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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Bassist/ Vocalist Jeff Pilson

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, January 10, 2005 @ 10:44 AM

War & Peace: Kerby's Exclusive

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Three conversations.

Three different viewpoints.

It is interesting that this is the last Dokken interview in this series because if Don Dokken and George Lynch are polar opposites, Jeff Pilson is easily the band member here who presents himself with the least amount of animosity, and consequently, the least obstructed view of what occurred. Make no mistakeóif Jeff had to choose sides, his allegiance would definitely have to be with the bandís former guitarist and not the vocalistóLynch is the only one from the group that he speaks to at this time. Sure, Pilson throws his share of jabs at Don during our conversation, but he also accepts his portion of the responsibility for the dissolution of the band. He admits to the drugs and even cops to the discussions about getting rid of Dokken that occurred in the front of the bus all the while managing to express a certain degree of remorseómore than one would expect anyway. From this dialogue, it also doesnít seem that a Dokken reunion would be out of the question in the future for Jeff either. I mean, if George refused to rule it out, it wouldnít be too difficult to envision Pilson someday sharing the stage with Don and company again.

Until that happens, Jeff has kept himself busy playing bass, producing various acts, and recently releasing his latest solo effort with War & Peace entitled The Walls Have Eyes. It is a record very personal to Pilson in that he was able to realize his own vision with little outside interference. The songs are straightforward and feature Jeff singing leadósomething he certainly loves to do. He also managed to make time recently to be the studio bassist on Dioís most recent offering Master of the Moon. Of course, many also remember that Pilson was musically involved and had a small role in the movie Rock Star a few years back. When he hasnít been working, Jeff has also been learning what itís like to be the father of a daughter who is less than one year old. What you have when you talk to Pilson is a candid person willing to reflect back on what he has done while at the same time one gets the impression that he isnít obsessed with it and instead seems as though he is comfortable with how his career has evolved.

Hereís hoping that if there is some quality music left in this collective that they will be able to put the past aside and create something we all could enjoy throwing on the stereo. The world can always use some more good rock.

KNAC.COM: Youíve been in about a million different working environments, what was cool about basically controlling everything on the War & Peace project?
PILSON: The cool part is that you spend all of your time creating and you donít have to do any translating. You donít have to filter any ideas through any other channels. Itís basically just a pretty pure experience where you can just take your idea and make it happen without too much trouble. Donít get me wrong--I love to collaborate, but there is nothing like doing something on your own and having it be creatively satisfying.

KNAC.COM: What would happen during those times when maybe you did want some objective input about a particular idea?
PILSON: I actually didnít in this particular case.

KNAC.COM: Really?
PILSON: Yeah, not in this actual case. That would have ordinarily happened, but it didnít here primarily because I felt like I was on a roll. Most of this stuff kind of came in a pretty pure way. Now, if that did happen though and I did feel like I needed an outside opinion, I would have had no problem bouncing it off somebody. I wouldnít have a problem with that. In this case though, it just didnít seem necessary. Everything just flowed.

KNAC.COM: Does that happen often where you are just so inspired creatively that youíre basically able to create something in a type of vacuum?
PILSON: It does happen. Itís just that what makes this different is that I finally had an outlet for it. Generally, especially the last few years, Iíve done a lot of writing on my own. This was just one of the few opportunities that Iíve had to see it through to becoming a finished product.

KNAC.COM: Was there any type of a problem juggling your participation on Dioís latest album and recording The Walls Have Eyes?
PILSON: Honestly, there wasnít a problem because they didnít overlap at all. It was quick, and by the time I played with Dio, I had long since finished the War & Peace record. If there was anything that did overlap, itís that Iíve been also doing a lot of producing. The War & Peace thing was something I would basically do during my time off or in the mornings or on Saturdays. That was pretty much facilitated by the fact that I can just walk downstairs and make it happen in my studio.

KNAC.COM: Is this the most fulfilling project for you primarily because you are the driving force behind it? Can any group situation compare?
PILSON: I suppose it can, but itís a different kind of fulfillment. When youíre in a group, the buzz concerns realizing that you have just created something magical that you couldnít have done on your own. When you are doing something on your own though, itís like the buzz comes from the outside, and itís like there is some magical entity outside yourself driving it. Thatís a powerful feeling, but to answer your question, it can be similar with a group, but it is a different kind of buzz.

