Long before Friday had been anointed as the “day most likely to instill gratitude,” Mike Reno and his Loverboy band mates were insightfully affirming that everybody’s really just working for the weekend.
After exploding onto the music scene in 1980 with their self-titled multi-platinum selling debut, the band quickly became one of America’s – and MTV’s most popular rock bands. Over the following decade, Loverboy released three other multi-platinum albums, “Get Lucky,” “Keep It Up” and “Lovin’ Every Minute Of It.”
The band produced a seemingly endless stream of hit singles – “Turn Me Loose,” “The Kid Is Hot Tonite,” “Working For The Weekend,” “When It’s Over,” “Hot Girls In Love,” and “Lovin’ Every Minute Of It” among many others – that became the anthems and party songs of an entire generation of music fans.
The Canadian rockers’ red leather pants, bandannas, and big rock sound came to embody the band’s trademark image and high-energy live shows. The band’s national tour stops were – and are – synonymous with “sell out.”
Loverboy’s dynamic frontman – he of the aforementioned red leather pants – was kind enough to chat with me in between a couple of those sell outs about the band’s phenomenal success and the state of the music industry.
The veteran rocker admitted to at least one welcome change in the way things are done. “Well, I like how you can record anywhere now. Before, it used to be you had to work something out so that there was a bunch of money on the table so that you could hire a big truck to come in and record your whole show.”
“Nowadays, you just hook up a computer software package to the mixing board, and boom, you’ve got it all. You can even cut vocals in your hotel room if you want. You can sit in the back of the tour bus and re-do all the guitars.”
“That to me is a really cool change because you’re not looking up studios and getting two-inch tape out, which is big. They had special machines and they had to all be aligned and everything had to be perfect. The temperature had to be just right or the machines would get too hot.”
“I like the fact that you can do that differently now. You can record anywhere, anytime. The young bands starting out must really think that’s great because young bands wouldn’t be able to afford going into the studio. It was expensive. So that’s changed and that’s really great.”
But lest anyone think that the changes are all musical peaches and cream for Reno, he confessed to being not altogether thrilled with the industry’s seeming desire to “cut off its nose to spite its face.”
“I'm less than enamored with a striking bit of a ‘shoot-yourself-in-the-foot process’ – bands put out albums and nobody seems to pay for them, so the bands don’t make any money. You can’t get in a tour bus and go on the road. I don’t know if the fans realize this, but unless you pay for the album, we can’t pay the bills to do the album. There’s still bills involved in getting the guys together and getting places to go and record.”
“People nowadays, they just take for granted that if they see it on the computer, they can just grab it and then they’ll have it. But if they leave the bands out of the picture – if they don’t pay for it – the bands can’t pay their bills and they can’t continue on. It’s really hard and that’s really made a lot of difference to me. And it stands out as being probably the worst thing that happened to music.”
“Going down to the record store and buying a new record, opening it up and looking at all the liner notes and reading the lyrics and seeing the pictures of the band, that used to be a big deal for me, you know? And that seems to be gone, and that’s kind of sad.”
While Reno was quick to concede the shifting landscape of the recording world, he was just as quick to point out that though much has changed, some things have stayed the same. “The thing is, people seem to love these songs. And the songs really are the center of everybody’s attention.”
“We will come on stage and play 10 songs for people. It takes them right back to when they were in high school or college. And they just go, ‘Man, I remember that. I'm glad you played that one. Aw, I forgot you guys do that one.’”
“It’s one of those mutual admiration societies. Everybody in the concert seems to have a great time and I think it’s all about the songs. So we’re just basically paying homage to these songs. I don’t know how they came to us. They just dropped out of the sky and landed in our laps.”
For the iconic rocker, there was at least one other enduring certainty. Although the names may have changed, as long as there are musical artists there will be controversy. “Absolutely. It’s funny you should mention it because I just got back from a weekend at the lake and we didn’t have any TV out there. And I just saw this whole thing with Miley Cyrus and I just laughed.”
“You know, she’s just being a real piggy, just likes to be as popular as possible. And I just went, ‘Isn’t that funny?’ The women are doing it now. But it used to be the guys that would show up and be inappropriate and say stupid things and swear on TV and look terrible and be all hung over and smoke – and just be the worst guys ever and the VMAs loved ‘em.”
“They thought they were amazing, you know, fall down drunk… ‘Okay, great, let’s buy his record.’ So it seems to be the girls that are doing it in the last little while. And actually, I'm just having a good snicker laughing about it.”
Truth be told, there are music careers that have benefited from stirring things up a bit. But Reno and his bandmates have managed to triumph without marrying their cousins or getting busted for shoplifting. For Loverboy, it may be as simple as guessing correctly that the listening public just “wanted their MTV.”
“(Laughing) Anything for print. Get the press no matter what, even if they spell your name wrong, it doesn’t matter. You know what, everything that we established at the beginning was right when MTV was coming out.”
