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INTERVIEW: KELLY HANSEN, FOREIGNER – May 2018

| 30 May 2018 | Reply

INTERVIEW: KELLY HANSEN, FOREIGNER – May 2018
By Shane Pinnegar

2018 is shaping up to be a busy one for Anglo-American AOR superheroes Foreigner, with a new DVD/CD of their performance in Switzerland with a 60-piece orchestra and a 50-voice choir; an extensive tour of Australia embracing both band and orchestral shows, and more besides. Singer since 2005 Kelly Hansen picked up the phone in Manchester, England where the band were touring, and quickly enthuses about their upcoming plans.

“It’s been quite different – we’re going to be paring that down to a travelling rock orchestra [for Australia], but it’s really, really cool and we’ve been having a lot of fun doing it,” he says, referring to the sixteen-piece orchestra which will accompany the band on selected Australian shows. “We’re not doing it everywhere, so you guys are getting kind of a special treatment down there ’cause we’ve only done a handful of these types of shows in the U.S.”

That’s like a 120 people onstage. That’s just crazy…

“Yeah. Yeah. It was,” he agrees. “Think about all the specifics of how to mic and record a live rock band and an orchestra onstage at the same time and a choir. You worry about microphones bleeding into each other… the drum mics getting into the violin microphones, and then you’re filming it, so that’s another thing. And then you have a 120 people onstage trying to play the same arrangement. So, it’s something!”

The sheer logistics of trying to mix that all down would be nothing short of a glorious headfuck!

“Yeah, it was months of planning and yes, the mixing process was very challenging,” explains the former journeyman singer who recorded and toured with such minor outfits as Hurricane, Unruly Child, Slash’s Snakepit, Don Dokken and Perfect World. “But, you know, Wyn Davis and Jeff Pilson just did a great job, and I had my hand in there as well.”

Can you explain the feeling of being a rock singer in front of and in sync with not only a huge audience but with another 120 performers?

“You know, there’s so many things that go through my head,” he admits, “and I don’t know if I’m normal or unusual, but there’s a desire to be really, really ON because you’re playing in front of a whole bunch of musicians that you have a giant amount of respect for, not only their ability but their training and their knowledge about music.

“[That] is something that I deal with every day with the guys I play with in the band when we’re just the band. They’re very talented guys and I always want to do my best. And then, to be able to be in front of that presenting to an audience, it’s a great feeling.

“There’s anxiety and there’s pressure to try to be as absolutely as good as you can be, but that is something I deal with as a performer. That’s me. Just something inside of me that I… it’s something I have to always work on. I always want to be my best and I feel terrible if I feel that I haven’t done my best. But it’s, you know, it’s an incredible challenge but it’s also incredibly rewarding.”

Any professional orchestra have the score of the music they are playing in front of them, whereas most rock bands tend more towards a looser level of preparation. Does playing with an orchestra slightly restrict the rock band’s spontaneity?

“Well, no – I mean, that’s what all of the planning and the arrangement was about, because we had to actually plan in decelerandos or changes in tempo or slight variations in tempo, and the orchestra has to learn and understand that.

“Some Foreigner songs, especially the earlier Foreigner songs, you can’t play them at a single tempo,” Hansen explains. “They don’t feel right if you do. The songs speed up and slow down in certain sections and that makes them feel right. That was one of those magical things that make you love a song, that you don’t understand or can’t explain – it has the right ‘feel’ to it.

“So, that took a lot of work to be able to accomplish that, with the orchestra having everything that they’re doing to be on the written page. They were great about it.”

I would assume there’s a bit of adaptation for the rock band, as well, who have been playing these songs for a long, long time. To go into it in a different format like this, I guess the rehearsal sessions must have been pretty intense?

