An Interview with Tom Keifer – Solo Artist and Cinderella Front-Man

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After years of waiting and wondering, Tom Keifer fans will finally hear his debut solo album, “The Way Life Goes,” on April 30th. With two strong single releases, “The Flower Song” and “Solid Ground,” this release is already enjoying radio play as well as fan and critical appreciation. Maine Music News has an album review in the works, but we can tell you this much – “The Way Life Goes” is worth the decade long wait. Keifer and Cinderella fans are going to love it, and new listeners are going to dive in and find out what they’ve been missing.

Maine Music News had the chance to chat with Keifer Monday, April 15th. Gracious and generous with his time, Keifer shared his thoughts on creating unique music, what life is like solo, and how it is to head out on tour with his wife, Savannah Snow.

We would like to extend a personal Thank You to Tom for this opportunity to sit down and talk to one of rock’s legends.

MMN – How are you feeling? You were pretty sick a few weeks ago and had to miss the Monsters of Rock Cruise.

Keifer – I am actually just starting to get my legs back here. I think I got sick maybe a day or two after the Portland show that you were at. I came down with the flu and continued to stay out and finish that leg of the tour. From pushing myself with the flu I ended up with pneumonia.  When I got home it was about 2 weeks before the monsters cruise, and I just kept getting worse because I had run myself down doing the shows while I was sick. So that’s what happened. All told, I was pretty sick 6 weeks at least. It really took a while to get over, I was in the hospital, it was pretty rough.

MMN – It must be pretty stressful being out on tour and getting sick. It’s not like a day job where you can call in sick.

Keifer – Ya, I mean once in a while you have to.  When the flu hit me on that tour in February it was the morning of the show in Cleveland, and I actually did have to cancel that show because I had absolutely no voice at all when it first hit me. So obviously I can’t go on stage and sing if I don’t have a voice. But my voice returned the next day. We picked back up again in Nashville, and I continued on, but I was still sick. I had this voice, but I was still sick. So that is kind of the rule, if your voice works, get up on stage. You could have an arm hanging off and it’s like too bad, get up there. Does your voice work? Great. And obviously it’s not good for your health to be singing doing shows with flu and pneumonia, but you got to do it. It really took a toll on me this time. Even after I got home, like I said, the 2 weeks before the Monsters of Rock Cruise Idid everything I could to get better, I just kept getting worse and I ended up in the hospital.

Thanks for asking, and yes, it is very stressful when you are the singer when you are sick.

MMN – You have released a couple of songs from the new album “The Way Life Goes,” “The Flower Song” and “Solid Ground.” How have the fans received these new songs?

Keifer – Everything I have read online, reviews and stuff, comments on Twitter and Facebook, it’s been positive. Everyone likes the new tunes. That feels good after spending so long to make the record.

MMN – So you are getting the anticipated reception?

Keifer – You always hope that people will like it. So far that’s been the experience.  It’s been really positive across the board. Obviously that’s what you hope for when you write a record.

MMN – Do you know what the next single is going to be?

Keifer – I don’t know, “Solid Ground” is still really building on rock radio right now so we are not really thinking about that yet.

MMN – The video for “Solid Ground” took me right back to being in the audience at the Portland show.

Keifer – Cool. That’s what the director was trying to do. We actually shot that in Nashville here at the 3rd and Lindsley show. The goal was to not only capture the performance of that song but to get an overall feel of the evening that night. He did a great job I thought. Me and Savannah and the guys in the band really felt that’s what we were doing out there.

MMN – Was there any fear in going out solo or was there huge excitement in getting to go out and do your own thing?

Keifer – It’s both. Excitement because it was something we worked on for so long. It’s always exciting and a little bit stressful and scary whenever you are going out on tour with new material. The first reason being that you spend all this time in the studio creating these tracks and making them sound exactly how you want them to sound coming out of the speakers. A lot times the guitars are stacked and there’s a lot of overdubs and stuff and there is always that how are we going to make it sound like this live?

You always find a way. Cinderella always managed to. Some of those tracks on the Cinderella records on “Long Cold Winter,” some of those we were running 3 two inch tape machines in the back of the room with like 70 tracks of production and overdubs. But you always find in the mix, there is always these elements that poke out, and they are the ones that you have to learn and take with you. Some of that stuff and other overdubs just sit in the background and aren’t as important. So you grab the important bits, and you figure it out. That’s always the first stressful thing about going out with new material. It’s a little bit of a trick sometimes. Other than that, it’s just fun. We really had a great time on that first leg in February, and we are getting ready to go out and do another one in May.

