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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Exclusive Interview: Jeff Pilson on Foreigner, Reuniting with Ex-Dokken Bandmates & New Music Coming Next Year

(Photo: Bill Berstein)

ICYMI

Jeff Pilson has got to be one of the hardest working men in rock, especially this year. He plays bass guitar and serves as musical director for Foreigner, a band who started the year with a symphonic album debuting at number one on Billboard's Classical Albums chart and then rolled through a grueling Juke Box Heroes Tour for two months with Whitesnake and Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Evening. Next, Foreigner will be touring Australia before swinging back to the states for a few very special reunion shows with the surviving original band members.

Foreigner is Jeff's main gig but it's not all that he does. He has recently produced for bands like Warrant and Last in Line and is currently working on a new project with former Dokken bandmates George Lynch and Mick Brown.

His plate is overflowing, the summer has been exhausting, and yet Jeff was bursting with excitement when he spoke about the great things to come during an interview earlier this week. Check it out below!


Cate Meighan: How are you doing? You're on a bit of a break now aren't you?

Jeff Pilson: I'm doing great. It has been about a week since the Jukebox Heroes Tour ended and I have another week or so before I'm back out on the road again with Foreigner. It was such a great tour and just about every show felt fantastic. It was a bill that we've wanted to do for a long time. We always thought that Whitesnake would be a great band to do a partner tour with, and then Jason Bonham is not only a personal friend, but he's an artist that we have so much respect for. His band is just so incredible and we knew that this lineup would be a real bang for the buck and it was a tremendous success. Live Nation was happy about it, we were happy, and then it seemed like the fans were happy too so it was great. It's all about how you package these tours and what we did last year with Cheap Trick was going to be really hard to top. I'm not sure that we did top it, but we certainly put together a tour with Whitesnake and Jason Bonham that we felt great about and that's pretty exciting.

CM: I'm amazed by the amount of time that you spend on the road each year.

JP: We count our lucky stars that people keep coming back to see us (laughing) and we definitely don't suffer from a lack of work. That's not a problem that we have (laughing) and it is amazing that there's a demand like this for a band like Foreigner. A lot of our shows are in casinos or at state fairs, some smaller venues and so not everyone gets to see us all the time. The thing with the packaged tours is that they're in amphitheaters and there tends to be real production value to them and they have to feel like more of an event for the fans. A band can burn themselves out very easily and the fact that we haven't, is I think a testament to how good the songs are. We never give less than 150 percent, I mean we just don't. I think that the day that we do is also the day that we'll stop.

CM: Lots of different bands describe themselves as a family and I wonder how true that really is. Watching you guys playing together makes me think that you're the real deal and that the connections are genuine.

JP:  It's still fun for us and honestly it wouldn't be nearly as much fun if we didn't like each other. I've been in bands where people don't like each other and it's very draining. To be able to play this many shows a year, to travel as much as we do and we're not spring chickens (laughing), the conditions have to be good. I think that we're especially lucky because we're an interesting collection of personalities. Everybody is cool, there are no prima donnas and we all have a great sense of humor. It's partially by design, we've come to a point where we have the members that we want. I think the camaraderie and chemistry really is a big part of our presentation and it's what makes a band connect. If the band is connecting within itself and then putting that energy out there, it's a lot easier for the audience to connect with us too.

(Kelly Hansen & Jeff Pilson
Photo: Cate Meighan)

CM: So you're home for a little while but I know better than to think that you're not working on something. What have you been up to?

JP: Well, I have a project with George Lynch and Mick Brown, who were with me in the band Dokken, and Robert Mason (lead singer of Warrant). We will have a record coming out next year and so the day after I got back from tour we did two videos (laughing). Let me tell you, two videos in one day is a really long day (still laughing). It's just so much, but it was really fun to do and after that, I really had to crash for a few days. I tried to schedule as little as possible in this break because I know that we have a lot coming up, Foreigner is touring Australia this fall and I have another project that I'm going to be producing. That also won't be out until next year, but I start on that within the coming weeks and so my plate is really full.

