It’s hard to believe but more than thirty years have gone by since Tesla released their debut album Mechanical Resonance. That album went on to reach platinum status (1 million albums sold). That success spawned many other hit songs (“Love Song,” “Signs”) and multi-platinum albums (The Great Radio Controversy and Psychotic Supper) within the next few years.
Tesla will be bringing their brand of good old fashioned, hard rock and roll to The Hard Rock Live in Northfield Park on April 29.
Lead singer Jeff Keith recently spoke to NEO Music Scene to discuss his career and the band’s upcoming appearance at the Rocksino.
GD: Congratulations on the 30th Anniversary of Tesla! Most bands don’t make it past four or 5 years, what do you attribute your longevity?
JK: The fact that we’re brothers and we went through a four year hiatus because Tommy (Skeoch) left the band. We survived the grunge era a little bit and we didn’t rely on our image, we were all about the music! I think our songs are timeless and our fans stuck behind us. When we got back together in 2000 and played our first show at Oracle Arena, it sold out. It didn’t work out for Tommy Skeoch, but we got Dave Rude who joined the band in 2006 and we couldn’t be happier.
GD: The band has pretty much remained intact since the first album except, like you said, for Tommy; do you all get along well or do you just tolerate each other like some bands?
JK: We’re having fun with it! It’s not that we tolerate each other, I don’t know how some bands do that. We’re brothers and we’ve been through everything together. We just have love for each other and we love what we do and we play music for people and they love it. When we play live, we go out and we have fun!
GD: Many people consider Tesla a “hair band” or “glam band” because you came out in the 80s. I consider you guys a great rock and roll band and I’ve seen you a few times back in the day. What do you think of those labels and have they helped or hurt your career?
JK: That’s what inspired me to write a song called “Call It What You Want.” We came out when all the hair bands came out. We still have our hair, no one is balding but we might have a few grey’s come in, but so be it. When we got back together we called our album Into the Now because that’s who we are, a blue collar rock and roll band with long hair that came from the ‘80s and we are who are but we are stepping into the now.
GD: What band or artist influenced you growing up?
JK: Oh, there were a ton of bands I listened to growing up in Sacramento. I would say The Beatles, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, all these great bands. Deep Purple to Foghat. I was a late bloomer. My first concert was 1978 Day on the Green at the Oakland Coliseum with Aerosmith headlining, Foreigner, Pat Travers, and AC/DC came out of nowhere but they had three 8-track tapes out already. I went to Nancy’s Records in my hometown and bought 3 AC/DC 8-track tapes because they opened the show because they had just come out in 1978.
GD:: What is the writing process like? Does the music come first or the lyrics?
JK: The music comes first. With Phil (Colin) musical ideas come first, then it might be a topic. For me back when we first started, guys would give me music or a melody, then I would fill in the blanks of the melody with words. It comes in a lot of different ways but the majority of the time, the music comes first.
GD: How long did it take to write “Love Song” or “Modern Day Cowboy?” I’ve been told that some of the great songs are the fastest or easiest to write. Did those songs come quickly or did they take some time?
JK: Yeah, they took some time. After our house parties, me and Frank (Hannon) were writing “Modern Day Cowboy” which was actually titled “Life of Billy.” Then we got into pre-production and we changed the title to “Modern Day Cowboy.” It’s fun to see a song start here and end up over there.
Songs sometimes they don’t come easy. When you build it from the ground up, that’s the fun part of writing a song but sometimes it’s a frustrating part because you get hung up on things. They come in all different ways.
GD: Is there a particular gig or tour that you’ve played that stands out to you?
JK: The tour would have to be Hysteria in the round with Def Leppard. Between Def Leppard and Alice Cooper we played the Texxas Jam on June 20, 1987. That was with Boston, Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Poison and Tesla and Fahrenheit actually opened the show. That was 84,000 plus at the Cotton Bowl, so that one really stands out.
GD: You guys are getting ready to go out with Def Leppard and Poison again this year, what is it like touring with those guys?
JK: It’s great! We’re really looking forward to it because we haven’t played with Poison in quite some time. We always had a great relationship with them and Def Leppard are like our big brothers. They’ve always taken us under their wing and showed us how to treat opening bands. They were not worried about saying you can’t use this or you can’t go here. They just said go out and have fun!
GD: Before you head out on that tour, you guys are doing some headlining gigs and you will be headlining the Hard Rock Live here in Cleveland. What can fans expect from this show?
JK: We get to play a lot more songs and we may pull a rabbit or two out of the hat, which we like to call songs we haven’t played in a while. We sometimes like to break out the bar stools and do a little acoustic set, so you’ll get a little bit of everything.
GD: You mentioned working with Phil Colin, is he producing your new record?
JK: Yes! He actually helped write some of it too. We were all a part of it but he was a big part of it too. He’s an awesome guy and he really helped to get the best out of us.
GD: Do you have a title for the album and do you know when it might be released?
JK: No, not that I know of. We’re just putting some songs together and they are all coming out great. You could really call it just about anything, we’re not really sure.
GD: Jeff, thank you so much for your time, I look forward to seeing you guys at the end of April. Good luck with this tour and your tour with Def Leppard and Poison, sounds like it’s going to be a good time!
JK: Thanks Greg, it’s going to be a great time!
Tesla will be headlining the Hard Rock Rocksino on April 29th. Tickets are sold-out!