Posted July, 2017
If you listened to the radio at all in the early eighties, no doubt you heard two songs that seemed to dominate the airwaves: The Breakup Song and Jeopardy – both by The Greg Kihn Band.
Ever since those award-winning days, Kihn has continued to record albums as well as DJing in the San Francisco area and writing novels.
Quite the renaissance man, huh?
It was to that first and original activity that Greg recently contacted me. We chatted about his new CD, “ReKihndled”. He called from his California home and we started with him updating me on what he’s been up to the last few years.
“People say, ‘Hey, Greg, where have ya been, man?’ Actually, where I’ve been for the last eighteen years is I’ve been on the radio, too. I’ve been on the morning show on KFOX radio in San Francisco and did that for eighteen years straight. You know how radio is. One day you’re in. One day you’re out. Actually, at that point in time, I had it with getting up at 4 a.m. You can’t have a life if you get up at 4 a.m.! It took some taken used to. Then, when they say, ‘Hey, do you want to go and play a gig on the weekend?’, I go, ‘Hell no!’ I just wanted to sleep! Whenever I got a couple of days off, I just wanted to sleep!”
Answering my question to verify that ReKihndled was his seventeenth Album, Kihn said:
“Yeah. You know, and I’m proud of this one because, number one, it’s got my son on it – Ry Kihn. And, I think, materially,
it’s a lot better than the other albums. And, you know? You get these song ideas and, if you’re not in songwriting mode, a lot of them just get pushed off to the back burner. At the end of a year, I had a ton of really good album ideas. You, know, writing the songs was, actually, the easy part. Once we got everything in place, I had Robert Berry help me out. He’s the bass player and also the producer. But, it was just me and Robert and we have a new drummer now – a guy by the name of Dave Lauser, who is on loan from the Sammy Hagar band. He’s a friend of mine – Sammy is – and he said, ‘Hey, look, I’ve gotta do Chickenfoot and all this summer. And, after that, I gotta do this reunion tour and this, that, and the other. Why don’t you take Dave for the next year and you can work him out. I got too many gigs. I can’t fit him in.’ So, that’s how Dave really kinda wound up playing in the band. He’s kinda like Keith Moon. He’s a very busy drummer. It’s a lot of excitement. I just love playing with him.”
When I commented that the band sounds like they’ve played with him for years, Greg agreed.
“That’s the way it is in this band. We’re a heritage band. We’ve been around since, like, the early Paleozoic era. We’ve been around for a long-ass time. The beauty of it is we get a guy like Dave who’s new to the band and we get a whole new lease on life. I tell ya: It’s a very small band. It’s me and my son. So, half the band is Kihns, right there. Then, Robert and Dave. It’s a very small, close-knit group.”
Why the title, “ReKihndled”?
“I hope it ‘rekindles’ my career! How’s that? I figured when we started making these ‘Kihn’ puns, it was early in the game. We named the first album – it was just ‘Greg Kihn’. And, then, we got the second album and they said, ‘What do you want to call it?’ and some wisenheimer said, ‘Let’s do it ‘Greg Kihn Again’. Okay. So, now we got two albums. Then the next album comes out. ‘What do you want to name it?’ ‘How about, ‘Next of Kihn’? It just started and it never stopped. Kihnsolidation, Kihnspiracy. There are dozens.
“My mother, when she was alive, thought that was great. She really loved it. She thought it was real clever. Me, personally, I don’t know. I probably coulda ditched that after three or four albums. But, hey, look! It’s my name and it actually really is my name and people keep coming up with more titles. As long as they keep coming up with titles, I’ll keep making albums.”
Most artists say that each album they record is always different from the previous projects they’ve recorded. I asked if that was the case with Greg.
“Yeah, that’s a good question. It was our first album that we made at Soundtech Studios – which is owned and operated by our bass player, Robert, so it was really comfortable. It was the same room that we would rehearse in so we could come down there and work on a song all week and, then, cut it on a Saturday and it was pretty cool.
“The best thing about, I think, working on this past album, was that, usually, I don’t really have a direction. I’m a flapping fish! But this time, I seem to know where I was going with every album and every song. I really felt like there was a definite sense of ‘me’. I had a little special message I was putting in the album work that it’s never too late. It’s a very positive message. It’s never too late. You’ve gotta keep on trying and all of that kind of stuff. It’s a message to never give up is, basically, the message. A lot of the songs really fell into that category and they had that same message.
