Interview: Greg Kihn Discusses New Music, Book and Tour Plans
If you’ve ever played in a classic-rock cover band, chances are you had a Greg Kihn song somewhere in your set list.
Through the early Eighties, the Greg Kihn Band racked up a series of hit singles, like “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ’Em),” “Lucky” and, his highest-charting track, 1983’s “Jeopardy,” all of which were issued on the independent power-pop label Beserkley Records.
Kihn released his last album in 1996, the same year that he launched his literary career with the novel Horror Show and became a radio fixture on KUFX FM in San Jose. After a string of ownership changes, KUFX became a superstation in San Francisco, and Kihn’s morning radio program was heard by millions each week.
But last September, following 17 years with the station, Kihn was dropped from the program, and his contract was allowed to lapse when it came up for renewal soon after.
Since then, the guitarist had a new burst of creative energy. He’s releasing digital remasters of classic albums from his group’s days. He’s also considering a summer tour with the Greg Kihn Band that will include his hits and possibly some new material. Plus, he’ll soon release a new Beatles-related fictional work titled Rubber Soul. Even without a radio show, Kihn has a big year ahead of him, as Guitar World learned in the following interview.
GUITAR WORLD: What led to your breakup with KUFX?
I’ve been doing radio for 17 years, 16 of them as the number-one morning show in San Francisco. The station I worked at was sold [to Entercom Communications in January 2011], and I was probably the highest paid guy there. I was a ratings winner. I guess they looked around for things to cut and I was the one who had a great big bull’s-eye on my back that said “Highly Compensated Employee”! [laughs]
The thing is, radio is now a very corporate thing. It never used to be this bad. There used to be a few mom-and-pop radio stations and a few small radio groups, but now it’s all big corporations who buy the stations and basically do whatever they want. I stayed on for a year and a half [following the Entercom purchase], and then they cut me loose. Since I was let go, I’ve really been on a creative burst. I’ve finished a novel and started writing songs again. I’ve also started rehearsing the band, and now we have a few offers for tours this summer.
What’s it like being back in the studio again?
I’d forgotten how much fun the whole process of creating is. Back when the band was in its prime, we would rehearse every day. Being in the studio and coming up with ideas was when it was the most fun. Before you know it, you’re writing songs.
“Jeopardy” was a huge hit for you. What do you remember about that time in your career?
I remember exactly where I was when I found out it was Number One. We were driving in the tour bus, out in the middle of nowhere, and saw a sign for Custer’s Last Stand, so we stopped. I got on the payphone and called the record company to see how the song was doing, and the guy on the other end said, “Son, your record’s just gone to Number One!” [laughs]. The guys and I all high-fived each other and then drove around until we found a bar. We celebrated the rest of the afternoon by drinking a pitcher of margaritas and getting toasted. [laughs]
How did that song come about?
One day, Steve Wright [keyboardist for the Greg Kihn Band] came over to my house with a Casio [portable keyboard] and started playing me that riff, and I swear to God, out of nowhere, as if I was channeling the song, I just started singing, “Our love’s in jeopardy”…the oohs and everything! I don’t know where it came from. It was completely spontaneous. Steve looked at me and asked, “Hey, did you know I was coming over?” And I said, “No, it just popped out of my head!” We wrote that song in 15 minutes. [laughs].
All of the great songs seem to write themselves. If it takes you three weeks to finish a song, you know that song isn’t going anywhere. But if you can write a song that just pops out of you like it writes itself, nine times out of 10 it’s going to be a hit. All of my Top 10 hits, like “Jeopardy,” “Breakup Song” and “Lucky,” all came flying out. I figure that half of the songs the Beatles wrote were like that. They just sat down and stuff would come flying out.
What’s the secret to getting in the zone?
If I knew the answer to that, I’d be a millionaire! [laughs] But I think the key as a songwriter is to try and get yourself mentally in that space. You can’t worry about things like needing to have your transmission fixed or that your taxes are overdue. You need to have your mind completely cleared, and then the ideas will come. You also have to just wait and be patient. The harder you try to make it happen, the harder it becomes.
Tell me a little about your upcoming book.
It’s a murder mystery that will probably be coming out in March called Rubber Soul. It’ll be published by Premier Digital Publishing. It’s a historical fiction story about a guy who meets and becomes best friends with the Beatles before they become the Beatles. He sticks with them up until they’re superstars. It culminates with their harrowing 1966 experiences in Manila after they allegedly snub the Marcos regime. [The Beatles turned down an invitation to a reception at the palace of Ferdinand Marcos, then president of the Philippines. The palace responded by turning mobs of angry Marcos followers against the group and making the Beatles pay a large sum of money before being allowed to leave the country.]
What are your plans for the rest of this year?
I’ll probably be spending the summer touring and having fun. The last full-fledged tour for me was at least 16 years ago. I was always a weekend warrior, but as far as a real tour is concerned, I haven’t done one for as long as I’ve been on radio. But it’s just like riding a bike, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Live photo: BR Cohn
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.