Back For The Attack: Part 1 Of Jeff Kerby’s Exclusive Dokken Interview
Friday, February 1, 2002 @ 10:26 AM
Jeff Kerby Goes Head To Head W
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Breaking the Chains -- for real. I finally got released from jail, and I was happier than George Lynch in that video where he broke free from that stone wall just in time for his guitar solo back in the ‘80s. To celebrate, I was going to go and interview Don Dokken -- Mr. Rock Star. When I got to the venue, I was informed that the interview was going to be at least a half hour later than scheduled, and when it finally did happen, I was told by the tour manager that I was going to get a whole whopping ten minutes with the front man of Dokken. I wasn’t exactly happy, but I thought I’d go and kill some time talking to the guy who was selling t-shirts. His name was Mike, and let me tell you, if you ever want to know the inside scoop on a band, just ask the t-shirt guy. He was cool as hell, and I don’t know if I would have ever got the opportunity to speak to Don if he hadn’t sent the message to Dokken’s tour manager that there was some long, leggy blonde with big tits waiting for him at the merchandise table.
Of course, after receiving this info, the guy shows up about two minutes later, and I was finally taken back to this backstage trailer -- you know the type, the kind that looks like it gets used primarily as a backdrop for cheap porn -- I guess I would know. Anyway, after the door was opened, I could see that each of the boys in the band looked like they’d seen better days. All were sick, and it seemed as though doing an interview with me might be the last thing in the world they’d ever want to do. The funny thing was, Don, like Lazarus, seemed to come to life once he swallowed a couple gulps of Crown Royal and the interview started. Sick or not, he turned out to be the exact opposite of everything I’d ever heard about him. Did I just catch him on a good day? Maybe. But the fact is Don turned out to be accommodating, personable, and above all -- professional. You may not always like what he says, you may not always agree with it, but I for one, sure as hell appreciated the candor.
KNAC.COM: Given that this is the big 20-year anniversary tour, when you look back, how much of what has transpired do you think is unique to Dokken? How much is just indicative of a band with your longevity?
DOKKEN: Disillusionment is the main thing. The disillusionment you get.
KNAC.COM: Especially when you’re lying sick on the couch?
DOKKEN: Yeah, yeah, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be either. You know, we started out to be famous with all the big kudos that go along with it, but it’s work. They call it 24 hours of hell for two hours of heaven. There’s a lot of downtime. Seventeen-hour bus rides. It’s freezing, cold, you check into a hotel room there’s no heat -- the hot water blew up. You’re just sitting there in bed going, “Christ, I don’t want to get up.”
KNAC.COM: So, what’s the worst thing that’s happened on this tour?
DOKKEN: Well, Barry got pneumonia. Mick was in the hospital the other day getting IV’s. I lost my voice twice and got steroid injections to get the swelling down cause we had a show. It’s just a drag --
MICK BROWN: The worst thing that happened on this tour is we ran out of whiskey one night.
KNAC.COM: That would be rough -- besides eventual disillusionment, do you think that personnel changes are going to be inevitable?
DOKKEN: Every band. Every band. I don’t know any band except for Aerosmith. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys. Aerosmith is about the only band I know, they had bond -- probably because they had a common bond, you know with all of them being drug addicts and alcoholics. That kind of bound them. Other than that, Van Halen didn’t survive it, Dokken couldn’t survive it, Bon Jovi couldn’t survive it. That’s just the way it goes. It’s like being married to three or four people instead of one. What are you going to do? You spiritually grow in different directions—spiritually and mentally.
KNAC.COM: True, and given that, when it’s all said and done at the end of the day, is it not the lead singer’s ball game? If something’s a success he gets the accolades primarily, but if something fails --
”Without the fans, we’d be nothing. You gotta keep the fans happy, but you’ve got to keep yourself happy too.” – Don Dokken
DOKKEN: It’s a double-edged sword. When things are going great, the singer gets all the respect and when things go bad….
KNAC.COM: Is there a reason for that though? For example, if there are two versions of Judas Priest playing in your town on the same night, and one features Rob Halford while the other is made up of the other band members, which one are you going to go and see?
DOKKEN: That would be hard—
KNAC.COM: Really? I would think that for a lot of people it would be Halford -- no contest.
DOKKEN: I would say Halford, yeah. It’d be close though. I like KK and Tipton and all those guys in Priest, but Halford is Halford. He is the voice.
KNAC.COM: On your website, you’ve got material pertaining to your other artistic endeavors—graphics, poetry—how hard is it to make that kind of thing public? Are you ever worried about the fans going, “What the hell is this? He’s not an artist, he’s a singer.”
DOKKEN: It doesn’t matter.
KNAC.COM: It really doesn’t?
DOKKEN: I didn’t do that for anyone but myself. I didn’t do that to get acknowledgement or a pat on the back, it’s just something I did.
KNAC.COM: So you can either like it --
DOKKEN: Or I could give a shit. I do that for fun. I just do it. I don’t write songs for anybody but myself. Well the band’s like this -- I’m not a hit factory. I don’t go like, “Well this is popular right now” -- I don’t care.
