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INTERVIEW: GREG KIHN – May 2017

According to a recent press release: “NBC called Greg Kihn ‘Rock’s True Renaissance Man.’ His career stretches from the dawn of punk and indie rock to the discos of the 80’s to the glory days of MTV. As a pioneer with the legendary Beserkley Records, he helped write the book on revolutionary west coast rock and roll. He’s toured the world, had hit records, appeared on Saturday Night Live and American Bandstand, opened for the Rolling Stones, jammed with Bruce Springsteen, won the ASCAP and Midem Awards for his worldwide #1 hit “JEOPARDY” and “THE BREAKUP SONG,” was parodied by Weird Al Yankovic, lived the rock star lifestyle to the hilt, won and lost several fortunes, and lived to tell about it. But music is only part of the story.”  With a new disc recently released, we grabbed a little time from Greg to discuss the new material, his influences, his ego, and much more…

Toddstar: Awesome. Thank you so much for taking time out for us. We really appreciate it.

Greg: It comes with the turf, and I don’t mind it at all.

Toddstar: Listen, let’s jump right into the fun stuff. Greg Kihn, the Greg Kihn Band has a new album out, Rekihndled.

Greg: Yeah.

Toddstar: I’ve had the pleasure of listening through this thing. What can you tell us about this disc that a Greg Kihn fan might not grab the first or second time listening through it?

Greg: I think that most people would be aware that this was written the same way that all the great classic Greg Kihn albums were written. In other words, they were very quickly written. We didn’t slave over the arrangements or anything. It really was very organic. A lot of these songs, they kind of wrote themselves. We come into the studio with an idea, and by two or three o’clock that afternoon we already finished the idea and moved on. So it’s been a great creative experience.

Toddstar: Looking over the tracklist, like you said, they’re recorded in the same way, but you get songs like “Big Pink Flamingo” and “Brain Police” and these sound like they could’ve been ripped from any Greg Kihn album. How is it you stayed so consistent sonically with, let’s just say, more than 30 years in the hole so to speak?

Greg: I don’t know how I consistently maintain that same voice because really all of the songs have always been written the same way, with the organic way of writing songs. If a song is struggling and it doesn’t want to come out, I don’t force it. I just put it back on the shelf for a while and come back to it later. Whereas when I get an idea like, for instance, right now, today, when I leave with you today I’m driving down to the recording studio. We’re going to do a day’s worth of recording, which is our first day into the new album. Here I am, I got three half-assed song ideas, but I know when I get in there with the other guys I’m going to start kicking them around and they’re going to fill in the blanks so to speak. McCartney and Lennon always could write each other’s bridges, and that’s kind of what we’re talking about here.

Toddstar: You talk about having to shelve songs that maybe don’t come out right away or don’t come out the way you want them to as you’re going through the artistic process. Going over the list of tracks on Rekihndled, are there any songs on there that really fought you tooth and nail and you had to shelve a couple times before they came out the way you wanted them?

Greg: The ones that were somewhat autobiographical were a little more difficult than the easy ones, like songs like “Anthem” and “The Life I Got,” and also “It’s Never Too Late,” which is kind of topical, which is really different for me. Some songs like “Trained Monkey” are very autobiographical, and some of them, like “Pink Flamingos” are more like fiction. I got to tell you, that was my favorite song on the album to work on – “Pink Flamingos” because we walked into the studio, and Ry was showing me his guitar riff. I said, “You know, it’d be really nice if we could write a song like Fleetwood Mac, like “Oh Well,” or “Black Dog” by Zeppelin, where it stops and you sing and then starts and you don’t sing.” Yeah, that would be exactly right. So he comes up with a riff for “Pink Flamingos,” which is perfect. I just started singing out of the clear blue sky “Big Pink Flamingos”. It just happened. Of course, as soon as we started writing that song, it wrote itself like in 10 minutes. It was amazing.

Toddstar: I can only imagine. It’s one of my favorites on the disc as well. One that really jumped out to me was “Cassandra.” It’s almost like you put your Ramones hat on.

