INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Jeff Pilson is an American musician and producer best known for his long stint in the band Dokken. Jeff joined Dokken in 1983, and during the following years, he recorded 6 studio and 3 albums with the band, including such classics as TOOTH AND NAIL (1984) and BACK FOR THE ATTACK (1987). The band went through several line-up changes and break-ups. Jeff parted ways with the band for the last time in 2004. He was a member of Dio for part of the 1990s and recorded and toured for the albums STRANGE HIGHWAYS (1994) and ANGRY MACHINES (1996). In the summer of 2004, Pilson became the bass player for the AOR legends Foreigner. He has been part of every Foreigner recording and tour since, including the 2009 studio album, CAN’T SLOW DOWN. Pilson’s credits also include session work with such names as McAuley Schenker Group, Craig Goldy, and Wild Horses. Although he is known primarily for his career as a bassist, Pilson is also known as a producer, and he has worked in that capacity on his several own projects like War & Peace, T&N, and Lynch/Pilson. He has also produced Foreigner’s latest releases and several other bands, including Kill Devil Hill, Benedictum, Adler, and Last in Line. I met a good-humored Jeff in June at Sweden Rock, just before his show with Foreigner. Here’s what the man told us about current Foreigner happenings, the upcoming Dokken reunion, his producing work, and other interesting subjects.
What’s going on with the Foreigner world at the moment?
Jeff Pilson: With Foreigner world, we just put out a LIVE UNPLUGGED record that we did, and it’s mostly for charity. We did a show in Detroit with Edsel Ford, who is from the Ford Motor Company. They wanted us to do the show for a charitable course, which is Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. So we did the show, and the proceeds from the record would go to that foundation. It came on amazing; the Ford people were great. The record came up fabulous, really special. We’re really excited about that. Other than that, we have our extensive 40th Anniversary tour coming up next year. Right now, we’re just doing as many festivals as we can in Europe over the summer, and we are doing our regular stateside shows. Then, as I said, we are gearing up for a big, big year next year.
There are rumors that some of the band’s original members could also participate in that celebration tour. Is there any truth in those rumors?
Jeff Pilson: I’m hoping that we… And this is just me personally; this is nothing to do with the business side. I’d love it if Lou will come out and do some songs together. I’d love it if any of the original guys could come out and play, and I hope they do. Because I’m a fan too, I’m a Foreigner fan. Because I love those guys, so I hope that it does happen in some form, we will see. I know it’s been talked about, and we will see how far it gets. There is nothing concrete yet. But like I said, I’m hoping that Lou at least comes out and does a few songs with us. That could be really great.
Yes, that would be really great thing for the fans!
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, whatever it is. I hope it happens because I’m a huge Lou fan and Rick Wills, the bass player. He’s played with us on a few shows before, so maybe he’s coming and do a song or two with us. He’s so great, and I love his playing. Dennis, the drummer, plays with us all the time long. So I’m hoping it happens. It would be great.
Do you have any plans for new Foreigner music?
Jeff Pilson: Maybe? But if I told you, I’d have to kill you, “laughs.”
Then go ahead! “Laughs”
Jeff Pilson: Yeah. Kill me. Go ahead, kill me! “Laughs” We would like to add some new music to some of the products for next year, and we’re working on it. So keep your fingers crossed.
THE STATE OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS
How about the music business overall? What do you and Mick think? Does it make any sense to make new albums anymore?
Jeff Pilson: No. That’s why I don’t think we would do a whole new album. I think we kind of have some new songs. That would be ideal for adding some new songs to whatever product that we put out next year. But no, it doesn’t make sense to do a whole record. It’s a lot of work for minimal payoff. There is the artistic payoff, and that’s what we really need; creatively, it would be great. Getting in the studio is wonderful. I love it. We’ve been doing a fair amount of recording over the last few years, most of it being acoustic or whatever. But I’m hoping it does happen for that reason, but yes, it does not have to be a whole record. In a way, that’s a great thing, because then it makes it; when you tour as much as we do, which is year-round. It makes it much more conceivable that we could come up with a couple of new songs.
