A lot has changed since Cheap Trick first got started, rocking dive bars and bowling alleys in the Midwest. But after more than 40 years on the road, numerous hit songs, several iconic albums, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors and rapidly expanding guitar collections, the band is creatively back to where it started.
Today, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson and Robin Zander are still writing songs together, still making albums together and still (planning on) touring together later this year, not to prove anything but because it's what they're supposed to be doing.
"I was born to be a musician and play," he says. "I feel more comfortable standing in front of a whole bunch of people..."
Cheap Trick's 20th studio album, In Another World, will arrive on April 9 via BMG. The album — the band's fourth in five years — was completed long before the pandemic. And the band's positive creative headspace is evident throughout, especially on its newborn hard-rocking classic single "Light Up the Fire," which arrived in late-January.
Nielsen and Petersson recently sat down with QN'A to discuss their searing new single, the forthcoming new album and the mutual appreciation that keeps Cheap Trick truckin'.
Read an excerpt from the conversation below!
Cheap Trick has been so busy on tour in recent years. How have you been doing without any shows to look forward to for such a long period of time?
Rick Nielsen: I have to make time to do almost anything. It’s like, the important stuff takes the same amount of time as the dumb stuff that you have to do. And I usually forget the music or I forget the things that are probably more important to me. I’m playing catch-up ball all the time. It’s so uninspiring.
People say, ‘Oh, I bet you have some interesting stuff coming up after all this time.' It’s uninspiring to think of stuff. Either you have to sit down and do it…It’s not an inspiring time.
I see what you mean; the passage of time has felt very different these past 10 months.
Rick: I did a couple of webcast live streams with no audience there. It’s really uncomfortable to do. In the studio it’s okay; you’re just locked in there. But then you get done playing something and nobody claps. You can’t really goof around. It’s all awkward.
Are you finding a bright side at all to being grounded at home like this?
Rick: For me, minor things. I get to be closer to the people who I’ve left behind for the last 50 years. But not much because I was born to be a musician and play. I feel more comfortable standing in front of a whole bunch of people…
Tom Petersson: It’s scary, there’s only one person here!
I imagine you've found time to add to your respective guitar collections.
Tom: It’s kind of the same. We used to go from town to town, but now with the Internet, you can just look things up and you don’t have to go anywhere.
Rick: Then you get it and it’s not as good as what you thought it could be…
The album's lead track, “The Summer Looks Good on You,” is a few years old as a single. Did you always intend for that to be on this album?
Tom: I think it was [recorded] at the same time [as the other music] and it just came out and for the longest time there was no follow-up LP.
For a while [we weren’t going] to put it on the album, but nobody really heard it, so why not put it on the album? It’s a cool song, so what’s the difference? You don’t have to listen to it.
'Light Up the Fire' begins with Tom on the 12-string bass. Is that the first riff that was written for the song or did it originate as a guitar idea that you then played on the bass?
Tom: I haven’t heard it recently, but I think it was a bass riff. I had done a different guitar part and then Robin changed that and then Rick had done his thing on there. It all gets kind of mixed up.
Rick: The songs aren’t just linear all the time.
Over 40 years of collaborating, can you tell me about a time when one of your band mates contributed something to a song that really made it work?
Rick: We love every band member. There’s stuff we’ve done that’s attributed to this guy or that guy. Or this guy fixed that. That’s why we put everybody’s name on the records.
I used to write everything. That’s all right, but all of us are pretty good at what we do, so it’s like, let’s all of us make records together.
When we go in the studio, we actually work on our stuff. We all play live, too. We don’t layer it on. …
Tom: We all pipe in about what each other is doing, which is fine. Rick or me or Robin or Dax [Nielsen, drums], if somebody has a better idea, it just makes you look better.
Rick: We encourage each other. …You can’t be 100 percent all the time, because each song dictates something different.
Tom: It’s good because it’s not just one artist making every decision. There’s four people in there. We’re not arguing about it, [we] just want to make it better.
Rick: If it works, it works.
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