(Still) Hot Blooded: A Conversation With Foreigner’s Jeff Pilson

Foreigner bassist Jeff Pilson is a “what you see is what you get” type of a guy. When talking to him, he’s funny, quick-witted, and honest with his assessments. There are seemingly no dents in his public persona armor, and why should there be? He’s happy and rocking. Life is good.

Pilson and his Foreigner bandmates, which include founding member/songwriter/guitarist Mick Jones and ex-Hurricane vocalist Kelly Hansen, have been touring with regularity in recent years, delivering classic rock staples “Hot Blooded,” “Dirty White Boy,” “Cold As Ice,” and many more instantly recognizable songs to audiences across the world.

More than 40 years in, Foreigner is still as viable as ever. The secret to the band’s continued success is simple, said Pilson.

“It’s the great songs, and the great music,” said Pilson, who joined the band in 2004. “They did everything right. They made music that resonated with people, and still does, to this day. No one can deny the power of Lou Gramm’s (original vocalist) voice, or the power of Mick and Lou’s songs. It’s all high quality.”

Central Iowans can catch the band’s infectous brand of melodic rock n’ roll at the Iowa State Fair this Thursday, Aug. 15. Night Ranger open the show.

ListenIowa caught up with Pilson recently to talk about his time in Foreigner, his work on outside projects, and the chances of an all-original Dokken lineup convening to record one more studio album.

It’s been a decade-and-a-half since you joined Foreigner. Does it seem like it’s been that long?
When I think about the memories and the things it does add up. But it’s gone by quite quickly.

What has playing alongside Mick Jones every night taught you? He’s a fantastic songwriter with an ear for melody.
He’s a great musician. We have a chemistry with each other and are seemingly able to read each other’s minds. But the thing that really stands out are his standards. They are so high. He doesn’t compromise the standards, and he does whatever it takes until it’s great. I love that about him. I really admire that. He isn’t worried about how long it takes to get there. He wants to do it right.

Having Kelly Hansen as your frontman must help, too.
I think he’s the best frontman in rock right now. I really do. It makes us really strong and a force to be dealt with playing live, no doubt about it.

How long do you see this incarnation of Foreigner going? Has Mick given any indication as to how long he’d like to continue?
Mick says he has no plans to retire, becaue this is what he does. He’s a musician. He likes to play. It probably goes as long as Kelly wants to sing. He certainly hasn’t lost a step yet. I used to try to gauge how long this was going to go, but I’ve given up doing that. We just keep going.

Foreigner announced a Vegas residency recently, too, which has to be exciting.
Yeah, that’s very exicting. Hopefully we will get to reach some fans that wouldn’t ordinarily get to see us. People who wouldn’t get to go to concerts in their hometown, but they’re there in Vegas and go, “Hey, let’s go see a Foreigner show.” Hopefully we’ll reach a wider audience that way. We’re really looking forward to that.

What does a Foreigner live show audience look like these days?
I’m seeing a mix. A lot of young people are being exposed to us these days because of things like “American Idol” and “Glee.” In “Stranger Things,” they just played “Hot Blooded.” So we get a lot of exposure out of a lot of territory, which is great. There are the die-hards who have been with us a long time, which is great, but we are seeing some new faces, which is cool.

People have given you credit, too, for breathing some life back into the band with your energy on the stage. As the years go on, do you find yourself having to take care of yourself more so that when it comes time for to hit that stage, you can still deliver?
Yeah, you definitely have to take care of yourself more now. That’s a big thing we do out on the road here. We have to eat right, we have to exercise, get the right sleep. It’s a big part of the day, just taking care of yourself so that you’re able to do that. But it’s good for you and healthy. I feel a responsibility, and I think we owe it to the fans to give them the best show possible, so I could never let myself go too far.

You’ve been involved in a number of side projects, including producing the last couple of Last In Line records.
Working with those guys was amazing. They pretty much cut the tracks old-school style — together — in my studio. I’d be there in the middle of it just to make sure we caught it right. I love those guys personally, I love the music, and I love their musicianship. Both records were truly inspired. Andrew Freeman is just a phenomenal singer. He brings so much to the table, both as a writer and as a singer. Last In Line is nothing but a joy to work with.

The last song on the first album, “The Sickness,” had a distinct Dokken-esque, “Back For The Attack” vibe to it. Did you notice that at all?
I didn’t, but we’re all kind of brothers in arms so it does makes sense, I suppose. (laughs)

And speaking of Dokken, you just recorded an album with three-quarters of your former Dokken bandmates and called it The End Machine. The only missing piece was Don (Dokken).
It was certainly a lot of fun. George (Lynch), Mick (Brown) and I have a chemistry that’s certainly undeniable. It’s hard for us not to enjoy playing together. We have this groove. We’re dear friends on a deep level, and there’s just a lot of love there. Great musicianship, too. Mick is really underrated as a musician. Robert Mason came is a great vocalist. He sang with Lynch Mob years ago, so there’s history there together. I got to work with him on a Warrant record a few years ago and came to realize what an incredible talent he is. He brings a lot to the table with writing, and he’s just able to sing anything with his voice. It’s just a monstrous voice. Having all that to work with was just so fun. We all felt so creative and inspired. I certainly hope there’s more to come from it. It was too much fun to not do again.

Does Mick’s recent retirement announcement have any effect on that?
I just saw Mick a couple of weeks ago, and he’s doing great. I think he needed to get off the road. It was grinding him down a lot. When I saw him, he looked and seemed better than he had in years. I don’t know whether it will have an effect on us doing another record or not. I haven’t gone into any detail with him about it. He doesn’t really want to do anything right now. We could do another The End Machine with another drummer, but I’d prefer to play with Mick. But who knows? We’ll see. But I think that affects Don’s Dokken more than it does The End Machine.

And speaking of Dokken, is there anything going on with regard to the original lineup getting together?
We all talk and all are on good terms. I think if the opportunity were right, we’d try to make something happen. The problem is schedules. To do it right, we’d have to dedicate the time, and I’m working way too much with Foreigner for that to happen right now. I do hope somewhere in there that we do get to make one last, great studio record, maybe a tour. But it’s just not going to happen right now.

If “Shadowlife” is the last full-length studio album from the original Dokken, are you OK with that?
Yeah, I am. I’m really glad we did the new track (“It’s Another Day”) on the live album a couple of years ago, but if that’s it, then, yeah, I’m OK with it. But I think we all kind of feel that there’s one great record left in there somewhere. Hopefully it will happen someday.

Foreigner/Night Ranger
Iowa State Fairgrounds
Thursday, Aug. 15, 8 p.m.
Tickets: www.iowastatefair.org