AN INTERVIEW WITH KELLY HANSEN
By David Iozzia
(See pix of Kelly in action with Foreigner here)
Energetic front man, incredible vocal range, proven songwriter, veteran poise, team player: these are just some of the qualifications on this rock and roller's resume. After reading further, noting band affiliations with Foreigner, Heaven & Earth, and Hurricane, you'll realize it's none other than Mr. Kelly Hansen. Following a summer and fall of non-stop touring with Foreigner, Kelly and I chatted on the phone as I conducted this interview about his musical accomplishments. Foreigner's reformation in 2005 and their future plans for 2006 were the backbone of this interview. We also talked about the Hurricane forecast, jamming again with Joe Lynn Turner and Heaven & Earth, touring in Europe, and a whole lot more. Kelly even addressed a nasty rumor that alluded to his involvement in the over-publicized theft of Slash's famous top hat.
DAVE: Hello Kelly, thanks for letting me conduct this interview. Early this year, you were named the lead vocalist in the newly reformed classic rock band Foreigner. I'm going to ask you a few questions about that band and a few other bands you've sang in. But before I forget, congratulations on winning the 2005 All Access Magazine Music Award for Best Male Vocalist.
KELLY: I really appreciate the fans and my peers that take the time to vote, as well as people I speak to in person, who are always gracious to me and they pay attention to what I've been doing over the years. All Access Magazine does a great job for the local Los Angeles music scene. Their live events, many of which I've attended, provide an outlet, a place to go, and something to do with the music we like that's probably not available anywhere else in the area.
DAVE: You're the new lead vocalist in Foreigner after Mick Jones reformed the band with a new lineup. How did you land the job?
KELLY: About a year and a half ago, I had heard that Mick Jones was considering a solo project and that interested me. I tracked down his management company, and I sent them some stuff. I didn't know it at the time, but they had ended talk of a solo project and were revamping Foreigner instead. Six months later, when I learned about that, I re-contacted their management company. I was sent some Foreigner tracks to sing on, so after adding my vocals Mick got to hear them, and I was offered the job. It's great to be able to do this, to sing the classic material, and I look forward to doing so much more in the future.
DAVE: Mick Jones is on lead guitar, and you're the new lead vocalist. Please introduce the rest of your band mates and tell us what strengths each member adds to the band's success formula.
KELLY: Jason Bonham, the son of the late John Bonham, is our drummer. He and Mick were friends a long time and apparently he spurred Mick on to revamp the band with some good new people. He adds a powerful style and a great sense of humor. Jeff Pilson is a masterful bass player, a great singer, and he's such an all-around performer. He and Jason are the core of the new lineup. Tom Gimbel's a lot of fun. He's been with the band a while, adding saxophone, flute, rhythm guitar, and background vocals. Jeff Jacobs is our keyboard player. He's also been with the band for years. Jeff's awesome; he knows the material backwards and forwards.
DAVE Lou Gramm, Foreigner's original vocalist was so popular and was an integral part of the band. I'd like you to comment on the fan reaction you've received trying to replace Lou. Would you classify the fan reaction as: negative backlash, immediately supportive, a let's-listen-and-see attitude, or a little bit of each?
KELLY: There was a lot of "let's listen and see," but the reaction I've received directly has been so positive. The Foreigner fans have been so accepting. I'm not trying to replace Lou Gramm. I'm just trying to do my best for the band and give the songs the justice they deserve. That's one of the things on my side, not trying to pretend I'm someone else or that I'm better than someone else. I'm just bringing myself to the band, and the response has been very supportive, positive, and open-minded. I think Foreigner fans can tell that I'm such a big fan of the music and that it's just as important to me as it is to them. Hopefully, that message is getting through and maybe it's why I've received such a gracious and favorable response.
DAVE: Foreigner has spent most of the summer and fall of 2005 playing up and down the East Coast, the West Coast, and almost everywhere in between. What has been Kelly Hansen's highlight of the first year touring with Foreigner?
