Keel is back! The underrated 80s hard rock outfit has reunited and released a new record called “Streets of Rock and Roll” (Frontiers Records) that sounds like the true sequel to their breakthrough album, 1985’s “The Right To Rock”. Ron Keel took some time out from his busy schedule to entertain some of our questions.
Q: Hi Ron – so how does it feel to be back on the “Streets of Rock and Roll”?
A: From the very first rehearsals, to the festival shows last summer, to the recording sessions for the new album, it has felt like we’re back in our element, very comfortable, and it’s surprising that after not working together for two decades we could come together and instantly function like a well-oiled machine. I think it stems from the character of the men involved, our work ethic, and our appreciation for each other and where we’ve been.
Q: I really loved the new record – you’ve managed to modernize Keel’s sound yet stayed true to the elements in the music that longtime fans were expecting. Tell me more about how the new record came about and if it fulfilled what you had envisioned.
A: The songs, the album, and the response from media and fans have way exceeded my expectations. It’s truly a special piece of work, another cornerstone on the foundation of my musical career. The entire writing and recording process was very natural – that’s not to say it was easy, ‘cause we busted our asses and I left a lot of sweat and spit on the studio floor.
What’s even more incredible was that when we got back together we never intended to create new music or make a new album, we were just gonna do some big gigs and celebrate our 25th anniversary as a band and as friends. Bryan Jay and I had been writing together for some TV and film projects, but it was pretty obvious that those songs – which became “Hit The Ground Running” and “Lookin’ For A Good Time” – still had all the characteristics of classic KEEL songs; then after the first round of rehearsals, Marc & Bryan put together the music for “The Devil May Care” and “Come Hell Or High Water” and sent them to me. I spit out the lyrics and melodies in short order and suddenly we were sitting on four songs. That’s when we really got excited, kicked it into high gear and opened the floodgates, and the results are the album we’re all loving and listening to now.
Q: Keel is famous for attracting the ears of Gene Simmons early on…any word from Gene if he likes “Streets”?
A: Gene wished us well on the reunion, but hasn’t commented on the new music yet. He was a big factor in our early success and his presence was still felt at the “Streets” sessions, because we’re still using a lot of what he taught us in regards to how to make great albums.
Q: I change my mind almost every day, but one of my favorite tracks from “Streets” is “Live”. It sounds pretty personal and the lyrics struck a chord with me. What is your favorite track from the new record and why?
A: “Live” is certainly a very special song for me, and it came from a very personal place. For so long, I adhered to Pete Townsend mantra “hope I die before I get old” – I never expected to reach forty and always imagined a true rock star death, going out in a blaze of glory. Now my take has totally changed – I am happy, healthy, I love my life, I love my work, I love my wife, and I want to stick around and enjoy it all as long as possible. I guess a perspective like that only comes with a little maturity, and I’m glad I could capture it in a song. It came to me one night when I was driving, one of those twenty minute tunes that just pours out of an open valve in your soul. Is it my favorite track on the disc? Hard to say, but my heart does pound just a little harder when that one comes on.
Q: “Hold Steady” is another great tune – an inspirational tribute to our troops. Keel has toured military bases in the past…any plans to do that again?
A: I did five European tours for the Department Of Defense in 1998-1999 with my band The Rat’lers, and would love to do the same with KEEL. What a thrill and an honor it would be to perform that song live for those that are serving in our armed forces. The feedback we’ve gotten about that song, from people that are serving and also from their families back home, has been really appreciated. These people are the true rock stars, and a song like this is intended to remind us that they make the ultimate sacrifice every day for all the rest of us.
Q: I would like to hear your perspective on how has the music industry has changed since the late 80s/early 90s and how it has affected you and the rest of Keel.
A: It’s obvious that technology has played a big part in those changes, in making the music and the artists so much more accessible. I think it’s great, and yes it sucks that sales are so affected by illegal and unauthorized downloads, but the acts and the albums that are really special can still break out and do well. One of the problems with the industry is that what people see on TV and hear on the radio is really controlled by a relatively small group and many promising new artists have no shot at cracking into the mainstream.
Q: How did the opportunity to record a new album for Frontiers Records come about?
A: Once we decided we were making a new album, there was no stopping us. We explored some other options, but Frontiers is at the forefront in this genre of music with a great roster that’s continuing to grow, and a staff that really knows how to make things happen. Frontiers Records has been instrumental in the success of this comeback, and we couldn’t have ended up in a better situation.
Q: Who had the brilliant idea to commemorate the 25th anniversary of “The Right To Rock” with a special edition release (also on Frontiers Records)?
A: We’ve been trying for years to secure the rights to this album, and were finally successful in doing so last year. It has been often bootlegged, and never been treated with a legitimate CD release, so we offered it to Frontiers and they decided to put it out simultaneously with the new album, which I thought was a brilliant – and ballsy – move. It’s been digitally remastered, so it sounds even louder and more powerful than ever, and it also includes our brand-new recording of the title track, a new version that can hopefully extend the lifespan of this classic anthem for many years to come.
Q: You guys sound amazing after 25 years – kicking it better than a lot of the younger bands struggling to attain a fraction of the success you had. What advice would you offer the new generation of rockers?
A: While weapons may have changed, the basic rules of engagement remain the same: have a good product, work your ass off, and get lucky now and then. Do whatever you can, do whatever it takes, all those clichés still really hold true in music or whatever path you may choose in life.
Q: What more can we expect from Keel in 2010 and beyond?
A: We’re getting ready to head to Europe for our first shows of the year, and hope to announce some big U.S. dates soon. We’ve accomplished what we set out to do, and from here on out we’re playing with house money and our only plans are to take it as it comes and enjoy every song, every mile, and every memory. We encourage the fans to stay in touch with us online at http://keelnation.com, we try to answer as many messages as possible and I love the personal contact with fans on Facebook and the other sites. Thanks to all the fans of this music, they are the reason commercial hard rock – and bands like KEEL – are still in business.
On behalf of Rock and Roll Report, thanks again for your time and best of luck with the new release!