JEFF PILSON INTERVIEW:
April 26, 2004
Jeff Pilson has played bass for such successful bands as Dokken, Dio and MSG. Jeff talked about his latest War & Peace album, the emotionally charged The Walls Have Eyes, as well as Dokken’s well publicized inner turmoil.
SR: The new War & Peace album tackles some very serious issues, were the lyrics written mostly by yourself and what was your frame of mind while writing such emotional songs?
JP: With the exception of “Desperate Hearts” which I wrote with Jason Bonham, I wrote all the lyrics on the record. I sometimes get dark spells and in those I try to capture some of the feelings trapped inside. “Stranger in my Own Land” was written right after 9/11 and that was the estranged feeling of fear and anxiety.
SR: The Walls Have Eyes is essentially a solo album, was there any thought of reuniting the original members or even releasing the album under your own name?
JP: I always knew it would be mostly done on my own, that’s really the purpose of these records for me. I need the artistic outlet. Besides, it’d be too hard to coordinate all the original members with scheduling, etc. And I think if I were to just call an album Jeff Pilson, it might be slightly different music.
SR: You gained notoriety with the band Dokken, how did you become involved with them?
JP: Don Dokken called Mike Varney, who was known as a great musician combiner, asking if he knew of a singing bass player. I had just moved to LA so it worked out perfectly.
SR: You became an integral part of Dokken’s writing process, but it seems the majority of songs were co-written. Was the Dokken sound truly a band creation, or did certain members play a larger role than others?
JP: I’d say it was definitely collaborative, but in a very unorthodox way. Don and George never actually worked together, so the writing was done in different factions. One group (George, Jeff and Mick) would come up with songs, then the other group (Don, Mick and Jeff) would come up with some. It was always a little unfocused in that respect, but the end result was a band effort- but of a screwed up band!
SR: The clash of egos between Don Dokken and George Lynch is well noted, did it ever get frustrating being a mediator and knowing that their infighting could destroy a band you played such a huge part in?
JP: Without question the most frustrating part of being in that band. I remember being in Hawaii on vacation right before the Monsters of Rock tour in 1988, and Don was there as well. We spent many a night where I really was trying to talk him into not leaving- but it was kind of too late. It wasn’t just Don and George, it was the un-together chemistry of the band as a unit.
SR: By 1988 Dokken was beginning to fall apart. What was it like being in a band with such internal friction?
JP: Like I said- horrible, and at times embarrassing. We were famous for airing our dirty laundry in public, and on the Monsters tour we had eroded into a terrible band. I’ve seen the clips- we weren’t good at that point.
SR: After Dokken you played with Michael Schenker, a musician also known for erratic behavior. Where you worried you may have entered a similar environment as Dokken, and how was Michael to work with?
JP: I’m quite familiar with all the stories about Michael, but I must say the entire time I worked with him he was nothing but cool. He’s just a fanatic about music, and I totally relate to that. He also wasn’t drinking the period I spent with him. We got along extremely well, and working with him was wonderful- especially when we’d jam.
SR: You also played with a great band called Wild Horses, but weren’t listed as an original member. How did you become involved with that project and what was it like reuniting with them in 2003?
JP: I wasn’t listed as an original member because I knew I wouldn’t be able to join the band for touring, etc., even though I did the record. I had my own band at the time, War and Peace (my how little things change!!). We had a blast doing both records together. Those guys are great friends, and great musicians- so what’s not to like?
SR: In 1995 Dokken reunited. Where you ever worried that you were going to enter a volatile situation again?
JP: Yes, and we did! I was hoping we had all gotten past the damage, but it went too deep.
SR: Shadowlife wasn’t very well received by fans, looking back what are your thoughts on that release?
JP: I understand why fans don’t dig it, it doesn’t sound very much like Dokken. My thoughts are that while it was a noble thing to attempt some modernization, we went way too far- and with the band being so disjointed, it only made it worse.
