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Dokken Fights Tooth and Nail to Just Get Lucky

When Don Dokken left the United States for Europe about six years ago, the American music scene was grappling with the emergence of The Knack and a whole new genre of punk/pop music infiltrating the U.S. from England. Dokken was part of the silent majority – hard rock – that had fallen on hard times. While the rest of the country was fascinated with bands singing pop songs wearing suits and skinny ties, a movement was underway in Los Angeles with rock bands forming, waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

Don Dokken was tired of waiting. England had been undergoing its own rock explosion with the emergence of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, UFO and a band out of Germany, The Scorpions.

“Europe has always been a step ahead of America,” observed Dokken in a Jam Magazine interview in 1983. “They were into heavy music over there, so I made the decision to leave. It was quite interesting to see that when I finally did come back to the States, this country had finally embraced real music – rock and roll – that I and a host of other bands in the L.A. area had grown up playing four years ago.”

Times had changed indeed for Don Dokken. Using his last name for a band title, the singer proceeded to make his mark on the American music scene with his debut album originally released overseas, Breaking the Chains. Anchored by the pop metal title track, the album was immensely popular in Europe, but failed to make a dent in the U.S. market. Undaunted, Elektra Records took a chance on the group and signed them. This past September, the band released its official American debut, Tooth and Nail. Anchored by the hits, “Into the Fire”, “Just Got Lucky” and the power ballad, “Alone Again”, Dokken has slowly been lighting a fuse under American rock audiences. With heavy MTV rotation of the aforementioned songs, Tooth and Nail has become a mainstay on the Billboard charts.

Whether Dokken, guitarist extraordinaire George Lynch, drummer Mick Brown and new addition, bassist Jeff Pilson can continue the momentum remains to be seen. If the music on Tooth and Nail is an example of the band scratching the surface of their talent, then look for big things to come out of this fearsome foursome in the future.

JAM: Dokken's first album, Breaking the Chains, was recorded in Germany and released pretty much for the European market. Do you consider Tooth and Nail to be Dokken’s true debut record?

Jeff Pilson - The first album was done on a hodge-podge. The attitude of it was like, 'Let's take a little bit of this song, and this guy's song and throw them together.’ I took Juan Croucier's place because he left to help form RATT. There was no real thought behind Breaking the Chains. What it did has nothing to do with where Dokken is musically today.

JAM: Tooth And Nail contains power ballads and catchy melodic pop metal tunes. Is this album a true representation of Dokken and its potential?

Absolutely! This album had thought and a concept behind it. If you are going to follow the direction of the band, Tooth and Nail is where we are going. But don't count on us not changing the direction of the band with the next album. We'll probably throw in some curves and you can bet it won't be a safe record. Our next project is going to have some things you won't expect, and to me that is what makes an album have depth and a long lasting effect. It won't be a recording that people will listen to for a couple of months then put away and forget about.

JAM: Def Leppard pretty much started this pop metal movement that Dokken is a part of. They also cleverly used this new medium called MTV to release some cleverly made music videos to further their cause. Does it bother the band to be lumped in the same category these Brit rockers basically started?

Not at all. Def Leppard is a brilliant band. What the four of us do is constantly look at the music scene to see what is going on. Musically, we are always trying to stay one step ahead and make whatever changes are necessary that are sort of ‘out of the norm.’ One of the strong redeeming values of Tooth and Nail is it has some things on there that musically other bands are not doing. I believe that one day people will look back at this album and see that it was a little bit ahead of its time. I can see the effect it has on some bands right now with the music that they are putting out.

JAM: You sound like Dokken is already resting on the laurels of their achievements?

This Is not a resting laurel type of band. There isn't anything we do that is good enough for us. Every album we do is going to have to have a great progression to it. There is going to be constant improvement and evolution in the band and Dokken is constantly going to move forward. I think this is how a band cuts through congestion to become a super group with longevity.

JAM: Talk is relatively cheap unless your actions, and in this case your songs, back up your words. Dokken's two albums don't reveal the inner makings of superstar band. However, the potential is indeed there.

There are some things I think you should realize first. Breaking the Chains was recorded almost four years ago in Germany. It was made available only as an import in this country. When Elektra signed the band, all they really did was remix the first album and release it. So, what you are looking at is a 1981 album released in late 1983. Tooth and Nail was actually a representation of where Dokken is two to three years down the road. There was a lot of evolution for the band in that amount of time. With a song like "Into the Fire," you have the same kind of elements you'll find in "Breaking the Chains," only in a lot of ways it has progressed along the way.

