T&N – Into The Fire Yet Again
In early 2011, guitarist George Lynch contacted erstwhile Dokken bandmate Jeff Pilson with the express purpose of co-authoring material for a future Lynch Mob album. Jeff agreed to participate, and so the two began to pen tracks, “very quickly” composing an entire album’s worth of material. Recording subsequently took place, Brian Tichy (Whitesnake / ex-Ozzy Osbourne / ex-Foreigner) stepping behind the drumkit. For various reasons however, the material wasn’t used to form a Lynch Mob effort. “It made sense to have Brian Tichy play on all of the new stuff because he played drums for Lynch Mob,” notes Jeff Pilson, vocalist and bassist for T&N. “Plus, we love Brian’s drumming; he’s a brilliant drummer, and a brilliant musician. To have him on the tracks was wonderful. We recorded the drums in his studio, so it was a win-win for us there. We had this record sitting there, and then it was Brian’s idea to get Mick Brown to do the Dokken tracks to make it interesting and spice it up a little bit, to give it a little variation and not to keep things so predictable.
“Brian suggested ‘Hey, why don’t you finish these songs and then get Mick to re-record a bunch of Dokken songs? You can call it…’ He suggested we call it Tooth And Nail after one of our records, but we were asked not to use that by a party. Instead, we chose initials that might have nothing to do with that album, but just coincidentally happen to have the same initials (laughs). That became T&N. We got Mick, recorded it, and got guest vocalists. Everything came together very quickly.”
Sophomore Dokken studio full-length Tooth And Nail (September 1984) holds a special place in Dokken’s history. “There is a real spirit that happened on the Tooth And Nail record, and I think that spirit kind of carries through to this day,” the rhythmist enthuses. “When we first met George and I started writing together, but then on the road when we were on our very first tour – the Breaking The Chains Tour – we used to practice stuff in our hotel. We’d write, and then when we got back home we spent a month essentially at George’s house writing what became the Tooth And Nail record. Don wrote some of it, but we wrote most of it in this period of about a month. I think that’s when we really, really got the bond going that we have to this day. At the time Mick Brown was actually living at that house, so he would come in late at night, hear what we were doing, and throw in his two cents’ worth. It was just a great writing situation. So yeah, what can I say? That’s where the foundation of the band really took root.”
T&N consists of the classic Dokken line-up in short, albeit minus vocalist Don Dokken. “That’s accurate in one sense,” Jeff observes. “The Dokken re-recordings are the three of us – George, Mick, and myself – and that is the core of that. We have guest singers to make it interesting, but it’s a multi-formatted band. We also have George, Brian Tichy and I doing the new stuff with new singing. The object of T&N was to be a creative outlet that was pure enjoyment, and we are hoping fans will like it too. They seem to be, which is making us very, very happy. Like I say though, the emphasis was on making it a creative outlet and a chance for the two of us or the three of us – whether it be Brian or Mick – to be able to work together. So to that end, there is no constraint to what T&N is, and that’s a beautiful thing for us. We can bring in guest singers, we can sing it ourselves, we can write with other people – it doesn’t really matter. There are no limits, and when you have a creative outlet I think that’s the way to go.”
Mick Brown and Brian Tichy each possess individual idiosyncrasies. “I think Mick comes from little more of a basic oriented approach,” the singer critiques. “Mick is almost all about the groove; he is so totally into the groove, and he does it wonderfully. He just has a great groove to play along with. He’s got plenty of chop, but his primary interest is in the groove. With Brian, Brian is just explosively creative. He’s got all facets of ability; he can do anything on the drums. He has a great groove as well, but with him there are all sorts of twists and turns. He’s really capable of doing some creative things with the drums, which is because he’s such a phenomenal musician. They’re both phenomenal musicians, and phenomenal drummers. Like I say, it just worked out the way it did. We’re real, real happy with the results though, and we seem to be getting good feedback. I think we did something right.”
Whether Mick Brown or Brian Tichy will occupy the drum stool for future T&N outings is currently uncertain. “Who knows?,” Jeff ponders. “That’s the thing; we can do either. If we were to tour I think we would probably like to use Mick first just to keep the Dokken connection alive, but you never know. We might use Brian. Who knows? That’s why I say the beautiful thing about T&N is that anything goes. There are a lot of possibilities there; it’s gonna keep it fresh for us and interesting for a very long time.”
As T&N’s formation crystallised, the four-stringer stepped behind the microphone stand. “There were never going to be auditions,” he clarifies. “Like I say, it was originally going to be a Lynch Mob record, and so Oni Logan would’ve been singing on the material. When we then decided to make it our own thing – which became T&N – we always knew that I would sing the new stuff. That doesn’t mean that somewhere down the line we couldn’t have somebody else singing songs as well. We loved having guest vocalists on the Dokken songs. It was really fun. Again, you just never know.”
Press releases fail to mention that Jeff handles vocals on October 2012 T&N debut Slave To The Empire for the most part, Jeff’s vocal contributions arguably left low-key. “I don’t think it was left deliberately low-key,” he counters. “I wasn’t aware that it was so hard to find that out (laughs)… Wow, that’s interesting… No, it wasn’t as far as I’m concerned… Maybe someone else made it low-key (laughs)… But no, I’m very proud of myself on this record. I wouldn’t be low-key about it.”
