Sadly to some outside the US Night Ranger has always been ‘just’ the band that did ‘Sister Christian’ Kelly Keagy’s monster ballad from 1984. Now that is where you’ve all been missing out because over the years Night Ranger has produced some of the classiest Melodic Rock out there. Over the last few years they’ve been seemingly constantly on the road and with the release of latest album ‘High Road’ they may just have put out one of their best records to date… Mark caught up with the newest Ambassador to the Nashville Musician’s Hall of Fame – Kelly Keagy.
Mark: Hi, Kelly, thank you for taking the time to speak to us this morning, it’s great to be able to speak to you so soon after the latest release ‘High Road’ in my book it’s you most complete album since you reformed. What’s the feeling like in the band?
Kelly: It’s good, we’re excited. It’s taken us a while to do this record, we started it early last year, and then we had to go on tour, so I wasn’t sure if we could, between all the touring come back and write some more songs. It took so long, but at the same time it was a good thing because we could really analyse it and make sure we had the best stuff as possible.
Mark: There are some great songs on there, some great ballads, and I see the US tour is just about to kick off, is that right?
Kelly: Yeah, we’re doing three dates this week and then three or four days a week through until October.
Mark: Yeah, it’s a big tour, you’re a pretty busy band these days, I guess Night Ranger always were.
Kelly: Yeah, we always try to do as many dates as possible, because we just love playing! In a band like us now, it’s not about trying to make a record every year, and then have a tour behind it; it’s about touring and making a new record when you have something to say a few years later. I think it’s good to have time between records, because you can’t really, you can’t start repeating yourself and stuff like that.
Mark: It’s great that you’re actually out there and great for a band of let’s say a certain age, it’s 31 years this year, isn’t it? It’s good you’re still making music of such great quality after such a long time. When you listen to some of the songs on the new album, there are some wonderful ballads that really hit home with us, “Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Brothers” were the two that stood out, did you enjoy those in particular?
Kelly: You know, they did, because we’ve always been big Beatles fans, so we thought we’d do a play on the Beatles with “Brothers”. If you really listen to it with this in mind, you know the Beatles, and Donovan did something about Atlantis, and it’s like that kind of thing. It was kind of a thing, creating in a room together, and bringing a positive message and Jack actually brought that idea in and it was so good, right from the top, it was like we had to do this song, it was the perfect song for us, and it’s kind of a departure for us too, I think.
Mark: I got that exact Beatles feeling from it as well, so I’m glad you said that!
Kelly: Then the song, “Don’t Live Here Anymore”, we wanted to do a song like Bad Company, and that’s how it started but it didn’t really turn out that way so much I guess, like what Bad Company would do with “Bad Company” the song, but we wanted the intro to have that mysterious kind of, dark sound, but we didn’t want the song to be dark, we wanted it to be uplifting, and come to realisation about your life kind of song, so that’s what that was.
Mark: It’s a really soulful song. After you finish the US tour, you hit Japan, where you have always been a huge band; we are not that far away from Japan, has anyone ever invited you here to Australia?
Kelly: Haha! We have never played in Australia!! I just can’t believe it, somebody told me that the other day, we have been close, but we have never played in Australia!! I don’t know why that is; maybe it was because we didn’t sell a lot of records there or something like that. I always felt we should try and cover everywhere in the world, because our records are everywhere! People want to hear us.
Mark: Your biggest ballad was a top ten hit here, back in the day, and we know you, so it would be good for you to come here at some point. I saw you in the States when you played Rocklahoma a few years ago.
Kelly: You know just yesterday I got a message from Andrew McNeice (of fellow Aussie site Melodic Rock.com) , and he mentioned did we ever consider playing in Australia, there were 2 cities we could probably play and do shows there, so it’s funny you mention that! Hopefully that will happen, we could probably book some dates after Japan.
Mark: That would be fantastic, we’ll just shout as loudly as we can and see if we can attract some attention for you!!
Kelly: Please do, we’d love to come!
Mark: For us our favourite song on the album is “I’m Coming Home”, can you tell us a little bit about that one?
Kelly: I think Joel Hoekstra, our new guitar player, well, new; he’s played with us for about 5 or 6 years now, he had this riff, I think it was Joel and Brad had been working together and they came to rehearsal one day, and Joel had that riff and then we built on it. What was interesting about this album and the last one as well, was we didn’t come with a bunch of songs written, now, we get in a room together and we bang out ideas and that’s where a lot of the stuff came from, by just sitting in a room chatting!
Mark: It’s interesting you say that, because the more people I talk to, the more they say they do that less and less often.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s totally the opposite for us! It was only the last two records we decided let’s not come in with any songs written, except maybe a chorus idea, a riff or something like that. Then the three of us would put it together, and then eventually four and five of us, and it turned out to be the best situation for us because musically we could count in a few things we wouldn’t normally do, because the song was already written. The fact that we would just kind of get in there and jam, and do some different stuff really worked out.
Mark: Is there a feeling in the band that you are recording some of the best music you ever have? To me growing up in the UK, we never got to see Night Ranger much, and never having seen you here in Australia, there was always a feeling that unlike some bands that came over and toured, Night Ranger were this mysterious American band, that hardly ever ventured out of the States. The music you are producing now, the new album, “High Road”, I am getting some amazing feedback, so are you getting that, that you are producing some of the best music of your careers?
