By Carl Begai
Chemistry – good and bad – is everything.
In the case of ‘80s bashers Dokken it was the mix of frontman Don Dokken, guitarist George Lynch, bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer “Wild” Mick Brown that yielded four cult favourite albums – Breaking The Chains (’81), Tooth And Nail (’84), Under Lock And Key (’85) and Back For The Attack (’87) – that are still cited as some of the best from that era. It was also the cause of legendary in-fighting between Don Dokken and Lynch, resulting in several break-ups and make-ups right up to 2010. And while the pair may never see eye-to-eye, the trio of Lynch / Pilson / Brown still have a strong working relationship that has resulted in a Dokken reunion of sorts through new band T&N.
Originally dubbed Tooth And Nail but forced to change their name for legal reasons, the band – also featuring S.U.N. / ex-Whitesnake drummer Brian Tichy – have released Slave To The Empire, a record that recalls the classic Dokken vibe. Something many fans will agree the current incarnation of Don’s long-suffering band is unable to do at this stage of the game.
Lynch has stated in several interviews that the music written for the T&N debut was originally intended for a new Lynch Mob record. Pilson was invited to come in and help with the songwriting, which slowly but surely drove the music in a direction other than what Lynch had envisioned. Rather than scrap the songs or tell Pilson to take a hike, the duo opted to launch T&N. So, love it or hate it, folks can blame Slave To The Empire on the Pilson Factor.
“(Laughs) Maybe I bring in an element that’s a little too progressive for Lynch Mob; it’s hard to say. Once we knew it wasn’t going to be a Lynch Mob record we kind of let the music go in a direction that felt good to us. It was a little more organic to start with, but given my vices I like to go a little crazy (laughs). I like to explore, I like to experiment with things. I love the Lynch Mob so I have no problems with what they do, but when George and I get together I think we want to push the boundaries a little bit.”
Conceivably, Lynch could have limited Pilson’s input on the original song ideas rather than collaborating like they did in the Dokken days or for the lone Lynch/Pilson album, Wicked Underground, from 2003.
“Then there would have been no point in getting me to come in and write songs,” Pilson laughs. “We know what we’re in for when we work together. Many times we’ve written songs and intended to do something specific, and it worked, but a lot of time the music takes on a life of its own after that and that’s when some of our coolest stuff had come around. We’ve very, very reluctant to stop that part of the process no matter who we’re writing for.”
“George and I wrote practically an entire album, and then we brought in Brian to play on it. When that happened Brian got involved with writing the music for one of the songs, and once we got to the vocals – which was quite some time later – we ran into a brick wall. We asked Brian to help us out melodically and lyrically, and he and I pretty much put all that together for the song ‘Access Denied’. Most of it was George, and Mick wasn’t really involved in any of the writing. We played him some stuff early on just to get his reaction because he’s a really honest guy about what he likes and what he doesn’t like (laughs).”
Going back and giving the Lynch/Pilson record a spin, it’s interesting to note the similarities and differences between Slave To The Empire and Wicked Underground. Both albums were written by the same people, yet the Lynch/Pilson material is darker and more aggressive. T&N is definitely geared in a more Dokken-esque direction.
“With Lynch/Pilson we were not at all inclined to think in terms of our legacy,” Pilson explains. “On this record we wanted to tie this in with our legacy. We didn’t want the new material to be that far away, and because it started of as Lynch Mob material it wasn’t going to be as esoteric as the Lynch/Pilson stuff. This for us is a creative outlet so we don’t want to get too much into the ‘It’s gotta be like this!’ way of thinking. That would defeat the purpose of it. We wanted to do something that wasn’t too dissimilar from our legacy. We wanted to do a rock record that was slightly modern but not afraid to be old school, too.”
Pilson, Lynch and Brown working together again is reason enough to buy into T&N, but the big draw is their decision to re-record five Dokken tunes for Slave To The Empire using guest vocalists in place of Don Dokken.
“The Dokken stuff didn’t come along until we’d already started recording the new music,” Pilson reveals. “Not all of the new songs were written at that point, but when the idea of putting Dokken songs on there, the idea was to compliment the new stuff, absolutely.”
