Interview ~ Greg Kihn

It’s been 41 years since Greg Kihn released his self-titled debut album and he’s seen quite a lot happen in the industry since then. He’s seen the industry go through numerous phases, he’s seen bands and fads come and go. He saw the birth of the compact disc, MTV, talentless reality stars and illegal downloading as well as the death of the 8-track and MTV. He was an early poster boy for MTV because of his landmark “Jeopardy” music video that was shown just about every other hour by the network. He stepped back from music, as far as recording goes, and became a DJ for nearly two decades for KFOX in San Francisco as well as delving into the literary world with several releases. One thing that’s remained true through all of this has been his passion for music and here we are 41 years later talking about it again. He recently released his first new studio album in twenty one years titled Rekindled with an all new Greg Kihn Band that includes his son Ry on guitar. The new album manages to capture the sound of the Greg Kihn Band without sounding dated. We managed to grab some time with Kihn who had just returned from some live dates and although a little jet-lagged, he was caffeinated and as perky as ever for our non-traditional rock star hours interview. We had a blast talking to him as we discussed those early MTV days, the new album Rekindled and much more.

It’s noon; these aren’t rock star hours!

Greg Kihn: I just got back from New York, so I woke up a little jet lagged and weirded.

We’ll knock this out and try to be as pain free as possible.

I’m wide open man, so launch away.

You’ve seen a little bit of everything since beginning back in the 70s. You’ve seen punk, new wave, hair bands, grunge and who knows how many fads.

You’re right; this band was put together back in 1973 and we’ve been what some call a heritage band. We’ve lived through all of those things and there’s been a revolution in recording since that first album was recorded. That first album was available on 8-track; do you remember those? Then it was cassettes and of course we’ve always dealt in vinyl. All these years later and I finally get the chance to go back into the studio and do all of these things that I’ve wanted to do for years and it was a pleasure. Now, I have a band that’s kind of a fresh band with my son Ry Kihn on guitar who is really a great guitar player. He‘s a former student of Joe Satriani back in the day when Joe was in the band. Then he went to Berklee School of Music in Boston and graduated from CalArts in LA a jazz guitar major, so this kid can really play a lot different than his dad. I’ve been a three chord guy all my life and he’s like a three million chord guy, so what are you going to do? We have a bass player by the name of Robert Berry; his last name is Berry but his first name is not Chuck. In fact, he’s not related to Chuck Berry in any way, shape or form. He’s a great bass player and he’s a great songwriting partner as well. He also owns the SoundTek Recording Studio where we record at down in Campbell, California. Also, we have a new drummer in the band from the Sammy Hagar group by the name of Dave Lauser and Sammy says I can use him for about a year and a half until he needs him again. There you have it, our classic four piece band. We used to have a fifth guy; we used to have a keyboard player but I got sick of hearing the other guys telling me that he was gumming up the sound. So, we went back to the classic four piece and everything sounded a little bit better. My guys aren’t really keyboard kind of guys and they like that barebones sound.

You mentioned Sammy and it’s funny that you did because I was recently talking to someone about my chance to interview you and I used you and Sammy in a description. You two always seem to have the most fun performing out of just about everybody that I have ever seen. There’s this very genuine sense of fun and enjoyment when you are performing and it’s something that can’t be faked.

You’re absolutely right and I do love it; it’s kind of hard not to and I’m constantly smiling. Back in the day, we would be cutting videos and they would tell me to stop smiling over there! We had so much fun, especially on the Jeopardy video and it really set the tone for all of the videos. We were one of the first bands to have a concept video with an actual storyline which was Night of the Living Dead which was semi-autobiographical about my first marriage, right? They gave us a real church to work in and we did it in one 48 hour shoot from top to bottom. We did it as Mission Delores Church in San Francisco which is a famous church. That was the church in the Dirty Harry movies; remember the church in those movies? Just between me and you, I am definitely going to hell for the things I did in that church after hours! You want to talk sin? This was back during our heavy partying days and come 3:00 in the morning in the church, oh boy! It was so much fun making that video and we had to use all of these tricks like the scene when the snake jumps out of the wall and wraps around me. We didn’t know how to do that, so we did it in reverse. I wrapped the snake around me, which was made out of latex, I let it go and we ran it in reverse. It looks like it jumps out of the wall, wraps around me and drags me down, but it was actually in reverse. I was stabbing the snake with a sword and the snake’s blood was supposed to hit me in the face. We used Campbell’s split pea soup that was loaded up in squirt guns and they were hitting me in the face with it. I have to tell you that since that day I have never had another drop of pea soup again! We had a big hit with “Jeopardy” and MTV loved us because we had a concept video. Then, we went out on the road opening for Journey in some of the biggest venues in the country. Then, I get home and here comes Weird Al and I remember my wife saying ‘there’s a guy named Weird on the phone.’ He called me and asked my permission to do the parody. I told him that I loved him and was flattered that he chose my song to parody. You don’t really arrive until Weird Al does a parody of you and it ended up being a hit all over again. He put that on a multi-platinum album and to this day I still get mailbox money from; God bless that man.

