Songwriter Interviews

Paul Dean of Loverboy

by Dan MacIntosh

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Thanks to a brilliant bit of managerial dexterity, Loverboy made their live debut opening for Kiss at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, B.C. in 1979. From there, it was off to the dive bars, where they field tested their songs, learning which tunes filled the dance floor and which ones were background music for smoke breaks.

The group's second album, Get Lucky, was where good fortune smiled down upon Loverboy's recording career. This album included two of their biggest hits: "When It's Over" and "Working for the Weekend." The latter track - which passed the dive bar test - was famously used as the musical backdrop for a Saturday Night Live skit starring the rotund Chris Farley and his mesomorphic opposite Patrick Swayze as dancers auditioning for Chippendales.

Fronted by Mike Reno, with his ever-present signature headband, Loverboy racked up nine Top-40 hits in both the US and their native Canada; Reno also scored with the ubiquitous "Almost Paradise," a duet with Ann Wilson of Heart for the movie Footloose.

Paul Dean, the group's lead guitarist from its inception, played the riffs that put the Power in their Power Pop, and cowrote many of their hits, including "Hot Girls In Love" and "Working For The Weekend."

It hasn't always been smooth sailing for the act, as they broke up in 1988 when the hits dried up. In 1991 they regrouped to join Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi for a benefit concert that led to a more permanent reunion. Since then, they've been loving nearly every minute of Loverboy.

Everybody's working for the weekend, it's true, but every night Loverboy takes the stage, it's just like a weekend party night - no matter what the calendar might say.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Loverboy has been together over 30 years and you have pretty much all original members. How do you do that? How do you stay together?

Paul Dean: I don't know if I can speak for everybody, but I'm a pretty good politician. That's what it's all about. It's about compromise and communication and all that corny stuff. Just having a lot of patience and being able to look at yourself and go, "That was really stupid," and just tell the other guy what you're thinking. And picking your times to be honest and picking your times to just walk away and go, "Maybe tomorrow we'll talk about that." That's it. It hasn't been totally smooth, as you can imagine. Matt Frenette, the drummer, and I, we've been together since '74, off and on. We took a couple of breaks. And we're still really tight. It's unbelievable how tight we are spiritually and musically, it's pretty rare. Pretty special, I've got to say. It's pretty awesome.

Songfacts: What went through your head the first time you saw the Saturday Night Live sketch set to "Working for the Weekend"?

Paul: You've got to take it in the spirit it's meant, and you just gotta go, 'That's pretty funny.' I mean, it was really funny. At first you kind of go, 'What the hell?' But then you've got to laugh, because these guys are insane.

It's like when I watch a movie a lot of the times I'll laugh at the joke, and then I'll think back and I'll step outside of it and look at it from the actor's point of view and what they did to get there. So it's kind of cool to think that they would think of doing that. Pretty outrageous sketch.
Saturday Night Live did a skit that pitted the overweight Chris Farley against the sexy Patrick Swayze for the final spot on a Chippendale's male dancer job. Their dance routines were set to Loverboy's "Everybody's Working for the Weekend."

Songfacts: When I hear that song, it still sounds great. I imagine you're the same way as I am, when you listen to music from the '80s, you just kind of cringe and say, "Ohhhhh, it sounds so dated!"

Paul: I do cringe, quite a lot actually. I very rarely listen to '80s music.

Songfacts: But not with that song. So what is it about that song, do you think, that gives it such staying power?

Paul: Well, first of all, I'm a melody guy, so that's where it all comes from for me. And a lot of writers would agree: lyrics come second. They're important, but to me, it all starts with the melody. I've written some tunes where it's come from the lyrical base, and it's all about the story. But that one was originally, "Everybody's Waiting for the Weekend." I was walking down close to where I was living. It was a Wednesday afternoon, beautiful afternoon, and I'm walking in this heavily populated area, and it was deserted. Everybody was at work. And me being the musician, I'm out working and my work is, okay, what am I going to do for inspiration and where can I find it? So I'm out on the beach and wondering, 'Where is everybody? Well, I guess they're all waiting for the weekend.'

