Cheap Trick's 20th studio album In Another World arrived Friday, and with it, a reminder of the endurance of one of rock's most beloved bands.
Much has been made of Cheap Trick's creative output in recent years. In Another World is the band's fourth new album in five years.
Guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson attribute their band's ongoing creative motivation to the positive vibes and mutual admiration within the band over the past decade. It's easy to write new material in that environment, they say.
Speaking of the album with Q104.3 New York's QN'A, Nielsen and Petersson recalled the fast pace of their early years in the '70s and '80s. The pair say they usually enjoyed the hustle of recording an album, touring and then making the next one; it wasn't imposed on them.
The only drawback was that they were usually on the road when their albums were released. If they wanted to hear the final product before getting back home, they'd have to find a record store.
"We’d finish [an album] and then we’d go on tour," Nielsen says. "Months later it comes out and if we’re on the road, we don’t have a record player to hear it on anyhow!"
"And of course we never got them in advance," Petersson added. "I’ve purchased every record we’ve ever made because there’s no way we’d get them — God forbid we get them ahead of time. We don’t even get them in a timely manner like everyone else. A couple months later, it’s like a Christmas card."
Nowadays, pandemic-aside, things are much easier for artists who just want to create something they enjoy, which is exactly what Cheap Trick still is more than 44 years since its debut.
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.
You guys have been off the road for a long time due to the pandemic. Are you finding a bright side being at home or are you basically counting the days until you can tour again?
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…
You each have such robust guitar collections; having so many guitars, what does it take for one to make the cut to get brought on tour?
Rick: Well, I’ve always changed guitar for every song. I did that starting way back. I always hated when guitar players would have to stop and tune or do this or that, and then they knock it out [of tune]. Only Jeff Beck could take an out-of-tune guitar and make it sound right.
I always had a different one for each song. That’s just the way I did it. I don’t change my settings. I’m a quick-change artist. If something goes wrong, I just grab [another guitar] and plug it in. I don’t use any pedals. So if there’s some great stuff, I bring it out on the road.
So when you get a new guitar, you know after a few minutes of playing it if it's road worthy or not?
Rick: Yeah, you know. We’ve been doing this so long, you know. If it’s structurally wrong, you probably don’t want it anyway. If it’s something electronically wrong, you can probably fix it.
The pace that Cheap Trick has been releasing music these past few years is very similar to what it was in the late-'70s and early-'80s. Did you prefer that more rigorous cycle of touring and recording?
Rick: I don’t think we’re trying to catch up to anything; we just like doing that. The reason we took so long between some records — it was not just because we were out touring — some of the records, nobody wanted to hear.
We did one record, it had just come out and the guy from the record company says, ‘Just wait ‘till the next one!’ The next one?!
Tom: The next one is the one! (Laughs)
Doing an album every six months seems like a ton of work. Was that overwhelming or did you enjoy cycle?
Rick: Well, nobody ever made us do it.
Rick: The only thing that I think was bad about that was we’d make a record and we wouldn’t even hear it completed. We’d finish it and then we’d go on tour. Months later it comes out and if we’re on the road, we don’t have a record player to hear it on anyhow!
Tom: And of course we never got them in advance. I’ve purchased every record we’ve ever made because there’s no way we’d get them — god forbid we get them ahead of time. We don’t even get them in a timely manner like everyone else. A couple months later, it’s like a Christmas card.
The 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.
There are moments of this album that are very Beatle-y, with the symphonic orchestration. Was that something that you were leaning in on?
Rick: Well, we worked with Bennett Salvay; he was the conductor for a bunch of our shows when we did the Beatles stuff with Sgt. Pepper. He knew that we liked minor chords and cellos and stuff. We didn’t want these flowery, hippie-dippy sweet stuff. I like the orchestra in like “I Am the Walrus” … where it plays along with the riff. I always liked that stuff.
With now 20 studio albums in your catalog, in addition to all the cover shows you’ve done over the years, how much study goes into preparation for more live shows, especially ones after a new release?
Rick: Well, I think we always do it all on our own. Then we get together and Tom tells me what I’m supposed to play.
Tom: We’re just worried if we can play at all, much less know the songs.
Rick: That’s why we don’t do anything in E-flat or B-flat. …Just kidding.
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.
I also want to ask you about “I’ll See You Again,” one of the ballads on the record. What do you remember about putting that one together?
Rick: Well, [producer] Julian Raymond’s brother-in-law died right when we were making the record. It was a pretty close family with his wife — it was her brother.
Tom: He wasn’t very old, like 40 – 45, years old, Michael. We recorded it and Julian played it at the funeral.
Michael was a big Cheap Trick fan, and I knew him since he was a little kid. He was buried in his Cheap Trick shirt and all this kind of stuff. So he played that song at Michael’s funeral. And we forgot about it and then Robin or somebody said, you know that song is just great. We should just put this on the record.
So that’s why it’s on there.
It’s really a beautiful song, I had no inkling that there was that story behind it.
Tom: It’s hard to listen to for me and for us. I knew Michael pretty well. …It’s got this Beach Boys thing going on and it doesn’t repeat [like a pop song], it’s just a great mood piece. It’s a beautiful thing.
It had a good story behind it and it wasn’t meant for a record. We just did it for Julian for Michael’s funeral.
…It hits home because we know what it’s about.