Interview: Night Ranger's Kelly Keagy reflects on band's journey
Night Ranger

Iconic 80's hard rock band Night Ranger, known for hits like "Sister Christian," "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" and "(You Can Still Rock) In America," continue to build on their sterling live reputation as they promote their latest album Don't Let Up. The album came out in March and features singles "Somehow Someway," "Running Out of Time," and the title track, which was proceeded by a fun video for the track featuring actress Abigail Spencer.

Over 35 years after they first started, Night Ranger rocks on with three of their five original members with Jack Blades on vocals and bass, Kelly Keagy on drums and vocals and Brad Gillis on lead guitar. Eric Levy has been on keyboards for the band since 2011 and Keri Kelli has been on guitar since 2014.

The album features 11 tracks that both captures the classic Night Ranger sound while still finding a way to bring in something new, with some hints of the blues and country alongside the arena rock that the band has made a name on. The album is the first to include Kelli.

Recently AXS caught up with Keagy, who had a lot to say about the band's evolution and why he feels they continue to grow their fan base.  After having to take a time out from the band earlier in the year to recover from a heart procedure, Keagy is happy to be back out on the road and promoting new music.

He says that Don't Let Up was both a progression of the band's signature sound, as well as a step in a new direction, "The last three albums that we've done, which we've put out every couple of years or so, stay creative because we try to do something a little bit different for everyone. Sometimes it's just to prove to ourselves that we can, but sometimes it's just the influences that are inspiring us at the time. We always try to push the boundaries a bit. At the same time, we want to keep our sound the same; that arena rock with melodic, good songs."

He also said the process was a bit different for the recording of the album, "This was actually a total different experience because we weren't all in one room. We were all together for the writing, but not for the recording process. And actually, some of the writing was done apart as well. When we started the whole process, about half of the songs were already written between Brad, Jack and myself. Then, when we brought Keri in, he got together with Jack up in Seattle and they worked on some of the tracks. So it was a bit disjointed that way physically, but we were all connected electronically and sharing files and stuff like that in group sessions."

He went on to share, "We did it demo style in the computer and then everybody shared their files in the sessions and started to come up with our own individual ideas and we batted them around and found out everyone's opinions. That helped us hone in on what the parts were going to be. It was interesting because our process has always been to do everything together so that it has a true band feel to it, so we had to figure that out this time.  We tried to make sure everybody has an input so that even though we weren't physically together at times, we tried to keep the process as close as possible to our normal studio process."

Keagy went into more depth on adding Kelli to the recording mix, as well as working more closely with Levy, "The direction that this album went was really wonderful. Having Keri and Eric's input has really brought some younger influences in and it's been great. It's been really great and I think that shows on the album."

When asked what has kept the band going over the years, he was quick to answer, "Our audience is always changing. There are younger people coming to check us out, which is something that continues to be unexpected. It's great. We've really been seeing that over the last five years, which is really welcome for a band that has been out on this course for thirty-five years. We love it. We love the challenge of playing to younger audiences, who may not even know what a guitar solo is! Just kidding, but a lot of newer music isn't very guitar-oriented. We come from the old-school days of Hendrix and Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. So it's nice to be able to introduce that to some of these newer fans too."

He says that he thinks it's the band's music that keeps people coming out, "It's just good music and good songs. We always try to look at it like that when we record a album. We try to come in with good ideas and a good chorus and a good melody and then we put together good lyrics to work with it all. We try to strive for that every time."

Night Ranger has built a reputation on their top-notch live shows and that was captured on last year's live album/DVD 35 Years and a Night in Chicago. When asked about how he felt the release turned out, Keagy enthusiastically replied, "I thought it was probably the best live record we've ever done. The recording process was better and the formats were better. We had a truck there at the show and did a live broadcast, which was kind of horrifying at the time, [laughing] but it came out great and that's how they used to do it back in the day, you know, tonight...live at The Fillmore! What ended up being the final recorded version was amazing. We just went in and mixed it. That was great. We just enjoy playing and that's how the band got started. We played live for a few years until we figured it out and got a record deal."

He also shared that the band enjoys getting out and playing shows as an opener because it gives them a chance to steal the show, "A lot of the time, when we open for people, they haven't seen us so that's a big challenge to go out there and win them over. Most of the time, you can see them going, oh I remember that song and I know that one. Then we slowly win them over and that's is really how it was when we first got started. It was like, how can we make the fact that they don't know us a positive? That's always been a great challenge for us."

When talking about the fact that it's still rare to see two vocalists and that Night Ranger continues to stand out for that very fact, Keagy agreed, "It does, absolutely, because that transposes the whole idea of the fact that if you don't know the songs, you will still love listening to them. I think that interplay and the songs have a great appeal for the audience. That really helps."

After being asked about how they keep the hits fresh after touring for so many years, he explained, "We've always realized that when you go out to see a show and the band is playing their biggest hits, you don't want them to just walk through it; you want it to sound better than the record. You want to seem them playing with emotion and intensity. The recording process is a sterile environment with no audience or feedback, so when you're playing it live, it becomes something special and different every time. That's really what we try to capture with the hits."

The band continues to tour the U.S. through next month and then they will be headed out to Japan, which Keagy says is the first market to truly embrace them, so they are excited to be heading back there in October. The band will then be continuing to play some dates throughout December and January.

Keagy wrapped things up with some words for the fans, "We're just so grateful that people still want to come see us. That's why we try our best at every show every year on every tour. We don't have all of the special effects, but what you hear us doing is what is coming off the stage. There's no special editing or anything; no added ingredients here. That's really what it's all about. It's what we do."