You’re right, Jeff, and nowadays, it seems that it’s tough to make any money in the music business otherwise except by touring a lot.
Jeff Pilson: Right, exactly. That’s why we have to tour year-round, and it’s tough to find time to go into a studio and do a record that nobody is going to buy.
The latest Foreigner studio album, CAN’T SLOW DOWN, was released in 2009, and it was the first Foreigner album with original material in over 15 years. What kind of feedback did you get from the album, and how satisfied were you with the album’s success?
Jeff Pilson: The feedback was great, and it actually sold a fair amount, considering what state we were in. In Germany, we had a Top 20 song, which was great. There was definitely good feedback from it, but I think it made everybody realize that we don’t really need to do a whole record anymore; we can just do a couple of songs. So hopefully, that’s what we will do.
Many bands have been discussing the same subject, about releasing single songs or EP’s only. I think the Cult released a kind of “song capsules” like every six months.
Jeff Pilson: That’s not a bad idea.
However, it didn’t work out too great, and now they put out the CDs and vinyl’s regular way. Have you noticed that vinyl sales are getting higher again?
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, yeah. Actually, there is an ACOUSTIQUE record that we did. It came out on vinyl, and yeah. Special edition vinyl. That is fun, and I still love vinyl.
Foreigner’s anniversary tour is the big thing for next year, but there’s another interesting thing coming in the fall, and it’s the Dokken reunion tour.
Jeff Pilson: It hasn’t actually been announced yet, but when it does get… If it gets announced, you’ll hear about it.
If it’s not finalized yet, what’s the state of it now?
Jeff Pilson: We’re trying to finalize it, and it’s looking really good. Looking really good. But when everything is… When all the agreements have been dotted, and everything’s agreed with everybody… then we will make an actual announcement. Hopefully will be doing that soon.
There are a couple of Japanese dates announced already, but…
Jeff Pilson: If we do it, that’s all it is. It’s going to be Japan shows only. So it would be just six shows in Japan.
Did you read the comment what Mick Brown said about the reunion?
Jeff Pilson: Yes, I did.
What do you think about it?
Jeff Pilson: Everybody has got their reasons. For me, it’s not as much about… I will tell you that they made us an offer that was too hard to refuse, but what was really cool is that they wanted to work around our schedules. They actually took my own schedule, and they tried to… Before they made us an offer, they looked into my schedule, and they tried to make it work in there. So for me, it’s not about the money, it’s about the fact that we can finally do it. It looks like there is finally some time that we can do it. So there you go.
However, it will be interesting, because everybody remembers what happened when you tried to work together. “Laughs”
Jeff Pilson: Right. Again, that’s why everyone should wait for formal announcements. But we’ve just seen each other recently, everything is fine. Don’t go by Internet rumors “Laughs.”
In addition to that, you have a long career as a musician, you also have built a solid reputation as a dynamic producer. One of the most interesting albums you have produced recently is the Last in Line’s debut album HEAVY CROWN.
Jeff Pilson: Very proud of that record, very proud of that record.
The album is really good on all levels. How was the album-making process from start to finish?
Jeff Pilson: It was just magical, the whole thing. Most of the record was cut with Jimmy and Vinny, and Vivian playing live in my studio. Just the three of them and me, and it was amazing, it was awesome. It was very, very magical. Then Andrew (Freeman) came in and just sang amazingly. We were really working on the songs, and the songs came out really great. But it was tricky. We wanted it to be natural, but we didn’t want it to sound like a Dio copy. So I think Andrew did a great job of just kind of singing what he did. That was true to what Dio fans would like. But it was still his own thing. He actually reminds me a little bit of Glenn Hughes, and it was funny. But it was just a magical project and the fact that Jimmy was so engaged. Jimmy was really into the record, and he was really on the whole time. Knowing that Jimmy was so happy with it made his passing a little easier for me. Just because he’s been a friend for so long, that in my heart I felt really good knowing that the last thing he ever did, he was pleased about it. The fact that I was a part of that, I take it as a great honor. Again, as his friend who… I loved Jimmy to pieces. I t was a very, very different project. So like I said, it made his passing a little easier, but there is still barely a day that goes by I don’t think about it. It was just a magical record from the first minute to the last.
