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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Exclusive Interview: Night Ranger's Kelly Keagy on the Band's 'Rebirth', Touring and New Music to Come

(Photo: Ash Newell)

(ICYMI)

One of the coolest things about music is the way that it provides each and every one of us with the ability to travel through time. You know what I mean, a twenty-second song intro and for just a flash of a moment, you really do feel like it's 1980-something all over again. Night Ranger always takes me back to the tail end of middle school, when laying in the sun while trying to win albums off of a local radio station was an actual hobby. My first boyfriend was a bit obsessed with the band and so I became a fan as well. That was 35 years ago and while I have no idea where he is today, the Night Ranger on vinyl is still with me.

If you haven't had an opportunity to check this band out live then you really owe it to yourself to grab some tickets and just go. The videos that were so popular way back when really didn't do Night Ranger justice in terms of showing just how capable they are of playing a great rock set. I caught the guys recent gig at M3 Rockfest and was keenly aware of just how much the audience seemed to appreciate their talent.

I also had an opportunity to speak with one of the driving forces behind the band's continued success, drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy. He considers his return to the stage last year after a health crisis not only a rebirth but also a joyful opportunity to be even better than before.

(Photo: Ash Newell)


Cate Meighan: How was the M3 Rock Festival for you and the rest of the band? 

Kelly Keagy:  It was cool. M3 is more of a metal-ish kind of festival and I know that everyone worries about throwing a straight rock band into that kind of lineup. In Europe a metal band show is totally different and filled with bands people in the states may never have even heard of. I remember when Night Ranger was put on a Sweden Rocks show about five years ago and it was mixed up musically. They had Pearl Jam, they had us and they had 10cc from 70's yacht rock play right before us (laughing). 30,000 people came out to see them because they still sounded just like the record and it was phenomenal. I was standing at the edge of the stage singing along, "I'm not in love...thinking how much I loved these guys too.  It's nice to be thrown in with a bunch of different kinds of acts and to be able to hold your own.  

I like being in front of people that know our songs but aren't actually fans because then when we go up and not just play, but also interact with them, we can really wow them.  

CM: I've noticed that people almost seem surprised by just how great you guys are live. Why is that? 

KK:  When you first start out it's all about playing live and it's all about being really good in front of an audience. That's how we started out and then we went in to start making records we had to start thinking in terms of promotion. Since a lot of our radio hits were ballads, the videos that went along with them were often a lot lighter than our live shows would be.

When you are playing live then it's about how you relate to an audience and bring them in. For the last fifteen years or so we've been added on to shows with Journey or Foreigner or some of those bands that were around for maybe ten years before we actually had success. Some of those audiences wouldn't have necessarily been our fans so it's a real challenge for us to go into that situation and have the confidence to know that we can win people over. We always end up walking away with the feeling that maybe those who hadn't seen us before might come and check us out again in the future, so that's cool.  

(Photo: Ash Newell)

CM: Rising to meet the challenges that the music industry presents really isn't a new concept to you though, is it? 

KK: It has always been a whirlwind for us, especially in the early days. Our first record was on Boardwalk, which went bankrupt in the middle of our tour. We came back after doing two sold-out shows with Sammy Hagar and the record company told us that the IRS had locked the doors so we weren't going to have any records in the stores! We had to go back in to make another record as soon as possible and thankfully we already had an offer from MCA, so we went in just as soon as we could. We started writing and we already had some songs leftover. "Sister Christian" hadn't been put on our first record because we already had a lot of ballads, so we were able to use it on our second record. We ended up writing the majority of the other songs in about a month and then we went back in and recorded it. We were very lucky because we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Anybody else would have just folded because there it was, that one shot to make it and that first record company collapsed. We were lucky to have another shot and so we really ran with it. 

CM: Some of the singles put out were a bit of an issue for you too, weren't they? 

KK:  Oh yeah, the singles that they chose often times weren't really what we would have picked for ourselves and I think it's part of the reason why people don't realize that we're so good live. We did an album called Man in Motion back in 1988 and we were kind of defiant about it. Since all that wanted to do was release ballads, we turned the record in without one (laughing)! They thought we were kidding, a Night Ranger record without a ballad.
  
The record company would just push those tracks that radio was expecting and so we went back and wrote a really great ballad, but they never used it. Instead, they wanted to use a Russ Ballard song and we were stunned because we write our own material and do well with it! Why would we do a song that doesn't even sound like us? That's when people started to write us off a tiny bit and wonder what happened to Night Ranger. We had to wholeheartedly try and promote that song because the rest of the album was good and we were proud of it, so we had to promote this ballad in the hopes that people would hear the rest of the record 

(Photo: Ash Newell)

CM: So many people end up being involved that it almost seems like a small miracle when any record does get made. How has the process changed for you over the years? 

KK: It has flourished a lot especially in the last three records. On the last one the three of us, myself, Jack (Blades) and Brad (Gillis) decided to just write all of the songs together. In the past I'd bring 2 songs, Jack would bring 2 and we would have almost half the record already so we would then start piecing it together with the rest of the band. With this album, we wanted to be creative together from the very start. Kerri and Eric have had great ideas right off the bat too so it has really been a joyous situation.  

