Night Ranger’s Jack Blades Takes The ‘High Road’ With New Album
If you’re looking for a good way to kick the summer off right, Night Ranger is here to provide you with the proper soundtrack in the form of their new album ‘High Road,’ which lands on June 10 via Frontiers Records. It’s been about two years since they released their last album, ‘Somewhere In California,’ an album which found the San Francisco-bred group delivering a set of songs that embraced the classic feel of their ‘80s material.
‘High Road’ continues that mission, something which is apparent from the moment that you hear the album-opening title track, one which is brimming with both sun-kissed harmonies and a pleasantly thick wall of guitars courtesy of guitarists Brad Gillis (a founding member of the group) and Joel Hoekstra. Songs like ‘Knock Knock Never Stop’ and ‘Rollin’ On’’ have an extra bit of grit that recalls the group’s harder-edged ‘Hole In The Sun’ album from 2008.
In short, it’s an album that covers all of the bases. After more than 30 years in the game, the members of Night Ranger have a good handle on what it is that their fans want to hear from a Night Ranger album and ‘High Road’ doesn’t disappoint. We caught up with longtime vocalist/bassist Jack Blades to talk about the album while he was in the Seattle area during a rare break from touring.
‘High Road’ certainly gets the album going on a high note. I know that’s one that you wrote with your son Colin. How did it come together?
Colin was sitting in the kitchen and he was just sitting there playing a song and he goes, “I’ve got this new song” and it’s like, “Tell all my friends / I’m going out to the desert this weekend.” He had the ideas [for the chorus melodies] and all of that and Kelly [Keagy] and I are sitting there going, “This is frikkin’ great — this is unbelievable.” So we actually just said, “Let’s do it — let’s put this together and let’s throw it down.” We went into the studio, Brad, Kelly and me, and we just threw it down with Colin. We just all got in there and just laid it down and in about 45 minutes the song was cut. I mean, we didn’t even have an ending, we just said, “Here’s how to end it” [and ended it]. It was just one of those natural things.
I wrote all of the lyrics to it — Colin had some of the lyrics and I wrote the rest of them — I wrote the bridge, we put the bridge together and the ending and the solos — Brad played an incredible solo on it. It was just one of those things. Some of the best songs I think [are the ones] that have just come instantly. I just remember when Tommy [Shaw] and I wrote ‘High Enough,’ we had that whole song finished in about 30 minutes. The best stuff just happens and ‘High Road’ just frikkin’ happened.The song is just such a positive “roll your windows down and drive your car real fast and let the breeze flow through your hair” kind of summertime song. It’s the feel good song of the summer.
You couldn’t ask for a better collaborator than Colin, who is somebody who has really grown up with this band all around him.
That’s very true. You know, he’s been around hooks and choruses for his entire life since he was born — before he was born….since he was in his mother’s belly! All he’s heard is choruses, melodies and hooks — all of that kind of stuff. So he’s got that in his brain. That just oozes out in him in so many different ways. We were just like, “Look man, we’ll just do this song — this song is just too good to have it sitting around.”
I know he did some stuff with you guys on the last record. Did he contribute to anything else besides the title track on this record?
No, that’s all he did, outside of singing — he’s the only person that sang on the record too outside of us. But yeah, on my solo record, we co-wrote some stuff and we co-wrote some stuff before [with Night Ranger], so he’s on his way, man.
That’s a helluva vocal that Kelly turns in on ‘Knock Knock Never Stop.’ That song hits like a ton of bricks in the same way that ‘Lay It On Me’ did on the last record.
Yeah, actually that’s me singing the first verse…
Is that you?
Yeah! [Laughs] Yeah, that’s me singing the first verse and then Kelly sings the second verse.
You had some vocals like that on the ‘Hole In The Sun’ record that were really gritty in that same way.
Right, exactly. You know, I had put down both verses on it, but since we were doing the video on it, I said, “Kelly, why don’t you sing the second verse,” so he sang the second verse.
I imagine that’s something you’re always going for, to go outside of the normal boundaries a bit.
