interview by Michael McCarthy
Sometimes you wait a long time for one of your favorite artists to release a new album. Sometimes you wait a really, really long time. In the case of Cinderella’s Tom Keifer, I waited roughly 23 years. You see, the last studio album by Cinderella, the criminally-underrated Still Climbing, was released way back in 1994. There have been six live albums released during the 15 or so years following the release of Still Climbing, but all attempts at making a new studio album failed for various reasons. I suppose at some point it became obvious that there was probably never going to be another studio album by Cinderella, but I held out hope that the band’s lead singer, Tom Keifer, would at least have a solo career. Unfortunately, life tossed a few monkey wrenches in his spokes – like vocal cord paralysis, for one thing – and it took a while for him to release one. The record, which was released in 2013, is called The Way Life Goes, and it was worth the long wait, chock full of blues and country inspired hard rock tunes. To my ears, it splits the difference between Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter and Heartbreak Station albums. When I heard The Way Life Goes was being re-released I was excited because I always felt like it hadn’t received the attention it deserved when it was originally released. I’m quite pleased that it’s finally getting the push that it deserves. The bonus tracks are great, too. Tom and I chat about all of these things and more in the following interview.
MM: I read that you were hospitalized recently for exhaustion and dehydration. How are you feeling now?
TK: Pretty good. I’ve had a couple weeks here to kind of replenish. And I’ve had a couple rounds of IV fluids and, fortunately, after that happened the schedule lightened up a little bit so I actually had a little time to rest and recuperate. We’re leaving this week to head into a couple more multiple runs of shows but I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve had the time to recover. Thank you for asking.
MM: Are you coming to Massachusetts, by any chance?
TK: You know, we played Malden earlier in the year at 360 Mix. I don’t think we’ll be back that way this year. We just played New Hampshire, too, close to there a couple weeks ago.
MM: I wish I would’ve known. I would’ve gone to both of those. Do you have a mailing list that people can sign up for?
TK: I think we have that Bands in Town thing where you can sign up for a notification. Tour dates are always on my website, tomkeifer.com.
MM: Have you been doing any of the big rock festivals like M3 or Loud Park?
TK: Yeah, we actually do M3 quite regularly. We’ve done the Cathouse Live out in Irvine Meadows. RockTember out in Minnesota. We’ve done quite a few.
MM: I know you live in Nashville now. How long have you been calling Nashville home?
TK: I’ve been here since ’97.
MM: What made you decide to move there?
TK: It was the mid-’90s and the music scene was really changing and Cinderella drifted apart after we lost our deal with Mercury. And I just started writing with people down here and was thinking about doing a solo record at that point. I really liked the town. It’s a really great creative community. I picked up one day and moved here.
MM: Do you do any writing for famous country stars down there?
TK: I’ve done a couple things with some people here, but not a lot. I mean, I’ve been pretty busy. When I first moved here, we had started working on a new Cinderella record, but the record was never made because of the label. It ended up in a big legal mess. And then I transitioned from that to working on my solo record with my wife Savannah. We worked on that for a number of years while I was still touring with Cinderella. I was pretty busy and my focus wasn’t to write with other artists. There were a couple here and there. I had a cut on an Andy Griggs record that Savannah and I wrote with him.
MM: I understand the new album was remastered for the deluxe edition. Why did you have it remastered so soon after it had originally been released?
TK: Well, we were adding new tracks. They were cut at a very different time and mixed differently, so you always want to look at the overall EQ again to make sure everything goes together. The level of records, or the volume of records, is much higher these days than when we originally released the record. And the mixes on the bonus tracks had a slightly different curve. So, it’s always nice to kind of retouch it when you’re adding material. That was the main thought behind that. And, also, the volume level that Richard Dodd gets out of records without compressing or limiting them is very impressive. I kind of liked that.
MM: I like the remastered version better.
TK: It’s a little fatter and warmer.
MM: One thing I noticed right away is at the beginning on the first song when you do the scream on the original release it sounded like two screams but now it sounds like one scream.
TK: Oh, cool. I’ll have to look for that. So, apparently, he added some frequency that blended the diplophonic – I think that’s the word – nature of that scream. [Laughs] He used several tones at once.
MM: Are any of the songs on your album from the lost Portrait Records sessions?
TK: Yeah, some of those were demos of songs that I had written and done guitar and vocal versions of for that.
MM: Why was that album never finished?
TK: That was Portrait’s decision. After working us for actually a couple of years, writing and demoing songs and all, they decided not to make the record. I think they folded. They really didn’t make a lot of the records I believe they were slated to make on that label. A common tale in this business.