An extremely melodic frontman, Jeff has an affinity for bluesy material. “I really come from that,” he shares. “I think in a sense, I sort of combine the blues element of a lot of bluesier rock singers with the melodic sense of coming from a Beatles background – I love The Beatles. I think I fuse the two. At least that’s what I attempt to do, because that’s my personal taste. I try to do what I feel strongest about. Kind of a hybrid is how I view myself.”
Largely a bassist throughout his career, Jeff simply views himself as a musician. “I don’t look at classifications as much,” he emphasises. “You have specific functions that you do. When I’m playing with Foreigner I’m pretty much a bass player, but I get to do a lot of arranging in that band and I sing a lot of background vocals. It’s not about being one thing, so I don’t really see myself as one thing. I see myself as a multi-tasking musician, and that’s kind of how I approach music anyway. When I play bass, I kind of try to play not because I want to be the most well-known bass player in the world. I just want to play the right part for the song, so it’s a very holistic approach is how I try to put it. What’s most natural for me is to be in a situation where whatever’s called for is what I do. If I have to sing, I’m up for singing. If it’s playing bass, I’m up for playing bass. I feel pretty natural doing just about anything, so there is no singular comfort zone.”
Of Slave To The Empire’s 12 tracks, seven are original compositions. “I would just describe them as very melodic hard rock, and not too dissimilar from where we were coming from with Dokken as far as being a melodic hard rock band,” the vocalist judges. “There are some slightly modern elements to it, but mostly it’s pretty straight ahead melodic hard rock.”
Slave To The Empire’s “main message was to address all of the inequality in the world. There’s a lot of wealth being accumulated by a very small amount of people, and it’s getting more and more that way. We see that as being dangerous for one thing, and unfair on the other side. We’re trying to have a very human element to what we’re saying, and we just want people to be awake so they can participate in their own destinies. Let’s turn things around a bit; let’s make things not quite so skewed towards a very few people. The only way to do that is making people aware, and not letting them be asleep at the wheel.”
Of Slave To The Empire’s cuts, ‘When Eagles Die’ is the rhythmist’s favourite. “That’s a single favourite, but it’s a little bit like asking which child you like the most,” he chuckles. “They’re still pretty new, so I’m still pretty excited about them. I think if I had to single one out though, I would say ‘When Eagles Die’. George’s solo on that is just so great, and I love all of the textures involved. It’s a little musical journey, which was real fun for us. I felt very cleansed after we wrote that one.”
Although five Dokken re-recordings appear on the full-length in all 12 were laid down, the 12 arguably comprising Dokken’s greatest hits. The five which appear on Slave To The Empire are ‘Tooth And Nail’, ‘It’s Not Love’, ‘Alone Again’, ‘Kiss Of Death’, and ‘Into The Fire’, the first four including guest vocalists. The guest vocalists in question are King’s X’s Doug Pinnick (‘Tooth And Nail’), Warrant / ex-Lynch Mob member Robert Mason (‘It’s Not Love’), ex-Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach (‘Alone Again’), and erstwhile Judas Priest alumnus Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens (‘Kiss Of Death’).
“We just contacted people whose voices we loved and whose work we loved, and that we thought would be really appropriate for the Dokken material and would bring something interesting,” Jeff explains. “The way we chose the five that we did was we talked to the singers, and told them what songs were available. We let them decide what they wanted to sing, and that narrowed it down to the five. The other seven we’ll hopefully put on record number two. I can tell you Mick Brown sang a version of ‘When Heaven Comes Down’ that’s gonna come out on the next record, and that is absolutely amazing. He just did a fabulous job on the song, so that’s one.
“The others you could probably pretty much imagine, because we pretty much chose the obvious 12 that you would choose I believe. We couldn’t be happier. We got an interesting range of singers on this record who all did an incredible job. Like I say, I’m very, very pleased with the results. Hopefully we’ll get some guest singers on the second as well. I think it’s gonna be real fun.”
To date, no material has been written in preparation for a second T&N studio outing. A tentative date of issue isn’t currently scheduled either. “We’re still promoting this one,” the singer laughs. “We’re definitely gonna do one, but we haven’t actually sat down to write anything new for it yet. There are a couple of leftover things from the last record, but knowing us, writing has never been a problem for us. The quantity of material has never been a problem, so my guess is that we probably won’t revisit any of the ones that we didn’t use last time. We’ll probably just write new stuff, but having said that, there are a few little ideas on there that I could see us finishing off. We actually had a couple of finished songs that we didn’t use though, and I don’t see us using those.”
Jeff really hopes that Glenn Hughes (Black Country Communion / ex-Deep Purple / ex-Trapeze) will guest on T&N’s sophomore release. “He’s my favourite singer in the world,” he beams. “That would be great. Other than that, we’ll have to see. We’re thinking we might find somebody in a younger band to tie together the two generations, because there are a lot of younger bands that are into the whole Dokken kind of sound now – at least they are influenced by it. We’d love to find somebody from that that could step up and deliver nicely on one of these songs.”
