By Debby Rao, Boston Contributor
Wednesday, August 23, 2006 @ 11:45 PM
I had the honor of talking with TESLA’s lead front man Jeff Keith on the Electric Summer Jam Tour, when the band performed a special sold out show at Hampton Beach Casino in N.H.
Jeff takes us Into The Now as we discuss the current tour, TESLA’s latest album, future recording plans, and what has inspired the band to stay together for so many years.
KNAC.COM: Jeff, How are you?
KEITH: I am doing great.
KNAC.COM: TESLA is currently on the road on the Electric Summer Jam Tour. How is the tour going so far?
KEITH: The tour is going great! We are playing to a sold out show tonight at Hampton Beach. The shows have been selling really well. We have been really pleased with the turnout.
KNAC.COM: Tell me about the current line-up of TESLA on this tour. I know Tommy Skeoch is not on the tour currently because his wife just had a baby. Is that correct?
KEITH: Yes, that is correct. Tommy is spending some time with his family. You know we have to respect that.
KNAC.COM: Who is replacing Tommy at Hampton Beach tonight?
KEITH: We have another guy named Dave Rude that has joined the band, and he is just fitting like a glove.
KNAC.COM: Let’s talk about TESLA’s current set list for the tour. Will the band be performing their classic hits, plus a variety of covers that have influenced your career?
KEITH: Yes, we are doing some different cover tunes; we are trying to do two every night. We are putting a covers record together, that we plan on putting out next April. Every day at sound check, we are learning a couple of new songs. We are throwing them in there to see which ones fit like a glove.
KNAC.COM: When did TESLA re-unite? What inspired the band to get back together again?
KEITH: We re-united in 2000. We played Arco Arena in October 1 of 2000, in our hometown of Sacramento. People just flew out of everywhere, and we sold the place out. I think we played with 3 Doors Down. We said, Wow. We really have a lot of fans that have been sitting there waiting for us. We just committed to that one show. Then we committed to five more shows on the West Coast. We did those shows and people just came out by the masses and they still loved us. Then we committed to another leg, before you know it, we committed to making a new record, which was “Into The Now.”
KNAC.COM: Jeff, let’s discuss, “Into the Now.” Tell me how TESLA re-invented themselves on this CD, and the songwriting process.
KEITH: Well for me, I had a writer’s block because I love a lot of today’s new music and the aggressiveness of it but I can’t sell you a song like that. I could write you one, but I can’t sell you one. Frank and I just started bouncing lyrics off of one another on “Into The Now.” If you listen to the lyric that is what that song is all about. The fear of the unknown, break the crystal ball you’re on your own. In other words, you can’t tell how the people are going to react to it. The guys approached me and said listen dude you never thought about writing a song before, you just let it flow. So after Frank and I put those lyrics together, then things just started flowing. The next thing you know, we have the record that we produced, wrote, and mixed everything ourselves. “Into The Now” was the first record that we ever done the whole record like that.
KNAC.COM: Did you write “Heaven 911” about how the world has changed so dramatically since September 11?
KEITH: Frank wrote that song. It is a killer song huh?
KNAC.COM: Yes, it is awesome.
KEITH: That song was the first song that we ever put a little drum to it. It was such a beautiful song that was in a different form, when Frank approached TESLA with it. We totally took it to a different place. We just love the way it came out. We love the way the whole record came out. What we decided to do was write for ourselves, which we always have and we figured our fans are so much like us. We represent our fans, so well. We just wrote a record that we love, in hopes that the fans would like it. We have received such a great reaction. I haven’t heard one negative vibe.
KNAC.COM: How do you keep your voice in shape? It is still has strong as it was in the 80’s.
KEITH: Well Thanks. We kind of cleaned up our act and everything that kind of helped to be consistent. I don’t know where my voice comes from. Once again I just don’t think about it and I just feel it and it just comes out that way.
KNAC.COM: You really sing from the heart on, “Into the Now.”
KEITH: That is right. If it comes from the heart it is a good thing for TESLA.
KNAC.COM: TESLA has been performing at many festivals this summer. Have you noticed a whole new generation of TESLA fans out there? Would you attribute TESLA’s recent fan growth to the Internet?
KEITH: I think the Internet has a lot to do with the news fans that we got. Also our fans are like our age, so they have kids, so I think they just drilled TESLA into the kids all day. We get a lot of young little kids, and they say I dig TESLA, which is the coolest thing. I think between our fans being older and having the younger generation listening to us at their home and on the Internet that brings on a whole new generation of fans. We just are flattered, whenever it is younger kids.
KNAC.COM: Getting back to “Heaven Nine Eleven”, and how much the world has changed since 911. How has that affected touring as a band? Is it more difficult to tour in 2006 with all of the heightened security?
KEITH: Yes, you can’t even carry toothpaste on a plane anymore. In all honesty, as hard as it is to deal with all the tight security, I think it is the safest that it has ever been to fly. That is my feeling on it. We’re usually on a bus but lately we have been doing a lot of flying. We were flying on the day, when all of that tightened security came in. I feel the safest than I have ever felt flying. I just don’t even take a carry on onboard to make it easy.
