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Say What You Want: An Exlcusive With BRAD GILLIS Of NIGHT RANGER

By Duane Vickers, Houston Contributor
Tuesday, May 9, 2017 @ 12:23 AM


"To have that luxury and positive vibe around you to be able to create a bunch of cool stuff is definitely a luxury that I enjoy."

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When you mention 80’s rock, it’s hard if not impossible to do so without bringing up NIGHT RANGER. Always known for the big chorus and big guitar, so many of their songs were in fact a soundtrack of the 80’s. And while so many bands of their era have fallen by the wayside, NIGHT RANGER who are celebrating 35 years since the release of their debut album Dawn Patrol are showing no signs of letting up as they get ready to release their 12th studio album Don’t Let Up on Frontiers Music srl. I recently caught up with founding member and lead guitarist Brad Gillis to discuss 35 years of touring, recording and the new album Don’t Let Up.

KNAC.COM: Hey Brad how’s it goin’ brother?

GILLIS: Hey Duane, how ya doing man on the hardest rockin’ station in the world, KNAC?

KNAC.COM: You know it, couldn’t be better my friend. I’m really looking forward to people hearing this album, I reviewed it and it’s fantastic. I know that things in the NIGHT RANGER camp have to be fired up. The last time we did this you guys had just released High Road, which was a great album and here we are just shy of 3 years later and you just put out the live album 35 Years & A Night In Chicago, which turned out amazing, and now it’s another album Don’t Let Up, so I have to ask you back when you put out the debut album Dawn Patrol did you ever imagine you’d be setting here 35 years later talking about not only one of the busiest periods in the band’s history but this great new album?

GILLIS: (Laughs) Oh are you kidding man I thank my lucky stars to be involved in a band that’s had this kind of longevity. But you know we still put out records because we still have a little bit of creativity left in us and it’s always good to put something new out every couple of years just to keep that machine rollin’. We’ve got a pretty good fan base and we’ve got a great year coming up so we’ve just got to figure out what songs we’re actually gonna add into the set. We’re kinda waiting on the release here in about ten days and get the fans’ reaction and opinions and figure out like three or four songs to at least learn and maybe rotate the set once in a while, because every record we always pop one or two in at least.

KNAC.COM: Well I’ve pretty much been listening to the album nonstop since they sent it to me to review and what I said in the review is that I don’t remember the last album where you didn’t skip a song here or there and there wasn’t any filler, you guys really loaded the deck tracks 1-11. Was there any point during the writing or recording sessions where you just kinda looked at each other and said “you know what, we’ve got something pretty special here”, because I’m putting this album right up there with Dawn Patrol and Midnight Madness.

GILLIS: Wow that’s great news to hear, you know NIGHT RANGER has always been about songs and melodies and three part big choruses and twin lead guitar harmonies and creative solos and that’s been our format for our 35-year existence. So when you stick to your same format and upgrade your sound and sound a little more modern I think you’ve got a winning combination. And to have Frontiers Records come to us every year or two and say “Hey man time for a new record”, and they give us a big enough advance to make it worth our while and we finish it up and sell it online and downloads and physical CDs and it’s released in Europe and Japan and the States and I cannot deny that Duane, I mean jeez man I’m still living the dream (Laughs).

KNAC.COM: Yes, you are. Obviously, you guys tour a lot and I know that you all got together at different points in time to put this album together. Do you find it difficult doing an album now because all of you live in different places now or has technology now made things not so difficult?

GILLIS: Well of course, everybody has a full-fledged home recording studio and how we did this record was maybe a little bit different. Jack (Blades) and I flew out to Kelly’s (Keagy) house in Nashville and he had drums and amps and bass amps and a full PA system, and we just started jammin’ on riffs and licks and just having a good time and jammin’. We did that for like two days and maybe out of the ten things that we started writing and fiddlin’ around with, we ended up grabbing like six of em and throwing the basic ideas down with Kelly’s pro tools in his studio and then a couple of the guys came to my house here in California, the Bay Area, and we did a couple of songs here and then up at Jack’s house in Washington state, we did a couple there. Then I had Keri (Kelli) our other guitar player right at the end come over to my house and we threw a bunch of harmonies and solos down together over here, then Keri went and did a couple of solos at his house. Technology is just a wonderful thing and to be able to transfer files and to be able to do work at your own house is definitely a luxury because there’s nothing I hate more than the old-school days and all the sudden “alright you know you got 20 minutes to do this solo because then we’re going to vocals”. You have the luxury of time in your home studio and the cost factor is basically nil. Back in the day we were paying $1,000-$1,500 a day just for studio time. Of course budgets were huge back then and we were able to pay for it but of course that came out of our royalties too. The less you spend the more you make just like any business.

