A Conversation with Loverboy's Mike Reno
Mike Ragogna: Hey Mike, it used to be everybody was "Working For The Weekend." Now, everybody is working on the weekend.
Mike Reno: Yeah, when we wrote the song, we wrote it, "Everybody's working for the weekend," but now it appears that everybody is working on the weekend. You're absolutely right, Mike.
MR: One of the joys of the '80s was exploring songs on MTV before they were in heavy Top Ten rotations, and I imagine that's where many Loverboy fans discovered your songs. In fact, MTV played your videos so often, you guys should have been paid as hosts.
M Reno: You know, I figured out what it was. We turned in three videos the week they opened, and MTV didn't have much content. So, just by process of elimination, it was like, "What have we got?" and they said, "Well, we've got these three Loverboy videos." Actually, back then, we didn't really know what to call them--they were music performances that were filmed. We didn't even have the term "video" back then. But it was great that we did three, which we did all in one weekend in Albany, New York, and we handed them to MTV and became TV heroes, I guess.
MR: Do you remember which three they were?
M Reno: I believe it was "Turn Me Loose," "Working For The Weekend" and "Lucky Ones."
MR: That's one of my favorite eras for music, not so much because of the production values, but because everybody was having fun.
M Reno: The '80s was a riot. I even talk about it when I do my concerts. I say, "Anyone remember the '80s?' and they all go, "Yeah!" I say, "Yeah, that was a good decade," and it truly was a good decade. It was all about having fun, and there weren't a lot of the issues back then that there are now, so we were pretty lucky back then.
MR: Now, you started the ball rolling on a solo, or rather, "duet" career, becoming a hit maker with Ann Wilson on the song, "Almost Paradise" from Footloose.
M Reno: I was asked to do the song, and they asked me to choose the singer that I would sing with, so it was all up to me. I chose Ann Wilson because I've always loved Heart, I love the way she sings, and she's a wonderful person--the whole band was great. They used to be a Vancouver band, they were up here in the '70s. They came up from Seattle, and I think some of their boyfriends and roadies were trying to avoid going to Vietnam or something--it's been long enough I can mention that now. So, they were considered a Vancouver band, and when I was young I used to come down to Vancouver from where I lived--it was like a four or five hour drive--and I used to go see Heart playing in nightclubs, and I thought they were awesome. So, I picked Ann Wilson to sing that with, and it only took us like one recording session, and it wasn't even a long one. I just walked in and sang it with her, our facing each other. We both had a mic, but they were facing each other, and we just banged it off and had a lot of fun doing it. The pleasure was in that it didn't take us more than one take to get through the whole thing. I knew she'd pull it off because she's always been so great, and she still is great live. I don't know if there's any better singer out there than Ann Wilson.
MR: I know what you mean, she's got an incredible rock voice. And Heart still has one of my favorite sounds. Their last album was Red Velvet Car, and it sounded like yet another classic Heart record to me.
M Reno: You know, that's the one record I haven't got in my collection, so thanks for reminding me. This interview is helping me figure out things that I've forgotten to do. (laughs) I was listening to some track from that record on iTunes and was going to order it, and then something came up. Thanks for reminding me. I'm going to go order it right now.
MR: (laughs) You got it. Mike, you also did "Heaven In Your Eyes" for an obscure little movie called Top Gun.
M Reno: Boy, that's a funny story. Do you want to hear it?
MR: Ya, do it.
M Reno: I got called into the office of these two famous people, Bruckheimer and Simpson, who produced major movies, and they were in this big office space with a popcorn machine. They were walking by as if I wasn't in the room, flashing ideas back and forth, both on telephones talking to different people, and finally one of them stops and says, "Can I help you?" I said, "You wanted to see me. My name's Mike Reno," and they went, "Oh, good, sit down here and watch this little piece." So, I sat down in this chair, and they started playing me this piece of a movie starring Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. It was Tuesday morning, and they said, "Could you write a song for this scene right here?" I said, " Play it again." They ran the scene and I said, "Yeah, I can do that. When do you need it?" They said, "Friday." "This Friday?" I said, and they went, "Yeah." I said, "Well, I'd better get out of here." I flew back home and got together with Paul Dean and another guy that I work with sometimes, John Dexter, and we banged it out. We just kind of came up with the concept loosely around a paradise kind of a vibe because that's what they wanted--they wanted a song that was "Almost Paradise"-ish, but not necessarily a duet. So, we came up with this, banged it off, and there goes another big one. I think that album sold over twenty-three million copies.
