Photo credit: Martin Thompson
To Cheap Trick’s fans the band was worthy of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame years before it was ever nominated. When that finally happened in 2016 and original members Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos took the Barclay Center stage it wasn’t the swansong to a 43-year career. Turned out it was simply the closing of another chapter and the exciting beginning to the next.
A month earlier, the quartet — with drummer Daxx, son of Rick, Nielsen replacing Carlos – released the well-received Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello. Two more releases – “We’re All Alright!” and Christmas Christmas — followed 16 months later. And, of course, the quartet continued performing around 100 concerts each year.
Held back due to the 2020 COVID–19 year, Cheap Trick returns with In Another World, another stellar addition to the band’s catalog. The new album subtly revisits past glories as much as it offers 13 hook-laden rockers and ballads to its storied history. “Here’s Looking at You” and “The Summer Looks Good On You” recall the band’s 1979 classic “Dream Police,” the keyboard textures on “So It Goes” offers a nod to The Beatles and the first two singles – “Boys & Girls & Rock N Roll’ and “Light Up the Fire” – do the job of indicating that prime rock and roll pop is in store for listeners on the rest of the album.
Altogether, “In Another World” bears the lineage that began over 40 years ago with such timeless hits as “I Want You to Want Me,” “ELO Kiddies,” “Surrender” and “Heaven Tonight.” It’s as if the members discovered the Fountain of Youth and downed the liquid in a recording studio that used an old school analog Studer A80 Tape Machine that invited the ghosts of the past to enhance the present.
My conversation with co-founding bassist Tom Petersson took place shortly after the floods hit the Nashville area.
JPG: Are you and your family okay? Did the floods in Nashville affect you?
TP: No, we weren’t affected. We were not even in the flood from 10 years ago, which was really horrible, where all these places were flooded out. Everybody lost all their musical instruments and everything. We didn’t have any water here where I live. The other day, boy, I was more worried about the winds and tornadoes. It was going for two days straight. But no damage for us, but plenty of people I know really got overrun with water.
JPG: That’s too bad. The scary thing with tornadoes is they can bounce around. Walk down the street, one yard would have debris, the next one would be fine. Two houses down, one would be completely gone, the one across the street lifted up and moved 30 yards next to the street…just crazy how that works.
TP: It’s just the luck of the draw. You get a direct hit and it doesn’t matter what you did.
JPG: I’m glad to hear that you and your family are fine. First off, do you have a preference as far as description because I’ve seen Cheap Trick described as “pop rock and roll,” “power pop,” et cetera, et cetera, a lineage from Big Star and The Raspberries?
TP: I don’t really have a preference. None of it really bothers me either. People have to describe it in some way. It’s not polka music. It’s not elevator music. There’s different types of music so you have to narrow it down somewhat.
Usually, people use a combination of things. It’s like this mixed with…I wouldn’t say we’re a heavy metal act certainly but a lot of elements of that is in there or we’re a prog rock group but in a way a lot of this stuff is; certain sections like in “Dream Police.” It’s like, “Wow! That’s not straight out pop by a long shot!”
JPG: Someone might view “Dream Police” as kind of proggy because of the complexity of that section with the strings.
TP: Because of the middle sections.
JPG: At the same time it’s the bridge from the hook. You catch your breath for a second and it’s like, “Here we go again! Get on the ride!”
TP: All that kind of stuff influenced us. When we grew up in the ‘60s, we started playing as a band, all that stuff evolved and went from Beatlemania to more prog rock stuff because people started to be able to play better and all these guys started coming through that were these fabulous players. It just went from one thing to another. So, you get all that influence.
JPG: In Another World is such a good album and Robin’s voice still sounds amazing. It doesn’t sound remotely weathered after all these years.
TP: A lot of it has to do because we have kept working all these years. We never had any time off, really. We’re not constantly on the road but we work consistently every year. If we have two or three weeks off that’s a big deal. Now we’ve had 14 months off, up to this point anyway. It changes things up a little bit. We don’t know in what way exactly. [“In Another World”] was done before the pandemic so it was going to come out right at the, I don’t know, the beginning of last year. It obviously didn’t so we didn’t do it during the pandemic. It had nothing to do with it. A lot of it sounds like it could be, but it isn’t.
JPG: I found a quote of yours where you talked about the two albums you put out in 2017 – Christmas Christmas and We’re All Alright! — and you were saying that you were already back in the studio. Were you recording back then what finally came out now?
TP: Correct. We record when we have the chance to. We don’t take six months off and start recording and we pretty much write songs the whole time. Then, we go in when we can do it. If we’ve got some time off, we’re somewhere where we can record…I think most of this record was done here in Nashville though. It’s a good meeting point because we don’t live in the same cities but Nashville’s in the middle and it’s a great place to record anyways. There are all sorts of great studios.
JPG: Is that how you’ve always approached it, in finding some sort of middle ground?
TP: Yes, it’s always been like that, except at the very beginning. It wasn’t like we were The Monkees and we all lived in the same house. I think people look at it that way, like, “That must be great.” No, we don’t even live in the same states.
