A couple of years ago, Foreigner celebrated its 40th anniversary as a band. It's a remarkable achievement and a huge accomplishment for a band of any ilk, but it seemed particularly special for Foreigner on the basis that the band has survived every major trend that rock music has thrown its way over the years. There was a time, however, when founding member Mick Jones was unsure if the band with which he made his name was in a position to soldier on. Following the departure of original vocalist Lou Gramm, Jones found himself at a crossroads.
“He didn't know if he wanted to keep doing music as Foreigner or turn it into a solo project,” explains Jeff Pilson, who has served as Foreigner's bass player for almost 15 years. “He was working with Jason Bonham, who I had met when we were both part of the fictional band in the movie Rock Star. Jason had convinced Mick to revamp Foreigner, and they gave me a call to come down and jam with them. The chemistry was immediate. I was hooked from there.”
Pilson, who made his name in the ‘80s with hard rock band Dokken, has been a consistent part of Foreigner ever since that first jam session. Much like Mark Wahlberg's position in the aforementioned Rock Star, Pilson was entering the fold of a band whose catalogue he was already heavily familiar with. “I've always been a big Foreigner fan,” he says. “I always thought that they had this incredible collection of great hard rock songs. They've always been in the groove, with great singing and great playing, but always rocking at the same time.”
When describing his role in Foreigner, Pilson notes that he's done his best to be faithful to the foundations laid by his predecessors – in particular, original bassist Ed Gagliardi, who passed away in 2014. At the same time, he's also tried to ensure the band’s focus on hard rock remains paramount to the operation.
“I think it's important to stay true to the vibe of the original music,” he says. “In spots, I feel like the set has gotten a little bit heavier, and there's a bit more improvisation at work as well. For the most part, though, we base a lot of the performance on what was laid down on the record. As a fan, I know if I'm going to see a band that I love then I'm going to hear the songs that I fell in love with.”
Thankfully, Pilson happens to be part of a band that has shown, decade after decade, exactly what love is. Foreigner still play to huge, cross-generational crowds all over the world, which is not something anyone within the band takes for granted. “It's an incredible catalogue,” says Pilson. “I mean, 15 Foreigner singles have been Top 30 hits – when you're working with that, it almost feels like cheating.” The 59-year-old bassist also notes that touring as a part of Foreigner has been a big part of broadening his travel horizons. “With Dokken, we only got to do a few tours,” he says.
“We got to do Europe a couple of times, and we also did a tour in Japan. Being a part of Foreigner, though, I've been to South America, I've been to South Africa, I'm about to go to Australia for the third time... it's opened up a lot of doors for me, I'll say that much.” Pilson also notes that he isn't even concerned about jetlag. “Even if I did doze off, I could probably play the set in my sleep.”
Indeed, Foreigner will make their way down to Australia this October for a run of headlining shows. Taking in exquisite theatres like the Sydney Opera House and Hamer Hall, Pilson is chomping at the bit to make his return. “It's such a beautiful country. Everyone I've met there is so civil, and all the cities I've visited have been so clean and beautiful. There's just something about it that I really, really love – and I think I can say that's unanimous as far as the rest of the band is concerned, too.”
Catch Foreigner on tour around Australia next month thanks to Chugg Entertainment, information here.