Interviewed by: Roger Scales

2011 is a very special year for Tesla. This year they celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band, no small feat in today’s industry and one to be commended. In celebration, the band released Twisted Wires and The Acoustic Sessions in July.

The release marks the last recordings with original member Tommy Skeoch and acoustic ‘twisted” remakes of a collection of songs from their catalog. It also features “Second Street” and “Better Off Without You”, two songs that will be new for fans but that have longstanding history with the band.

The band is currently working on new music and we recently caught up with guitarist Frank Hannon to get the lowdown on the new release and what 2011 has in store for Tesla.

The new album Twisted Wires and The Acoustic Sessions contains 6 tracks that were recorded in 2005 with original guitarist Tommy Skeoch. It was reported that almost everything in Brian’s studio was a total loss during last year’s fire in Sacramento. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience? Are these recordings all that survived the fire?

HANNON: TESLA had done a tour back in ’04 that was a revisit to the “unplugged” style we had done with Five Man Acoustical Jam, but we added other songs like “Hang Tough” and “Shine Away”. Anyway, we went into Brian Wheat’s studio and recorded these versions right after the tour and had been saving them there. When the roof of Brian’s studio was on fire the trucks sprayed a ton of water on the place destroying the mixing equipment, but luckily the hard drives didn’t get wet!

Does the name of the new record Twisted Wires.. coincide with what occurred in the aftermath of the fire at J Street Recorders studio or what was the thought process behind that?

HANNON: No, the name doesn’t have anything to do with the fire, but rather the way we “twist” the songs up using acoustic guitars, and changing the keys or arrangements of the songs. It can also represent our states of minds.

Why was it important to you to release these recordings now?

HANNON: Well, we are in the process of writing new music now and that can take a lot of time, and we’ve been holding on to this idea for a long time too. Since this year is our 25th anniversary of our first album, it is a great time for the release of such a “retrospective”, and give us time to write new songs.

There are two new songs on the album, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about each one be it musically/lyrically/or how it all came together:

HANNON: Second Street – The chord changes of this song came from an acoustic solo I was tagging on to “Love Song” live. Jeff Keith heard them and asked me to make a song out of it. He had an idea from when he and his mom were down on their luck when he was a kid and that inspired the idea for the song.
Better Off Without You– This is actually one of the first songs Jeff Keith and I wrote way back in 1982 on a piano. The song never made it on an album, and it recently came up in a discussion on “That Metal Show” and reminded us to try rerecording it for this album.

How has the writing process for you as a band evolved over the years? Does it become easier or more difficult given how long you’ve been together and how well you know each other?

HANNON: I think it’s easier to write songs now, as we’ve had a ton of practice doing it! But just like anything else you have to maintain a work schedule to get it done. In the beginning it was all we did so it happened faster. Now we are older and all have families and home commitments, it can be hard to set aside the time to write, but when we do it’s not hard to do once it happens.

“Song & Emotion” is one of the songs rerecorded on the new record and was written as a tribute to Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark. It’s been 20 years since he left us. Do little memories always come back to you of Steve when you play this song live and can you share with us one of your favorite memories of Steve?

HANNON: Whenever we play it live, I point up to heaven at the end of the guitar solo and think of him, so yes. When we were on tour Steve gave me a red Gibson SG because he noticed my love for that type of guitar! No one had ever just given me a guitar before!

This is the 25th Anniversary of TESLA as a band. You have survived many different trends and musical changes over the years. What do you think it is about your music and sound that makes you so timeless?

HANNON: Well we do work hard at trying to make a whole album of good songs, not just one good song on an album. We were inspired by 70’s artist that did that…make “albums” so I think our fans appreciate that.

You have performed at and appeared at several concerts and dinners associated with The Station Nightclub Fire Relief Fund in Rhode Island. You really appear to have a special connection with the families and fans affected by this tragedy and we appreciate that. Why does TESLA feel a special obligation to keep giving back?

HANNON: We lost a very close friend (Jeff Rader) in that tragedy, so it hit home hard for us. We have played that club before and many more like it. Something about that event really touched us, and meeting the survivors was a great experience.

What do you attribute your longstanding success to? Do you think having all of your various solo projects keeping you busy during “TESLA Down Time” actually is very healthy for a band and brings a positive energy back into the band when you reconvene?

HANNON: We came from a background where we learned to work…and work hard. We continue to work hard. Each guy has different styles of music that we like, so doing the side project allows us to stimulate those areas, but ultimately TESLA is a team that really creates a great thing.

Looking back on your career as a whole, is there one thing that you can point to as one of the most rewarding moments for you?

HANNON: As musicians we are also “fans”, so getting to meet our musical heroes we loved, such as Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton, Paul McCartney…and the list goes on…has been very cool.

Some bands from your era have come out publicly to say that they won’t be writing or recording any new music, they just want to tour based on their past work. Why is it important for you as a band to continue to write, release and tour with new music and what’s your take on these bands who seem to have tossed in the towel?

HANNON: Well, that’s what separates people who want to keep working. It takes a lot of hard work, planning, and management to keep doing this stuff. I don’t blame guys who want to settle down and take a break! It’s not easy to keep up this schedule.

Are their plans to tour in support of this new release and will we see maybe an acoustic tour or perhaps half acoustic/half plugged in? What can you tell us about touring plans?

HANNON: We will be touring based on the “Twisted Wires” concept in November and December…acoustically in America. We are writing songs for new album to come out in 2012, then we want to tour Europe next Summer and America next winter with a new album.

The band has announced that you will be participating in the “Monsters of Rock” Cruise in February. These music cruises seem to be all the rage these days, what prompted your involvement with that and can you tell us what the experience will be like for people who might be interested?

HANNON: These rock cruises are a LOT of FUN! A ton of bands and fans hanging out on a big ocean ship cruising to islands! What could be more interesting?

Before we go, do you want to tell us about Soulmotor?

HANNON: Soulmotor is Brian Wheat’s band that he gets to write and play real heavy music that he wouldn’t do in Tesla. He and the singer Darin write songs with dark lyrical content about crime and violence, stuff that TESLA and Jeff Keith would not do, so it’s a freedom for him. Likewise my solo album Gypsy Highway is a personal songwriting and singing thing for me, that I can’t do with Tesla. So as you see these projects are more personal artistic ventures where TESLA is a team venture that really showcases Jeff Keith’s vocals.

Thanks for your time! Any parting words?

HANNON: Thanks for keeping music positive and alive, that is our mission and musicians, and we plan to keep working as hard as ever to ROCK!

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