We work all the time, so we see each other all the time anyway. It really doesn’t make any difference. I feel it doesn’t make a difference. We’re not apart that long up until now.
JPG: In 2020 did you, Rick, Robin and Daxx do anything together? Were you working on material or sending files to each other or anything like that?
TP: We’re working on the next record, yes, but we’re not recording it. Each of us put our ideas together then we come in and see what we got.
JPG: When touring starts to ramp up again in July, will you spend quite a bit of time rehearsing the new material to get in shape for the live setting?
TP: We won’t rehearse. We just figure out what we don’t know, learn that at home, and then do it. We rehearse sometimes at soundchecks. We’ll get there early and do that but we don’t sit around and think, “Let’s rehearse for three days.” That’s never happened.
If it’s a new song or songs we haven’t played or that we hadn’t done for years we’ll run through them a couple of times at a soundcheck, but a proper rehearsal…. We change the set all the time so there’s no consistent show in that kind of a way — you have to do this and then this happens here and then this…where you’d have at a rehearsal, like a Broadway musical or something. It’s not anything like that. We’re just winging it.
JPG: That Broadway musical concert approach is what drove me to becoming a Grateful Dead fan.
TP: There you go. Could there be a more opposite world?
JPG: I just couldn’t stand it. I was like, “That was a good show. Pretty “amazing” that the moment he stepped to his left on the stage the spotlight hit him and the moment moved over to the right the same thing happened.”
TP: It was all pretty natural.
JPG: There’s a little shtick, of course. It is entertainment.
TP: Right. When you find something that works like, “That was funny, let’s do that again.”
JPG: Exactly. There’s nothing wrong with that.
TP: No. It’s like seeing ZZ Top. They got this stuff worked out and it’s great because usually stuff that really works is the tongue-in-cheek stuff ,like what they do. Yeah, it’s worked out but there’s just something about it that is so comical and so…it’s perfect…or MC5. When you saw them in the ‘60s, a lot of those bands, too, they came out of…show bands were a big thing, so you had to put on a show. It bled into the ‘60s stuff. You see the MC5 and they got these steps worked out and they’re doing the splits and rolling around on the stage and it’s like, “Holy shit! It’s great.” You wouldn’t think that they would have that stuff worked out like that but it really, again, it borders… It’s comical, it’s tongue-in-cheek in a way and it gets people going.
JPG: They came from Detroit/Motown [technically Lincoln Park, Michigan)] so, maybe, there was that influence on them. As far as your live set, you have two singles so far and you have so many songs that people want to hear, do you try not to push the new album too much and just do one or two of the singles in the set and that’s it?
TP: Usually that’s the case. It honestly depends on what type of an audience it is. Sometimes, diehard, hardcore fans, you’re somewhere where you realize, “Okay, let’s do a bunch of off-the-wall stuff here.” It’s great to see people’s faces like, “Oh my God! I can’t believe they’re playing that!”
But, in general, you don’t know whatever situation you’re in. You’re at a state fair or something. The people generally don’t know who the hell we are. “Oh wow! That’s you guys? Oh, hey, cool! You know “The Flame?” Oh, that’s you.” So, you go by that. But honestly, you can’t win either way. The diehard fans are there most of the time anyway, and they don’t care if they ever hear the hits, probably, which isn’t totally true but you know what I mean. Then, other people who really don’t know much about us, that’s all they want to hear and the other stuff is just like, “What the hell is going on here?”
We do do things. We throw it in there at the end or something. Again, you can’t win. You just do what you think you want to do.
JPG: Is there a song you wish you could convince the other band members to play live?
TP: No. If anybody comes up with any ideas to play we’ll figure it out if we don’t know it, which is a lot of this stuff because there’s a lot of material. We’ll sort it out like, “Wow, how does that thing go? Wait a second. Oh yeah.” We’ll work it out at a soundcheck. We don’t just totally go for it but it’s really these odd deep tracks, and no, there’s not really anything favorite. Anything that would be a favorite of ours is probably the songs we play the least, so it doesn’t really count as a favorite. You’re less tired of it.
JPG: It’s a favorite of yours is what I meant.
TP: Yeah, it’s like you’re The Beatles, like do you want to hear “Yesterday” again every time? No, you want to hear “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” or something.
It’s like I love the group Free but do I need to hear “All Right Now” ever again? No. But I want to hear “Mr. Big” or something.
JPG: Speaking of the Beatles, on the new album you cover John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.” What led to that?
TP: We just thought that was a cool song. We got Steve Jones to play on it with us, so that was great.
JPG: How did you get him on there?
TP: He’s hilarious, that guy. He’s a great guy. He’s a funny guy. We just asked him and he said, “Yeah, that’s cool. I’ll do it.”
JPG: I watch his “Jonesy’s Jukebox” KLOS radio show on YouTube and he’s always trying to initiate a jam with one of his musical guests. So, I imagine he must have been thrilled to play.
TP: We did one of his songs, The [Sex] Pistols, with him playing a few years ago. We played live on his show with him. We did “Bodies.”
JPG: As far as concert dates go, you have July dates listed and it looks like those will happen. So hopefully we’ll see you on tour.
TP: You will eventually. We’re not giving up yet.