NCMB Talks To Greg Kihn
May 2nd, 2018
Perhaps you remember Greg Kihn from the hugely successful tune "Jeopardy" from his 1983 album Kihnspiracy. Or maybe even because Weird Al parodied the song with his take "(I Lost On) Jeopardy," about a contestant bemoaning the fact that he didn't win the big money on the titular gameshow. Regardless, Kihn has carved out a niche in popular culture with his string of hit songs, a knack for catchy album titles, and the fact that, after forty-plus years in the business, he's still maintaining a degree of success while so many of his contemporaries no longer tour. The Baltimore native and San Francisco transplant talked to our own Courtney Ramey recently about his new album and all things Cassandra.
Courtney Ramey: I just finished listening to your new album, it definitely has a rustic, working man grunge seen in some songs like “It’s Never Too Late,” while other songs have a very “disco” oriented sound to them.
Greg Kihn: It’s weird in the world of songwriting, because I’ve been writing songs for a million years. I’ve gotten more and more simple nowadays. I’ve been uncluttering my songs. Most of the songs on the new album are very simple songs, like “Pink Flamingos” and “Cassandra,” they just kind of pop out. I guess you could call it dichotomy of expression; trying to say things in fewer words. Tom Petty is a good example. As you go through your songwriting career you’re always looking for the next great song idea. You’re always looking for the next spark, really when you write a song you always start with the magic, whether it be a phrase or a title. It seems like the song is floating through the air and I snatch it and channel it through my body and write it down. That’s really what it feels like to write a good song. All these songs wrote themselves, it all came out easy.
CR: I feel like you’re a person who has a lot to say and after twenty years of not creating music that may be why it was so easy.
GK: Well, I do a lot of stuff in my life, but you gotta be on the lookout for songs. They just come floating through your mind, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. And I’ve learned over the years the best songs are the ones that write themselves. It feels like you’re channeling them.
CR: How is that creation process with your son in the mix?
GK: I love my son and he’s ten times the guitar player that I am. I love sitting down with him, I’ll come up with an idea and I’ll need a bridge or a turn around and he eats that stuff for lunch.
CR: How do you have the energy to create, play, and tour consistently throughout so many years?
GK: You know what? The touring is fun! I used to hate it. Back in the ‘80s I used to hate it because I was constantly on the road but now I like it, we just got back from a little tour and we’re going out on another tour soon with a buddy of mine, Rick Springfield. I toured with him back in the ‘80s. After the soundcheck I’ll go back to the hotel room and work on the novel until I go back and play the gig. All these things go hand in hand.
CR: It definitely sounds like you’re passionate; it must make it easier, but is it ever difficult to find new themes to write about?
GK: Yeah, I could see that that could be a problem. You’re trying to keep your eyes out for the next song idea to come down the pipe. I have my notebook with me at all times, say if during this interview I think, hey that could be a really good song, I’ll write it down and in a couple of days I’ll pull it out and if it’s not a bad idea it’ll become a song and that’s why it’s not work. It really is fun, I love the creative juice.
CR: It’s definitely addictive.
GK: Yeah, you know you get to the point where normal people get up in the morning and I don’t know what they do. But when I get up I go straight to my office and I start banging out a story, novel or a song… I can’t not do it.
CR: Robert Frost said something along the lines of being a poet is a condition, not a profession. I see that in you.
GK: Wow, that guy...he is way more serious than I am. It really is, that’s the way it is. I think that poets, they've got that sixth sense. Poets can hone in on an idea a half a mile before guys like I can. Poets are special, I love poets.
CR: In your song “Tell Me Something” you speak about bad news being everywhere; how do you keep positivity in your life?
GK: This morning I woke up and the first thing that happened was the phone rang and I got a call that one of my roadies just died, a man I worked with for thirty years. Of the five guys that were in the original Greg Kihn Band only two are still alive. It’s unbelievable. This is life, ya know. I don’t really question the things that pop into my mind; I just do it. If I think about how hard something is, it becomes difficult to do. If I just don’t think it’s easy to do. You’ve got to be true to yourself all the time; if you can be true to your own heart and maintain it, you’re going to be a great songwriter.
CR: I really want to talk about “Pink Flamingos,” it’s probably one of my favorite songs on the album.
GK: Mine too.
CR: It's very groovy, very catchy.
GK: That's a great song because I wrote it in fifteen minutes. I remember walking into the studio and my son had this great guitar riff and out of the clear blue sky I started singing “Big pink flamingos,” and the whole song just wrote itself. On my way to the studio I have to drive past a trailer park; these people at the park just look like lonely souls. There's always the trailer park women, usually wearing peach stretch pants and curlers, chewing gum and smokin’ cigarettes. Once I visualize I can write a song in fifteen minutes.
GK: Anything I forgot to say?
CR: Yeah, I was curious if Cassandra ever came back to you?
GK: Cassandra I made up. I was driving down to the studio and as soon as I got there I just had a song idea I needed to record or I was going to forget it. And that was a lot of fun, it reminded me of a girl I knew in junior high school. Her name wasn't Cassandra but the fact was I remembered that and it just popped in.
Greg Kihn will be appearing at the Hard Rock Rocksino’s Club Velvet on Saturday, May 12th. For tickets and more information about his show, please click here.
Interview by Courtney Ramey