So that experience spurred that. And Mike had the great idea of, "Why don't we call it, Working for the Weekend?" and I said, "Yeah, that's good. That's fine." Not a huge difference, still works, it's kind of cool, it's quirky with a little bit of a twist on the lyrics, so yeah, let's go.

It took a long time to develop that tune, but the germ of it was written in a hotel room in Montreal after a show. I just had my guitar, my trusty old funky Strat that I'd built in '74, and a ghetto blaster that I always carried with me that I could plug in an simulate an amp. I started singing it, and kind of had the germ of it, at least the chorus and the verses. There were a couple of other weird things, transitions that I hadn't worked out yet. But the tricky part, too, is the key changes that go back and forth to the guitar solo, the little theme, and where it goes to the pre-chorus and then the short chorus sets that up behind a guitar riff, a heavier guitar riff that we were playing in bars when we first started. We'd put our first album out, but we were still playing bars. We had a few decent shows, but we were still playing bars before we recorded "Working for the Weekend," but it was finished, it was all written and everything. We were playing this bar and it was one of these meat market places, and we did two sets and nobody danced, nobody cared. It was just like, "Oh, my God, are we ever going to reach these people?" And we when came on stage for the third set, we opened with "Working for the Weekend," and the dance floor was packed. And I went, "Okay, we might have something here."

And almost 40 years later, it's still going.

Songfacts: How often does that happen with a song, where you don't realize it is something special until you see people react to it? Do you do that often with songs where you play them live to gauge the impact?
Loverboy bass player Scott Smith died in 2000 at age 45 after he was swept overboard while sailing. Ken "Spider" Sinnaeve is his replacement.
Paul: Well, it was the same thing with "The Kid is Hot." It was at just our second show. We had a different bass player - that was before Scott Smith had joined the band, it was the four of us. It was our second show. Our first show was opening for KISS in Vancouver, which I thought was a brilliant managerial move.

Songfacts: I'll say.

Paul: Yeah, let's get the band established right now. Get the buzz going. I mean, we weren't tight. The bass player was looking at me, a little confused. And this was in front of 15,000 rabid KISS fans. But it was a good show. We had fun. And so about a week later we were playing a little club out in Chilliwack, which is about 60 miles outside of town, one of those "Let's go out there and catch stuff thrown at us" gigs. We played the first night, and the tune that got the best reaction was "The Kid is Hot Tonight." That was before we had "Working for the Weekend." So it's a real good barometer. We don't have that luxury now. We still play our new tunes, but it's different now. Now that we're established, it's hard to get people to really sit up and take notice on a new song. When I saw the Eagles, they came out with some new songs and the place was packed, there were 40,000 people in this big giant indoor football stadium. They were playing their new tunes and everybody goes to the restroom. It's the same thing now. And then you come back and you hit them with all the hits and they go, "Yeah, that's why I'm here. That's what I want to hear." But we still unleash our new stuff on them and it works okay. You can never compare it to a hit that's established in their mind that they've been waiting for six months to hear. I mean, you start up "Turn Me Loose" and that's why they're there. They're not there to hear new songs. At least from our experience.

Songfacts: I would imagine that's got to be a little bit frustrating, that they may come for nostalgia, but you want to prove that you can still write and play songs.

Paul: Well, I don't know if it's a matter of trying to prove. It's just a matter of something new. Matt and I, we play different every night. The grooves are slightly different, the tempos are slightly different. The energy level, depending on what happened that day or that month or whatever, if we hadn't played it for a while, so many factors go into the take of the tune that night. And in the space of a set, 15 songs, you could have a couple that didn't really work. Even now, after playing these tunes thousands of times, we'll say, "That one didn't really lock in." And the next time it'll be killer. Some nights we'll have it where all five of us are in the bubble for every song, the minute we step on stage to the moment when the lights come on at the end of the encore, where there's not a note or a groove or a lyric or a harmony or anything wrong. It's phenomenal when that happens. Doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, I walk off that stage going, "Holy Christ."