“The best stuff that we were doing – when we first started working on the album, we would think of things. I remember telling Ry that I wanted to do a song like, ‘Oh Well,’ by Fleetwood Mac. Remember that? It had an instrumental passage and, then, stopped and, then, they sang and it stopped. Then, they’d play again. And, my son, ‘Yeah! You mean, like, Black Dog, by Led Zeppelin?’ ‘Yeah! That’s exactly what I’m talking about!’ The next day, he comes back. He’d been doing his homework. Came back with the riff that became Pink Flamingos. I started sing big, pink flamingos. I don’t know where it came from. It was floating in the air right in front of my head and I just started singing it. That song was written in about 15 minutes which is how the really good ones get done.
“You gotta have a little luck involved but if it hits you just right, a song will write itself and the less that you that you try to force it – to be something that it’s not – the more happier it’s going to be. Now I’m talking like these songs are like my children and they’re all going to college now.”
And which song would be the CD’s calling card?
“Oh! That’s a great question! You know, I would say my favorite is Big Pink Flamingos. But if you wanted the best song that really reflected what the album was all about, I would say – you know, that’s a good question. It’s thought provoking but there’s the first song on there called, ‘The Life I Got,” which is very autobiographical. I say that would be the album cut that I would think would most represent us. The Life I Got. That’s cut one. Side one.”
It’s not unusual for artists to pull previously unused songs or recordings to populate an album they’re working on. When I asked if that was the case with ReKihndled, Kihn said:
“Oh, yeah! I’ll tell you. One of the songs that had been hanging around in my brain was The Brain Police. It was a half way written song for about two or three years. I just never really go around to finishing it. That particular day for drummers, we had our original drummer from the Greg Kihn Band forty years ago, Larry Lynch, happened to drop by the studio. He listened to the song and goes, ‘I gotta play drums on that song!’ We set him up and I did that thing in about two takes. He goes, ‘Wow! What a great idea!’ I said, ‘Well, Larry, that song’s been laying around here for years and years!” I played him The Brain Police and it was, like, ‘Oh, yeah! I remember that!’ But he didn’t recognize it. So, what are you gonna do?”
Then, out of the blue, Kihn says:
“You know? It’s a good life being a musician. I’ve been real lucky in my life. I feel like it’s been a long, successful career and I just feel like I was blessed. When I was a little kid, my mom used to say, ‘Well, if you can get a job being a musician, you’re blessed!’ Low and behold, I did it! I don’t know how I did it. I just did it.
“There’s a big gulf between writing songs and just covering songs. When you’re writing them, they’re inside you. They’re autobiographical. I just try to let the song be what it wants to be. I think that’s the key, right there. If you leave the song alone - you don’t try to force it to be something it doesn’t want to be - nine times out of ten it’s going to be the song that you originally tried to write to begin with. Songwriting – it’s a weird thing. I would call it a craft because, as you get better at it – like, if you do it for twenty years, you get better at it. It’s a craft. Just like playing the guitar or writing a novel or something like that – it all comes together in the end. If it’s not coming easy, don’t do it. Otherwise, it’s going to sound like you forced it. Let’s face it: songs that you force are never as good as songs that just come out organically.
“Like I said before – I say this all the time. I probably sound like a broken record but I’m blessed! I really am! I had a wonderful career and written a whole bunch of songs. It was never hard for me. They say that someday you’re going to run out of your ideas. It hasn’t happened to me. The last forty years it hasn’t happened to me so I feel like I’m really lucky and just having that gig where, ‘What do you do in life?’ ‘Well, I play music.’ That’s pretty good, man.”
Regarding how long the album took to record, Greg said:
“It was less than a year. I’d say, maybe, about eight to ten months. We started easy. We didn’t dive into it. We just kinda tip-toed into the water. I remember, because we started it – we weren’t really starting an album. It’s like, ‘Let’s record a couple of our songs here and see where it leads.’ By about the third song, we said, ‘You know what? Let’s make a whole album because this it’s too good!’ I never really understood what I was doing, thank God! Because, if I understood it, I’d probably over-analyze it and I wouldn’t be able to do it!”
And what has been fan and crowd reaction to the album, so far?
“Oh, I’m glad you asked me that because the crowd reaction’s been outstanding. You know, you go out there and you play, you tell everybody you go out there and do two or three of your hits and then you say to everybody, ‘Hey! We’re gonna do a new song from the album!’ That’s where everybody goes out and gets a beer right there. But people are diggin’ it, you know. Songs like Big Pink Flamingos, they’re loving it. There’s another song called Cassandra that’s kind of like a punk rock song. We started off with playing four or five album cuts in the live show. Now I look at it, The Life I Got, Pink Flamingos, Anthem, Cassandra, Tell Me Something Good, are all songs that can stand on their own and they do well when we play them live.
“You know, it’s always cool the first time you ever play a song live and people are already singing along! It’s, like, ‘Okay, I must’ve hit the nerve here.’”
