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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Interview with Jeff Pilson (Foreigner)

Interview with
Foreigner’s Jeff Pilson
on June 12th, 2010

(Jeff Pilson, with Foreigner at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI. June 27th, 2010. Photo: Alun Williams)

A short time back, I got to interview a man who in the world of hard and melodic rock has certainly played with some of the best in the game including Dokken of course, Dio, George Lynch, M.S.G. and various others and now lines up as a member of Foreigner and has done so for the past 6 years.
Believe it or not, he was also the bass player in the band Steel Dragon, from the movie 'Rock Star' that featured Mark Wahlberg as the lead singer and a rather hot and good looking Jennifer Aniston.
The Steel Dragon band - for those that don't know, also included Jason Bonham on drums and Zakk Wylde on guitar. Jeff Pilson, Bonham and Wylde also all played on the soundtrack album on the Steel Dragon songs, which also featured Jeff Scott Soto on lead vocals and Steelheart frontman Miljenko Matijevic on lead vocals on other tracks.

Jeff spoke with me about how Foreigner are doing, the World Cup - The Mick Jones Influence! Even my home team Portsmouth got a name check! Well, it was both Mick's and my birthplace! - the sad loss of Ronnie James Dio, Dokken reunion talk and more too.
I hope you enjoy the interview. It could've possibly gone on some more, but unfortunately the time it was set up for, ran close to preparation of 'showtime' on the Foreigner tour and Jeff had to jump in the elevator as we were wrapping things up.
Busy times indeed for the man ....

Jeff: Hello?

AW: Hello Jeff?

Jeff: Yes!

AW: Jeff, it’s Alun Williams, how are you?

Jeff: Hi, how are you doing man?

AW: Good, good, is this a good time for you?

Jeff: Yes of course it’s fine.

AW: Excellent! So, let me ask you this, are you a football fan, soccer fan or no?

Jeff: Well, I kind of have to be in this band because of Mick Jones. (Laughter in the background, guessing Mick is there.) Yes, I’m aware that England and the US just had a draw.

AW: OK, well it’s good to talk to you. Thank you for taking time out to do so.

Jeff: Sure.

AW: Well I guess it’s not too long since the ‘United in Rock tour’ kicked off so how’s it going so far?

Jeff: Oh it’s been fabulous, everything has been great. The bands all get along great, the bands are all sounding great, the production is wonderful. We’re doing really good business, which this year is pretty amazing so yeah, we’re all very, very happy.

AW: Excellent! Yeah, I’m hoping to see you guys at the end of the month. You’re playing up here at Clarkston at Pine Knob as it used to be known and we all still call it today and I’m looking forward to that one.

Jeff: Oh great, great. Yeah, you’ll enjoy it, it’s very cool.

AW: Good stuff! So, it’s been six years for you now in Foreigner, how’s that going? It’s going good with Mick and the guys?

Jeff: Yeah, I know … It’s going really well.

AW: How’s Jason slotting in after Brian’s (Tichy) departure?

Jeff: Oh he’s doing great man. Not easy shoes to fill and he’s doing a great job.

AW: Can you say why Brian wanted to move on, I mean he only rejoined the band about 2 years back?

Jeff: Yeah (Sounding perhaps awkward), well, I look at it as it’s not really a musical thing and it’s not any personality thing, I mean we all got along great. He just has some personal issues that you know, it’s not really my business to go into but …, but they made it so that he needed to stay home more …

AW: Oh OK, because I know he had his own band there for a while on the side …

Jeff: It was nothing like that, we were all getting along great and it’s all good, but he had some personal stuff that he had to take care of and it was impossible for him to be on the road with us and do that.

AW: Right, OK. I guess on a different note, one of my other questions was, has Mick got you into watching football, because I’m from Portsmouth too, where Mick’s from …

Jeff: OK! How funny?!

AW: Yes, so I’m guessing he doesn’t talk too much …

Jeff: Yeah, I hear all about the trials and tribulations of the Portsmouth team that is and their financial woes and everything, yes. (Both laughing) I mean they’re getting penalized and I mean that really sucks.

AW: Yeah, it’s not too good at all and it means I won’t be able to watch them on Fox Soccer channel next season! (Laughs)

Jeff: Exactly! That’s what Mick has said too! (Both laughing).

AW: So I’ll have to search out the games online I guess.

Jeff: Um hmm, that’s what he’s going to do.

AW: I guess getting back to the Foreigner stuff, you’ve been such a strong band from the start, especially when Jason Bonham was in the band as well … Why was it … I guess that you put out a live DVD before you put out a new studio album? I guess that was to show what Kelly and you guys can do right?

Jeff: Which live DVD do you mean now?

AW: The ‘Alive and Rockin’’ DVD, the one in Sweden?

Jeff: Oh right. Well, yeah sure we wanted to … I mean anytime we capture a good little magical show, I mean regardless of who’s on drums or whatever we figure it’s something we should put out and you know, it all contributes to the legacy.