KELLY: There have been many. For me, it's realizing that I'm playing with a group of great musicians that I'm honored to share the stage with. Not only that, they're great people. We have a good time together throughout the frustrations traveling and all of the ups and downs. We all commiserate in an equally understanding way. That's the biggest thing, that we, as a group, can do that so well. That's so rare and hard to find.
DAVE In August 1995, Foreigner performed at the first American Association for Recreation's Musicfest. Staged at the Turtle Lake Resort, a 160-acre nudist park in Union City, Michigan, this show was performed in front of a totally naked audience. It must have been real tough for the vocalist to sing the classic line, "Well, I'm hot blooded, check it and see." Aren't you glad you missed that gig?
KELLY: Or how about "You don't have to read my mind, to know what I have in mind." I heard about that gig as we traveled near there. We talked about it and shared some laughs. That show would have been good and bad at the same time and very interesting!
DAVE: I've seen most of the shows the band played in New Jersey. The set list included all of the classic Foreigner songs, as well as a smokin' cover version of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop." What have you done as vocalist to "put your own stamp" on the material currently being performed by Foreigner?
KELLY: I think it comes naturally. When you purposely try to inject something it comes across as insincere. Anybody who comes into any band playing an instrument brings his own sound. It's the same thing with a vocalist. You're singing the same songs in the same melody, but it's in your voice which makes it different and unique. I'm trying to be myself and do the songs the way I think they should be done.
DAVE: I also had the pleasure of attending Foreigner's first U.S. tour in 1977. My first impression was that the band had great songs, and it was comprised of great musicians. Yet, in my opinion, it was a laid-back studio band without much on-stage personality. I'm sure that changed over time, but I never saw the band perform again until now. This version of Foreigner is high-energy and full of personality.
KELLY: You're probably right about 1977, but I had never seen the band perform live so it's hard for me to comment. Foreigner was brand new to the scene back then, releasing the first record and having success thrown upon them very quickly. It could have been quite odd trying to figure out everything that fast. I'm sure their onstage persona evolved over the years. Now, almost 30 years later, everything has changed, and the musicians have so many years touring and playing under their belts. In the current version, Jeff Pilson and Jason Bonham add a high-energy texture to the band. Whether by design overtly, or whether it naturally occurred, who is to know?
DAVE: You and I are chatting a few days before Thanksgiving and before we blink it'll be Christmas and New Year's Eve. Happy Holidays to you and your family. What should music fans expect from Foreigner in 2006?
KELLY: Hopefully a live CD. Foreigner will be traveling all around the world, starting probably in Australia or South America. We'll be playing in Germany at the Bang Your Head festival. We'll be working on material for a new CD later in the year. We'll also tour again in the United States.
DAVE: Mick Jones is such a prolific songwriter. Talk about the expected songwriting process, as well as your personal challenges, in trying to create new Foreigner studio material.
KELLY: I can't predict what type of material Mick will bring in. My challenge is to keep up with the quality and with the number of ideas. I have to try to make a meaningful contribution during a very exciting time for me. Only time will tell if the combinations of entities and brain power is a great chemical bond. I'm so looking forward to creating new material, and we should see the fruits of that labor later in 2006.
DAVE: What is the one question you've always wanted an interviewer to ask you that has NEVER been asked? How would you answer that question?
KELLY: There's no one question, but I would like to comment on something. On television talk shows it's ironic that actors and actresses are always asked to comment about a film that someone else created. All they do professionally is read and interpret what someone else has written. It's great that these days, musicians sometimes get to talk instead of just perform on talk shows. Musicians finally getting a chance to comment about material they wrote or created is a wonderful thing.
DAVE: Before joining Foreigner, you were singing in Stuart Smith's band, Heaven & Earth, which won multiple awards at the All Access Magazine Music Awards show. I heard that you joined Heaven & Earth, as well as singer Joe Lynn Turner, for an impromptu jam. Since I was stuck in New Jersey and couldn't attend, what did I miss?
KELLY: We did either "Highway Star" or "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple. I don't remember the specifics, but we had a great time.
