Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Cover Story: Cheap Trick

| July 1, 2009

Call And Response


You wouldn’t be out of line accusing Cheap Trick of coasting. Their last album was named for their hometown of Rockford and featured cartoon images of themselves on the cover; this summer’s release bears the oh-so-cunning title The Latest. A year ago they toured as an opener for Journey and Heart, and in summer ’09 they’ll be trying to woo the rigid ears of highly discriminating Def Leppard and Poison fans.

Appearing: Friday, July 17th at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park.

But as anyone can tell you, a vehicle on cruise-control starts to strain as it moves uphill — Cheap Trick are actually gaining speed. Following an avalanche of duelling praise for Rockford (hailed as both expansive and a return-to-form), The Latest vies for double-take status as the best of the band’s career. You don’t need to forget what you know about Cheap Trick, but for 41 minutes the band virtuosoistically weave their familiar, youthful pomp through a song cycle as beguiling for its richness as its maturity. It’d be stately if it weren’t so damned impish.

“California Girl” hijacks The Beach Boys and Motley Crue at gunpoint, “Times Of Our Lives” shimmers with prismatic color, and Slade cover “When The Lights Are Out” jumps like pint glasses balanced on the beat of a British stomp. The 100-m.p.h. “Sick Man Of Europe” teeters on the punk edge that shone their influence through Nirvana’s Nevermind, “Miss Tomorrow” reverses the beam with Guided By Voices-like oblivion, while “Miracle” paints a bloodshot, post-Beatles rendez-vous between Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. The Beatles association is no surprise for even the most casual fan, though the past year has seen them hired to play a three-night stand at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl where the band performed their “interpretation” of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a full orchestra. They reassume the position this fall for three weeks at the Las Vegas Hilton, and have another layover in La-La Land for the theme to this summer’s Transformers sequel, Revenge Of The Fallen.

All this news, and guitarist Rick Nielsen wants to audition for . . . our switchboard operator. In this time of economic stress, singer Robin Zander, bassist Tom Petersson, and drummer Bun E. Carlos will have to hang onto him for now. The following is our late-June conversation with Mr. Nielsen.

Rick Nielsen: Are you calling and complaining that I’m not on time?

IE: Nope.
I didn’t think so. I got a call from my publicist: “Rick! What are you doing? Why aren’t you making this phone call? What are you doing?! What are you doing?!” Uhhh, well, sometimes the interviewer wants to know more than “Ooops! Your time is up!” I’ll miss my 9:20 to 9:35 and there’s going to be hell to pay! Illinois Entertainer is way more important than all of these — so screw ’em all! How ’bout that for being punk and pissed off!?

IE: How are you feeling these days?
: Good! How come you have an automated telephone?

IE: That’s just the way it is. I sometimes work from my home office so I can watch my daughter.
Good! So your calls are forwarded right to your home?

IE: Yes. But it’s not all rosy — you can lose track of what day it is.
That’s a musician talking! I like it. Better than farming your kids out to someone you don’t know for a long time.

IE: I don’t envy people that. But that’s enough about me.
It is? Great!

IE: Let’s talk about you.
I don’t care. I want to talk about baby daycare. We were in the movie [Daddy Day Care], so I know the deal.

IE: Your Latest and greatest is out tomorrow. Do you still get excited about releasing albums?
Well, yeah. We don’t make these just because we’re a moving-target dartboard. “Let’s put this out and see if people hate this one.” No, we actually kind of enjoy making records. We put them out and people kind of like ’em. If they don’t — that’s never been our intention: “Let’s make a record everyone will hate!” “O.K., great!” [Laughs.] We’re not artsy enough to have gone that far yet.

IE: It seemed for awhile that when Andy Gerber of Million Yen would send us studio news with a photograph, you were always in it. Are you always there?
I haven’t been to Andy Gerber’s lately. So if he sends you pictures, they’re fakes. [Laughs.] That poor guy: I slept on his couch for the last record and the one before that just working on songs. It’s like, do you want to stay at a hotel? No. I want to be there where the music is. Plus, I liked answering his telephone. He had some weird people calling him for awhile. If they were extra weird, I’d carry on long conversations with them. If they were only semi-weird, I just said I was the secretary there.

IE: If you wanted, you could work for us and be my automated outgoing message.
I could be the live operator. You could forward all your calls to me before they get to you. All kinds of possibilities. Andy’s sending more pictures of me?

IE: Not lately. But at one point it was every month that we saw your smiling mug.
: I like working at Andy’s. He hasn’t called me. I don’t know what the deal is.

IE: Sometimes men leave.
He thought I was just one of the scary people who call him on the phone.

IE: Are you addicted to recording?
: My tan shows it, yes. I like music. I like the fact of recording. It’s really fun. I just enjoy it.

IE: Does it affect you when Cheap Trick decide to make an album? Do you have to take steps to get out of experimentation mode and think about what will work for a larger group of songs?
I don’t know. I treat each song as the most important thing I do, even though it doesn’t seem like it. [Laughs.] I like doing one song at a time. I think one of the things that has been consistent in the last years of what we do is we don’t go and do everything all at once. Then it starts to sound the same; the thoughts are all the same. The only thing we do like that is the mixing [process]. We take what we do in December and we take what we do in July and remix them at the same time — that keeps the songs consistent.

IE: So are there dedicated writing sessions, or do you pull from a pool of songs?
Well, me? I never feel like, “All right: I gotta write something.” Oh, brother. That makes it seem that you’ve got to think of it like a job, when writing songs shouldn’t be like that. It should be you write when you feel like writing. Maybe you write one song in 10 days, or one song in 10 months. I don’t think we’ve ever had the problem where anybody’s clamoring for us to have a new record. But we’ve put out quite a few records in our career.

IE: What’s the oldest song on The Latest?
I don’t know. I didn’t write them all from scratch. Some of the stuff is a couple of older kind of things, and some of the stuff is brand new. If something is not finished, it’s not finished whether it was from a month or 10 years ago.

IE: Do you have a list of open-ended songs you’re still trying to figure out?
Sort of. On the Rockford album, that song “O Claire” [humming the melody], I had written it but never had the middle part. Right before we recorded it, that middle part came around and it wasn’t like we were holding out on it or whatever. It was just like, “I like this song, but it’s missing a part.” That’s O.K., so we worked on the part. On the new record, “Miracle” was ready for the last album. Robin, there was something he didn’t like about it and we vote if it’s going to make the record. Three guys voted “yes,” and one guy wasn’t sure. Robin said there was something missing so we held off and re-recorded it for this record.

Steve Forstneger

For the full interview, grab the July issue, free throughout Chicagoland.

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  1. Diana says:

    ‘The Latest,’ is a masterpiece! Great job Cheap Trick and wtg on your good taste, Trick fans.

  2. ray brown says:

    it`s good to hear these guys getting some credit for there talent…this band is way underestimated, robin has the best voice in rock and roll today!!

  3. Rich Salzer says:

    Check out all my Cheap Trick reviews at As for ‘The Latest’, hey Rick!
    Who’s idea was the 8-tracks, Tom’s? Or
    Bun E’s? Amyway, the best LP you guys have churned out since 97’s Cheap Trick or w/Jon
    on The Doctor in ’86. I still love those
    two…and Next Position Please, One On One
    and Standing of the Edge most. Keep on
    Rockin, bro. See you in Virginia Beach, VA
    on Saturday night, July 11th.

    Rich Salzer,
    Moyock, N.C.

  4. Scooter"68" says:

    Cheap-Trick hit the nail on the head with “The Latest” Thank you Cheap-Trick.

    Scott-Saint Joseph,MI