Interview: Robert Cavuoto
The wait is finally over, after 21 years Dokken is reuniting for a brief tour of Japan, so brief its only five shows with only one warm up show in the states. Once they are over its done, only those luck fans will be able to see the shows because from what we have heard by the members, there are no more shows in their future.
Don Dokken, George Lynch, Jeff Pilson and “Wild” Mick Brown are indeed reforming for the “Unleashed in the East Tour” and it will kick off on October 5th in Osaka, Japan, then head to Fukuoka, Tokyo for the Loud Park Festival in front of some 50,000 metal fans. This will be the only opportunity for fans to see the original line-up play their iconic hits. They are expected to do DVD and perform a new song which is still in development.
I caught up with Jeff Pilson bassist for Dokken and Foreigner to discuss this monumental tour, what fans can expect, and how they plan to hold it together!
Robert Cavuoto: Dokken is been getting some heat in the press about doing the Japan reunion dates for the wrong reason – that being for the money. I think fans may have a gloried notion that their favorite rock bands all get along, live together, eat together, play together and do it for the love of sharing their craft and not about earning a living. What’s your take on fans misconceptions of rock bands needing to earn a living?
Jeff Pilson: Partly their misconception is not really a misconception. Because bands look like they are having a fun time up on stage, it seems like its easiest job in the world or not really a job at all. Most fans would say; “Why can those guys just get it together and play. It looks like fun!” Obviously it’s more than that; it’s the time you spend together practicing and in negations making it all happen. I will say that the notion that we are doing it just for the money, as Mick had said in the press, of course we doing it for the money. We are getting well paid and that’s great. Honestly I don’t really look at it like that, I look at it as getting paid is a nice thing and this is a chance to put a positive spin on a band that got a lot of negative press. So now it’s just about going out there and kicking some butt and do a great job. Not to get all caught up in the controversy that we usually get. [laughing]. Japan has always been great for us and I’m really just looking forward just going out and doing the music and playing with these guys.
Robert: I think there are many equally dysfunctional bands out there that have managed to reunite and make things last. Why do you think it has been so difficult for Dokken to figure it out to make it work?
Jeff Pilson: If I only had the answer to that! [laughing] Dokken has done a lot of damage to each other and it takes a long time to heal. I think we are going to be a lot better now. There is no secret that there has been a lot of bad blood over the years and it’s tough to get past it. Also people move on, I’m really happy in Foreigner – it’s a great band and I’m happy to be in it. Having said that and we have this opportunity and I would like to see us live up to our potential that I always felt we had. Let’s see what happens and go from there.
Robert: Do you feel that tension between the members of Dokken have helped the creative process and foster such great music?
Jeff Pilson: I think that is a myth that developed around us. I think healthy competition creates great music. Lennon and McCartney had healthy competition. We had many periods where there was healthy competition that created great music. I think extreme tension is destructive and that’s what ultimately brought about the end of the band. I don’t think extreme tension was creative in any way what so ever. I think it cut off a lot of the potential that we had. So I like said I’m hoping we can do this with a better attitude and I think we will.
Robert: Do you have any favorite time or era of being in Dokken?
Jeff Pilson: I have a couple. The whole Tooth and Nail writing process and tour was magical for me. I was new in the band and instantly established a bond with George as we spent a lot of time working on the CD. It’s a lifelong bond. The band was really hungry and there was a healthy competition. It was a positive experience all round.
Then Dio tour that followed was great, we really turned from boys to men on that tour. George and I would watch Dio every night as they were amazing every night. It was a wonderful experience.
Another favorite was the tour we did with Aerosmith in 1987-88. They were great and we were at the peak of being a live band. I saw bootlegs of those shows and though we were great plus our popularity was big and the place was packed when we were on stage.
Robert: When was Dokken’s last show and how did it end?