DAVE: Stuart Smith is a classically trained guitarist who also had one of my favorite six-stringers as a teacher, Ritchie Blackmore. Stuart also played with my favorite all-time musician, keyboardist extraordinaire Keith Emerson, in a band called Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. Did you ever get a chance to play with any of those two incredible musicians?
KELLY: Never with Ritchie Blackmore, but I did get to jam several times with Keith Emerson in Los Angeles. He's so over-the-top and unbelievably talented.
DAVE: You've shared the stage and/or studio with so many great musicians. Here's your chance to form a supergroup for one CD/tour, with musicians you've never played with. You're the lead vocalist. Who would be your lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, bass guitarist, keyboard player and drummer?
KELLY: No thanks, it's too difficult to name a band, but I'd love to do a duet with Aretha Franklin.
DAVE: Your band Hurricane, with a new lineup, released a new record in 2001 called "Liquifury." Will Hurricane ever blow its way across the United States on tour or record new studio material again?
KELLY: Jay Schellen, the Hurricane drummer, just joined ASIA and is touring with them in Europe. I'm committed to Foreigner, so nothing new from Hurricane will come out. I can't split my time or my energy. There is some Hurricane material in the can so things could happen, but there are no firm plans.
DAVE: In 1985, you joined up with Robert Sarzo and Tony Cavazo, the two younger brothers of two Quiet Riot members, Rudy Sarzo and Carlos Cavazo. Together with drummer Jay Schellen, Robert, Tony and you formed the original version of Hurricane, which had a Top 40 single with "I'm On To You," as well as five Top 5 MTV music videos. Talk about the efforts trying to promote the original version in the music industry of the 1980's, as compared to promoting in the music industry of the 21st Century, an era heavily impacted by the Internet.
KELLY: There are so many differences even before you get to the outside medium you choose to promote a project with. The budgets to promote these days are smaller, but you gain autonomy in creating the record. "Liquifury" was on an Italian record label, and the promotion was left up to them. The earlier Hurricane releases were on a small, independent label in Los Angeles. We were able to work together doing promotions, and we did some touring to support those releases. That was not the situation with "Liquifury." When we put that release out, we knew we couldn't tour. There aren't any promoters willing to take a chance and bring a band over to Europe, especially on an individual basis. A few will consider package tours. For some reason, you can't get medium level promoters in Europe to talk with each other and put together a string of meaningful dates. Sometimes there are offers to come over and do one show. You're paid almost nothing, yet you still have to put the band together, rehearse, arrange equipment, and fly across the ocean. Promoting a record overseas that's on a European label is so difficult. Hurricane put "Liquifury" out there and let people find out about it via the Internet. It was an experiment and a way of satisfying the interest and requests from so many people for a new Hurricane album.
DAVE: Until I started researching for this interview, I hadn't heard about a project of yours called "Into The Light" with guitarist/composer Tim Donahue. Please tell me more.
KELLY: Tim is an American who lives in Japan, and he plays fretless guitar, which is very unusual. He's a great guy and so talented. Tim had done a previous record with Paul Rodgers as singer, and they came to me for the next record. I wish we would have had more time to do the record. The budget was very tight, and I had to do my vocals very quickly.
DAVE: When I was attending a Catholic grammar school, I always received good grades, mostly A's and B's, but the nuns had issues with my effort and conduct. They always told my parents that I was an "unruly child." What do the words "unruly child" mean to Kelly Hansen?
KELLY: The band Unruly Child had its name before I got involved so its name has no super meaning for me. Bruce Gowdy and Jay Schellen are friends of mine so it was natural that we'd get together and do a record. It was a great experience to do the record. It took a lot of time, and it happened at a time when the digital recording experience was in a state of heavy duty flux. There were a lot of technical issues to deal with making that record. The first Unruly Child record was done with Mark Free on vocals.
DAVE: Six years after that first record, Mark Free became Marcia Free. Before the sex-change operation, Mark was also the singer in Carmine Appice's band King Kobra. It takes a lot of balls to undergo a sex-change operation, Actually, during a sex-change operation they cut off your balls. Hypothetically speaking of course, from a male singer's point of view, how drastically would your voice change after they chop 'em off?
