History & Biography
TOM KEIFER - THE WAY LIFE GOES - MEROVEE/ADA
InterviewsIt was a disorganized circumstance at Metallian Towers this week. Sheila was supposed to conduct this interview on the back of an album she had reviewed. There was a couple of back and forths with Tom’s helpful publicist Doug, but the interview was confirmed for Friday morning. Then Sheila was unavailable. Ali “The Metallian” jumped in to interview the solo artist Tom Keifer who is better know as the frontman and singer for Cinderella. Tom has issued his solo record, The Way Life Goes, through Merovee Records and finds himself on the telephone taking questions from the interviewer reading notes compiled the night before (with a little help from Sheila). - Ali” The Metallian”
METALLIAN: Tom, thanks for your time this afternoon. Let us begin the conversation given our 25-minute slot. To fill the back-story, my understanding was that there is not a new Cinderella album because your voice was injured. If the voice is back then why is there no Cinderella album and you are releasing solo material.
TOM: Well, actually my voice is not the reason that Cinderella hasn’t made a record. We actually attempted to make a record around the year 2000. I was having voice problems starting then, but it wasn’t something that was standing in the way of making a record. What is standing in the way of the band making a record is the right situation with a record company. We thought we had a... we had signed a deal in 1999 with Sony Records and we thought they were serious about making a record and actually the deal turned out to not be what it was cracked up to be. It ended up in a lawsuit and we were restricted from recording with each other legally for years. That is when I started making my solo record, as well as other members of the band started making solo projects because we couldn’t legally record together. So, that’s really been more the hold-up than my voice. I have had trouble with this voice condition over the years. It has been giving me trouble on tour at times and also in the studio when I am recording vocals, but I always find a way around it. It is something that I have learnt to live with. It certainly is not something standing in the way of Cinderella making a record.
METALLIAN: Is the Sony Records’ issue resolved now?
TOM: The lawsuit was finally settled. The recording restriction was finally lifted - I forget how many years that is. It is like four or five years. Any material that was considered during the contract period we weren’t allowed to record together as a band. So we put a lot of time into that record, working on that record and doing demos and Sony claimed ownership on all of them. No record was ever recorded. It was just demo stage.
we were really excited after having lost our deal with Mercury Records, the one our first four records were on in the mid-'90s. Then it was a few years when we didn’t know if we would get the opportunity to record again. Then we were offered the Sony deal. It seemed like the real thing and we were really excited about it. We worked very hard for a couple of years on the material to prepare for that record and for a bunch of legal bullshit and lawyers and record company crap got in the way. It blew the thing out of the water. The good news since then is that we got the band reformed and started touring again and we realized we were still a pretty popular, for lack of a better word, touring act. We have a lot of fun on the road with our fans. The good thing being on the road and with the fans is we don’t have to deal with record companies, lawyers and legal stuff. I think we have just been hiding out on the road and hanging out with our fans and doing that because it is enjoyable and it’s about the music. It is not abut a bunch of people telling you lies and saying they are going to do this, that and the other and then not doing it. There is the cold, hard reality of what happened with our attempt at making a record. It really had nothing to do with my voice. The voice is something I struggle with, but it did not get in the way of the record.
METALLIAN: So, why is there not a new Cinderella record now?
TOM: Well, as I just described we got burnt pretty bad by two record companies. The first being Mercury who we sold a whole lot of records for and they kind of kicked us to the curb in the mid-'90s. The second attempt ended up in a legal battle so we... I guess the best way to put it is we are very cautious as to what kind of a record deal we would sign at this point. I always say that the fact that we do not have a record deal is not for a lack of desire on our part. It is that we are waiting for the right situation with a record company where we feel that they are serious about making a real record and want to hire the right kind of producer and, you know, do things right.
