There’s no stopping Jeff Pilson. One of the world’s most gifted bass players, Pilson is a rock journeyman who never quits. First he was a founding member of Dokken, and now has become the madman bassist for rock heavyweights Foreigner. He knows exactly why his band is putting on some of its best shows ever on tour this year. “Well, you know it’s just a great band. Everything about the band is great, and we’re enjoying it and having the time of our lives.” In this interview, Pilson discusses the final leg of the 2011 tour with Journey and Night Ranger and reveals new recording plans with his old Dokken bandmates. You don’t want to miss this inside look into a new Dokken project, and more.
You’re into this tour now for three months with Journey, but from the looks of it on Saturday night it seemed like the first night of the tour. How do you keep up that energy?
Jef Pilson: Well, you know it’s just a great band. Everything about the band is great, and we’re enjoying it and having the time of our lives.
And you’ve even been giving back along the way with the GRAMMY Foundation, bringing choirs out on stage with you.
JP: Yeah we are very concerned about what’s going on with public school music programs right now. And, it’s very disappointing. Everyone knows there are budget problems and all that. But I myself am a product of a public school music program, and don’t think I would have made it this far in my career had it not been for the great teachers that I had. We want to do anything we can to support public school music programs, and by giving these choirs out to these shows and getting people to participate, it seems to be helping, and we’re happy to be doing it.
What do these kids think when they’re standing out on stage with you?
JP: Oh it’s just wild for them. They have no idea what it will be like. I mean, I’m sure they have an idea in their mind coming out, but when they get up there and they hear their voices carrying through the arena and you can just see the look on their faces and it’s a sheer buzz. I wouldn’t doubt if we have a couple of budding rock stars up there, because you can just tell they’re thrilled to death.
You must see a bit of yourself in them. When did you get started in the music business and realize that this was what you wanted to do?
JP: Well, I started playing when I was 12. And I think by the time I was 14 I knew I was going to have to do this for a living because it was my whole life. It was everything for me. It was obviously in my blood, so from a very early age I knew I was going to do this. Rock was my adolescence. So, I don’t know if kids approach it quite the same way now but I’m sure some of them do. They have a different environment than I had but I think the principle is the same. Hopefully we’re going to see more and more people get involved, because having a public education did help me a great deal. I wouldn’t say that it was everything about my career, but it made the difference and it helped me make the professional transition to this as a lifestyle.
You’re touring around the country with Journey and Night Ranger, but there’s also a new album coming out. An acoustic CD, a live CD…tell me about the inspiration to go acoustic.
JP: We’ve been doing some acoustic shows, but before that we started off just doing it for promotion. We would go to radio stations and promote songs acoustically, and we started to get this great response from it, and we were enjoying doing it, so that led to a couple shows. And we would just get huge turnouts! And it was like…wow. Something’s happening here. And we thought: let’s do an acoustic record. We had the time of our lives doing it, it was a very inspired project and just a new way of being creative and expressive with this music. It created it’s own life. Once we started, the momentum happened and it all just fell right into place. You know you have a good song when you can take it down to that acoustic level.
In the live shows you’re cramming all these hits into just over an hour, and the energy level never seems to go down. How do you get yourself ready for a show, or do you just live for that moment?
JP: Well it’s kind of like that but we’re not young kids anymore. So you’ve got to do your stretching, take care of yourself, watch what you eat. There’s all that. But really, we like to just keep it quiet and do some stretching so we’re physically able to handle it. Because it’s physically grueling up there and you don’t really realize it because of the adrenaline. But you might wake up the next day feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck!
You’ve been a part of this band now for a fairly long time now, but of course you had a long history with Dokken. Do you enjoy what you’re doing now more than you enjoyed Dokken?
JP: Don’t get me wrong, I loved Dokken. I’m very proud of what we achieved and it holds a very special place in my heart. But there were a lot of difficult days in there, a lot of personal clashes and professional clashes that don’t really happen in Foreigner. And one reason is because Dokken was a democracy. And in a democracy you get a lot of debate. But with Foreigner, it’s Mick Jones’ band. Because of the way he runs the band, we all have our place. When you have a focused leader like that, especially someone who has been so consistent with his vision over the years, it’s easier to focus and it dilutes the ego problems. There aren’t ego problems because he’s the boss. In a way, it’s a really good thing because it eliminates a lot of problems right out of the gate. I did love some aspects of Dokken’s democracy and what it allowed us to achieve, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. In this band, it’s pretty smooth sailing. We work really hard, but we’re very focused and we all get our own creative input because of Mick’s style. So it dosen’t feel like we’re indentured servants or anything, but it’s just very focused.
And how’s Mick doing these days? He’s been off the tour for a little while.
JP: Yeah it’s just a little issue. Doctors don’t want him to come back yet, but things are looking real good and they just want to watch him a little bit more and he’ll be back soon.
Is there any sign of a reunion with Dokken?
JP: Not in the near horizon, although we were kind of talking about one last year. I never thought it was going to work due to timing and scheduling and everything. But, Mick Brown, George Lynch and I are going to make a record, actually in just a few weeks. We are going to re-record the Dokken classics, and we will also have one disc of all original material that George and I wrote several months ago – we’ll finish that up. We are really excited about it. The project’s called Tooth and Nail, we’ll have some guest singers on it, I’ll sing some, Mick will sing some, it’s going to be really fun and a butt-kicking record.
That’s exciting to hear! Are you three just going to come together and see what happens?
JP: I’ll tell you the whole genesis of it. Several months ago, George asked me if I wanted to write for a new Lynch Mob record and I said “of course”. So we started writing, and one thing led to another and we had an album’s worth of stuff, and then it just didn’t work out to be Lynch Mob. We had this album sitting here and didn’t know what to do with it. Now he and I had done a record several years ago called Lynch Pilson, so we thought we’ll make this another Lynch Pilson record. Then our drummer Brian Tichy, who is just a great musician, currently in Whitesnake and was in Foreigner, said why don’t you get Mick Brown, and why don’t you guys re-record some of the Dokken songs and call it “Tooth and Nail”. And we said “that’s great!” We called Mick, he said he would love to do it, and one thing led to another and decided to make a two-disc set. One disc of all the classics and one of the new stuff.
Are these new songs in the vein of classic Dokken?
JP: We were thinking Lynch Mob at first and then it evolved to be a little deeper, musically, than Lynch Mob tends to go. So it has a raw, yet intense musical side. It’s very, very melodic, but it’s heavy, and it moves. So it fits right in there with the whole Dokken-Lynch-Pilson sort of thing. It’s some of the best material that George and I have written in years and years and years, and I’m so inspired by it. I can’t wait for people to hear it and I’m just glad this is going to work out the way it is, it’s going to be a lot of fun. If we can’t do a Dokken reunion at this point, we might as well use that creative energy for something.
Do you see any live shows coming out of it?
JP: It’s hard to say because our schedules are just so wacky, and I’m still very much a member of Foriegner. I don’t see that happening right away but you never know, and I know we’d enjoy it if we did. So let’s hope.
What does the rest of the year look like for you?
JP: For most of the rest of the year we will be laying low, but starting in January we have an acoustic tour. I want to get this Tooth and Nail record done by the end of the year.
You can find Jeff Pilson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeffpilson, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/officaljeffpilson. And don’t forget to watch for more Foreigner shows next year.