Well, you know what, I think that a musician should always just keep growing, expanding and stretching. It would be very easy just to sit around and do the same old same old thing all of the time. But I really enjoyed pushing my limits, pushing myself over the top to just push myself harder and harder and harder. I’m always thinking of different ways to do it.
Something like that and something like singing on the last record, on ‘Somewhere In California,’ we had an extra bonus track where I sang AC/DC’s ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.’ I just enjoy that. I enjoy pushing the limits. That’s what’s nice is that you’re in the studio and you can try it and if it sucks, then I just won’t do it. But if it’s frikkin’ rockin’, then there it is! [Laughs]
On these last few records, both you and Kelly have done some things vocally that I think are outside of what people might normally expect to hear from you guys.
There’s a lot of musicality going on on this record, I think. There’s a lot of playing and a lot of interesting changes and things like that. It would be very simple to just carbon copy the same thing — But I think it’s really great [with] songs like ‘Don’t Live Here Anymore’ [which] is I think one of my favorite songs on the record.
There are some really interesting sounds and textures on this record. ‘Rollin’ On’ almost feels like it has a Middle Eastern vibe within some of the riffs.
Yeah, ‘Rollin’ On’,’ we wanted a good chant song, man. We’re going to Japan and they love chant songs, so that’s going to be a great singalong song and the whole idea is just what do you do when you’re a bunch of guys who have been in a band for 30-something years? You’re at the stage of the game where you’re an older guy now and you can’t write songs like, “Ooh, come on baby, give it to me, yeah yeah, I want to nail you real hard, right now.” What do you do? You start doing songs like that and everybody goes, “Creepy.” [Laughs]
So I think it’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge. It’s kind of a challenge that makes you go okay, this is what we do — I’m going to roll on until the day I die, man. [Sings] “Rollin’ on til the day I die,” because that’s exactly the way we all feel about it, singing alone and keeping hope alive. You know, we want to be positive. I think there’s enough negativity in the world, there’s enough darkness and Night Ranger has always been an up band. You know, ‘(You Can Still) Rock In America,’ ‘Sister Christian,’ ‘When You Close Your Eyes,’ ‘Four In The Morning,’ ‘Goodbye,’ all of these songs, you know we want to keep things positive. I feel like we’ve accomplished that goal on the ‘High Road’ record with the tunes.
It’s interesting to hear you speak about that. The last time I spoke with Kelly, he spoke about the challenge of doing a new record after having done so many. You’re a guy who has always written a lot with a variety of folks. How do you keep it fresh so that you’re not just going back in to cut ‘Midnight Madness’ again and again?
Well that’s the key. The key is to keep it fresh. That is the ultimate goal and I think a lot of people fall into the trap of not keeping it fresh. Their best stuff is in the past. Dude, I think ‘High Road’ is one of the best songs that we’ve ever come up with. I might just be excited about that song and everything like that. But what I’m saying is to keep it fresh, you’ve just got to keep pushing to the limits. Like we were talking about with the vocals or whatever.
We’re continuing to explore new territories. We could make the record exactly with hooky little pop songs — we can do that, but instead we’d explore ‘Don’t Live Here Anymore’ with a heavy solo and the ending and the rideout, it’s almost like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’ Brad’s guitar solo on that thing is just over-the-top amazing, with his tone and everything like that. ‘Brothers’ and things like that, I think that’s how you keep [things fresh]. Look man, we started writing songs way back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and who would have ever thought that in 2014 we’d still be touring, writing songs, putting out records, playing in front of large crowds and all of that kind of stuff.
‘Brothers’ seems like it was strategically placed as the closing track. As a record is coming together, do you typically look to write an appropriate song to tie it all up? Is that something that comes to mind when Night Ranger is in the process of working on an album?
No, not at all. That song, I had the first part of the song and then we were all sitting around the piano and we just started jamming and singing a chant. [Sings lyrics from ‘Brothers’], we kind of just tagged that on the end and we’re just like, “We love this — this is awesome!” Originally, I sang the song and I said, “Kelly, why don’t you sing it?”
