Tom Keifer talks with Mayhem Music Magazine about the making of his debut solo album ‘THE WAY LIFE GOES’
Mayhem Music Magazine: You’ve built your career as the front man for Cinderella. This solo album’s been a long time in the making. How did you know it was time to release the solo material?
Tom Keifer: Well, as simple as this sounds, about a year and a half, maybe almost two years ago, I woke up and pressed play and it sounded like what I wanted it to sound like. There was never any grand scheme as to when it was going to be released. It was just about making a record and making it as well as I could. I didn’t plan on taking this long to make it and it was just, kind of, this process of keep working and working until that thing that I heard in my head when I wrote the song was coming out of the studio speakers, which was not always an exact science.
So, finally got it to where I wanted it and I’m pretty happy with it. And then, we started shopping for a label, obviously, and found that Merovee Records, who really believed in the record, and here we are. But honestly, through the whole process of making the record, I mean, we weren’t even sure if it would ever get released. So, it was just really about making some music and when it really started coming together it sounded like a record. It was, like, okay. Well, we should probably go find a label for this.
MayhemMusic Magazine: You have truly created an incredible record from start to finish.
Tom Keifer: Thank you very much.
Mayhem Music Magazine: You’ve gone through a lot in your personal life. How much of that has gone into the lyrics of this CD?
Tom Keifer: Well, that’s what all we’ve written from, is life. That’s my inspiration as a song writer are all really rock musicians who were inspired by America’s roots music like, Mick Jagger, Mark Stewart, the Stones, and Aerosmith, and you name it; Janis Joplin, the Eagles, Skynyrd, I mean, Fleetwood Mac, so much great music that I came up on in the 70’s.
So, that’s really when I learned how to play guitar and write songs and lyrics. And, I’ve always approached even from the first Cinderella record, it was always the lyrics and the songs were always about life. So, very much so on this record, it’s the same way. That’s where the inspiration for a song comes from me, always, is with a lyric and what the songs about.
You’ll be driving down the road, on an airplane, walking down the street, isle six at Home Depot, and all of a sudden this idea pops into your head. You get inspired. A song title, a line, a lyric with a melody, and the next thing, I’m racing for a guitar or a piano or whatever instrument feels appropriate, and try to figure out what that is that I’m hearing in my head. So, it always comes from that perspective for me.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Well, where did you actually record the album this time?
Tom Keifer: Well, it was in Nashville, here, which is where it’s been wound for years now, since the mid 90’s, I moved here. And, it was tracked at a couple different studios around town, here. None of which even exist anymore. The only one that does still exist is my studio where we did the over doves at the house, here. But, the studios that we’ve tracked have been bought or changed or whatever. But, it was all done here in Nashville at Barry Studios.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Well, I mean, you have 14 tracks on “The Way Life Goes”. And truly, it ranges from 70’s style rockers to country type ballets. How do you feel your writing process was different for the songs you’re going to release on your own solo project compared to when you were writing directly for Cinderella?
Tom Keifer: Not really different. The approach to the writing has always been the same. And, it starts with a lyric and then you build the music around that. That’s pretty much how I’ve always written. I think with Cinderella and throughout Cinderella’s career, and it’s continued on this record, the real thing that, I think, you learn as you go and the studio is production and instrumentation, and how to, maybe, paint the picture a little bit differently with different instruments and the way you produce things and mix things. And, that’s something, I think, that Cinderella really grew from the first record through, like, Heartbreak Station. And, hopefully, I’ve continued to at least stay in the same area when we finished up with those last couple of records. So, that’s a real learning curve and when we went in to make “Night Songs” we were pretty green. And, we learned a lot from [Andy Johns] and how he captured the feel, just the tempos and energy and production and how you want those songs to really come across as they’re coming out of those speakers. Lots to learn in that department.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Well, one of the things I have to say is, as I said, the way you have the songs structured from start to finish, this is truly something you don’t buy as just singles. I mean, I truly love it as an album. To me, with the lyric content, the way it’s written, is very reminiscence of Bernie Taupin and Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic”. You go from a journey from beginning to end, and I truly love that about that. Do you think this is because a lot of the songs you wrote with [Savanna], that you were able to structure the way it was?