Greg: Yeah, I did kind of. That was the only song that I wrote on the album completely alone. I had been driving down to the studio just like I’m going to drive down there in about a half an hour, and I was driving down there and I had written this song in my head in the car. I could just hear it. When I got down there, I whipped out a guitar, and I said, “Check this out,” and I started playing “Cassandra.” Those guys really liked it. They said, “Well, nobody else wrote it except you. You were the only guy in the car.” Actually that is now the third single on the album right now and probably one of the more autobiographical songs as well.

Toddstar: Most people when they hear Greg Kihn, they think of everything you’ve done. You’ve been a deejay, you’ve been an author, but you get somebody my age and they remember “The Breakup Song,” they remember “Jeopardy,” things like that. You kind of helped launch the whole MTV thing, and now you’re in a whole different game now where there’s downloading and everything else, and not everybody will run out and buy that piece of vinyl. How do you think something like that has affected how you approach the writing and artistic process when you’re getting ready to release material, Greg?

Greg: That’s a good question. I have always tried to work quickly. When we go in the studio, I don’t like to spend hours and hours working on one song. I’ll go in there, we’ll kick around a couple of songs, and the ones that are closest to being perfect we’ll do right away. The ones that got to be rewritten have to be rewritten on another day. If I think there’s something autobiographical in the song, it makes me want to sing it and play it sooner. You know what I mean? I don’t want it to be sitting around on the desk for a long time. I feel like I’ve been so… what’s the word I’m looking for? I’ve been, not busy, I’ve been… whatever it is, it means busy. I feel like I wrote that song, I wrote the entire album as a kind of an afterthought. It was real easy. I have a theory about that because I think songs that are easy to write are the better songs. They write themselves, like “Pink Flamingos” or like “Cassandra,” and then some of the other ones, like let’s see, “Tell Me Something Good” is a good example. “Anthem” is a good example. They’re songs that are more autobiographical. Yeah, there’s a way that I approach the autographical songs and there’s a way that I approach just fun songs. “Big Pink Flamingos” is just a fun song. There’s no message there. You just enjoy it. I think that’s the main difference between the songs. I’ve always written the songs the same way. I haven’t changed. I still have a notebook and ideas, but it’s amazing. Sometimes the magic really works great. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all.

Toddstar: You’ve done a lot of albums over the last 40 plus years.

Greg: Oh, man. Tell me about it.

Toddstar: With everything said and done, was there ever a collaborator you wanted to come in and just do something with? Is there someone on your wish list that you would like to write with or record with?

Greg: That’s another good question. I guess I would’ve always wished I could’ve written with John Lennon. He was a great songwriter, or Bob Dylan, but then again, I’m the kind of songwriter, I don’t think I can work with other people. I really do. I think I got to be alone in the forest or I won’t be able to make a sound. I guess it’s just me, but as I said, sometimes the music really works and sometimes it just doesn’t. Your job is to be there when it works.

Toddstar: Again, you’ve written short stories, you’ve written books, you’ve written screenplays. You’ve been a recording artist, and you’ve been a deejay. If you hadn’t been a musician, Greg, what was the original life path for you?

Greg: Probably would’ve been a deejay. When I was a kid I had a one of these little Wollensak tape recorders. It was a reel-to-reel, three-inch reels. You remember those? Me and my cousin used to make funny radio shows, parodies and so forth. I just used to love it. We’d play on that tape recorder for hours and make up silly shows and so forth. I would imagine that I would’ve one way or another found myself in broadcasting.

Toddstar: Everything said and done, do you think that there’s another “Jeopardy” inside you? Is there another song that is just ready to kill the airwaves with the condition of modern radio.

Greg: Yeah, I really feel like that, and they’re always just around the corner. You know what I mean? They’re just out of reach. I think there’s another “Jeopardy.” In fact, I might be recording it today. I got two songs I’m bringing into the studio today, and they both have that immortal quality where it just goes on and on forever. You never know. I’m always looking out for that next “Jeopardy” or that next “The Breakup Song,” and I do in my heart feel that it’s out there just waiting to come in.