In the meantime, when we were restricted legally from recording Jeff, Eric and Fred everyone started working on their own projects on the side and that is when I started mine. I just decided... I got together with a friend of mine whom I have known since childhood and we decided to fund this solo record ourselves and not have anyone breathing down our necks and telling us when it was finished. We wanted it to be just about music. I have produced this record with my wife Savannah who also co-wrote a lot of the songs. It was co-produced by a very good friend of ours here in Nashville named Chuck Turner. He is a great producer and engineer. The three of us hid out in a studio here in Nashville for quite a few years and worked on getting this music the way we envisioned it. It was funded one hundred percent without the use of any record company or anything like that in the production end of it. We just wanted to make a record that was about the music and not anything else. That is what we did. When it was finished... it actually started off not being a record. It was like, 'let’s go into the studio...’ I was trying to heal from the Sony experience. It was about recording some songs and having some fun, play some music. It lead to this and that and more songs were written and more songs were recorded. Then there were a group of songs, which started to shape up into a record. We just kept working on it and chipping away at it over the years. We took breaks from it. It wasn’t nine years straight in the studio working on it! We got away from it a lot too. I like to say 'we would work hard and then play hard.' There were times when I would just close the session and go on tour with Cinderella for five months and not even listen to the record, which was good for objectivity. Eventually, it started to sound like a record and feel like a record and, at that point, we decided to shop it to labels for distribution and marketing because that was not something I wanted to take on myself. We found an amazing label, Merovee Records, which has been very supportive of the record. They are distributed through Warner ADA, which is very good distribution and funding and they have been doing a great job with the record. That is how the record came about, almost accidentally.
METALLIAN: What is the name of the childhood friend you earlier mentioned.
TOM: Ron Ruane. It is credited on the record. He helped fund a lot of this. The record was not cheap to make. He put up a lot of the money for the production as did Savannah and I.
METALLIAN: Let’s talk about your voice. What is the specific issue? Do you have to take rests? It is not apparent listening to the CD.
TOM: The condition I had, which I was diagnosed with in the early '90s, is called paresis. Which is a neurological condition, which left my left vocal cord partially paralyzed. It actually took a couple of years to diagnose it. I just woke up one day and I couldn’t sing and doctors kept doing office exams and they couldn’t see anything wrong with my vocal cords. Eventually, one of them did a neurological test and found problem on the left side. The signal from the brain was not reaching the vocal cord. It is like someone who can’t move their arm because it is paralyzed, same thing, partially paralyzed not completely paralyzed. That is enough to wreak havoc on the speaking voice. It even affected my signing voice, but it affected my peaking voice in the beginning. There is no medical cure for it. You cannot take a medicine or have surgery to fix it. They came in and said 'you will never be able to sing again and if you are going to sing again it is only because you have managed to figure out how to retrain that vocal cord.' It is not an exact science. They recommended I start working with a speech pathologist, voice teachers and vocal coaches and try to figure out how to make it work again. That is what I have been doing ever since. It has been an up and down battle. There have been periods where I have made great progress and then it would be three steps forward and then five back (laughs). Then I would injure it and I would have to have surgery. I have had six surgeries on the voice over the years, but I have kept plugging away at it. I have gone from coach to coach to coach and learnt as much as I can about technique and how to make the most with what I have left. I just wouldn’t give up. I am really happy to say that in recent years it is probably stronger than ever. I still have to maintain it every day with quite a bit of voice therapy and exercise. It is an hour and a half pretty much everyday, sometimes two hours, even on show day. It is well worth it to be able to sing.
METALLIAN: We will talk about specific songs in a moment, but before that looking generally at the songs one notices they are on the shorter side consistently. Is there a reason for that?
TOM: The songs themselves are shorter?
METALLIAN: They are all in the three to three and a half-minute length. There are not any songs that are four minutes long.
TOM: Mmmmm... you know, I never noticed that. I know many Cinderella songs bordered on five and six minutes... I remember that from back then. I didn’t even notice that. I don’t know. Maybe I am getting better at arranging songs and say what I want to say. It wasn’t a conscious effort, I can tell you that!
You know, honestly, I think as a songwriter I have noticed over the years as I am writing a song a lot of times something I might have left in years ago I say, 'that sounds like fat and I don’t need that, let’s get straight to this point.' I think it is a process of just getting straight to the point in your writing. I didn’t notice hat about the songs, but if they are shorter maybe that’s what it is.
METALLIAN: To be selfish I will ask you about my favourite songs on the album. Solid Ground, the opener, is a real rock.
TOM: I really love that one. It has got a great energy and is really natural. I co-wrote that with Savannah. I would say that song represents... I have always tried to make records with the material that has hard driving songs and then there are ballads and different tempos. Solid Ground represents the more hard driving side of this record alongside Mood Elevator and It’s Not Enough. I love that one. It is a fun one to play live. One of my favourites too.