KNAC.COM: I believe I have read where you said, that you’d like to see your music evolve and not fall into something that’s formulaic.
KNAC.COM: Right, so how would you say the new stuff is a departure from what you’ve previously recorded? I mean, every band always tells the press that their new album is the best -- how is this one really different?
DOKKEN: I think we skipped the ‘90 and ‘80 and went back to some ‘60 influences -- Zeppelin, Beatles. People who are digging music now missed out on a whole missed out on a whole generation. Aerosmith in the ‘70s, Cream—they don’t know about it. The ‘80s got watered down kinda --
KNAC.COM: Speaking of which, when did you know that as a genre, that style of metal was on the way out? Did you see something on TV and go “Oh God, it’s over now.”
DOKKEN: Nirvana. I saw it and said, “it’s all over now.”
KNAC.COM: Nothing from within the metal community?
DOKKEN: Everybody was getting pretty silly toward the end. Although I thought we held up our credibility and stayed pretty heavy right up to the end.
KNAC.COM: You said on VH1 that one of the things that you liked the most was the respect you received from the other bands. Who was it within that grouping of bands that you respected?
DOKKEN: Metallica. They fought the system big time. They went right against the grain. They fought it all the way. We played with Metallica on the Monsters of Rock tour and they opened up for us, and I could see then that we just couldn’t go any farther. I saw Metallica open up for us and I thought “this is the band we are supposed to be, but we’re not.” There was too much fighting, drug abuse, alcohol, egos. Just too much money. Too rich. Too famous. I said, “this is the band we’re supposed to be but instead we’re crashing and burning.”
KNAC.COM: Rap metal or nu metal takes a pretty good beating on our station. Does that interest you at all? Bands like Mudvayne, Slipknot --
DOKKEN: I don’t get all that Slipknot stuff. It’s way over my head.
KNAC.COM: Do you even want to?
DOKKEN: I listened to it. I listened to the whole damn record, and it was pure torture. I don’t get it.
”If I had my way, we’d play all new stuff. Just go forward. Playing a song like “Breaking the Chains” twenty years later…Just listen to the lyrics, you know, I’m not spiritually there anymore. That’s way behind me.” – Don Dokken
KNAC.COM: Is that because you’ve moved out of your house and the parents aren’t still bugging you to clean your room -- that kind of thing?
DOKKEN: Yeah, my ill spent youth. My parents didn’t love me. I’m like “stop with the whining try being raised in a foster home you’ll see how life sucks.” You know, like, “my skateboard needs new wheels. This really sucks, I can’t go on.”
KNAC.COM: Well, let me ask you this, as you continue to record music and tour, how hard is it to pick a set list? Are there just certain songs that kill you to play night after night?
DOKKEN: There are some songs I prefer not to play on the set. Those are generally the hits. I prefer not to. If I had my way, we’d play all new stuff. Just go forward. You know, playing a song like “Breaking the Chains” twenty years later. Twenty years, I’m like “Breaking the Chains…” just listen to the lyrics, you know, “sit there thinking in your room” it was like where I was then but I’m not spiritually there anymore. I mean that’s way behind me.
KNAC.COM: Ok, so at what point does it become the fan’s group versus your group and what you want to play? Isn’t there a certain obligation you would have to play those?
DOKKEN: Yeah, I mean without the fans, we’d be nothing. We could put out the greatest record of all time and the musicians could all say it’s the most amazing record of all time, but if the fans don’t dig it, we’re out of business, so you gotta keep the fans happy, but you’ve got to keep yourself happy too. So you’ve just got to put yourself in the mental space and sing it the best you can. That’s one thing I dug about the Cult’s tour—they played like half new stuff, and I liked that. That’s ballsy. I prefer to do the new stuff.
KNAC.COM: You’re doing two new ones on this set. One of them, “Sunless Days” is supposed to be about September 11th, is that right?
DOKKEN: Kinda, but I don’t like to say that because I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon. It was written the same week it happened, so Freudianly…I don’t know, I don’t think it was a song about September 11th, it was basically about the state of the world in general. It’s just dark right now. Everybody’s killing everybody. Everybody’s at war—Catholics kill the Protestants, the Jews kill the Palestinians—the list just goes on and on. It was just “Sunless days, we live in sunless nights. No horizons to be found.” Those are the lyrics. It’s like where does it end? Where does it stop? Do we have to go all the way to the brink of destruction before we get it?
KNAC.COM: Speaking of lyrics, “Alone Again” might be the seminal power ballad. How do you feel about that song today?
DOKKEN: It’s a good song.
KNAC.COM: It doesn’t have the same effect on you that “Breaking the Chains” does?
DOKKEN: No, for some reason that song sticks. I don’t know why.
KNAC.COM: Is it because you’ve done some variations on it lyrically?
DOKKEN: Yeah, I get a little scatty in the front. The audience likes singing it every night—it’s a rush. I don’t even sing it any more hardly. John plays a riff and the audience sings the chorus—loud. It’s pretty trippy.
KNAC.COM: Would you say that it’s your most satisfying song?