AW: Right. I mean what was the feeling before ‘Can’t Slow Down’ was finished and released? As I mean there’s no real telling how a new album is going to do, especially since it’s been so long …

Jeff: Yeah, I mean we’re all aware of what the world is like right now and selling CD’s is not the thing it was several years ago and we’re aware of that …, but really it just came down to, we just felt that the chemistry was about right within the band and it was time to make a statement and show that Foreigner is relevant musically and it’s not about how many CD’s you sell or how many hits you have or whatever. That’s not really the game these days and of course we’d love to have a hit as much as anybody but if that didn’t happen, I think just the fact that we’ve done as well as we have both in America and Europe, is a testament that what we’re setting out to do we’ve achieved. We’ve proved that there’s some relevance here, that this version of the band the chemistry is right and like I said, it was time to make a musical statement.

AW: Right and I’ve got to say, I personally think that the band as strong if not stronger than it has been for a long, long time. I can remember seeing Foreigner back in the UK with Lou, many, many years ago but I’ve seen you guys play, probably two or three times now since this line up’s been together (Generally) and it’s good, it’s a class act you know.

Jeff: Yeah, well thank you. We appreciate that and you know that’s one of the reasons that we tour as much as we do. The demand is there and we love doing it. So, making a record even though all the parts aren’t there like they once were for the machinery for a record, still the artistic desire for us is there to do it so it worked out great.

AW: Right and Kelly has slotted in so well, I mean who would’ve thought it?

Jeff: I know, I know, really couldn’t have asked for a better guy for the band. I mean he was born to be in this band, I’m convinced!

AW: (Laughing) Yeah, I think so. That was one of the things at the beginning I guess why you guys didn’t feel like doing an album before you went out on the road with Kelly, I guess you thought you’d go out and road test it first. I mean if you look at say Journey, when they got Steve Augeri in first of all they did the album before they went out on tour and even with Arnel, the current guy, but I guess you guys just decided to road test it first right …?

Jeff: Well, you’re giving us more credit. It wasn’t like it was that thought out. It was basically just that Mick wanted to kind of get working again so just the first thing we did was live performance, we didn’t really give it much thought beyond that and then as we played, it just dominoed and got better and better and the band got stronger … Then of course, as we realized that it really was turning into a strong act, that recording was the next logical step. It wasn’t like it was thought out ahead of time, we’ll go out and road test it before we do a record … (Laughing) I wish we had that much foresight, but we really didn’t …
(Both laughing)

AW: Just got the band together and just got out on the road right?!

Jeff: Yeah, we just did it!

AW: Well it is good and it’s nice that … I mean the CD package that you put out, the whole Walmart deal that’s going on, it’s the latest thing isn’t it? I guess everyone is doing it I mean Kiss has done it, REO has done it, so many bands have done and you know …

Jeff: Yeah, well you know, you want to go where the record sales are and Walmart is one of the best distributors of records in the world right now, so it’s kind of a no brainer, plus they were really cool conceptually about everything, they’ve been very supportive of the band and so it really became a very logical fit.

AW: Right. So was there any thought at all towards Kelly singing the ‘Best of’ or not really? Was that never a plan at all?

Jeff: Well, I mean obviously we thought about it, because as you brought up that Journey had done that and it was mixed feelings that it was somewhat erm …, he just felt that it was … I don’t want to say disrespectful to the old band, had we done that but he just felt that, what’s the point … I mean maybe we’ll do that someday, who knows but at this point it was just like, ‘Hey listen, let’s just remix the original recordings, we know they’re great. There’s no need to prove what Kelly can do because you can come and see him live and obviously the guy can sing all the songs,’ so it was really all down to what seemed the best overall solution for the record.

AW: Right, it must be nice to have a Top 30 album in the US charts though …?

Jeff: It’s kind of freaky! (Laughs) It really is!

AW: It’s nice because so many of the bands that were so successful in the 80’s and I’ve basically followed this for all my life too and it’s like … The bands have been pulling everyone in live, for years and years every summer … I mean all the bands go out and tour and everything and the albums have been still released by bands, but not been shifting but now it’s like it’s turned around again hasn’t it? So it’s nice.

Jeff: Yeah, well let’s see what happens … I attribute a lot of that to Mick’s vision for everything. I think he’s very smart about how he does stuff. I think he waited for the right time to put out the record and I think he knew … and certainly his quality control is the highest it gets so … He wanted to make sure that when we did put out a record that it was really strong and I believe that’s the case so … I think it’s a lot of factors and I think we’ve also been fortunate that we’ve been able to do a lot of national television which has really helped and I think it all comes down to the fact that we’ve got the goods. The band is strong, the band is someone that people want to see live … So, you can hype up a record or you can hype up a band all you want, but without the goods behind it, it’s ultimately not going to do a lot of good so I just think that, the timings been right, Mick’s vision and approach has been right and the product is there, so there you go!

AW: Absolutely and as you say, it’s nice to be getting the television coverage you been getting and you’ve been getting quite a lot of radio play too, which is excellent for the singles as well too.

