Interviews

Interview With Jeff Pilson From The End Machine, Dokken and Foreigner

XS ROCK: Hey, man. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us today. You’re one of the busiest guys I think there is in rock.

Jeff Pilson: Then how come I feel lazy? (Laughs)

XS ROCK: Well, I don’t know. I bet you’re a workaholic. But with all of the side projects that you do. I mean, just in the last year. I mean you’ve been very busy with the incredible Black Swan project that you did. I think you were producer and mixer, maybe, on that?

Jeff Pilson: I wasn’t a mixer but I was the producer, yes.

XS ROCK: That album was just fantastic. And of course, you’re in Foreigner. Maybe it’s a little easier. Has it been easier with the pandemic? kind of keeping the touring down? Has it been easier to record at least?

Jeff Pilson: Well, yes. I mean, even though the pandemic does provide some challenges, as you can imagine, certainly, with remote recording and that kind of thing. But yeah, I definitely had more time to be in the studio. So, that’s been very helpful.

XS ROCK: Yeah. And this new album you guys have out, The End Machine Phase 2 is fantastic. I really like it. And it’s slightly different than the first album. Tell me a little bit about that. Did this sort of just happen on its own from working together, or did you purposely take this in a different direction than the first album?

Jeff Pilson: We did it purposely. We had a blast making the last record. We’re very proud of it and everything, but in being critical of ourselves, we felt with time and retrospective, that we had just gotten a little bit self-indulgent on it, which was fun but we just decided that we thought a more song oriented record, a little more meat and potatoes was called for this time. It just felt like the right thing to do. So, we made a very concerted effort to really concentrate on the songs and the hooks. That was the focus of what we did for the entire project.

XS ROCK: It’s hard for me to differentiate because, of course, you and George have played together in Dokken, so, naturally I think sometimes you’re going to have that kind of sound. Definitely, at times, I think this album, in particular, has a little bit of a Dokken without Don sound, nothing against Don personally but it’s that good.

Jeff Pilson: Yeah. Right. And that’s bound to happen. And when that did happen, we didn’t fight it. We just kind of went with it because it was coming out naturally and organically what we were feeling. I mean, George and I did write a lot of the music in Dokken so it’s not very unusual to me that it would sound like Dokken with a different singer.

XS ROCK: Yeah. And it was great to hear. I know there are a lot of people like me that are kind of pining for maybe one last album or hopefully more, but a proper reunion album with Dokken, I would love to hear that. And not to take anything away, of course, from The End Machine, which is great. Robert Mason is a great singer. Rob has worked in Warrant, and of course, Lynch Mob with George from before. So, with this album, let’s talk a little bit, if we can about how did the pandemic come into play with you guys recording this? Were you guys together in the studio much at all? Or is this very much a kind of piece it together sort of thing by sending tracks back and forth?

Jeff Pilson: What happened is George and I, as soon as the pandemic hit, we got asked to do a covers record. So, we did this record from Heavy Hitters that came out in– September, I think, which we started right as the lockdown started. So, what happened was by doing that record we were both very concerned about Covid and everything. We’re not the youngest of guys so we have to be careful. So, we decided we wanted to work all remotely. In order to do that, we did some investigating and we found a software that I can operate George’s studio from my studio. So, what we would do is we would get on Skype to communicate and then we would record where I’m able to hit record on his machine at his house. And that works really well.

Then we had to translate that to writing because we certainly had never written remotely before. But because we had that work on the Heavy Hitters Record, we sort of had it down. So, when we went to write, the remote thing wasn’t that big of a problem. We were able to get a lot done, plus George and I know each other. It’s an easy, very natural environment for us. So, doing it remotely wasn’t as difficult as we even kind of worried it would be. So, we did all of George’s tracks remotely, but all the drums were cut here at the studio and he came here to do that. And all the vocals were done here at my studio, and Robert came here to do that. There was kind of an interplay both ways.

XS ROCK: Cool. Yeah. So, tell me a little bit about Steve Brown?

Jeff Pilson: Well, obviously, he is wild Mick Brown’s younger brother. Mick has decided to retire. He’s had a nice long career in life and it’s time to take it easy. Mick wanted us to use his brother so when it came time to figure out what we were going to do for this record because Mick had retired, Steve’s name came up right away and it turned out to be just a brilliant choice. He’s a fabulous drummer who feels a lot like Mick Brown. I mean, it’s weird. I would close my eyes and play and it feels like I’m playing with Mick Brown. It’s crazy. And he even sings a lot like Mick. He’s got a very similar voice. And he’s just a great guy. He had done a lot of work in the studios over the years so he’s very experienced in the studio. So, he just came in and nailed it, blew us away. I mean, he just blew us away. The drumming was incredible. The energy was incredible. And he sings great. So, it turns out he’s the perfect guy for the band. He really is. It’s just amazing. I just feel really lucky to have him. He’s an incredible musician and he’s a great find. And he’s a wonderful human being. Can’t beat that.

