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INTERVIEW – Tom Keifer, April 2013

There are some bands that will stay with you forever.  For me, one of those bands is Cinderella.  I have loved listening to them since their debut release in 1986 and had the pleasure of seeing them open for Bon Jovi a year later.  All these years have passed and I still love to listen to their music and see them every opportunity I can.  When frontman Tom Keifer finally completed his debut solo disc and took the show on the road earleir this year, I jumped at the opportunity to see him, photograph him, and just listen to that voice sing great songs, old and new.  Now I have been given a bit of time to speak with the man via telephone and I am going to enjoy every moment of this call.


ToddStar: How are you today, Sir?

Tom: I’m doing well man, how about yourself?

ToddStar: Great, great. Really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule for us here.

Tom: No problem my friend, no problem.

ToddStar: Well, let’s dive right into it. You’ve got this killer album out, well it’s getting ready to drop. You did a small tour to promote it, but getting to the album first, what can you tell us about the album that a fan might not catch or grab first or second listen through?

Tom: Wow, I don’t know. In what sense?

ToddStar: Just any sense. I mean, everybody knows this album took a long time, but I mean from the minute you’d laid down and started doing the recording and the final mixes, and this kind of stuff, how long did this really take you to make it the album you wanted it to be?

Tom: We started cutting tracks for it, which to me was the beginning of actually recording the record, that was in 2003. So that’s when the actual recording and production mixing, all of that was done. So the better part of nine or ten years to finish the actual production of the record. All the writing took place prior to 2003, starting in the mid-nineties when I first started thinking about a solo record, and it kept getting put on the back burner, but in the meantime I was just writing and a big pile of songs was building up. So I finally decided to start recording it in 2003. There were tons of songs to choose from. The writing had started, like I said, in the mid-nineties. At that point I just picked fourteen that I really liked and I thought made a good balanced record, and I started recording, and you know, for as long as it took I never saw that part coming.

ToddStar: Sure.


Tom: It’s the first time I ever made a record that was produced independently of a label, so there was no deadline, no definitive budget, just kind of like when it’s done, its done. I never dreamed it would take ten years, but it did and it wasn’t like I worked on it straight for ten years, I had a lot of breaks and its actually probably what helped the record become what it is, because the records I made prior to this with Cinderella, you know there was no time for objectivity. We were always concise in the amount of time. Those records usually took about six months and we worked six days a week, and the only break we’d ever get was taking Sundays off. So… but on this record, because of Pro Tools and the ability to save a session and come back to it four months later and open it, you know, I’d go on tour with Cinderella or something, I probably did five tours with them in the period of time this record was made, and not listen to a note of what I’d been working on on the record, and then get back and open up the session and it’d be right where it was, because that’s how Pro Tools is. You can get right back to where you were. And I’d just listen to it fresh and objective and make changes, things that I didn’t like I’d get rid of, and things that I liked I would keep, and then continue working for a while until the next break presented itself. So it was kind of like on/off, on/off and having those periods of objectivity helped, believe me, because sometimes I’d get home and listen to stuff and think ‘what the fuck was I thinking?’ So yeah, you need that time to get away from it. Especially when it’s so intensive, and you’re just so focused on it. I was really enjoying making this record and learning about Pro Tools and all the cool stuff you can do in there. I just had fun with it. And I produced it with Savannah, my wife, and a real good friend of mine here named Chuck Turner, and the three of us really get along great and love hanging out in the control room together for hours on end, and we just laughed and had fun, and made music, and sometimes fucked shit up and had to hit ‘undo’. You know, weird sessions till 5 am where the next morning it was like oh shit, let’s undo some of that. But then other times till 6 am and wake up the next day and be pleasantly surprised and go ‘Wow, that was really cool’. It’s just all part of the process, but we really took our time with it.

ToddStar: And I think that that paid off. I’ve enjoyed the album from the first listen. It seems more personally, even the harder stuff, you know the stuff that people are going to align more with Cinderella than you as a solo artist because of the sound, it’s still the lyrics and the way you’re singing, it still feels more personal on the listening end. Was that something you tried to convey?

