By Simon Rideout
What’s On Digest Nanaimo Simon: It’s a great thrill to be interviewing you Mike. I was the kid in the early 80’s with my Sony Walkman mix tape of Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Cheap Trick and so on. I never thought I’d be interviewing you for a feature in my magazine but life’s funny that way.
Mike Reno: It sure is, you know I never thought I’d having dinner and a rehearsal at Adam Sandler’s house tonight which is where I’m headed after this.
Rideout: Incredible! Maybe he will sing his Hanukah song!
Mike Reno: Absolutely he loves to sing. He is such a great guy too and he’s been putting our music in his movies for years which we appreciate.
Rideout: Do you consider the various circumstances in your life that combined to put you on your path and if so do you feel lucky or is this destiny at work?
Mike: I totally feel lucky. I did apply for the job to be a “Beatle” as a kid but that job was taken! I was always into music. When I was 11 years old I was delivering newspaper’s raising money to buy my first set of drums. My older brother allowed me to jam and sing with his band. Whenever the drummer was away they threw me in and let me go at it. I suppose there’s a bit of destiny involved. It’s what I always loved and wanted to do.
Rideout: You are from Vancouver originally correct?
Mike Reno: I was born at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster and lived in Crescent Beach area from there we jumped to Comox, on Vancouver Island and then to Victoria where I grew up until about age 11. At that point my father got a job in Penticton so off we went. Funny thing was when I showed up for school in Penticton I was wearing my Beatles garb (boots, jacket etc. ) and I think I was pretty much beaten up every day for the first 3 weeks. Talk about making an impression –so back to your earlier question about destiny I’m pretty sure I was destined to make a difference I guarantee you that.
Rideout: Vancouver has been the birthplace for many world-class acts: Loverboy, Sarah McLaughlin, Trooper, BTO, Bryan Adams the list goes on. Do you have any thoughts on why the West coast of Canada seems to be a “rock-star” nursery?
Mike Reno: You know what – it’s hard to really put your finger on it. British Columbia is a pretty cool place to be and I think it attracts like-minded people. The natural beauty in BC is probably a big factor. Do you remember when people would just pull out a guitar on the beach and start playing and singing along? I thing it was because they were just happy to be alive and happy to be living in British Columbia. It’s a different mind-set when you’re living in a larger urban center like Toronto or somewhere where you’re not necessarily inspired on a daily basis the same way one might be living in Vancouver or other parts of BC. It’s just a different mind-set.
Rideout: I have a friend who has a son just entering the business. Is there any advice you could impart in terms of something that really helped you when you were just starting out?
Mike Reno: You have to link up with the right group of guys for sure. You don’t want to be hanging around with a bunch of hooligans. You really need to master your craft. You need to work hard, write your own material and be true and honest. Truthfully you do need to go for it and jump in; don’t be shy. I have my own little gift and yet I’ve been working at it my whole life. You have to really pay attention and want it; nobody’s going to hand it to you.
Rideout: Loverboy has stood the test of time and allowed you to continue to do what you love. It’s never one element but a combination of things that allows this to happen. How have you continued to find the passion and the energy to keep putting yourself out there?
Mike Reno: (*half kidding) Some days it’s hard my friend. You know getting down and strapping on the boots. You know how it’s always been for me? I honestly feel like a gun-slinger and this is a good way to describe it. Before a show I’m in my room and I know the whole [routine] and I try not to think about it until about 3 hours before the show. At that point I go into gun-slinger mode. I lay out my clothes and prepare myself for the show. I think about what I’m going to do and what I’m going to say and I start to get into the game. You can imagine the gun-slinger before he is going to walk down to the OK corral and start bangin’ off bullets – that’s kind of the vibe.
Rideout: That’s incredible. Thank you for sharing that. One thing I notice, Mike, with a lot of music today is the emphasis on money, jewelry, cars, and the rich lifestyle. How much of this is driven by the artist and how much, would you say, is this propelled by corporate influencers using the music to sell products?
Mike Reno: It’s never been that way for Loverboy – all we have ever wanted to do was to have people get off on the music and dance and have fun. For us as young guys we just wanted to meet chicks. You know? It’s really simple: boys want to meet chicks. You start a rock band and suddenly there are chicks everywhere. I realize you don’t call women chicks these days and I hope people understand the context. This was our attitude back when we were 14. I never even thought about the money aspect; we just wanted to have a good time.
Rideout: Nanaimo Loverboy fans are looking forward to your February concert at the Port Theatre. What has been your experience playing this type of venue?