MM: Did you road test many of the songs on The Way Life Goes before you made the album?
TK: No, because I didn’t really have a touring band and the record started off really not even with the ambition of making a record. After the Portrait thing went south, I didn’t want to deal with record executives or labels. And Savannah had had a similar experience here in Nashville with music road deals that she had. We just started going into the studio with friends of ours. Musicians here in town. We worked with our friend Chuck Turner and the three of us produced it. And just started making music for the sake of recording music. The record was created over a period of nine or ten years and it started off not really being a record. We didn’t really have any aspirations in that sense. And we didn’t play it for anyone. We were just doing our thing and woke up one day and realized we had a record and then we found a label very quickly and they wanted to release it and then we put together a band and started touring. There really wasn’t a vehicle or a band to tour to really even test any of the songs out.
MM: And how is your setlist comprised right now? Do you do half new songs and half Cinderella?
TK: The set includes all of the Cinderella faves or hits or classics – people call them different things these days – everything you’d want to hear from those days is in the set. Obviously, because people want to hear that and I wrote those songs and sang them and did the majority of the guitar work on them. So, they’re really a part of me and my history. So, I still love playing those. And we also do a lot of stuff off the new record. Up to four or five tracks of new stuff, which we change out here and there and mix that up. We do some cover songs, too, one of them being “With A Little Help From My Friends,” which is one of the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition.
MM: I was really impressed with that one. It’s not one that’s easy to get right, but you totally nailed it.
TK: Oh, thanks. Yeah, we tried to make it our own. We took the Cocker arrangement and made it a little more amped up, a hard rock version of it, and fans have really loved it from day one. We’ve been playing it in the encore. We’ve had countless requests for a studio version of it. So, that was a real no-brainer to go in last year and record that to be one of the bonus tracks as well as the duet with Lzzy on “Nobody’s Fool” because that was something that came about on the tour trail when we did some shows with them and, again, countless fan requests for a studio version. So, rather than going back for leftovers from the original session, we decided to go in last year and record some new tracks to be the bonus tracks, which is a little different than a lot of expanded editions. Those were the ones we picked and we’re really proud of the way they came out. They’re pretty rocking.
MM: I believe I read that you first did “Nobody’s Fool” with Lzzy in Atlantic City in 2013. Is that correct?
TK: Yes, it was the first show we did together. We arranged the vocals over the phone together, and the guitar parts that we traded off, and went through it a couple times in soundcheck then we did it in the encore that night and people just loved it. We’ve done it many times on stage since when we’ve done shows together.
MM: Do you prefer making albums or playing live?
TK: Playing live. [Laughs] Don’t get me wrong, I love creating new music. Particularly writing. Writing comes pretty easy if you don’t force it, I find. If you wait for that real inspiration. Usually, the song writes itself. And that’s a very natural process. Recording it and capturing that and trying to create what you’re hearing in your head in the studio sometimes can be challenging and so there’s a little bit of a love-hate in the studio. [Laughs] Sometimes it comes out of the studio monitors very easily like, yup, there it is. And other times it’s a bit [like] pulling teeth. So, it can be frustrating. But it’s part of the process. Playing live, there’s no do-overs. It’s just, you’re in the moment. You’re with the fans. It’s always been my favorite part.
This is a fan-filmed video, but is definitely worth checking out:
MM: I remember that you had vocal paralysis at one point. What did they do to treat that?
TK: There’s no treatment for it. It’s a neurological condition. It’s like if someone had a paralyzed arm or a partially paralyzed arm. My vocal cord was partially paralyzed. So, there’s no pill, medicines or surgery that can really fix that. I was told I’d never sing again. And they said if I had any prayer of singing again that I would just have to work with speech pathologists and voice coaches and try to train because the cord had some motion. I had to strengthen it and get it to respond symmetrically with the right cord. And there isn’t an exact science on how to do that and it’s taken me decades – literally – to get it where it’s consistent and works most nights, fortunately, now. I sound as good if not better than I did before the problems. I feel grateful that I was able to overcome that.
MM: What are your pre and post-show rituals?
TK: The most important ones are warm up and cool down. The warm-up is about an hour to about an hour and fifteen minutes every night and I do that a couple hours before the show. Because you need to leave a little space between the warm-up and performance. And then the cool-down takes about five or ten minutes and that has to be done, too, because it helps alleviate the swelling and inflammation that comes from screaming rock ‘n’ roll. So, it’s an important thing. Those are the things that not only get my voice and breathing apparatus right [but] center me and focus me. Because a lot of it has to do with deep, low breathing like yoga almost. I don’t do yoga, but a lot of the breathing techniques that are incorporated in the vocal warm-up are very much like that. So, it kind of calms the nerves and all that stuff.
