Don Dokken Moves Forward by Looking Back: Interview
It’s been close to a decade since Broken Bones, the most recent studio album from Dokken, was released in 2012. The band is now planning to add another chapter with the pending release of a new record in 2021.
“I think we [made] a conscious effort to go a bit backwards,” Don Dokken tells UCR about the new songs they’ve been working on. “I’ve done a lot of records in the ‘90s and 2000s that had a lot of Beatles influence, with sitars and backwards stuff like the Beatles. I got into my experimental mode.”
For years, the band's frontman resisted record-company offers to make an album that sounded like the ones they made in the '80s. “I didn’t have any desire to just keep writing ‘Breakin’ the Chains,’” he explains. “Been there, done that. [Labels would] say, “We’ll give you a record deal, but it has to sound like Tooth and Nail meets Under Lock and Key.' And I’m, like, I can’t promise you that. That was then, this is now. My head was in a different spot in the ‘80s. I don’t know where those songs came from. This isn’t writing-by-numbers.”
Recently, as Dokken took stock of the band’s legacy, he thought about how he'd like to move forward. “I talked to the boys and said, 'I don’t know why these certain songs are the ones that people love. Maybe it was because of MTV. I don’t know. The songs are pretty simple and straight-ahead and rockin’ with catchy choruses,” he says. ”Why don’t we write a record straight-ahead and let’s don’t get fancy about it?”
Putting the “sitars, choirs, orchestras and keyboards” to the side, a “straight-ahead rock record” is now what he’s targeting. So, he went back to the source to get in the right frame of mind. “I had to go back and listen to Tooth and Nail and Under Lock and Key and Back for the Attack,” he explains. “I hadn’t listened to those records in 10 years. You move on. ... I don’t think bands sit around and listen to their own music. The dilemma was I want to go forward, but I want to keep the fans happy, and I want to try to maintain the sound and style of Dokken without sounding like we just regurgitated an album from 1985."
The new album will feature the current Dokken lineup that includes guitarist Jon Levin, bassist Chris McCarvill and drummer BJ Zampa. Dokken has been drawing on material from his archives, including the sessions for Broken Bones, a prolific period that yielded close to 20 songs. As he and Levin went through hard drives of recordings from the era, they found a lot of leftover songs and ideas they wanted to revisit and finish. Still, quality is key, he insists: “I wasn’t just going to throw a bunch of crap on there.”
At least one of the songs dates to some of Dokken’s earliest work. In August, he released The Lost Songs: 1978-1981, which documents the period before Dokken's classic lineup - featuring guitarist George Lynch, bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer “Wild” Mick Brown - took shape. While going through tapes for the collection, he uncovered a song that "was too good of a song to put on [The Lost Songs],” he says. “We decided to keep it and put it on our next studio album. It’s just too good.”
The collection brings Dokken full circle, back to the garage, where he found the tapes as he was deep cleaning. Pulling a box off a shelf, he discovered two reels: one mentioned Hamburg 1979, the other referenced Media Art Studio, a California studio where Dokken recorded his first songs. "I’m really young, and I’m in my early 20s," he says. "I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was just kind of trying to find my way.”
Watch Dokken's 'One Step Into the Light' Video
Some songs hint at Dokken's commercial future; other tracks are more embryonic. So, he worked with Levin and Zampa to fill in the gaps. “A couple of them that had a drum machine on them, which sounded like ass,” he recalls. “I sent BJ the song and said, ‘Here, put some real drums on this song.’ Then Jon came in, and there were a couple of songs that had no solos yet. So I had him put some solos on it.”
In addition to new music new year, there’s also a possibility Dokken may get to finish a tour that excited longtime fans. A trek was planned for 2020 featuring Dokken, Lynch Mob and Lita Ford, with Don Dokken and George Lynch sharing the stage for a few songs. They managed to get in three shows before COVID-19 hit.
Lynch joined the current Dokken lineup at the end of their set each night to perform "Kiss of Death," "When Heaven Comes Down" and "Tooth and Nail," songs Lynch originally played on the Dokken records from back in the day. The tensions that eventually tore apart the band have since disappeared, says Dokken.
“The world changes, and you either let it go or you don’t, as far as your baggage or what he didn’t like about me and what I didn’t like about him,” he says. “Why the band broke up, it was a tragedy. We probably would have been way bigger than we ever were if we could have hung in there. But I just think that we had two alpha males in the band, and that didn’t work out so well.
“Every band has a leader, and I was the leader, and I don’t think George liked that. I think he was used to doing his own thing. When you have people that are all very inspired and all from different walks of life and you put them all in a band ... . Put four or five guys on a tour bus for eight months out of the year and let’s see what happens. It’s like being married to four different people. It caused a lot of conflict. I think that’s all behind us."
Still, Dokken didn't want a full reunion of the old band. "Jon Levin has been in the band over 20 years," he notes. "Chris and BJ have been in the band for years. I don’t see the point in it. We did [a Dokken reunion] five years ago. I said, 'Okay, I’ll do one. But we’ll do it in Japan and see how it goes.' We did Japan and toured the East. It went okay. Everybody made a bunch of money and we did it.”
But he missed playing with his current bandmates. “I’m used to playing with [them]," Dokken says. Plus, he points out, Lynch has his own projects going on. Still, he's not ruling out something down the line with the original group. “I’d like to put that cherry on the top of that cake and do one last Dokken record," he says, "one last Dokken reunion while we’re all healthy enough and still able to do touring without beating ourselves up.”