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| 28 March 2016 | Reply

It isn’t very often I get to speak with an artist I have listened to for over 30 years.  I was recently given the opportunity to speak with Jeff Pilson of Foreigner and I jumped at the opportunity to speak with him regarding all things Foreigner, his writing and producing, and some of his killer side projects…


Toddstar: It is such a pleasure to speak with you today, Jeff.

Jeff: My pleasure as well.

Toddstar: There’s so much going on in the world of Foreigner right now. I’m personally very excited about the show coming up in Windsor, Ontario on April 7, 2016.

Jeff: Great.

Toddstar: Let’s talk about everything that’s kind of going on with Foreigner lately. Especially the fact that you guys put out your first ever live acoustic album – In Concert. Unplugged. How did that come about for you guys to think let’s do this and put it out?

Jeff: We started doing acoustic shows a couple years ago when we were promoting our Can’t Slow Down record. We started doing them in Germany. We were doing radio station promotion over there. We started doing it and people were really reacting to it. It was kind of a surprise to us. What we did was we tried doing a couple shows in Canada as a matter of fact. We did a couple shows acoustically and they did really well. The audience was great. We had a great time doing it. It was just a real win/win. It’s so nice to be able to put kind of a fresh spin on the songs. Kind of take them in a different direction. Basically we got together with Ford over the summer. Ford’s been doing a lot of work for us. We’ve been doing a lot of stuff with the Edsel Ford Jr. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He kind of asked us to help out. We wanted to help out. Basically what we did was we went in to the Ford Museum in Detroit and we had kind of a combination of an invited audience and a public audience that Ford arranged. We did this show. He provided the room and got people in there and we did the show. We recorded it. The idea was to release it as a live record. Parts of the proceeds are going to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It was kind of a win/win for everybody. We were just really proud of the performance. The performance really came off great, so why not?

Toddstar: I agree – why not. I love it from top to bottom. Looking at the track list though, how did you guys go about picking what songs really would come across? Did you guys run through a ton of them and pick these 11 tracks?

Jeff: We had, I think our set list was maybe 14 or 15 for the show. We just kind of narrowed it down to which performances seemed the best. While we were working up everything, we started with working up the songs that we thought would really lend themselves to doing the acoustic versions. That was really fun. Then we realized gosh, we gotta add “Cold As Ice” in there. We came up with a version of that that we’re really excited about. Originally we weren’t planning on doing that one acoustically. We worked it up. Then we got real pleased with the results. It was kind of a slow process of working up the songs because we really wanted to take our time and come up with each one being very special. That’s where we ended up. Like I said, there was about 14-15 in the show and we narrowed it down to those 11 for the record.

Toddstar: Very cool. Jeff, you’ve been with the band 12 years now give or take a month or two. You’re still one of the new guys when people think of Foreigner, some fans think ‘oh the new guy.’ What’s that like for you to hit the stage with Foreigner and think I’ve been here longer than everybody but Mick and Tom, and I’m still a new guy?  Is there a need or urge to hit the stage and win people over?

Jeff: [laughs] No. Actually I think about that very rarely to be honest with you. We’ve had a real wonderful acceptance by Foreigner fans. The thing is, I was always a Foreigner fan so I’ve always been very respectful of the legacy. I think extremely highly of all the members that have been in Foreigner. They’re all top notch quality musicians. I love Foreigner records. I always thought Foreigner records were exemplary for rock, but with great songs; rock that is real catchy. To me, because I’m so respectful of the legacy, it’s always been kind of like ‘wow, this is fun. I’m in Foreigner.’ [laughs] The fans have been wonderful. They’ve been very accepting of us. Honestly, I never really give that much thought. We just go out there and give it our best every night and let that do the talking for us.


Toddstar: You guys definitely do that time in and time out. You are a guy who’s very proficient on both sides of the mixing board. What’s it like for you from an artist standpoint, but also from a producer standpoint, when you take these classic Foreigner songs and break them down. Rebuild them either acoustically or like you guys did on Jukebox Hero collection, which I love. What’s it like to be able to strip those down and kind of reconstruct them?

Jeff: Artistically, it’s completely creatively satisfying. That’s one of the reasons we did it. It kept us fresh with everything. First of all, when you have a great song, the rule is you can pretty much do anything with it and it’s going to work because it’s a great song. I feel these are all great songs. To have that tapestry if you will, to have the blank canvas in front of you was a wonderful thing. Usually when we play live, we do pretty true to the original versions. We might expand things here and there, or add a little thing here and there, but we like to keep it true. Again, we’re fans. We want to hear it as it was. With this, it was a chance to do something new. Exciting and fresh, yet feature the quality of the song. We really got to show our vocals off there. We’re a strong vocal band. It’s really fun to be able to show that off. Artistically, tremendously satisfying. As a producer, it was satisfying because it was really a matter of capturing what we have. It was right there, let’s just capture it; make sure that it comes across recorded well and sounding great. What more can a producer ask for? Both happy from both sides of the mixing board.

