group Citizen King would later tour with). “That was the show where I said, ‘Hey, I know what I want to be doing, ’” Sims recalled to Mac Randall in a feature story for the Launch: Discover New Music website. “And everyone in the band felt the same way. Between those four acts, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, no matter what.” In addition to the aforementioned outfits, the members of Citizen King became huge fans of the Los Angeles punk legends Fear; samples from two of that band’s songs would later appear on tracks for Mobile Estates.
According to Warner Brothers, Sims also remembered going to see Harvey Scales “bumpin’ bellies with all the women in the audience, singin about a ‘Disco Lady’,” during shows at a localclub called Boobie’s Place. His performances inspired the band to create danceable
Members include DJ Brooks (son of a saxophonist who played with Sly and the Family Stone; took lessons from James Brown drummer Clyde Stubble–field), drums; Dave Cooley, keyboards; Malcolm Michiles, records; Kristian Riley, guitar; Matt Sims, vocals, bass.
Formed band and started playing in clubs across the Midwest, 1993; released debut album Brown Bag, Don’t Records, 1995; released first major–label album, Mobile Estates, Warner Brothers Records, 1999; toured the U.S. and Europe, 1999.
Addresses: Home —Milwaukee, WI; Management —Case Management, Milwaukee, WI. Booking agent —Monterey Peninsula Artist. Record company —Warner Brothers Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505–4694, (818) 953–3223, fax (818) 953–3699. Website— Citizen King Official Website, http://www.citizenking.com.
tunes that often had a tavern–funk vibe. Brooks, Citizen King’s drummer, drew inspiration from soul, blues, and funk music first–hand. Growing up, hetook lessons from legendary drummer Clyde Stubblef ield, who played with James Brown’s band. Brooks’s father, who played saxophone with Sly and the Family Stone for awhile, was a friend of Stubblefield.
Thus, in full agreement regarding the style of music they wanted to play, Sims and his comrades formed Citizen King in 1993. Before this, they worked with a group called Wild Kingdom that broke up. The name Citizen King refers to “that old Orson Welles movie, that French king who used to go out dressed in rags to see what his subjects were sayin’ about him and that former Governor of Louisiana, Huey “Kingfish” Long, whose slogan was ’Every Man a King’,” reported Christina Cramer for the Rolling Stone website.
The band started out performing their break–beat vibes at local clubs in their hometown, as well as throughout the Midwest. Soon thereafter, the buzz surrounding Citizen King’s music and live shows caught the attention of Speech (born Todd Thomas) of the alternative hip–hop group Arrested Development. Speech produced several tracks on Citizen King’s debut album entitled Brown Bag, released on Don’t Records in 1995. The record sounded much like the major–label album to follow, but more low–tech. “I didn’t do as much rhyming, and it’s not sample–based because we didn’t have the gear back in the day—we couldn’t afford it,” said Sims to Randall. “Malcolm made loops by putting little pieces of tape on a record player, and when he played a record, he’d make it so the groove would skip really smoothly. That’s how we got away without using a sampler.”
The following year, the band released and EP, Count the Days, and toured with the funk/rock group Fishbone. Around the same time, Citizen King traveled to Austin, Texas, to play at the South by Southwest convention. Here, executives from 510, a Warner Brothers subsidiary, liked what they heard and signed the band to the major label. Taken by surprise, Sims told Bell, “We love music, but we goof around a lot, so we never expected a record company to take us seriously. Our music is all over the place style–wise. Plus, we live in Milwaukee, which isn’t given props as a cultural center very often.” They were also skeptical of signing with a major label for fear of losing their artistic freedoms. “We were afraid about signing … because of all the horror stories you hear. But they basically let us do what we want, and you can’t ask for more than that,” Sims admitted to Billboard magazine’s Catherine Applefeld Olson.
Nonetheless, Mobile Estates took off following its release in the spring of 1999 after nine months in the making. A labor intensive yet fun process for the band saw them experimenting with all types of music. Olson described the group’s first major–label effort as a “fitting blend of hip–hop, rock, and fresh melodies;its songs are laden with samples and immediately danceable beats.” When not laying down his rhymes, Sims vocals sound much like a cross between alternative rockers Beck and Lenny Kravitz, as well as classic rock star Steve Miller. Meanwhile, guitarist Riley and keyboardist Cooley weaved melodic sounds through Brooks’s drumming, Sims’s bass lines, and the record wizardry of Michiles. Mobile Estates, produced by Eric Valentine (known for producing records for both Smash Mouth and Third Eye Blind), was recorded at Bionic, the band’s own studio located in the basement of an abandoned warehouse.
Although the album contains a musically diverse collection of songs, Citizen King decided to play it safe with the first released single, “Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out),” which sounded similar to what other bands were playing at the time. “The song is fresh–sounding and kind of reminiscent of Beck; that seems to do well for us,” Mary Shuminas of a Chicago radio station commented to Olson. Like most of their other songs, the country blues meets modern day sampling technology “Better Days” was inspired by Citizen King’s real life experiences. Sims explained to Bell, “It’s a narrative about where our band was three years ago. I was working at a dollar store. I had no money and wasn’t happy. I decided music had to be all or nothing. I don’t miss those dollar store days, although I do miss stealing stupid trap from there. Not that much has changed though. I’m still pinching pennies.” Other notable tracks included the mellow soul of “Jalopy Style,” the guitar–riffed, space–aged punk “Safety Pin,” and the upbeat, drum and samples “Bill–hilly.”
Riding upon the success of Mobile Estates, Citizen King started an extensive tour of the United States and Europe in the late spring of 1999. Later that summer, Citizen King made a soundtrack appearance for the film “Mystery Men,” playing a cover of the Specials’ song “Gangsters.” Over the years, Citizen King amassed an enormous record collection—nearly 25,000 vinyl albums in all stored in a vault in their rehearsal studio. Michiles packs up the ones he needs for specific concert performances. Sims said that the group begged radio stations for vinyl, as most switched to an all–electronic format, every time they appeared for a radio show.
Brown Bag, Don’t Records, 1995.
Count the Days, (EP), 1996.
Mobile Estates, Warner Brothers Records, 1999.
(With others) Mystery Men, (soundtrack), Interscope Records, 1999.
Billboard, February 6, 1999, p. 20; March 27, 1999, p. 91.
Rolling Stone, May 27, 1999, p. 61.
Citizen King Official Website, http://www.citizenking.com (October 6, 1999).
All Music Guide website, http://www.allmusic.com (October 6, 1999).
Launch: Discover New Music, http://www.launch.com (October 6, 1999).
Additional information provided courtesy of Warner Brothers Records.
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