So, did leaving your radio gig free you up to return to the studio after all these years?

Yeah, I was doing the morning show at KFOX which is a big San Francisco station and I had been doing it for eighteen years. That’s eighteen years of getting up at 4:00am and you know what that does to you? You just can’t have a life! The weekends would roll around and I’d be too pooped to do anything. Eighteen years went by and I got to the point of where I really started missing going into the studios. When we ended up parting ways, I finally had all of this time on my hands and I wrote a couple of novels and other things that I had meant to do all of these years, but you do what you can, right? I’ve always felt like my career path has really been a privilege. I’ve been lucky to become a musician where I can make a living making music. I look back over the years and we started back in the 70s when dinosaurs were still roaming the Earth. It was back when we were Neanderthals too. I missed going out on the road and we’ve been out on the road for a while now promoting the new album and every weekend we go to a different place. When you have the guys with you and you’re going to a gig, it’s kind of like summer camp. You go to the gig, do the soundcheck and everybody’s excited. We got out there and of course we’re doing all the hits like “Jeopardy,” “Break-Up Song” and “Lucky,” but we’re also doing a bunch of songs from the new album Rekindled that we’re out promoting. We’re doing “Big Pink Flamingos,” “The Life I’ve Got” and some others, plus some album cuts that we have after twenty albums like “For You” by Bruce Springsteen and “Madison Avenue Man.” I’ve got some many songs that I have to choose wisely. We do 1/3 classic Greg Kihn songs, 1/3 hits and 1/3 new album songs. It sounds great and people are actually singing along to the new album tracks and it blows my mind because they don’t even know the songs.  I think someone runs out into the audience before the show and hands out all of these lyric sheets to the people there!

Are the songs on Rekindled things you had lying around or all brand new songs?

It’s been twenty years since we did a new studio album with all new material and the first song that we did was “Big Pink Flamingos.” We were sitting around in the studio and my son Ry played this riff and I asked him what it was. It was something that he just made up and we started jamming with it and out of the blue I sang ‘big pink flamingos.’ Twenty minutes later, I whipped my notebook out and we had written a song. It was painless and fun and it really set the tone for the rest of the album. Most of the rest of the album came together that way too and it was a lot of fun. There are topical songs like”The Brain Police” and I got to use my original drummer Larry Lynch on that one. By the way, here’s another thing that’s kind of shocking. Of the five guys who were in the Greg Kihn Band back in 1974, only two guys are left standing. There’s me and Larry Lynch, who always drank milk and never took drugs. Dave Carpenter had a heart attack, Gary Phillips had cancer and Steve Wright had a heart attack too. It’s sad to see my old compatriots dropping one by one. As the years went by, I started replacing guys and once my son Ry was in the band, it suddenly became the Greg Kihn Band again.

I think this new album does sound like the Greg Kihn Band, but it also sounds fresh.

What’s amazing is we were trying to make it sound like the Greg Kihn Band, but we wanted it to sound like Greg Kihn now and not twenty years ago. It was fun and it’s something that I wish I could do every year and maybe I will. As a matter of fact, we already cut three songs for the next album. We’re already working on that one and they sound great!

I have to tell you that on my first listen to the new album, maybe two tracks into it, I was tapping my foot and smiling because it brought back great memories and good times associated with the Greg Kihn Band.

That’s awesome and that’s the beauty of rock and roll because every song has a memory attached to it. People come up to me and they remember when we were on MTV all the time back in the 80s. They remember the woman they were married to back then, they all reminisce and those songs bring back great memories. It’s really fun to be a part of their lives as well as a part of our lives.

I read on your bio on your website that you were able to get back the right to all of your old songs. I’ve talked to other musicians who went through that same process and wanted to know if that was a tough process to go through?

