Kevin Cronin: Finding His Own Way.
REO Speedwagon frontman Kevin Cronin talks everything behind and about the band's long awaited new studio album. Kevin is an extremely passionate guy - especially in regards to the new album - and I hope that shines through in this interview.
G'Day Kevin. First I must apologize for taking ten years to get you on the phone for an interview!
Well I apologize for our band being together since 1971 and having yet to play a gig in your entire country. That makes absolutely no sense to me.
Well you're in good company. There are some fine, fine bands that have never made it down here, unfortunately.
Yeah, well that doesn't make any sense. Our guitar player, Dave Amato spends a lot of time in Australia. He played guitar with Jimmy Barnes in it must have been the late '80s he spent a good deal of time in Australia. He's sort of hipped up to what to expect when we make it down there and it sounds like a lot of fun to me.
Well, one day I hope. You're actually doing a media storm over there in the States aren't you?
Yeah, we're kinda doing it the old fashioned was Andrew. We're kinda getting back to our roots. We've got a wretched Chevy station wagon and we're just driving from city to city around the Midwest, showing up in radio stations with our acoustic guitars and singing some songs.
You know, just hanging out on the radio having some fun with the DJs and just trying to spread the word that we've got a new CD out. It's been a while for us, so we're just doing it from the grass roots. I'll tell you what though it's a lot of fun. We're having a great time and we're finding that there's an awful lot of support for us out here in the heartland so it's really a good feeling.
OK, now you're driving from station to station which is good, but we all know how complicated the radio setup is over there. Can you actually break in with them to play new material for you?
Well, that's what we're doing here. It's pretty amazing. I wasn't really sure what kind of reception that we were gonna get with a brand new record. Part of what we're up against is that we have so many records that we've made over the years and so many of the radio stations still play our classics. And that's great. There's nothing wrong with that.
It's a wonderful thing but, to try to get them to play new music, like I said, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
The good news is that the songs and the performances on this new REO Speedwagon record are just kicking the door in for us. We're just sort of walking in behind it and the music is really speaking for itself. That's been extremely heartening.
We had an experience the other day that pretty much sums it up. We went to a classic rock station in Cleveland, Ohio which is right in the heartland of America here. We did our thing at the classic rock station. Of course they're predisposed to playing our music on their recurrent list so of course we were welcomed there with open arms.
In the studio right next door, in the same building was an alternative station called K-Rock which is aimed at 20 year olds and they're playing really cool music. The kind of music I really like listen to myself but you wouldn't expect to hear an REO Speedwagon record on K-Rock.
So one of the girls who was a producer of the show was a fan of ours and she saw us in the hallway. She came back in and told a couple of the radio personalities that REO Speedwagon was out in the hall. So he was like, 'Who's REO Speedwagon I don't really know much about them? I've kind of heard of them but I don't know much about their music.'
Well, he invited us into the studio, so we came in. There was a little sparring that went on at first but we kinda gained their respect and held our own and we became kinda friends with these guys. I had our single Smiling in the End in my hand and I said, 'I'll tell you what. Put this record on and let it play for a minute. If after a minute Dieter gives it the thumbs down, we'll take off the air and we're outta here, but if Dieter likes it, let it play.
So after a minute Dieter's like, dude this rocks, so he let it the whole song play and when it was over the phones lit up with like 20, 21, 23 year old kids from all these different cities that this station plays to and that to me was the ultimate complement. On the classic rock station, the people who had been with us since the beginning were calling in saying that they loved the track, then 10 minutes later the same song is on an alternative station and young people are calling in and responding to it. You know, that was pretty cool.
That reflects a definite frustration I voice on the site all the time, that people would buy this music if they had the chance to actually hear it!
Yeah, exactly, you know, we've been around a long time, but you know, personally, I've got three young kids at home but I feel pretty vibrant, pretty young at heart and actually I feel like I have more in common with some of the kids who are working at the alternative stations than I do with some of the guys at the classic stations.