KNAC.COM: When you are playing these new songs live and have been with the tunes since their inception, how does that change the feeling you have while performing them?
PILSON: I would say that it really is different. Iím just really fortunate that in this band that I have guys that are really good about interpreting what Iíve written. They not only can interpret it, but they can take it a step farther. It isnít like a situation where they are trying to alter the original idea or anything--they are just trying to make it better. Now, when that happens, that is kind of the ultimate buzz.

KNAC.COM: Does it take a certain amount of security on your part to lead a band while allowing the members the freedom to step outside the parameters of the written music? That isnít always the case in other bands, is it?
PILSON: Yeah, there are a lot of ego turf wars that happen in bands on a subtle level that can stifle that process. I donít even care if things would get rewritten if it makes the music better. Itís just great when you find people who are on the same wavelength and can communicate with what you already have.

KNAC.COM: Were these songs written during one specific time period or over the course of many years?
PILSON: Most of it was written immediately following the Lynch/Pilson record. In fact, the song ďThe Walls Have EyesĒ was something that I had originally thought of as a Japanese bonus track for the Lynch/Pilson record. In fact, I even played it for George, and he dug the song, but then we ended up deciding that it would just be easier to release the domestic record with one less song, so there you go. What happened was that I just kept writing right after the Lynch/Pilson record because I was so inspired because that was a really strong collaborative album, so I just kept going. Most of the material happened right after that.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, George made it sound pretty positive as well.
PILSON: What we found out more than anything was that our chemistry had grown and that over the years it had sort of solidified into something that much more powerful. That is true even with the years we spent apart. I think that just attests to our true chemistry. Hopefully, weíll do another record together in the future, and when we do, I know it will be great because of that. It was just so much fun because George and I are friends, so that just helps make it an extremely positive experience.

KNAC.COM: Youíve basically grown up with the guy.
PILSON: Yeah, and weíve gone through some experiences that are huge parts of our lives. It definitely makes for a closeness that is hard to describe.

KNAC.COM: Did the fact that Mick [Brown] and Don [Dokken] are so close strengthen your relationship with George? I mean, I donít imagine that you talk to them every day or anything.
PILSON: Uh, no.

KNAC.COM: Of course, that would make George the only person that you could talk to about certain events that occurred during that time, right?
PILSON: Yeah, heís actually the only guy I talk to from that time at the moment. That is just because our friendship has developed and evolved. George and I talk every couple of weeks or so.

KNAC.COM: I guess that would be the hardest part of a band breaking up thoughóitís like you share all these experiences, and then, if the band breaks up on negative terms, it isolates the group from each other and from the people most able to relate to their past.
PILSON: People kind of have a way of seeing things through their own filter. Itís nice when you can relate with someone who has a similar filter. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: Speaking sort of about that, what was your expectation for your participation in the move Rock Star? Were you ever thinking of a career in film?
PILSON: Honestly, when I got involved it was on the music side, so I wasnít even expecting to be in the film at first. They had just basically asked me to play bass on the soundtrack. After the director watched us rehearse though, he liked what he saw, and I was offered the part. It was a pleasant surprise. I would say that because of that, my expectations were on the lower side. Of course, I wish the movie would have done better, but coming out on September 9th, 2001 and two days before the biggest catastrophe in American history took a little of the momentum out of it. Again, I didnít have real high expectations to start with, soÖ that being said, it has done well on the HBO/ home rental thing. It was more about the experience for me, and it was very positive. There was always a part of me that had always thought about being in the movies. Getting to be in something like this that was so positive--even the regular actors who were working on the set told us that the vibe on that particular movie was better than most. The director was an amazing guy who wanted to keep everyone active and involved. He was always asking questions and was open to our input. Everyone was just about fun, and it was a great closure to a lifelong dream of mine of being in the movies. Did I have big expectations of being an actor? No, not really. I understood that I was just playing myself in this movie. It would be fun to be in other ones, but I wasnít really expecting that of this movie.

KNAC.COM: SoÖ if someone were to say, ďJeff Pilson left Dokken to become a movie star.Ē That would be incorrect?
PILSON: Yeah definitely. It couldnít be further from the truth.

KNAC.COM: See, I have to ask because Iíve heard that one before--I wonít say from where, but Iíll bet you can guess!
PILSON: [Laughs] No, I never had that expectation.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that the movie experience was that much better for you because it was a positive working environment whereas maybe on the music side of things, the relationships were getting a bit strained?
PILSON: Probably. I always recognized though that I was a musician. With acting, there is just so much tedium involved. Even if you are the star of the show, there is a lot of sitting around in the trailer. Iím kind of an antsy guy who likes to do things all the time. The great part of this for me was just that I was walking into a situation that was so professional. It made some of my other experiences lookÖ unproductive--if you know what I mean.

