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Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen: “We’ve loved Australia since the first time we went there in 1978”

Cheap Trick
(Image credit: David McClister)

Note: this article is also featured in Australian Guitar #142, which is out now wherever great magazines are sold! Click here to read more about what’s in this jam-packed issue!

It's a lowkey Wednesday morning for Rick Nielsen: the founding Cheap Trick-ster just wrapped up some chores, he has the house to himself, and aside from a few interviews he’ll do over Zoom, his schedule is kept notably bare. When he jumps on the line with Australian Guitar, he’s nestling a slick red ’62 Coronet – a Dwight model, though, not your typical Epiphone. He twiddles around on the fretboard, sharpening his chops on new material from the band’s forthcoming 20th studio album, In Another World, ahead of some monumental live shows Down Under in May (where Cheap Trick will co-headline Under The Southern Stars with Stone Temple Pilots and Bush).

Two minutes into our chat, as he strums a riff from the new album’s Lennon-covering closer “Gimme Some Truth”, he somehow tears his index finger open. Blood slinks down his palm, he quips a cold “dang it!”, and we instantly assume our chat has been cut short by injury… But then Neilsen just… Keeps playing. At 72, he couldn’t care less about a little string-split skin. He keeps noodling away on the “Truth” chorus, waxing lyrical about his love for Australian crowds and Coronets. Cheap Trick have never been too heavy with their shredding, but it’s undeniable that Nielsen is metal as f***.

Anyway, there’s a lot to cover here: Cheap Trick’s career-defining 20th album, their long-awaited return to Australian shores, those one-of-a-kind Dwight Coronets… Let’s power through the gore and get chatting, shall we?

How did you want this record to best reflect what Cheap Trick are and represent as a band in 2021? 
We just had songs, y’know? That’s basically how we’ve always worked – we just went in with a bunch of songs. One of the songs I didn’t play on, so when somebody asked me what the toughest song to record was, I said, “Well there’s one I can’t even play yet, so I’ll have to get Robin to teach me!”

How many songs did you have ready to go when you went into the studio? 
Probably close to 20. There’s still stuff lying around that we didn’t even get to.

So are you already thinking about LP21? 
Sure! Why not? We still love to record, so I don’t see us slowing down any time soon. We’re very diverse, anyhow – y’know, we’re kind of heavy on some stuff and real poppy on other stuff. We never have let anyone typecast us into just one genre. 

Did the significance of this being album #20 play into it at all? 
Y’know, I didn’t even know what number album it was! I’d go back and say, “Look, is this the 20th one? I think it is…” Because we’ve had so many compilations throughout the years, we’re on this soundtrack and that playlist… We did three songs this year that haven’t even been on any records – we did a Harry Nilsson cover, we did David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”, and we did a Beatles song for Howard Stern.

How important do you find it to keep working on your technique? 
Well y’know, I’ve always considered myself to be a songwriter, not a guitar player. There’s so many guys out there who are a million times better than me, and I play almost exclusively by feel anyway. I wish I would had practised more when I was new to the guitar, but I think it’s too late now. So y’know, I play what I play, and that’s it.

You’re also gearing up to head Down Under this May. How does it feel knowing you’re going to be one of the first overseas acts to play here in almost 18 months? 
It’s exciting! I keep getting texts from everyone in our crew saying, “Rick, are we going this week? When are we going!?” 

The energy at these shows is going to be insane. Just talking about it now, I’m getting hyped up! 
Australian crowds are always great like that. We’ve loved Australia since the first time we went there in 1978. You guys had a couple of number one hit songs for us, which we didn’t have anywhere else – that just proves how much you’re smarter than the rest of the world [laughs].

Do you find the energy of Australian crowds to be very unique? 
Yeah – especially for a country that’s the same size of the US, y’know? You’ve got a real heavy-duty rock history, too, of course with AC/DC and before that with The Easybeats. All the bands that came out of there seem to have good singers and good players, and they’re all just serious work hounds – you deliver some good competition for the rest of the world! There were a bunch of Australian acts that did a compilation of Cheap Trick songs, too – I thought that was very interesting! It was fun to see how other artists put their own spin on that material.

So come April, you’re gonna have 20 albums and 48 years worth of material to draw from – how the hell do you decide on a setlist? 
Well there’s the obvious stuff that we pretty much have to play: “I Want You To Want Me”, “Surrender”, “Dream Police”, “If You Want My Love” – those are four anchors right there. And then we have so much stuff that it’s like… Send me a list! We’ve done that before – we did one big show 20 years ago where we had Joey Ramone and Chris Cornell write our setlist for us. We always have other bands sit and watch us from the side of the stage; it’s Taylor Hawkins’ and Billie Joe Armstrong’s birthdays today, and they’re both guys that come out to watch us play on a regular basis, so if they’ve got any birthday requests… Because what do we care what we play? If somebody really wants to hear a certain song, we’re more than happy to give it to them.

What can you tell us about the guitar you’re plucking away on right now? 
It’s a 1962 Dwight Coronet. It’s the same as the Epiphone Coronet, but they made about 150 of these for this one guitar store in east St. Louis – the owner’s name was Dwight, obviously, and he sold more Flying Vs in 1958 than any other dealer in the US. So they gave him his own boutique model Coronet, and they even slapped his name on the headstock. It’s what Steve Marriott used to play. They were practise guitars – they sold for $147 a piece – and I love them. I actually have seven of them [laughs].

Seven! Goddamn! What is it about this axe that you’re so hooked on? 
Well for one, they don’t cost a million bucks! And two, they’re just cool. They’re rare and they’re cool. Find one for me, and when I come over I’ll buy it from you!