Masters of melodic, optimistic hard rock tunes, Tesla are busy sharing the road with tourmates Def Leppard and REO Speedwagon, making this summer their 30th anniversary of (pretty) consistent touring. Never a band for slacking off, 2016 will also see two new releases from the Tesla factory and a selection of solo and side projects from the band’s members. Guitarist Frank Hannon and I recently spoke about the tour, the band’s career, and the importance of a good creative coach.
I was looking on your website and saw that Tesla has been touring pretty consistently since 1982, when I was 7. That’s remarkable.
Man, I hate to sound like I’m repeating you or tooting my horn or anything, but it is remarkable. You mentioned 1982, when I was a sophomore in high school. I took a test and got out early because we were traveling. Me personally, as a musician, we went to Guam, and were driving to Idaho to play summer festivals up there before we ever even made a record our band was on the road. So, yeah, it’s been a pretty wild, long strange trip, to quote the Grateful Dead.
I saw your tour dates included a show at a new venue near me, in Syracuse. How was that show?
That show was fantastic. The audience was really receptive. All the venues on this tour are spectacular because it’s such a big event. Yesterday we were in Hersheypark Stadium which is a big outdoor stadium in Pennsylvania next to the Hershey’s chocolate factory, and that was outrageous. The gig up in Syracuse was a really nice, newer venue like you said. But, most of all, the people are so receptive that it’s just blowing our minds that we’re still able to get such a great response 30 years later.
Your career must be influential for a lot of bands now.
Once in a while we’ll hear from another band that they were influenced by Tesla, and that makes it even more special. But, the thing is, we’re a hard working band. We’ve never had overnight success. We’ve never been like at the top of the top of the charts. We’ve always just kind of been under the radar and have always been working. We have a loyal fanbase that’s dedicated and loyal, luckily, because of our songs. We’ve been able to maintain a cruising altitude, so to speak.
That must have worked in your favor when the music industry imploded in the ‘90s.
Right, when all of that happened we kind of imploded ourselves, it wasn’t due to the industry. We were always more of a blue collar band and not as glamorous as a lot of our peers of the era. I think that definitely worked to our advantage because we were more about the music and songs. There were a few other bands from our era like that—The Black Crowes, or more like jam bands, or like Lynyrd Skynyrd. An honest, blue collar, working man’s band.
On a personal note, I’d like to talk about “Love Song” for a minute. It’s a song that’s gotten my good friend and me through some difficult times. I listened to it four times yesterday. Thank you for writing it. I hope it will never be taken out of your setlist.
Oh, no way, man! There’s no way we would not play that song. That was our biggest original hit, next to “Signs” which was a cover song. And, like you, I want to thank Jeff Keith, our vocalist, for writing words of encouragement. It is a song about helping someone through a breakup, more than it’s a song about loving somebody, but loving somebody from an angle of encouragement and helping them. Jeff is brilliant at writing those kinds of twists in the lyrics, and I’m so grateful for that because, again, we didn’t have cheesy stuff, thanks to him.
What can you tell me about the new album? I talked with Phil Collen last week. He said working with Tesla is like working with a bunch of energetic 20-year-olds.
It’s fantastic. There are two new albums. The first new album is Mechanical Resonance Revisited Live. It will have all of the songs from the first album put into a live album that we did last year, and that really came out great. It’s really raw and energetic. That album has a bonus track on it that we collaborated with Phil Collen on called “Save That Goodness” and the message is talking about being good to yourself. So, it’s another positive message in a song that fits right in with Tesla.
The next album after that is going to be a studio album that we’re working on every day on the road, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. We work on it in the dressing rooms, in the bus, in the hotel. And, if you look at Phil and the shape he’s in and the positive spirit he exudes in Def Leppard, that’s a great boost for Tesla. That’s the kind of coach we need. We need someone to drive us like that. A good team, like a good football team, always has a good coach. Whoever’s winning the Super Bowl is not doing it without a good coach. For Tesla, it really helps us to have a guy like Phil Collen helping us and motivating us. It’s really been a great, great synergy. It’s interesting he said it’s like working with 20-year-olds because it makes us feel young again. It makes us feel like we have some direction.
And what about side projects? Or, does Tesla keep you all busy enough?
Sure, people can go to our website teslatheband.com or they can go to my website, frankhannon.com. I have a new video on there that I just filmed in San Francisco that I wrote and sang. It’s kind of an autobiographical song I wrote. I’m a solo artist but don’t do any shows. I’m only recording and making videos right now. I can’t do shows away from Tesla; we’re just too busy. I’m 50 years old this year and it’s really the best year of my life, musically. I’m really enjoying what’s going on with everything both with my solo stuff and Tesla. I’m learning new licks all the time on the guitar. I’m digging in to old folk music. All the guys do various projects. Dave has a band and Brian has his YouTube show that he’s doing from his studio, like a talent search kind of thing. Troy does recording with Brad Whitford and Derek St. Holmes from Aerosmith, and Ted Nugent. They have an album coming out that he’s on. We all have different things that we do, yeah.
Tesla will be touring with Def Leppard and REO Speedwagon this summer, stopping by locally at Nikon At Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY on July 11, and the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ on July 13. For more visit teslatheband.com or frankhannon.com.