Some of the guys at the classic stations act a little too old for me even though they're my age. I kind of relate more to the younger kids and it was really cool to see that the music is being accepted by a lot of people.
A friend of ours who also runs our website, her name is Ruth McCartney, you might recognize the last name, she's Paul's little sister. She grew up with some pretty good music around her, so she was one of the first people to come into the studio to hear the new record and her first comment right of the cuff was 'This new record is fresh and old school at the same time.' That was music to my ears Andrew because that was all we could expect. You know, that's where it's at out here in America.
I've got a few comments to run past you about the album, but first I'll jump to the fact that you're plugging Smiling in the End as a single. This is a really commercial album and my favorite song is that, but I would've almost expected you to go with something safer
the ballad for example.
Well you know, actually we've got two singles out at the same time because we couldn't really choose ourselves. Smiling in the End is a strong song and it rocks, then we have a song called I Needed to Fall which is kind of more along the lines of what people might expect from us. It's got the power ballad thing, but hopefully we've raised the bar a little bit on the power ballad as well.
So we've got both these songs out there and we're just depending on the radio station. Most the stations that we're going to are playing both of them, but there are some stations that can't really play Smiling it the End just because of their format they want something a little softer. We just want people to hear this music. I like all the songs on this record so I don't really care what songs get played so we're walking into these radio stations with both of them and they're both actually going over really well, believe it or not.
Well I believe it completely because I Needed to Fall is a wonderful ballad.
Well great, I'm glad to hear that you've heard the record Andrew. That makes me feel better that I don't have to explain it to you. That's good.
I was actually playing it when the phone rang.
I think it's a great record. Really, really sharp production, I think it's very fresh. Couple of songs I'm not so in to
a little country slant on a couple of tunes there Kevin?
Yeah, I've got a little country in me somewhere. (laughing)
But for the most part it's a wonderful, wonderful record, and very fresh, very fresh. Well I appreciate that Andrew. Thank you very much. We put a lot of work into it, I'll tell you that.
The first four tracks in particular I think are four classic REO Speedwagon songs. Well again man thank you very much. I appreciate the support.
I love Find Your Own Way Home and I Needed to Fall is just, like I said a classic ballad. There hasn't been a really good power ballad for a while and that hits the spot like that song does.
These songs, especially those first four songs you're talking about, and there are other ones on the record. You know the years between 2003, 2004 and 2005, I'll be straight with you. I was going through a dark period.
There were some things going on and really this music was born from that darkness and I think a lot of times that's where some of the strongest songs come from. I guess I kind of hit an icy patch in the road type of thing and the car kind of spun out and ended up in a ditch. I used the metaphor earlier today because it seems to apply. I kinda looked around the ditch and there were Bruce and Dave and Neal laying there next to me.
You know, we all kinda hit the same rough patch at the same time but in different ways. I started writing because it was almost like my kind of therapy.
The other guys were going through some crazy stuff too, I don't know, mid-life or whatever, but there was a camaraderie that came for all of us winding up in a ditch at the same time and trying to claw our way out and find our own way home you might say. We all kind of had this passion in us and so we kind of really bonded, not only as a band and musicians but also as friends as well. I think that's where some of the magic on this record comes from is because we were all kind of in that place and you know misery loves company.
We kind of all had each other to bounce off of. It was a tough time to go through but the fact that we all had each other allowed us to help each other through it and help each other out of it. It's been quite an experience and like I said we didn't really expect to make another record. This record kind of made us. It kinda just happened without us really trying and I guess there's something to be said for that as well. These songs just needed to be written and the just came, I wouldn't say effortlessly but they came almost like an emergency vehicle.
I must say that in all my years of listening I've always had a soft spot for albums with emotional depth.
Well yeah you know that's just about it. Too many people, when it comes to album, they've kind of lost the concept of an album. You know in this day and age of downloading tunes from the internet. The fact is, too many artists have released records where there's one or maybe two songs with any substance and a lot of songs that don't really connect with anyone so you end up with people getting disillusioned with the whole idea of an album.