I'm glad to have this little break for some family time, a little barbeque and seeing some friends. I'm actually trying to take it easy and that's something that I very rarely do. I needed to recharge my batteries and that is a rare thing for me. I'm usually like the Energizer bunny and just go, go, go but we were gone for over two months straight and it just kicked me in the butt. I'm enjoying a little bit of down time and not being such a stranger in my house (laughing).

CM: You've teased this new project a little bit before, can you give up any more details yet?

JP: Well it's not going to be called Super Stroke, we have changed the name (laughing). The label has asked us not to announce the real name until we're getting ready to put something out, but we have a name that we're much happier with (laughing). We've already done promotional photos, we've done the two videos and they still need a lot of editing I'm sure. The record is being mixed and so we're very much on track for what looks like an April release. I have a little two-week break at the end of March and I'm hoping that the gods are willing and we can do some shows in that window of time as a launch for the whole thing. We're really hoping for that because we're so excited about this project.  It's some really strong music and it's a really great band. If we can go out and do some shows then people will just flip out. Robert is such a great singer, his voice is limitless and he's a great entertainer. When Robert and Mick and I sing together, the sound is so powerful and I'm dying for people to hear it. It's really a fun band and when a band gels it is a high for us that's not equal to anything else.

CM: You've always got so many different things going on with performing, producing, writing... what is your favorite hat to wear?

JP: When I'm in the studio I feel the most at home and the most connected. It's still a big thrill for me, writing and recording, or collaborating with people. Being in the studio is such a highlight for me. I'm not sure if it's because I tour so much, but there is a permanence about what you record that makes it very satisfying for me and it gives me the wherewithal to see it through. Not that I don't do that with a live show and if I didn't do those shows for a while then I'd probably miss them a lot. The stage has always felt very comfortable for me but with all of the travel and stuff that goes along with performing, it takes endurance to deal with it. I think the studio is probably where I feel the most at home. I have a beautiful studio in my home and it really is my comfort zone. I also feel like I still have a lot to say there. When you're in that creative zone it feels like there is constantly new information to be discovered and I think that kind of stimuli is very important.

CM: Can you take on a project if your heart isn't fully invested in it?

JP: I've been involved in projects before, kind of on the production side, that weren't necessarily things that I was extremely passionate about but I was still able to really invest myself in it. Fortunately, I've just about always had the ability to in the moment, really get into whatever I'm doing. I was briefly in a country band when I lived in the state of Washington, I mean if you wanted to work then you had to play country music (laughing). I'm not a big country music fan, but when I was playing it I was able to get behind it and enjoy it. The passion is usually what drives me but I do have an appreciation for a lot of different things, and so I'm able sometimes to just connect with the music. I can probably put a project together that's really not my bag, but I'm grateful to be in a position where I don't have to do it.

Even the things that you're passionate about have difficult moments. It's not just candy and flowers all the time, it's work. If it were that easy then it probably wouldn't be nearly as satisfying either. I mean, I've been passionate about things and then two years later I'll wonder what I was thinking (laughing). Sometimes passion is timeless and sometimes it's just not so I think it's good to try to be in the moment with the music.

CM: The business has changed in so many ways since you first started out with record sales almost becoming irrelevant, as artists now have to play live and sell weird merch items just to survive. What are your thoughts on the business side of things now?

JP: The thing about records is that they have a permanence and a relevance. Introducing new music to people and having them buy it is a different kind of thrill, one that has become very important to me over the years. I'm very disappointed that record sales are so low on the priority list and for me, that's a real drag. I love to be in the studio creating and certainly financially, that becomes a challenge if it was all that you were to do. I've got this great gig where I play live all the time, but even with Foreigner, I would love it if we could just set up in the studio for a few months and do nothing but write and create a new record. The market isn't there for it and so the opportunity isn't there either. Those are things that I consider to be a drag and the lack of record sales is something that I never would have predicted to become part of the equation. I would have never imagined that it would happen like this.