“Yeah, you have to add on for me, the front-man part of it is that I’m trying to, between songs, tie together what we’re doing,” he points out, “either in changing a mood or filling a space like a magician. Like, I’m a distraction. There’s a certain part of the show where we’re changing over to this kind of acoustic format with some high stools on stage and everyone has to put on acoustic instruments. Well, that takes a minute or so. And so I, as the front-man, have to be in front trying to fill the void for the audience so there’s not just silence while a bunch of technicians are moving gear onstage. And that’s just one small fraction of what the show was. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”

As well as the orchestral shows Foreigner are doing around the country, there’s also the Rock The Boat Cruise in October. There’s been a ton of these rock and roll cruises coming out of Florida over the past decade. Has Foreigner done one before?

“Yeah, actually, we did – we’ve done a couple of different things,” recalls Hansen. “One that was a moving cruise – I forget what the title of it was, but there were several bands on the cruise and each night they would move to a different stage on the ship. We were playing actually on-deck this particular night and the wind was about 50 miles an hour. The captain of the ship had to slow the ship down so that we could play because the winds were too great. Unfortunately, we got about 30, 40 minutes into the show and the captain said, “well, we can’t do this anymore. I have to stay on schedule.” So he had to speed the ship back up and we had to end the show for that night!

“So, they can be kinda crazy. We’ve done another one, though, where a normal cruise ship is cruising around and they come into port. And then, while they’re in dock, we come on, we play, we leave, and then the ship continues on. So, there’s many different ways to do that.”

Part of the appeal of those sort of cruises is the punters getting to mingle with the stars to a certain extent. Has this created any issues with overly-obsessed fans getting a bit inappropriate in that sort of a situation?

“Not necessarily in that sort of situation, but, you know, some fans can be fairly aggressive and I think everyone in any business, when you’re dealing with a lot of people, can have nutjobs out there and things like that,” he says with an audible cringe. “Listen – it’s just part of the deal. It’s just part of what we do. Because, you’re dealing with music and music touches emotions and that makes people say and do and feel and act in ways that might not always seem 100 percent normal.”

Such is the nature of celebrity, to some, sadly. Going back to 2005, when Hansen tried out for Foreigner, I want to know if it was a fairly intensive auditioning process for Hansen?

“Well, not really,” he admits. “I mean, in some ways yes, but… I was in a place career-wise that I was not happy about. I was doing a lot of producing and artist development and things like that, and the way the business was going, it was more and more work for less and less return. I was getting very distraught with that process. I said to myself, ‘I need to go back to what I’m best at, which is singing,’ because I’d heard about a gig that someone was offered and I didn’t even get a phone call. I realised that my whole career stuff had just fallen in my lap and now I reached a point where maybe I needed to be a lot more proactive.

“So, I decided immediately to do that. I went online and I saw an article about doing a charity show in Santa Barbara, California, with some of the guys from Foreigner. It wasn’t called Foreigner, it was called, like, ‘Mick Jones and Friends.’ I thought to myself, ‘what is this? Is this a new band? Is it a new Mick solo career? Is this the beginning of something?’ But whatever it was, it sounded interesting to me and from what I read Lou wasn’t involved, so, I said, ‘this is interesting…’

“I made some calls and over the course of a couple of months I found out that they were actually looking for a new singer to revamp Foreigner. So, they were coming to L.A. to audition and maybe listen to some people sing. So – I think wisely, which is a lesson to any of you out there looking to do a similar thing – I said, ‘what day are they arriving? What day is the first rehearsal?’ They said it was a Saturday, and I said, ‘well, can I be the first person down there on the first day of whatever you’re doing?’

“I was able to make that happen – because if I would have been the third or fourth person that they may have been listening to, they might have settled on the second guy. Who knows?

“So, I think that there was a bunch of serendipity going on and I was looking to change where I was going. Foreigner needed a new voice. I don’t think my voice would’ve been really right for the band 25 years earlier. I think that my voice has matured into a place that it kind of fits the band better, and… I don’t know, I think it was just fate, really.”

To address the elephant in the room concerning Foreigner, I must give you some context. In the fourteen years Kelly Hansen has been with the band – in fact, in the past twenty four years total – there have been at least half a dozen live albums (one acoustic, one orchestral) and more than a dozen compilations. In that same time period they’ve released just one solitary album of new, original material – 2009’s excellent Can’t Slow Down. Why hasn’t there been more new music from Foreigner?