Part of the reason why we spent so much time on this album is because we didn't want to put any filler songs on there. We sequenced the songs in a way that sort of made sense to us, so the story get told this way. So we're really kind of promoting the idea that an album is a worthwhile art form. That songs are meant to be heard in a certain sequence that the guys who made the record wanted them to be heard. So we're hoping that we can get people back to listening to songs as an album, in sequence and kind of get the vibe from the whole thing. That's kind of one of our underlying missions here.
Amen to that because there's nothing finer than an album that flows start to finish like a story and you've definitely described this album perfectly because it does just that. You really have got a good sequence I think.
Are you ready for this? We actually mixed this album in sequence. I've never done that before. Usually when you get into the mixing you're thinking about songs more sonically and all kinds of things come into play when you're deciding what order to mix the songs in.
In this one, we'd had this sequence for a long time ever since we had the rough mixes. So when it came time to mix it we all just went 'We've got to keep it in sequence, these songs just belong in this order.' It was pretty cool in that way.
I was kind of surprised that it happened that way but in a way kind of not surprised because these songs were really meant to be heard in the order we put them in so that was pretty cool.
The music business changes obviously all the time. The changes between your last studio album and this one couldn't possible be more great could they?
Well yeah that's true. The music business has been turned on its ear certainly in America. I'm not sure what's happening down there in Australia.
It's the same.
And maybe it needed it. That's kinda what I feel like. It's almost like our song I Needed to Fall. It's like sometimes you do. You need to fall sometimes and I think maybe the music industry needed to fall a little bit because it was getting bloated and there were just too many people putting out CDs with one or two good songs on them and eventually that's gonna backfire.
People work hard man, and you're putting out $15 - $16 dollars for something it had better be more than one or two good songs. I think the music industry just kind of got full of itself and record companies got full of themselves.
Record companies were and have been notorious for ripping off artists ever since the days of Little Richard and Chuck Berry in the very beginning. Then I think artists kind of got the feeling that they got back in the game, but really when you look at it, ever since we stopped recording for a major label we kind of paid a little more attention.
We never really paid attention to our recording contracts or anything and it's amazing the things that artists are charged for by record companies. Things that are insane.
You know were good friend with the guys in Cheap Trick and those guys have got a law suit against the record company because they're still getting charged breakage. Breakage is something that was from old days when records were made of plastic and some of the records would end up getting to the store broken and the artist would have to absorb that expense. We're still getting charged for breakage when people download things from itunes. It's like, wait a second, you can't break a download. This is crazy, so the record companies, I feel kind of sorry for them because we were part of that system, but you know, they kinda dug their own grave by being greedy. This was just bound to happen eventually. So now there's an upheaval going on and everybody kind of like the wild, wild west out here and every different artist has a different idea of how to do it. It's pretty refreshing because now the playing field's a little bit more leveled and we've kind of found our way. Everyone gotta find their own way and I kind of dig it. It's kind of fun. Everything's new, everything's exciting. You can't just fall back into old habits. You've got to reinvent yourself in a number of ways. I'm into that, into things changing, growing and not being stale.
You've definitely chosen your own path, so leading into that, what brought you to Walmart as an option?
Well that was just total luck. You know when we started making this record it was really strictly a labor or love. We've been touring every year since we started. We've been doing fine. There're plenty of gigs for us, we've been playing great places and our fans are totally loyal. Like I say, the classic rock radio stations keep our music in people's ears to the point that there was no real need to make a new record.
When I started writing these songs and everyone started getting into playing new songs we went into the studio more or less just to do it with no expectations, no record label, nothing. Then, as the process started going along, people started reacting positively to the music. Every once in a while we do a corporate show. It's a private show where no one sells tickets like a company will have a convention or some kind of get together. They hire you and you come in and play a show.
