All these years in Rockpages we have presented exclusive interviews with bands and artists who have changed the lives of people all over the world in one way or another. We feel lucky about it. So, when you get the chance to talk with the singer of a legendary band that has sold millions of records and has written numerous hits through the years, then it’s a true honor for us. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Kelly Hansen of Foreigner…
Interview: Sakis Nikas
Rockpages.gr: Kelly, let’s talk first about the three-disc set that you released in September. What do we find in there?
Kelly Hansen: Well, in the first disc you get to hear original hits recorded by the present line-up of Foreigner. The second disc is a live DVD from a show that we did in Chicago and has some interesting behind the scenes footage. And the third disc is called “Acoustique” and it’s all acoustic versions of Foreigner songs; never-before heard versions of some of the most well-known songs by the band.
Rockpages.gr: You have also done a superb version of “That’s All Right”. Whose idea was it and how did it feel to be…Elvis on a Foreigner record?
Kelly Hansen: We’ve been doing some acoustic shows and sometimes there is a Q&A period where we get to answer some questions by the fans and maybe tell a story of how a song was written…on the question of which were Mick Jones’ influences, Elvis is always at the top of the list. With that in mind we decided to record an Elvis song as homage to him.
Rockpages.gr: One of the biggest tours of this year was the one that you did with Journey, Styx and Night Ranger. This was the absolute dream for any fan of the melodic rock sound. Would you like to share with us some of your memories from that historical moment?
Kelly Hansen: You’re right. This was truly a historical moment. Let me clarify first that we did some shows in UK with Journey and Styx and then we had Saga and Kansas on some of the European shows. Then for the US leg of the tour it was us, Journey and Night Ranger. For us, it was great! We broke attendance records, we had an amazing time everyday and everybody knew everybody. It was an amazing tour; travelling across the country with those legendary bands. It was close to 10 buses and many trucks with equipment…it kinda reminded me of the old days of those huge tours. All the bands played their hearts out and the response was fantastic.
Rockpages.gr: I was at the London show and I wrote in my review and I quote that “Foreigner quite easily stole the show with Kelly Hansen being the star of the night”. One special moment was when you came down from the stage and sang with the crowd “Cold As Ice”. Was it something that you did on the whole tour or was it a spur of the moment thing for you?
Kelly Hansen: It started as a “spur of the moment” thing and then I kinda made it a part of the show. But it was always different…I mean at some shows the chairs don’t allow you to go down; it’s always a matter of how the arena was arranged. In response, though, to your question I must say that in London it was a spontaneous thing which I really enjoyed and the crowd loved it, too!
Rockpages.gr: You had the most difficult task to replace a great singer like Lou Gramm yet everybody embraced you right from the beginning and you had won even the most reserved fan. Were you anxious or afraid of how the whole thing would work for you and how would fans react to your voice and overall presence?
Kelly Hansen: Well, first of all not everybody loves me (laughs)! But…yes…many people have said wonderful things about my voice and my stage performance. I think that everybody understands that I am not trying to be Lou. Like many other bands that the singer left, the next one is doing his best. For example when David Lee Roth left from Van Halen, Sammy Hagar did a hell of a job. It’s the same case here…I am not trying to copy Lou although I firmly believe that I must sing the songs with the melody and in the way they were initially written. I take my job seriously and I hope fans understand that. I try every single night to do the best for the fans. When you do that, people realize it and that’s the biggest part of being accepted by them.
Rockpages.gr: I think that it’s obvious that you’re not trying to imitate Lou because Lou was one of a kind and I believe that you are one of a kind.
Kelly Hansen: Thank you! In the beginning…in 2005, Mick and I did some discussions…I told him that as a fan of the band, If I was going to a Foreigner concert, I would want to hear the songs as I learned them from the radio or the albums. Too many artists want to change the songs so much that it’s not the same anymore…maybe, they are bored or they want to show how capable they are. Mick agreed with that. After all, these are great melodies and great lyrics and it’s not my job to change them whatsoever.
Rockpages.gr: Kelly, it’s been a while since the last studio album. Have you started thinking about writing new material?
Kelly Hansen: “Can’t Slow Down” came out in late 2009 and then we were on tour for a year and a half. That album was very difficult to make because while we were writing we were also in the middle of a tour in Europe and USA. What happened was that the time pressure was pushing us to finish the album and I am not sure if the music industry nowadays is really interested in full albums. If you talk to most artists and most bands they will tell you the same thing. If they are at home, well quite possibly they will work on an album. But if you are a working, travelling band then it becomes difficult to work properly on an album. That’s why we came up with the acoustic record; we didn’t have enough time to record a studio album but we thought that this was a great and different idea for the Foreigner fan. We were in the middle of discussing what we wanted to offer next to the fans and I believe that was a good recording idea.
Rockpages.gr: What does Foreigner have in common with Broadway?
Kelly Hansen: (laughs) Besides having some of our songs featured on a Broadway show…well, that’s the biggest connection. I know what you are talking about…there is a show in Broadway called Rock of Ages. Its story is based on the 80s and it’s pretty much a musical consisting of 80s tunes. What’s really great for us is that we had a certain involvement in the songs…Mick’s done a few shows, I’ve done a few shows…and now they are doing a full-length feature movie. I think we are gonna have more songs than any other artist on that movie. So, we are very much looking forward to it and I think Tom Cruise is gonna sing “I Want To Know What Love Is”. It’s gonna be very cool.
Rockpages.gr: Kelly, how does it feel to be working with Mick Jones?
Kelly Hansen: I said that many many times…it’s a pleasure to me to see on my right and see Mick Jones playing that brilliant guitar. He has so much experience but he is also a great person and friend. I’ve been involved in a lot of situations where a so called experienced musician makes you feel uncomfortable. But not Mick Jones. The great thing about this band is that everybody has been around the block…of course, Mick is the one with the biggest experience. He sets and maintains the standards for Foreigner and he is a great guy to work with. He listens to you and this may come as a surprise to some fans but he is not the type of guy that the press sometimes had described in the past. Mick is very receptive, a team player and he wants everybody to be involved.
Rockpages.gr: What’s your favorite Foreigner record?
Kelly Hansen: (laughs) I am not a man who lists things…literature, food, music, women…I like them all and I like them individually (laughs). It’s like apples and oranges. Some days you are in the mood for an apple and others for an orange. It’s the same with music. I am lucky enough to be in a band with so many great songs and I enjoy every single minute on stage because I know that the fans get a show full of great music. I am very fortunate to earn my living by singing in such a great band.
Rockpages.gr: OK, Kelly…let me rephrase that: now that you are calling from the sunny L.A. and you are hopefully in a happy, relaxed mood, which Foreigner record would you put on your c.d. player?
Kelly Hansen: (laughs) It’s the same answer! I’ll tell you this, though; when I am at home I try not to listen to Foreigner records. All of us have a lot of other things to do and personally I have a lot of other music to catch up on and to tell you the truth I like to relax and get away from the music a little bit cause I have to keep it fresh.
Rockpages.gr: It’s been quite a long road after Hurricane. After so many ups and downs in your career in these 35 years, now you are the singer of one of the best AOR bands ever. Do you feel lucky, privileged, blessed…maybe all of the above…?
Kelly Hansen: I think I feel lucky and privileged but I also feel that I earned it in some extent after so many years in the business. That’s a long time…to be making a living as a singer and be in a successful band like Foreigner it can’t just be luck. I worked really hard for this and I am still trying and giving my best every day. But it was also perfect timing because when Foreigner wanted a singer, I happened to be available and I was at a crossroad in my life. There is a great English word for it: serendipity.