On The Wildside-Loverboy
(Canadian Musician, December 1987)
The first thing you noticed when Loverboy began the first song of its three night stand at the 86 Street Music Hall was how much this was the way it used to be.
Here was a five piece band playing stripped down rock and roll again. There was none of the over-arranged stuff, nothing that was calculated for effect. It was just Paul Dean, mike Reno, Scott Smith, Doug Johnson and Matt Frenette expertly romping throug a collection of new songs with an abandon that was welcome, missed and promising.
In anticipation of its next recording, Loverboy had decided to get back to the bars--to re-discover itself. Ten of the songs which dominated the sets on those three nights in the 1200 capacity hall were planned for what has become the new Wildside album. They had the hard, propulsive drive of the early albums and the early days of the band. Thy were a reminder that, behind the smokescreen of corporate maneouvering and the flashy, if uninspiring, veneer protecting the musicians, Loverboy is a formidable, genuine rock band.
Almost nine years ago, Loverboy was Paul Dean's 13th or 17th attempt to get the balance right. Yet within months of its formation, his new band hit its stride and, against the staggering odds of '78-'79 pop and rock, was gathering momentum. Being an unrepentant mainstream band comprised of musicians who'd been branded by the rock of the late 1960s and early '70s was the band of the new wave movement of the time. But they were just what American radio was looking for as a panacea to the twin onslaught of disco and punk. And that, as every Canadian rock type knows, was the beginning of a career which has rivalled or surpassed any milestone ever set by a Canuck band.
The problem for Loverboy since 1983, however, has been to keep it up. The band slipped with the self-same Keep It Up album, an album over which there is still debate within the Loverboy fort, and regained its footing with Lovin' Every Minute of It, the album that gave the band its first two top ten hits and put it back on the road in 1986 after a two year break.
Despite its impact and the customary tour-to-tour infinity to support the album, Lovin' Every Minute Of It was not a success by the multi-million sales standard of the first two Loverboy albums. It managed to sell a respectable million and a half copies in the US. Even the top 10 success of "Heaven In Your Eyes", a single lifted from the Top Gun soundtrack was offset by the news that keyboard player Doug Johnson had refused to take part in its recording because he did not agree with its pro-military theme and implicit propoganda.
Lovin' Every Minute of It was more a rally than a comeback. It attempted to take Loverboy in a number of directions: To emphasize guitar, to experiment with technology, to get heavier, to record ballads, to present a different Loverboy from that of the Keep It Up album. Yet it cost the group mightily in the time it took just to make it and the strain created within the group. For a band whose primary virtue was its ability to communicate with its fans directly, the distance that now existed between Loverboy and the audience could not afford to become wider.
Loverboy saw this for itself. Bruce Fairbairn confirmed it. Bruce had produced the first three Loverboy albums, which had set him up for the hot stuff rep he now enjoys, praise the gods of platinum and pass the Slippery When Wet LP. Realizing that Loverboy had lost its fighting trim, he approached the group about the possibility of working with it again.
In the meantime, Paul Dean already was on the hunt for songs. During the summer of '86 he visited Jon Bon Jovi at his New Jersey home and wrote songs with Jon and his guitarist Richie Sambora. The outcome of this quest was Wildside's first single, "Notorious." Dean also struck up a friendship with two Nashville-based writers, Todd Cerney and Taylor Rhodes, who, in some capacity, have credits on five of the eleven songs heard on the cassette or compact disc (the vinyl disc has 10). Former Headpin, Brian Macleod, wrote with Mike Reno, Doug Johnson contributed a song and Alfie Zappacosta kicked in another. Austin Roberts, another Nashville writer came up with "Don't Keep Me In The Dark", the ballad which is only on the CD and the cassette. And Bryan Adams had a hand in "Hometown Hero", the last song to be completed for Wildside. Now, as Reno and Dean sit at the table in the conference room of managers Lou Blair and Bruce Allen describing the assembly of songs for Wildside, you can get this wild image of rock stars in sports cars rocketing around the countryside and handing off cassette tapes to one another. Most of Wildside seems to have been conceived in a car.
