Night Ranger are American rock and roll icons. Springing from San Francisco in the early eighties, they went on to achieve multi-platinum success with the albums ‘Midnight Madness’ featuring the power ballad ‘Sister Christian’, ‘7 Wishes’, and ‘Big Life’. Back once again on the album / tour cycle following a break in the late nineties, the band which feature founder members Kelly Keagy, Jack Blades and Brad Gillis are readying the release of new album ‘Don’t Let Up’. We sat down for a chat with Kelly about the disc, playing schoolboy in the eighties, and the band’s illustrious past. Man in motion; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Kelly, ‘Don’t Let Up’ is due for release in late March; you must be excited to get it out?
Yeah, we are. Every few years we like to get back in there and create something new. A lot of times, people have said; “Why do you do that? Nobody’s going to hear it”, all the usual things, blah, blah, blah, but, it’s important for us to stay sharp. We love to get in there and create new stuff, and our hard core fans want to hear it too. They’re with us, so that’s what we do, and we want to do what they want as well.
‘Sharp’ is a great way to describe the album’s punchy, upbeat vibe; is that what you were going for when you were recording?
We always try to do something a little bit different. You never know when you’re making an album how it’s going to come it. For one thing, we have as much time as we need, so we’re not pressured that way. We like to pressure ourselves and set the bar. On the last three albums, from ‘Somewhere In California’  on, that was kind of a new thing. It was a new line-up, and so it’s crucial to be on top of it, and make sure that all the songs are good. That’s what we like to do, so that’s where we’re at with this.
The first single from the album ‘Somehow, Someway’ really sets the tone, with an instant, high octane sound right from the off.
Yeah, that’s usually how we like to do it. We like to do that live as well. We like to ty and make an impact right away, so we look at every album like it’s like a live set, like; how would people see you from the audience, and what would they want to hear, right out of the box?
The album as a whole is pretty upbeat. There’s not a lot of slower moments on there.
When we get in there and start jamming on stuff, we just kind of go with the flow and see what comes out. We had maybe three or four different writing sessions. If you go back and look at all the other albums, there’s always a ballad on there, or a piano ballad like we’ve done in the past, but this time we just went with what came out. We were really happy with the results, so we just stuck with it, and thought that that was the right way to go. It felt good.
It’s your twelfth studio album. It must be incredible to have come that far.
Yeah, and with all the years that have gone by too. We took a break from making albums for about eight years, just because it was like everything was changing in the middle-nineties. So, we sat back and said let’s just have a good time with playing live, which is how the band got started. We really enjoyed each other’s company, and musically, so we had a good time for those eight years before we started making albums again. And now, we feel like it’s like part of it. Every three years we have to go back in there and make another record and keep trying to raise the bar, personally; to make the best music possible and keep creating, because that’s what it’s about.
Thirty-five years is a hell of a career.
It’s a lifetime, isn’t it? What’s so funny about it is we all grew up together. We were all young bucks coming out of the gates, and we were very fortunate to have some success right off.
The band has spawned a lot of talented musicians that have gone on to work on some other amazing things, such as with Ozzy Osbourne and in Damn Yankees.
You know, we’ve been really lucky to find each other that way, musically, and we get along as a family as well. The thing is, we get to play with other musicians and stuff like that, but when we come back together, we always realise that this like the place that we belong.
That must make you think that you chose the right people to hang out with, all those years ago.
*Laughing* Yeah, that’s right. It was kind of like a destiny, or whatever you want to say. That might be a corny way to put it, but you’re sent on a path, and I think that’s what happened with us.
Moving on, and I wanted to ask about the work you did on movies such as ‘The Secret Of My Success’ in the mid-eighties.
It was kind of strange place for us to land after having some success and touring with different rock bands; Kiss and ZZ Top and Sammy Hagar, stuff like that. To get asked to come into a screen room and watch clips of a movie, from ‘Secret’ to ‘Teachers’ to a couple of other movies, it was strange. I think some of the other musicians that were asked to do it too, kind of felt strange about it too. For instance, the movie soundtrack to ‘Teachers’, the popular bands of the time were asked to come in and write cuts for it. We went in there and Glenn Fry from the Eagles was there, Joe Walsh, Jack and I, Stevie Wonder; it was a bunch of us in this little screening room.
That’s quite a unique bunch of people in one room!
Glenn Fry comes in with this long coat on, a full-length trench coat, and it was like, July. So the lights go out, they start to play this movie clip, and right in the middle of it when we were supposed to be concentrating – “write for this section” – somebody nudges us, and it’s Glenn Fry, and he had these beers down in the inside pocket of this long coat, like half a case of beer! And he’s passing cans of beer down the row. He’s popping cans gong; “Hey, have a beer!” And we’re sitting there going; “so this is what movies and Hollywood is all about”! It was great.
Moving on, and ‘Sister Christian’ was such a massive hit for the band, and for you personally, as both writer and lead vocalist on the track.
It’s amazing. I mean, we still look at each other on stage and shake our heads and go; “Wow”. It’s still happening, it still happens like it did when the song was out on the radio in 1984. Our audience still loves that song, and we’re very fortunate that people grabbed onto that. It’s kind of interesting, because it was a song written about my sister just growing up. It just happened to be about her.
Is it strange to have a personal topic like that take on a life of its own?
Well I think there was enough meaning in the song. It was a brother giving some advice to his sister. It was; ‘be careful about the world’, just keep your eye on things and you’ll be okay. It was like, take care and don’t do anything too quickly. Understand that the world can be rough.
With the world in a state of flux, is it important for you to have that positivity in the music, so people can close the door and forget what is happening outside?
Absolutely. I think that that was something that we learned early on; to never be too political about stuff. You know, music is supposed to be enjoyed and shared, especially with a band like us. The kind of music we play is just about forgetting about all the problems and coming in for a release, and a good show, and a good listen. It’s really all about escape for a short period. That’s what’s music’s always kind of been about. I mean, there are some political messages and serious stuff that you need to talk about every once in a while, but I think it’s also important to get away from that too.
Speaking of getting away, Night Ranger must have some serious touring ahead for the new album.
We do. We’re still booking out later in the year. We’re going to Japan, and we’re going to be all over America. We’ve about forty dates right now, but we’re probably going to have a lot more, as the record gets heard. Hopefully we’ll get to come over in your neck of the woods. We’ve played in Scotland, the UK, Germany, and all over Europe, but we’ve never played in Ireland. I don’t know why that is. I think that maybe management didn’t take advantage of that or whatever, but I think that we need to. I think we need to make a trip over there and show up.
It sounds like it’s a great time to be in Night Ranger right now.
We’re very lucky. We still enjoy each other’s company, like I said earlier. We love playing live, and it’s really all about that, so we really thrive on live audiences. We love making records and creating, but we just can’t wait to take everything out on the road and test out the new stuff and see our audience again, see our old buddies.
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‘Don’t Let Up’ is out now, via Frontiers records.