Music

Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon Talks New Music, Foo Fighters and the Nuge

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(AFP/Getty)

(AFP/Getty)

It’s been a couple of years since REO Speedwagon released a new album: they put out a Christmas record, Not So Silent Night in 2010; their last regular album was Find Your Own Way Home in 2007. The wait for a follow-up may be a bit longer, but to hold fans over,the group has just released Live At The Moondance Jam, recorded in 2010. Frontman Kevin Cronin spoke with Radio.com about that show, and about why it’s taken so long to release a new album. And also: what the Nuge is really like, why they’re ignored by the music media, and how he met up with Dave Grohl.  And hey, if Dave Grohl likes you (the Foo Fighter interviewed Cronin for the film Sound City), who cares what a rock critic thinks? 

Talk about your performance on Live At The Moondance Jam.

Well, it was an awesome night, I’ll tell you. Moondance is a four day long, old-school rock festival. It’s an amazing scene. This particular night, the weather was beautiful, there was north of 30,000 people there. We went on late, it was close to midnight. Sometimes when you shoot a show, guys push a little too hard, or something technically goes wrong. But on this night, the stars lined up, it was a really special night. 

Seeing all the fans in the video, it looks as huge as some of the more well-publicized rock festivals. Do you feel like the mainstream music media doesn’t report on how big you and other classic rock bands still are? 

It’s still happening out there, especially in the midwest, that’s kind of our territory. It’s true that in general the mainstream media tends to – and this is normal human nature – pay attention to bands that do well in New York or L.A. They end up getting more attention, because those are the media centers. But there’s a lot of area, what people call the “flyover states,” and those people who live there love their rock and roll, and are loyal to their bands. So, we don’t get quite as much attention. But be that as it may, 30,000 people still showed up at Moondance that night! You’d be surprised at how well a lot of us are doing out there (on tour).  Part of the idea of releasing a DVD is to show that. To show what the mainstream media is missing. But there’s nothing we can do about it if they don’t want to cover us.

You seem very passionate about this DVD. 

I’m surprised to be as into this project as I am… but I kind of am! It’s the same songs we’ve been playing for years! I read an interview with Paul McCartney in Rolling Stone, and he said something about how he’s sang “Blackbird” how many thousands of times, but he said, every time we play it live, I get another shot at singing it the way it really should be sung.  What people kind of forget is, when you make a record, those songs are brand new, you barely know them, you haven’t even memorized the lyrics. In my case, even though I’ve sung those songs a million times… maybe I’m weird but I really do enjoy it. It gives me another shot of getting it “right.”

And of course, it’s probably thrilling to have 30,000 people singing your lyrics back at you.  

That’s right, there’s not many things that rise to that level. As the writer of these songs, I have more experience with these songs than anyone else, I remember where I was when the spirit first moved me (to write them), or where the seed of that song first came from. To have 30,000 people singing them back at you, that’s a pretty nice trip to have taken. 

You’ve spent a lot of time recently sharing stages with Ted Nugent. I’ve read some of the things you’ve written on your Facebook page, and in other interviews, and you certainly have different political views than him. I’m curious what your backstage conversations are like. 

The funny thing is, I go back with Ted to before he was famous as the bowhunting right-wing politics Ted. I go back to the Amboy Dukes leader. He was always wild, swinging across the stage with a loincloth. When I think of Ted Nugent, I think of an amazing, legendary, lead guitar player. Say what you will about his politics, he has an amazing feel on the guitar. But I’ve sat in a room with Ted, I’ll put it to you this way, you could be a vegetarian Democratic voter, and after 20 minutes with Ted, you walk out of there going, “I think I kind of want to have a steak, and I want to go shoot some guns…” And then you go, “Wait a minute! What am I thinking about?” And then you come back to your senses.  But the guy is extremely persuasive, and he’s extremely well read. His world is a world that I find difficult to understand. But on a real human level… his daughter lived in my house when she first moved to California. I know him as a regular guy. He’s another guy who survived the rock wars and is still standing. He’s got bad knees.  We talk about that kind of stuff. We don’t really talk about politics that much, honestly. 

