Exclusive interview for hellfest.fr: Jeff Pilson (DOKKEN)
“When it comes to a rock show I want big energy and lots of people” – Jeff Pilson – 02/17/2016 – Lincoln Center, New York
How the hell are you?
I’m great. I’m very busy but good.
Busy with what?
This tour. Getting back on the road is a big deal and I’m recording stuff right now too.
What I really wanted to get into with you is that you’ve been in Foreigner, Dokken, and Dio, what is it like to be something of an 80s metal icon?
I don’t know if I qualify as an icon. Maybe Dokken or Dio but I wouldn’t classify myself as an icon through that. I’m very grateful as an icon through that. It’s all great though. I’ve had a wonderful career and I’m grateful to continue having a wonderful career. I’m not good at looking back, I’m constantly looking forward and working with artists. To answer your question I would have to look back more than I do. But I am very grateful and I am very aware of how it has gotten me involved in other things.
What new artists are you working with?
I’m working with a pop singer right now by the name of Angel who’s amazing. One of the best voices I’ve ever heard. Of course there’s The Last In Line and that was an amazing experience sadly that will be the last time that group of people gets to record. Things like that I love to do.
What sparks this love?
I think it’s just the musical high you get from collaboration. When you hit that moment it’s a high. What you are achieving is greater than the sum of the individual parts. When that happens that is the best feeling in the world. There’s the live performance where you get that kind of feedback but when you are writing and recording there is an X factor where the music takes on a life of its own and that’s my favorite part of the process.
Asides from Angel, who do you dream of recording with?
I don’t often dream of collaborating with people other than the people I am already working with but I would love to do something with Mark Rodson someday – that would be really cool. I would love to work with Slash – we’ve done some stuff together and I really enjoyed working with him, he has a very musical sense. There’s not a whole lot of people that I haven’t worked with that I think about working with. Like if I could it would be great to work with Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney but that can’t just happen.
It’s got to be its own separate when you’ve sold 15 million records… I feel like you can access people a lot more than most of us… or do you still have roadblocks?
I still run into roadblocks. Like Dave Grohl is at one level and I’m way below that. But Dave Grohl probably thinks he hits road blocks to. I don’t think its road blocks though as much as finding the time. People have lives.
How do you balance your own life and career?
I’m very lucky to have an understanding family and I have a home studio. But because it’s at home my family has to be accepting f people coming into the house but it also means that I’ not away all the time so that helps. I think that when you really love music it works itself out. It just seems to work itself out.
One thing I wanted to ask about from a fanboyish perspective is I’ve always been fascinated with the story about George Lynch doing cocaine behind the amps at Monsters of Rock…
(laughter) Who told you that story?
It probably actually happened. I never saw it, but I’m sure it did.
Did you ever do it?
With Dokken I never did drugs before going on stage. One or two times I had a few sips of beer and that made me uncomfortable. Afterwards was a different story.
Where you high on stage with other bands?
When I was younger sure. From Dokken on I haven’t.
Was sobriety coming stages for you?
Not really. That wasn’t an attempt at sobriety. I am sober now. That was just realizing that drugs were impacting my performance. It was just a realization that I was better at what I did if I wasn’t high.
So George Lynch is better at what he does when he is high?
George would never do that now. That was a long time ago. I think that only happened a handful of times. He certainly would never do that today – not even close.
In relation to Hellfest where you’ll be playing to a hundred thousand people how has it been to have career where you do that on a regular basis?
Pretty great. When you’re performing rock music, especially on the heavier side that’s what it’s made for. Lots of people and big venues. I absolutely love that. Some musicians will tell you they prefer intimate club shows, I actually don’t. I don’t mind intimate acoustic shows, that I love but when it comes to a rock show I want big energy and lots of people.
One of the things I’ve noticed looking at what Foreigner has done over the last few years is that you’ve played a decent amount of metal festivals. So seeing Foreigner on the Hellfest bill took me a little bit by surprise, how does it feel playing around death metal bands?
I kind of get a kick out of it. I remember when we played the Bang Your Head festival in Germany in 06 you could tell they weren’t expecting Foreigner too much and we went out and kicked their asses and people were like “Wow, they’re really good!” I always believed that Foreigner was a heavier band than they were ever given credit for. The ballads became so dominant people forgot we were once a hard rock band. You don’t have to be heavy metal to be heavy, we have our heavy moments.
But you don’t like death metal yourself?
I like aspects of it. I’m not crazy about the singing but I appreciate all kinds of music. I love Slayer – they’re not death metal but I really like Slayer a lot. Even Mastodon are great. I like a lot of heavy bands but in terms of pure death metal that’s not a vocal approach I love. I understand a lot of the music I just feel like the vocals have been done so much it has lost its coolness.
Playing an acoustic show at the Lincoln Center for a band you once described as ‘once a hard rock band’ what does that say about Foreigner to you?
I think it shows that our music works in a lot of different contexts. We’re not out to be a heavy band, or out to be an acoustic band. We’re just out to be band .The fact that we can play the Lincoln Center and then a few months from now do Hellfest is great! It means that it’s about the music rather than a genre. I hate genres I get so sick of that. I love these acoustic shows it feels so good to me. The singing is so present when we do this. I don’t care about genres or labels I care about quality and good music. I love this. The only people I could see having problem with it are purists who aren’t going to like Foreigner anyway.
What makes something good music?
If it could be defined it wouldn’t be as special as it is. It has a magical quality, like we were talking about earlier. When music moves the emotions and does something to you on a different level… It’s special. Like if I said to you “And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our soul” it means nothing, but when you hear it with everything it means something. It goes into this realm of something that’s relatively new to the human psyche. Music is only thousands of years old humans are millions of years old. Something developed – our ability to understand music. It could have been as much as 50,000 years ago but within the last 10,000 years we’ve really become aware of this thing called music. To me music is a higher evolution – it means something to people it brings us into this joint experience even if only for a moment and when it does that in a way that the feeling is more powerful than the thoughts that go into it then to me that is great music.
So it’s almost a spiritual thing?
I think that’s a big part of it yeah.
Have you heard the singing Neanderthal theory – that language developed from early hominids singing to each other?
I have not heard that – that’s interesting. Although my gut tells me speaking would have come before because the harmonic aspect of music to me is much more subtle than speech. It’s just my gut so I would guess speech came first.
I guess all I can ask at this point is for word of wisdom?
To me I’m just a part of a process. I’m very fortunate to be here. I get to make music for a living, I get to perform it and record it and all those aspects I dearly love. The fact that we get to do this in this day and age were the music business is so screwy is awesome. I would hate to be a new artist these days what a depressing thing that would be. If people could just continue to keep supporting music I think that that’s an important thing. That’s the only way we are ever going to figure out how to monetize it in a way that it attracts the right people. If we don’t do that music is going to be headed for the way of the dodo. It’s got to stay relevant by having people be able to make a living from it. There’s a lot of people who can’t make a living from it because of the state that the industry is in. If it’s not figured out the music is going to suffer. The mainstream public only gets to hear a fraction of what’s out there and that’s criminal to me. There’s a lot of stuff that will never get a chance. As long as you have the bean counters who are only concerned with money in charge of all that you’re never going to find that music gets in the culture the way it did in previous decades. Something has to happen somebody has to figure that all out. Just because the music business has gotten bad doesn’t mean music isn’t going anywhere. It will work itself out but it will take people supporting music. Buy the music you love – support the music you love.
Interview: Matt Bacon.
Lincoln Center, New York – 02/17/2016
Many thanks to John Lappen & Robin Irvine