||JEFF KEITH: IN CONVERSATION ABOUT TESLA
Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke
Sometimes interviews can be relaxed and feel genuine as the conversation flows and chemistry develops. On other occasions I come away feeling like the exchange has gone through the motions and that magic spark has not surfaced, despite best efforts.
Knowing that Jeff had already been interviewed by a friend of mine for another publication meant that I was on a course to find out a little more and to dig deeper to pick Jeff's brains (not literally pick at his brains, what do you think I am?!) regarding new subject matter.
He welcomed me with a relaxed and hospitable rapport and the wheels were turning right away. Being the lead vocalist of a five-piece Rock band from Sacramento for several decades meant the guy had been on the receiving end of more interviews than I had weeded the garden, so Jeff is a smooth operator.
Article continues below...
Being involved in the very early days of the band when they recorded their debut 'Mechanical Resonance' in 1986, to the consecutive six studio albums and all the other releases including live releases, acoustic detours, and the many other examples of merchandise Tesla have unveiled, meant he had all the answers to my questions.
Why have you called your latest studio album 'Simplicity'?
"The first song on the new record has the words – We've got to get back to simplicity." After singing the line to me, Jeff continues to explain.
"The song title is 'MP3' talking about all the technology in the world. There's so much technology and Tesla has always been a simple kind of band. So we like to feel like we got back to simplicity. Of course we recorded it on Pro Tools which you've got to watch out, because you can do 200,000 tracks, and then the next thing you know is you can't produce it live. So we're very careful with not doing too many overdubs and keeping it simple, keeping it real. Being who we are, just a hard working blue-collar rock'n'roll band."
But is life in Tesla really that straight forward and simple?
"Yeah! We like to think it's simple. But I mean nothing's just easy. We're hoping that everybody loves the record as much as we do. We've made a record that we absolutely love, which is how we've always made a record. Make a record we love then just in case you guys don't love it, then we can say we love it!"
I mentioned how much I love the album 'Into The Now' (2004) and wondered how each album ends up sounding the way it does.
"First of all, we had broken up for four years; Tommy Skeoch had left the band. We went on from 95 to 96 as a four-piece waiting for him to come back. He never came back and we ended up breaking up. Then we got back together in 2000 started committing to playing some shows, and then committed to some legs of tours and the next thing you know the next commitment was making a record.
"So in 2004 we released 'Into The Now'; it's a record we wrote, produced ourselves, mixed and all that stuff and completely made the record. It's one of my favourite records 'cos like I said we did it all ourselves and we realised we had an opportunity to do it all once again.
"We were back together again which at one point in time I thought we'd never get back together, and we did and the next thing you know in 2005 we were all still doing our share of partying but Tommy was going overboard, so we had to ask him to be clean and sober. He's a great guitar player, but not when he's all messed up.
"The next thing you know, for him to go clean and sober we had to lead by example so we all went clean and sober and we've been that way ever since. He left the band and stuff, and we got Dave Rude who's a great addition to the band, brings a lot to the table. Great song-writer, great guy, great guitar player so we're still doing it today in 2014 and we're very grateful for that."
Frivolously I asked Jeff how he compared 'Into The Now' with 'Simplicity'.
"Well, we had Tom Zutaut co-produce it with us which was great. You know it was awesome doing 'Into The Now' all by ourselves, but it's really great to have someone to bounce off of. Tom Zutaut was very involved in the first three records and he has a really great passion for music and likes to keep things real; we like to keep things real, write songs and record them so that we can reproduce them live. We think we've accomplished that and like I said working with Tom was great."
Official Video for 'So Divine'
I told Jeff I was living in Scotland and pondered over what it was like living in Sacramento.
"I love Sacramento. You know it's up in northern California and we've got the four seasons and we're from here. Back in the 80s when a lot of bands would move to L.A. 'cos that was the happening scene, we would just go down there and showcase – come back to Sacramento, go back to the drawing board, try to figure out what was missing from our song-writing, our music and our songs and we'd try to add the ingredients that would make a great record. That way we weren't heavily influenced with the L.A. scene so we love being from Sacramento.
As Nikki Sixx would jokingly say 'cos we're great friends with Mötley Crüe, at one point made a comment saying - Tesla's just a bunch of tomato farmers from Sacramento! We are man!!"
The lead vocalist is on a roll at this stage of our chat. "We have to be tomato farmers from Sacramento, of course we couldn't grow any tomatoes for you, we're no good at that. They grow a lot of tomatoes and they grow a lot of produce here in Sacramento Valley. So we're happy to be from Sacramento."
Once again, my mischievous side lurks and I ask Jeff if the secret to Tesla is all about tomatoes.
"Aaahh... Yeah, kind of like tomatoes, hey it's real! You water that seed, lots of sunshine and then it grows and it's all natural. We like to feel like we're an all natural kind of band. We never relied on image or anything, yeah, we like to think we represent tomato farmers."
Curious about the process of creating a song within the confines of being in Tesla, I asked Jeff to talk me through it all.
"When we were back on Tom Zutaut's farm in Virginia where we were doing pre-production, something like 'Time Bomb' was a riff that was brought to the table. Then we all end up coming in being part of the song-writing which was great 'cos Tesla's a team effort. We all had input on it.
"Tom Zutaut's farm came back from the revolutionary war days in the 1700s. We started out wanting to kind of write a song about the sort of revolutionary era in the United States. It turns out that we thought – hey, let's just write a song about how the world is ticking like a time bomb. You know, things get so crazy out there in the world, you never know when it's going to go ka-boom! So, it's fun to see a song grow like that. Starts at one stage and ends up in a whole different direction."
There you have it; a reminder that Tesla is still rocking and rolling whilst keeping things simple. 'Simplicity' is available now if you've missed the release date news. They plan on touring a lot in support of this latest collection as I type this, and after taking a quick peek at their website, they're ploughing their way across the U.S. right now.
Hard working blue-collar band sums them up really. Thanks to Jeff for his time and for keeping it real.