Even though he’s been belting out their greatest hits since 2005, Kelly Hansen still deals with people asking if he feels like a full-fledged member of the classic British-American rock band Foreigner.
“I’ve experienced every phase of what being in a band entails: touring, writing songs, creating new music and recording, making videos and hundreds of live performances,” the 61-year-old Hansen told The Jerusalem Post last week from his home in California.
“I’m a member of Foreigner. Everyone has a different definition of what that means, and I can’t help that.”Kelly Hansen
Hansen was alluding to the veiled criticism sporadically hurled at the band for continuing to tour and record without any of its original members on board. Founding guitarist Mick Jones, the only member who enjoyed the band’s late 1970s-1980s heyday as one of rock’s most popular acts, has remained an on-again, off-again element due to various health issues over the last several years. And original lead vocalist Lou Gramm, the voice behind hits from “Juke Box Hero”, “Cold As Ice” and “Hot Blooded” to the now-standard anthem, “I Want To Know What Love Is” left the group in 2003.
It’s an issue that has become prevalent for the rockers of the last century as original members retire or die – is it legitimate for replacement members to carry on in the band’s name? For Hansen, it’s totally legit.
“All I can do is what feels right for me and the band, and Mick feels the same way. If people like it and want to jump on board, that’s great, and if they don’t, that’s also their prerogative,” said Hansen. “As long as it’s purposeful for me as an artist, that’s what’s important.”
Hansen was already a working musician as a teenager in the late 1970s when Foreigner hit it big with its self-titled debut album, which set the standard for arena rock and included hits “Feels Like the First Time” and “Cold as Ice.” 1978’s follow-up Double Vision yielded “Hot Blooded” and their winning streak continued through 1984’s Agent Provocateur and its anthemic ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is”, which has single-handedly kept Bic Lighter in business for decades.
“Of course, I was aware of Foreigner and appreciated the songwriting, production and performances. But I never saw them perform or bought any of their albums,” said Hansen, who grew up in Hawthorne, California, the hometown of The Beach Boys’ Wilson brothers.
“Every day of summer vacation for years, I would ride my bike to the beach with friends. The Beach Boys’ music was part of the palette of the whole experience when you lived there. You really recognized what they were singing about because we lived it every day.”
After a couple of decades in various hard rock bands that met with varying degrees of success and a stint as a session singer, Hansen jumped at Jones’s invitation to join Foreigner, in 2005. Already a master showman, he invested extra effort in studying the band’s catalog and learning Lou Gramm’s phrasing, so audiences wouldn’t be disappointed. And since then, he’s never taken his foot off the gas pedal
Foreigner returns to Israel
“I’M CHALLENGED nightly to perform this difficult catalog of great songs to the best of my ability, and I really care about doing the best I can. I feel responsible for the fans who are coming to hear “I Want To Know What Love Is” for the first time,” said Hansen. “I think we all understand the responsibility we have to do the songs justice. And to be able to have the privilege of performing them is never lost on us.”
When Hansen and Foreigner return to Israel next month for the first time since 2018, for a show on September 29 at the Ra’anana Amphitheater, Jones won’t be with them. But according to Hansen, he’s still an integral part of the band.
“Mick is the signpost that we all look to. He absolutely sets the tone for us, whether he’s onstage or not. We’ve all had many discussions with Mick over the years about what Foreigner is, what makes it Foreigner and what makes it sound like Foreigner. We’re all students of that,” said Hansen.
“You have to totally take that on in order to do the songs in the way they need to be done. Mick and I have always been in agreement regarding the direction, style and things like that, which initially surprised me. It gave me the confidence that my instincts were similar to the guy who had all this amazing success.”
Besides the chance to perform again for the receptive Israeli audience that he remembers from the band’s sold-out show at the Menorah Mivtahim Arena in 2018, Hansen said he’s looking forward to revisiting the Israeli food scene.
An accomplished chef, who in 2015, won the celebrity episode of the cooking competition Chopped, Hansen said that he’s adopted many of the culinary habits that are witnessed here.
“I was impressed by how clean and vibrant the Mediterranean style of food preparation is. I’ve been trying to eat more like that, which is difficult on the road. In America, it’s so easy to deep fry everything. You have to make a conscious decision to search out purer ways of eating,” said Hansen.
When asked whether he prefers cooking or singing, Hansen diplomatically said that they both provide satisfaction in different ways. And that there are some surprising similarities.
“Cooking is similar to writing songs, if you look at the ingredients as your melody and lyrics, and the pots and pans as your instruments. You can use them to create something completely new and individualistic,” he said. “It’s the same with music.
"Whether two people play the same song or make the same meal, it’s always going to come out slightly different because of the human element involved and what they bring to the recipe or the song."Kelly Hansen
“But when you’re cooking, there’s no record company breathing down your neck or pressure to create a hit. You’re doing it because you love to do it and it’s for people who you care about. That’s what I love about cooking.”
But since he can’t make breakfast in bed for the thousands of Foreigner fans who will be converging in Ra’anana next month, Hansen and the rest of Foreigner will suffice by putting their particular accents on a batch of well-known songs that will satiate the appetite of any music lover.