XS ROCK: At first, when I first heard the announcement that he was going to be the drummer, I got to tell you, at first, I thought maybe that it was Mick somehow and that he was contractually obligated somewhere else and you couldn’t use his name so you guys had went with the name of Steve. But then I’ve seen pictures. I’ve seen photographs, so, I’m like, wow, he does exist. So, Steve is definitely a different fellow.

Jeff Pilson: Yes, he is. And he is fabulous.

XS ROCK: Yeah. And I had no idea he had a brother who was a drummer. I interviewed Don (Dokken) not too long ago, a few months back. He said he hasn’t actually spoken to Mick since the day he left. Sounds like maybe you have more contact with Mick.

Jeff Pilson: Yeah, about a week or so.

XS ROCK: Is he officially done? I mean, is that it? He has no plans to play or record with anybody for anything ever again or he’s taking a break?

Jeff Pilson: I mean, the plan is to be retired. That doesn’t mean that something couldn’t come up and change his mind. Who knows? I can’t certainly say for sure, but now he is really enjoying retirement. He is really, really enjoying it. And he sounds great when you talk with him. He looks great. I’ve seen him not that long ago. You know what? It’s working for him.

XS ROCK: Good to hear. Well, this new End Machine album, like I said, it’s fantastic. You guys hit some really good grooves in here. Obviously, a lot of bluesy playing by George as always and just some heavy groove oriented bass coming from you. I have to say I just fell in love with this album right away. It’s hard to kind of pin it down. Like I said, it does have a little bit of that Dokken blood and a little bit of a Lynch Mob blood but again, like you said, you would expect that because you guys kind of pour a part of yourselves into the music that you’ve made in the past. But yeah, it’s just truly a spectacular album. Is the original contract with you guys was it for two albums? Or do you have the possibility of another one in the works?

Jeff Pilson: I believe it was three albums, so, we’ll see. I mean it’s going to depend. If the demand is there, we’ll do another one. If the demand isn’t there, we won’t.

XS ROCK: Because I understand you’ll be doing another Black Swan album, I think.

Jeff Pilson: Yeah. Actually, I just hung up the phone with Reb Beach moments ago and booked his flight. He’s coming out here in about a week and a half.

XS ROCK: Nice. That was our number one album in XS ROCK for 2020. It’s just a great album. And I tell you, Robin McAuley, I’ve never heard him praise anybody as much as he did you on that album. He told us , his voice sounded better than he had ever heard it recorded in his entire career.

Jeff Pilson: Well, that’s saying something because he’s got some great recordings. Well, listen, that was one of the great joys in doing that record for me is I knew that Robin was going to blow people away. I’ve always felt he was somebody that was underutilized and underappreciated. Certainly, he got his share of attention but I just don’t think people ever realized just how great an overall singer and writer he is. I just always felt that. I mean, I’ve been close friends with Robin for a very long time, best man at his wedding. And it was just so amazing. I knew he would just come through it with flying colors on this record. And he did. And I love the fact that people are seeing what he’s capable of. And he just put out a solo record. That was a big, big part of the joy for me, is what happened with Robin on that whole record.

XS ROCK: So, do you like doing the producing side of things, as well?

Jeff Pilson: Yeah. That’s kind of my passion really. Sure, I love to play and I love to be a part of a band, of course, but my ultimate love is recording. I just love to record. Now that does include my own recordings and sometimes I just do things on my own but sometimes I collaborate. It comes in all forms. But producing has always been a huge interest to me. It’s something I knew from when I was a teenager, I wanted to do some bass. I love it. I love the video. I love the interactions that happened. I love the magic of the studio. I love sonic landscapes. I love being able to play with them and do things with them. Yeah, I just love the whole thing. That’s my passion.

XS ROCK: You definitely have a knack for it. I have to say your work’s been really good. Like I said, the Black Swan album was just at the top. You, obviously, brought a lot of that to the table, to that project. So, I applaud you for your work because [you are one of the greatest bass players around in the rock genre. I mean, just look at some of the bands you’ve been in, Dokken, of course, Dio, Foreigner. I hear Foreigner may be working on the material as well. Is that something you can confirm?

Jeff Pilson: Yeah. I can confirm we are working on the material. I mean, there’s absolutely no schedule for when and how it would be released but we are working on stuff and know that when it does come out, it’s going to be great.

XS ROCK: Well, I think Kelly Hansen has been a fabulous fit for that band. I was a fan of Kelly Hansen’s vocal style and his work for years but for some reason it never dawned on me that he sounded like Lou Gramm, oddly enough until I heard him in Foreigner and I was like wow. I mean, he sounds really good in there.