Tom: Well I think I tried to convey that certainly in the mix. It was really important to me that the mix be very dry, be very organic, not real affected reverb, you know all that stuff. And that’s probably the thing that took the longest, was to try and find an engineer that was really going to mix it really honest and in your face. I just like that kind of mix, so it was intentional on that part, and I think that does give it more of a personal feel, because if just feels like it’s right in your face and the band and my voice and everything are right there. In terms of the actual writing and lyrics, that’s a place that I’ve always written from, is personal in life. My heroes as writers were people who were inspired by American roots music; blues and country and gospel, R&B, and that music is all about real things. So when I think about the lyricists who inspired me like Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and The Eagles, Zeppelin, that’s what I always tried to do. I think that this record is probably a little more personal, and hopefully that’s because moving to Nashville and being around all these great song writers, hopefully some of it has rubbed off and I’ve become a better lyricist, and got better at expressing myself. But still the inspiration even from day one, even with Cinderella till now, I’ve always drawn from life and real experiences.

ToddStar: So as somebody who wore out at least two copies of Night Songs on cassette back in the day, and I’m dating myself here, I’ve been a fan for a long time. I’ve seen you guys any time I could get to you, especially here in Detroit, and I was one of the few blessed to see you in February at The Magic Bay here, and… it was fun to watch you Tom, because you enjoyed yourself. You weren’t the solo guy out there trying to pay the bills, or trying to prove yourself, you were out there presenting some of the new songs, restructuring some of the old songs, but you had a damned good time, and from the audience you could see it. How was that tour for you from a performer’s perspective?

Tom Keifer Photo by Tom Petillo

Tom: I loved it. Touring and performing music live is my favorite aspect of what I do. The studio is great and creating the songs and all, but that can sometimes be very torturous, sometimes for up to ten years. I mean as much fun as I described that we had making this record, it was still kind of torturous at the same time, trying to get that thing you hear in your head to come out of the studio speakers, and I guess that’s why they call it the recording arts. It’s very different to just walking into a rehearsal room or a stage and playing music. That’s an honest, in the moment moment, and it is what it is, and I love that, and I love walking on stage. I did with Cinderella, I did with my solo run. Yeah, I always have fun up there. I love the fans, I love feeling that energy and that exchange between the stage and the fans, and this tour in particular was really fun because I don’t really talk much on stairs over the years, and doing the storyteller’s part in the acoustic section was really different for me, and a little scary at first because that’s probably more talking in one show than I’ve done in my whole career with Cinderella. I’ve always keen kind of head down, sweat and rock and sing, and that’s it. So it was cool to do something different like that. And that felt appropriate for this tour because it just felt right to do that on this tour, to change up some of the old songs and just open up a little bit more.

ToddStar: Again, as a long-time fan I know I appreciated it. When I did the review of the show I even mentioned that, especially when you did the break down and gave us the back stories and did the storyteller portion, I felt like I was sitting around a camp fire in your living room just getting those nooks and crannies of each song that nobody really got that insight in the past.

Tom: Cool. Well that was what we were hoping for. That’s why we chose to go into very small rooms, to keep it intimate, because I knew we were going to do acoustic stuff. And at the same time I know everybody wants to hear the paint peeling, blistering, high energy rock too. So I really put a lot of thought into balancing those two things, because the music I’ve written over the years has always had that contrast of ballad and acoustic, and then the really high energy stuff. So I didn’t want to leave either thing out. It took a little bit of thought to structure the set and pace it, but I think from what I’ve heard from most people, the balance was struck correctly, hopefully, and as much as I love doing that acoustic stuff, I also love singing Shelter Me and Gypsy Road and some of the more kick ass stuff as well.

ToddStar: Sure. How fun was it to bring Savannah out every night?

Tom: It’s a blast. She had so much to do with this record and contributed so much, not only as a song writer but as a co-producer with Chuck and I, and you know, it just felt right that she be part of the tour and the songs that she sings on with me are things that she actually sang on the recordings. Ask Me Yesterday, she co-wrote that song and sang the background on the record, and the Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone version that she does with me on stage is actually something I recorded for a VH1 compilation record, and she actually co-produced that and sang the background on that too. Those two songs in the show and the blend of our voices is unique, so it just felt right for her to be there, and also just the fact she was so involved with the record. So we have really been having a good time being on the road together, and I think the fans enjoyed her coming out and singing those couple of songs, her voice adds a special quality to both of those songs that I don’t think anyone else can do.

ToddStar: I’d agree with that. Now having done that with the storyteller portion, breaking some of the songs down, has it put the idea in your head to maybe go back and re-record some of those old tracks, and restructure them.