MM: I was looking at your band photo and there’s seven of you with yourself included. Does everyone in the photo tour with you or is that just a photo of everyone who worked on the album?
TK: No, that’s the touring band. It’s two guitars, including myself playing guitar, and bass, drums, keyboards and two vocalists, my wife Savannah and Kendra Chantelle, who play percussion and sing.
MM: I was just thinking, that’s a lot of people to have to pay in this economy.
TK: [Laughs] Well, if you’re gonna do something, you do it right. There are a lot of vocals on the Cinderella records and there are a lot of vocals on my solo record. As the years went on with Cinderella we were carrying singers, too, on those tours and had additional players on tour and I’ve always really liked that sound. The keyboards are very important, too, in the music that I write and that female vocal – that gospel sound like the Tumblin’ Dice and the kind of thing that I learned from the Rolling Stones and Humble Pie – I’ve always liked that sound. It started back with the Cinderella records and some of those tours and I’ve continued it with this band.
MM: You were on Monster Ballads and Monster Ballads Christmas albums. I read a quote the other day from one of the other artists and he said he’s been living off of the royalties from that one for the last five years. Is it actually that profitable in terms of the royalties?
TK: I’m sure it is. The Monster Ballads record, I think, sold a lot. I can’t really quote the line items. [Both laugh] I’m sure it contributes greatly to it, yeah.
MM: A friend wanted me to ask if you know if Jeff LaBar is a chef now. Apparently, he’s been saying he is on Instagram.
TK: I’ve heard that he went to chef school. I believe cooking has always been something he’s interested in. So, yeah, I have heard that.
MM: Do you ever talk to any of the guys from Cinderella anymore?
TK: It’s been a while. I saw Fred earlier this year. He came to our show out in L.A. and we hung a bit after the show. I talked to Eric last year a little bit. But everyone is kind of busy doing their own thing.
MM: Did you do anything for Halloween this year?
TK: It was actually a very minimal effort Halloween. My son is old enough now where he goes out and trick or treats with his friends. And my Dad was in town. We lit some candles and put a couple lanterns out on the front porch and handed out candy to the kids and watched the world series.
MM: Do you have any plans for Thanksgiving or Christmas yet?
TK: Haven’t even looked that far ahead yet. Savannah and I, I’m sure, we’ll be thinking about that soon. I think we may just be spending it at home this year. You never know. We’re usually last minute, spur of the moment planners.
MM: Name three artists people would be surprised to know that you like?
TK: That would be a surprise? Hmm, I’m drawing a blank here… Taylor Swift, I think is a pretty amazing artist. I just think she’s a great songwriter and performer. The whole thing that she’s done with her career is just amazing. So, that would probably surprise some folks. I’m trying to think what else. I mean, I listen to so much stuff. I like Imagine Dragons.
MM: They’re great.
TK: Their record with “Radioactive” in particular I thought was really great. Maybe a little askew of what people would think I’d listen to. So, there’s two.
MM: That’s good. Are you currently binge-watching anything?
TK: No, not really. I mean, I’m watching the world series, but I’m not a big TV person. I don’t have a lot of time for that.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
TK: The Monkees. It was four dollars and I bought it in Woolworth’s.
MM: I love The Monkees.
TK: Oh, yeah, their songs are great.
MM: What was the last album you bought and what format was it?
TK: It’s so hard to remember now with the digital downloads. I buy stuff all the time and I have records I haven’t even listened to yet. I bought the deluxe edition of The Way Life Goes last week when it came out because I always buy a copy for good luck. So, there you go. I know I bought that one, but there were ones I bought just before that and I’m trying to remember for sure. But that was the last thing that I bought. The whole band did. For good luck.
MM: If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
TK: I loved Prince. Or Tom Petty. Those two I just was just devastated over. It’s hard to pick. Actually, maybe Tom Petty.
MM: What’s a fake name you’ve used when checking into hotels?
TK: I’ve had several of them and I’m trying to remember. The only one I can remember is the one I still use. [Both laugh] I’m not telling you that one. [More laughs]
MM: If someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it all had to go to the same charity or cause, which would you give it to?
TK: St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Special thanks to Amanda Cagan for setting up this interview and to Tom for taking the time to speak with us!
Connect with Tom:
Twitter Hashtag: #keiferband
Official site: http://www.tomkeifer.com/