But, then again, so were so many of Loverboy's fans.
Mike: This was a fun record to make.
CM: Hold it, Mike, you said that about Lovin' Every Minute of It.
Mike: Tom (Allom, producer of Lovin' Every Minute of It) was fun to work with, but it took too long to make that record. When we went in to do the record previous to Wildside I think a lot of the songs weren't completed and we were fighting for different arrangements. This time we didn't fight for anything; it was natural.
Paul: With the last album we spent half the time and half the budget working on "This Could Be The Night". That tune cost us. It did well. No way did it pay for itself but it's a good song so you can't put a dollar on it. It wasn't a matter of having it pay for itself, anyway; it was a matter of getting it right no matter what it cost. We weren't going to put it out 'til it sounded good. It's unfortunate it cost a lot of dough but so what, Mike's rich.
CM: Was Lovin' Every Minute of It an attempt to get harder, to play heavy metal. When you started the LP, metal was everywhere on FM radio. Also, Tom Allom is known as a metal-rock producer.
Paul: I think if you look at tunes like "Bullet In the Chamber" and "Too Much Too Soon" they were a definite case of "I wanna play metal on the guitar now, so here's the songs. You got anything better? No? Then let's put it out because we've been off the road too long."
CM: After going through several studios and producers and enduring various setbacks to complete the previous LP, this one required only two months to complete. Did you compile a list of do's and don'ts for this one?
Paul: Yeah, it said, "Paul Dean will not produce this album."
Mike: As you know, we worked with Bruce Fairbairn for the first three Loverboy albums and then we decided to try something different for the sake of trying something different. Bruce Fairbairn was so into doing our next record, he came to us, and said, "Listen, I want to do the next album." He had jst come off the Bon Jovi thing, which was doing fabulous. The one thing I noticed about working with Bruce this time was that he's really learned a lot along the way. He's very patient; he gets the job done without having to fight for it.
Paul: He's real conscious about the pennies, too. I mean, that's what a producer is supposed to do, besides putting the best performances by everybody on tape. You're supposed to be conscious of the money. At one point we had 10 songs down and we felt that we needed one more. We wanted to get another fast one that we could play onstage. So we started working on "Hometown Hero" in the studio and I think he said to himself, "OK, I'll give these guys an hour. If they don't get something in an hour, they're out of here." We gathered in a circle and started rehearsing the way we do in our warehouse. An hour went by and it's like, two hundred bucks an hour in the studio, and he says, "OK, forget it, you guys don't know what you're doing."
CM: So you went back to the warehouse and completed the song. I heard that Fairbairn had gone to see Dokken because Dokken wanted to use him, but he saw you and wanted to produce you instead.
Paul: Yeah, Dokken was opening for us in California.
Mike: We were kicking around ideas about who we wanted to produce the new album when we got home from the tour, and it just turned out that way. He said one thing to me, "I haven't heard you guys sound this good. I thought you'd be blown out at the end of the tour." He said something personally to me, that, "Your range is really up there. I haven't seen you guys in about a year and a half and it's really nice to see you."
Paul: And that was the second last show in a tour of 115 shows or something.
CM: By the time your tour got to Vancouver last year, you were playing only three or four songs from the LP whereas you'd intended to make an album of songs you could play live.
Paul: We always do. That's the bottom line. For us, if you can't play them live there is no point in putting them on a record.
Mike: We test them, too, with the audience.
Paul: We did this time, for the new album.
Mike: But the last time, the way we tested them was on tour. If they didn't get a big response we kinda x'ed them out of the set. For this album we played three concerts in Vancouver and played all our new material before we recorded it. That was a real plus for us.
CM: The 86 Street shows were more spontaneous than anything I've seen you do in years, particularly the portions devoted to the new material.
Mike: We never changed anything from that. All we did was record it better, technically.
Paul: Everything at that point was written and arranged but "Hometown Hero."