T&N harbour aspirations to be a touring outfit. “Originally we hoped to be touring in November and December, but for various reasons that didn’t really happen,” the four-stringer laments. “There aren’t any plans at the moment. What we’re hoping to do is to be able to do it for the next record, whenever that may be. In the meantime though, we have a couple of unplugged situations that we’re gonna do on TV and radio. We’re gonna be on Rockline on December 12th, which I’m pretty sure is available over the internet, and we’re gonna play a couple of unplugged songs for that. That is probably the principle way we’ll be playing live until the next record, but we would definitely love to tour the next record. That’s the plan.”
Jeff views T&N as more of a long-term venture. “Like I say, that’s the beautiful thing about it,” he reiterates. “It doesn’t have limits to it. George and I have been friends and worked together for almost 30 years, so that’s not going anywhere. With Mick Brown, the same thing. Brian Tichy, I’ve been working with him for a long time now. We have great relationships amongst ourselves, and again, the objective of T&N is to be a creative outlet. Why wouldn’t we continue this for as long as we possibly can?”
T&N aside, the frontman has other musical endeavours in the pipeline. “I’ve been not directly producing but dealing with the people in the group Benedictum who have a record coming out, and I’m trying to do some writing with them,” he reveals. “I just produced a record for Steven Adler and his band which is called Adler, and that will be coming out sometime in 2013. It’s a friggin’ great record. Steven is playing amazingly; he’s got an amazing band around him with a fabulous singer and guitar player who are just really, really great. That record’s called Back From The Dead, and I’m very, very excited about that.
“They just got done doing the Kiss Kruise in the Bahamas. They actually ended up being in Mexico, but my wife and I went along. It was really fun watching the band play some of their first shows live. It’s great, so 2013 is gonna be a good year for Adler as well. I’m actually producing a Starship record which is gonna come out probably late spring 2013, and then hopefully another T&N record. I’m also gonna be doing a full year of touring with Foreigner in 2013, that’s for sure. Lots of stuff on the plate.”
Foreigner have no recording plans “in the immediate future. We did just record a live unplugged show at the GRAMMY Museum (on October 30th, 2012), which was a great show. It was actually aired live on AXS TV. We recorded and filmed it, and it was a really magical show. My guess is that something will happen with that in the next year because like I say, it was a really special night. I’d love to see that happen, but other than that, there are a couple of little ideas for Foreigner that haven’t really germinated yet. I probably shouldn’t tell you anything, but we’ve got some interesting ideas for 2013.”
In various interviews, Dokken mainman Don Dokken has confirmed that 11th studio platter Broken Bones – issued September 2012 – will be the group’s swansong studio effort. “If Don isn’t inspired to do another record, he shouldn’t,” Jeff agrees. “I’m glad he’s opting out rather than forcing himself to do a record if he doesn’t feel it. You’ve got to respect somebody who does that. He sounds like he’s got some other interesting things going on. I believe he’s working with Michael Schenker on something, so I can totally understand him wanting to try something different at this point. I completely support him in that. There’s a part of all of us where you’d hate to see Dokken go away, but I don’t think it ever will. I think it’ll always kind of be in people’s hearts and minds to whatever degree, so I applaud Don wanting to try something creatively different.”
The bassist has heard parts of Broken Bones. “I heard the song that they have a video for (‘Empire’) and a couple of snippets of other things, yeah,” he confirms. “I thought the song that they did a video for was really good, yeah.”
George Lynch and Don Dokken sadly have an acrimonious relationship. “Sure, there are reasons they don’t get along,” Jeff divulges. “I could go into all sorts of psychological explanations for why. Things have happened over the years (laughs). We were kind of a volatile band for many years – there was a lot of stuff going on. The easiest way to sum it up is just egos. I think it was just a battle of egos all of the way through. Sometimes George says things that he shouldn’t say, but he’s pretty much a from the heart kind of guy and he pretty much means what he says. He says things sincerely which people don’t get, and that’s the problem sometimes (laughs). Overall though, he’s a very from the heart kind of guy. It’s a shame that they don’t get along, but I think a lot of that has kind of dissipated over the years. I think they get along better than people realise now.”
Nonetheless, a reunion of Dokken’s classic line-up cannot be ruled out. “It’s always a possibility, but timing and scheduling has been really tricky for T&N as it is,” the vocalist cautions. “We’d love to tour this thing, but certainly my commitments with Foreigner make it very difficult trying to tour. That was kind of the case the last time we tried to do a Dokken reunion; I just wasn’t able to devote the time to it that would’ve been necessary, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. You never know. If we were to do Dokken it would be a fairly intensive commitment though, and I just don’t see that happening right away.”
George’s and Don’s relationship isn’t an obstacle, Jeff feels. “If they were in a room together right now, they’d laugh and it’d be fine,” he adds. “I won’t say that there haven’t been some hiccups in the last couple of years (laughs). There have been a couple of times when things have been bad, but the last I heard they were fine with one another. I think they even spoke not that long ago, and it was fine.”
Slave To The Empire was released on October 31st through Rat Pak Records.
Interview published in November 2012