Jeff Pilson: The last show with the four original guys would have been in 1997 when we were playing with Alice Cooper. It ended on a horrible note! It ended up with George and Don almost getting into a fight on the bus with George’s son having to come between them. It got nasty and ugly; it was very unfortunate. That show was how we parted ways at the end of the 90s. In 2009 [I believe] Lynch Mob was opening up for Dokken in Orange County so George and I got up on stage with Dokken and did a few songs with them. That was kind of when we were talking about a reunion; it went through a lot of phases where nothing really came about until now. What worked out so well this time is Dokken is working around Foreigner’s touring schedule. It was an offer that we couldn’t say no to.
Robert: What type of venues are these in Japan and what type of stage show are you able to put on?
Jeff Pilson: The main show that gets it all started is a festival called Loud Park with 50,000 people. We will be co-headlining with the Scorpions. The other five shows are large theaters for the most part. The guy who is putting all the logistics together for us just happens to be the guy who put together the Guns n Roses Tour. I’m not promising something on that level but it will be great lights and great sound. It won’t be a lot of fancy extras with video screens as it will be about the music.
Robert: Don Dokken said there will be no more shows past these ones in Japan. Is that an accurate statement?
Jeff Pilson: I’m fine either way. I personally would be open for more if something came up down the line and fit into Foreigners’ schedule. If this is it, I’m perfectly happy as well. I hope we end it on a real positive note. I just want it to be great and however long it goes is fine with me. We are filming the only US show that we are doing. It will be our first show so it will be warts and all!
Robert: You are also working on a new Dokken song, what type of vibe does it have compared to your previous work?
Jeff Pilson: It definitely sounds like Dokken, but with a little something new to it. It’s not grungy like Dysfunctional. Its classic Dokken maybe Tooth and Nail era. Its heavy but we don’t have vocals or the vocal melody as of yet. That could always cause other changes.
Robert: Aside from Foreigner and Dokken your third job is producer, what made you decide to put on the producer hat?
Jeff Pilson: I loved the studio from Day 1. The making of Tooth & Nail that was so exciting. I would just hang out with the engineers all night long. Just talking and listening to stories where I learned so much about the studio. I got the bug back then. I was heavily involved in the making of the Dio records. I have a beautiful recording studio connected to my home so I can do wonderful things, when I’m off the road which is not very often [laughing]. I’m hoping in December or January that we can start recording the new Warrant CD. I love them as they are so talented. Robert is a fabulous singer and they know good songwriting and are great players. This is a no-brainer project.
Robert: Tell me about your role as producer and the expectations that differentiates you from other producers?
Jeff Pilson: I’m very much a song guy and into the authenticity of the performance more than going for perfection. I want something that moves me emotionally; I want a great song and a great performance. I want music that feels good and grooves good. No matter what genre of music, those are the basic principle element. I think I’m pretty good at getting the best performances out of musicians. Being a musician I have the right frame of mind to get the best out of them. I also tend to be a fan of the people and their music of who I work with. I want to love their music and when I love it, I know I’m on the right track.
Robert: Speaking of Foreigner what has it been like to perform without Mick Jones and what is the reaction from the fans?
Jeff Pilson: Because we have been doing quite a bit of it over the recent years. It begins to feel pretty natural. Mick is always missed. The thing is that he has done such an amazing job with us in terms of getting his vision across that we can deliver it without him being there. That is the reason he hired the six of us. We passionately delivering those songs as we genuinely want to do a great job and fans appreciate that. For us it’s almost like he is there and we feel his presence because he is in all the songs and the presentation. The fan’s reaction has been nothing short of positive. I can’t believe how accepting they have been of the band when he is not there. I think a lot of it is that Kelly Hansen is so great; to me he is one of the best frontman in rock right now.
Robert: Does touring ever get old and how do you keep it fresh?
Jeff Pilson: I love music and if I had my preference I would be in the studio more than I am. Just in this point in my career, records don’t sell anymore. So when I get to play what I love, I never lose sight of that. I can tell bands that don’t like what they are doing and I don’t enjoy watching that. I’m grateful that I’m in a position that I go out and tour and play. I try not to lose sight and stay connected to that while traveling around. When you get tired from travel I try and stay positive, playing great music helps and if you are in a great band even better.