Another great album was Adler’s album BACK FROM THE DEAD (2012). How was it to work with Steven Adler and the boys?
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, that’s another great one. Steve is one of my best friends. We just had so much fun making that record, and he’s got a great band, the singer Jacob Bunton is just incredible. He’s a fantastic singer, an incredible writer, great guy. Lonny Paul, the guitar player, is an amazing writer. So we just had some really, really solid, powerful chemistry. When Steven is on, he is the most exciting drummer there is. He’s got to be on. When he’s not on, he’s not, but when he’s on, he’s amazing. He was really engaged in that record as well, and it just was a great experience. We’re best friends, so we talk almost every day. He also knows how silly it is to make a whole record these days. But we talk about trying to record at least another couple of songs, hopefully soon. But he still wants to get that record out to the mainstream, and he’s trying to do it. It’s a timeless record. It still sounds as good today as it did the day we did it. So I’m hoping that somehow maybe after all these Guns’n Roses stuff kind of slows down, then maybe we can put that record out again. Maybe add a couple of new songs. That would be great.
Maybe you should ask Frontiers to do that?
Jeff Pilson: Maybe, will see. That’s possible.
I remember that I saw Adler playing on Kiss Kruise when the album came out.
Jeff Pilson: You were there?
Jeff Pilson: Alright, alright. That was fun, man, so much fun. We had so much fun, that was a great time.
Jeff Pilson: I got to agree with you. I like Slash’s Snakepit records a lot, but I think this one is better songs and…
There’s a lot of APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION feeling on that album?
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, it does. How about Steven’s drumming man? He has a thing about his drumming, and that’s why in a way, he’s easy to record with. Because they’ll be running through the song, and he’ll go; no, no. Not yet. All over a sudden, he’ll start playing, and I go, now. That’s when you press record. You got it. Within two or three takes, you have it. He just gets into his magic zone. I’ve never known a drummer as much as him. That just where he’s so clear to me when it’s not ready to be recorded yet.
But there are days when he’s doing a track with one take?
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, some days. He plays so much by feeling that it really depends on how he feels. He’s not a machine. He’s not one of those guys that study the demo and… He plays from his heart when his heart is where it’s magnetic and electric.
LYNCH MOB AND MORE ABOUT DOKKEN
Last year you produced and also played bass parts on the latest Lynch Mob album, REBEL.
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, yeah. That was fun. That was a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun. I love working with George, and I’ll work with George any chance I get. When he called and asked if I could do that, I was like, absolutely. I’ll make time for it. Unfortunately, my schedule is ridiculous, but I have a very understanding family. They know I love music and they know that certain projects I have to do.
I really love the sound and songs on that album. For me, it sounds like 80’s Dokken or the first Lynch Mob album, and I’m saying that in a positive sense.
Jeff Pilson: Yeah. It’s cool, because… George is another guy. When he’s on, there is nobody like him. He’s gotten better at being more consistent. But he still has that thing work. All of a sudden, you know he’s on—boom, strike.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of his all albums. I like the first two Lynch Mob albums and the latest ones, but he has published some strange stuff in between, which I’m not too keen about…
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, he’s an artist. He’s always looking for something to do. You can’t blame him for that, but yeah. Sometimes he hits, sometimes he misses. We all do. I’ve had hits and misses too.
Speaking about misses, how about SHADOWLIFE? It was the last album released by the original Dokken line-up, and at the same time, it’s the worst album that has never been released under the name Dokken? (That’s, of course, my opinion only..)
