Rick Nielsen: ‘We’ve always played from the heart’

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114970364227371.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jonathan Hicks’, ‘Rick Nielsen speaks at a private release party for Cheap Trick’s latest CD, Rockford, at Paragon On State June 5. ‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114970368827411.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jonathan Hicks’, ‘Cheap Trick members (from left) Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos speak at a June 5 party at Paragon On State.’);

Editor’s note: The following is part two of a two-part interview with Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. Part one, “Rick Nielsen talks about not going Hollywood, new album,” appeared on page A1 of the May 31-June 6, 2006, issue. Cheap Trick’s new album, Rockford, hit record stores yesterday, June 6.

Love them or hate them, Cheap Trick have given name recognition of our city to a global audience with yesterday’s (June 6) release of Rockford. Of course, Trick fanatics will argue they’ve been doing that since the mid-1970s. And they’re right. The black and white checkerboard pattern has become symbolic of Rockford in virtually every place but Rockford.

But guitarist Rick Nielsen doesn’t let that get him down. The charismatic rocker concludes his chat with The Rock River Times, lending insight about the newly released album as well as why home really is where the heart is.

Jonathan Hicks, The Rock River Times (TRRT): Do you have a favorite track on Rockford?

RN: No, because to each his own. There are reasons why I like every track. I suppose I could number them from one to 12, but Cheap Trick has always tried to make good albums. Once in a while, we make some better than others, but from the first song to the last, you can put it in on a repeat function, and it just kind of flows.

TRRT: What impact did Linda Perry have on the album?

RN: We wrote a couple of songs with her. It’s fun working with creative, fun people, and she’s creative and fun. She’s an engineer, producer, songwriter, singer—she can do it all.

TRRT: What’s the story behind “Welcome to the World?”

RN: My son Miles had a baby girl. If I say granddaughter, then that sounds too old, so I say she’s my son’s daughter. She calls me “grumpy,” for good reason. And the day she was born, it exhilarated me and I wanted to write a song. You think of little babies being born, you think of little lullabies. I don’t write lullabies. I was excited, so I said, “Welcome to the world, it’s a better place now that you’re here.” It wasn’t written for her, but it was inspired by her and the events of that day. But if you didn’t know that, it’s just a fun rock song.

TRRT: I wrote a review for the album not too terribly long ago. In it, I refer to two different types of fans, one of which are those who still like to spin their Fuse album, the other of which are some of the younger ones that got into you guys through “That 70s Song.” Can both types of fans enjoy the new album?

RN: You don’t have to be a fan at all to enjoy the album—you can become a fan. We make good albums, I think. And we’re still excited about playing. I see bands that weren’t excited when they made their first record. We’ve always tried to make good records. Sometimes you fail, and sometimes you do better than you expected. But I think both fans will like it, and, hopefully, we’ll make new fans, too.

TRRT: In a recent interview that you did, the writer referred to Cheap Trick as “one of the most successful and influential power pop outfits of their generation,” which implies your generation has come and gone. But you’re still here. Why do you think Cheap Trick is still relevant to the current music scene?

RN: We’ve always played from the heart, no matter how shallow that heart may be. We weren’t trying to do symphonies or do something that was above us or that we didn’t understand. The influences that we had and how we’ve interpreted them is what we are. All the stuff we liked, we liked for the right reasons—because it was cool. That stuff is still cool. And I wish a lot of them were still around. You’re 25, and you’ve got to go back and research this junk. It’s not like you’re hearing our stuff or anybody’s stuff on the radio that you probably listen to. That’s the same thing when I was growing up in Rockford. I subscribed to Melody Maker from England. I got it airmailed. I was probably the only person in the United States that got it airmailed, because I wanted to know what was going on this week in London. And I used to read the stuff and some of the writers that they had there, you could tell what the band was like. Not like today. A lot of magazines say, “These guys stink and the guy looks like….” All (writers) are doing is trying to be creative, fun and sarcastic. You can’t really tell too much about the music with a lot of the writers. But back then, you could. If I listen to old Jimi Hendrix records, they still sound great. Some of it’s a little dated, of course, but it’s still cool stuff.

TRRT: You’ve spent your entire life calling Rockford home. I grew up here surrounded by kids that had nothing better to do than talk about getting out of this town. You could live anywhere you want. Why have you stayed here?

RN: I’ve gone everywhere and the majority of my friends and family are here. I could’ve made a move. I’ve lived in Philadelphia, Europe—some years I spend more time in California than I do here. But I always come back. In Chicago magazine, an article just came out where I said (that) if you can make it in Rockford, you can make it anywhere. This is as tough a town as any place in the world, and the fact that I don’t really earn my living here—I don’t really stay because of that. I stay because there are good people here and plenty to do. If it’s too boring for you, you can always go to Chicago. I know people who never leave this town that hate it. And I know people that never leave this town that love it. There are great people, and there are jerks here, too. With Cheap Trick, the people either love you or hate you, one of the two. I’m never going to change anybody’s feelings about it. I can’t please my family, let alone the rest of the world (laughing).

Cheap Trick’s latest effort, Rockford, is in stores now. For more information, or to sample album tracks, visit www.cheaptrick.com.

From the June 7-13, 2006, issue

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