CM: How about "Notorious," a song co-written with Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and Todd Cerney?
Paul: I went to New Jersey to write songs with Bon Jovi. We wrote for three days and came up with three songs. For "Notorious" we ended up using two thirds of the chorus and a couple of the lyrics for the body of the song. A lot of times our songs are made from different pieces of other songs. This one came from three different pieces. This won't mean much to anyone else, but our fans in Vancouver might remember that we used to have a song called "Loverboy" that we opened with in clubs. The riff from that became a bridge and the verse was written almost as a country song by Todd Cerney.
CM: "Hometown Hero", the song you managed to complete in time for the LP.
Paul: That started off with Bryan Adams and myself. He wroted the melody for the verse and then we re-wrote it a million times, took a bunch of parts that Todd and Taylor and I had written for other songs, pieced 'em together like a puzzle. Most of these tunes are like that, like puzzles: A bridge from this, a verse from that, a chorus and intro. If they're all the same tempo you can usually find a way to put them all together.
CM: It's become prevalent among bands within your spectrum of rock, bands such as Heart and Starship, to use outside writers.
Mike: Some of these writers--some of the guys Paul works with--don't even have a desire to be in a band anymore, like they used to. They just want to write songs.
Paul: They work for a publishing company, show up everyday.
Mike: They have their rhyming dictionaries and they roam from town to town.
We'll take a good song wherever we can get it. We try our best to write songs and we write as many as we can. We write a lot of songs that don't get used because we don't think they're great enough.
Paul: Or they're not new enough or different enough.
Mike: Plus Paul writes in a lot different styles than I do. I write a lot of middle-of-the-road stuff, which would be nice if I do a solo record but I don't know if I want to put it on a Loverboy record.
CM: There is more room on this album for the band, especially the rhythm section, which I've always thought was one of the band's heaviest weapons.
Mike: I thought the bass playing on this album was exceptional, especially hearing it on the CD. There's some great parts. The rhythm section is accented on this album more than on album more than on any other. Scott's really playing. We kept a lot of the bass parts from the bed tracks, which may be why I like it so much. Which goes back to the Bruce Fairbairn approach. He said, "If you have to play it more than four times, the song might not make the record, so let's just play it, don't even think about it, go for it, play what you want, make some mistakes, it's fun."
CM: Was this approach a reaction to Lovin' Every Minute of It?
Paul: I think it's a refining of it. We've got a new definition of Loverboy in our minds. For me, first of all, I wanted an album that Mike could sing and sing lyrics he believed in. I think he has a problem with things like "Steal the Thunder". Bless the guy for tryin' it, but I don't think he really wants to sing about teenage rebellion that much.
Mike: He said it. While I was singing that song, I didn't believe it. "Steal the thunder...you want to drag me under." I was going "Geeeeez," like, acting for this one. We didn't do any of that on this record. We said, "If you can't sing it, fuck, it's history. Next!"
I like it like that. We've had a pretty good run of success and hits and stuff but now everybody is getting to know one another really well. When he was working with those guys from Nashville...
Paul:...and Bon Jovi...
Mike: He said, "Listen, think about this Mike Reno guy. If he can't sing it, it's not going to happen."
CM: Yet the singing sounds toughter on this record.
Mike: You know what I did? I smoked and I wailed and I said, "Now tape it," just about as my voice was ready to go.
Paul: He sang real hard, too. I was taking singing lessons at the time he was doing the vocals on the album and I asked him if I could sit in there and watch him. He was singing real hard. It doesn't sound like that on tape but if you were to listen to his voice it's totally ratched but when it comes to compressors and electronics it's a lot smoother, but, yeah, he's really beltin'.
Mike: My voice is very durable. I can sing for a long time and it's sweet. Sweet. Nice. I said to myself "I don't want to sound nice for this one. I want to sound hard." So I growled. I worked the voice' til it was just about bleeding and then I taped the tracks.
