After over 40 years together, what is the latest incarnation of Cheap Trick up to? Mainly a lot of touring, since the release of their 16th studio album, The Latest, back in 2009. This year, however, they’ve been touring all summer with Peter Frampton—and plan to continue playing on their own into the fall.
Below, bassist Tom Petersson reflects on this summer’s tour, learning about his son’s autism, and the release of their next album.
So you guys are, no surprise, busy with your tour schedule this summer.
Yeah, we’ve been on tour with Peter Frampton pretty much the whole summer. Tonight and tomorrow are the last two nights. Tomorrow we’re in Seattle and then we’re going our own ways.
And how’s it been going? What’s it like to work with Peter?
It’s been great! You know, great shows, I think it’s a good combination, you’ve got a great band, it’s good. We’ve been having fun.
He’s a great guy, we’ve known him for years. In fact, I know, when I first saw him, he was humble pie there. So he’s been around, and we worked with him in the ’70s. Not constantly, of course—so we’ve known him, and he’s a really nice guy, and it’s good.
And how did you guys decide to do the tour together?
Ah, I don’t know…it’s a combination of managers, booking agents, and they think it’s a good combo, so they talk to the artists and they plan. So it just kind of fell together.
So you just flowed into it.
And besides the obvious time elapse, what’s the most jarring difference you’ve found in playing crowds today versus the ’70s?
I don’t see that much difference. People are used to touring. It’s set up a little better, I guess. We’ve been doing this, really, our whole lives since we were younger, we started out in huge clubs, or whatever it was, and we’ve just kinda been doing it. It just doesn’t seem that much different to me. I guess it’s a little more professional now, but I don’t know. You still have to get around by bus, by plane, by car—it’s not that much different to me.
Are the acoustics at least better than Budokan?
Well, we’ve been back, and not much has changed. These days, you know, everybody’s using big sound systems. It’s not like it was back like when The Beatles and [The Rolling] Stones and all that British Invasion were playing. People weren’t used to it at all, so they were using the house public address system and these little amps in a big stadium and it was crazy. Nobody knows what the heck was going on.
Something else you’ve been working on this summer and last summer is your autism foundation, Rock Your Speech, which uses uploaded music as a kind of speech therapy for autistic children.
It’s really music therapy, rock music to help kids learn speech. So it’s kind of simple lyrics—you know, rock music, it doesn’t sound like little kiddie music. So sometimes we start our son on it, he’s eight, he’s autistic, and so we deal with it all the time. And we learned a lot about speech therapy from being around therapists and having to do it all the time with him. Music is just a huge motivator for most people, and he just loved it.
And then one thing kind of led to another—we’re living with it anyway, and I love to record, I love to write songs, my wife and I have been doing this. We just started a PledgeMusic campaign [www.pledgemusic.com/projects/rockyourspeech]. It’s something really close to our heart and really exciting. And we’re just gonna keep going with it.
And I hear there’s going to be an app soon for it, right?
What we wanna do is have people go to the website, you’ll see we have a video up with one of the songs. That gives you an idea of what we want to do for every song. It’s a lyric video, the lyrics go by in real time, like karaoke. So for speech therapy, people wanna see how you form the word, they wanna see the word spelled out. If there’s not a whole lot of words, in a song, it can be much easier.
Repetition is a huge thing with autistic kids. They have to repeat things over and over to finally get it. If there’s lots of lyrics in a song—you know, in most songs, there are a lot of lyrics—it’s confusing. They pick up on the first word in a sentence, or the last word. So we’re like, “Let’s make this really simple, but make it sound cool.” And a big thing for us is to get videos for every song. Because just seeing the visuals, it’s huge. Being able to put it back on your iPad, or on a phone, and being able to watch it over and over and over again enables you to learn speech. That’s really the idea.
Do you have some goal that you’d like to see the organization achieve within the next few years?
I really have a feeling that as we get it out, things will come to us that we don’t expect. There’s so many different elements to it. My wife has a blog about it, with all sorts of really unbelievably great feedback from speech therapists. Like, “Oh, this is just what we need, people don’t understand how powerful it is, and what a great learning tool it is.”
It’s one of those things, we’re in a position to do interviews, and get out there and speak about it, and I think I wanna see what comes to it, all sorts of elements. Like what happens when our little boy—he’s eight, what happens when he’s 28, or 18, or 48? And the only way you find out is just by speaking out about it and seeing what you hear. Usually the only way you find out about things is by speaking to other parents that are in the same situation.