MR: And, of course, they both paled in comparison to another solo of yours, "Chasing The Angels," from Iron Eagle 2.
M Reno: Oh stop, you're just saying that, aren't you.
MR: (laughs) Mike, as a soloist, duet, or with Loverboy, it seemed like there was always something with your sound on the radio at all times for a period, you know?
M Reno: Here's the deal--when I open my mouth to start singing, people think of Loverboy because I created the sound thirty years ago. Paul and I decided to keep it pretty simple and not get too crazy on the overdubs, and we did these Everly harmonies and we kept it simple. I think it must have caught on because it's just been like work, work, work, ever since we started.
MR: It also didn't hurt to have songs with titles like "Hot Girls In Love" and "Queen Of The Broken Hearts." I remember there was a big MTV contest for "Queen Of The Broken Hearts." I don't remember any of the specifics, but I do remember there was a big contest.
M Reno: Oh, I remember the specifics. A lucky winner of this contest, which was whoever wrote in with the best explanation of why they should be in a video with Loverboy, won a spot in the video, and then they got to hang out with Loverboy for a day. It was a pretty cool prize, if you think about it--it would be like hanging out with somebody you really love for a whole day, and then being in a video that will probably last forever.
MR: Speaking of videos again, some of the guest spots of the day were wild. For instance, I remember at the end of Cyndi Lauper's video for "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," in steps Steve Forbert, one of my favorite artists of all time. The pairing of these two was absolutely ridiculous to me because they were nowhere near the same musical genres, but it was a lot of fun to see Forbert show up at Lauper's house.
M Reno: (laughs) Well, Cyndi's pretty quirky--she's pretty cool that way. She's over the top, she's out of the box.
MR: And that brings us to the latest news, which is that you guys got together recently and did a couple of recordings--"Heartbreaker" and also "No Tomorrow."
M Reno: We got a call from Bob Rock, who wanted to go in the studio and cut some songs, and we said, "Absolutely." For those that don't know, Bob Rock was actually our engineer for out first four albums or so, and he is the one who kind of gave us that sound--simplistic recordings of a bunch of high energy, young guys. He got into producing, and now he's a world famous producer who has worked with an amazing list of artists. He's always been a friend of ours, and he asked us to get together shortly after Christmas in Vancouver. So, we got together in Bryan Adam's recording studio in Vancouver called The Warehouse, and we banged off a couple of tunes during the weekend, and really enjoyed it. We did the whole thing in two days.
MR: "Heartbreaker" has more than enough of the signature Loverboy sound, but it also feels contemporary.
M Reno: Well, I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we were working with a couple of other guys. Bob Rock and his partner were writing some songs, and we helped him finish the songs. As soon as Bob was working on the song, he said, "I know a band that would love to play this." So, we got the song, and Paul and I finished it up and made it really kind of Loverboy, so it's got that whole Loverboy thing. When we record something, and I mean anything, it generally ends up sounding like Loverboy for all the obvious reasons, and that is basically that we are Loverboy.
MR: Well, the fact that it doesn't sound like Metallica or The Cure, other acts Bob's worked with, I think is the sign of a really good producer. It's always nice when the sound of the act doesn't mimic the sound of the producer.
M Reno: I agree. When he gets a room full of musicians who can actually play their instruments, he just stands there and lets you go for it. He may throw in a few suggestions about an arrangement, but he just lets you go for it. He had a big smile on his face, and he was going, "Yeah man, this is great." We did a few takes of each song, and it was done.
MR: Now, you were also in the group Moxy for a while, right?
M Reno: Wow, you've done your homework. That seems like half a lifetime ago...actually it was a half a lifetime ago. That was in the late '70s just before I decided to go back West and find a new group of people to work with. Luckily, after I made that decision, I ran into Paul Dean, and then my whole world got turned upside down. That's when we created Loverboy.
MR: I have to ask you about some of these lyrics from "Heartbreaker." The line is, "She may be from Heaven, she may be from Hell, she may be from Jersey..." You know my next question, right?
M Reno: Jersey's great. It's The Garden State, my friend. What it was is that the girl could be from anywhere, it could be any couple, and it happens all the time. It's just what we do best--we do relationship songs, and here's another one for you.
MR: Yes, why it's another "Hot Girls In Love."
M Reno: It's just like that. It's the same, but different.
MR: (laughs) Let's go over some of the latest stuff that's been going on with Loverboy. You were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in '09.