Toddstar: Like you said, the harmonies you guys rip off live are just amazing I think. Talking about live shows, you guys have mixed up the beginning of this year where you had some acoustic shows. You had some full on rock shows where you guys were throwing a couple acoustic numbers in. I want to talk about a couple shows I saw last year that were phenomenal. Those were the shows where you guys got that home stand here in Detroit with Kid Rock. What was that like for you? Normally you guys don’t get that home stand like that where you don’t have to tear everything down every day.

Jeff: It was great. During that, it was 2-1/2 weeks that we spent in Detroit, it was great. Number one, Detroit fans are such great rock fans to begin with. Number 2, getting to do 10 shows for the people of Detroit was really fun. If you’re going to play for an audience 10 times, make it Detroit. They’re great. Then it also gave us the opportunity to rehearse and prepare for that live acoustic record. We had done acoustic work before, but because we knew we were going to be recording this we took the time and rehearsed it properly. Being in one place made that possible. It would’ve been very difficult to do that had we been on the move that whole time. It was really, like I say, a synchronicity of a lot of events that really made it work out quite well.

Toddstar: You’ve got to be the busiest guy in rock, Jeff. You produced what I think is one of the better albums of the year so far with The Last In Line disc.

Jeff: Thank you. I’m very proud of that record.

Toddstar: Just an amazing record. What’s next for you? Again, I know you have dates coming up with Foreigner. What have you got on the fire that you can talk about?

Jeff: Again, Foreigner, we’re constantly doing stuff. We’ve been working on some stuff. We’re going to be touring until the end of the year. I’m always working. I always keep my writing up. I try to write as much as I can. One thing we’ve been doing is we’ve been working with this kid by the name of Angel. The guitar player Bruce, the keyboard player Michael, and I have been working and producing with this artist named Angel who is just a fabulous, I mean one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard singers. Young kid out of New Jersey. One of 11 kids. Total hard luck story. We stumbled upon him. We’ve been producing him and working with him. It’s coming out amazing. Eventually, he’s going to get out there. People are going to hear it. The songs and the performances are amazing. This kid has one of those one in a million voices that’s just unbelievable. We’ve been just so enjoying working with him. Trying to get him going, because I’d love to have a record come out by 2017 with him.


Toddstar: That’s cool.  Always love to see when you pull your stuff out of your hat Jeff.

Jeff: Well thank you.

Toddstar: With Foreigner, like you said, you guys are going to be traveling the rest of the year. This year you guys are playing Wacken Festival. Does Foreigner approach that kind of a show any different than any other show, especially knowing the root crowd is probably a little heavier than the normal Foreigner crowd?

Jeff: Not too much. I mean sometimes if we have a shorter set we may not do as many ballads, for instance. We’re still going to do “I Want To Know What Love Is” which is universal and works in those heavy crowds believe it or not. As a rule, no. Foreigner live is a pretty high energy band. It’s accepted in some of the heavier festivals. We’ve done several heavy festivals over the last 10 years. I’m always kind of amazed, but at the same time, I know that we deliver. We have a great front man who just absolutely knows how to work a crowd. That’s kind of the A number 1 thing for a festival like that. When you have great songs that are universal like that. If you deliver them with some energy, you’re going to go over. We don’t approach it very much different. Like I say, maybe we’ll leave out some ballads, but that’s about it.

Toddstar: I agree with everything you said about Kelly. I’m a child of the 80’s so I remember former incarnations for both you and Kelly when you were doing the harder rock stuff. He’s got that voice that kind of stands the test of time. You’ve got a killer voice on your own. Some of your earlier stuff, War & Peace and Lynch Pilson; those are amazing discs.

Jeff: Thank you.

Toddstar: You mention that you still write. When you write, do you write thinking oh this is for Foreigner, this is for a solo, this is for a separate part or do you just write to write, Jeff?

Jeff: I write to write. There are times when I direct it. There are times when I do that. As a rule, I just write. It goes where it goes. I guess sometimes I can’t help but be putting on a hat. I’ll be thinking, if I’m in a heavier mood I’ll probably think in the back of my head oh this is something that George [Lynch] and I can come up with in a couple years or at some point. If Dokken were to get back together this would work or whatever. Those kinds of things. I do think like that sometimes. Generally, I just kind of get inspired and write and worry about it later.

Toddstar: What is it like looking back at everything that has gone in music? What is it like for you to see the change in music? I’m still a guy that likes a piece of plastic and liner notes in my hands. That’s really not the common theme anymore. Forget the money side of it which is easier for me to say, but from a physical standpoint, what’s it like for you to know that there’s not some kid running home or reading who you’re thanking in your credits, what kind of instruments you played, who wrote the lyrics.