Editors Note: In case you haven’t caught one of Keifer’s solo tour dates yet, we can catch you up with this review of the live show at the Asylum in Portland, Maine on February 17th, 2013.

MMN – What do you want your fans to know about this new album?

Keifer – It was a long time in the making, and it was made purely for the love of making music. It was produced independently of a label. I just didn’t want the pressure of someone telling me when it was finished, or you are on this budget, this time frame, and this deadline. I just wanted to make a record that I really loved at the end of the day, and it was just about the music. Don’t get me wrong the Cinderella records were that way. We always went in and made the best music that we could. That is how we always approached it, and we were able to do that within time constraints and budgets back then. This record, I decided to do it differently because I didn’t feel that having a label involved at that point in time was going to really allow enough time to do it the way I wanted to. It was made purely for the love of music, not chasing any trends or anything. Probably 5 or 6 different trends came and went during the years we made this record.

MMN – The lyrics flow incredibly well. Everything just moves along and nothing feels out of place. The process of putting together music has always fascinated me. How do you write? What is the process?

Keifer – The writing process for me is the same as it has always been, even going back with the Cinderella stuff. I have always been inspired when a lyric idea will pop into my head, sometimes with a melody or phrasing. You just kind of hear this line happen and you go “wow, that’s a great idea.” A lot of times the rest of the song starts playing in your head or you start hearing lots of bits and pieces that maybe are like a puzzle that needs to come together. Usually at that point I find myself racing for an instrument to try and figure out what it is that I am hearing in my head. The only thing that motivates me to do that is a lyric idea. These ideas come to you when you are in the grocery store or on a plane somewhere or just walking down the street. That is the place that I always try to write from –  a real experience or inspiration that comes to you anywhere.

On this record the only thing that was different about the process is that I co-wrote a lot. There are times you will get those ideas in your head, and they will just simmer in the back of your head, and you might not finish them. A lot of the stuff that I co-wrote were things that were in the back of my head that I knew were good ideas that I never finished. True experiences or inspirations that had happened. I tried to bring those into co-writes to try and keep that honesty and vibe that I have always had with my writing. On this record, I had the luxury with writing with some really great writers because I live in Nashville. Nashville is all about the lyric. There are not a lot of songs being written here where they write the music first and then the lyric. It’s all about the lyrics and that is what inspires the songs. Savannah, my wife, is an amazing writer, and I wrote a lot of stuff with her. We write the same way. Pretty much all the writers I wrote with on this record write the same way.

MMN – After touring for the last 25 years with the guys in Cinderella, it must be strange being out on the road without them.

Keifer – When I go onstage I go into a zone where it’s just about playing the music. It was weird coming into rehearsal with the new band. That was the first moment that was like “wow, I have played with the guys in Cinderella pretty much exclusively for over 25 years.” I never put any other bands together and have done very little session work. Cinderella has always been my thing. So coming to rehearsals the first couple nights felt a little weird, but not once you start playing music. With Cinderella I was fortunate to have a great bunch of guys, we had chemistry, and everybody played really well. I have the same thing with my new band and after a couple nights of jamming together and all it’s playing music. Getting out on the road, once we had done rehearsal and pre-production, we hit the stage and I just felt like I was doing my thing. So in that sense, no, it’s a totally different experience in the sense that this is not a Cinderella show. But just from the pure aspect of playing music – its playing music. I’m doing what I love to do, and I am doing it with some great players with this band as well.

MMN – What is it like touring with your wife, Savannah?

Keifer – It’s awesome! We are best friends, and we hang out pretty much together all the time at home. Having her out on the road was great and that probably helped the transition in terms of changing to the new band. Having Savannah out there kind of helped because it was having someone I am really close to. Obviously I am really close to the guys in Cinderella, and we have a rapport on the bus. It maybe would have been a bit harder if Savannah had not been out there. I am just getting to know these guys, but I had someone there I knew really well. A couple of the guys that worked for Cinderella went out with me too, like our tour manager. We get along really well on the road, Cinderella, we laugh all day long, and we ride on the same bus.

MMN – Now that we have over 25 years to look back at the 80’s, and we have an objective point of view, what was Cinderella doing to create that signature sound?

