Longtime rock band to perform at Santa Barbara Bowl
Foreigner lead singer Kelly Hansen has watched the longtime rock band’s music affect audiences deeply on an emotional level.
And he’s experienced his own heartfelt moments during the songs.
“The other night, I was singing ‘Waiting for A Girl Like You,’ ” Mr. Hansen told the News-Press by phone from his Los Angeles home. “I hadn’t seen my wife in quite a while. It was very emotional for me to sing.
“I had to explain to the audience why I was choking up while I was singing the song,” said Mr. Hansen, who got married to his wife, Anna, during a virtual ceremony during the pandemic.
“I try to put on a song like a glove when I sing it,” he said. “That means I have to be in character or find the connection like an actor would. I like doing that with all those songs, all the lyrics. I have to find a way to make them mean something to me.”
Fans of Mr. Hansen and Foreigner will experience music rich with emotion when the band performs with an orchestra Saturday at the Santa Barbara Bowl.
The orchestra will no doubt add another layer for music that is at times intense with a hard rock beat — “Cold As Ice,” “Hot Blooded” — and other times sweet and romantic — “I Want to Know What Love Is.” The melodies can even have a mysterious tinge; listen to “Double Vision.”
As a vocalist, Mr. Hansen said he couldn’t ask for a better catalog of songs.
“The songwriting is really great, classic pop songwriting,” he said. “The other thing that makes it unique is really great arrangements. Foreigner had really elegant arrangements and unique guitar solos. No one plays guitar solos like that.”
Guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones is the only original member still with the band, which Mr. Jones started in 1976 with fellow British musician Ian McDonald and American singer Lou Gramm, Foreigner’s original lead vocalist. Mr. Jones thought of the name “Foreigner,” since the band had three British musicians, including Dennis Elliott. Two other Americans were among the original members — Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Gramm wrote most of Foreigner’s songs.
The band’s first album, “Foreigner” and its sequel, “Double Vision” (1978), placed high on U.S. charts, as did the third album, “Head Games” (1979).
Foreigner’s music became popular everywhere from the LPs on home turntables to the radio to Foreigner’s concerts. At the time, other bands played Foreigner music at high school dances.
Along with bands such as Styx, Foreigner helped to define the tempo, the mood, the tone of the late 1970s rock scene.
And like Styx, Foreigner stressed that no matter the beat, melodies and lyrics mattered.
“Mick, when he was writing some of those early songs, he would look for an everyday phrase and find a way to tweak it enough when it became a really great song lyric,” Mr. Hansen said. “I think he’s been very successful in doing that.”
He noted that everyone around the world seems to know the lyrics to “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
“It’s so weird to be (performing) in Germany or South Africa or somewhere, and everyone (in the audience) is singing the lyrics,” Mr. Hansen said. “That’s the power and strength and connection to everybody. It’s a great moment in the show.
“All kinds of things happen” at the concerts, Mr. Hansen said. “We have people making proposals to people during the show. You see people’s faces. You see people sometimes recalling an earlier time in their life, and you see the music affects people in different ways. Sometimes they’re simultaneously crying and being giddy. It’s an amazing thing to be part of.”
Mr. Hansen said Foreigner’s music has transcended generations. He has seen young people, born long after Foreigner started, knowing the lyrics and singing them during concerts.
During Foreigner’s early years, Mr. Hansen was in high school in Manhattan Beach in the Los Angeles area. He explained how he started his lifelong career in rock ’n roll.
“It was really purely by accident,” he said. “A friend of mine had a band and was singing on the beach.”
The friend recruited Mr. Hansen into the band as its lead singer.
“I was nearing the end of high school. I was wondering what I would do with the rest of my life,” said Mr. Hansen, who graduated in 1978 from Mira Costa High School.
Instead of going to college, Mr. Hansen stayed with performing rock and joined the bandf Hurricane in 1985. Later he sang with a group with Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille and was involved with projects such as composing music for television. He joined Foreigner in 2005.
In addition to Mr. Hansen and Mr. Jones (on lead and rhythm guitars and keyboards), the band consists of Jeff Pilson on bass and keyboards; Michael Bluestein on keyboards; Bruce Watson on rhythm and lead guitars; Chris Frazier on drums; and Luis Maldonado on rhythm guitar and bass.
As the lead vocalist, Mr. Hansen follows in the footsteps of Mr. Gramm, the songwriter who served as Foreigner’s lead singer from its formation until 2003.
“I think I have a different swing than he does,” said Mr. Hansen, a fan of old R&B and 1950s combo jazz. “But these are great songs with great melodies and great lyrics. It’s not my job to show people how much differently I can sing the songs. I’m trying to carry forward the legacy of this band. I love the songs the way they are.
“I have a different cadence. I interpret some of the accents differently,” Mr. Hansen said, but noted he’s careful to sing the compositions in the manner fans remember them.
“We’re a very tight, very musically skilled band,” Mr. Hansen said. “We have a really good time. We enjoy each other’s company. You can’t buy that for any amount of money.”
He said after the long hiatus during the pandemic, Foreigner started playing together again in June and is on now on its first full leg of touring in more than a year.
Mr. Hansen said Foreigner decided, during this time of COVID-19 protocols, to focus on performing strictly in the U.S.
He said he didn’t mind the long break during the pandemic.
“Keep this in mind. I have been on the road eight to nine months a year for the last 15 years straight,” Mr. Hansen said. “For the first few months for me, it was kind of nice.
“People see a life of a traveling rock band as something that is incredibly great, which it is,” he said. “The shows, which are an hour and a half, are amazing. The traveling is not always so easy.”
Mr. Hansen said he enjoys simply being home, where he likes to do his own home repairs, work on his motorcycles, attend to his garden and watch the seasons change. “It lets me recharge my batteries.”