Tom Keifer: I’ve always tried to make records as a whole and, like I said, with Cinderella, I think that grew. There was a lot of growth and the dynamics and instrumentation from “Night Songs”, “A Long Cold Winter” and then again, to “Heartbreak Station” where it ranged from very intimate acoustic songs, like the title track, “Heartbreak Station” to great driving and heavy stuff, like “The More Things Change” or “Dead Man’s Road”. There was even some Country sounding stuff on some of the earlier Cinderella records. So in terms of that dynamic range, I don’t think that having different writers, like Savanna or anyone else that I wrote with created that dynamic. When I went to Nashville and started working with writers here and working with [Savanna], who is an incredible writer and lyricist.
I actually think it up‘d my game as a lyricist because at National, here, that’s what it’s all about. They write here from the same place that I’ve always written from. In terms of, it’s about the lyric, about the lyric, about the lyric. If you don’t have that, you can write all day, but if you don’t have a good subject to write about.
Savanna just is an amazing writer and lyricist and was great to collaborate. So, I think bringing her in and bringing in some other writers, I think helped the quality of the songs, certainly. I don’t think it brought in any new dimensions in terms of the style you were talking about from acoustic [to a record] because I meant with Cinderella, too. I think it just made the songs better, because I was working with really, really amazing song writers to collaborate with.
The idea from the beginning was to make a whole record just like I’ve done in the past with the other record. We didn’t want to spend ten years working on a whole record that only had one good song. So, I always loved that, like you just said, that idea of a record that takes on a journey from beginning to end.
So, that’s always been by goal in making records. There’s always going to be singles on a record, obviously. That’s what they used to put out there and give people a taste of the record, but I’ve always been about making a record in its entirety.
Mayhem Music Magazine: And that’s exactly what I’m trying to get at. Most people, a lot of times, when they release something, they’ll have one, or two singles, but that’s as far as it goes. I mean, this is truly a great album from start to finish.
Tom Keifer: Well, thank you and I appreciate that. That’s only our goal.
Mayhem Music Magazine: And at the same time, as Cinderella when you were writing, of course they were called power ballets at the time, but when you had songs like “Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone”, you have a completely different vibe on the ballets you’re doing, like, “Thick and Thin” and “Flower Song”. I mean these truly have that, better word for it, the country edge to it. I mean, I just love the direction you went with these types more acoustic songs.
Tom Keifer: Thank you. A lot of the stuff I grew up on had that kind of vibe to it. And, you know again, I think that comes back to how you produce an instrument. The instrumentation that you use, I guess the difference between “Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone” and “Thick and Thin” is the way it’s produced, in terms of huge power cords and power guitars on “Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone”. Which we could have done that on “Thick and Thin”, but we didn’t.
We kept it a little bit simpler. That comes from, I think, what’s the word I’m looking for, I guess just growth in the studio, in terms of how you produce something and give something, maybe, a different dimension, in terms of what instruments and how you choose to play the song, not necessarily how it’s written.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Yeah, sometimes less is more.
Tom Keifer: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Opening up the space and letting it have a little bit more space, and letting the rhythm section be more the power than, say walls of guitar.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Well, was there any songs on the album that you almost didn’t record or release because you just felt it exposed too much of you or what you had to deal with?
Tom Keifer: No, not really, just I wrote for this records for years, probably, starting in the mid 90’s right up until we started recording it in 2003. And when it came time to pick songs before we started recording, I had tons of songs and tons of material. I just tried to pick songs that I really liked that I thought were good and that went together that could create that journey of the dynamics that you mentioned, being able to deal from the acoustic stuff to the very hard driving.
That’s a bit of a trick sometimes to make sure you’ve got the balance of that and the right songs that can follow each other. And going from the “Flower Song” to the “Mood Elevator” is quite a jump, but it works.
Mayhem Music Magazine: It does work. That’s what I was talking about. I mean, there really is a roller coaster ride, to put it kindly. You follow the journey. Well, do you have any favorite tracks or ones you love doing live?
