Interview with Jeff Pilson
of LYNCH / PILSON by Christopher J. Kelter
April 8, 2003
Dokken was one of my favorite bands while I was discovering hard rock and heavy metal in my teens during the '80s. Of all the hard rock and heavy metal bands that I listened to then, Dokken is one of the few bands that I still enjoy listening to today. And I especially thought that George Lynch and Jeff Pilson formed one of the better guitar/bass tandems that the genre offered. Fortunately for me, a few years ago I had the opportunity to interview George Lynch and his Lynch Mob bandmates during the tour for the "Smoke This" album. I was very excited to hear when George Lynch and Jeff Pilson decided to collaborate once again under the Lynch/Pilson moniker. And I found myself fortunate enough to have the opportunity to quiz Jeff Pilson on the latest incarnation of the George Lynch/Jeff Pilson creative process and Jeff's extensive musical career. Read on for Jeff Pilson's take on the Lynch/Pilson album "Wicked Underground" and his experiences in the hard rock and heavy metal business.
Rough Edge: I thought the split between you and George was a pretty broad chasm - how was it that you guys got back together to create music again?
Jeff Pilson: George's manager got in touch with me and asked me if I was interested in doing another record with him. I was a little hesitant because the split was kind of bad and we hadn't talked in four years. But I agreed to meet with George and talk about what he had in mind. Things went well and we decided to begin writing and the chemistry was there.
Rough Edge: I thought the job that you and George did on "Wicked Underground" was a good example of creating a lot of different sounds while working within a fairly defined range of musical ground. How did you guys achieve twelve catchy and recognizable songs? Was it a quick process or a long process?
Pilson: It was sort of a long process. Like I said earlier while we were writing it became obvious we had the same writing chemistry and soon realized it had gotten stronger. I think what made the Lynch/Pilson record so good was that we really had focus while working on it - there were few distractions. George and I just kept going until we were both happy. We weren't going to finish a track unless both of us were happy with it. So you could say it was conscientious song-writing and the ability to almost read each other's minds. It was fun to push George to make music that he's capable of making and that the fans want to hear.
Rough Edge: I've read in other media that your writing tends to be a little lighter in terms of mood and George's writing is a bit more aggressive and dark. How did the two of you find balance on the songs you wrote for "Wicked Underground"?
Pilson: Well, I don't think it's that black and white. What you've read, and I've seen myself, is someone's interpretation of something we probably did actually say. George is capable of writing lighter material and I'm certainly able to write aggressive material. In any case, I think it came down to the fact that we had similar tastes and shared a vision for "Wicked Underground." And because we didn't have competing interests we didn't get in each other's way. "Wicked Underground" was not a competition. Our time together making the album was about enhancing each other's strengths and trying to make something that would endure.
Rough Edge: I gather this wasn't your first time handling lead vocals. However, how was it taking the lead vocal duties for "Wicked Underground"?
Pilson: Well, certainly the Lynch/Pilson project will be my highest profile lead vocal experience for sure. I've always sung in bands and I did all the lead vocals for War & Peace so singing isn't a new experience for me. In fact, I learned a lot about singing by doing the lead vocals on the scratch tracks and demos for Dokken.
Rough Edge: I'm presuming you handled most of the lyrics for the songs on "Wicked Underground." What were your sources of inspiration while writing lyrics for the album?
Pilson: Actually, George and I pretty much split the lyric writing and it was very collaborative - just like the music. There might be a song or two where the lyrics are mostly mine, but not enough to make a big deal about it. What were my inspirations? I tried to make everything positive. The lyrics have a subtle spiritual overtone as they apply to everyday life.
Rough Edge: You and George handled the production on "Wicked Underground." How did your past production and non-production experiences weigh in on the new record?
Pilson: Everything I've ever experienced somehow plays into how I go about production and recording. I've learned about production in every way imaginable. I've learned from my mistakes and I've also learned simply by doing. I've got my own studio and I spend a lot of time working there trying to get better. With respect to "Wicked Underground" George and I were looking to make an honest record - something without studio trickery. We both wanted "Wicked Underground" to be sonically raw, but with enough production values to make the record have some depth.
Rough Edge: You've got an impressive resume: Dokken, Dio, War & Peace, Steel Dragon, tribute albums, Mousetrap, and now Lynch/Pilson. How do you look back on the last 20 years or so in your musical endeavors and the path your career has taken?
Pilson: Well, I'm beginning to think that the last three years working in the studio has meant a lot to my musical career even with all I've done over the last 20 years or so. Working in my own studio has been gratifying, but hasn't necessarily put me in the public eye. Everything I've done prior to that has been meaningful - learning from my time in Dio and my time in Dokken has meant a lot. But I'm really happy with the last three years or so in my own recording studio.
Rough Edge: Any thoughts on how your career will shape up for the next 20 years or so?
Pilson: I'll be happy if I can keep the positive feelings I've had the last three years by my continued work in production and recording.
Rough Edge: I'm particularly interested in your experience with Dio. What was the most positive thing you took from your time in Dio?
Pilson: Ronnie James Dio is the best band singer in the world. When you're in a band with a singer that is as good as Ronnie James Dio you learn a lot about how things are supposed to be done. It's not hard to be inspired when you see a guy like Ronnie James Dio singing his ass off every single night - you knew that each night was going to be special because he never let it be anything but special. And, because of that, Ronnie James Dio makes everyone around him better. All of Dio's bands have been great. When you see Ronnie James Dio giving 150% every night you can't help give 150% back - and what you give comes back to you at an even greater strength.
Rough Edge: Suffice to say being in Dio was like being in a symbiotic relationship where everybody's energy was feeding off each other.
Pilson: Absolutely. That left a very big impression on me. It's all about being honest and having that honesty with intensity. The emotions expressed need to be real. You can't be a poser and make a career in this business. Ronnie James Dio was all about honesty, intensity, and real emotions.
Rough Edge: It seems that over the last couple of years the '80s has been fairly prominent in various forms of media - some good, some bad. Going back to the movie "Rock Star," of which you were part, to the recent club disaster in Rhode Island. Why do you think the '80s hard rock and heavy metal sounds and cultural influences have stuck around, including all the good and bad stuff, for as long as it has?
Pilson: Everybody is impressionable at some point in their lives. That's what makes the connections so real. The '80s were fun and it was cool to be a part of it, but 10 years ago '80s music was so un-hip. Everybody who appreciated the '80s music scene began to appreciate it even more in the early '90s when it wasn't so hip anymore. Fans have had to work so hard to remain connected to the '80s music scene that it became even more special to them. People really wanted to be at the shows and you can tell the music really means something to them. Sometimes music is all about being a repository for positive feelings - and that's what entertainment is. Of course, the Internet has played a big part in keeping the scene alive and we're grateful for that.
Rough Edge: Are there any bands that have caught your ear recently? Anything worth turning our readers onto?
Pilson: Well, I guess we're all excited about the new Queensryche record, but that'll take awhile since they're only recording it now. I guess I really like the new Queens Of The Stone Age record - I've been playing that a lot lately.
Rough Edge: Will there be more L/P music/albums/etc. in the years to come?
Pilson: Assuming "Wicked Underground" is well-received there'll definitely be more material from us. However, if it doesn't strike a chord with anyone I think we're smart enough to walk away from it. George and I are certainly proud of our work on "Wicked Underground" and we hope to continue our collaboration.
Rough Edge: Thanks for you time and good luck in all your future endeavors.
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