After 30 years of recording and touring, Tesla comes back to Madison to play the Orpheum Theater on July 29th. With a new single, “Save That Goodness” available on Mechanical Resonance Live (teslatheband.com and https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mechanical-resonance-live/id1136816366), lead singer Jeff Keith talks about coming back to Madison after 30 years, what’s it like recording a new album & single and buying his first 8-tracks after his very first concert.
Maximum Ink: In 1987 your debut album Mechanical Resonance had two top 40 rock hits with “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Little Suzi”. With 30 years under your belt, does it get any easier, or do you guys just make it look that easy?
Jeff Keith:We are just up there having fun, just like we were 30 years ago and we are still up there having a lot of fun. We just came off a big world tour with Def Leppard and Poison and over the past 3 years we’ve been doing big festivals and now we get to do our own headlining shows and come to Madison.
MI: Speaking of Def Leppard, you opened for them 30 years ago when Mechanical Resonance came out. You just came off a huge world tour with them. What was it like touring with them now, versus what it was like 30 years ago?
JK: One of the biggest differences was back then we did shows “in-the-round”. It was really cool to perform in the center of an arena. [Def Leppard] took us under their wing and they showed us everything. They are still doing that to this day.
MI: Guitarist Dave Rude recently celebrated a birthday. What’s the difference about celebrating a birthday now versus as how you guys used to celebrate?
JK: He’s our young “spring-chicken”. He’s younger than all of us. He brings a lot of great stuff to the table, recording wise and playing wise. He’s a great guy and great professional. When things didn’t work out with Tommy (Skeoch - original guitarist); we tried to make things right with Tommy, but it just didn’t work out. So, when Frank (Hannon-guitar) found Dave, we did Reel to Reel in 2007 and Forever More, then Simplicity in 2014, he just fit like a glove. Dave is perfect for the band.
MI: Speaking of your last studio release Simplicity, the first song on that release is called “MP3”. How do you feel about the evolution from tapes, to CDs to music downloads?
JK: Well, I remember records first, then 8-track tapes. I remember I got my first 8 track tape after my first concert in 1978. It was Aerosmith headlining, Foreigner, Pat Travers, AC/DC, then opening was Van Halen. When AC/DC came out, I was thinking, “who the heck are these guys?”. Following that show, I went to a little record shop called Nancy’s Records and bought three 8-tracks of AC/DC. Then cassette tapes came out, then CDs came out. Now it’s downloads. You don’t have to make a whole record. You can just make one song, like we just did with “Save That Goodness”.
MI: Your new single “Save That Goodness” from your recent release Mechanical Resonance Live was written and produced by Def Leppard’s guitarist Phil Collen. What’s it like to record with someone you have toured and played with?
JK: Phil wrote the song for us. He let us put our stamp on it, and he helped us step up our stage presence and for the video too. Now we are making a new record with him – it’s good stuff. He’s introducing us to new techniques and new ways to record an album. We’re using ProTools now. It’s unfortunate for some [bands] when they record 500 tracks on top of each other, but when they try to play those songs live, it doesn’t work out. So, we keep that ‘no machines’ mentality and keep it simple when we record an album. I like to record my vocal tracks to what the band is going to be playing, because that’s the way we are going to be playing it live. I love that old sound of a record or 8-track tape, and when you listen to those older albums to hear how simple it is. Just a guitar here, guitar there, drums & bass up the middle, just ‘BAM’ in your face blasting through. That’s one of the main ingredients to making our new record, that, and just have fun.
MI: Having recorded two successful acoustic albums Twisted Wires & Acoustic Sessions and Five Man Acoustical Jam with the hit song “Signs”. Do you have a personal preference to playing acoustic or electric?
JK: Here’s the difference when we record live shows like Mechanical Resonance Live and Five Man Acoustical Jam; we keep it completely live. When we went out on tour with Mötley Crüe in 1990, they had some prior obligations. So instead of just sitting in our hotel room, we said, ‘let’s see if there are some clubs where we can play our songs acoustically?’ and we can all pick a cover song. I ended up picking “Signs” because I grew up in Oklahoma and had heard it before. But the other guys had never heard it, and said that we needed to get a copy of it. But back then you had to try to find an 8-track or the record; it’s not as easy as it is today when you can just download a song. So, I got a copy of it, and me and Tommy and Frank set up a live show to record some songs. But Geffen records said that we had to re-record the album before we put it out. But we said no. But they [Geffen] said that if we didn’t re-record the album that they weren’t gonna put it out. So, we said to them, “fine, then don’t put it out.” But they said that they had so many requests, that they had to put it out. It was released just the way we recorded it live, and it’s our biggest selling release to date. People appreciate that ‘rawness’ to a live show.
MI: Does that mean we get to hear some acoustic songs when you play the Orpheum Theater on July 29th?
JK: We do some songs acoustically which people know, and we used to do that in the big arena shows too. We’d bring out the bar stools and people would think: “what the heck are these guys doing?” We still like doing that, and give people a little flavor of everything. Sometimes we throw in a ‘rabbit-outta-the-hat’, a song we haven’t done live in a while for our hardcore fans. There’s an acoustic guitar in almost every song we do. We are just one of those rare bands that can play our songs acoustically. Often our songs are written acoustically, then we step it up with our electric feel. We still like doing both kinds of songs today.
MI: You guys played here in Madison back on November 8th, 1987 at the Coliseum. Following that, you guys have played Madison and Wisconsin dozens of times. You’re headlining at the Orpheum Theater on July 29th. After being around the world and touring extensively, what it is it about Madison which keeps you guys coming back for more?
JK: We love Wisconsin and Madison, it was one of the first states to really embrace us and play our first song when it came out [Modern Day Cowboy]. We love Madison and especially playing in a theater venue, people can get up close but still be comfortable, everyone gets a good seat and you get the whole theater into a show. It’s gonna be a blast.
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CD: Mechanical Resonance Live Record Label: Tesla Electric Company/Mailboat Records
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