Don Dokken Talks ‘The Lost Songs’ and the Next Dokken Album

2020-07-23

Don Dokken joins Anne Erickson to talk about Dokken's upcoming release in this exclusive interview.

Dokken, “The Lost Songs: 1978-81,” album art – story by Anne Erickson

Don Dokken joins Anne Erickson to talk about Dokken’s upcoming release, “The Lost Songs: 1978-81,” as well as the status of the next Dokken studio album in this in-depth interview

Don Dokken is a rock legend. From founding Dokken in the ’70s to leading his own successful solo career, Don is one of the most influential voices in rock music during that crucial period of the late-’70s and ’80s.

Now, Dokken is gearing up to release a recently unearthed batch of music, “The Lost Songs: 1978-81,” featuring demos and recordings from those very early days. The band is also working on their upcoming studio album.

Don spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink about “The Lost Songs,” the state of rock music today and what to expect, musically, from the next Dokken studio album. Read the interview below, and listen to the full chat via the Audio Ink podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Great to talk with you, Don. Tell me about the idea of your new release, “The Lost Songs: 1978-81,” and how it came together.

Don Dokken: I just thought it would be a nice thing to let the Dokken fans have a little peak in the window of time in my career, from the early days when I was in my 20s. I didn’t even know I had the songs. I just found them by accident in my garage. Just old demos, way back in the early days, so I thought, it might be just fun to put them out. Some of them are not hi-fi, because it was the ’70s, but I just thought maybe some people would find it interesting.

What do you remember most about that era of music for Dokken, from 1978 through 1981?

Mostly just playing the Sunset Strip every weekend, trying to make a couple hundred bucks and working every day. Rehearsing a lot in the living room, and the cops would always show up, because the neighbors would call the police, because we’re playing the living room! Playing the Whiskey with people like Van Halen and bands like that. I mean, that’s when we were playing with Van Halen at the Whiskey and the Starwood, and we were all just struggling. I remember finally, I think finally in ’78, Van Halen got a record deal and put an album out, and then everything changed, and it changed the whole scene. That’s what I remember mostly about those early days.

How did Van Halen getting signed in the late-’70s help bands like Dokken break though?

After Van Halen got signed, everybody thought they’d get a record deal, but nobody did. When Van Halen got signed, even though it was a huge record, the New Wave thing started with more like Blondie and Devo and all that stuff became very popular in Hollywood– the New Wave movement. So, Van Halen got in right under the wire, and for a couple of years, it was just New Wave, and I didn’t like it. So, we kind of faded out of that Hollywood scene. That’s why we went to Germany and decided to go there.

Do you have a favorite Dokken song to play live? A song that you always look forward to playing, when there actually are live shows?

That’s a hard questions to answer. Not really. That’s kind of like saying you have six kids, and tell me which is your favorite kid is. It depends what mood you’re in. Some nights, I feel like singing “Alone Again,” and sometimes, I just want to do all the rock songs, like “Tooth and Nail” and “Kiss of Death.” I honestly can’t say I have a favorite. If I had favorites, they’d probably be songs that we don’t do live– some stuff that was done in the ’90s and 2000s, my later albums. The albums where we do the hits are from the ’80s, and I’ve done them a thousand ties now, so sometimes, it can be a little repetitive. If I had my way, I would probably play a lot of different songs that people might not remember from the MTV days.

That would be cool if you guys did a tour playing just those rare songs.

I’d like to. It’s be nice to say, okay we’re going to do “Dysfunctional,” the whole album, start to finish, or “Erase the Slate” or “Broken Bones,” top to bottom. I would like to do that, but I don’t know if the fans– we have allegiance to them, and we owe them. They’re the ones who come to see us play, and they want to hear the hits, so I don’t know if the some of fans would say, “I’m not down with this.” I remember seeing Iron Maiden a few years ago. They had a new record out, and they played the entire new record, and I remember people weren’t digging it, and then just at the end of their show, they threw in a couple hits. I remember people kind of being miffed about hearing all these brand new songs they didn’t know. That kind of stuck in my head.

Tell me about the upcoming Dokken studio album, which you’re working on.

Yes! We’re working on it right now. We’ve got about 7 or 8 songs, so we’re getting close to wrapping up the 12 that’s going to be on the record. It’s just really difficult to record, because Chris and BJ are in Connecticut, and Jon’s in LA, I’m in New Mexico. We’re writing over the Internet on Zoom and Skype. It’s not the same as all the band members being in one room to jam and being creative and saying, “What do you got?” And, “what’s your idea?” And do the creative process when you’re all in the room together. We haven’t been able to do that yet, so we’re hoping within the next month or so when we have a lot of material, we can all get together for a couple days– everybody flies out to L.A., and we’ll get into a rehearsal room, and we’ll flush it out and wrap it up and decide on the songs we want to do.

So, you all have home studios and are able to work from home right now?

Yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing. Everybody has a recording studio in their house. That’s the new way of doing things. The old days of going into the recording studio and paying $2,000 a day, that’s in the past. You just build your own studio, and you can record just as high quality as you can in a real studio. So, we’re sending ideas back and forth, and I’m kind of the keeper of the gate. I’m the producer, and I say this is good, but I don’t like this bridge, and maybe this chorus could be a little better, and rewrite that part. We’re just trying to make it the best record we can make.

Can you tell me anything about the musical direction of the new album?

It’s a bit retro. Straight-ahead, kind of old school Dokken. Right now, it kind of reminds me of “Tooth and Nail” and “Under Lock and Key,” kind of crossing those two records, and we have a couple songs that could sound like they came off “Back for the Attack.” We’re kind of going retro sounding.

What do you think about the state of rock music today? Do you think rock is in a good place?

Well, I think it’s in a terrible place. I mean, nobody buys records anymore. People don’t buy CDs. The whole world is download now. You’ve got hacking sites everywhere. It’s very frustrating to spend a year on a record and put it out Monday, and on Wednesday, it’s all over the Internet for a free download, and people think it’s okay. How do you make a living if you spend all this money making a record and all this energy and time, and then people just download it for free. I guess everybody thinks we’re all billionaires or something. I remember when Lars Ulrich went to Congress and tried to stop Napster, and Lars was right. Lars had it down. He was right. “We got to stop this, because it’s going to kill the record industry,” and it did. In the ’80s, there was, I think eight or nine record companies. I think it’s down now to about three. There’s no more record companies. They’re gone.

At least there are still bands like you guys still making quality new music. That’s one positive!

Yeah, we’re doing the music now for the fans. The millions of a fans we sold records to, we’re making music for them and for us, because we’re musicians, and that’s what we do. And we go on tour and make our living that way and sell records there and promote new songs, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing it for the fans. Just because you don’t sell millions of records anymore, you don’t stop making music. That’s what’s in my DNA. I can’t help it. When I write, I write. When I want to write music, I write music, not for the sake of money– I just do it because I love writing, so it’s what I do.

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