Songfacts: Do you still enjoy playing all these songs, or are there some songs that you wish you could drop off the set list?

Paul: No. I wish we could play more. But we're restricted to 90 minutes. A lot of times we do a drum/bass solo in the middle of the set, which kills, and people just love it. But Matt and Ken "Spider" Sinnaeve are such incredible musicians, I just stand back behind my amp and go, 'Oh, my God, these guys are insane.' But I really do enjoy it. I love to play guitar and I love to sing. All the other stuff that goes with it, not so much. But the actual playing with this band in particular, it's a great band. I'm honored and humbled to still be able to do it after all this time. And then to have people actually want to hear it and hear these tunes again, I go, 'I'm there.' Who's going to argue with that?

Songfacts: That's good to hear, because a lot of times I talk to people and they're kind of tired of just doing the same stuff over and over again. But it sounds like every night it's a little bit different. You keep things interesting by changing the tempos a little here and there.

Paul: Not necessarily on purpose, it just happens. That's just the way it flows from the physical because Matt's job as a drummer in this band requires a ton of energy. By nature, he's a very energetic guy. He's human. He'll have days he'll leave his game in the dressing room a little bit, and we'll all know it. On stage, we're all rolling our eyes a little bit. "Okay, it's one of those nights." But by and large, Matt is a killer drummer. I mean, he's so consistent it's unbelievable. He makes me look good and then I make Mike look good and then Spider makes Matt look good and it just goes around in a circle. And Doug makes us all look good. Incredible players.

Songfacts: Do you always write with Mike?

Paul: We've written with outside writers. I've written with a lot of writers, actually, and so has Mike. On the Just Getting Started album, Mike had a new writing team that he was working with in Vancouver, and they came up with some pretty cool tunes. I was living in Calgary, he was living in Vancouver, and that's the way it worked out.

We have a semi new live recording. It's one of those killer nights that I was talking about. It was about a month ago that we recorded it. I snuck it past Matt - I didn't tell him, because I didn't want to freak anybody out. So I got together with our road manager and I said, "Can we record this?" He says, "Yeah, no problem." I got a guy with the ProTools, so we recorded it. I told Matt after the gig: "I pulled one on you, we actually recorded that night." He says, "Oh, jeez, man." But he played maybe the best he's ever played. That's how good it is. I mean, he just killed. And the funny thing is we hadn't played together in a month. I guess it was all that pent-up whatever - he had a killer night. I'm in the process of mixing it and just polishing it up. It has eight of our hits and three new tunes, as well.

And one of the new tunes, just coming back to the writing situation, is written by Mike and me. The other two are written by Bob Rock, a long-time friend and producer and engineer for us. He came to us with a couple of tunes that he wrote with a couple of guys. We finished them up, fleshed them out a little bit, added some ideas, and we recorded them in Vancouver last year. So that's a pretty good package. We're going to plug this at the show. We have a tour coming up with Journey and Pat Benatar, and we're going to give our fans, old and new, something special.

Songfacts: How much stage time are you going to have on that tour? Because there's three extremely popular acts on one stage.

Paul: We get to play one song. So we're going to change the song every night. One night we'll play "Working for the Weekend," the next time we'll play drums. I'm just kidding. (laughs) No, it's going to be a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am, it's a 40-minute set. So it's going to be hit the stage, leave them wanting more.

Songfacts: How did that tour come together?

