Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Tesla bassist Brian Wheat about their latest record, Twisted Wires And The Acoustic Sessions. The album is a potpourri of Tesla nuggets recorded acoustically in the studio, and the release of the album coincides with the 20th anniversary of their highly successful album, Five Man Acoustical Jam. Brian and I spoke about the process of putting the new CD together, as well as his thoughts on Tesla being together for over 25 years now. The conversation is below.
So, the new Tesla album is called Twisted Wires And The Acoustic Sessions. Can you tell me a little bit about how the album came together?
Well, what happened was, half the record has Tommy Skeoch on it, and those were the last sessions we did with Tommy before he left the band. We always wanted to put them on a box set, but the box set ended up getting kinda put on hold for now. So those recordings were sitting in the vault, and the 20th anniversary of Five Man Acoustical Jam was coming up. At the same time, we had a song called “Better Off Without You,” which was a demo from our first record, and we were working on this new song called “Second Street” as well. So, we basically made the record around the tracks we had in the vault with Skeoch, the two new songs that we had, as well as some new recordings of some of our older songs done in an acoustic fashion. That’s were we got Twisted Wires from—it’s sort of a mesh of three different things.
So how far back do those sessions with Tommy go?
They were done in 2005, over like a ten-day period. At that time we were doing some acoustic shows and someone had pointed out to us that we had never done studio recordings acoustically—that most of our acoustic stuff was only on Five Man Acoustical Jam.
So when you were working on that stuff, I guess you didn’t want to overlap what was already released on Five Man Acoustical Jam?
Yeah, that’s why there’s no “Paradise” on the album, no “Love Song.”
Yeah, I noticed that most of the album was comprised of really deep album cuts from the catalog.
Well, one thing you have to remember is that when we did Five Man Acoustical Jam, we only had two records out—Psychotic Supper hadn’t been released, Bust A Nut hadn’t been released yet—that’s why lots of the tracks on this new album are the more obscure stuff from those records, like “A Lot To Lose,” and others songs, as well.
Were there some songs from the catalog that you knew right away you wanted to do acoustically?
I think things kinda present themselves. Usually we just kinda jam around, and the ones that sound good end up being the ones we do.
When you guys unplug, it still has that swing and swagger that is very much a part of the Tesla sound, and since you guys were pretty influential in terms of rock bands stripping down and playing acoustic, I wonder—and perhaps you can tell me—what it is that makes the music come alive and so special when played in that setting.
Yeah, you know, I don’t now what it is. Obviously, when we play electric, that’s how we play, and when we play acoustic, it just sounds that way. That’s just what we do naturally, you know. We don’t really calculate it. I couldn’t really give you any formula, but maybe it’s just how we mentally approach things when we play acoustic.
I feel like I really have to thank you guys for putting me on to some music that really shaped me as a person growing up. I think Five Man Acoustical Jam was a really good blueprint for young people at that time willing to broaden their tastes beyond what was popular—which was definitely that whole Poison/Mötley Crüe thing.
Well, I appreciate that. It’s a nice compliment. I tell people all the time that that’s all we really knew how to do. They tried to turn us into these sexy guys, you know, that look that was happening at the time, and that just wasn’t us. And also, the big thing that happened in the process is that we turned everybody on to “Signs.”
I just read a review from one of your latest gigs in Arizona, and the reviewer wrote that—even though that song was a hit for you 20 years ago, and even though you guys must have played that song live a million times by now—it still feels fresh, the audience anticipates it, and that it appears as if you guys still really enjoy playing that song in particular.
Yeah, you know, even though we didn’t write it, it’s one of ours now. It was our biggest hit, people look forward to it, and when you see them enjoying it, how can you not enjoy it?
Now that you guys have been together over 25 years now, how do you reflect upon your career now? I mean, I don’t know what your expectations were when the band started, but now, all these years later, how does it feel for you and the band?
It’s pretty mind-blowing when I look at it now. It’s like, “Man, we’ve been together 25 years!” I mean, I never thought that would happen when we started. You know, when we were kids, we just wanted to get our record into the record shops, and now—25 years later—people still keep coming to shows. So, we’re just really fortunate.
You can catch Tesla when they stop at Irving Plaza in NYC on Friday, Feb. 17. Built By Stereo will also be performing and the show starts at 7 p.m. For more information, go to teslatheband.com.