Toddstar: As a fan of your music, it’s good to see that you’re still out there because so many of the artists, especially hit it in the early ’80s thanks to their music and the introduction of MTV, they would have their one big or two big or 10 big hits and just fade out. What was it in you that made you stay the course and keep doing this?

Greg: I’ll tell you – it was fun. That’s why. I stayed with it because it was a lot of fun. When MTV came along and everybody was making fake live videos, we started doing concept videos. They told stories. We were among the first to do it, and everybody started copying us, and then suddenly every video was like that. It was kind of weird because the ones that would just go by the wayside, you’d throw them right out the car window and they would just rot on the side of the highway. I think that I was always lucky as a songwriter. Usually the musical paths that I would go down always worked, and I felt like I was a songwriter, and I always have felt like that. I’m a professional songwriter, and I can write a song about anything, just give me a minute. The way that the songs came out was organic, so really it was easy. There was no part that was not easy. I love writing songs. I love making albums, and I love playing gigs. I love being on the radio. If you’ve got an ego, nothing beats talking on the radio. It’s great. Then writing and literary pursuits and so forth, it’s all the same muscle. In your mind, it’s still that creative muscle. It’s up there waiting for you to exercise it, but it is pretty amazing. The great songs use that part of the brain.

Toddstar: Greg, looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would just like a do-over on?

Greg: Oh, yeah. There was a ton of do-overs, oh yeah. Back in the ’80s when we were on the road constantly, we did tours with Journey, we played with the Stones, and we played with all of the big bands of our generation. We were the opening band for them, so we used to go out and play giant venues like Madison Square Garden as an opening band. It was quite a lesson. You’d go out there and do what you thought was a great show, and people are like ho humming, and then you go out and you do what you thought was an average show and people go crazy. I think I was just lucky that all the buttons that I pushed were the right ones, and I’ve always been partial to writing songs. That’s always been one of my favorite things to do.

Toddstar: I know you need to go over to the studio, so I’ve got one more for you, Greg. If you could magically go back in time and be part of a recording session for any one record in history, what record would that be and why?

Greg: That record would be “Please Please Me” by the Beatles at Abbey Road, and why would be because you had the brain trust in the Beatles right there, all four Beatles and George Martin. If you’ll remember correctly, they messed around with a song. They did it slow, they did it fast. Then at one point John whipped out the harmonica, and after he played the song on the harmonica, George Martin said, “Boys, you’ve just recorded your first number one record.” It came out the next day, and by golly it was their first one, number one record. I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall at that one.

Toddstar: You know, I’ll be honest – with your writing, I would’ve guessed Rubber Soul.

Greg: Rubber was good. That would’ve been up there. Hey, how would you like to be around when Bob Dylan was writing “Hard Rains Gonna Fall” or some of the great songs? I was a folky when I first started, so my first influence was Bob Dylan. I wanted to be a songwriter like Bob Dylan. I did, I wrote horrible songs, but you know what, as the years went by they got better and better, and now I’m a really decent songwriter.

Toddstar: You’ve got top 10 hits to prove it, Greg.

Greg: Hey, man, that’s luck. That was pure luck.

Toddstar: Again, I really appreciate you taking time out for us. I hope when you get in that studio you create that new “Jeopardy” for yourself, put yourself back in that limelight. But better than that, I hope you put some more tunes out there that are just as good as songs like “I Wrote the Book” and “Cassandra” off of Rekihndled.

Greg: Thank you very much because I feel like that album really speaks for me. It is autobiographical and I feel proud about it. It’s a good album. Yeah, we’re going to go in and do another one right now.

Toddstar: Awesome. Can’t wait to hear that one.

Greg: All right, man.

 

GREG KIHN LINKS:

OFFICIAL SITE

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

INTERVIEW: GREG KIHN - May 2017

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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