Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon had hoped to be in Florida already preparing for Tesla’s upcoming Let’s Get Real tour, but when his beloved boxer fell ill, he decided to remain home in Sacramento a little longer. Nursing his elderly family member back to health took priority.
“In comparison to humans, dogs don’t live long,” he lamented. “It’s unfair. It should be the other way around.”
After an 18-months layoff, the veteran hard rockers are chomping at the bit to get back on the road where they will both headline shows and, on select dates, opening for Kid Rock, Styx, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They’ll be performing locally twice, August 27 at the PNC Bank Arts center in Holmdel, New Jersey, and September 19 at Irving Plaza in New York City. Ironically, Tesla just released a new single, “Cold Blue Steel,” a song Hannon admitted was influenced by Skynyrd. It is available to download now at the band’s official site.
It’s hard to believe that 35 years have passed since hard rock and metal fans flocked to record shops (Remember those?) to grab Tesla’s debut, Mechanical Resonance. Named after the rebellious, turn-of-the-century scientist Nikola Tesla, the band quickly made an impression on MTV and rock radio with “Modern Day Cowboy,” “Getting’ Better,” and “Little Suzi.” Although their namesake was relegated to cult status, the band have continued to score hits during the last three decades with “Love Song,” “Heaven’s Trail,” and “What You Give,” and have also consistently released great albums (Their most recent was 2019’s Phil Collen-produced Shock). Still, history has unfairly categorized Tesla as an eighties hair metal band, when they always dressed like their fans and actually reached the Top 10 in 1990 with an acoustic cover of Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs.”
Aside from a brief split during the late nineties, Tesla have been road warriors, so it may come as a shock that the band were not adversely affected by the pandemic. Actually, Hannon confessed, an extended break was in the works before COVID-19 reached our shores.
So, Tesla are finally returning to the road.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed ‘cause it seems like any day [with the COVID-19 variants spreading] we might get shut down again. You just never know what is going to happen. You just have to go with the flow and enjoy life, ‘cause you can’t count on too many things!
That holds true especially as we grow older. When we’re in our teens, we feel invincible. It’s not until we grow older that we realize life is a precious gift.
When we hit 50, people we know start departing (this mortal coil), like Cinderella guitarist Jeff LaBar, who passed on July 14.
How did you spend Tesla’s 18-month touring hiatus?
Just before the pandemic shut everything down, I had a meeting with my Tesla bandmates and asked if we could slow down for a bit and take a break. With our ages and the band’s longevity, it’s important to take a breather every now and then. From 1986 to 1996, we worked our asses off. We worked non-stop without taking a break and we imploded. We broke up from 1996 until 2000.
It was an official split and not just an extended hiatus?
We made the actual mistake of getting lawyers involved, getting mad at each other and splitting the whole thing up when we should have just taken a break. The three words “take a break” never entered our minds.
When we reformed, we did the Into the Now album and we did the (2002) “Rock Never Stops” and other tours, and we found [guitarist] Dave Rude. We hammered it hard until 2019 when I asked the guys for a break. We got off of the Monster of Rock Cruise in early February 2020, however, and suddenly the entire world had to take a break. It was an unhealthy time for a lot of people, but it was a healthy time for Tesla.
What did you do during your extended break?
I mentored and produced some new bands, including Red Voodoo, JT Loux, and Austin Mo. It was a great time to be at home and in the studio. (For more information check out www.frankhannonproductions.com)
You didn’t record any solo material?
I did release a song called “Ride Strong” and filmed a video for it. It’s a heavier-edged song than what I usually compose and is influenced by Judas Priest. It features bassist Aaron Leigh [Y&T] and drummer Kelly Nobles [Rail].
The break recharged the band.
It really helped us. We’re rejuvenated and we’re ready to get back out. We’ve also written a new song, “Cold Blue Steel,” which I produced. It’s really raw.
Is there a new album in the works?
We’ve made so many of them. Saying “We’re going to make an album and fabricate 12 songs” puts pressure on a band and imposes a deadline. With the way people listen to songs on their phones these days, we’re just going to write one song at a time and, at the end of the year, if there are 12 of them, then we might release an album.
Perhaps band-issued singles are the answer to getting music out to the masses.
An artist can produce and record music on their schedule. Record companies put pressure on artists, because they wanted to sell new products. Artists no longer have to deal with that. They can put things out when the music is good and ready. Everything can be achieved independently. I can post a new video of myself playing a new song right on my phone – and I could do it today in five minutes.
On the other hand, bands no longer have record company support or a budget for promoting new product.
It’s a double-edged sword. Things have definitely changed, for better and worse.