M Reno: That was a wonderful experience--a little bit humbling for sure. They did it at the Juno awards, which is Canada's Grammys, and they took fifteen minutes out of the whole show to honor Loverboy and basically give us a lifetime achievement award and enter us into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. They had interviews and big congratulations from all these people we've worked with over the last thirty years. It was really quite an honor. Dick Clark was talking about us, and all the promoters, producers, engineers, and record company people--it was actually kind of humbling. Then, they handed us this beautiful award, and all of us were up there just going, "Thank you."
MR: Given his physical challenges now, how did it feel seeing Dick Clark?
M Reno: We got to know Dick Clark many years ago, when he was the first one to recognize that we had a chance to really do something with ourselves. He invited us to American Bandstand to play our first television appearance doing a live song, so it was pretty neat to get to know him over the years. After that, he started inviting us to the American Music Awards as presenters, and all kinds of interesting things. It was sad to see him have his stroke and have to slow down a little bit because he was always--and probably will be forever--this young guy in our imagination. He's this guy that never seems to grow old, but like you'll realize in life, it can happen to anybody, anytime, so you've really got to grab life and enjoy every moment of it.
MR: Yeah, I think the recent passing of Clarence Clemons is a big wake up call for baby boomers as well as slightly younger generations.
M Reno: I recently had a realization and decided to do something about it. I had high blood pressure, and my cholesterol was through the roof. I spent three months making some life changes, and I got my blood pressure back to perfectly normal, and my cholesterol down, and I shed forty pounds. I knew I had to do this and stay healthy because you get to a point in your life when you can really experience the other side--there's going to be an end to this show at some point--and you don't want it to happen any sooner than it has to.
MR: Of course, but weren't you also training for the Olympics for which you played at the ceremony in Vancouver in '10.
M Reno: (laughs) I know, but I wasn't on the hockey team or anything. I was just playing a concert for those people.
MR: And you love your Canucks, don't you.
M Reno: Oh, you've got to love the Canucks. We nearly won the Stanley Cup! We were in it right to the seventh game, and the whole town went crazy afterward, as you probably heard. I think the Canucks in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup playoffs was maybe even a bigger event than the Olympics, believe it or not.
MR: Do you notice hockey spiking as far as people's awareness of it?
M Reno: Oh, one-hundred percent, for sure. I'm even noticing it down in the States, and even in the South they're paying attention to it. Heck, Tampa won the Stanley Cup a few years ago.
MR: Back to your music, sir. Is "No Tomorrow" going to be your next single?
M Reno: Yeah, probably. We're going to cut songs every once in a while, and to be honest with you, I've been watching what's going on in music, and in my opinion, a good, new song that is being played and enjoyed everywhere is almost the way to go now rather than recording a whole twelve song album and putting it out as a whole. I think one song at a time is kind of a new way of doing things. So, we've decided to record some songs every once in a while, put them out, and just have new songs coming out all the time from now on. That's kind of a new way of thinking, but that's kind of how we feel.
MR: It's a return to the old days of rock 'n' roll, when you'd have singles, and then when you had enough singles together, you'd put out an album.
M Reno: Exactly.
MR: What's cool about this is that the idea of a concept album is gone. Unless you're an act that's really trying to prove a point with an arc of music, it doesn't seem like it's necessary anymore. This method that you're talking about is also really good for the whole DIY movement in music.
M Reno: I've got a feeling that this is the way it's been, and we got off track, but now we're coming back to it. Like you eluded to, they used to put out singles all the time, and then you'd take your singles out and play concerts, and people would go, "Oh, this is a great song," or "This song is on the radio," or "This is my favorite song." If you have twelve songs on an album, what are the chances that people are going to like all twelve of those songs? So, why not just put a song out every once in a while, when you feel confident about it, you know?
MR: Well, we had vinyl that allowed forty-five to fifty minutes of playing time before it sounded horrible, that was the delivery system for a while. Then, with the CD you could go up to eighty minutes, and you could have War And Peace as your release. When it gets right down to it, like you said, it's the two or three songs that people remember and are going to want to come back to. So, these long, and in some cases, oppressive projects really don't make sense a lot of the time.
M Reno: I agree with you, Mike. I think that people are moving so fast, and they're receiving their information so fast that a twelve-song disc seems like such an archaic way to go. I say give them fresh songs all the time. Put new artwork on each new song, throw it out there, and really keep it fresh and moving.
MR: There's also the immediate gratification of being able download a single from iTunes or from a website instantly.