It’s really helpful, and it makes people feel like they’re not alone. They’re in the same situation. Every time I bring it up, somebody has some connection. Either they have a child, or a nephew, or a next-door neighbor, and I think it’s a huge problem. I think it’s 1 in 68 kids now have autism. So it’s just out of control. How to help people day-to-day is our thing.
You sound busy—not to mention you’ve got the Gretsch deal.
That’s right, I’ve got a Gretsch signature 12-string bass. That’s going to be previewed at the NAMM Show, which is in Los Angeles, in January. But I’ve been using the prototype now, I’ve got two prototypes that I have on the road. So we’ve gotten to test it out and everything. And that’s being launched, like I said, at the beginning of next year. It’s like the dream come true with this. I love their instruments, always have. It’s really fantastic.
And why do you love their instruments so much?
It goes back to when I was a kid. I was 13 years old when The Beatles on Ed Sullivan came out, with George Harrison playing a Gretsch Country Gentleman. So it’s that British Invasion thing, you had to have whatever The Beatles had. You either had a Rickenbacker, a Gretsch, or a Höfner. It’s just one of those things, to this day I love those instruments. And I’ve got several Gretches anyway, but it’s really a dream to be able to work with that company and have these things like my signature model. I can’t believe it.
That’s so funny, because your “legend” status I feel like was pretty solidified at this point—do you ever get over that, “Wow, this is happening” kind of feeling?
Well, no. And we’ve been doing it a long time. Since we’re young, we started out, and that’s all we’ve ever done. We don’t really have a backup plan, or an occupation just in case. But it’s gradual. It’s not like I was in high school yesterday, all of a sudden I’m up on stage in Madison Square Garden. It’s very gradual, you know? And it’s a lot of work and time, but you never really have any idea if it’s ever gonna pan out. You just kind of keep going, and you look back, like, “Wow, we did pretty well.” It’s like a hobby that’s gone well.
That’s an interesting way to put it.
I wouldn’t really recommend it as a career path (laughs), if you’re looking for a stable career. But the element of luck is just huge, no matter how good or bad you might be. Luck is a big part of it, and we’re lucky to have a decent enough fan base that we can keep working and keep putting out records. We have a record now, coming out the first of the year, we just finished. We love recording and just being in music in general. I think it actually keeps us young. We work all the time and I think we’re better than we’ve ever been. It never went away or had to come back. We never stopped, for better or worse. I think we improve all the time. It’s exciting.
Well, a lot of artists who have been around for as long as Cheap Trick kind of lament how the band grows apart creatively, or you get stuck in a rut—how do you avoid that now?
We record music for our own enjoyment. We never did it trying to figure out what people want to hear. We record things that we like each year. We’re not thinking, “Someone’s gonna like this kind of thing,” or, “Now this is big,” “Now grunge is big, we better be grunge.” I mean, what would we be now if we tried to be four Beyonces up there? That’s ridiculous! We don’t think that way. It’s really for our own enjoyment.
I didn’t start out playing guitar thinking I’d make a career of it. That was the last thing—I could never imagine. When you’re sitting around as a kid, you’re thinking, “I’m not gonna be The Beatles or the Stones or Hendrix or The Who or whatever.” It’s just fun. And then we just kept going, and all of a sudden, we get a record deal, and you’re doing whatever, and then, “Wow, it worked out. Alright.”
And more about that new album…
We just finished that a couple weeks ago. We kind of record all the time, a lot in L.A. or sometimes in Nashville, kind of all over the place. But we just the other day finished it, and that’s gonna be out in the beginning of the year.
What’s the music going to be like?
(Laughs) Like Cheap Trick. Stuff that we like. So it’s not like Spinal Tap, where all of a sudden it’s free-form jazz. Again, we’re doing it for our own enjoyment, and it sounds like Cheap Trick. For better or worse, there you are.
Cheap Trick will be playing at Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank Sept. 23, St. George Theatre on Staten Island on Sept. 25, and The Capitol Theater in Port Chester on Sept. 26. For more information, visit their website cheaptrick.com. To learn more about the Rock Your Speech project, visit rockyourspeech.com and www.pledgemusic.com/projects/rockyourspeech.