There are reasons that Foreigner was tapped to headline the final night of entertainment at The Great Frederick Fair this year, and “Hot Blooded,” “Cold As Ice,” “I Wanna Know What Love Is” and “Double Vision” are only a few. Celebrating 40 years of existence, they’ve sold upwards of 40 million records in the United States alone. We recently caught up with the band’s resident multi-instrumentalist, Thom Gimbel, to talk about coming back to Frederick, why he started playing rock music in the first place, and how it feels to now be the second-longest tenured member of his band.
You guys were here four years ago.
I remember that was a fun fair. I do. I remember the pictures and everything, sitting backstage. I remember it.
Do you have any recollections about coming to Frederick?
We just like playing in places where people rock out with us and that was one of them. I remember, it was just a rockin’ show. We are always psyched to play to people who are psyched to get into it with us and that’s probably the reason why I look forward to being back there.
You guys are going out on an acoustic tour toward the end of the year and I wanted to get your thoughts on that. How has it been re-imagining the songs acoustically now?
It’s been surprisingly wonderful. We weren’t really sure what to expect when we started to do acoustic shows. We began the process many years ago overseas and right form the get-go audiences were responding. So, we thought, “Maybe there’s something here,” and we tried the same thing in Canada. The same thing happened — big crowds were really getting into it. Eventually, you do the math and figure out these are great songs and these are going to work in any setting. It’s like a beautiful painting in a different frame.
You are the band’s multi-instrumentalist. When you guys do the acoustic stuff, what do you normally do?
A lot of acoustic guitar. I jump onto the sax and the flute, but mostly, I’m playing acoustic guitar. I’ll play an acoustic bass on one song sometimes. There’s 12-string guitars, six-string guitars, four-string guitars and lots of singing.
A lot of harmonies?
Yeah! We have so much fun. We are all great singers and we can do these great stacks. It can really kind of lift your heart up a little bit when you’re wailing away in harmony.
I have seen that you guys typically bring out a choir to do “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” Might that be possible here in Frederick?
Sure! I think it’s more than likely. Definitely. That happens most of the time and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to continue that tradition.
How do you normally go about finding the choir?
It’s through our publicist. He interacts with the schools and they have these little contests sometimes. Schools send in clips of them singing and the strongest choir in the area ends up singing with the band.
Whose idea was it to get that started?
The original recording has a gospel choir on it, so the song has a long history of choirs. Over the years, we’ve had different choirs — local church choirs, gospel choirs — and when we heard about the schools having their music programs taken away, it was Mick Jones, the founder of the band, who said, “Maybe we can do something to help these schools. On nights when we have choirs come down, why don’t we see if the local choirs from the schools are strong enough and if they want to come down and sing the song. In return, we’ll make a donation to their music program.” These days, the kids aren’t shy. It’s wonderful. They start singing their hearts out.
From what I understand, you are the second-longest tenured member of the band at this point. How does that feel?
It is a little bit of a shock because I used to be the new guy and now I’m the old guy. It was like somebody turned the record over. But that’s fine. I just love the fact that the band is kicking better than ever. We’re having a blast, everyone’s in good spirits. We have a ton of fun. We’re laughing, we’re joking, we’re ribbing each other. That’s the good part of life because it really does always come down to the laugh.
You went to Berklee and I had read at one point that you were into jazz music. Before you got to Foreigner, you were in Aerosmith. How did you end up in this rock and roll world? Did you always want to be in that world?
I grew up on rock and roll, so I knew that was in my bones. When I got to Berklee, I met kids who were into jazz, and that was in their bones. They already knew how to play the standards and they knew the world of jazz already, by the age of 17. So there was no way I was going to be able to play catch up on that game. But I loved fusion, I loved jazz rock. We were into that stuff — we couldn’t play like that, but we loved listening to it. So, as I was going through Berklee, I realized that if you wanted to make money on the weekends, you go play in rock bands. And not only would we make money, but we would meet girls. And that was never going to happen in the jazz world (laughs).
What do you think the legacy of Foreigner is, or what would you like it to be when it’s all said and done?
The nice thing is that it’s a multi-tiered approach to music. It’s not just one sound. We have these crunchy rock songs — it sounds like an old school English rock band. Then you progress. Mick Jones wanted to take it further, so there are songs like “Waiting For A Girl Like You” and “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” which was the No. 1 song around the world. It’s multidimensional. So, hopefully, the legacy would be that you have great songs and they don’t all sound the same. “Cold As Ice” sounds different than “Hot Blooded,” and they should be different. One of my favorite songs — “That Was Yesterday” — I love those hybrid structure chords. It’s very thick, rich, satisfying to me, my ear. I hope people will remember us as a rockin’ band. It’s fun to see it keep growing and add momentum.