Drummer Kelly Keagy checks in from the band’s current tour
Since becoming famous four decades ago for arena rock hits such as “Sister Christian” and “When You Close Your Eyes,” Night Ranger have toured relentless – until the COVID-19 pandemic derailed them last year.
Still, as drummer/co-vocalist Kelly Keagy explains, the unexpected break from the road also paved the way for them to create ATBPO, their thirteenth studio album (released in late August via Frontiers Music Srl).
When the pandemic came, Keagy says, “We got caught by surprise so we were like, ‘Okay, let’s switch gears and think about doing another record.’” Because he and his bandmates all live in different states, they proceeded to work together via file sharing over the Internet, which they had never done before.
“We started putting the tracks together that way, and it was really cumbersome and long, but it ended up really being pretty good. The songs just came. So we’re pretty lucky it worked out,” Keagy says.
The songs on ATBPO (which stands for “And The Band Played On”) reflect the unsettled times in which they were created. “Nobody knew if they would be able to go back to work or anything, and we were feeling that, too,” Keagy says. “So we wanted to put that down and use that energy, [so] some of the songs did reflect the frustration.”
As on Night Ranger’s previous albums, Keagy shares lead vocals duty with bassist Jack Blades. “We’ve always been a band that trades vocals,” he says. “There’s a lot of songs where the both of us sing. We always embraced that and thought that was a really good idea, to not have the same vocalist singing the whole album. That was what The Beatles did. They always had four lead vocalists, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we take that idea and use it for us?’ And it always worked out.” For his part, Keagy sings lead vocals on some of the band’s biggest hits, including “Sister Christian” (which he wrote for his little sister) and “Sentimental Street.”
When deciding whether he or Blades should do the lead vocals, Keagy says that “It depends on the song. I’m a little more bluesy, so sometimes a song would be a better idea for me. We just discuss it. We know each other so well that we can listen to a track and go, ‘That sounds like you would sing that verse better,’ or, ‘We should sing harmony together.’ We always know what’s best for the song. That’s where our communication comes in really well.”
VIDEO: Night Ranger “Sister Christian”
Keagy first started learning about band diplomacy at a very early age. Growing up in Oregon, he became fascinated with bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys, which led him to form a duo with a neighborhood friend. When they started, both of them were only seven years old.
“My friend across the street was learning how to play guitar,” Keagy says. “He was taking guitar lessons and had come home with these guitar books that had the songs of the times: Beatles and Buffalo Springfield add surf songs. He was just playing to a metronome, and I was like, ‘What if I learned how to play?’ We got a drum set and it was just him and I playing together, and I started singing along. That’s how I learned how to play drums and sing at the same time.”
After graduating from high school, Keagy moved to San Francisco and played in local bands before finally co-founding Night Ranger with Jack Blades and guitarist Brad Gillis in the late 1970s. They went on to become one of the most well-known hard rock bands of the 1980s, earning heavy airplay on MTV for the hits that Keagy says they still enjoy performing for audiences to this day: “We love playing the songs and we still have a passion for it every time we go to play them. It’s a newfound energy that comes every single night.”
VIDEO: Night Ranger “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”
That said, Keagy and his bandmates aren’t interested in simply coasting on their past successes, either. “We didn’t want to just relax and say, ‘Okay, 35 years have gone by – do we really need to make an album?’ We answer that question every time, ‘Yes, we do,’ because that keeps us on our game and keeps us fresh,” he says. “We always seem to find a way to relate to what’s going on around us and what people are feeling. I think that that’s what’s kept people interested in our music.”
As their current tour proves (Keagy is calling from a stop in Phoenix, Ariz.), Night Ranger are still feeling as energized as ever.
“We’re just lucky that we like each other a lot and we really respect each other’s abilities,” Keagy says. “This is not just us – it’s [also] the audience that we’re looking to give a gift to. We want to play songs for people that want to hear them and enjoy what we do.”