Because Kelly didn’t get to sing very many songs on the ‘Somewhere In California’ record. For some reason, I ended up singing the majority of the album. In fact, we even went back in and I had him recut a vocal on a song, just so he’d sing one more. So on this record, I was like, “Sing, man — sing all you want! Sing this one.” I sang the whole thing and demoed the whole thing out and then said, “Dude, you sing it!” He goes, “This doesn’t sound like me” and I said, “Try it, it will be perfect.” He did and it was perfect. That’s the beauty of having two lead singers. You can try things and just say, “Hey, if this doesn’t work for me, it will work for you.”
Were there challenges when it came to writing and recording this record?
No, the only challenges were just kind of getting us all in the record and doing it. We started it a year ago in January and then we started touring non-stop. We came back and it was winter and then we played all of the way into December and January. It was stop and start. What’s neat about it is that we had a few songs done. For that last year, we had maybe about five or six songs, but dude, ‘High Road’ was written in the last three weeks of the album and I love that kind of stuff. I remember the same thing happened with ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.’ I wrote that thing right before we went into record the first album.
I spoke with Neal Schon recently and he was telling me that you’re working on a record with Deen Castronovo and Doug Aldrich. The tracks that Deen sings on the new Neal solo disc are killer. What can you tell us about the project that is in the works?
Actually, on the album that you reviewed, I co-wrote all of the lyrics with Neal on the whole album. Neal’s a dear, dear friend of mine. Doug, Deen and I are doing a project for Frontiers Records. Deen was singing a lot on it, but he got fungus in his throat — he lost his voice, so we had to shelve it for a few months. But it’s pretty rockin’. Doug Aldrich is an over-the-top great guitarist. He’s a rockstar.
I want to go back a little bit and ask you, what was it like working with David Foster on ‘The Secret of My Success?’
Oh, David’s great. Foster’s great. He’s just a great guy and it was one of those deals where you just walk in and it’s like, “OK, let’s put this together” and, “OK, let’s write this song.” He said, “Well, we have this music down” and all of this music, I was like, “OK, that’s a cool riff — do you want to write lyrics?” and he goes, “Oh no, I don’t write lyrics,” and so I said, “Well, do you want to write a melody” and he said, “No, I don’t do that.”
I’m like, “Oh, okay, well I’ll do that.” So I wrote all of the lyrics and all of the melody and all of that kind of stuff. And you know, those L.A. cats, it’s so funny, because I didn’t even know about it, but then it was like afterwards, I thought David had written the music, so I’m going to write a song with Foster. So we go in and write it. It comes back in the end and there’s like four guys on the [writing credits] of the song and I’m like, “What? Who are these guys” and it’s like, “These are all of these other guys that this guy did this and this guy did that” and I’m like, “Wait a minute, what did they do? I mean, I just wrote all of the lyrics…” and he said “Oh, they kind of helped me write the music.” And I was like, “Okay, well then they can share with the music.” It’s kind of funny, that’s that L.A. thing, they don’t tell you in the beginning and all of the sudden, BOOM, there’s six writers on the song.
Did you guys build from that to the ‘Big Life’ record, or were you already working on the ‘Big Life’ album?
No, we already had the ‘Big Life’ record, so this was just an extra thing going for the ‘Big Life’ record and that ended up being the first single, because it was supposed to be put in the movie. It was typical movie stuff, it was like our song is going to be the title track for the movie and it’s going to be great. They’re releasing the movie the same month that our album comes out, it’s all coordinated and everything like that. Okay, the trailer for the movie is coming out tomorrow!
So we’re all sitting around the TV watching it and here’s the trailer for the movie and it’s like, [sings ‘Walking On Sunshine’ by Katrina and the Waves] and I’m like, “What?’ The movie people didn’t take our song, ‘The Secret Of My Success,’ instead they put ‘Walking On Sunshine’ in there? I’m like, “What?” Talk about the high hard one — we were just like, “You’ve got to be frikkin’ kidding me.” We were calling everybody – we were calling attorneys and everybody and they were like, “Well, that’s what film people do.” It’s like, “F— you, we’re going to do what we want.” So that just crumbled the whole thing — the whole rollout that we were doing and everything like that was just a disaster.