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Cheap Trick is still "all alright" with new album: Q&A

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Friday, April 9, 2021

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Cheap Trick is one of that handful of bands whose name says it all.

Kicking around for nearly 50 years now, the quartet from Rockfield, Ill., has made a singular sound, straddling the worlds of power pop and hard rock with hits such as "Surrender," "I Want You to Want Me" and "Dream Police" but still able to turn out convincing ballads like "Voices" and "The Flame." Born from the same tradition as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who and the Kinks, it's a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band that knows its lane -- and, most importantly, knows how room it has to veer within it.

Cheap Trick's latest, "In Another World" (out Friday, April 9) hews to that tradition. Following the 2017 doubleheader of "We're All Alright!" and "Christmas Christmas," the 13-track set finds the group working with producer Julian Raymond for a sixth time, trying out a little blues with Wet Willie's Jimmy Hall on "Final Days" and cranking out a version of John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth" with the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones. It's another musical equivalent of comfy socks, and it's certainly proof that Cheap Trick -- and by extension rock 'n' roll itself -- is still all alright...

Is "In Another World" a Covid album in any way?

Rick Nielsen: Well, we started it at least two years ago, something like that, just doing a song at a time, and then before you knew it an album was getting ready. We changed labels and then the pandemic hit and we've been waiting for a year to put it out. So there you go.

When you're recording like that, at what point do you decide you have an album?

Nielsen: Once the sequencing is done, you see how it all fits together. We don't make, like, a single or whatever and hope the rest of it falls into place. We like it so that when you play the record and get to the end you feel like starting at the beginning again. That's when we kind of know it's (an album) for sure.

Have any of these songs been around?

Nielsen: "Summer Looks Good On You," 'cause we had that out as a single, without an album. We played that live a lot -- that's the only one we played live, I think, except we did "Gimme Some Truth" sometimes.

And very cool that the version on the album has Steve Jones as a guest.

Nielsen: Yeah, we had been working on it and then we went out and did "Jonesy's Jukebox" (Jones' radio show in Los Angeles) and he played with us on that, and then we said, "Hey, how would you like to play on (the record) too?" "Sure!"

What's the creative and songwriting process like for you guys after all this time?

Nielsen: Y’know, if the songs have a thread of goodness, or coolness, it's worth pursuing. They all have good parts and bad parts; I think we work harder on the bad parts, 'cause the good parts are good enough to start with. Then you get them up to speed and then it's "Let's go back and work on the other parts we haven't done any work on since we started." (laughs) We should probably work both ways, y'know?

It sounds like a bit of a mad scientist approach. How do you keep from getting carried away?

Nielsen: Well, it's not like we're Fleetwood Mac or something, where they go in and spend a year on one song or something. We start out with probably 20 songs every time we go in and whittle it down to something reasonable. There's probably another half a dozen or maybe up to a dozen more songs we had for this. You keep writing when you're there and you don't know that something is completely finished until it's finished and you go, "Yeah!" But there's always songs I'm working on.

What's on this album that you feel the group has never, or rarely, done before?

Nielsen: Well, "Quit Waking Me Up" is somewhere between a 60s and 90s British pop song to me, not the normal kind of song that we'd do but it kinda worked itself out. And "Final Days," we're not known as a blues band and it's not a blues song, but it's kind of a bluesy riff, so that's kind of a departure for us. I've got another idea for that I'm working on right now, maybe a reprise in the future.

Growing up so close to Chicago, were you influenced by the blues scene and heritage there?

Nielsen: I knew it, but it wasn't my kind of...I mean, I know Luther Allison. I knew Buddy Guy. We played with Albert King, B.B. King. I can play it, but they already did it so well. It's like, "Rick, no, you don't need to try that. They've already got people who are skilled in that area." So ("Final Days") is kind of our shot at it. But we're Cheap Trick, don't worry. We're not gonna steal Joe Bonamassa's thunder.

What's made Julian Raymond such a great fit for you on all these albums?

Nielsen: He believes in us. He likes us. He likes our past, he likes our present and he likes our future. He's keen on our history as a band, our catalog or whatever -- he's probably more aware of it than we are. He analyzes or comments or has suggestions on that kind of stuff, where we don't really think about it that much. And he's not afraid -- like, almost every idea we've come up with, he's like, "Yeah, that's good. Try it." We're more critical what we do than he is, I think.

Cheap Trick has covered the Move ("California Man"). Was there ever a thought about getting Jeff Lynne to produce you?

Nielsen: I liked Jeff Lynne when he was with the Idle Race, before the Move. I didn't like every song, but you could see the potential in that stuff. Who wouldn't think he'd be producing Beatles records and be in the Traveling Wilburys? What a perfect fit. Yeah, I asked him to produce us one time, way back. I met him at an Indian restaurant in Westwood, Calif. He knew who I was, but not by much. He heard what we were doing and said, "This is good enough. There's nothing I can do here." We could've been more famous than Tom Petty if we had recorded with him, maybe. (laughs)

Cheap Trick has such an established sense of what the band is at this point. Does that create less pressure from within -- or more?

Nielsen: I've made this point for years now -- I don't think we've ever progressed, in a good way. We've never tried to be something we weren't, changing for the sake of change. We like our roots; Robin says we wear 'em on our sleeves -- but we do. I still like the Yardbirds. I still like the Rolling Stones. I Still like the Beatles, the Who. I still think that stuff is cool. I don't like every Beatles song. I don't like every Rolling Stones song. I don't like every one of our songs. But those are good rock 'n' roll roots to have.

Do you still consume that music? Do you pick up the archival box sets and things like that?

Nielsen: Yeah, I do. I don't get everything. There's too much stuff that's out there. Plus, for me, I don't have time -- I subscribe to all these magazines, all these books, and I don't have time to read 'em. It seems like I'm constantly busy. It's hard to see other bands, 'cause they come through and I'm on (tour), or if we're off we're off too, so it's hard even trying to see stuff. I always try to see AC/DC, wherever I am. I've known those guys a long time. We've toured together, and they're the one band I'd watch every single night. They've always been one of my favorites -- I think a few other people like 'em, too.

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