“The bands before Loverboy, nobody knew what they looked like because you saw an album cover and that’s really it. You never saw them on television. We came out when MTV came out. We handed them three videos the first week they were open.”
“It became difficult for us to walk down to the store and buy a pack of smokes. Back in the old days, we just couldn’t leave the room and that was a big deal for us. It just came out of nowhere and then all of a sudden, we’re famous. And that’s the power of television, the power of being in everybody’s face.”
“They needed to play these songs constantly because they had a 24-hour music station. And they only had about two dozen videos that were turned in. So just out of necessity they played us constantly and we became super famous and everybody knew what we looked like.”
Not only do music fans know what the rock legends look like, they obviously know what they sound like – which is just fine by Reno. “That is good. That’s given us a little spark in our walk and gives us a little confidence. It’s like I said at the beginning, it’s the songs. We hold the songs up and we try to be as good as the songs and we don’t have to prove anything to ourselves anymore.”
“People are saying to us after concerts, ‘I think you guys sound better now than you used to.’ And I just gotta figure it’s because we’ve been playing so many damn concerts, we’re just starting to get good at it.”
Even after millions of records, thousands of shows and decades of great music, the band is still evolving. “Yeah we are. We’ve been working on some new music and what’s funny is we’re kind of borrowing from what we did in the beginning.”
“We’re sitting there, we’re trying to come up with the keyboard part or a guitar groove or something and we’re going, ‘Do you remember how we did that for ‘When It’s Over’? How we kind of went (mimicking music sounds)?’ Now we’re looking at songs we did years ago and we’re borrowing from ourselves – not the same lick or anything, but just the same feel or the same groove.”
There’s no better proof of the band’s musical growth than 2012’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival,” featuring three new songs and nine classic Loverboy songs re-recorded for the album with a new lineup of band members – Reno (vocals), Paul Dean (guitars), Matt Frenette (drums), Doug Johnson (keyboards) and Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve (bass).
“It’s a challenge to keep it fresh and that’s kind of why we did that ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival,’” professed Reno. “We revived some of those songs to make it interesting for us because we’re up there playing them. We started going off and doing some solos and doing some things and changing some parts. That’s what keeps it fresh.”
“A few of the songs, we changed the lyrics. We added some parts to them. The intros were all different. A lot of the solo areas were different. We added some pieces here and there to different songs.”
“And the reason we did that is because when we’re working in front of a live crowd, people are responding to us and we’re responding back to them musically and those songs that we did for that record, were actually recorded live.”
“All we did was basically take the crowd out of it. We wanted people to see how the song sounds 30 years later, so a lot of things had changed. Some of the tempos were a little different. Some of the lyrics got changed and for us. It was just a way to show people what we do now. It’s the same stuff, but what we do now. And then we added three new songs to the record to make it interesting.”
Reno confessed that the album’s trio of new cuts is just a small taste of what the band has in store for their loyal fans. “We’re not really sure how to take this new product to the people. Do we just give it to them on the Internet so they don’t feel bad about stealing it (laughing)? Do we give ourselves a pat on the back for giving it away for free? Do we put it online and let them listen to it but can’t download it? Do we let them have the whole thing?”
“Do we get involved with the record company and then the record company says, ‘Well nobody bought the record so we’re not happy with you guys anymore.’ We just don’t know what to do anymore. There’s this huge gray area in the music industry right now.”
“My gut instinct is to offer it for free on the Internet and tell everybody, ‘Come to the concert and buy it.’ So it’s like a promotional tour. We’re not even planning on making any money on it anymore. We’re just planning on putting it out there as a fan appreciation thing. We’re playing them at rehearsals, but we’re not playing them live yet. We’re too chicken (chuckling).”
The rock icon may be mildly reluctant to charge headlong into new material live. But Reno certainly isn’t reluctant to tackle new professional challenges. A rock opera perhaps?
“That’s a good question and I appreciate you asking it. I started thinking of doing some other things. I'm not interested in a rock opera (laughing). That’s not me. Maybe Paul is. That’s the difference between Paul and I.”
“I would rather grab a microphone and go around town and shoot a TV show like Bret Michaels is doing or Gene Simmons is doing. I'm a little more personable like that. We did shoot a little thing and titled it ‘Working for the Weekend.’”
“It was me trying out different jobs to see if I’d be interested in buying companies, like fitness companies. I would go to the fitness place, we’d film it all and it was pretty funny stuff. I'm doing stuff like that. I'm dabbling into doing some TV shows. Maybe Paul’s gonna do the rock opera. That’s kind of what he’s all about.”
Fortunately for fans of great music, what Mike Reno and the rest of his band mates are about is playing some of the best rock and roll to ever grace a stage. And if that means giving up our dreams of a Loverboy rock opera, so be it.