“Well, I’ll give you a story about Can’t Slow Down, okay?” Hansen starts with a dejected sigh. “We spent a year of our lives making the record. Mick and I especially, on all of our off periods [from] touring in the U.S. and in Europe during that year. We had filmed and were editing a video and we were writing and recording Can’t Slow Down on all of our off time. Mick would fly to L.A. I would fly to New York. We were working with Marti Frederiksen. We’d set-up in a hotel suite in New York City with a portable recording setup. And we’d write, every single day. We would just get together and we’d write and we would record and we would build on those recordings. That took a year of time, energy, sweat, money – lots and lots of money – to make Can’t Slow Down. And the day it was released, people were trading it for free on the Internet.

“And that’s disappointing when you’re trying to do something like that. I think, for me, it kind of signalled the end of an era of making full, new, music albums. I think it’s better to do one or two songs at a time. I mean, we put The Flame Still Burns on one of our last live releases as a new track, and Give My Life for Love. And doing one or two at a time I think is the way to do it now. It’s just too painful to do it the other way anymore.”

There’s no disguising the disappointment in Hansen’s voice as he relays this to me. Every artist both established and new needs to find their own place in the post-Napster landscape, and although we could cite plenty of examples on how certain of Foreigner’s peers are making it work for them, it seems their mind is firmly set for now.

“Maybe I’m sounding like an old guy,” he adds wistfully, “but there was a certain magic about back in the day. It was very special – you became hyper-focused, because a record label had signed you and was fronting you a huge amount of money. And you would go into a multi-million dollar recording facility that was capable of making amazing-sounding records. You had to do your best in a short amount of time and really develop your songs and your sound. It’s like one of those things where you really perform under pressure. There was this epic-ness to it, this grandiosity about going to a real studio and making a real record.

“Doing that in your bedroom does not have the same gravitas. I think that old feeling contributed to making long-lasting, quality art. You have to grind out a record on Pro Tools in your garage in two weeks. I just don’t think it’s getting the due that it might have back in the day, creatively.”

It’s a solid point we’ve also been making for years: without the input of a mega producer molding hits, without time to develop songs in pre-production or in the studio, without a recording desk worth a damn, we’ll probably never see anything of the calibre of Rumours or Dark Side Of The Moon or Hysteria or Foreigner’s own 4, ever again.

“There was also a technological explosion at that time in recording that was also very contributory to how exciting it was,” Hansen adds. “There were people stretching the limits. Mick tells a story – and I have my own stories – about working with tape and to get a particularly long delay you have to string-up reel-to-reel tape on different spools all around the studio. You would run that past the play head and it would take several seconds for the tape to revolve around, but that way you could get a really, really long delay [which] previous to that you couldn’t. So, that was really contributory to things taking a long time and things costing a lot of money. But, also, great creativity. Now, technology provides plug-ins and sounds and virtual instruments that make inspiration immediate and at your fingertips. So, that’s a positive… it’s just different, yeah.”

So is that reluctance to commit to making another album creatively stifling at all?

“You know, if I had been a more successful, multi-hit songwriter myself, maybe,” he admits. “But, for me, I love being in the studio and I love recording… [but] writing songs is really, really hard. It’s really, really hard. But, you know, going onstage and singing is so completely rewarding. It’s cathartic. That seems like a lot more immediate fun to me. So, I’m not worried about that kind of stifling.’

Foreigner 2018 Australian/New Zealand Tour Dates:

Friday October 12 at Royal Theatre, Canberra
Sunday October 14 at Botanic Park, Adelaide
Tuesday October 16 at Riverside Theatre, Perth
Thursday October 18 at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Saturday October 21 – Sunday October 28 Rock The Boat, Sydney” [not performing with orchestra] Tuesday October 30 at Hamer Hall, Melbourne
November 1 at Claudelands Arena, Hamilton, New Zealand

Shane

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