Some hard-nosed Dokken purists will quite naturally scoff at the idea of King’s X frontman Doug Pinnick belting out ‘Tooth And Nail’ and ex-Judas Priest singer Tim “Ripper” Owens laying down ‘Kiss Of Death’, but everyone who participated should be given their due. Are the new versions better than the originals? No, but it’s great to hear different takes on classic songs done well.
“They’re friends, and they’re guys that we knew would do justice to the Dokken material,” Pilson says of bringing in Pinnick, Owens, Sebastian Bach (ex-Skid Row) and Robert Mason (Warrant, ex-Lynch Mob). We really wanted to respect our legacy and show that it’s something we’re really proud of. We wanted to give the songs a fresh coat of paint.”
“There are some people that don’t quite get the re-recording thing, and there are going to be critics,” he concedes, “but for the most part the response has been awesome, especially looking at Twitter and Facebook. Whenever you tamper with something like that you’re going to get some controversy, and that’s okay. We’re up for that, no big deal. We felt good about it and it’s got to start from there.”
If you were ever a fan of the song ‘Alone Again’, Bach’s rendition is particularly noteworthy. He plays it straight and brings the singular intensity of his ‘18 And Life’ and ‘I Remember You’ days to the table.
“I know! I was blown away. And you know, when Sebastian came in he was very sick. He had a cold but he came in and… wow… he nailed it. In fact, there were spots where I asked him if he wanted to try something else and maybe go off a little bit, but he wanted to stay true to the original out of respect. I thought that was a real sign of maturity on his part that he felt comfortable doing that. I thought that was great.”
“You know what it is?” Pilson adds. “It’s a very emotional performance, and I still feel emotional when I hear it. I think Sebastian did an incredible job.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Owens’ take on ‘Kiss Of Death’, one of the heaviest songs in the Dokken catalogue. His delivery is off-kilter and definitely not a mimic of Don’s original vocals, yet it works. Even if it is weird hearing Judas Priest covering Dokken…
“It reminds me more of Dio doing Dokken than Judas Priest, actually. It’s a way different take on the song and I think it’s brilliant. He did a unique little twist on it which I thought was cool.”
You can’t overlook Pilson’s role as T&N’s lead vocalist, though. He sang his guts out with Dokken in a backing capacity and has been in the spotlight previously with Underground Moon, War & Peace, and Lynch/Pilson, with T&N now serving as his main outlet for playing lead vocalist as the need arises.
“T&N has been a huge thing for me as far as serving as an outlet for that. I do love to sing, but at the same time I don’t have this burning ambition to be a frontman / lead singer. I just want to be a musician and make good music so it doesn’t really matter to me if I’m singing or not, although when I get a chance to do it I absolutely love it.”
Pilson confirms that there will indeed be a second T&N album and a tour at some point in the future, but playing bass in Foreigner – a gig he’s had since 2004 – still remains his top priority. The band also features former Hurricane singer Kelly Hansen who, like Pilson, came up during the ‘80s hair metal scene. Thinking about it now, it’s quite odd seeing the pair as part of a multi-platinum selling commercial rock radio band.
“It’s a wonderful band gig and everything about it is very pleasant,” says Pilson. “What’s funny is that the ‘80s bands – a lot of them; at least I know I was – were influenced by Foreigner because when the band came out, they were a hard rock band with lots of melody and great songs. That’s what we were trying to do with Dokken when we started. Foreigner got a little sappy later on and people remembered it like that, but when ‘Feels Like The First Time’ came out (in 1977), that was a rock song. I was influenced by that, so in a way it’s not that surprising to me that I’m doing that kind of music, but I do see where it throws people off.”
To wrap things up, I ask Pilson how it feels knowing that music he helped create has stood the test of time. It’s fair to say T&N wouldn’t have anywhere near the following they do without the ties to Dokken, and the fans are tuning in because of that far-reaching legacy.
“A lot of the feedback we get, I’m grateful for that. By the same token artists tend to always be comparing themselves… ‘Hey, we’re not as popular as Mötley Crüe!’ (laughs). That goes through your head too. More than anything I’m just grateful I’ve had the opportunity because it’s allowed me to play music for my entire life.”
Photos courtesy of T&N’s official Facebook page here.