Paul: This was the band's idea for 10 years. This is what we've been hoping and beating our heads against the wall over. Occasionally we'll do a couple of shows with Foreigner, a couple of shows with Journey. We've played with Pat Benatar, and Styx, and REO, Def Leppard, all these bands that we love and work with, and have a similar demographic, a similar audience that we have. So we've always wanted to do that. Cheap Trick's another one with whom we've played some shows. Any one of those bands, we would have killed to get a tour with. And it just wouldn't happen. We were self-managed for a few years, too, which probably didn't help. So we signed with a new manager, Jonathan Wolfson. Otherwise I probably wouldn't be talking to you today. He set this up.

The first thing he did was he signed us with a new agency, and they're tied in with the same agency that manages a lot of these bands. They don't book Journey, but they had an "in." I don't know how they did it to be honest. I'm sure they went to the Journey management and said, "This is what you should be doing this year." And Journey went, "Yeah, let's do it." So I was pretty ecstatic, we were all very excited about it.

Songfacts: It's interesting that you mention Cheap Trick, because I always think of you as a really good power pop band like Cheap Trick.

Paul: That's exactly right. That's what we are. We're a power pop band. With emphasis on both the words. We're very powerful and very poppy. And I'm very proud of that. I think that's a very cool combination. Every time you put "pop" in, though, it tends to make people think, "Oh, my God, Monkees?" But it's not like that. It's not like that at all. It's a powerful band. I'm playing a lot different things on the guitar. Mike's singing is still amazing. But my guitar is a lot different than it was. It's more powerful, I think, anyway. Tempos are a little bit slower and a little bit tougher.

Songfacts: Who are your favorite guitarists?

Paul: Jeff Beck's my favorite. And Jimi Hendrix was not really a big influence, but I'm just a really big fan. I actually met him when he was in Vancouver playing this big show. I don't know how many times he played in Vancouver, but I actually got to see it. And Duane Allman. When I first started out I came up with Duane Eddy, huge influence. And the Shadows from England, and the Ventures from Tacoma. I was really into instrumental bands, because I started playing in '62, so it was in the dawn of The Beatles and before The Beatles, actually. And it was all instrumental stuff. Johnny and the Hurricanes. Just really rockin' instrumental bands. And then The Beatles came along the The Beach Boys, and I started getting into vocals more. I was a big fan of George Harrison's and John Lennon's rhythm playing, incredible rhythm players, both those guys.

Songfacts: When did you discover that you had the ability to write songs?

Paul: Well, I started writing songs pretty early on. They were pretty bad. Mostly instrumental riffs. It was very frustrating for me for a long time because I couldn't figure it out. I would come up with a riff and put it all together and I'd have a little 2-minute tune, but it wouldn't be there; there was nothing there. So it just evolved over the years until I was in a band called Scrubbaloe Caine and I wrote the first real song that was suitable for playing live. That would have been in 1973, so it took a long time for me to figure out how to make a tune. I give a lot of that to Jim Kale, the bass player from the Guess Who. He was playing in Scrubbaloe Caine at the time, and he got me into the lyric thing more. He said, "You've got all these words, but where's the story? What does it mean? Where's the flow? You've got these great little catchphrases, but you need to tie it together." So that got me thinking about that, which was really good. It got me started working on that more and being aware of it more than just words to fill in behind the guitar. Obviously, it's the other way around.

Songfacts: You guys are known for your hits and your popular songs, but are there songs that never became hits that you think are some of the better examples of what Loverboy does, that maybe are undiscovered gems in your mind?

Paul: There's some pretty interesting stuff on that first album. There's some reggae stuff and rockabilly stuff. That was very eclectic, that first album. And we kind of refined it after that. Get Lucky was much more refined, in terms of direction and style. But the very first album, because we had a long time to write it, Mike and I we were just writing songs, just whatever came up. And that was, "It Don't Matter," and "Always on My Mind." It's funny, "Always On My Mind," it was the first tune that we ever wrote together. The first night that we met, we just started writing songs right then. We sat down, "What have you got?" "Well, I don't know, I got this." And I don't even know if we had anything. I mean, we just started to play. That tune is a real mystery to me how that was written. I got a pretty good picture on most other tunes, but I guess it was just an adrenaline thing. It was like, "Hey, this is cool." This guy can sing and I can play and we can write together and I can sing along with him. This is good. And we just started, and out came "Always on My Mind."