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, yeah. Nobody liked that one. We learned a lot. We learned a lot of mistakes. We learned a lot from the mistakes we made. Part of that was just that to make such a bold departure from what we were doing before, from what Dokken is known for. I wish we would have been more together as a band, and it wasn’t right. You don’t want to hear Dokken doing something that doesn’t sound like Dokken, and it is kind of what it was. Yeah, we learned a lot from that.
It’s funny, last year, we interviewed Don here in Swedenrock, and then we discussed SHADOWLIFE briefly. He said that he had hardly anything to do with the whole album and that it was a project of you, George, and Mick.
Jeff Pilson: The truth is that George, Mick, and I started writing music for it first. Without Don. Actually, this stuff that we came up with, there was a lot of excitement around it. I think Don was even into what we did, but then… what happened was is; as we started to make the record, everything kind of changed around. Some things got way better, and some things got way worse. It’s what happened.
Fortunately, the next album, ERASE THE SLATE was successful, and the band returned to the old classic Dokken sound. The line-up had changed, and apparently, working in the studio was now more accessible than during a previous couple of the albums?
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, that one came out great. That one came out great. That was a fun record. That was the most fun Dokken record I’ve ever done. Definitely, fewer conflicts were going on. Don was very trusting. He and I worked together on the vocals. As I said, he was very trusting, and it made it pretty smooth.
But then “somebody” made a too good offer for Reb Beach, and the rest is history.
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, there you go. Yeah.
OTHER PROJECTS AND ONGOING ACTIVITIES
Do you have other ongoing projects coming besides the ones we’ve discussed already?
Jeff Pilson: I’m working on a pop project right now with this artist named Angel, and, as I said, I’m hoping to do the other album with Adler, and I’m hoping to do another Last in Line album this year. Not that I’ve been approached with that yet, no. We will see, but I really would like to do it, and I think that the guys want to do another Last in Line record. I’m not sure when and how, but I would like to do it.
Phil Soussan is in the band now.
Jeff Pilson: Phil is in the band, right. He’s a perfect choice, actually.
His playing style is quite similar to Jimmy’s, and what’s funny, he even looks like Jimmy a bit on stage.
Jeff Pilson: Yeah. But he takes a lot better turn himself, but yeah. It’s funny because Jimmy and Phil were roommates years ago. There is a lot of shared history there. He knew Jimmy as well as all of us. He understands Jimmy’s playing, and Phil is going to be great. AND… actually, it’s probably way too early to say it, but I’m going to say it anyway. I’m even talking to Warrant about doing a record, and they would like to do a record. So that would be very exciting because Robert Mason is their singer right now, and he is incredible. I love him personally and artistically, and I think the band is great. I think they have so much potential that I would love to do a record with them. So we will see what we can make happen.
How did you like the album ROCKAHOLIC they did with Robert a couple of years ago?
Jeff Pilson: I haven’t, I haven’t actually heard it. I sort of don’t want to get tainted by too much like that. I want to hear these new songs that are coming up.
JEFF PILSON MUSIC AND MORE DOKKEN TALK
Do you have plans to make another War & Peace album someday?
Jeff Pilson: Maybe someday? I’m kind of building up a stockpile of songs that I’m thinking about and probably would like to put out at some point. I’ve got many songs, a whole bunch of melodic rock songs that would have no other home. So someday I would like to do that, but I’m not in a hurry. Right now, when I do get a chance to produce somebody, I really enjoy that. I love doing things where I do it all myself, like War & Peace. I love doing that. But I mean, I’m not in a hurry. As I said, if a Warrant or if the Last in Line or if an Adler calls, then… I think I’d instead work with somebody like that, and I really enjoy doing that. George and I are thinking about maybe doing another T&N record, and we’ve been talking about that. I’d love to do that. It’s really down to time. How much time I have?
That T&N album was a great album!
Jeff Pilson: We’d like to do another T&N… I was really excited about the T&N record we did in 2012, and I’d love to do another one.
It’s a pity that you never had enough time to promote the album and do a real tour.