The decline in record sales is part of what has turned the live business truly into a business. That can be good on a lot of levels. It's great that the fans can meet bands at VIP meet and greets, but it is very much a business. If you watch old footage of say Led Zeppelin, they just got up there and played. It was more of an organic process and I'm missing that. You know, the guys that just got to do a new record and now they're out there experimenting with it. I miss that and it was a big part of the process for so long.

How many people just sit down and listen to a new record anymore? If they do, there are other things like video games going on around them (laughing). We're pining for the old days and the old days are gone, but the lessons from them are still of value. It's part of the challenge for the music business, to figure out how to rekindle some of that excitement and energy. I challenge them to do that because they're doing nothing to keep people interested for the long haul. Instead, everything is for instant gratification and the business itself isn't developing.

CM: I know that Foreigner fans are absolutely thrilled about the handful of reunion shows coming up. What are rehearsals like when you combine the original band with the current lineup?

JP: Rehearsals with the original band members are really fun. Those guys do their homework and they come in extremely well prepared, probably because they're the guys that originally did it (laughing), but just watching it all fall into place is fascinating. I really enjoy that and it's so much fun. We all love and respect those guys from the original band and honestly, they're really a great bunch of guys. We've all gotten to be really close and consider them good friends. We all have dinner together the night before these shows and just talk and enjoy each other. We recorded a record that will be coming out next year and we recorded a couple of the shows where we were all together. I've had a lot of contact with those guys while doing edits and things for the live record and they are just wonderful, each and every one of them.

(Foreigner Promo Shot)

I have to say, I'm really proud of the fact that we can do this. You don't find many situations where the originals and a current existing band can co-exist. I think it's a testament to what big people Mick Jones and Lou Gramm are. It's a testament to how Kelly Hansen is so respectful of Lou as the original lead singer. It's just so cool to see these 12 people able to share a stage and be happy about it, no one else is able to do that. I'm proud of us for being grown up enough to do it because the fans love it. When the fans love you and the egos within a band keep it from performing, I think that's when people are just taking themselves to damn seriously. Thankfully, we're not doing that and instead, you end up with 12 genuinely happy guys on stage at the end of these shows.

CM: The excitement over these shows amongst the fans is pretty incredible.

JP: I knew there was a reason why they offered us money (laughing). I love how excited people get for these shows and that it seems to come from an organic place.  I'm so glad that we're able to go out there and have fun like Super Foreigner (laughing).

CM: So I have to ask, what could possibly be left on your bucket list?

JP: Oh well that's pretty easy, I still haven't written the greatest song of all time. I'm going to keep going until I drop dead or I write it (laughing). Getting better at songwriting is really on it and fortunately, you don't have to be young to write. As I get older, that's the ever-looming thing and I say it somewhat sarcastically, but it is a goal. It's a big thing for me, getting better as a writer. There's not a lot more performance wise that I feel I need to do for the bucket list, now it's about coming up with better things.

It's funny because as a writer and producer I feel like I'm so much better now than I was back in the days when people were buying records, and it's such a shame. I'm hitting more of a stride now and I have more confidence that what I'm doing is right, but with an emotional vulnerability. I think there is an honesty now that mixes with the childlike reaction to music, coupled with the ability to analyze things without losing my self-esteem when I find flaws in the work. Those are tricky lines to walk and I think that getting older certainly helps with that. It's about staying detached and letting the muse work through you and I think that's something that we get better at as we get older.

When you're younger you have different things that you're trying to achieve. I look back at some of the music that I was involved with and I can see the gaping holes in the flow of it now. I hope that I've learned and that I carry those lessons on to other things. I hope that I get to continue working with great people that are also great teachers. I just want to keep getting better and I really do feel like I still have a long way to go as a writer, so it's a priority for me.

(Photo: Cate Meighan)

If you haven't experienced Foreigner with the 21st Century Orchestra and Chorus then you need to give it a listen because it is just stunning.

Check out Foreigner's official site, for upcoming tour dates, official cool band merch and more! Also, keep an eye on Jeff's official site for updates on all of his side projects!


1 comment:

  1. I love kelly and the guys i have seen them 14 times starting at 8 years old and now iam 15.I am now going to see the two groups together. RHONDA

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