METALLIAN: You just mentioned Mood Elevator. Jeff (from Cinderella) is playing on that. That is a second favourite.
TOM: Oh thank-you. That is a fun one too. That is another one I co-wrote with Savannah. She is an amazing songwriter.
METALLIAN: How did Jeff get to play on that?
TOM: Mmmm.. actually we brought parts that he had played into a different mix. It was like a cut and paste thing! We had a demo of a song he played on. That is not the track he played on. I actually in ProTools brought him into the new updated track that we had cut and put a few of his licks into that. It is amazing what you can do in ProTools, eh? He was not part of the cutting of that track. He was on an early version of a demo we had done right after the Song deal had blown up just coz I liked what he played and I thought it would be cool to include him on that.
METALLIAN: What about It’s Not Enough?
TOM: Yeah, I think the layering is in the guitar work. I like the interlocking rhythm guitar parts. Some rock records are a wall of the same parts; power cords and everything mirror each other. It’s Not Enough has two or three different rhythmic parts going on in the guitars at the same time. That is something I have always loved and that is something I recently learnt from the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. They are the masters of that... counterpoint rhythm guitar. You have two or three different guitar parts going on at the same time and you have a dimension... and a lot of that is going on with It’s Not Enough.
METALLIAN: I notice that there is a line in there that says, 'shot of gasoline,' which of course is a reference to Night Songs.
TOM: That is deliberate (laughs). That was definitely deliberate. You are actually the first person who has mentioned that. No one has actually mentioned it to me yet. That was definitely deliberate. That song is about... you can interpret in a lot of different ways. To me it’s about living life to its fullest and just going for it. That can mean different things to different people. For me, it was about cool to have that throwback in from Night Songs. I am not done here. I am still going.
METALLIAN: How about a couple of oddities? Why is there a saxophone on Babylon?
TOM: That is actually Bobby Keys, the world famous Bobby Keys. He played with the Stones and he played on Brown Sugar. I have always loved saxophones. We have had it on Cinderella songs, like Shelter Me, in the past. To me it is a throwback to some of the music I grew up on. I love the Stones and I love rock 'n' roll and I also loved the E Street Band growing up being from the Northeast.. Clarence Clemons and all that great rock 'n' roll sax and Bruce Springsteen. I grew up on so many types of music and certainly the E Street Band and the Stones were a big influence. First time we used it was on Shelter Me and then we used it on other tracks for rhythm parts. That is a little bit of the Aerosmith influence because they included baritone sax with their guitars on some tracks. It is a pretty cool sound. I called Andy Johns who produced the first few Cinderella albums because I knew he knows Bobby Keys and asked him to put me in touch with him. Bobby was living in Nashville at the time. I just called him up and asked if he would come over and play on a track. He said, 'sure' and he just showed up with his sax and it was a pretty big deal to me because I was a big fan, you know?
METALLIAN: What about The Flower Song, which sounds like a pop ditty and you sound like Rod Stewart...
TOM: Let me stop you right there. Rod Stewart, that’s a compliment. I think Rod Stewart is the best rock singer out there so thank-you! I don’t think I sound like Rod Stewart, but people think a couple of songs on this record are a throwback to the Faces and obviously I am a huge Rod Stewart fan so to me that’s a compliment to me for someone to liken it to that. The Flower Song and Solid Ground are both... there’s been references made to Faces. Rod Stewart, to me, is the king. I would be pissed off if there were some other people you would compare me to, but not Rod Stewart.
METALLIAN: Where do you go from here?
TOM: We just played our only show of the year with Cinderella, which was the Monsters Of Rock cruise. That was back in March. Now the focus for the rest of the year is touring with my solo band and working on the release of more singles from the record. We are continuing on with The Way Life Goes this year. I have a show next weekend, a one-off, in Connecticut at the Mohican Sun it is a cool resort. We are scheduled for Rocklahoma, which is a big festival for the end of May. I believe our tour is kicking off around then. We will be touring for most of the summer behind the record.
METALLIAN: I am done! Is there anything else I should have addressed and I didn’t?
TOM: No, I think you covered it. It was an interesting interview, my friend. I enjoyed talking to you. Thanks for talking to me today. You have a great day.
The interview was limited to twenty-five minutes, yet Tom and I managed to discuss a few things and complete the questions. For more information on Tom Keifer, his activities and The Way Life Goes head over to http://www.tomkeifer.com/.
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