They’re still here. After five albums and more than a decade of touring, Ugly Duckling continues to make music with independence and integrity. While most people in the entertainment business are constantly attempting to reinvent themselves, UD has remained happily naïve when it comes to the latest industry attitudes, fashion trends, and state-of-the-art production techniques preferring instead to develop and stand by their own signature sound. “We’ve seen so many phases come and go that it all seems silly to us now,” says Andy. “Good music and top level live performance are really our only concerns.”
Young Einstein, Dizzy Dustin and Andy Cooper formed Ugly Duckling way back in 1993 in their hometown of Long Beach, California. Growing up in the 1980s, they were raised on a classic hip hop diet but were especially influenced by the mostly New York-based and production-focused groups of the late 80’s and early 90’s (such as A Tribe Called Quest, The Beatnuts, Diamond D, Gangstarr, etc.) Strangely enough, Ugly Duckling started out at exactly the same time Long Beach was becoming
known as a focal point of hip hop culture due to the “G-Funk” style made popular by local acts like Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nate Dogg, Domino and Tha Dogg Pound (lots of dogs, huh?) Unsurprisingly, Ugly Duckling was not a part of this “gangsta” movement and chose their band name to reflect that feeling. Despite the odds and, as usual, against the prevailing currents, UD began honing a sound based on funky drum breaks, soul- drenched musical loops, and massive horn sections. When it came to the group’s vocal style, Andy and Dizzy created a unique, back-and-forth flow to showcase rhythmic and poetic skill with a special humor that inspires head nodding smiles. With that they began crawling their way toward a career in hip hop, but it would not be an overnight process.
After a few years of recording demos for a fly-by-night management company, the guys decided to start their own label and finance all of the recording. In 1995, they “released” their debut album “Down the Road” (on cassette tape only) and sold copies at live performances. The next year, Ugly Duckling took a major step forward when they recorded a 12” single titled “Fresh Mode” and, with the help of a few underground hip hop DJ’s in Los Angeles and a series of independent distributors, managed to ship more than 3,000 copies all over the world. The success of the single along with the songs from the cassette helped them to land a record deal with Universal subsidiary 1500 records, through which they released their first two albums, “Fresh Mode” (EP) and “Journey to Anywhere.”
In 1999, Andy, Dizzy, and Einstein had their first opportunity to hit the road when they were offered an opening spot on a two month European tour with hip hop heroes The Jungle Brothers. Soon after, they traveled around the states experiencing the American club circuit with Del the Funky Homosapien and Casual. “We learned so much about
touring and performing that year and we are lucky to have been out on the road with vets who showed us the ropes,” comments Dizzy. “We’re still running off those experiences.” For the next decade UD would stay out on the road making their living from town to town and soaking up the experiences that would shape their musical personality. “As silly as it sounds,” adds Einstein, “we feel like citizens of the world because everywhere we’ve ever gone we’ve gotten a good reception”.
Since those early experiences UD has released five albums and circled the globe more times than anyone in the group can remember. Highlights include international chart songs, major festival performances, television appearances, and hanging out with hundreds of thousands of fans in more than 30 countries. They have met and performed with most of the bands they grew up admiring and managed to avoid doing anything that they felt compromised their musical values. They’ve always written and produced all of their stuff and have never bowed to any pressure to change their sound. On this subject Andy says, “luckily for us, we figured out a long time ago that there is nothing worth selling our musical souls for and as long as we’ve done things the right way, we’ve had a job. Plus, we feel that bad music is very depressing and not worth any amount of money.”
All things considered, Ugly Duckling is a rarity in that there are not many bands who can claim to have worked in the music industry for over ten years and done so completely on their own terms. What’s the secret? “Stay young at heart and never stop moving,” says Dizzy. “We got to this point by not overthinking, just doing things the way we thought they should be done.” “Plus,” adds Einstein,”if we’ve been around for this long, it’s probably because we’re pretty good.”