DOKKEN: A satisfying song….I wrote that song four years before Dokken was even conceived. I wrote that song when I was twenty years old or something like that. I wrote that song when I was a kid.
KNAC.COM: So you wouldn’t hang the Dokken legacy on it?
DOKKEN: No, that song was written before Dokken even existed. It was one of the first songs I ever wrote. Maybe that’s why it’s a good song. Maybe it’s the beauty and the innocence of it. It’s a very innocent arrangement. It’s not complicated. It’s not Rush. It’s three cords, straightforward melody. I just said what I had to say, what I was feeling. There’s nothing extraordinary about that song.
MICK BROWN: I think most of the Dokken legacy hangs on the turmoil within the band.
KNAC.COM: Could you say anything about the Jeff Pilson situation?
DOKKEN: It was sad—
MICK BROWN: Yeah, he just lost interest in the band.
”I think most of the Dokken legacy hangs on the turmoil within the band.” – Mick Brown
DOKKEN: Yeah, he just didn’t want to do it anymore. We knew that on the Poison tour. You know, the whole “he said, she said—they fired me, I quit” the truth is, he quit. That’s the truth, and I don’t lie. He told Mick on the Poison tour, “that’s it, I’m done. I want out of this band. I want off the roller coaster.” I respected him for that because his musical tastes -- he’s a guy that would buy all the new stuff and listen to it. He likes stuff that I just hated.
KNAC.COM: Tell me it’s not Radiohead --
DOKKEN: Actually, yeah, one of his favorites is Radiohead. When he said that to me, I listened to the record and I went, “I don’t get it.” Then he went both nights to the Universal, and he got really good seats to see them. He was like so ecstatic about going to see that band. I said, “These are the emperor’s new clothes.”
KNAC.COM: And you didn’t want to try them on? Probably not much longevity in taking someone else’s style…
DOKKEN: If you can even get it. When their video came out, it showed a turntable turning for like eight minutes.
KNAC.COM: Riveting. Wasn’t it?
DOKKEN: I was thinking…we’re getting fucking hustled here. We’re getting hustled. They got turntables spinning around and it was going on for around ten minutes and everybody was like “that was it.” I was thinking those guys must be laughing their asses off sitting a dressing room thinking about what a scam they’ve pulled on the whole music population.
KNAC.COM: And they have. You could take audio of them going to the bathroom right now, it would go multi-platinum and someone would claim it has artistic merit.
DOKKEN: It reminds me of the people who go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art who walk up and see this canvas and there is a dot on it. They all stand around going “it embodies the beginning of the universe. It’s the embryo of the woman’s womb before evolution” and I’m looking at it going, “a guy stepped over the thing and he spilled some paint and it all fell on the canvas, end of story.”
KNAC.COM: Which all begs the question: which is more important, the message or the messenger? I mean, if this guy’s an award-winning artist, aren’t people going to give him the benefit of the doubt? Aren’t they going to figure there is some artistic merit there? Whereas, if I go and do it, well hell -- it’s just stupid.
DOKKEN: I don’t know, maybe I’m just shallow.
MICK BROWN: Is there a bunch of people actually getting something out of those guys. Getting something out of Radiohead?
DOKKEN: Is it a pothead thing?
KNAC.COM: I think it’s a psuedo-intellectual college computer pod type thing.
DOKKEN: And if that is true, Jeff came from that kind of thing. He was more into that progressive stuff like Yes and King Crimson, so I can see where that part of his mind got triggered by that. Me, I was like into slammin’ guitars and pounding drums. You know, maybe I’m just stupid or shallow, but it’s not where I’m at.
KNAC.COM: So any information hinting that maybe he just wasn’t asked to participate might just be spin control designed to make it seem as though he wasn’t responsible for the split? Is that fair to say? It almost seems like there was a communication breakdown or something.
DOKKEN: No, I called him everyday, he wouldn’t return my phone calls. My opinion, my belief is that he thought that the movie Rock Star would launch his solo career, so he basically abandoned the band. Maybe he was thinking “I’ve got this movie, it’s gonna be a huge hit, Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Anniston. If I’m ever going to do a solo album, maybe this is my time to do it.” And he did.
KNAC.COM: And the landscape of music is strewn with the wreckage of failed solo endeavors.
DOKKEN: Yeah, this is my opinion is that Jeff’s a great singer, and he could have gone and done a Don Dokken -- he coulda been me twenty years ago, but if Tom Hamilton leaves Aerosmith tomorrow and does a solo album, the biggest band, is he gonna sell records? I don’t think so. Is Jason Newstead gonna go platinum? The biggest metal band in the world. The bass player in the Stones? The bass player in Bon Jovi? The biggest international band in the world. It’s not about that. It’s the wheel. I’m the axel. You have the wheel, but you can’t go anywhere without the axel. I’m not talking about an Axl Rose, I’m talking about the axel of a car. If you have the axel of a wheel and the hub is broken, the wheel can still roll on. You can’t do without the axel.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where Don dishes the dirt on George Lynch, radio payola, the new Dokken CD, and much, much more....
Live photos of Don Dokken by Mitch Lafon. Live photo of Jeff Pilson by Jeff Fishman.