Night Ranger exploded onto the music scene 35 years ago and haven’t stopped rocking since! Through the years, Night Ranger has earned widespread acclaim, multi-platinum and gold album status while leaving their indelible mark on the music charts with a string of best-selling albums and producing legendary hits such as “Sister Christian,” “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” “When You Close Your Eyes,” the anthemic “(You Can Still) Rock In America,” along with “Sentimental Street,” “Goodbye,” “Sing Me Away” and “Four in the Morning.” With more than 17 million albums sold worldwide, more than 3,000 live shows performed and more than 1 billion in radio audience, Night Ranger has both epitomized and transcended the arena rock sound and style of that era and beyond. With songs that impacted popular culture and continue to expand their ever-growing fanbase, Night Ranger is proof that powerful songs, plus accomplished musicians are the perfect formula for continued success.
In 2017, the legendary band will write the next chapter of their story with the release of their the 12th studio album — ‘Don’t Let Up.’ The album serves as the culmination of the band’s work to date and celebrates the band’s 35th anniversary with incredible melodic cuts and hard rocking numbers. Self-produced by the band, Night Ranger’s new album has everything fans, old and new, could ask for! ‘Don’t Let Up’ is the result of five musicians living and breathing rock ‘n’ roll 24 hours a day. 35 years on and Night Ranger is once again ready to let the fans know.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Night Ranger’s Kelly Keagy to discuss his journey as a musician, the making of ‘Don’t Let Up’ and the challenges they faced along the way.
How did music come into your life and what went into finding your creative voice?
When I was younger, my older brothers used to play records in the house and I totally latched onto that. I remember hearing stuff like Little Richard and Elvis Presley as a 5-year-old. Not long after that, I started to play. I was about 7 years old and that was when Motown, The Beatles and all that stuff was going on, along with transistor radios. There was really a wealth of music out there at that point.
What influence helped shape you as an artist moving forward in life?
In my neighborhood, there was a gentleman named Richie Ray who had played with a surf band called The Safaris out of Los Angeles. When I got to be 16 years old, he asked me to play with him and do a few gigs. I really learned a lot from him. In that project, I was 16 and a lot of the guys were around 30 years old. So, I always had a chance to play with the older, more seasoned musicians and I learned a lot from the guys who had been out there and done a lot of gigs. That was a great opportunity for me. Going forward, it seemed I was always playing with older musicians and, for some reason, I was always the youngest guy in the band. It was really cool and it helped me because they were showing me the bands that they were listening to and I was inspired by that. It was truly an amazing time!
You spent your life in the music business and had great success along the way. In addition, Night Ranger is celebrating 35 years together as a band. What are the keys to longevity in this business?
I think you have to be happy with where you are at the time and being creative should be enough. I never had the mentality of “I want to be famous,” “I want to make a bunch of money” or “I want to be a rock star!” I never had that! I was always happy with where I was at the time and when I was playing music, I was living in the moment. That always helps because if you have aspirations of being famous or making a lot of money, you might get let down. However, if you’re happy about playing music with other people, then that will be the inspiration to keep you going forward. I think playing with other musicians and being creative with other people is really important.
The title of the new record from Night Ranger, “Don’t Let Up,” ties into that well. How did the ball get rolling on this album?
We got started in January of 2016. With the last two albums that we have done, we’ve just booked time and scheduled writing sessions. That allows us to come into a room, Brad [Gillis], Jack [Blades] and myself, and start throwing musical ideas around. We start jamming and start pulling stuff out of the blue. It’s been kind of cool because there’re no prewritten songs and we start writing each album with a clean slate. It’s like, “OK, I have this idea for a chorus … ” or “I’ve got this riff … ” or “I’ve got this groove!” We just start moving forward and inspiring each other each step of the way. That’s how things start to move forward. For this record, we got together in Nashville, along with other sessions out in California and Seattle. With those sessions, we found we had more than half the record written. It was all about getting in the room and playing off of each other!
Did you have goals or aspirations for the album as it started to take shape?
I think we wanted to continue what we have done with the past two records, which is to create good songs featuring ideas and playing and to not come out of there until we had it! The great thing about it is that we could get together, write four songs, live with them for awhile, go do some dates and then come back together after a month or so and continue the process. We would look at it as, “OK, we have four songs that are starting to shape up. What do we need? Let’s keep jamming and keeping the ideas flowing!” That’s really how it happened!
Where did you look for inspiration this time around?
