For over 30 years, Tesla have been creating and touring, gracing the world with their talent and inspiration. Now, members Jeff Keith (lead vocals), Frank Hannon (guitars), Dave Rude (guitars), Brian Wheat (bass), and Troy Luccketta (drums) are back en route with Def Leppard. For many fans, this combination doesn’t come quite as a shock—the two bands have been touring together for many years. In fact, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen has been producing the upcoming Tesla record.
On top of the new album and current tour, Tesla recently released Mechanical Resonance Live in celebration of the record’s 30th anniversary. As these musicians continue to create, like a fine wine, their music only seems to improve. And, as many concertgoers would say, it seems that these guys continue to wow their audience with a few tricks up their sleeves each night.
During some of Tesla’s downtime, I was able to catch up with Jeff Keith and talk a little about the band and their recent release. As the interview progressed, it became evident that after all of these years on the road and immersed in music, Keith still carries a fiery passion for his craft—talk about inspirational.
You guys have been busy with a ton of shows, right?
Yes we have, we just got home on Sunday from doing our own headlining tour and we were out for about a month and a week and it was great. We’ve been doing a lot of these bigger shows and we get a lot of time. It’s great to headline because we get an hour and a half. It was very successful, we had a great run, the weather was fantastic.
Excellent! I take it you guys have to shrink the setlist a little for this upcoming tour?
Yes we do. But Def Leppard is very kind to us and we’re making a record with Phil Collen, the guitarist, in the studio here in Sacramento. They allow us to go on about five to seven minutes early so we have enough time to put in an extra song.
That’s cool of them. How do you figure out what songs to keep?
Well, with the set, we have to go with the ones you know people wanna hear. You know, you have to play “Love Song,” “Signs”… So with a shorter set, there’s—well, you know, we’ve got so many staple songs that when we do our headlining set, the staple songs get a larger list, but it has to get squeezed down when we’re playing a big show like opening for Def Leppard and things like that. It becomes pretty easy.
Like, the last couple of years, we went out with Def Leppard and Styx, so we might change a few songs in there. So, it becomes easier. The harder ones are actually the hour and a half shows because it’s like, “Aw, man! We should do this one—or let’s do that one.” And we like to pull out what we call a couple of rabbits out of the hat. We’ll still do that for these shows.
But yeah, we have a really great relationship and we just have a great time. But you know what I’ve gotta tell you, I’m still so honored that the first time I ever sang the national anthem was for the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
And you guys are headed there this tour!
Yeah! And they asked me to sing the national anthem and I was so honored and I played with Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch between first and second period and then between second and third period I sang the national anthem and it was such an honor and privilege. I remember that red carpet rolling out to the ice and people would ask if that was the scariest experience and I’d say, “No. It was a privilege.” And I got to sing it for the New York Islanders. And I’ll tell you, being on that ice with those guys and seeing how fast they move, they were so big and fierce—when they hit the boards, it was like boom! And man, I got my first experience of that and from then on, I was a big hockey fan. But, man, it was such an honor.
Also, the Nassau Coliseum we’d played with Def Leppard—they’d had this laser thing and back then, they’ve changed things up so this doesn’t happen again, but back then, they used garden hoses to keep those things cool because laser machines get hot. And we go on stage and on the second or third song, the power just goes out—boom!
So, they take us down underneath the stage. They said, “Listen, we’re not gonna be able to fix this problem.” People were all yelling and so people ask,” What happened? Why did you do that to us?” They don’t realize that whole thing with the garden hoses had to keep the machines cool. So then we had to get in these big hampers and they hauled us out. So, unfortunately on that tour, we only got part of the way through the third song. And, you know, like I said, some people to this day think we did that on purpose. But we didn’t—we had planned to play through the whole eight songs.
Hey, things happen like that during live performances.
That’s for sure.
Last year, you released Mechanical ResonanceLive to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Do you have another studio album in the works?
Yes we do with Phil Collen, the guitarist from Def Leppard! And it’s coming out so great. We’re so excited and so happy. Phil is so great. He’s ecstatic and we’re ecstatic and we just couldn’t be happier. We have the record coming out this year and the last few we’ve done on our own, but now we have Phil Collen at the wheel.
Producers just take you to a place you didn’t know you had within you and you see another side of it and you’re just so in love with it and the way the song is over here and then you hear something you love over there and it’s just so exciting to build from the ground up, to build the whole structure and it’s so much fun. And the best thing about it is that you get to go out and play it for people. And everybody just feeds off of one another—I love playing live. I’m just really excited to get back to Nassau Coliseum.
I can imagine. Has it been a while?
It has. I just love that place. I used to have my unicycle when I was out with Def Leppard and I’d just peddle up that ramp. I can picture it like it was yesterday. I made a lot of great friends on Long Island.
Oh yeah! Now, this new record you guys are working on—will it have a different sound from the usual Tesla music?
Well, it’s definitely got the Tesla stamp—blue collar rock ‘n’ roll! It’s sort of crossing over, but never to the other side. We’re going down certain paths that we wouldn’t go down on our own, but it’s definitely gonna be Tesla. Like when the grunge movement came in, people would ask what we were gonna be, and we would say, “We’re gonna be ourselves.” We just stayed ourselves, which brought us down a level, but Tesla has never relied on an image.
And a lot of bands relied on image and we’re still here, man, and we all still have our hair. We stuck to our roots and other bands didn’t and they went off and did what was happening. Some just weren’t grunge. We stuck to our roots and I think that’s how we stuck around. We relied on writing songs from the heart.
Catch Tesla as they pull into Nassau Coliseum on April 15. For more on the band, visit teslatheband.com.