Regarding tour support for ReKihndled, Greg shared:
“We’re planning on being out there this summer. We’ve got a bunch of shows. If you wanna see where we’re going, you can go over to the GregKihn.com website. It’s got the full schedule there plus all the albums plus all the books. Everything you wanted to buy about Greg Kihn is right there at GregKihn.com.
“We’ve got a bunch of gigs this summer. We’ve only played maybe a handful – like maybe a half a dozen, so far. But, really, it’s going great. The guys are itching to get out there. We’ve got some more dates. Everybody’s loving the new songs.
“You know, the other drag was going out when you didn’t have any new songs. I did a couple of tours maybe five or ten years ago where we were just playing the catalog stuff. I remember thinking, ‘You know, I wish we had a new album out here so I could play some of that stuff.’ And now it’s working out better than I even planned it so that’s great!”
Artists who have been in the business for a lot of years as Greg Kihn has been have seen a lot of changes in the business. I was curious as to what he felt has been the biggest positive and negative changes in making a record since he first started recording.
“The biggest positive and negative changes are the same thing: How they market music these days is completely different from when we made records. We made records and you went around and you went to radio stations. You toured and you just worked your butt off. Then, you were lucky, maybe radio would play your song and then you’d have a hit.
“Nowadays, I really don’t know how it works. I mean, our part of the bargain is the same. We go out and write the songs, record them, and then we hand them to the people that actually merchandise these things. But now you’ve got so many online services for a song. If you’ve got Big Pink Flamingos right now, you can hear it on iTunes. You can buy it on Spotify. It’s everywhere. Right now, there’s so many ways to market a song. It’s like the old wild west. We’re just kind of enjoying what we do and having a good time doing it rather than trying to sell a million records. Nowadays, guys like Bruno Mars sell – we would sell a hundred thousand copies in my day. Now, these guys sell, like, ten million copies. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know but the business has changed. The way they record it has changed and the way they market it has changed. Really, everything has changed.”
Still on that subject, I asked Kihn were made music czar, what would he do to fix the business or does it need fixing?
“I don’t think it needs fixing. I think it’s very healthy right now. The nice thing about rock and roll is that every generation has its own interpretation of it. If you go to a high school right now, you go in there and you find out what they’re listening to. That’s kind of like their generation music. The other thing, too, I think is important to note is music used to mean a lot to me. When we were kids, if there was a new Beatles or a Stones or a Dylan album, we ran out and got it and then you had to treat the records really good or they would warp or scratch or something like that. You had to really respect the music. I remember every time that was a big deal. If a new album comes out, and I was really into the artist, it was a big deal. I would get it and I would bring it home. I’d play it in my room a thousand times. I’d learn all the songs on it.
“I remember when I was a kid, I always wanted to be Bob Dylan on the cover of the Freewheelin’ album. Here’s a guy – he looked great. He had a good-looking girlfriend and he wrote great songs! The nice thing is, in your life as you get older, you think, ‘Hey, look! I’m doing this! How did I get here? I don’t know but I’m doing it!’”
When I asked what else would Greg would like to do, career-wise, that he hasn’t done yet, he replied:
“Well, let’s see. I’m involved in novel writing so I’ve written a couple of novels. There’s a new one I’m working on right now. Really, one of the things that I always wanted to do was to have my own creature feature show on Saturday night. Show old horror movies. I think that would make me happy. I told my manager that and he just looked like, ‘Why would you want to do that? That’s crazy.’ It looks like fun! I just want to do it! ‘No, you don’t want to do it. It’s stupid. It’s crazy!’ In real life, I think it would be a hoot having your own horror show every Saturday night.
“I’ve been on the radio. I’ve been involved in writing novels. I’ve been a musician. I feel like I’ve had a pretty good life and I’ve been blessed and I’ve got this far. If it all ended tomorrow, I’d have to say that was a good run.”
Wrapping up our chat, I asked Greg Kihn what I asked him what I ask other artists of his tenure and stature: When he steps off the tour bus called Life many years from now, how does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?
“You know, that’s a really good question because nowadays – this was never the thing before – but nowadays I got grandchildren and I’m really thinking about grandpa’s legacy. I come over to their house for dinner and me and my son, Ry, go down there and they always say, ‘Get out the guitars! Get out the guitars!’ and now they want to play the guitar. They want to sing songs. They’re five and eight years old. But it really makes me think about my legacy. When those guys are teenagers, hopefully, I’ll still be around and they’re still gonna want to be playing my songs. One of my dreams is that - I’ve got my son in the band – wouldn’t it be great to have my grandkids in the band and have three generations of Kihn up there on stage? That would blow my mind!”
Keep with Greg and his, uh, Kihn, at GregKihn.com.