What do you get when you cross an impressive back catalog of music, some new creative ideas, old partnerships and new collaborations, and a real urge to let rip with your vocal chords? This isn’t the leading line of a bad joke thankfully, it is the collision of elements that conjure up the entity known as T&N. Known to some as “The Big Three” of Dokken, T&N reunites the talents of Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown and George Lynch. Guests that make important contributions include Sebastian Bach, Tim “Ripper” Owens, Doug Pinnick (Kings X), Robert Mason (Warrant) and the integral addition of Brian Tichy (Whitesnake). This is a big bang of experience and talent that came together to create some solid riffs with a real sincere energy, and this is most evident when you hear the title track of their debut studio opus Slave To The Empire. After rocking hard for about four minutes and eleven seconds, the tail end of the title track leaves the listener with a soft acoustic flavored refrain. If that alone doesn’t share their intentions, check out the melodies that ride the frantic riffs of Access Denied or their reinterpretation of the Dokken rocker Tooth And Nail featuring Pinnick from Kings X on lead vocals.
If experienced and well-known names from the world of rock music alone were enough to make an album a classic, then this information would be all that we needed to know. But chemistry is invaluable to the inner workings of the creative energies that get invested in a good album. Pilson elaborates, “It has evolved over the years, and we have gotten better, we know each other better of course. But, having said that, the very first day George ever came over to my house some 29 years ago, he walked in the door, and he walked right over to the guitar that was sitting in the corner, he picked it up and we started talking. I’m literally saying, ‘hey George how you doing?’ he sees the guitar and we wrote a song within half an hour. I mean we have been doing this since day one.”
Slave To The Empire was written and produced by the band at Pilson’s Pilsongs Studio and consists of seven original brand new songs, and five re-recorded interpretations of Dokken classics. On these five reinterpretations, T&N have five different lead vocal performances. “What I really didn’t want this to be perceived as, was some sort of, and I knew some of this was gonna happen naturally but, I didn’t want this to be us versus them sort of thing with Don. I didn’t want it perceived like that at all ‘cos that’s not the intention. The intention was to, y’know show respect to the catalog and the legacy and to pay tribute to it.” With a pause to think about how he wished to continue explaining the choice of guest vocalists, Pilson then continued his enthusiastic flow. “And so I thought if I were to have sung everything, or Mick and I, ‘cos Mick Brown by the way who’s quite a great singer, he’s gonna be singing a song on the next record and he’s sung it already and it’s beautiful, it’s amazing. But if he and I did it I think it would’ve been perceived too much as an us versus them thing, the Press would’ve y’know, latched onto that and that would’ve been the talking point and we didn’t really want that.” Pilson then adds, “And the other thing too is I think in order to show proper respect for the Dokken legacy, I think, I don’t think my voice would be the best voice on all those songs, I think there’s better voices. So I would rather use those voices, show respect to the legacy, and kinda take out that whole thing that we’re trying to compete because that’s just not where it’s at.” They chose the singers they felt could do justice to the Dokken back catalog, and the singers chose their own Dokken songs they wanted to sing. Mason from Warrant tackles It’s Not Love whilst Bach sings on Alone Again. Owens performs singing duties on Kiss of Death and Pilson himself sings on Into The Fire.
For us, its tremendous fun to be able to revisit these songs because when you’re an artist, invariably you get done with the recording and there’s things you wish you would’ve done differently.
Going further with the idea of including Dokken songs on the debut studio opus by T&N, Pilson says “For us, its tremendous fun to be able to revisit these songs because when you’re an artist, invariably you get done with the recording and there’s things you wish you would’ve done differently. And in this case, y’know, obviously Don wasn’t there so he didn’t get a chance to re-do whatever he didn’t like about his original performances, but we got to make a little bit more raw recording than the original which for us was very, very exciting, we always thought even back in the day that the recordings were just a little too soupy, a little too much reverb going on and all that kinda stuff, we wanted it a li’l more in your face and we feel like we achieved that on this.” When asked whether these Dokken songs were always intended for this band, Pilson clarifies “Truth is we recorded twelve Dokken songs with Mick Brown.” He then continues “We always planned that this was gonna be two records, we knew it was gonna be two records, at least two records with this set of songs. So we recorded twelve Dokken songs with Mick, we had the originals. Y’know our original thought was we’ll do half and half, it just happened to work out seven and five, nothing overly scientific or thought out about it. But what happened was is when we sent it out to the singers that we had, they just kinda got to choose what song they wanted to do, and those were the five that ended up being done.”
Regarding Pilson’s commitment with Foreigner, as with the varying bands and creative outlets the other band members have, T&N is not going to replace them. It’s simply an additional output for the various members to stretch their artistic muscles with. Pilson is proud of his own recording studio and also clearly embraces the luxury of using these facilities to explore his ideas. T&N offers him the opportunity to use these premises for a musical outing that incorporates fellow musicians and friends that he cares about. When asked about the idea of a message being incorporated within this debut album, Pilson shares with a serious tone, “We’re reacting to the growing inequality in this world. A very small percentage of people are acquiring more and more of the wealth and resources on this planet as time goes on. And it’s getting, to me, to get to a very scary point. I believe that people have the power to change this if they can wake up.”
Knowing how each artist and band have their influences and inspirations behind the creative process, it was interesting to know what examples of these applied to Pilson. “I’ve always been a Beatles and Zeppelin guy, they’ve always been huge parts of my life, huge. But I love everything, I love Muse.” Then he began to stumble over the right word as his thoughts began to process the main influences for this T&N session. “You know what really influenced me a lot with this record, is the Black Country Communion record, the BCC two. I love that record, I absolutely adore that record, and I think that band is great and Glenn Hughes is to me one of the greatest singers that’s ever lived.” With this in mind, Pilson was evidently smitten with the thought of having Hughes, the former Deep Purple and solo vocalist contribute on the next T&N album. Speaking of the next album already, Pilson was quietly confident that the concept that applies to Slave To The Empire will also be attributed to the next studio album, utilizing the Dokken songs that have already been recorded with some new original songs.
With Pilson making solid contributions to such albums as Dokken’s Tooth And Nail from 1984 right through to their live album Live From The Sun released in 2000, and spreading his wings on studio albums like Dio’s overlooked Strange Highways from 1994, plus the more recent Foreigner album Can’t Slow Down in 2009, Pilson has earned some respect from fans for his consistency and longevity, and is truly relishing the challenge to be the frontman for T&N on most of these new recordings that appear on Slave To The Empire. On the reason why T&N exist today, Pilson explains with a sincere tone. “To embrace our legacy and yet embrace the fact that, the initial, the most, probably most powerful aspect of T&N for us is the creative outlet. And part of a creative outlet, a very important part, is writing new music and a chance for me to sing, which is something I feel very passionate about and is very exciting for me.” He really is looking forward to promoting this album and with work already underway on album number two, they’re following the rhythm of the soul into the sweet unknown.