Kelly: Well, you know what, I think especially on this album we’ve hit on a few changes, this whole idea of getting together in a room and doing it, but, yes, I really feel like we’ve matured as musicians, we’ve played a lot and got really good together. We instinctively know each other’s abilities, but after playing together for 31 years, it was hard when we say went to do a show in California, because we’d had personnel changes and stuff like that, we weren’t that interested in making records any more, we were playing together, and we just toured and toured and toured! And after the end of that, like five years or whatever, we were ready to make a record, and we were rolling on that energy we had. We just kept writing and creating, because you’ll just die if you don’t, if you don’t keep moving forward!!
Mark: I know exactly what you mean. I understand something exciting happened to you yesterday?
Kelly: I did want to mention that it was very cool for me, yesterday when the record came out, I got asked to be an ambassador for the Musicians Hall of Fame, here in Nashville Tennessee.
Mark: That’s great news, and well-deserved. It’s always great to see Rock artists get the recognition they deserve! Are you the sort of person who listens to a lot of contemporary music?
Kelly: the things I’ve been listening to have been on the “pop” charts. I like listening to Pink and artists like that, and I love the classic rock artists that are happening now. I just said that the music is a little different what we’re doing, but I like comparing and having the difference between the old classic stuff and the new stuff, because a lot of the time it is connected in a lot of ways. So, I listen to music to get an interesting perspective of what’s going on. Every time we do a record, we need a fresh, new perspective on things.
Mark: I understand, you’d be surprised how many artists listen to a lot of modern pop, especially country music as well; there are a lot of people listening to that these days.
Kelly: Yeah, a lot of country music, I generally get that, and I love it, there’s some really good bands in the country field right now.
Night Ranger High Road Interview 2014
Mark: It’s almost like the new rock and roll, some people would say! On a personal level, are you looking at recording any new material yourself, is there another solo album on the way?
Kelly: I am, yes. Probably after we get done with this tour, and at whatever might be coming at the end of the year I’m looking to start working on some new songs. I already have been, but we’ve been busy with Night Ranger for the last two and a half years, with albums and tours and stuff. I think inJanuary/February I’ll be working on new material, and Serafino wants me definitely to work on a project, so I’m looking to do that.
Mark: As far as Night Ranger goes, you’re obviously on tour now for a while, has touring changed dramatically over the years, since the 80’s?
Kelly: When you get success in the 80’s you get pressure to do a record every year and a tour, and so back in the day we’d be on a bus for like eighteen months! It was a good thing, it was amazing, but we took a break in the late eighties, early nineties and then we got back together again, in 96/97, and we made a conscious decision to play three or four days a week, then go home! Make that a home base, we all have families now, and we want to keep our sanity. Back in the day we were drinking and having a lot of fun and it just kept rolling, there was a lot of substance abuse, but, we got over that, and we didn’t want to return to that. I think it’s a lifestyle that self-perpetuates, you know, bad habits like that, and so I think we want to be as good as musicians as possible, and we care so much about what we’re doing, live especially, that we just want to be as strong as possible. So, that’s how we do it now.
Mark: It must be great as well to get out there and see young kids being brought to the shows by their parents.
Mark: A whole new generation of fans! Taking it back now, to your earliest memories of music, what was it that got you on this road in the first place?
Kelly: My older brothers were in to music and they turned me on to it, my elder brother was listening to Elvis and Little Richard and all those great musicians from the 50’s. In the 60’s my older brother introduced me to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix after I heard both bands I immediately got in a band, I immediately connected with music right away and I tried to play drums and sing at the same time, and do all that stuff, I was trying to develop as quick as I could so I could be part of it, this is where I belong!
Mark: There are very few singing drummers out there, Phil Collins comes to mind, how hard is it to sing and keep rhythm at the same time?
Kelly: I think once I heard Ringo do it, I thought that is amazing, this guy can do what he’s doing! So, I just really tried to do more complicated stuff, and pushed myself to do more lead vocals, and I just kept pushing myself, in high school. Actually, I would come and go, I’d be up behind the drums and sometimes out front, and I did that for a while, and then I found my position as drummer and lead vocalist. That became really interesting, because then we had two lead singers, it gave the band more perspective, it wasn’t just two dimensional, there was a more broader spectrum, and that ended up being a really good thing for us.
Mark: It is. It’s a huge part of the appeal for me, the fact that you have two great singers, and the twin guitar attack as well, that you’re famous for!
Kelly: I think they are really under rated, Brad Gillis coming from the Ozzy days, coming in to this band, Joel Hoekstra coming from Chicago, playing with all sorts of bands around Chicago. I think that this album is really going to show off their talents, especially a song called “L.A. No Name” that’s at the end of the album. There are so many good guitarists and musicians out there these days, it’s really hard to cut through.
Mark: “L.A. No Name” is a great way to close the album, it’s pretty original to end with an instrumental, but you’re right, it really does showcase the band. If you could have been a fly on the wall for the recording of any album, at any point in time, what would it have been for you and why?
Kelly: I think the one that left the biggest impression, was probably “Axis: Bold as Love” by Jimi Hendrix, his second record, because I thought that record was so amazing as far as lyrics, that song especially had such great lyrics, the description and colours he used to describe emotions, and I thought, wow, that is such a great play on lyrics! I just thought that was the best record ever, and if I could’ve been there and watched Mitch Mitchell play, and see how Jimi was playing some of that stuff, that would have been…. I could’ve died there!!
Mark: That was the first Hendrix album I heard and it just blew my mind! Finally, what is the meaning of life?
Kelly: What is the meaning of life? The meaning of life is good rock and roll, good health and love!!
Mark: Thank you so much, it’s been an absolute pleasure to speak to you.
Kelly: Thanks, Mark; I hope I get to meet you Sir! Good to speak to you, take care buddy
Mark: I hope so too, you too. Bye.