Jeff Pilson: And he and he hits those notes every night. And he performs great. He’s got tremendous energy, . Yeah. Listen, Foreigner is very lucky to have him. We all know that.

XS ROCK: So, how do you keep up with all of these projects and when you have all of these things going at once because you’ve probably got more going on than what I even know I’m sure you have stuff on the back burner or stuff you’re working on now probably that I’m not aware of.

Jeff Pilson: Fortunately, I’m pretty organized when it comes to file management and all the stuff in the end. Certainly, on the studio side, I’m well organized. I mean, when it’s your passion it’s not that hard to do. You do have to kind of sometimes keep things straight in your head. But like I say, if I need to take notes, I’ll do that, whatever it takes.

XS ROCK: I guess at the moment still, I’m sure you’re not traveling anyway, so, I know that makes some of this a little bit easier. You don’t have an itinerary that you have to hit. So, what’s next on your agenda? Is it the stuff with Foreigner or is there other stuff in the works?

Jeff Pilson: The very next thing is, like I say, Reb (Beach) is going to come here. We’re going to start writing the second Black Swan record in about a week and a half. Then very soon after that, mid-May, I head back to Florida and Foreigner’s going to start rehearsing in Florida, where we have our first show May 19th. So, there are shows in May, there are shows in June, scattered shows. At the end of July it picks up and then I’ll be busy from July to the end of the year.

XS ROCK: Wow. So, where are you guys going to be in Florida?

Jeff Pilson: Well, let’s see. The first shows are in Orlando, on the 19th and 20th. And then the next two shows are in Clearwater at the place called Ruth Eckerd Hall.

XS ROCK: Well, this new album is out, it just had the release date, I’m assuming there’s not going to be any sort of one off shows or anything for the End Machine with the Covid pandemic.

Jeff Pilson: That’s correct. Not at this time. It’s just not possible.

XS ROCK: Did you guys get a chance to do that with the last album?

Jeff Pilson: Yeah, and it was great. And that was really fun. It was a good way to kick off the band. It was great.

XS ROCK: Yeah. I’m sure playing together a lot, you get a little bit more of just a natural vibe, just kind of brings out some of that spotaneity maybe.

Jeff Pilson: It’s really good for a band to play a lot. It really is.

XS ROCK: And that’s kind of what this album sounds like. It sounds like you guys have fun with it and you kind of just went with it on some of the stuff. What would you consider your favorite tracks off the new album?

Jeff Pilson: Oh, wow. Well, the very final song on the record is the song called Destiny. I love that one. I love the riff on it. I love the textures. I love how it climaxes. I just love the song. God, a lot of them, though. I do love Crack The Sky, the new video that we just put out. I think that’s a really cool catchy fun song. A great old riff in it. Dark Divide, I’m very proud of that because of the message. Scars is a ballad. I think Robert just really hit a home run on that one, vocally. I’m just really pleased with how that came out. Also, for the Japanese version of the record we did that song Scars, acoustically, and that came out really incredible, too. So, you may have to buy the Japanese import, too.

XS ROCK: Yeah, no kidding.

Jeff Pilson: It came out really great. But there are so many things that I love on the record. I’m just really happy. And the song, We Walk Alone, I didn’t think that that would come out as strong as it did but it came out great. So, a lot of pleasant surprises.

XS ROCK: Yeah. I would agree with your choice of words. They’re strong. I was surprised that kind of, I don’t want to say grit, but I’m kind of surprised with the heaviness of this album, It has a different feel than the other one did. And maybe that’s, like you said, instead of being maybe so self-indulgent on the last one, you guys just sort of ripped into these tracks because they have a very nice aggressive tone which I really like, on a lot of the songs. Very, very cool. Well, I wasn’t expecting it to be that heavy to be honest. The first single, I was expecting to be more of maybe a ballad or something so I was really, really shocked when the first track came out. I was like wow that just rips.

Jeff Pilson: Well, thank you. Yeah, very pleased at how the whole thing came out. I got to say.

XS ROCK: Well, it’s always a pleasure to get to talk to you guys. Thank you for taking the time out. Like I said, I know you’re quite a busy guy. You’re one of the journeymen of rock. I know you’re quite busy. I appreciate you taking your time out of your busy schedule.

Jeff Pilson: Well, hey, we’ll talk to you again probably on Black Swan record.

XS ROCK: Yeah. I’ll be looking forward to it. That album was so good. I can’t wait to hear what you guys come up with for a follow-up to that.

Jeff Pilson: Me too, man. Well, thanks again. And you take care.

https://www.facebook.com/TheEndMachine

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About the author

Bobby Caughron

Bobby Caughron is a music journalist and Editor-In-Chief for XS ROCK. He began a life-long fan of hard rock and metal music after hearing KISS as a kid. He is still an avid fan of the 80s metal scene and continues to discover and write about new music in all rock genres today.

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