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The Best Tesla Yet: Singer Jeff Keith Gets Real With Deb Rao

By Debby Rao, Boston Contributor
Tuesday, September 11, 2007 @ 8:41 PM

"…we got some songs already wr

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Tesla blue jean, no glitter image and down to earth Rock and Roll attitude has inspired fans for over two decades. Refusing to follow musical trends, Tesla have produced many hits like "Love Song," Signs" and "Modern Day Cowboy." Jeff Keith's beautiful, raspy voice along with the powerful guitar melodies from Frank Hannon help make Tesla a fan favorite.

This year, Tesla released a two-disc covers album entitled "Real To Reel" with an interesting marketing spin: You receive the first disc when you purchase the album, and you get the second disc when you attend a Tesla concert.

Tesla is embarking on a U.S. Tour, and will begin their first World Tour in 16 years on October 18th, visiting Japan, Australia, the U.K. and more.

In this Exclusive interview for KNAC.COM Jeff Keith talks "Real To Reel" about the recording of the new Tesla covers album, future touring plans, and why Tesla have remained at the top of their game for over 25 years.

KNAC.COM: Tell me a little about the covers album. Do you feel you managed to capture the real vibe of Tesla on the CD?

KEITH: Yeah absolutely, I mean every time we make an album we always try and keep that live skill. It is a big part of Tesla. We want to keep it real, that is why we called is "Real To Reel". We think it is a pretty clever little concept the way the package opens up and you got the one reel when you buy the disc. It kind of looks like a tape machine. Then you get the bonus disc, when you come to a show, which is the second disc.

KNAC.COM: Why record a covers album versus a studio album this time around?

KEITH: Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, we wanted to start our own record company, that way we can get it off the ground, that way when we do make a studio record, we will already have our record company started. We got a new guitar player, Dave Rude. Tommy Skeoch is back home spending time with his family. I don't know if he ever plans on coming back out, or what he is going to do. For the time being we got Dave Rude to the addition. So we wanted to get tight with him, play some lives shows with him. So this record gives us a chance to do some touring and play some live shows with Dave because, a live feel is a very big part of Tesla's sound. So we wanted to do some shows with Dave and get tight with him, before we start putting some songs together that require having that live feel.

KNAC.COM: That is a good idea. Actually I heard some of the cover songs from last year on the covers album, when the band toured New England. Since you have been performing these songs live in the road for a while, do you think that had an impact in the recording of "Real To Reel"?

KEITH: Sure, and a few of those songs, made it on the record. When we got down there to get into the studio, some songs that we thought would work out great, when we were recording them, they didn’t work out that great. Some of them that we didn't think would work out that well, we jammed them two or three times, and the next thing we know they are on the record. A few of those songs that we played last year are on the record.

KNAC.COM: I noticed that. "Seasons Of Wither" is excellent. Your voice is a very major part of Tesla; it’s a style that fans identify with Tesla. How much of a challenge as singer was it to do a covers album? Did you try and re-invent the song, and put your signature style into the final mix?

KEITH: Right, there are some songs that we really didn't want to venture too far away in recording them and we wanted to stay true to the song. But we always put our own Tesla little signature to them. Then there are some of them like, “Ball Of Confusion" we punched the edge of the envelope there and had fun and tried some different things and changed some things around. But some songs, we think, we wanted to stay true to the song and not venture out to far and some of them, we wanted to get a little crazy with.

KNAC.COM: How hard was it to pick out the songs?

KEITH: Actually, we would pick an artist. Then we would try four or five songs from that artist from the 70's. Like I said, some songs that we thought would be winners didn't work out well for us. Then sometimes we would get in there with the five songs that we tried from a certain artist and we would go wow that is really coming out great. So we recorded it. We just picked a lot of bands that were big influences to us in the 70’s, that we grew up listening too and were influenced by.

KNAC.COM: That is great. Now you are on the road. How is the tour going so far, and are the fans loving the covers?

KEITH: Oh they love it. We are changing the set up every night. Because, out of 25 songs from the covers record, we got a lot of songs to choose from. We have been trying to get around to all of them. We have been pulling a couple of rabbits out of the hat as far as old Tesla songs that we haven't played for years. So the fans are loving it. We go on our website (www.teslatheband.com), and we check and see what kind of feedback we are getting from it and try and fill in those songs that the fans are requesting it.

KNAC.COM: Are you performing some of Tesla's greatest hits in the set?

KEITH: Oh yeah.

KNAC.COM: I heard the exciting news: Tesla will be embarking on their first World tour in 16 years beginning on October 18.

KEITH: Yes, it is. We are actually going over to Japan for a show or two, Australia, and all over in Europe including Spain, and England…all over the place. We went over there for 3 shows last month, and it went really good. Ya know, that is what we wanted to do. We wanted to get our foot back in the door so we can go over and do what we are going to do next month. That way, we will really get our foot in the door, when we put out that studio album next year. We will try and set up a tour on it, over in Europe. So we are getting these doors opened up.

KNAC.COM: Great idea. So is Tesla going into the studio, after the tour is over this year to record a new album?

KEITH: Yes, I think we got a week in December that we are going to do. Then after that, we are immediately going to get in and finish up the album. Because we got some songs already written. But, we still got a lot of writing to do. So I think after December, we are going to get back immediately and out the rest of the record together.

