Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009 | 12:17 p.m.
“If the van be ‘a rockin’ then don’t come a-knockin,'" to play off a famous saying – yet if the van is Foreigner’s tour bus and the rockin’ relates to the music emanating from within, don’t run off too soon.
If you do, you might miss an impromptu recording session from one of the most legendary and enduring bands of our time.
Foreigner recorded much of its new album, “Can’t Slow Down,” whenever and wherever the mood hit them – including on the band's tour bus.
“We recorded this album in all sorts of different places, in a couple of home studios, in a hotel suite in New York City, on the road, on buses, in hotel rooms on the road …” guitarist and founding band member Mick Jones said.
“I started to get really claustrophobic working in studios and spending that much time in a dark sort of environment,” he said.
And thanks to modern technology, virtually any space can be transformed into a top-notch recording studio.
“That’s the thing: These days you don’t really need to be in the studio,” he said. “You cut the drums in the studio and then a lot of the rest … you can pretty much do anywhere.”
Unbeknownst to passers-by, he said the band laid down several tracks on their tour bus as it sat in decidedly unglamorous parking lots across the country.
“It’s kind of fun doing it that way,” Jones said. “You think, ‘Wow, I wonder if people walking by know what’s going on in here’.”
Jones is the only original Foreigner band member remaining in the current line-up. The group, which he helped co-found back in the mid-’70s, has undergone many changes over the years.
However, instead of making him lose touch with what Foreigner was all about when he and the others first set out in 1976, Jones contends that the new band members have breathed new life into the group.
“The new blood in the band really has made it very much more of an impressive live show,” he said.
The newbies Jones speaks of are the group’s not-so-new-anymore singer, Kelly Hansen, who joined Foreigner in 2005; bassist Jeff Pilson, who joined the fold the year before; drummer Brian Tichy, who first came on board in 1998; guitar/sax/flute utility musician Thom Gimbel, who’s played with them, on and off, since 1993, and keyboard and synth man Michael Bluestein, who rounded out the ensemble last year.
“With the band as it is at the moment, the songs have a new energy,” Jones said.
The re-energized super group will take to the stage tonight at Buffalo Bill’s Star of the Desert Arena in Primm.
Jones said he was looking forward to the show, as he does every stop along the tour.
“I really can say, quite honestly, that I’m having more fun than I can remember having for many years, right back to the beginning,” he said.
Despite playing in the same band for more than 30 years now, the guitarist isn’t looking to step down – or even slow down – any time soon.
“They may have to carry me off that stage, eventually,” he joked while talking on the phone from his hotel room in Atlanta. “I just take it as it comes and as long as I’m feeling good and healthy and somewhat trendy, then, why not?”
While he’s feeling good about things now, he admits he wasn’t always so optimistic.
“If you told me I’d have been working onstage at this stage in my life I would have thought you were crazy but … it keeps me going, keeps me young, keeps me in touch with everything,” he said. “I’m a happy man.”
In terms of the music, he said he wasn’t sick of any of that, either. Not even singles that he’s played countless times, like 1984’s “I Want to Know What Love Is," 1981’s “Urgent,” or the 1978 smash hits "Hot Blooded" or “Double Vision” bore him.
“If you would’ve asked me that 10 years ago, I probably would’ve had a number of them but these days, with the new vitality in the band, I’m still enjoying that,” he said.
“The songs seem to have stood the test of time in a way, and the way the audience responds to them still is kind of exciting,” he added.
In addition to the array of hits in Foreigner’s retrospective, the band added 13 new tracks to its repertoire when it released its latest record.
Jones admits this presents somewhat of a problem when it comes time to figure out what songs to play each night.
“We have difficulty in deciding which ones to play and which ones to leave out even now,” he said.
Rather than take anything out, however, he said they would probably just add the new tracks to the collection of songs the band usually plays during live shows.
“We probably won’t take anything out of the set,” he said. “You’ll just get a few of the new ones on top of it.”
He said fans could look forward to a good-sounding rock show at the Star of the Desert Arena tonight – but they shouldn’t expect a big spectacle along with it.
“It’s not a huge, elaborate production with thousands of lights or anything like that,” he stated flatly. “It’s pretty much a rock show. … We don’t have to worry about much else except just playing.”
And when the band is able to focus on music, the result is a spot-on night of tight rock ‘n’ roll.
“I think if you close your eyes you’d probably think you were listening to a record,” he said.
In addition to the concert, the band is looking to shoot a new music video while they’re in Southern Nevada.
“We were pretty much a hold-out in the beginning of videos,” Jones admitted. “(When we released our) first four albums MTV wasn’t around so over the years we’ve probably done not very many, I’d say 10 to 15. “
The soon-to-be-shot footage would be used in the video for their single, “When it Comes to Love.”
“There’s no mention of the desert in the song but it seems to fit with the sentiment,” Jones said. “It’s about regret from a love, a romance that didn’t work out in the end.”
“We’re going to use some of the locations around Vegas and do some live shooting from the show so everybody should kind of get dressed up,” he said.
In addition to the concert footage, he said the director hopes to capture desert landscapes, as well as footage that would be shot inside a motel room (“not that kind of movie,” Jones is careful to add) and out on the highway.
He said the whole process – the tour, the single and the new record – is thrilling.
“It’s the first album from Foreigner, the first new album, for quite a few years so it’s quite exciting,” the 64-year-old said.
The three-disc album, which, for the time being, is available exclusively from Walmart, includes the new record, a disc of remastered tracks, and a live concert DVD.
“It’s a very inexpensive Christmas gift,” he observed, half mocking himself as he shamelessly plugged away. “I suggest people hurry on down to their local Walmart and pick it up.”
The second disc of remastered songs was mixed using the original tapes of the recordings.
“That kind of brings out a new kind of dynamic to the old songs and they sounds really punchy,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, the third disc, the DVD, includes footage captured ear at one of their European concerts as well as some nuggets from behind-the-scenes.
“All together it’s a pretty cool little package,” Jones said.
Melissa Arseniuk writes about Las Vegas entertainment and celebrity events. She can be reached at 702-948-7823 or by e-mail at [email protected].