Paul: They were good songs for Mike to sing in, which was another lesson from the last album. The third album was a keyboard album. That's the way it worked out. I was in a real dry spell, I wasn't working with any outside writers, we wanted to keep it in-house, and Doug wrote four songs.
The next album was a guitar album. I figured it was my turn, so everything was written around the guitar riffs. If it was a little too high for Mike, well, too bad, that's the guitar key. So, "Put out, guy, and keep up."
CM: Do you jam a lot?
Mike: We jam quite a bit. We end up jamming funk, though.
Paul: I think the essence of Loverboy is that we're a funk band. I turn down, I play "chicka-chicka" on my guitar, Mike sings blues riffs, Doug plays every keyboard that he's ever known and Scott's playing real funky lines and syncopated stuff.
Mike: And then we say, "Hold it! Rock band, rock band, rock band!"
Paul: We've tried to make it work outside rehearsals and it just doesn't happen. It goes along and we have a great time but it just never goes anywhere. It never really develops into a song. We've tried. the one time it happened, I think, was "It's Your Life." That came out of a jam and it had five guys credited.
Mike: We did an hour and 10 minute jam one time.
Paul: Oh, it was great. Of "It's Your Life" as a matter of fact.
Mike: You should hear how far this thing got. It had all these effects on it, all these vocal things.
Paul: Lots of echo and effects.
Mike: Really spacey, and then it goes to everybody playing again and then it just goes on and on and on and it sounded killer. Mind you, we had to make a four minute song out of it somewhere along the way. (Laughs)
Paul: You just see the serious side of the band. I don't really like to say the commercial side. Commercial isn't a bad word; it just means that a lot of people like it. but there's a lot more you really don't get to see. We just don't put out our reggae songs or our country songs or our blues songs.
CM: The four takes rule seems to have kept the band more loose, which is in contrast to the previous two records.
Paul: Mattie got five beds done in one day. We had to re-do "Love Will Rise Again." He was kinda disappointed that he had to re-do one tune, but that was his all-time record, five beds in one day.
Mike: Sometimes when you do something more than five times you remember what's coming next and you don't play what you feel. You start thinking about it too much. We just played it and had fun.
Paul: If you listen near the end of "Notorious" you can even hear Mattie laughing. he does a big smash after the big Rock Ending Number Four and there's this "ha ha ha ha."
Mike: It's free. There's a lot of stuff in there like that.
Paul: I was trying to open up on the guitar a lot rather than play so strict. I wanted to make a few mistakes and be a little bit out of tune, do a couple more licks where normally I would play a stock rhythm part. I'm trying to do that as my career goes along--open up. I think the word is to be more free.
Whereas before everything had to be so perfect. Especially with the last album; that album was flawless. We spent two weeks getting the digital glitches out of the beds. It had to be perfect. That's why we did it digitally and that's why it took two years and cost me 18 years of my life.
Mike: The record company has said that this is the record Loverboy should have done three years ago, in keeping with the excitement of the first two. I believe that because that's kind of how I felt when we were doing it.
CM: That's hindsight talking. I remember you reached a point at the third LP where, as you've said, you were going through a dry spell and after years of touring you were tired and needed to make a change.
Mike: But they asked us to change. They almost said, "You guys sound too much like Loverboy," and that used to drive me crazy. That's like telling the Beach Boys they sound too much like the Beach Boys. They wanted to hear something different so we gave it to them. Now we can say we shouldn't have done that: we should've kept doing what we do because that's what we do.
CM: Has the band's identity changed much over the years?
Paul: I don't know how people perceive us anymore. I thing we split the audience more than we used to. People either really like us or they don't like us; there is a polarity whereas before they either really liked us or they didn't care.
CM: After close to nine years the band has become established. It must be hard to get people excited about a new Loverboy alubm.
Mike: We're not the new kids on the block, that's for sure.
Paul: Where we live in West Van, people see us on the street and they've already got our autograph twice and they've already taken pictures with their kids and they've already sat and talked with us, so now it's "How ya doin?" Like you say, after nine years, it's "Yeah, it's Loverboy, no big deal."