Tesla, the car, now dominates Internet searches. You have to search for “Tesla the Band” to find your official web site, tour dates, and new music. Is that frustrating?
It hasn’t affected us negatively. If anything, the word Tesla is more recognizable throughout the world. It’s brought more attention to Nikola Tesla, who we borrowed our name from. When we debuted, few people had heard of him. We adopted the name after reading Margaret Cheney’s 1981 biography Tesla: Man Out of Time, which has some amazing photos of the scientist in his laboratory playing with lightning and changing the world with his inventions.
The original point of the Tesla cars was to go electric and help the environment. Nikola Tesla was all about nature and giving electricity to the world without negatively impacting the environment. Sadly, he was railroaded and hidden for years from the history books. His inventions were used to make money instead of using them for his original intentions. He was one of the first to think about the wireless transmission of data.
And he is considered a rebel in his field.
[When we adopted the name Tesla] we were transitioning in 1982 from a Top 40 covers band to a heavy rock band with positive messages and we knew we needed a new name. We wanted a new name. And it’s difficult to get a bunch of guys to agree on a name. When the name Tesla came up from the book, however, it just fit.
The name helped separate the band from the other movements, trends and flavors of the day. Then Tesla released their landmark debut (1986’s) Mechanical Resonance (Geffen), which still doesn’t receive the recognition it so richly deserves.
I was in my late teens when we wrote and finally recorded those songs. I had been playing in clubs since I was 14-years-old. I was always the youngest guy in the band, and, at the time, I had no idea what we were doing. I was just writing songs, playing guitar riffs, and trying to be the next Jimmy Page. I didn’t think about the impact the band might be having on hard rock.
Someone recently asked me, “Did you ever think back then that you’d be doing this 35 years later?” “No,” I said. I was only concerned about playing my guitar and making demo tapes. It’s amazing. If you reach deep in your heart and write songs that are real to you, that is the key to your longevity.
What else has been the key to Tesla’s longevity?
The key starts with songs. With every album we’ve recorded, we examined each song and tried to make sure the messages and the choruses would be timeless. Today, it’s about pacing ourselves and not getting fucked up like we used to. We can’t drink and get crazy like we used to.
I witnessed Tesla opening for David Lee Roth in 1986 at The Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands. Wasn’t that the band’s first national tour?
Yes, and that was our second show on that tour. I was a nervous wreck that day. I shaved right before that show and during our set, my neck was bleeding like a civ. I came running out on David Lee Roth’s beautiful white stage and I bled profusely.
The video for “Modern Day Cowboy” was on [MTV’s] Headbanger’s Ball and David Lee Roth picked us to be his supported act us after seeing it. Our manager didn’t want us to perform in clubs after we released our debut. He wanted us to be the support on a major tour, but there were no tours that would take us, so we had to wait. I was working this dead-end shit job picking up garbage and taking it to the dump and “Modern Day Cowboy” would come on the radio while I was driving the truck to the dump.
I went to the Cow Palace to see David Lee Roth, not having any clue we’d be opening for him in a month and Cinderella was opening the show. My girlfriend and I went up to the front of the stage and watched the late Jeff LaBar play. My jaw dropped to the floor as I marveled at what a great performer he was. Singer Tom Kiefer was also doing his thing. I just thought that if I ever got to do that, I would go for it like those guys – give it my all. A week later, we got the phone call that Cinderella was leaving the tour and Tesla had gotten the gig. We flew to New Haven, Connecticut, rehearsed for one night, did the show there the next night and then it was off to New Jersey. The rest is history.
Are you frustrated when Tesla are lumped in with “hair metal” bands you have little in common with?
It’s the era. It’s about the eighties music, which has so many labels placed upon it. We came out during that era. Some of the bands that came out a little later than us were able to avoid that tag, like the Black Crowes and Soundgarden, but they’re just good rock and roll bands. Black Crowes and Tesla are similar in that we were heavily influenced by Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones. Tesla just came out during the decade where hard rock music was labeled “glam and hair metal.”
We were on the cover of RIP, but we never made the cover of Hit Parader or Circus Magazine because we weren’t glamorous enough
You looked like the audiences you were performing in front of.
Like Lynyrd Skynyrd, we wanted to be more about the music. We wanted to be blue collar and natural.
During the KEEP IT REAL tour, Tesla will be performing select dates with Lynyrd Skynyrd who are in the midst of their farewell tour. Do you ever see Tesla undertaking that last tour?
Tesla may have to hang it up one day, but me, as an artist, I will always be playing guitar in a club somewhere until it is time for me to check out. Tesla is a different animal that requires some hardcore singing and, as long as Jeff Keith can keep doing it, we will do it.