Tom Keifer: I love playing “Solid Ground” live. “Ask Me Yesterday” and “Flower Song” are both in the show. And, those are really cool. And, Savanna actually comes out and sings with me on “Ask Me Yesterday” because she co-wrote that song and, also, singing background on the record. So, that’s a very cool moment in the show. She comes up for a couple of eight to six songs and sings with me. So, I really like doing that one live, because I get to sing it with her. And like I mentioned, the “Flower Song”. And we’re also doing “Cold Day In Hell”, which that is something I like to play live, too.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Well, how are your vocal cords holding up? I know when you went out on the previous intro to the tour that you ended up having some issues, as well. Not just with that, but I believe you caught pneumonia, didn’t you?
Tom Keifer: Yeah. The tour back in February, my voice was actually really strong. I’ve been working on building that back for years. I was starting with a partly paralyzed vocal cord back in the early 90’s and that’s not an exact science to get around. Those people don’t sing again after they get that.
I worked with a lot of coaches and trained by voice back over the years and I worked with so many great teachers and finally figured out a way to really get it working again and get it consistent. And, I know what to do before a show to get it opened up and working properly, which involves warm ups probably longer than the show itself.
But, I’m just glad I can still do it. So, in terms of that condition, my voice has gotten stronger and stronger over the years, and really strong over the last couple of Cinderella tours. And, probably stronger than it’s ever been on this solo tour.
But in February, I did come down with the flu about half way through that part of the tour, which turned into pneumonia. And, I probably, really should have gone home or go to the hospital. And, I didn’t. I stayed out and kept going to shows and it got really, really bad. I eventually ended up when that leg of the tour [rounded up] in the hospital at home, here in Nashville and it took me months really to recover from it.
So, I was just really starting to get my legs back when we started up again touring. And, I guess it was at the end of April when the record was released and we started out on the west coast. But, I’m good now. I think the lungs have recovered from all that. It was pretty rough bout.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Well, I’m definitely glad you’re feeling better on that one.
Tom Keifer: Thank you and thanks for asking.
Mayhem Music Magazine: How did it feel, actually, recording without the other guys from Cinderella? I mean, you’ve been with Jeff and Fred and Eric for years. I mean, this one you’re truly doing on your own.
Tom Keifer: Well, when you go into a studio and you’ve got a song you’ve written, the goal is to get come out of those speakers what you hear in your head. And, that’s what I’m usually focused on in the studio, whether I’m with those guys or with the session players that I used on this record.
In terms of, there was a different dynamic, in terms of camaraderie, because this record was done more piecemeal and, kind of like, in quick and bang out a few tracks here, in quick you know, where the Cinderella records were condensed into, like six months. And, we were all there and hanging out and doing the thing the whole time. And working with some amazing producers, like [Andy Johns] or [Gary Lyons] who brought a lot of humor to the table with their sharp witted British.
So, it’s a different dynamic in that sense. But, the record was produced by myself and Savannah, and a very good friend of ours here, Chuck Turner. And, the three of us get along very well, so, there was a real camaraderie between the producers on this one. Like it, maybe, made up for the fact, that I wasn’t with he band or the players or with Cinderella, that we had that unit that for, I don’t know how many years. We were just use to being around each other and all.
So, a little shift in the dynamics there and the camaraderie lied. Savannah and Chuck and I were, like, thick as thieves for years just making this record and hanging out and having a great time doing it. We kept it under wraps and didn’t play it for anybody. It was, kind of like, just for us. Like I said, we didn’t even know if the damn thing was ever going to get released. It’s just like let’s just make the best music we can.
Mayhem Music Magazine: Well, man, it seems you did. And if it came down to it, what would you like the world to know about Tom Keifer, the solo artist?
Tom Keifer: I guess to me, it’s all in the record. It’s all in the CD. And, it really was a labor of love and it was about the music. And like I just said, we didn’t even know if it would ever be released because we didn’t have a label involved when we started it. And, we spent quite a bit of time and money making it and it was truly for the love of music. And, I hope people will be able to hear that and agree with what’s on the record, because we really put it all into it.
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