It's a nice thing because there's no pressure, you just come in and play the gig. So we did a show out in Arkansas for the Walmart people. It was outside on a farm and one of the guys who's in charge of music there, his name is Troy was a bass player in a band when he was in high school and he used to play our music. He was telling us that story and I was talking to him about the new record we were making and he was like, 'oh man I'd love to hear it'. So we took a walk, got on the tour bus, had a couple beers and threw on the rough mixes of what was going to become the Find You Own Way Home album. He really got into them, really liked them and we just through some ideas around and that was it. Nothing really came of it, but about 6 or 8 months later he called back and asked how it was going so we sent him the finished record. He really got off on it and the next think we knew we were working with Walmart and who'd a thunk, they'd be really cool?
They have this reputation for being this awful empire when really the guys there are totally cool. They're just like you and me, they love music and they're doing their best to get music out to the people. I don't know what's happening in Australia, but here a lot of the record stores, like Tower Records, are out of business. Most of the record stores are gone, so the only place you can go is to a big chain store. What are you gonna do? You can fight the powers that be or you can find a way to get your music out to the people. Most REO Speedwagon fans are not the hoity toity LA, New York people.
They're people that live in the heartland and work hard for a living and they go to Walmart to go shopping and our music is there. It was kind of a stroke of luck for us that we met these guys and they're really helping us out. They're gonna get our music out to the people that want it so we're going with it. So far, so good.
Fantastic. I was under the impression that it was a Walmart exclusive but nobody got a one month window. Is that right?
Walmart asked us for a three week exclusive on it which seemed fair enough to me and it's great because they had this idea to put more than just Find Your Own Way Home CD in there. There's actually three disks that are coming out. In fact 5 minutes before you called I just got the deluxe box set. Our tour manager just delivered it.
I love the look of that so we have to talk about that.
Yeah, there's three disks in there. There's a DVD of an unplugged performance that we did. We played at the Superbowl about a month and a half ago, then we went up to Washington DC and did an unplugged performance. So there's a DVD of that with a bunch of interview footage. There's another CD of us playing the entire High Infidelity record with the current band lineup right in sequence and some enhanced footage on there as well, plus the new CD. So it's pretty exciting.
They're really making it into a special event for the release of the record. It's pretty awesome at this point in the game to be doing what people are calling our best record ever. Andrew I think there's a misconception that artists hit their peak in their late twenties and from then on it's down hill. I just feel like I'm just kind of hitting my stride right now and our band is just kind of finding it's potential with this record.
So we're out to shatter those misconceptions and show that you can be a creative person well into your life. There's no reason to think that just because you've hit a certain age that it's time to give up. It's time to stay young, healthy and vital. Keep your energy level positive and live life to the fullest.
Fantastic words because of all the artists I cover a lot of them are getting older but there's no reason to stop working at all.
There's no reason to just start resting on what you've done in the past because you never know what you might come up with. Hey the Rolling Stones are still out there and they're a few years ahead of us and they're still doing great. You see the Stones and Mick Jagger's singing, I think better than he ever has, and he's still all over the stage. They've still got the same attitude, they look great, they're in shape. I mean, come on, let's keep this rock 'n roll train a going in the right direction.
Absolutely. Well speaking of live performances you've obviously received a blow with the unfortunate death of Brad Delp.
I'm just still not right with that man, I gotta tell you. You know, Boston played their first live gig opening for us in St Louis so I've know them from the very beginning. Both bands were on Epic records so we used to cross paths with them all the time over the years. Brad was just, well I related to Brad because kind of had the same attitude about being in a band and about playing music as we do. None of us really have that ego, you know, any of that Rock Star stuff going on. We just like to play music and Brad was the same way. Just a good guy, down to earth and just a likeable person and man I was as shocked as anyone when I heard what happened.
It just doesn't make sense to me and it's definitely kind of made take another look at things because I would have never guessed in my wildest dreams that that would ever have happened with Brad. It just kinda goes to show that you've really got to pay attention to the people around you.