Jeff: I think it’s a shame because I think it was a big part of the experience. I think it’s something that slipped through the fingers of record companies and what not. That over the years they didn’t kind of figure out how to make a physical product that would stand the test of time and the changes in technology. I mean, who could’ve, I don’t know. At the same time, because I am so well aware of exactly what you said and you’re a perfect example of that. I think holding the record, reading the stuff that was on the record, looking at the pictures… the whole thing. Especially when it was the 12″ format of a record and not just a CD. I think when they moved to CD’s, people lost a little bit of interest in the album cover stuff right there. It’s a different size. It’s not as appealing. There was something really compelling about an album sleeve. When CD’s became the norm, I think you lost a big degree of the interest in all the stuff that goes along with a record right there. Now it’s almost gone completely. I think it’s a shame. I think it’s a part of the experience that is missing, that maybe explains one of the reasons why physical sales are so much less now. There’s less to have. You just don’t have the same tangible thing that you can grab that really draws you in. Maybe someday somebody will figure that out. Someday somebody will figure a way of applying that to the product so that when people go to buy music products, they’re getting that tangible extra element. I hope they do because again, I feel it’s very important. I miss it. I loved getting a record and seeing it in the store, grabbing it and coming home, opening it up. That was a big part of the experience. I hope somebody figures it out. I, again, think it’s something that… It looks like time has passed, but I hope somebody figures out something. Maybe in a new way. I think it would be very helpful in helping bring interest back in getting music mass marketed again.


Toddstar: I agree. Digging into your past, something like Tooth And Nail. That album cover fails in comparison on a cassette or a CD than it did at least on that 12″ x 12″ piece of cardboard.

Jeff: Yeah man. That was the stuff. That was really what it was.

Toddstar: It really was. Looking at the set list with Foreigner, what are the one or two songs from the past and the catalog that you would love to just dig out and drop in the set that maybe you don’t play on a normal basis when you have your rotation?

Jeff: I’ll tell you there’s one song that I love very much that we did try in the set years and years ago. It just kind of didn’t work because people didn’t know it. It’s a song called “At War with the World”. I love that song. I just think it’s a great song. It was never a big hit. I just love the song. When we did play it, I used to really enjoy it. Like I said, we haven’t played it in years. That would be an example of something where it’s an album track of Foreigners that shows a little something about Foreigner that I think is really cool. Yeah I’d love to play it, but you know, part of being in this band is understanding how important these particular songs are for everybody that comes to see it. We do. We recognize that’s what’s happening. We’ve really learned to love the presentation that we give. It seems to be working so can’t argue with success.

Toddstar: You can’t argue with Foreigner’s success. How is it every night, Jeff, that every night you walk out on stage and there’s a smile on your face from first note to the last? You never seem to have a bad night.

Jeff: I love what I do. I consider myself extremely fortunate. I have the gig I always wanted. I have the job I’ve always wanted my entire life which is playing music. That never escapes me. That never really goes too far away. I just feel very grateful about that. I’m also well aware that times are tough for a lot of people right now. The fact that I get to do what I do. It just makes me really grateful. I think when you’re grateful and you get that chance to run out on stage, it’s like, that’s what people want to see. I want to see somebody enjoying themselves. I hate watching bands where they look like they’re in pain and torture. “It’s enough. Move on.” So there you go. [laughs]

Toddstar: I agree. I think that goes back to growing up in the 80’s and when I saw live shows. It was just high energy.

Jeff: Yeah. I really believe in high energy for a show. That’s the reason you’re there. Yes you want to hear the songs and all that, but if it doesn’t have some kind of a spark to it, when somebody is just standing there playing and doing nothing, I don’t get it. Anyways, I do my best.

Toddstar: Awesome. I know you’re a busy man so I’ve got one more for you before we cut you loose Jeff. Looking back over your career, if it were end tomorrow, what are a couple things in your career that you’re most proud of or that you would want to be part of your legacy?

Jeff: If it were to end tomorrow… I’m very proud of the T&N record that George and I did a couple years ago. It got a good response; unfortunately there were a lot of people that illegally downloaded it before it even came out. It kind of slipped out on the internet. There never got to be the sales figures that it should’ve had. I was really proud of that record. I really loved that record. I would love people to examine that. If I went away tomorrow, I would love people to examine that and really listen to that. Other than that, I try and just give it my best. I hope that it stands the test of time. Dokken records as a rule pretty much the test of the time. A lot of those songs still sound really good today. What can I say? I’m very grateful for everything I’ve gotten to do. I’m always of the belief that my greatest song is still yet to be written. I’m working on that all the time. Hopefully something will come along and hopefully my career won’t be over tomorrow. If so, I hope somebody just analyzes my body of work and I hope they listen to music that I’ve written and recorded, and I hope it stands the test of time.


Toddstar: I’m one of the fortunate music fans that has most of your body of work in his collection. Including that killer T&N record. You guys grabbed one of my favorite vocalists for “It’s Not Love” when you threw Robert Mason on there.

Jeff: Yeah he’s amazing. Love Robert. Thank you so much man. I sure appreciate it. It’s been a fabulous interview. We’ll see you very soon. Thanks man!

Toddstar: All right man.

Jeff: Take care.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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