Cheap Trick is part of the very fiber of American music, inspiring and delighting generations with their unique union of massive melodies and razorblade riffs, their own special brand of mischievous wit and maximum rock ‘n’ roll. Frontlined since 1974 by Robin Zander (vocals, rhythm guitar), Rick Nielsen (lead guitar), and Tom Petersson (bass guitar), the Rockford, IL-born band is set to impact still another era with the spectacular new BANG ZOOM CRAZY…HELLO, their 17th studio collection and first in more than five years. Co-produced by Cheap Trick and GRAMMY® Award winner Julian Raymond (Glen Campbell, Fastball), songs like “Heart On The Line” and the turbulent first single, “When I Wake Up Tomorrow,” are deeply connected to the band’s own irrepressible history just as they accelerate their trademark sound and vision into the now. The glorious “Long Time No See Ya” marks another in a long line of salutations spanning “ELO Kiddies” and “Hello There” to “Goodnight” and “Say Goodbye,” while the piledriving “Do You Believe Me” showcases dueling solos from Nielsen and six-string icon Wayne Kramer – a milestone meeting of the long established Midwestern mutual appreciation society between Cheap Trick and the mighty MC5. BANG ZOOM CRAZY…HELLO prove Cheap Trick to be as energetic and idiosyncratically irresistible as ever before, a callback to their classic canon yet somehow as inventive and exciting as a bunch of crazy kids just coming out of the garage.
“We wanted to make something that was new and fresh but also going back to our 70s sound and feel,” Zander says, “this Midwestern rock band that’s got a hard edge but still plays pop music.”
“It’s loud and it’s noisy,” Nielsen says, “which is exactly what we are. It sounds like there’s a lot going on but really it’s just a three piece band with a great singer.”
Cheap Trick are of course a indisputable institution, beloved for their instantly identifiable, hugely influential, powerhouse pop rock ‘n’ roll. The constant core of the band remains one of a kind – three guys, four chords, and tunes that will last in perpetuity, from “He’s A Whore,” “California Man” and “Dream Police” to “Surrender,” “I Want You To Want Me” and the worldwide #1 hit single, “The Flame.”
“The songs are why everybody knows Cheap Trick,” Nielsen says. “We have some good songs. ‘I Want You To Want Me” has been around for 40 years but people still love it. And even if you’re sick of it, it’s over in three minutes! The songs are still relevant, they still have the right words and the right emotion to move 99% of all humans.”
Amidst that not inconsiderable demographic, one particular fan served as catalyst for Cheap Trick’s return to the studio. Founder, president, and CEO of Nashville-based Big Machine Records, Scott Borchetta has also been a lifelong supporter of the band. Conversations began in 2012 and were sealed when veteran producer/songwriter Julian Raymond – a longtime Cheap Trick associate and Academy Award nominee for co-writing the GRAMMY®-winning “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” featured in 2014’s acclaimed documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me – joined the zeitgeist-defining label as its Vice President of A&R. A multi-album deal was soon struck, a contract as rare as hen’s teeth for any rock band in the modern era let alone one of Cheap Trick’s considerable vintage.
“It’s a pretty big career tool,” Nielsen says. “Much better than putting a bunch of CDs in my car.”
“It’s been great working with Scott,” Petersson says. “He’s such a music lover. It’s rare for the guy that’s running the label to be so musical. Usually we have to battle it out with those guys but he left us alone. He was like, I love your band, you know what you’re doing in there.”
Deal in hand, Cheap Trick and Raymond quickly set to work. Described by all as the band’s de-facto “fifth member,” Raymond has been a friend and sometimes collaborator for three decades, relied upon as both confidante and traffic cop.
“We could produce our own records but we prefer to have Julian there to quell the storms,” Zander says. “You’ve got three writers in the band so there’s a lot of ideas floating around. You’ve got to have somebody that’s outside of the band to help give some direction. Otherwise you just get lost in yourselves.”
“Julian really brings the best out in us,” Petersson says. “He really understands our band and because he’s not us, he can see things that we don’t or can’t see in ourselves. We’re so close to this music, you need somebody else like Julian.”
Sessions got underway in 2015 at Los Angeles’ East West Studio. The band immediately got into their groove by locking into a playful version of “The In Crowd.” Written by Billy Page and made famous in not one, not two, but three distinct chart hits by Dobie Gray, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, and Bryan Ferry respectively, the song was a staple of Cheap Trick’s earliest live sets, a reliable crowd-pleaser as they made their bones at local dives all over the Midwest.
“The feel started there,” Zander says. “We continued writing from that sound.”
All three original members cite drummer Daxx Nielsen as the most significant contemporary influence on Cheap Trick’s current creativity. A musical polymath who has played with artists spanning Dick Dale to Brandi Carlisle, the younger Nielsen was the obvious choice when the seemingly irreplaceable Bun E. Carlos retired from active touring and recording with the band he co-founded. Daxx’s innate virtuosity and spirited musicianship were propulsive in more ways than the usual, inspiring fresh energy while also keeping the band in touch with its roots.
“Daxx is so talented,” Petersson says. “He’s so into it, he can play all of our songs on any instrument. We’ll pull something from our back catalog and he’ll tell us how the bridge goes.”
“We have to recall stuff,” Rick says. “Daxx remembers.”
After more than half a decade away from the studio, Cheap Trick was fired up and ridiculously prolific, cranking out close to 30 new tunes over two pair of sessions in Los Angeles and Nashville. Tracks like “No Direction Home” hit hard as a teenage crush’s kiss, affirming the eternal strength of Cheap Trick’s smart, sly, sometimes sarcastic songcraft. Each member has skin in the songwriting game, contributing elements – a riff, a chorus, a hook that won’t stop – which are then jammed into three-and-a-half minute pop perfection by the entire unit, ensuring everybody’s respective two cents are represented in every finished tune.
“We start something and the songs take on a life of their own,” Petersson says. “There’s a lot of back and forth. It’s not like one person had to think of everything for 40 years straight. I think that keeps us in top form.”
Fast approaching their fifth decade, Cheap Trick is among the most active and successful in music history, with featured appearances on over 20 movie soundtracks, more than 40 international gold and platinum certifications, myriad awards and industry honors, and total record sales well in excess of 20 million. BANG ZOOM CRAZY…HELLO arrives just as the band are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a long overdue honor that confirms their incredible influence while simultaneously acknowledging the millions upon millions of Cheap Trick fans around the planet.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Nielsen says. “It wasn’t some goal we were trying to achieve – it’s kind of out of the blue. It means a lot to a lot of people.”
“People are so overwhelmed by it,” Petersson says. “They come up to me at the grocery store or at the bank, saying congratulations, that’s the greatest thing ever. It really means a lot to our fans.”
Surely on any shortlist of rock’s all time greatest live acts, Cheap Trick will take to the road in celebration of their electric new album, traveling as they have for decades, rocking arenas, concert halls, and amphitheatres worldwide more than 150 nights each year. BANG ZOOM CRAZY…HELLO affirms Cheap Trick as an indefatigable going concern, not merely Hall of Fame-worthy legends but a vital and vibrant fact of life.
“I don’t ever see us quitting,” Zander says. “We’re not cut out for sitting around and watching TV.”
“This is what we do,” Petersson says. “We’re very proud of this record, we have no problem going around the world playing songs from it. We’re going to do that anyway. That’s what we do.”
“We’re not a nostalgia band,” Nielsen says. “We never stopped making records, we never stopped touring. We’ve had ups, we’ve had super lows, but we kept at it and I think people appreciate that. Sometimes I think we’re just too dumb to quit. We just keep going.”