Jeff Pilson: No, that’s the problem. We probably won’t this time either. So it’s tough, it’s tough. But we will see. As I said, I love any excuse to work with George. When we get together, we always musically, really, really click. It’s still a very powerful experience. So I hope we do, we will see.
I wondered one thing, and have you ever been offered to produce a Dokken album?
Jeff Pilson: To produce without me in the band?
Jeff Pilson: No, no.
But would you do it if Don asks?
Jeff Pilson: Would I? I would consider it; I still love Don. We may have had our arguments and disagreements, but he’s still like a brother to me in many ways. I think I could do him justice in a record, and I think I know his voice pretty damn well. I think I could do something really good with it. It would depend on his headspace; he’d have to be in the right space for it. Listen, Jon Levin is a great player. Jon is great. There is a lot of potentials there so that we will see. I can’t see Don asking me to do that, and I can’t. Because that would be giving up a lot of power, I don’t think he’d be into doing that. He knows I’d be tough on him, but he also knows that I would really, really work to trying to help him a lot too. I think he would understand that, but again, I can’t even really see that happening.
One more thing about Dokken, when you were in the band when the classic band was together, the band line-up was very stable. But now they are changing bass players almost on every tour. Do you have any idea why it is like that nowadays?
Jeff Pilson: Because it’s a different era now. To get somebody quality enough to do it, he’s got to find people who have to do other things. With Jon Levin, it’s… Jon Levin is a lawyer. So he can always make a living being a lawyer, and if Dokken doesn’t tour that, often it’s okay for Jon. Jon is only there because he loves it because he loves the music. It would be hard to find that with the whole rest of the band. Most musicians need to work, and Dokken doesn’t work that often. So it’s going to be hard to find people that could stay. I know he had Sean McNabb for a while there, and he’s great. But Sean has got to work. Mark Boals is great too, and he was an amazing singer. But I mean, Mark had to do things also, plus I think Mark is out… Mark does the Raiding the Rock Vault out in Las Vegas. So he’s pretty busy too. So it’s just hard to find people that can work that rarely and commit. It’s not really Don’s fault.
It’s kind of funny that Sean is now playing with George in Lynch Mob?
Jeff Pilson: Yeah. But he played. They’ve already started recording another Lynch Mob record. Sean played on that, and they actually asked me to do some keyboards on about three or four songs. Actually, in the process ended up kind of listening to all of the songs that they had. Sean plays great on it. He’s a perfect fit. That’s going to be another great record too.
Are you going to produce that album as well?
Jeff Pilson: No, no. I just played keyboards on several songs.
THE LAST WORDS
You have been doing this for more than 30 years already. After all these years, how do you like touring and studio work? Is this still as fun and rewarding as it was back in the early days?
Jeff Pilson: Yeah, touring is tough. Fortunately, I’m with a great bunch of people and a great band. The band is just operating on all cylinders. So the band is great, and I love all the people, I love management and everything. So if I’m going to be touring, this is the best situation. But yes, touring is tough. We work a lot. We work more than I would care to, but I don’t dictate how often we play. I love to be in the studio, and I’d love to be in the studio more. But like I said if I’m going to be out here. I’m with a great band and with a great bunch of people. So I’m very grateful, and I’ve got nothing to complain about. You know, 2017 will be a great year for Foreigner; it’s going to be a very, very powerful year. If something happens with one of my past bands, that it does come to fruition. I hope everybody can get a chance to see and hear it at some point. But I’m sure we would have some kind of a live record if we ever get together again. So there will be something to keep track of it. I just appreciate the fact that here I am, all these years later, still doing this. It’s pretty amazing. If I have my choice, I’ll be home all the time, recording bands and recording my own music. But the fact that I get to do be out here playing is just a great thing. Thank you to everybody.
Thank you, Jeff!
Jeff Pilson: No problem. See you next year!
FOREIGNER LIVE PHOTOS FROM SWEDEN ROCK