I think we looked a lot to the ideas the band has had in the past, tapping into those and expanding on them. We really wanted to utilize the musical abilities that the band has and use that as an inspiration. It really came down to pushing each other creatively.
Did you face challenges in bringing “Don’t Let Up” to life?
Yeah, it was a real challenge to record the album. We all have our own studios but we all live in different places. Keri Kelli is in LA, Eric and Brad are up in the Bay Area, Jack is now up in Seattle and I live in Tennessee. We had to book different sessions to write the album, first of all, to get the songs written. Like I said, that was about three or four different sessions. Then, what we decided to do was use the recording studios we all had in our homes to put it all together. Once we wrote the songs, all we had to do was to pass the sessions around to each other and re-record their part using the tools they have at home. Once we have the templates for the songs from the sessions, we just re-record them that way. The challenge was, when everyone was re-recording their parts, some of us weren’t in the room. That was kind of scary! So, we had to share those sessions and ideas with everybody so that we could all keep on the same plain and have everyone in the loop.
You mentioned Keri Kelli, who is along for the ride this time. You worked with him for a number of years. What does he bring to the table for a project like this one?
I think that he brought in some really cool riffs that we based songs on. He came in with some really unique riffs and we thought, “Oh, that’s good. Let’s use that!” It was really nice that he came in with some ideas and clips of inspirations that we could tap into. The same thing goes for Eric [Levy]. On the last record and the one before that, he came in with some great piano elements that we used. It’s nice to have these two new members of the band be an inspiration and have them be a part of the creative process!
You lived with the songs from this album for awhile now. Which of them stand out to you as ones that came easier and others that were hard to nail down? Anything that didn’t make the record this time around?
The first few songs that were written were “Running Out of Time,” “Day and Night,” “Jamie” and one other song. Then “Truth” came around, along with “Somehow Someway” and “Don’t Let Up.” As we went along, as the months went by, more songs would start to pop through. I think some of the hardest stuff was some of the more up-tempo stuff, for me, like “Somehow Someway.” That song was written somewhere else and I wasn’t even in the room at the time. It was originally a drum machine. So, when that song came up, I was playing to this demo with a drum machine and guitars. That was tough for me because usually songs like that, which are up-tempo, it’s nice to have everybody in the room. When you’re cutting stuff like that by yourself, it can be really frustrating because you’re not playing off other musicians. Everything that was written in the sessions made the record. We did a different play on “Don’t Let Up” to have a different take on it. I did some percussion stuff here at the house and we did this cool kind of jungle vibe to it as another version of the song that’s going to show up. Everything that we wrote made the record and we didn’t hold anything back!
You’ve seen the music industry change through the years. What’s the best part about being a working artist in today’s climate?
I think the best part about the music industry today is that your stuff is going to be heard by a lot of people because of the Internet. That’s a good thing; especially for young musicians! It’s great to be able to get your stuff out there. In the past, you had to do a showcase and play live for the record companies and all this other stuff. Now, you can make a record at home and I don’t think the record companies even care if you can play it live or not! I think with the Internet being out there, you can really get your stuff out there to places you never had access to before. Personally, I’m really excited about the future of music. I think there’s a lot of great artists out there right now! The key is that it’s all about the songs! It’s all about the good songs and people are really out there writing great lyrics! It’s really nice to see that happening and continuing!
When you look back on your career and body of work, how have you evolved as an artist?
I think the biggest factor is that we kept writing some good stuff and kept it together as a band. The three of us, Jack, Brad and I, played together before this band. The fact that we are still together and still able to communicate musically and mentally while growing closer as a family is amazing. We are still together after all these years, still playing, still enjoying playing and still making records! I think it’s incredible that 35 years later, we are still making music together!
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
I think you have to find inspiration wherever you can to write music. It’s important to use your life lessons and put them into your songs. I mean, that’s how we’ve done it! We’ve always used each other and whatever someone is going through at the time in their life as inspiration. I always find myself tapping into whatever’s going on in my life, within my family’s lives or with Jack and Brad and we use that! You have to bring those things in. we go through those things together; so why not write about them together?!
Very cool! It sounds like the future for Night Ranger is very bright! We look forward to catching up with you on the road very soon!
Thank you, Jason! I appreciate your time. Thanks for the opportunity and I look forward to meeting you!
For all the latest news and tour dates for Night Ranger, visit the official website at www.nightranger.com. Frontiers Music Srl will release “Don’t Let Up”, the new studio album from NIGHT RANGER, on March 24.