We have the benefit of having a great record company that has been putting out our stuff for a while now. Frontiers Music Srl, owned by Serafino Perugino, is very passionate about all of the bands from the 80's era. They give us some space because they ultimately know that we're going to give them what they want. It's a big business because these companies put a lot of money on the line, and so they have to be sure that they get what they need. Every time they drop a single it's a quarter or a half of a million bucksIt was insane back in the day to do those videos and it's not that much cheaper to do these things now.  

We really care about what the fans think and we'll always make those records that the fans like. But it's nice not to have to worry about the record company breathing down our necks reminding us that we don't have a single to send to radio. We're confident in what we're doing and Frontiers is on board with us.

CM: Is the process of writing and recording different for you now than it was even ten years ago? 

KK: Absolutely because we get to produce our records. Back in the day, we had some pretty heavyweight producers come in and they made all of the crucial and sometimes unpopular decisions. They picked the songs and just did everything. Now, we get to produce the records and decide what songs will be on there and we're having a much better time developing our albums. We needed someone to make all of those decisions back then because when you're young, you don't know how to produce a record (laughing). You need that second ear to tell you when a song isn't worth spending time on and so then, that was good for us. Producers get a lot of money too and we wanted to be able to take our budget and make the best sounding album with it for the fans.  

On Don't Let Up, the last record that we did, we wrote all of the songs together and we recorded it in our home studios. Honestly, for a bunch of old school guys that was a tough decision. What we did do is make sure that the writing and work were really solidly done as demos. We were confident in them and then all we had to do was to re-record our parts. We weren't too far off the mark that way, but if you were doing it without real structure then it wouldn't work.  We were doing sessions 3 or 4 days in a row and then coming back and listening to them, before doing a few more days in a row. That worked pretty well. We had time to live with the demos and then have discussions about them and so we ended up pretty excited about the project. Ultimately, I really do think that it's a good idea to go in there and have everyone present. The emotions really come out when you're all together playing and singing, so there's a kind of magic in the music then. 

(Photo: Ash Newell)

CM: I know that you went through a health crisis about a year ago and ended up having heart surgery. How did that experience change you? 

KK: Oh, wow it really has changed me. I didn't realize it until after I had the heart surgery and I was at home recovering. The doctor had warned me that there was going to be some depression that might set in while I was just sitting there and the band was still out playing. They would send me videos of the audience singing "Sister Christian" and just saying hello to me. At that point, it was just impossible for me to not learn to appreciate those days on stage because they're not going to last forever. I started thinking that this was now a challenge to get back in there with the band. I knew that people were going to be looking at me to see if I would still be as good as before. I looked at it as a new lease on life and so now I had to be even better. It might take a while but I was determined to be strong and singing even better than before. Once you plant that positive seed in your mind then it truly grows 

We are such a close band, even with newer members like Kerri Kelly and Eric Levy, we're really tight and so any crisis brings us closer. My recovery really did do that because I heard from everyone daily and then the fan support was intense. It is truly a miracle to see that kind of energy come into your inner circle and flourish. Such a difficult thing eventually was just such a blessing. It was like a rebirth that brought us all closer. Then we made another record, which was great in my mind. We just keep coming up with good stuff to write about and it's all of these different pieces that ultimately make us still viable. We're still passionate and music is still very important to us and that's how it'll stay for as long as we're making music. 

CM: I know that the band keeps you busy, but is there anything else that's close to your heart now? 

KK: I'm an ambassador for the Musician's Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, which is just an amazing place. People can actually come and visit the museum to see pieces of the history that they've been listening to. It's all about the unsung heroes of music from the 50's up until now and there's just this rich music history that unfolds right in front of you. The owner of the museum just seeks out these amazing items and their goal is to preserve music history, whenever and wherever they can. It's such a great place for music buffs to visit and so they really should come and check it out. 

(Photo: Ash Newell)

CM: Night Ranger's summer is already loaded with tour dates so your fans will have plenty of opportunities to catch you live. What comes after that? 

We figure every three years we'll put out an album. Heading into next January after things slow down, we might start kicking ideas around. We've been having such good success at just getting together in a room and jamming out with good, solid musical ideas. I could see that easily happening and then the record would come out a year later- or maybe the fall of 2019. We kind of put it on the calendar, even though it might not happen exactly that way. We're still working with our last record Don't Let UpWe've got another single coming out from it called "Truth" and we're just finalizing the video for that. We like the material so much that we're going to add another song or two in for when we have 90 minutes or a two-hour set. 

CM: How do you feel about those fans that appreciate you as a great live band? 

KK: Every time that I walk on stage it's just such a positive thing to know that these people have come from all over to hear us play. I feel like it's important for us to say something positive to get us all in sync and in the same circle. Bringing everybody together is what it's all about and to still be able to do that is a big deal. We think about it even after 35 years. Not only are we still doing it but we like doing it. We even still like being with each other which is a blessing in itself (laughing). We have to cherish these times because this could be it, we're all getting older and things happen. We're not going to worry about the future because it's all about right now. Stuff goes by really fast and it doesn't come back so we're going to keep going until we literally can't anymore. 

Check out Night Ranger's official site for music, tour dates, and merch! You can also plan a trip to the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum here.


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