JAM: At any point, did Dokken have to compromise it’s musical style in order to advance the music?

We didn’t have to do anything. The word you just used, ‘compromise’, that’s where bands usually end up fighting amongst themselves. Commercial success doesn't ensure longevity despite what people may otherwise think. Commercial success follows groups that don’t compromise their music, much like Def Leppard did with Pyromania. Their record company Insisted that that song "Foolin’," would never be a hit single so quit concentrating on music like that. The band and their organization in turn insisted the song would one day be a hit. Def Leppard didn't compromise their music for commercial accessibility. In turn they stuck to their guns. Pyromania is an album that will be remembered ten years from now, maybe even longer. Tell me, do you think if Def Leppard had written "Photograph" and nine other songs just like it the album would have the depth or the impact it ended up having?

JAM: No I don't and you make an excellent point. That said, I do believe you are talking about a rather unique situation there. Their photogenic looks, and clever videos, also helped set the band apart.

And that is exactly my point. They latched onto a new medium, cleverly made music videos of their strongest songs, and the album eventually took off. It’s something bands today are just now figuring out. You still have a real syndrome these days of albums containing one hit song and nine fillers. Dokken doesn't want to do that. We want to be another exception rather than the rule.

JAM: With only two albums to your credit, you can't tell me that already you are allowed the luxury of experimentation with your music?

What we are talking about is having a perspective on your own band, its concept and following through with that, then believing in it to the bitter end. We are not in this to become millionaires. We play because we love it. We love to sing, write music and play live. Sure I would love to buy a house in Malibu beach, but not if it meant sacrificing what this band really loves and believes in. The minute that I stop enjoying this, the minute I don't look forward to a songwriting session, then I’m not going to be In this business anymore.

JAM: Pursuing dreams is one thing, but facing reality is something else.

We are living reality. With Tooth and Nail, we have already sold twice as many albums as we did with the first record. Touring with Dio has helped us gain some popularity. The release of our second single, "Into The Fire," is a song that I honestly believe will push this band, and our album, over the top. If it doesn’t happen with that song, then we have an incredible song called “Alone Again” that I strongly feel will definitely put Dokken on the map. Now these are dream scenarios I’m putting forth to you, but at the same time, I’m realistically expecting those two songs to be really big hits. I think the manner in which we have approached our career is the way more people should look at their music in order to have substance and longevity. When you think about it, longevity is what reality actually translates into being.

JAM: Is it better for a band like Dokken to start off with a whisper instead of a bang where your music's concerned?

Not at all. We released a great album. The four of us would be just as happy building a foundation with our fans on a hugely successful record than one with mild success. I personally think Tooth and Nail is going to go down as a great Dokken album. It may take a lot longer to break than other bands who lead out with a really strong first single because Tooth and Nail wasn't a big risk recording. What I mean by that is we didn’t create avant garde music or synthesizers played backwards. I believe Tooth and Nail, when "Just Got Lucky" starts getting heavy airplay, will do for us what "Round and Round" did for Ratt. It will get us noticed, give us respect and allow us to grow in strength from the songs we release from here on out.

JAM: That Is an incredibly bold statement considering the nature of the beast you have to contend with in this business?

Perhaps, but I know what's ahead for Dokken coming to you from the inside looking out. We are constantly looking around at the music scene to see what is going on and we are trying musically, to stay ahead of the game. We aren't afraid to take some chances and do a few things that are outside the mainstream way of doing things. That is one of the strong redeeming values of our music on this album we released. There are a few things on it that other bands are not doing. I think that one day people will look back at this record and consider it a little bit ahead of its time.

JAM: I don’t know if you’re over-confident, cocky, supremely confident or all three.

I'm seeing the effect it has on some bands right now with the music they are putting out. It may take a while, but I think that eventually we will get some recognition for it.

JAM: Is everything that is happening with Dokken right now a direct result of the Breaking the Chains album?

Yes! To me, Breaking the Chains was the beginning of an attempt to make hard rock with a commercial and melodic feel to it. That is how we've interpreted that album. Compared to what we are doing now, it did have some primitiveness to it. "Breaking the Chains" was a great song and someday, well, who knows.

JAM: Jeff, your attitude concerning the material on the Tooth and Nail album, and what It well do for Dokken, has certainly convinced me to give the record a hard second look.  

Well, what we did with that album was take it several steps further than anything previously done. By that, I mean we have gone to the extremes on both ends. We got heavier in some aspects, and more melodic on others. Both ends balance out to make this album what I consider a breakthrough, especially where Dokken is concerned.