By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Tom Keifer, who is best known as the voice and brains behind multi-platinum, glam-metal band, Cinderella, has been actively touring during the last two decades. However, due to an ugly lawsuit that Cinderella had with a record label, Keifer had not released any material since 1994. But, early last year, Keifer finally released a new album. But, it wasn’t with his band, Cinderella. Instead, it was a well-crafted, classic rock influenced solo release entitled, ‘The Way Life Goes.’ Fans and critics praised this record for it’s great songwriting and musical diversity. Many feel this album is one of Keifer’s most brilliant moments of his career.
Tom Keifer has been touring this summer with his outstanding solo band. His live performances consist of a good mix of classic Cinderella songs, and many from his solo release.
What follows in an exclusive RMS interview with Tom Keifer. During this discussion, we talked about his ‘The Way Life Goes’ CD, his future plans with Cinderella, and much more.
Rock Music Star: Hey Tom, you recently played in my area- Akron, New York, at the Braun’s Concert Cove. How much did you enjoy playing there?
Tom Keifer: We had a great time, man. Had a really good time. I played there with Cinderella. maybe two or three years ago, when they were first starting, and they built it up much different than it was when we were there. They have that kind of enclosed thing (dome) now. So, yeah; it was a lot of fun.
RMS: What is it like for you, after all of those years playing with Cinderella, to be out on the road with a different band now?
TK: You know, it’s hard to compare the two, because it’s just two different entities. I like both. I’m really enjoying being with this band, because it’s in support of a record and new music. We hadn’t done that with Cinderella in a long time, so there’s a freshness to this that’s kind of cool.
RMS: Will your next release be another solo record, or will it be a Cinderella record?
TK: Well, I take things one day at a time. Right now, I feel very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing. I’ve got a label that’s really supportive of this record, and is continuing to work singles and wants us out on the road. So, I see this touring with the solo thing, with the support of the way life goes, probably into next year. We’re already starting to look at dates. It’s gone much longer than I anticipated when we released the record last year. So, it’s really hard to say what the next move will be, or when it will be. But, I will say this: I’m open-minded to anything. A Cinderella record- the only reason there hasn’t been one has not really been a lack of desire on our part- we just had a couple of misfortunate mishaps with some labels and I think we’re a bit gun shy. It would have to be the right situation and the right label. So, we’ll see if that opportunity presents itself. But, as of late, I am considering- this solo record took so long to make; it was a real labor of love, and I went through a lot of challenges over the course of the years that we made the record that, for a while, I couldn’t envision even making another record. And now that we’ve been out on the road, and all of that’s behind me, I’m starting to be able to envision that. So, I guess that’s the first step in the right direction, right? (Laughs)
RMS: Yeah. How gratifying was it for you, to finally get that record out, after all of the years of recording it?
TK: It’s cool, you know. Like I said, I’m enjoying being out and playing the songs live, and getting a reaction from the fans, and sharing not only those songs, but the Cinderella songs, as well. And, it’s cool to see how the material sits alongside each other in the set, between the Cinderella and the solo stuff. It all flows pretty well. And the fans and the press and everyone- there’s been very good response to the record. So far, so good. That’s always a good feeling, I guess, when you spend a lot of time creating something, that people respond positively to it.
RMS: Yeah. Since it did take so long, was it difficult not to keep going over and revisiting songs and trying to improve them? Sometimes, when you do that, you can lose the spontaneity and edge that made the song so great.
TK: Well, I was very careful as we were producing this record. Part of the reason it took so long was because we weren’t in any hurry to release it. When it first started, and when I started writing songs with Savannah and some other writers here in town, and we started to actually produce tracks, they weren’t really producing them with the idea of it being a record in mind. It was just recording songs for the sake of making music. It was a couple at a time, here and there. I’d take six months off and go tour with Cinderella. So, there were a lot of gaps in between working on different songs, which gave a lot of objectivity. So, that helps you make better decisions. So, I felt like, when we would work really hard on two or three tracks for a few months, and then I’d get away from it for a long period of time, the decisions I would make at that point- because I was very objective- were good ones; were the right ones, you know? Like, “Let’s leave this track alone because it’s great, but this one sucks; let’s fix it.” (Laughs) So, I think that really helped- those long breaks of objectivity, to avoid the tunnel vision. I know what you’re talking about- I’ve been there. When you spend too long on something, you can ruin it. But, so many records are made like: Wham, bam, fast, fast, fast, fast. There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, all of the Cinderella records were made on a schedule and a budget. It has to be done in this period of time. This record wasn’t made that way, so there was a lot more room to be objective; truly objective.