KNAC.COM: Would you say that MTV has played a major role in helping TESLA still have a successful music career in 2006? Back in the day, MTV played TESLA in heavy rotation. It allowed the band to develop a huge fan base that is still with you in 2006.
KEITH: Absolutely! MTV played a major role in that. We appreciate that and are very grateful for that. When we did the acoustic album, MTV really slammed back in the day. MTV has done so much for us. Who knows, maybe we will make a video for the next album that maybe MTV will play.
KNAC.COM: That would be great. In 2005, TESLA performed on the Acoustic Jam Tour. You performed some acoustic shows. Actually the band played 5 different Hard Rock Cafes in 2004, to kick off the release of “Into The Now. How do you enjoy performing acoustically? I think that tour really showed the diversity of the band. It really focused on the strength of TESLA’s songwriting, and musical performance.
KEITH: I definitely feel that way. I think it showed the world that we could take our own songs and break them down and play them differently and not rely on the big heavy guitars and just do it in a form. I am proud of TESLA. We can take a song and turn it all around, play it in a different form and not rely on the big sound, which we love because we are an electric band. It was also a challenge for us. We enjoyed it. I think it also showed; there is another side to us.
KNAC.COM: are you looking forward to retiring to your hometown of Sacramento and performing at the California State Fair on September 1?
KEITH: Yes, I am very excited because at first they told us there was a 96-decibel level that we couldn’t surpass. So we told them we would do the acoustic show. I think we got that 96-decibel level out of there, and we can play as loud as we want. So we are going to do the electric set. We just played there last year; we did a couple of nights at this place called The Crest Theatre, which was really cool. The acoustic thing was really cool to do, but we are an electric band and we are excited to go back to our hometown and slam it electrically.
KNAC.COM: TESLA has a huge following in New England. The band has given so much to their fans. I can remember how supportive TESLA was, when the Station Fire Tragedy occurred, the band met with survivors of the fire. Now you actually wrote, “Miles Away”, song on “Into The Now” for a friend of yours. Is that correct?
KEITH: Yes, he died in that fire. He was like my personal assistant, and helped with the merchandise. He had met this girl, when we were out on the road. He went back to visit her, and they went to see Great White. He got out of the fire, and realized the girl didn’t go out, so he went back in. He was helping direct people out. He realized she was still inside. He went back in and he perished right next to her. We were in the process of writing a song and talking about how fans just think it is all fun and glory. We didn’t want to complain in the song, we just wanted to let people know there is a whole another side to it. We were right in the middle of the song, and when our friend perished in the fire, we started incorporating that into the song. We kind of dedicated the song to him. His name was Jeff Rader.
KNAC.COM: What are TESLA’s future recording plans?
KEITH: We are doing this covers record that we plan on releasing next April. We are planning on putting a Box Set together with some DVD things. We have a ton of DVD’S that we have in the archives. So we plan on going through that. It will be a three disk that will include DVD footage, TESLA’s songs that revisited acoustically and maybe some covers.
KNAC.COM: Any Jeff Keith solo projects in the works?
KEITH: Myself, I am working on a country music record. But that is a whole different thing. So when people think about Jeff Keith solo record, it is not rock and roll, it is country. So some people that might think Jeff Keith has a solo record are going to be very disappointed. It is not like me, doing my version of rock and roll. It is pure country.
KNAC.COM: Where are you originally from? Do you hail for the South?
KEITH: I am from the South, I was born in Arkansas. When I was two, I moved to this little town of Georgetown, in the foothills of Sacramento with population of 900. When I was 10 and a half, I moved to Okalahoma, graduated out of High School, and moved back to Georgetown hauling septic tanks. Then in 83, I joined City Kid, which were Brian and Frankie and this Top 40 band that they had in Sacramento. He next thing you know, we were showcasing down in LA. Next thing you know Tom Zutaut (Geffen A&R man who discovered Guns N’ Roses) gets involved with us, we are making records and we are on tour with David Lee Roth.
KNAC.COM: What do you attribute to TESLA’s longevity?
KEITH: I think the fan base has a lot to do with it. They just loved us. I think when the grunge movement came along, I think because of the fact we were out of the box. Back in the day, we were not a glam band; we use to catch a little flack from the guys in Motley Crue. They use to tease us and say we were a bunch of tomato farmers from Sacramento. Poison use to say, when we were in tour with them, you guys need to doll it up. Everyone else is doing it, you need to do it. We said it is all right man; it is all about the music. So when the grunge movement came along, I think they say,”Hey TESLA can stick around because they never were about image.”
KNAC.COM: Do you see a resurgence of 80’s music more than ever this summer?
KEITH: Yes, I think so more and more it is coming back. We have been playing a couple of shows with Skid Row and it is great playing with those guys. Music with melody is coming back.
KNAC.COM: What does the future hold for TESLA?
KEITH: I wish I could look in that crystal ball and tell you. I think the way I see it, we are going to do this covers record. We are going to put out this box Set. In November, we are going go hole up somewhere in the studio, with no distractions and write music like we do, back in the day.
KNAC.COM: Jeff, is there anything else that you would like to say to your fans at KNAC.COM?
KEITH: We love you guys so much, and thank you for always being there for us. We look forward to seeing you again soon.