KNAC.COM: Well, it seems like everyone involved in Dokken would admit to a certain amount of deterioration that just kept getting progressively worse.
PILSON: That is especially true of after the movie when I went back and we did the Poison tour. That was just a pretty unpleasant experience all the way around. You know, Iím not going to lie about it--Don was in a different state of mind, and he was in a really strange headspace. It made for a really unpleasant tour.

KNAC.COM: Do you think there was some resentment about you doing the movie? Do you think he wished it had been him?
PILSON: [Laughs] Yeah, thereís no question there was a certain degree of that. I mean, thatís when Don decided he was going to become the ultimate video director for Dokken, and he was going to direct all these videos. God bless him--at least he tried to be productive with it. Do I think there was some resentment on a certain level? Sure.

KNAC.COM: Another point of contention seems to be the belief that you were never satisfied being the bassist of Dokken. Was there a part of you that was unhappy that you werenít the front man?
PILSON: Honestly--not. I do love to sing. Donít get me wrong on that, and I still love being in situations though where I donít sing. I loved playing with Ronnie Dio, and I loved the fact that he was singing. I did a Foreigner show not too long ago--

KNAC.COM: Really?
PILSON: Yeah, I was in Foreigner for a minute.

KNAC.COM: Which songs did you play?
PILSON: All the hits! Címon!

KNAC.COM: So you were out there doing ďJukebox HeroĒ and the whole bit?
PILSON: Yeah, we did a show in Santa Barbara a few months ago, and it was a blast. Iím hoping that more come along because it was so much fun.

KNAC.COM: Were you playing bass exclusively or were you doing vocals as well?
PILSON: We sang backgrounds, too. It was amazing. Even as much as I love to sing, I would never say that I resented Don being the front man, but what I resented was the attitude that he had and the way he tried to take credit for some things he didnít do. I also resented the way he kind of conducted himself within the band. He always kind of played the odd man out and made himself the odd man out in the band. That I resented because I thought it was very destructive. We all had our faults and did our share of things wrong, but I never resented him being the singer. I knew the parameters of the band when I first joined. There was no question about that. Itís like I say, I love being in situations where I donít sing because I love to play as much as I love to sing.

KNAC.COM: And you guys did enjoy some success.
PILSON: Yeah, but when it comes to the ego--

KNAC.COM: It just accentuated it?
PILSON: Thatís right, but honestly it just came down to the fact that I always wished that we felt like a real four way band, and we never did. If there was any resentment there, it was that. Let me add that it wasnít all Donís fault either, but he was one of the guys that put off a vibe that made it impossible for us to be the type of truly tight knit band that we never were.

KNAC.COM: One of the other issues that appears to still bother Don concerns his assertion that he would try to sleep in one of the bunks on the bus while the rest of the band was plotting to get rid of him.
PILSON: Yeah, and heís told me about that, and itís true. Really, I canít blame him for being really, really upset about it. In the end though, I think that was us talking drug talk more than anything else.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but donít you think people often let some of their real feelings out when theyíre drunk or high? I mean, thatís the part that would bother me if I were him.
PILSON: The problem is really that it never really felt like a team like it should have. That is especially true back in those days when it felt like the three of us verses him a lot of the time. As much as we were wrong for saying some of the things we said--that apparently he did hear--he was wrong for the way he conducted himself that made us want to say those things.

KNAC.COM: Why do you think he didnít confront you guys at the time or even the next day?
PILSON: I think it was a little bit of pride and discomfort--I totally understand that. Don has a much softer side than what he lets on sometimes. I do really feel bad about when that happened though. They were isolated incidents, but they still feel bad about them.

KNAC.COM: Couldnít any one of you make a case though for being unappreciated or feeling as if the band wasnít viable for you in some way?
PILSON: Thatís right.

KNAC.COM: How was it working with Dio then? I mean, you hear all kinds of things about nearly any assertive vocalist who has been around for a while. With Dio, you have a guy like Vivian Campbell consistently asserting that Ronnie isnít the person everyone believes he is. What was your experience like?
PILSON: I never found Ronnie to be difficult. Iíve heard stories about it, but I didnít find it to be true for me at all.

