While several Eighties rock bands have gone the "human jukebox" route — touring behind their catalog of hits without releasing new material — Night Ranger continue to buck the trend.
For the band’s new album, High Road, which will be released June 10, Night Ranger take us back to their roots — a time when inspired songwriting, huge guitar riffs and harmony solos and vocals ruled the airwaves. It's a formula that never gets old.
High Road will be available in two formats — standard CD and a deluxe version, which includes a bonus instrumental track and a DVD featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the album, plus video clips.
Night Ranger is Jack Blades (bass guitar, vocals), Kelly Keagy (drums, vocals), Brad Gillis (lead and rhythm guitars), Joel Hoekstra (lead and rhythm guitars) and Eric Levy (keyboards).
I recently spoke with Gillis about High Road, his early years and his biggest career highlight. I also got an update on his upcoming solo project.
GUITAR WORLD: How does a Night Ranger album project begin?
There are three factors we look for whenever we make a new record: big vocals, the sound/song structure and the harmony guitars and vocals. I think it's great for a band to stick to their roots and what made them famous instead of always trying to delve off into too many new territories and confusing their core audience.
What can you tell me about the writing process for this album?
It's pretty much the same structure we've used throughout our entire career. I'll bring in some riffs, or maybe Jack will have a song idea or Kelly will have a lyric/vocal idea for a chorus. The three of us will usually get together to hammer down some basic ideas. Then we'll bring in Joel and Eric to throw in their input and build it up from there. It was a bit of a process, but we really wanted to make sure the record sounded huge.
Let's discuss a few tracks from the new album, starting with "High Road."
That song actually came last in the songwriting process. Jack's son, Colin Blades, had written the original verse lines for it and was playing it one day in front of Jack and Kelly. They both thought it sounded great so they took the core idea and brought it into the band and we finished it off. It ended up sounding so fresh and new that we decided to release it as our first single. It's the perfect "driving around in your car/summer" song. It has a good feeling to it.
"Knock Knock Never Stop"
"Knock Knock" was something we threw together as a band. We wanted something that was hard rock but had a little more of an edge to it. It really brings back the heaviness of Night Ranger.
"L.A. No Name," which is a bonus track ...
We took a bit of a break to write songs a few years back. Kelly flew in to town to work with Jack and Joel came over to my house. One night, the two of us started fiddling around and decided to write an acoustic instrumental. We started writing down ideas, honed it the next day and finished it off.
What's your method for choosing and recording dual guitars?
We use the same guitars that we usually play live. Joel plays his Goldtop Les Paul, and I have my old '62 Strat that I played with Ozzy and Night Ranger and do a lot of stuff on. We use different amplifiers to get the best sound we can that will fit the particular song.
Can you tell me a little about your musical upbringing?
It was right around my 8th birthday that I really wanted to start learning how to play. My dad told me that it cost a lot of money for a guitar and amp, but he said he'd buy it for me if I promised to take lessons. So I took lessons, but my real advantage back then was having an older brother who was getting hip on music and buying a lot of records from bands from the British Invasion, Led Zeppelin, the Doors and Santana. I remember I'd always sit in his room listening to the records and learning how to play the songs by ear.
Do you have an update on your solo album project?
I’ve been busy working on the new Night Ranger record, and I also write a lot of music for ESPN and Fox Sports. Now that the album's finished, I've got a few singers lined up and a record deal locked in, so I'm excited to get back to work on it. I've been taking a lot of extra time on the production end with guitar tones and drum sounds to make it sound huge. It's going to be a good one and will be out sometime early next year.
What would you say has been the biggest highlight of your musical career?
I was with the band Rubicon back in 1978 (along with Jack Blades) and we played Cal Jam 2. It was in Ontario, California, in front of 250,000 people playing along with Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Heart, Dave Mason and all of these other big bands. It was flying in a helicopter and taking limos around. I remember every band on the bill had a brand-new van that had their album cover painted on the side.
There have been some shows with Night Ranger and my first few shows with Ozzy that were just as memorable, but March 18, 1978 — It's still the biggest day of my life!
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.