Will Leitch Asks REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin About the New REO Speedwagon Video Game

By
Yes, this is Kevin Cronin's real, unretouched face. Photo: Getty Images

Because we suspect few of you are middle-aged Midwestern women, you might not be aware that REO Speedwagon is still touring. Well, they are: The 42-year-old band from Champaign, Illinois, did more than 100 shows last year, many of which were faithfully documented by lead singer Kevin Cronin on his website. (Sample missive: “We were gathered just off stage left, along with Rick Springfield, and an amazing group of world-champion figure skaters, including Brian Boitano and Peggy Fleming.”)

Like all aging rock bands who team with Styx and .38 Special for tours with names like Can’t Stop Rockin’, they are constantly looking to new ways to expand their fan base. Thus, REO Speedwagon has kept the fire burnin’ with … a video game. The downloadable game is titled REO Speedwagon: Find Your Own Way Home, and features the band using “the popular ‘hidden object mystery game’ model to deliver the music of REO Speedwagon to a huge global gaming audience.” We didn’t have the foggiest idea what that meant, so we talked to Cronin about the game, girls' night out, pirates, and how their Christmas album is just like Bob Dylan’s.

So you’re doing a video game in which you and your band mates are characters. That’s something that actually exists.
I haven’t played it yet — my Internet has been down in my neighborhood for a couple of days. We have demoed the game, though, and it’s remarkable. The graphics are so dense, and the color is just remarkable. We re-recorded one of our classic songs, “Roll With the Changes,” for the game and gave them an exclusive version of it. It’s an outgrowth of the whole Rock Band/Guitar Hero syndrome. You can win real-world prizes in the game, too.

Is this game for kids?
It’s not a coincidence that the people who designed this game chose our band to use. These are what they call “casual games,” aimed more at the people who would tend to be REO Speedwagon fans, people who are in their thirties and forties, maybe moms who, when the kids are at school, they have a little free time and they play the casual video games. The REO Speedwagon audience is full of what we call “girls' night out.” I’m married, and I have three kids at home, and I know that my wife needs to get out with her girlfriends sometimes, needs to go out and get dressed up and have some fun. REO Speedwagon shows are a place that a lot of people go for girls night out. Leave kids home with Dad for the night and go out and rock and roll. There was a conscious effort to reach that segment of the population with the game.

That said, I have 10-year-old twin boys, and I wanted to make sure this game was PG-rated. I didn’t want to have to worry about my kids going on to the REO Speedwagon video game and finding some horrific things. It’s aimed at moms, but kids can play it too. I can’t wait for my kids to get home from school today so they can play, now that our Internet is working again.

Does it have a plot?
My virtual guy, my character, has his own yacht, and he’s sailing around the world, and he gets lost in Bora Bora. This sexy female reporter from some fictitious Entertainment Tonight–like show is trying to find me, because there’s some big album-release party in Beverly Hills, and no one can find me. That’s kind of cool. I like to fancy myself the kind of guy who would be so fancy-free that I would just get on my yacht and sail to Bora Bora the day before the album-release party. I had to approve the look of my virtual avatar dude. I must say, he’s quite handsome and very charming. Much more so than the actual me. The game is very basic. You’re in this room, and you have to find a guitar, a CD, a guitar pick, an REO Speedwagon T-shirt, mixed in and hidden in the surroundings. You click on it and it makes a little noise, and when you find everything on that page, you go to the next page. You don’t really need to have graduated from the University of Illinois like us to play this game.

Didn’t you guys do a cruise-ship concert series with Journey and Styx? There have been rumors of a pirate infestation. Is that true? Can you confirm or deny?
I can’t swear to the fact that there were no pirates, or that there were pirates. There may have been pirates on that ship. It was a big ship. I didn’t run into them, and did not engage in any sort of swordplay. I saw no pirate-like activity. But that’s not to say something couldn’t have happened onboard. If someone claimed there were pirates onboard, there very well may have been. I could have just missed them.

You have a Christmas album out now, called Not So Silent Night ... Christmas with REO Speedwagon. What is that, exactly?
We do standards, “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” similar to what Bob Dylan has done: Take a classic Christmas song and twist it into something that you do, in his case a Bob Dylan song, in our case an REO Speedwagon song. We took some liberty with the chord changes and the arrangements, while sustaining a reverence to the song itself. I was an altar boy, and have a visceral reaction to these songs, so we try to keep the original intent while making them our own. We got into it because it’s something we wanted to do for our kids; it’s something REO Speedwagon has never done.

We think “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is an amazing karaoke song.
How does one discern whether a given song is good or bad for karaoke?

It has a nice chorus. Plus, you can physically crawl across the floor and crash through a door.
Well, thank you.