KNAC.COM: The record company keeps popping new songs out, they’ve released “Somehow Someway”, “Don’t Let Up”, “Comfort Me” and I think today they just released “Truth”. Do remember the last time a record company was so excited about an album you guys were doing?

GILLIS: Yeah I mean back in the 80s it was a pretty exciting time because you did get massive radio air play all over the world, Europe, Japan and the States and when you released singles and videos with the inception of MTV, we were all over MTV and radio and I’ll never forget doing our first tour off of the Dawn Patrol record and then we went in and cut our second record Midnight Madness and then started touring off of that and still opening for other bands and then “You can Still Rock In America” became a hit single and hit video. Then the record company put out a little old single called “Sister Christian” and that changed our world man, all over MTV, all over air play and radio around the country and they finally came back to us and said “Hey guys I think it’s time you start headlining, you’re doing well you’ve already sold a couple million records”, so we geared up a tour with headline status and we’re getting on a bus and couple of trucks behind us with all the gear and I think it was late '83 early '84 pulling into Lacrosse, Wisconsin playing the big coliseum there and pulling in and looking at that marquee saying “Tonight NIGHT RANGER Sold Out” with 8,000 people and that was a pivotal point for this band. It was like “Wow, we’re headlining and we’ve got our first sold out coliseum”. We had a great run all the way thru the 80s and we pretty much toured with everybody and played everywhere. It’s so funny man, we were on the road a couple years back in Pittsburgh or somewhere and I looked at Kelly and there was a coliseum there and I said “Kelly did we ever play there” and he goes “Dude we played every coliseum in the country at least four times”. And I was like “I guess we have…Cool” (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: Yeah you did, you even came to the little bitty town where I lived and that kicked it off for me. I’ve already got a few favorites on this album that I can’t wait to hear live. In the live set, you’ll obviously work in the hits and this album has so many great songs and I know you’re trying to get some feedback on how many you’re going to plug into the live set.

GILLIS: What are your favorites there Duane?

KNAC.COM: I want to hear “Jamie”, “Nothing Left Of Yesterday”, “Somehow Someway” and “Truth” and you know I’ve got old ones I want to hear too that I haven’t heard in years that you guys don’t play.

GILLIS: Which one?

KNAC.COM: I want to hear “Passion Play”.

GILLIS: Oh I want to hear “Passion Play” too. I keep bringing that up, “Come on let’s do "Passion Play"” because that was always a blast to play live and I’ll never forget that Japanese video we did in the 80s where they had the smoke across the stage that was about three feet high. It was like a billowing cloud and I remember leaning back and raising up out of the clouds on that opening guitar lick. It was always fun to play live and I think we’re going to try to change some things around. We actually added the song “Night Ranger” in the set, we hadn’t done that one in a long time. We started doing “Penny”, which we hadn’t done for years so maybe we’ll switch it up to do a couple of other things. I think it’s getting to the point that where we’re not gonna have enough time to put all these songs in because we play an hour and a half a night and what songs do we drop to add some of the new songs? We’ll see what happens, I think we’ll at least play two of the new songs in the set and learn four or five of them to be able to rotate so we’ll see what happens.

KNAC.COM: When Joel Hoekstra announced his departure from the band, it seemed like the natural fit to fill that void was Keri Kelli, having already played several shows with you guys. I saw quite a few of your shows last year and to watch Keri’s progression in the band has really been amazing. How was it working with Keri on this album?

GILLIS: Well I gotta tell you, Keri’s a great guy, a great guitar player. He’s one of those cats that always has a positive attitude, you know? The last thing you want to do is get someone in your band that has issues or problems or doesn’t have the energy that you strive for, not only on but off the stage. Because you gotta realize you’re traveling with these people, you’re on buses together and you’re constantly together. Keri, along with Joel, are both great players, and I’m just lucky to have had eight years with Joel and these couple years with Keri and it’s been a seamless transition. The guy gets in here and gets involved and Keri’s just steppin’ up huge.