We recorded that tune live in Winnebago about 5 years ago. And I remembered it's the only time we played it with Spider, and the only time that we've played it live probably in 30 years. Mike wanted to do it, Spider learned it, and we played it that night. And killed. That's actually going on this album. And because it's our tune and because we can, we rewrote the lyrics a little bit, updated them, took them away from a teeny bop boy/girl situation more to an adult, just a little bit more updated.

Songfacts: Do you feel like fate brought you and Mike together?

Paul: I guess. I mean, fate brought me and Matt together, too. I think more me and Matt than Mike. But just the way it worked out. I mean, meeting Matt was way more convoluted. Mike, I was just in a warehouse and Mike walked in. I was flying all over the country, I was desperate to find a band. My band had just broken up, I was almost on welfare. We were right at the bottom. My girl was still working, thankfully, but we were hurting. So I phoned up an agent that lived in Toronto, and I knew this agent from Calgary. He was a drummer that I knew, and now he's an agent. I said, "Do you know any bands, any drummers, anybody that I could maybe audition with? I'm desperate. I need to get a job." And he says, "I'm loving this band up in Edmonton, called Headpins," he said, "Got a killer drummer. Why don't you go up and talk to them?" So I did and met Matt and listened to him play and went, Okay. He's definitely in my groove.

I played with a lot of drummers that are not in my groove and I've scratched my head, and it's nothing against the drummer or anything. It's just a compatibility thing. Whereas Matt and I, we just went, "There's the groove right there." And I can play and I don't have to struggle. A lot of drummers have to struggle. I just go, I don't know what the hell he's playing. He's playing all the parts, but there's no groove. For me, he doesn't have my groove. Whereas Matt has my groove. So that was really important.

Songfacts: It's like a mystical connection.

Paul: It really is. And it still works. It's an inborn thing. It's the way you feel the groove or you feel the flow of it. Whether it's fast or slow or a tender ballad or a raving rockabilly tune. We're on the same page always. We'll have the odd night where I can barely get out of bed and the same thing with Matt. It can be after a month of being off or it can be in the middle of a 10-day string of shows. You just never know. But for the most part, we're brothers.

Songfacts: I think you begin the tour out my way out in San Bernardino. I'm in Los Angeles now, so I can't wait to see you guys.

Paul: That's where we start, July 21st, somewhere in California. I'm not sure where.

Songfacts: It's in Devore, where they had the US Festival.

Paul: Really? Not the same venue.

Songfacts: Not the same venue. They built a venue on the same grounds.

Paul: Well, that's pretty cool.

Songfacts: It's hallowed grounds there.

Paul: Isn't that were Van Halen made a million dollars? Isn't that that show?
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's website, under its listing for Van Halen, states Van Halen performed at the second US Festival in California for the highest fee to date for a concert performance 1983. The band is believed to have been paid $1.5 million for a 90 minute set.
Songfacts: Could have been.

Paul: I think it is. The US Festival. I remember hearing that Van Halen got a million bucks and went, "Are you kidding me??" That's funny, because I'm going to see them in 3 days or 4 days when they're here in Calgary. I'm jazzed about that. I should have said, when you said, 'Who's one of your favorite guitar players,' Eddie's right up there. He's an amazing player. I loved his tone, and talk about feel, this guy kills. He's great. It's like me and Matt - Eddie and Alex, have that same sensitivity, that same groove.

Songfacts: Except you're brothers from another mother.

Paul: That's right. (Laughs)

We spoke with Paul Dean on May 2, 2012. Get more at loverboyband.com.
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