Yeah, it was man; over the years most artists sell their catalog because at some point they need money. We were on Berserkley Records back in early days and one of the  things that was different about me if that I was buying back my old albums. So now here it is all these years later and I won the rights to all of my old albums. Everything has been reissued and it can be found on my website. We put together a Best of Beserkly album with all of our hits from then. It was kind of poetic justice and the nice thing is that I actually had the money and could whip out a checkbook and buy back my publishing. Contrast that to Paul McCartney when Michael Jackson wanted to buy the Beatles catalog. McCartney was going to do it on Monday and Jackson got in there on Friday and bought it a day or two ahead of him. That would have driven me crazy because that’s your catalog! I was lucky to get all of my stuff back and now it’s legacy building so my grandchildren will hopefully still be getting money from those albums.

You’ve written several things since your literary career started, but one thing you haven’t written yet is your autobiography. I know you have to have a ton of amazing stories to tell.

I’ve been against it even though people were always coming up to me and suggesting it, but there’s no end to this story yet. It’s a comeback story where the guy comes back three or four times, but what happens after that? Just the other day when I was on my flight, I started reading Elvis Costello’s autobiography and it changed my mind. His words changed my mind and it’s a really good book. He’s a well-spoken guy and I got about a third of the way through and I thought ‘dammit, I could do this!’ Just in the last two or three days, I’ve decided to start working on an autobiography and when it’s done it’s going to be a hell of a book. We had some wild, wild adventures!

I can only imagine, well at least up until the book comes out, and then I get to read for myself!

Let’s face it man; we were in our twenties, having our first hit record, traveling around the country, opening for Journey and we were partying every night! We were running around like crazy people and as the years went by we did calm down, but in the old days we couldn’t wait to go out on the road.

When you reflect back on “Jeopardy,” was having a hit like that a blessing or a curse because I can see how it would be both. I am sure that the “suits” wanted you to recreate that again; did you get that kind of a demand from them?

We got it big time! After “Jeopardy,” everybody wanted us to do another “Jeopardy” but we were artists and we did what we did. I remember the follow-up to “Jeopardy” was “Reunited” and it didn’t sound anything like “Jeopardy.” They wanted us to come up with three or four Jeopardies in a row, which we did not do. Looking back, I probably should have done it and I’d be retired now!

With more trips to the mailbox!

 I do love my mailbox money.

Here’s a two part question for you; if you could go back and give the younger version of yourself advice, would you? If yes, what would you say?

Oh yeah; I would definitely tell myself to calm down! I have made and lost several fortunes in my life, so if I could go back and meet the younger Greg I would tell him not to spend all of his money because you don’t know what the future’s going to bring. Put a little bit of that aside and maybe get a little bit more serious and buckle down a bit. We were halfway through a fantastic career and all we needed to do was stay on track after “Jeopardy” and we would have been set. Once “Jeopardy” had established itself and Weird Al did his parody of it, we couldn’t do anything wrong for the next couple of years. The songs and videos were played on MTV and we got great reactions on everything. In a way, we were really lucking out because when I look back on those times, it wasn’t as easy for other bands but it seemed that way for us because we were devil may care kind of guys. I think we never really cared about being commercial and being successful and maybe we should have.

Should have, could have, would have, but I doubt it would have been as much fun. Do you have anything else on your radar that coming up that you’d like to mention?

I’ve been busy writing and I’ll have another novel out by the end of the year. I also have a screenplay that I’ve been working on called Rock and Roll Retirement Home. It’s a really funny comedy and I’ll be trying to sell that to a production company in the next couple of months. I feel like it’s been wonderful and liberating to get back in the studio and not have the radio thing hanging over my head. I just worry about whatever creative juices that I may have going on that day. I look back on everything and I think we were lucky. I think we were a very lucky band. We were good and we were true at heart, but there was a lot of luck involved. I look back on it and I feel like I am still in my twenties now and I can’t stop writing songs again. I have this creative explosion going on and I hope it last forever. I don’t want to get up in the morning and never have a novel or song to work on.

I guess Rekindled is an appropriate title in more ways than one.

Yeah, as in I hope it rekindles my career! We’re already working on the next title and the guys are like ‘we are almost out of these “Kihn” titles.’ We’ve got Rekindled, Kihnspiracy, Next of Kihn, Citizen Kihn. There were eighteen albums and it just went on and one and on. I’m trying to come up with next Kihn title and my mother, when she was alive, used to love that. She would tell me that she always knew when I had a new album out because when she would go to the supermarket, people would come up to her and say ‘oh Mrs. Kihn, your son is doing such a great job.’ She said that the whole “Kihn” title thing looked like an early form of branding for our name and she was right. Who would have thought when I was growing up that there were 1000 puns for the name Kihn.

Get your copy of Rekindled HERE

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