If there’s any one thing that Tesla epitomize more than the tried-and-true spirit of rock and roll, it is the unwavering character and blue collar pride of the country where rock and roll was born and raised. On new release “Real to Reel,” the band not only pay tribute to 25 classic tracks that have paved their musical paths, but do so while furthering their status as one of America’s preeminent purveyors of no-frills rock, delivered in their long-underrated signature style.
“We tried to own the songs,” says lead singer Jeff Keith of the two-disc collection, the first disc of which is available via traditional retail outlets on the band’s own Tesla Electric Company Recordings, while the second disc is only available, free, to fans who attend Tesla concerts on the band’s current tour to support the album. “We don’t have a horn section like the Temptations, so on a song like “Ball Of Confusion” we do our own thing, throw down some heavy guitar and change the chords around a little bit, but on something like Led Zeppelin’s ‘Thank You,’ how can you come up with anything better than that? You don’t want to get too far away from that, too far off their path.”
For two decades, Tesla have embodied the intrepid spirit of hard rock’s enduring grandeur, releasing five studio albums and selling 20 million records worldwide, all without any concern for trends or fashion. “Real to Reel” is marked by the same warmth and vitality that has driven that catalog, from early cuts “Gettin’ Better” and “Modern Day Cowboy” on their “Mechanical Resonance” debut in 1986, to the title track of their 2004 release “Into the Now.” Live, rockers like “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)” and “EZ Come EZ Go,” timeless ballads “Love Song” and “Song & Emotion,” and the band’s already-signature covers including “Signs” and “Little Suzi” will be performed side-by-side with the same tracks that the band credit with inspiring them to become musicians.
The aforementioned “Thank You” is the lead single from an album rich with highlights; from the R&B-driven soul that explodes on “Ball of Confusion,” to the enduring allure of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and aglow with the hope and spirit of the Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling,” Tesla translate with unequivocal power and grace. “With this album, I think you really get to see where Tesla came from and what Tesla is about,” says bassist Brian Wheat. “This is what Tesla grew up on before they became Tesla. This is where Brian Wheat learned how to play bass listening to Paul McCartney, or Frank Hannon listening to Jimmy Page, or Jeff Keith listening to Aerosmith or Humble Pie…”
As remarkable as the recordings themselves, is the manner in which they were recorded: All analog, using only 24 tracks, no ProTools, and captured live, rather than the instrument-by-instrument, as modern technology enables recording to be done today. “That’s why it’s ‘Real to Reel,’ says Wheat, “you can’t manipulate the reel. This was all recorded old-school, just like it was in the ‘70s… I think that’s why the record pops so much, because you couldn’t layer things, so it’s just the important things that are in there. It gives the record more space… And just like the ‘70s, it’s even a double-album! This is definitely a look into the soul of this band.”
“We’re probably one of the last real rock and roll bands that would sit there and attempt to make a record on two-inch tape and in analog,” laughs Keith, “but when we did it, we had no idea how much of a difference there would really be. It brings a whole different warmth to the sound, and it required us to bring a whole different performance, because you’ve got to just nail it. You’ve got to really dig in and become part of the song, rather than just put the song together in parts and pieces. Recording it live, as a band, we had to gel and vibe off of each other in one take, rather than cutting and pasting.”
In addition to gelling with the songs, Tesla also used their time in the recording studio as an opportunity to gel with new guitarist Dave Rude, who replaces Tommy Skeoch. Discovered by lead guitarist Frank Hannon, who stumbled upon The Dave Rude Band on MySpace and invited their singer/guitarist to join his solo band prior to extending the invitation to join Tesla, Rude has had a seamless transition since joining the band last summer.
“The guys are so cool and down to earth, just like they seem onstage,” says Rude, who was only 12 when he discovered the band via their “Five Man Acoustical Jam.” When “Psychotic Supper” became one of his favorite records soon after, he never could have imagined he’d be playing alongside original members Keith, Hannon, Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta more than a decade later. “I’ve been in local bands with people who have had way bigger egos, and people who acted like they deserved to have bigger egos, but Tesla are nothing like that. It’s like being in a band with your friends, only there are 10,000 people watching.”
And those people won’t be disappointed, as Tesla deliver the musical goods in a manner that would rival UFO on “Rock Bottom,” Hannon and Wheat unleashing metallic thunder on the song’s instrumental drop; not to be outdone, Keith’s vocals shimmer with a classic vibrato on Uriah Heep’s “Feelin’.” The band are a collective powerhouse on the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman,” Keith capturing the sexy swagger, Hannon and Rude trading riffs, and Wheat and Luckketta rolling a groove so thick, you can just picture Mick Jagger’s hand on his hips, nodding his head and prancing around in approval.
“Through the whole process of recording these songs, we just wanted to do what sounded good to us, because that’s what we’ve always done,” sums Keith of the new album. “And, that is our fan base – Our fans are so much like us, it’s unbelievable. We are the blue collar rock and roll band, so we just stayed true to ourselves in hopes that they’d feel it, too.”