Keifer – I can only speak personally to me, the elements that I brought as the writer and singer and someone who did a lot of the guitar work. I always tried to stay true to what I grew up on and what I loved as a kid when I first heard rock music. And not only that but going back and listening to the things that inspired those people, like what inspired the Stones and Led Zepplin. One day I realized “wow, it was the blues, and it was country, and it was r&b and gospel and this great American roots music.” I really started digging back and listening to Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Johnny Winter, BB King and James Brown. I think it’s a good thing to go beyond the things that initially inspired you and listen to what inspired them.  That gives you an opportunity to interpret the music yourself, maybe in your own way.

I think maybe what was unique in our sound was that the roots were pretty prevalent. You could hear country roots in “Coming Home” and “One for Rock and Roll”, and “Heartbreak Station” You could hear the blues roots in a lot of stuff and could hear the straight up rock roots and harder driving stuff that was inspired by Aerosmith and Deep Purple. There was just a mix of a lot of different sounds. There was not just one flavor in the soup. I think we stayed true to the music that we grew up on. Everyone in the band grew up on all the great bands of the 70’s, and all those bands had so many different colors and flavors in their soup. I think keeping your ears open, listening to a lot of different kinds of music, and trying to bring those elements into it is usually when you can come up with something unique.

MMN – In thinking back to 80’s metal and comparing it to today’s music, it had a distinct sound. What made that genre what it was?

Keifer – I think it’s the same formula that every decade goes through. When that starts to happen, they all start to sound the same, and the sound becomes stagnant. It wasn’t just the 80’s when that happened or just the 80’s rock genre, it happens a lot in the music industry. I think it is twofold – first when artists are not digging back beyond what is currently on the charts, and second, labels only wanting to sign people that sound like what is currently on the charts. That is when music can become stagnant. I think that you always need to be true to who you are and what you do. And believe me we caught flak from our record company when I brought in the song “Long Cold Winter” and “Coming Home.” There were people at the label that thought that was a little bit of a stretch, and there were people that were trying to push us to sound more like everything else that was the hard rock sound of the day. You got to be true to what you love. That is when people create something really unique or different.

MMN – Can you talk about how it is to play in front of crowds ranging from 80,000+ like the 1987 Monsters of Rock at Castle Donington, then playing shows like the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom where you play to 2000, and now on your solo tour where you are playing to a few hundred devotees who are absolutely thrilled to be up close and personal with you?

Keifer – I approach them the same way, I just try to give 120%. It’s amazing, sometimes 2000 fans at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom sounds as loud, if not louder, than a crowd of 100,000 outside. I like playing anywhere. The run we just did in February was really small rooms intentionally because we wanted it to just feel like a special event with that storyteller singing. We didn’t want it real big and overblown.

Once you hit the stage and you pick up your instrument and you hit that mic and you’re playing music, you’re playing music. The energy of the crowd can drive your energy a little bit, it can help you. For me personally, it can help me more in the beginning of the show when I am trying to get my motor running, but there is a point where 2 people in the room or 200,000, my motor is going to kick in anyway. I always end up going to that place regardless of how many people are there.

There is something about the music, and certainly the energy of the crowd can feed that, that shot of adrenaline.

MMN – Coming back to the new album, it is scheduled to be released on April 30th, is there anything else that you would like your fans to know about you, or this new body of work?

Keifer – In terms of the record, it really was made for the love of the music and the idea was to make the best record we could and that is probably why it took so long. Hopefully everybody will dig it.

MMN – How have you kept busy over the years? Fans always wonder what happens to their favorite musicians when they are not out touring.

Keifer – I started writing at that point for a solo record so I was writing a lot of songs. I wasn’t doing a lot of recording. I also had a lot of voice problems, and I was doing a lot of voice training, to be honest, trying to find my voice again.  I was told I was never going to sing again in the early 90’s. Then the whole crash of the music industry came and Cinderella lost their record deal. At that point I started writing songs for a solo album, and it just kept getting put on the back burner. I didn’t start cutting tracks for it until 2003.  So, I did a lot of writing and definitely a lot of searching for answers for the voice problem I had because for most of the 90’s I couldn’t sing. That took up a lot of my time. A lot of time and energy on that.

MMN – Good luck on the next leg of your tour and thank you for your time. I hope you are able to get back to Maine real soon.

Keifer – Cool man, I definitely appreciate your support of the record and me, and it was good talking to you, my friend.

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