He seems like Gene Simmons: even in an interview situation, he’s on stage. Like, as soon as the mic is turned on, it’s showtime! 

When you’re standing there alone with Ted, he’s just another guy, but you’re right, as soon as another person walks in, everything chagnes and he turns into the “Motor City Madman.” He’s not always the “Motor City Madman,” he’s a regular human being. But he does say some outrageous things, man. When we toured with him, right before the tour, he said that thing about if Obama was re-elected he’d be in jail or dead, so the secret service was all over him. This was a couple of weeks before the tour, and I’m thinking to myself, “Ted, if you’re you’re touring by yourself and you want to make statements like that, OK, but you’re kind of part of this whole tour here.” My thing was, I didn’t want him to become the spokesman for the tour. But it’s kind of hard because he gets all this attention because he says all of this outrageous s***. It’s hard for him not to become the spokesman for the tour. Two years in a row with that tour (Ted Nugent and Styx) was great, but I think we’ll take some time off from that particular package. 

You probably got exposed to a younger audience when you were interviewed in Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City (about the famed L.A. studio of the same name). 

Sound City was REO Speedwagon’s home from like ’78 to ’83, so I’m predisposed to want to be involved in the story of Sound City.  (These days) we rehearse in this space in North Hollywood and the Foo Fighters rehearse there as well. And I would bump into Dave and (Foo Fighters drummer) Taylor (Hawkins). The first time I met them, it was in the parking lot, we were working on new material and Dave and Taylor say, “Dude can you please play ‘Riding The Storm Out,’ and can we please come in and listen?”  I’m like, “God, we’re working on new songs, we don’t really need to practice ‘Riding The Storm Out,’ we kind of know that one already!” And they’re like “Dude, please, you’ve got to do it!” I’ll never forget it, Dave and Taylor sit in front of the stage, and we play “Riding The Storm Out,” and they played air drums – it looked like a synchronized swimming routine, they both knew every drum fill. Both of those guys, maybe even more so Taylor, are just they’re like rock history experts. They know everything about every band that came before them. I think that’s what makes the Foo Fighters even cooler. As popular as they are, they do have respect for what came before them, and it’s a pretty wide spectrum that they cover. I really like those guys. We bump into them on the road from time to time. and they’ve always been very cool. And Dave is just a sweetheart of a guy, he has no pretension. I was quite honored to be in that film.

Did you enjoy the film itself?

Seeing the movie was cool! I knew all the behind-the-scenes people. It was a nostalgia trip. With a lot of other studios, it became a bit more about the party than the music. People who recorded at Sound City were more about the music, eschewing the Hollywood vibe. It was a good sounding room, and it was away from the Hollywood scene. 

The Paul McCartney scene at the end is pretty cool.  

Originally what I heard was that the end of the movie was going to be a big jam session with everyone from the movie. Dave definitely thinks big! That would have been awesome. But he did pretty well, he got Paul McCartney. 

So what are your touring plans for next year… and are you working on a new album? 

The touring plans are coming together as we speak. It’s pretty amazing, we’re so lucky, after all these years, people are still interested to see us play. I’m a songwriter first, I’ve always got my songwriting hat on in one way or another, the hard part right now for me and the band, we tour six or seven months of the year, I have three teenage kids at home and a beautiful wife who I want to keep as my beautiful wife, and so for me to come home from tour and say, “See ya, I’m gonna be in the studio for the next few months,” it just isn’t in the cards right now. We don’t really have a set plan to release new songs next year, but I imagine we’ll get around to it eventually. Once that itch starts coming, then I know it’s time to move on it. But I’ve never had any luck with pushing it. 

Brian Ives, Radio.com 

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