KNAC.COM: I interviewed Kelly last week and he said that you found a new toy and you recorded a few songs without the red Strat, tell me about that.

GILLIS: Well, I collect guitars. I’ve got 130 guitars, I’ve got like 40 amps, most of them are vintage and I have the luxury when I work from home to be able to use different guitars. I use like a '64 Strat on this here and there and I use my black Les Paul on a couple things but mainly I use my '62 red Strat that I’ve had throughout my career. Basically, it’s all about the songs and the solos and the choruses and we all learn within our trade to use whatever’s best to fit that song.

KNAC.COM: I’ve got one of those red Strats hanging on my wall that you signed for me and that’s my prized possession.

GILLIS: Hey give that back! (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: No way! When things wind down for you, which I know is going to be a while with the release of the new album, do you still have plans to go back and do a follow up to Alligator, your last solo album?

GILLIS: Yeah well, I have all this great new material, well I think it’s great. I spent a lot of time on it. I’ve been delving into this new record for a year now trying to get it done, but I have the luxury of waking up every morning when I’m home and firing up my studio and just writing music so we’ll see what happens, I’m trying to find the right singers to sing some of these songs. I’ve been so inundated with TV music lately that it’s just a blast to wake up and write something and know you’re gonna get to hear it on ESPN a couple weeks later. It's so funny, I just landed a song on The Price Is Right, a Spanish flamenco song for when somebody wins a trip to Spain or something. That’s kind of what I love to do and it keeps me busy doing music all day long. I put in fourteen hours yesterday going thru my library and working on songs and it’s so much fun too, I mean I live in the 'burbs out here in the Bay Area and I open up my windows where my studio is and you’ve got rolling hills and deer and turkeys and skunks and damn woodpeckers (Laughs) and snakes. I’m like out in the woods here and it’s such a good vibe that I wake up in a good mood just rearing to go and I go right down the hill and I’m on the freeway and twenty minutes to the airport. To have that luxury and positive vibe around you to be able to create a bunch of cool stuff is definitely a luxury that I enjoy.

KNAC.COM: So, what are the tour plans? Are you guys loading it up with a lot of headline shows? I know you all have families and need a break so how extensive will this tour be?

GILLIS: Well we usually take our break around the holidays. Last year we had three shows between Christmas and New Year’s which was kind of a drag because I had to get family out of here early but we had three great shows. We’re usually real light the first couple months of the year. That gives us time to do other stuff but we’ve already done a couple of gigs. Last weekend was great, we played Freemont Street in Vegas and I swear there were like twelve to fifteen thousand people there, it kicked ass, it was unbelievable. The next day the NASCAR Kobalt 400 was in Vegas so we went down there and sang the National Anthem acapella on national TV right before the race, then Monday went right into L.A. and did the photo session and now I’m back home doing production work. In my life there’s never a dull moment (Laughs). It’s great ya know, it’s all fun stuff.

KNAC.COM: I turned on to watch the national anthem. You guys did a good job, it was pretty cool.

GILLIS: Yeah we’ve done it before and we’ve actually played NASCAR like three of four times with our band before the race starts. We hope to get some more this year and we’ve actually got Vegas coming up again in June playing with BOSTON and we’ve got a hometown show coming up here right by my house at the Shoreline with STEVE MILLER and PETER FRAMPTON and gigs here and there, the big festivals with four or five bands. Then we go to Japan and do four or five shows over there in like November, and we’ll have the normal crazy year that we usually have. We’ll probably do seventy or so shows, something like that.

KNAC.COM: Well I know you’ve got a full schedule, all awesome stuff Brad. I sure appreciate your time and this album is going to be great for you guys. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it, they’re going to love it. I wish you much success with it.

GILLIS: Beautiful! Hey thanks Duane, we’re looking forward to releasing it and getting the reaction from our fans and already the twenty-five interviews I’ve done in the past two weeks, it’s all been positive stuff about this record.

KNAC.COM: I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s response to it and I’ll see you guys out on the road.

GILLIS: Alright, hey thanks buddy, we’ll talk to you soon.


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