The band Foreigner is best known for music that’s not exactly new: hits like Feels Like The First Time (1977), Hot Blooded (1978) and Waiting For A Girl Like You (1981). But, propelled by soundtrack appearances in movies like Rock of Ages and Magic Mike, the band is experiencing a renaissance. Digital downloads of one song on the Rock of Ages song list (Jukebox Hero) were up 400% in June, compared to the month before.
And it continues: TIME has learned exclusively that Foreigner will also be featured on the soundtrack to this fall’s Pitch Perfect, a movie about the college a capella singing scene, in theaters Oct. 5. The band is also planning a headline tour for 2013. Mick Jones, Foreigner’s guitarist and songwriter—and the sole original member who still performs with the band—spoke to TIME about why his music is so popular 30 years later.
TIME: Congratulations on all the chart success this summer. Why do you think there’s been so much interest in Foreigner’s music in the past couple months?
Mick Jones: I think it’s an accumulation. The band’s been working pretty hard in the last seven or eight years to really bring itself back to the fore. There was a fairly substantial world tour with Journey last year, too, and that set the stage. There’s a big audience out there still that’s buying our music, from the past or people who are discovering it through their siblings or their parents, and it’s getting to them. We’ve noticed a tremendous amount of young people coming to the shows. It just seems to not want to go away.
And where do you think this latest wave started? Is it Guitar Hero? Or Glee?
That definitely helped. I think the thing too is that the songs seem to have stood the test of time. People like hearing melodies and they were missing that a bit. Whatever is said about our era, things were simpler then. We were still inventing stuff, and somehow the songs captured the time and I think they also had a lasting effect on people.
Do you think things actually were simpler then?
Things were a lot simpler for me! Yeah, I think that things were still a little more naïve in those days. And there was importance given to the melodies of the songs. As it went on through the ‘80s and the ‘90s, melody became not quite such a focal point of a lot of music, and that’s the only way I can really explain it. I don’t really know what kept us so successful with our albums. I just have to put it down to, well, people like the songs. And it’s kind of optimistic music, I suppose, not too dark and just good pop-rock.
A lot of those songs are described as anthems. Are there any other elements that go into making something anthem-friendly, besides that melody?
When I’m writing, I try to imagine the environment where you’re going to be performing it. If you want a real power thing, you imagine you’re in a stadium or a huge arena. You’re trying to get this song to work in front of thousands and thousands of people. If I listen back to something I’ve done and I get goose bumps, then I know I’m on the right track.
What did you think of Rock of Ages?
It’s very tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken too seriously, I don’t think, but I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. I saw a premiere in New York and everybody was really digging it. It was a little over the top but I think the music and the story and the whole thing went well together.
You mentioned that it’s tongue-in-cheek, and it seems like a lot of it is making fun of the ‘80s in general. But people still love the songs, obviously. How do you think that fits together?
There was quite a bit to make fun of! Foreigner was never really a hair band at all, and I guess we’re in there to represent the other side of the coin maybe, that we were a less of a show band and more of a band you’d come and listen to for the listening to, not for the fashion parade…
Even though you weren’t a hair band, did you do anything in the ‘80s that falls under the embarrassing category?
Not really. I always thought that our music was somewhere in the middle and sort of bridged the gap a bit. What we refer to as hair bands came on the heels of what we did in the early ‘80s.
As someone who’s been performing since then, how has the rock and roll lifestyle changed?
It’s completely different these days. It’s accented toward health, living pretty clean and no liquor in the dressing rooms anymore—somebody might be hiding it somewhere but we don’t see it. Let’s put it this way: if somebody were just starting a band today and they were dreaming of some of the kind of stuff that goes on in that movie, it would be hard to find that these days.
And what about the fans? Has their idea of what rock represents changed?
I think the fans are still very into it. They seem to be appreciative and the younger people coming really seem to be into the music and very knowledgeable about it. You’ll get kids in their early teens singing along and head-banging and it’s pretty wild. You look out there and wouldn’t know what year it was sometimes.
With those young people who have found Foreigner’s music through Glee or a movie like Pitch Perfect, that’s a very different crowd than what’s shown in a movie like Rock of Ages.
I think it all boils down to the memorability of the songs, how they stand up in different representations. To take an example, we just had an unplugged album out called Feels Like the First Time which was the first time that we’ve presented some of the major songs acoustically. I just didn’t think they would translate, but it’s amazing how they do. The songs really come across in these very sparse arrangements and I think that’s why they’re chosen to be part of so many movies and TV shows.
You also toured with Journey recently. Is there some kind of fraternity of classic rock? Do you guys hang out?
We all hang out in the classic-rock castle! [laughs] Not really.
How do you help the band maintain its identity, since there have been a lot of different musicians over the years?
Not being immodest, but I kind of set the direction for the band in the first place and it’s just been the most important thing in my life and I’ve taken it very seriously. I’m very proud of what we achieved right from the beginning, back in the day, and I’ve always wanted to keep that standard very high no matter what the change of musicians was. In the area of singing, I’ve made sure that the person I have—and I luckily discovered Kelly Hansen who is more than capable of bringing these songs to life every night.
Listening to new music coming out today, with your experience, is there anyone making music today whose music you think will have the same staying power that Foreigner has had?
I like the Black Keys, for example, that’s one of my favorites. I don’t know whether they’ll be around in 20 years time. It’s hard to predict. I like The Killers. I’m sure Coldplay will be—that would be the obvious one, I would think. You never know. With communications going the way they are, things are changing all the time.
And maybe nobody will want to remember 2012.
Maybe not! When I first started out as a kid, it was The Beatles. I’ve experienced a whole bunch of stuff since then. I’ve been very fortunate to have lived this time and discovered some great music along the way, and been able to make a bit of it too.