Jeff: Yeah, we’ve been pretty consistently in the Top 20 at AP and again, all the stuff that you would just not expect at this point in both what’s going on with the music business and the age of the band so … Yeah, a lot of factors have worked in our favor, to our favor … We’re grateful for it, we don’t take a minute of it for granted.

AW: Excellent! That’s good stuff. This is probably a silly question to even suggest but because of the success of the album and the tour, whether there’d be another live album or DVD from this tour put out, because again if it’s not so long since the last one right, it’s probably not so …

Jeff: No it’s not such a ridiculous question at all. Actually we did a … We’re going to be doing a special for HDNET that’s going to be coming out in the fall and that’s going to be a performance that we recorded at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville a couple of months ago and the whole show ended up being really strong. So they’re going to air about an hour or so of it or so I believe or an hour and a half maybe and at some point I think we’re going to put out a … You know, I don’t know when, butat some point we’ll probably put that out as a DVD. We’ll probably include it, like we did the live DVD in the Can’t Slow Down package, but I would not be surprised at all if someday there’s not a package like that.

AW: Right, I guess there’s already been the Alive and Rockin’ DVD and then the bonus live DVD with the Can’t Slow Down package as you just said, so obviously you don’t want to go for overkill on that do you … (Laughing).
It is a good, nice package and nice album and it rally does sound good …

Jeff: Well thank you man, just to hear that is great.

AW: Yes, it is good and as I say I’m looking forward to seeing the live show this year …

Jeff: Great man, well I hope I have a chance to meet you at the show …

AW: Yeah. So what about Jeff Pilson though? You’ve done a heck of a lot of other stuff like Dio and Dokken, I mean …

Jeff: (Laughing) Right! Well of course Ronnie passed away recently and that’s been real tough and there’s talk of some memorial shows in the fall that I’m hoping to be a part of, but I’m not sure how all that’s going to quite work out right now with scheduling, etc, but … That’s been a devastating loss both personally and professionally so … I was on the road when he passed, but fortunately my wife and daughter got to be with him at the hospital before he passed so there was a connection there at least at the end, that was very important to us and that’s been tough. As far as Dokken goes, you know, the guys are friends and we’ve finally managed to bury all the hatchets of the past and you know George and I are real close and his wife and my wife actually work together fairly frequently (Laughing), doing real estate and real estate loans so … (Laughing) Who would’ve ever thought that! (Both laughing.)

AW: How about that as you say …

Jeff: We’ll see what happens …

AW: Yeah, well there’s also talk of a reunion with Don, George and yourself, I mean is that actually happening or is that really just rumors …?

Jeff: Well you know the rumors spread before there was really any substance to it. What is true, is that we are talking and we’re discussing that possibility for somewhere in the future but we’re all open to it now. I mean we’re all past the point of you know, none of us are resisting it anymore … Now it’s down to, is it the right time? Can it be … Will it make sense? I mean all of us are really, really busy so it’s really hard to see when or how but it’s not ruled out so … We’re talking, so maybe …

AW: Of course I only mentioned Don, George and yourself, but of course Mick Brown jumps around all over the place too with Ted Nugent and other folks too …

Jeff: Right, right …

AW: But do you think an album is likely at all if you do?

Jeff: You know, it’s just too early to say and I’d be honest with you, I just don’t know … Again I’m just so busy right now, that it’s kind of hard to imagine right now doing a Dokken record …

AW: Yeah, with Foreigner right and that what kind of what I was thinking …

Jeff: You know Foreigner right now would have to have quite a bit of time off, which is not on the immediate horizon so …At this point I just don’t know but because we are talking, because we get along or we seem to be getting along, I can’t rule it out for the future, you just never know.

AW: Sure and the other projects you were involved in like M.S.G. and Wild Horses … I mean two albums with Wild Horses and it’s kind of ironic that Johnny Edwards (Foreigner vocalist on ‘Unusual Heat.’) was in there just before you did the first album … and then he joined Foreigner …! (Laughs)

Jeff: Yeah, I thought that was kind of funny too. Well, I haven’t done anything with Wild Horses in a while or M.S.G. but they’re all good friends and I did do another Wild Horses record, when was it about 5 – 6 years ago or something like that or maybe longer … My God, times going so fast … (Laughs) I don’t think there’s anymore talk of that but ‘Hey,’ once again you just never know. I’d probably like to do another War and Peace record one of these days but it’s just having the time you know … (More laughter.)

AW: Right and you did one with George too didn’t you so …?

Jeff: Yeah, yeah and he and I want to do another one of those again too … but again (Laughs) it’s all down to time so we’ll just have to see. Anyway I hate to cut this off, but I half to go downstairs and I’m getting in an elevator and I’m afraid we might get cut off but thank you so much for everything. I really appreciate it and like I say, I hope we get to meet at the show at Pine Knob.

AW: OK Jeff, well listen, I appreciate your time anyway and yep, take care of yourself and good luck in Washington tonight. Have a good show, enjoy the gig.

Jeff: Alright man, thank you so much, we’ll talk soon.

AW: Alright, cheers.

Jeff: Bye, bye.

Jeff Pilson website:
His MySpace seems to be a little more up to date ....

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