If you see anybody's behavior change, and I'm not saying that Brad did. I hadn't seen him in a couple years but you just never know what's going on inside of a person and it really pays to pay close attention to the people that are closest to you. Like I say, you would have never known from the outside that that would have happened to Brad and sure enough, look what happened.
So, with that in mind, and the package with Boston playing, have you come up with an alternative yet?
Well yeah, it definitely threw us for a loop there obviously. I mean Brad's death was a shock and then once you get over the initial shock of that you go wow we were probably gonna play 80 concerts with them all over the US and who knows where else. Fortunately for us we've got a lot of friends in a lot of band and we've got a couple of things that we're looking at now. It looks like we're probably going to be going out with ZZ Top.
I think that'll be a lot of fun and a big festival kind of thing that's going to being going around the states. We'll probably do that in the summer then with any luck we'll be working with Cheap Trick toward the late summer, early fall. There was actually talk last winter of coming down to Australia with Cheap Trick. Were they down there like last winter? Well I guess it would be summer for you guys.
No it got cancelled. They haven't been down here since 1990. I actually saw that show when the came down. They were going to come down here with sort of a current day line up of theme music, but it got cancelled.
We were offered those shows and that would have been our first time to play in Australia, but we just weren't ready. We were still in the studio mixing but we're hoping to be able to pull something together with Cheap Trick later in the year. I'll tell you it's really the whole bunch of us now. We're all in this together.
It is more of a brotherhood now isn't it?
It sure is.
I mean how many bands from the '90s are still out there verses the real bands from the '80s and look how many of them are kicking.
Yeah, we're still doing it and still going strong. That's why it's a shame that we haven't played in Australia. The people in Australia, perhaps they've heard our records on the radio but if you haven't seen us live, it's such a big part of what we do. We been really fortunate that our records have been very successful, but I don't think they do our live shows justice. I think our new record does.
I think it pretty much captures what we do, and when we play those songs live it's pretty much what we did on the record, what you see is what you get. As far as the classics, I would just love to be able to come down and show the Australian rock fans what we can do.
Well we'd love to have you and I must say that I did see one of your shows. I was in LA in 2002 and saw the Journey/Styx/REO show.
Oh, you did, at the Staples Center?
Yeah, in fact, I was back stage with the band afterward and you came running past and I thought 'oh I've gotta get your attention and say Hi' but you didn't come back.
I think that was the night that the guy who owns the Staples Center, who is actually from St Louis, one of the big REO Speedwagon towns in America, came in and asked me if there was anything he could do for me. I'm like a big basketball fan so I said yeah, I want to see the Lakers' locker room. No one else could get me in there except him, so he walked me over to the Lakers' locker room, brought me right into the players' room. He had like this magic laser machine that could open any door anywhere so he opened up Shaq's locker. He took a pair of shoes out that he'd left there and gave them to me to bring home. So that night I was just running around backstage with this gigantic shoe just on cloud nine. I live in LA now so at this point in the game to play to a sell out crowd in the Staple Center felt awfully good. I was feeling pretty high that night.
That was a huge crowd. It was pretty remarkable. I said to Neal if only every one of them would finally get off their ass and buy a new record.
Well yeah, but we didn't have a new record then, so we're hoping that some of those people that saw us will hear this new record on the radio and who knows? Maybe we'll turn some people on who saw us back in that 2002.
Absolutely, great stuff, anything else that you'd like to add in?
I think you've covered it Andrew. You've pretty much got it down. Like I say, were rearing to get down there to Australia. Like I said, Dave Amato played guitar for Jimmy Barnes down there and he said 'You haven't really experienced it, I can't describe to you what it's like to play rock 'n roll music in Australia, you've gotta just go down there and do it.' That got my appetite whet man and I'm really looking forward to getting down there. I hope we do, and if we do we'll have to hang out back stage and have a beer together.
Well that sounds good and if there's anything I can do to help make that happen then give me a shout.
Alright Andrew, that sounds good buddy.