KNAC.COM: Was that an issue you had to deal with in your mind before you agreed to play on the record?
PILSON: No, because Ronnie has always been a friend. By the time I joined Dio in Ď93, I had already known him for ten years. Because of that, it was never an issue. Once I joined, we got along great, and the chemistry was great. I didnít find him to be difficult at all. Heís just persistent in what he does, and I love that because Iím the same way. Heís a perfectionist. Iím a perfectionist. I think we enjoyed pushing things to see how far we could take something. I always feel a magic working with Ronnie, but I also feel it when working with Vinnie as well. The whole Dio thing just felt really, really magical. I would just say that it was only positive. I say that even though the writing had already been done by the time they approached me. When you start with a great skeleton of a record and just put musicians with chemistry around it, itís only going to make it great.

KNAC.COM: Were you allowed that latitude to improve certain aspects of the music? Did you feel free to do that?
PILSON: Yeah, Iíve always been allowed that latitude, but on this record, it really wasnít necessary. It was all very much together when I heard it. It was just a really great, rare thing.

KNAC.COM: Why did you choose to redo Dokkenís ďWalk AwayĒ as your European bonus track for War & Peace?
PILSON: When they requested a bonus track for Europe, I had already submitted the entire record, and I felt very much at peace with it. It just felt like a finished body of work. When they asked though, this song was the one that went through my head. It just happened naturally and seemed like a very suitable song.

KNAC.COM: The placement of that tune always seemed really strange to me because it comes at the end of Beast From the East. Itís like the recording of a concert and then--A BONUS TRACK! Did you guys intend for that to happen or did you ever consider putting it on a regular studio album?
PILSON: It was specifically worked up for the live album, but we had originally wanted three new songs, but we only finished one in the end. It just kind of is what it is.

KNAC.COM: You have a section of your website where it says ďEmail JeffĒ--what do you normally receive through that?
PILSON: Kind of what youíd expect, I guess. You get a lot of longtime fans or people who stumble across the website. I get a lot of musicians asking me questions as well--a lot of technical stuff. Mostly I just get a lot of people who were fans or have been longtime fans and they just want to express their thanks.

KNAC.COM: You donít get any freaks? Címon! Those are the best ones.
PILSON: Thatís true, but Iíll bet if you take a guy like Marilyn Manson--Iíll bet he really gets the wackjobs.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, Iíll bet that particular realm of cyberspace isnít any place youíd want to live.
PILSON: Thatís safe to say.

KNAC.COM: Let me also ask you about something George alluded to on VH-1, and that concerns a video camera that was allegedly placed in the back of the Dokken tour bus. Lynch said that when certain activities were going on in the lounge area back there, that those in the front were able to view the entire scene on a television in the front. Uh, do you remember this at all?
PILSON: Oh yeah. [Laughs] I know that we all recall that.

KNAC.COM: Was this a regular occurrence?
PILSON: YYYEEESSS!! We were known for that, are you kidding?

KNAC.COM: Do you think a girl would have to be really naÔve/not that bright to not pick up on this? Or did they just not care?
PILSON: Well, it wasnít that obvious because at the time people were shocked that we could even do that. What was really funny was when a girl would go from the back of the bus, and they would walk to the front with this really big attitude like they thought they were really cool. Weíd just all be grinning. We called it the ďAttitude Buster.Ē

KNAC.COM: Not to incriminate yourself or anything, butÖ Iím sure there couldnít be any video of any of this still in existence now could there?
PILSON: I have no idea. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: I know you had a daughter recently, and Iím wondering if that has altered the way you perceive certain events in your past.
PILSON: For one thing, when we had this child, weíd been married for a couple of years. Iíve been with my wife for four. Honestly, I slowed down in that department a long time ago. I mean, I had a little rekindling of it in the late Ď90s version of Dokken. I had a few years where I kind of got those last wild oats out, but by the time I met my wife and settled down, I was really ready to do so. That being the case, having a daughter just seems like a natural extension of that. The question to me seems to be, ďHow are you going to be eleven and a half years from now when sheís going to shows?Ē

KNAC.COM: Exactly--thatís what I was getting at--youĎre going to know precisely whatís going on through each of those little guyís heads when they come over to pick up your daughter.
PILSON: Thatís right, but the way I figure it is that Iíll be one step ahead of these little schmucks! Itíll all work out though.

Click here for Kerby's previous interview with Don Dokken

Click here for Kerby's previous interview with George Lynch

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