M Reno: Absolutely. I love that.
MR: The sound takes a hit, of course. You know, the group Less Than Jake has a business model where you have to order their latest release through their site, which means they keep 100% percent of the profit, as opposed to sharing it with an iTunes or whatever.
M Reno: I kind of had a similar vision, and it goes even one step further. It's not anything you could easily implement, but how about you could never hear a new song by a group unless you go see them live? Wouldn't that be interesting?
MR: Here's how I look at it. When Live Nation populated every concert hall in the country, it just saturated everybody--I mean, how could you keep up with all of these major acts in all these major places? DIY acts play everywhere as well, but at smaller, less expensive venues. They're almost an antidote to seventy-five dollar and above ticket prices since fifteen dollars buys you a local café or club, its atmosphere or vibe, and much of the time, great new music.
M Reno: I'm with you. I think there are a lot of changes going on in the music business, and you've got to keep up with it. I love some of those new, fresh ideas that are going around. Let's say there was a new Van Halen album and you couldn't even buy it because they didn't record it. If you wanted to hear a bunch of new songs by them, you'd have to go see it live. Wouldn't you go to that concert? I would.
MR: Right, and since we're on the subject of the music business and new artists, what advice do you have for new artists?
M Reno: It's quite simple. Find a person or a group of people that you really enjoy being around and like to work with, and concentrate on your songwriting and practice your craft. If you're a player of some sort, keep playing all the time, but concentrate on making the songs interesting, fun, and whatever it takes to make them something people want to hear over and over again. You have to spend some time with this because crafting songs is not easy. Crafting good songs is really hard, but it's really worth the effort.
MR: Mike, when you look back at yourself in the early days of Loverboy and looking at yourself now, what do you see as the key differences?
M Reno: Well, I don't know if there are a lot of changes, but I'll tell you one thing--I'm starting to get pretty darn good at it. People are coming up after the show and they go, "I swear you're sounding better than you used to, is that possible?" I tell them, "If you really think about it, we've been getting a lot of practice over the last thirty years." You're bound to get better, and if you're not, there is something seriously wrong, dude.
MR: Can you hear it in your voice? Can you hear it in your playing?
M Reno: I do. When we do live shows, which is all the time, I notice the songs have come to a better place. They were originally written and recorded many years ago, and now we're playing them a little differently. I honestly think they're sounding better--a little bit edited here and there. Some are a little shorter, and some are a little longer. They're played a little differently, but the catalyst is the same. I think things are exciting and better that way, and we really enjoy that kind of thing.
MR: I used to be prejudiced about it, always wanting to find the absolute original recording of everything back when I was doing compilation work. I'm surprised at how much I've gotten over that. Now it's like, "We've already heard the original version. I want to hear something more."
M Reno: I'm with you and that's a learning curve. I went in one time when we were doing some new stuff and I said, "After we get done with these new songs, I want to try singing a few of our old songs again to see if we can get them sounding the same." I started singing them, and I said, "I sing it different, but I like it better." So, I have to agree with you. (laughs)
MR: Especially after having taken a little break because then it's like getting back together with old friends and checking out everyone's changes.
M Reno: Being in a band is kind of like being on a team. We all kind of go together, take this team, and try to make it as good as we can. Everywhere we go, we try to make it look good and sound good. We love these songs--they're part of our DNA, and they're part of a lot of people's DNA. People send us a lot of love and we end up loving them back, so it's just a big lovefest really.
MR: For "Loverboy," how appropriate.
M Reno: I know, go figure.
MR: Mike, since you brought up DNA, could you have done anything else or was this the only thing you could have done with your life?
M Reno: I could have done a lot of things. I have a lot of interests, you know? I read a lot and I feel like I could probably write books. I could probably be a good manager or producer. I'm a good songwriter, I'm a good singer, I'm a good friend, I'm a good dad--I'm good at a lot of things. I can say that because I've done it for so long. It's not that I'm bragging, it's just that after a while, you start getting good at these things. I could have been a lawyer, I think, even though it definitely wouldn't have been as much fun as being in a rock band, but I have those sensibilities.
MR: That's what I was going to ask--do you think you would have had as much fun doing anything else than you're doing right now?
M Reno: Oh, there's no way you can top being in a rock band--it's the best job on Earth.
MR: Mike, this has been a lot of fun, and I'm really glad we got to spend some time together.
M Reno: Thank you, Mike. You're always a pleasure to talk to, and I'm glad we got a chance to share some stories, my friend.