Like many hair bands from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Cinderella weathered the bursting of their musical bubble, enduring everything from personal setbacks, artistic separations and physical illness along the way. According to bassist Eric Brittingham though, the band’s tour commemorating the 25-year anniversary of their Night Songs debut album is a welcome return to the original line-up and has been well received by their dedicated fans.
Never one to shy away from my affection for this band, it was a pleasure talking with Brittingham about the band’s integrity, Tom Keifer’s tragic vocal problems, and the way things once were but may never be again (and he’s okay with that).
Congratulations on the 25th anniversary of Night Songs release. Over the years the band has primarily stayed with the same line-up, with a temporary replacement here and there. How is it playing with the original members on this tour?
We changed our line-up back in the early ‘90s when we put the Still Climbing record out and we had a different drummer. We toured and subsequently that record didn’t sell well, we got dropped from the label, split up and things were pretty much over. About three years later we got together—the original four guys—to do a benefit show, and it really felt good. We thought we’d try to book a tour and right from the beginning it felt good and was successful. Even though we didn’t have a deal we thought we could still go out and do live shows. It just felt right with the original four guys.
We made a pact that if we’re going to do this thing, this was how we were going to do it. So we’ve just been booking tours based on everyone’s availability. We go out around every other year, but had to take a bit of a break from ‘06 to last year because Tom blew his voice out just before the ‘08 tour from fatigue; he had to go on vocal rest. You can’t go on vocal rest when you’re supposed to be starting a tour three days later. He found a different vocal coach and a different method that seems to be working well. We toured last year and it ended great and he’s doing great this year so everything’s working there. I don’t think we’re going to have anymore long breaks like that.
He always seemed to be a dedicated, serious musician. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a vocalist to literally lose his voice.
He’s had problems on and off since the early ‘90s. He’s had a couple surgeries and it’s kind of like he fixes one problem and something else seems to pop up that’s completely unrelated. He had a problem with blood vessels being thin and bursting so he had them cauterized, basically, to seal them up. But that created a partial paralysis of his vocal cords so he had to relearn how to sing. Finally, he found the right coach and is on a strict regimen and he’s as strong as he ever was. We’re all so glad to see that, or hear it rather. It’s a lot of work. He wakes up and really has to plan his day out. It’s all based on when he actually has to do a show. If it’s a 10 o’clock show he has to start a certain time with an hour of vocal exercises then a couple hours later he’ll do something else then he’ll do a warm-up. It’s a strict regimen and he does it every, every day if we’re playing or not. It’s good and he doesn’t have to worry about hurting himself because he really has it tuned in, but it is a lot of work.
As a band, how have you all weathered changes in music trends over the years? I mean, right now I have a tour book for the Long Cold Winter tour right beside me. A lot of time has gone by. You’re almost ready for a 25th anniversary tour for that one, too.
(Laughs) It’s true! We’ve had side projects and different things going on to fill the time creatively. As far as now, where we’re at, everyone asks if we’re going to put a new record out, but in today’s climate it’s just not really making sense. We watch every other band from our era who have put records out—Ratt, Great White, Tesla, I can go right down the line—and none of them are really selling any gangbuster units.
The only way you can really do that is to go do it by yourself in your own studio and we’re not really a band that wants to do that. I mean, we want to put a project out and we want to do it right with a good producer and a good studio, like we’re used to doing. Right now, unless someone comes along with the budget for us to do that, I don’t really see it happening. That’s kind of happening for a lot of people. The way things are, it’s just opened up the doors to mediocrity. There are things out from really good bands and you’re thinking it sounds like crap, y’know?
With any genre, there’s good and there’s bad. For example: With the whole grunge era. I mean, I’m a fan of some of it and think some of it is great but I think the whole thing made people think they could make music that didn’t really sound that good. So, why would they spend hundreds of thousands or millions to make a record when they could release one that sounds like it was recorded on a boombox in someone’s garage? I mean, look at The White Stripes. That’s what it sounds like. It’s funny because I have demos from when I was like 16 and recorded from one tape player to the next tape player for the overdubs. They kind of sound like their records and I just think, “Really?”
We’ve always been a band that’s really made an effort to keep quality control high. Even our live shows, we try to put the money into what’s going to make us sound and look the best. That’s just how we’ve always done it. We’ve done some Civic dates where we had to play off of rental gear, but really don’t like to do that because it’s not the best that it can be. We’ve always maintained a level of quality across the board and try not to compromise that.
I remember a lot being made of the shift from Night Songs’ glam rock to Long Cold Winter’s more bluesy sound. Is the stigma of being a “hair band” one that plagues the band or are you beyond that now?
We are what we always have been. Some people view that as being ‘different’ and just can’t get by how we looked on our first record cover. I remember well into the Long Cold Winter tour we dressed and looked like how we thought a rock band should look. I remember reading reviews of our shows and people would write about getting past all of the hairspray and lipstick and, for one thing, we never wore any fucking lipstick, so it’s like people just have this preconceived notion of what it is. But we’ve always been a blues-based rock band. We were kind of doing the anti-early ‘80s New Wave crap, with the skinny tie bands, so we went in a hardcore, opposite way with being really glam with teased out hair, then grunge came and you had to be [anti-glam]. You had to look like you were ready to go pump gas somewhere.
Was there ever a point when that change in the atmosphere discouraged the band and made you forget where you came from as musicians?
No, it’s always been part of it. I mean, the bands Tom and I were in previous to Cinderella were even more into image and were like a cross between Mötley Crüe and Wasp before they’d ever existed, and we were on the opposite coast. So when we saw their albums come out we thought, “Well, I guess this look is out!” (Laughs) We just kind of moved on and carved our own niche, but others came to follow. We never innovated anything, but whatever. It seems like everyone just fed off of everybody else. Actually, pretty early on we decided to stop teasing the hair up but kept wearing leather pants and still do now, 25 years later. Pretty basic stuff. It’s still rock but we’re not really focused on the image so much anymore.
Cinderella will be playing Aug. 12 at House of Blues, Atlantic City, and Aug. 13 at Starland Ballroom. More info at cinderella.net.