KELLY: Ouch! That's a silly question and I have no idea thankfully.
DAVE: As I started following the Los Angeles music scene closer, I was amazed at the number of tribute bands. On the East Coast where I'm based, we have plenty of original bands and cover bands, but not too many tribute bands. L.A. even offers all-girl tribute bands, like my friends in Cheap Chick and The Iron Maidens. Tell me more about the all-girl AC-DC tribute band ThundHerStruck.
KELLY: The girls in that band are very close to my heart. Dyna, the lead singer, is my girlfriend. She sings both the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson songs. They opened for Foreigner at the Anaheim House of Blues. You'd be surprised at how many tribute bands exist, not just in California but nationally. Maybe there are less in the New York City area, but I wouldn't know for sure.
DAVE: Let's talk "tribute albums" for a moment. What song did you add vocals to on the Cheap Trick tribute album "Cheap Dream"?
KELLY: I sang "Dream Police" to just a guitar and a click track. I haven't done more of these tribute albums because I started getting disappointed in the final product. I'd be told one thing about the record's concept, only to hear a really bad finished product. I've tried to limit my involvement in those types of records.
DAVE: One final project I'd like to ask you about is your session work with Slash's Snakepit. About a year ago, in Los Angeles, Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash had his famous top hat stolen and later returned, but the culprit was never identified. Here's your chance to clear your conscience and help All Access Magazine significantly increase its number of readers. Did you, or did you not, steal Slash's top hat?
KELLY: I absolutely did NOT steal Slash's top hat. I had nothing to do with it, but I'd better call my lawyer!
DAVE: I once asked a musician about his band's philosophy, whether it was one night and one gig at a time, or planning ahead to the next album. His reply was "all that counts is the gig ahead. Musicians don't get pensions, they get moments of transcendence. Without those nothing matters so the next gig is everything." Could you self-relate to that statement?
KELLY: In some form, but there's a lot more to it. Many things matter. I think it's more accurate to say what keeps you going is the next gig. What matters to the world at-large is the next record. As soon as you have a bad record, people want to jump all over it. So yes and no, I can relate to that statement, but I don't think it's a complete answer.
DAVE: What new musical artists have impressed you the most?
KELLY: I think Alicia Keys is super-talented and very unique. There's not a lot of new sounding bands, but I wouldn't fault the musicians themselves. It's the climate that they are raised in. The current music landscape has to change. We've had an Ice Age, and it's time for a new era in music. It'll be a mutation of all that was before, and I'm looking forward to it. People who know what they like and people who have a feeling about what is important to them musically have to make that voice known. They can't sit back in apathy and let huge corporations decide what is popular.
DAVE: I'm sure you've heard the phrase "desert island disc" used to describe a CD you couldn't be without if you were stranded on a desert island. Taking technology one step further, I want you to give me a list of "desert island DVDs." Your list, restricted to three DVDs, must include a live musical performance, a Hollywood films, and the video highlights of one porno actress.
KELLY: The musical performance would be something by Ray Charles or Ella Fitzgerald, but how would I get electricity for the DVD player?
DAVE: I'm watching a television show called "Lost," and the cast are survivors of a plane crash stranded on an island. They just found an underground bunker with computers in it and plenty of electricity is being generated magnetically. Let's assume it's that island you're on.
KELLY: The only film I can come up with is "The Shawshank Redemption," which I really like. I don't watch porn so I can't give you an answer on that one.
DAVE: Who is the one musician or music professional who has had the biggest influence on your career?
KELLY: There isn't just one, there are many.
DAVE: Thanks again Kelly for agreeing to do this interview. Best of luck in the future to you. Do you have any closing comments for music fans reading this interview?
KELLY: Thanks for all of the support, and I look forward to seeing everybody again when we tour next year.
Full Name: Kelly Hansen
Birthday: April 18th
Birthplace: Hawthorne, California
Hobbies: working around the house
Favorite beverage: depends on the day
Favorite food: French cuisine
Favorite venue to play: it's yet to be played
Favorite U.S. city to visit: New York City
Favorite international city: Dublin, Ireland