KNAC.COM: "Into The Now" is one of my favorite Tesla albums. I liked how the subject matter was so real. Do you think radio played the album as much as it could? Do you feel that radio stations today, are more apt to play a cover song by an 80's band or an original tune?

KEITH: We’re glad you like the album. The majority of our fans if not everyone just about enjoy the album. That is what's special. Actually, when we made, “Into The Now", we were told don't expect to get one spin on the radio and stuff like that. But we actually got quite a few spins. We were very pleased with that. We got a great reaction and it felt pretty good. It kind of made us feel good, like we are still a vital band in today's music. Once again, it kind of opened up doors, just being a blues jean and t-shirt blues based rock band paid off for us in 2004. A lot of bands from our era, coming back from the 80's they have a hard time finding gigs these days.

KNAC.COM: Yes, I can remember seeing Tesla perform acoustically at the Hard Rock In Boston, when "Into The Now" was released. I did hear the record being played a lot in the Boston area. When "Into The Now" was released in 2004, it was Tesla’s first studio album in ten years. After the long time off, what kind of approach and attitude did you take into the studio when recording the album?

KEITH: We know we are in a whole new era these days. We didn’t want to follow a trend. We’re not good at following trends. We never have. We just followed our hearts. We wrote the album for ourselves and for our fans. Our fans are just like us. We are pleased with the outcome of the album. We tried a few new things, because we are inspired by a few new bands of today. For the most part, we had to stay true to the Tesla feel. We didn’t expect any radio airplay or anything like that. So we just wrote and played songs from the heart.

KNAC.COM: I have to commend you on that Tesla have always stayed in touch with their fans. You are doing a special VIP package on the current tour, where the fans can hang with the band at sound check. Tell me about that.

KEITH: Yeah, the fans get to come at sound check and hang out with us. It is more than just the cattle call that usually (show up) at a meet and greet. They get to hang out with us; they get a special package with the VIP shirt, and a Tesla VIP bag with some goodies in it. They get that up close and personal treatment, you know? The people are really enjoying that.

KNAC.COM: What do you attribute Tesla's longevity to? Would you say the fans are a big part of keeping the dream of Tesla alive?

KEITH: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean when we played our first reunion gig in 2000, people flew in from all over the place to Sacramento where we played Arco Arena. That showed us that we still have a lot of fans out there that still wanted us to get back together and play. That led to us playing more shows, and the next thing you know, we committed into making the record, “Into The Now".

KNAC.COM: I can remember back in the day, when the band played The Channel in Boston. Do you remember the performing there? The venue has long since closed.

KEITH: Sure that was one of our first acoustic shows. As a matter of fact, The Boston show was the first show, and then we played New York, Wow I can't believe it is not there anymore. It was a really cool place on the water, and it was jammed pack. It was magical. Then we played New York, so we said we got at least get some recording of this, so that’s when Philadelphia was the next night. We decided to get a mobile truck out there and a few cameras out here just to have it in our archives. Not thinking we are going to put an album out and then we went to a station in Boston and played "Signs" over the air and the phones started going off the hook and we go if this is the case then we got an whole entire night of this stuff.

KNAC.COM: Is Boston a special place for you to play?

KEITH: Absolutely! I got family that lives close by there in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I got my first cousins that live there in New Bedford and they always come down when we play the Avalon and Rhode Island and all that stuff. Boston is a big gig for us.

KNAC.COM: Will the band be performing any acoustic songs this time around at the show?

KEITH: I don't know if we are going to actually just break it down to an acoustic set. We have talked about putting that back in our shows sometime. We are going to try and incorporate that back into our set. But we haven't as of yet.

KNAC.COM: Would you say that in 2007 Tesla is the strongest that it is ever been?

KEITH: Absolutely, ever since 2004, when we went out with The Scorpions, we were clean and sober that helped a lot. We are clean and sober, and we feel that we are playing tighter than ever.

KNAC.COM: Also, I have to commend you for your work with animals. In January, you received the Evie Award. Tell me about the animal foundation award that you received.

KEITH: Yeah, Tony Larussa; we play every year for him. He's got this organization called ARF, Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek. For the past three years, we have been playing for him. So when we were back doing this covers album in El Paso, I found this stray dog. She dug a hole, and had six pups in the ground. They were five days old pups in the ground. After we did the recording of the record, the rest of the band flew home, and I proceeded to rent a van and got her and her pups in a big old cardboard box in the back of the van and drove back to California and I found homes for all of the pups. I got her…she is at my house now, as we speak. She is doing very well. So when we played last January at Tony Larussa’s benefit, he gave me the Evie Award. He gives this award out every year. He gave it to me for bringing Kelly home and the pups, and finding homes for the pups.

KNAC.COM: How inspiring that is. It is so great to hear a positive animal story for a change. These days with all the cruelty that is going on towards animals. This story is very heartwarming. Jeff, is there anything else that you would like to say about the tour or "Real To Reel"?

KEITH: I hope everyone comes down to see the show. Pretty soon, we are going to be (holed) up in the studio writing for the next record. So we won't be going out for a while. Now is the chance to catch the show. It is better than ever.

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