Tom: Well the ones that I did in the show I did record. The Shake Me version is also one that VH1 had a compilation record called Stripped, and I did the Shake Me version that I did in the show, the blues version and the acoustic version of Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone, are on those records. So they have been recorded. On the record Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone is all acoustic. We kind of did it half and half at the show. So they have been recorded, they’re out there floating around. But possibly some other songs. I actually did one for them also of Nobody’s Fool. That is also on one of those records. So one at a time here and there. A re-record for me, I don’t like the kind that sound exactly like the old record, because what’s the point of that, so the ones that I’ve done I’ve really tried to reinvent. For me, after hearing the song all these years, that’s almost like song writing, because you have to wait for inspiration to hit you, where it’s like ‘Wow, it would be cool to do this song this way’. Shake Me was very different from the album version, obviously, that acoustic blues version. It was almost like a song writing inspiration. They asked me for another track and I was like Shake Me would be cool, so I was like, how can I do this different? Because just strumming the chords of the original arrangement on an acoustic guitar doesn’t really cut it. It needed to have some sort of a reinvented groove and stuff. So for other ones to come to life that way, it’s just got to hit me.

ToddStar: Okay, well The Way Life Goes drops April 30th, and you did something almost unheard of anymore; you threw two singles out there are the same time. When you put the first two singles out, if it wasn’t simultaneous it was very close.

Tom: Yeah they were close.

ToddStar: What made you make that decision? That’s almost unheard of in this day and age.


Tom: Well it was the label, Jack Ponti who runs the label that I’m with. When he signed me, or signed the record, he heard and really appreciated the contrast on the record in terms of, you know, the two singles that we released are really the far ends of the spectrum from each other of what’s on the record, so The Flower Song is the one that really represents the lighter, organic kind of vibe acoustic, and Solid Ground represented certainly one of the more hard driving tracks on the record. There’s a lot of those kind on the record, but certainly that’s the opposite end of the spectrum of The Flower Song, and you know, Jack had the idea to take The Flower Song to Triple A radio because he felt that that fit into that format there, and we got some pretty good reaction and stuff there, so at the same time he was working Solid Ground at rock. Because radio is kind of segmented today, or formatted, so everything is kind of separated. Back when I was growing up, a song like The Flower Song and Solid Ground would be on the same station. Not so much these days. So they actually not only released two singles, but in two different formats. I’m learning about how everything has changed, because I haven’t had a record out in years and I’m really conforming to the label because they know what they’re doing in terms of marketing.

ToddStar: And dammit Tom, the fans have missed you.

Tom: I’ve missed them.

ToddStar: We really have, we’ve missed that voice. You’ve got that distinctive voice, you automatically pull me back to 1986 every time I hear you man, I love it.  What is next for Tom Keifer? What are you doing this summer, are you taking this out on the road again?

Tom: Yeah we’re going out May 2nd, we start in Los Angeles at The Canyon Club and we’re going to take the same show, same kind of venues that you saw, to the rest of the cities and places in the country that we didn’t see in February, so we will be working our way east through the south and pick up a little more of the mid-west. You know, when that… I don’t know, it’s kind of… just taking it one day at a time and seeing what the record brings us. It’s really a new adventure and it’s the unknown. I’m just waiting myself to see how it unfolds. But yeah, we’re going out for another leg that starts at the beginning of May, I’m just not sure how long that’ll last.

ToddStar: Well it’s definitely been a ride for you, the last twenty seven plus years; Cinderella, and you had your ups and downs personally with your voice and everything else, so culminating all of your wisdom Tom, tell us please with our final question for you, what’s the meaning of life?

Tom: [Laughter] I don’t know. I don’t know what the meaning of it is. I think I’ve learned better ways to live it over the years, and I think that…I’m not sure what the meaning is. The song Solid Ground is a song about how… there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, I don’t know if this is the meaning, but it’s what I’ve learned about it, it’s in that song, and that is that old saying that life is a journey and not a destination. You never arrive, you know? Life throws twists and turns at you and they’re always going to be coming at you. Life is always moving, life’s always changing and this thing I think we’re all looking for, and I know I always have been, is this thing where like, life is gonna be a breeze now…that’s not the nature of life in my experience, it just keeps changing and life is more something that you need to keep up with, because it’s always going to be moving and changing, and that’s what the song Solid Ground is about. You’ve just got to roll with it.

ToddStar: Definitely. I wouldn’t have expected any less a philosophical answer from you Tom, after listening to you for years.

Tom: I don’t think that’s the meaning of it but it’s certainly one way to look at it.

ToddStar: It definitely is. I know you’re a busy man and we really appreciate your time, we love you here and we can’t wait to hopefully get you back in Detroit soon, whether it be solo or Cinderella, I love the solo shows but however we can get you back in Detroit, we’ll take you.

Tom: Cool man. Good talking to you and you have a great day.

ToddStar: You too, Tom. Bye.

Tom: Bye bye.

For all things Tom Keifer, you can check him out here:

Photos of his solo show earlier this year in Detroit

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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