Foreigner will be playing Friday in Columbia – part of a trio of hard-hitting rock bands hitting the stage at Colonial Life Arena.
We caught up with Foreigner guitarist Tom Gimbel ahead of the band’s Friday show. Gimbel talked techno music, touring and why there’s nothing better than old rock music.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What’s Foreigner been up to lately?
Gimbel: We had the greatest summer. We were on tour with Kid Rock and so many shows were sold out. It was a spectacle. The Kid Rock extravaganza. Some people might not have exactly been Foreigner fans, but when we played, they realized they knew a lot of the songs.
You play multiple instruments. Is there an instrument you play more than others during shows?
Gimbel: Mostly rhythm guitar and a little bit of lead guitar. I’m totally into sax and I break that out sometimes. I love singing also.
The Lugoff-Elgin High School choir will be performing “I Want to Know What Love Is” during the Columbia concert. How often does Foreigner invite high school choirs on stage?
Gimbel: It’s a nice program that we started years ago when we heard so many schools were having their music programs cut. Before the show, the choirs come up on stage and learn where to stand and that kind of thing, and we’ll be there hanging around and saying hello. Some of them really take the stage by storm. It’s great to see.
Foreigner’s songs are classics. But they’ve also been used in today’s pop culture, like on “Orange is the New Black,” “Pitch Perfect,” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” What do you think of those occurrences?
Gimbel: We just feel honored. It seems natural and normal that the music we feel so strongly about, other people are also enjoying. It’s transcending the ages. I think it’s a testament to the quality and craftsmanship of the songwriting and recording.
Does the band get new fans from things like that?
Gimbel: I do believe that exposure does add to the fan base. We meet a lot of kids that say they learned about our songs through games like ‘Guitar Hero’ or ‘Rock Band.’ And movies, what was that one, ‘Rock of Ages’? That had four Foreigner songs in it. So the music seems to still be gaining momentum.
Do you worry about relevancy or are you just happy to be playing and doing your thing?
Gimbel: We do want to stay true to form, but we also stretch out and improvise a little bit. We’re not going to try and change the music to be relevant. We’re not going to add any modern technology. Can you imagine if we used – what do you call it? – autotune? Hearing songs like “Jukebox Hero” sung like a robot? [Proceeds to sing “Jukebox Hero” like a robot.]
What’s different about going on stage now vs. 10 years ago?
Gimbel: Ten years seems like dinosaurs ago or something. Did we even have cell phones with computers in them? [laughs] As far as music goes, I don’t think a lot has changed for us. The technology on stage gets better. The sounds gets better. A tour bus now is like a spaceship.
What hasn’t changed?
Gimbel: We’re still always yelling at the drummer usually. That I don’t think will ever change. It’s a constant thing (in the industry) to pick on the drummer. It’s good clean fun, and they’re used to it. And Nick Jones is still leading the band, and his playing is as good as ever. My level of enjoyment is the same.
What bands do you enjoy listening to?
Gimbel: I love listening to records on vinyl. The Beatles especially always sounds good. I love The Who. Every time I put in one (of their albums) I feel like I’m 13 again. I also listen to a lot of jazz on Pandora. I love Al Green and Marvin Gaye.
As far as new stuff, there’s some really cool techno – I think you call it techno? Sometimes they combine it with female vocals. For example, Blackmill has a song called “Let it Be” [Proceeds to sing “Let it be” in high-pitched voice]. You’d know it if you heard it.
[Sings part of another song] Is that Deadmau5? I always say “dead mouse five” but it’s just "deadmouse". I think that kind of music is sort of what happens when there's no more Pink Floyd. So people have to listen to that stuff to hear really cool synthesizers and inventive drums. Occasionally I like (techno) for energy music, but there’s nothing like old rock music.
If you go
Three hard-hitting rock bands – Def Leppard with Foreigner and Night Ranger – hit the Colonial Life Arena stage on Friday for a night of old-school, classic rock. Expect monster hits, soaring power ballads and a little “sugar” from glam-metal headliner Def Leppard. The British rockers will be joined by the Jukebox Heroes from Foreigner and ’80s quintet Night Ranger.