Mike Reno: It doesn’t matter the size of the venue. We want people to enjoy themselves and we work to ensure that our show fits the venue. It’s true we can be loud and could blow the doors off a venue twice the size; however we learned a long time ago not to hurt people with the music. But truthfully we could play for 20 people of 200,000 and we don’t mind. It’s really an honour to be on stage and we treat it like that. Some of your readers may remember we used to play Nanaimo all the time and try out our new material to gauge fan reaction. Everyone in the band will smile when you say Nanaimo because of our long-standing connection to the city. Our feeling was the “real people” were on the island, and in particular in Nanaimo, not your big uptown Charlie Brown types. We felt the fan reaction in Nanaimo was honest and real. I personally feel like an islander because it was a big part of where I grew up so for me it really is like coming home.
Rideout: So you have a new record out recently called “Unfinished Business.” What is it like for you and the band when you are performing your huge fan favorites like “The Kid is Hot Tonight” versus the newer material?
Mike Reno: People kind of get mad at us if we don’t play every hit they’ve ever heard. If we play our new material people kind of look around and say “hey c’mon man play Turn me Loose…like now!” The audience owns it and they want to hear the songs they know. Truly the audience owns the songs. They don’t belong to Loverboy anymore they belong to the audience. We like to play our new songs for our pleasure but sometimes we will find it easier to make a little joke about it like “sit back and listen to this – we know you’ve never heard it but just listen and we hope you like it.”
Rideout: When I was around 10 years old the Get Lucky album came out. My feeling was that this must be some of the best music ever made and I listened to that record thousands of times and am familiar with all the tracks from the album including, of course, the big hits. I recently heard you quote Bryan Adams as saying words to the effect of “…people just want you to play the hits.” Is it really just about giving the people what they want?
Mike Reno: It’s true. It’s their memory; they grew up with this stuff they deserve to hear it and we’ll give it to them. With the Bryan Adams thing I think that came from a conversation I had with somebody that knows him like Bob Rock or something that centered on singing covers. And why not? People like to hear songs they know and love. So at this point I’m thinking about doing some classic hits Loverboy style? That’s where that came from and it seems to be a bit of a trend these days and if I’m not mistaken I think Bryan Adams has done something similar where one or two new songs are featured on a new album with the remainder being all his other favorite songs.
Rideout: The song Heaven in your eyes fits so perfectly with the love story theme in the movie Top Gun. What was the process for you in writing “Heaven in your eyes” for the Top Gun soundtrack? Did you have much to go on or did you just get a call saying we need a song for a film and away you went?
Mike Reno: Well it’s a mixture of two things. I got called down to the office of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer in Los Angeles. So there I am in the office waiting until it was time for them to see me. The next thing I know they both come out of their office and walk right past me, as if I wasn’t even there. They were eating popcorn and brainstorming with each other because that’s the kind of guys they were. As they are going past me they stop and say “can we help you?” and I said “Actually yes I’m Mike Reno from Loverboy…you wanted to see me?” They both go “OH!!! Great!! Come over here” so we went to the corner of their office and they showed me a specific scene from Top Gun and they asked me “can you write a song for that moment right there.” So that’s how that came about. They actually asked me on a Tuesday and wanted the track delivered that Friday. Because of the great team (Paul Dean lead guitar and co-founder of Loverboy and lyricists John Dexter and Mae Moore) and overall coordinated effort, we actually met their 4-day deadline!
Rideout: Amazing story. I love it! So many acts today don’t come close to the monster success Loverboy has had. Do you think the movement toward electronic downloads from vinyl, cassettes CD’s has changed the viability of creating mega-stars and mega-tours?
Mike Reno: I think the respect is completely gone now. There is no real respect for writing an album making it all cohesive and working together with pictures and stories and songs. That was a hard thing to do. People today just want a hit single so how much effort do [artists] really want to put into it anymore? I mean really? On the other hand with the Internet of course the audience reach is global and people do want to buy singles. Legal downloading is one example of a change for the good in terms of downloads so the Internet [as a factor in the decline of the album as a complete experience] isn’t completely evil. It’s really the fact that some people will download music and not pay for it that creates a big problem creatively. People can become superstars now just by having a good routine on YouTube even if it’s a complete joke. It’s a big loss that we seem to have moved past the days when you would go out and purchase, for example, a Supertramp album and spend the next 2 hours immersing yourself in the album with the music and the liner notes and coming out the other side going “wow that was amazing.” It’s really too bad.
Rideout: Well said. I completely agree and can fully relate to what you are talking about. Thanks for doing this interview Mike and I look forward to seeing the show in Nanaimo!
Mike Reno: Sounds good and you’re very welcome.