SR: What led to leaving Dokken in 2000, and can you ever picture yourself working in Dokken again or a full-fledged reunion?
JP: Things had gotten ugly, and it wasn’t a fun or comfortable working environment. Life is too short. As for a reunion, I would never say never, but at this time I’m not interested. From what I’ve heard, it sounds like things haven’t changed, or maybe have only gotten worse. I enjoy making music- it’s an honor to do- I want to keep it that way.
SR: How do you feel about Don and Mick carrying on as Dokken with other members and what has been your thoughts on their latest albums?
JP: We have settled all our legal disputes, so they are now legally entitled to do so. Therefore I wish them well and hope they continue the franchise to great success. I think you just have to look at the band in different terms now. We had a long, successful run, and bands change. It is Don’s show now- which immediately makes it a different ball game- but he’s capable of great things, so while it’s different, you still have that classic voice doing the old songs live. As for their recent studio efforts, I’ve been public about my feelings on Long Way Home, which were that it really is more of a Don solo record- and doesn’t sound terribly inspired, but has good moments. Don even wrote on my website forum that he agrees with that. I’m confident their new record will be a whole lot better. Jon Levin is a great guitarist and writer, and if he gets a chance to shine, it should be a great record.
SR: You re-teamed with George Lynch for Wicked Underground, how was it working with George again?
JP: It was as if a day hadn’t gone by! We had a blast, and the creative chemistry was as solid as ever. There are also a lot of laughs when George and I get together.
SR: Was it upsetting to watch the label leave the Lynch/Pilson album out to dry?
JP: It wasn’t entirely the labels fault. They were under the impression, and we had always intended, to tour the record. But that became impossible with trying to coordinate what George and I were each doing. I wish we could have toured, just to give the album the best shot possible, but you never know- it may happen someday.
SR: You got to appear in the movie Rock Star with some big name actors, do you think you will ever get the acting bug?
JP: It’s one thing to get the acting bug, it’s another to have movie roles fall in your lap! I would enjoy doing some serious acting someday, but it’s a ways down the priority list for me!
SR: You lived through what is often considered the most exciting time for heavy metal. What was it like being a part of the 80s metal scene and were there any bands that got lost in the shuffle that you felt should have become household names?
JP: It was a very fun era, and I certainly sowed enough wild oats for a lifetime! As for bands, I always thought Stone Fury should have been huge. They made an album in 1985 that was brilliant- and we lived with that record.
SR: The Super Bowl half-time show has reintroduced the indecency in media debate. What are your thoughts on the issue, and can you see the FCC becoming as annoying as the PMRC once was?
JP: I think it’s all a distracting election-year issue which I hope the public sees through and refuses to tolerate. I think it will be an annoyance, but there are so many other bigger and more important issues to deal with. It’s all about the big picture- which I hope America sees.
SR: You have worked with Ronnie James Dio in the past and working on a new album with him. What is he like to work with and a person, obviously he can’t be the monster Tony Iommi would have people believe.
JP: Ronnie is a dear friend, and one of the most talented musicians/writers/producers I’ve ever worked with. He’s very passionate about what he does- but I wouldn’t expect anything else. That’s what makes him so great. He’s a legend for a very good reason- and working with him is powerful and stimulating. So no, he’s not a monster at all.
SR: What do you have planned for promotion for the new War & Peace and Dio albums?
JP: I’ll actually be hitting the road a bit for War and Peace. I’m going to Europe in September and hope to do some shows in the states before then. As for Dio, I can’t tour as their tour starts in July and my wife and I are expecting our first baby then. But I’ll try to spread the word as much as I can because it’s such a great record.
SR: You are also working on a release called Clear Static. What is the story with this album and what can fans expect musically?
JP: They are a young band that my partner Tommy Henriksen and I found a couple years ago. The music is a bit of the Cure, with Duran Duran and the Strokes mixed in. Great songs and band.
Thanks to Jeff Pilson