RMS: Well, I think it worked out. Like you said: a lot of the critics really enjoy the record. Your fans like the record. I think it really shows the diverse types of musical styles that have influenced you.
TK: Yeah, it always has been that way. With Cinderella, the first record came 100% from the blues, in terms of the style of the lyrics and the guitar and vocal melodies. They were all derived from the blues scale. So, that was the bare-bones version of Cinderella. But, very quickly, we started introducing a lot of other American roots music and instrumentation. Even on the second record, with dobros and pianos, and songs like “Coming Home,” that have a country flavor, and straight up blues, like the title track, “Long Cold Winter.” All of the roots really started to show on the second record, where the first record was a little more bare-bones and was kind of just straight up blues-based hard rock. But, we grew pretty quickly from there. But, that’s what I grew up on. I grew up on bands like the Stones, Rod Stewart, Janis Joplin, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin- they all drew from all of the American roots music, from gospel to country to R&B to blues. To me, that’s what rock has always been. And, when you have that many things that your music is derived from, it gives you the ability to have a lot of dynamics, or different- I don’t want to say “styles”- but, different feels. Because, for me, it’s all the same style. When the Stones do “Angie,” or they do “Brown Sugar,” it’s still rock to me. It’s just different kinds of rock. So, when making a record, I’ve always tried to have those dynamics for different feels on the record.
RMS: Over the years, there have been many musicians that have moved to Nashville, like yourself. In speaking with some of them, it seems like everyone that has moved to Nashville really feels that, by moving there, it’s changed them as a musician for the better. Do you agree with that?
TK: Well, it’s very inspiring, certainly from a guitar standpoint. There are more guitar players here that’ll just blow your mind than you can even imagine. So, as a musician, when you hear people playing like that, you have two reactions. Usually, the first one is, “Man, I give up.” (Laughs) And then, you pick yourself up and say, “No, I wanna be that good.” So, it’s inspiring. There’s also a lot of great singers here. The town is full of amazing songwriters. When I first moved here, it’s like, everyday someone is pulling out a cassette or a CD of some amazing song that they just wrote. And you hear that, you hear these lyrics and these amazing melodies and lyrics, and it’s just inspirational. So, from a musician’s shift to writing, it’s a town that really affects you, positively. You’re getting all of this great input all the time; it’s inspiring.
RMS: Do you spend a lot of time going out to the clubs out there and checking out the talent?
TK: No, actually; not a whole lot. In recent years, between making the record and having family- Savannah and I had a son who is 10 now- so, anyone who has a child knows, especially for those first 10 years, you’re pretty busy. Your life changes a bit. So, there’s been that. But, when I first moved here, we spent a lot of time going out and around. Not as much, lately. Life has been pretty hectic between touring and finishing up that record. And, like I said, our family life- which is our son- who is a big priority. But, once in a while we still get out and see some new stuff. But, we work here and there, writing with different people. When you’re constantly exposed to the writing aspect of it, and ultimately end up being in a room with musicians on the things that you’re working on, there’s always that inspiration. It may not be in a live setting, but it’s just the nature of what we do- where we’re writers, and we’re constantly surrounded by that.
RMS: I know you’ve written a couple songs for other artists before. But, is that something you’re always working on- writing songs and getting them out for other artists to hear?
TK: It’s off and on. I try to not force writing. I try to wait for the inspiration to hit. And every once in a while, things just kind of drop out of the sky where another writer or another artist say, “Hey, I wanna get together and write.” Or you approach someone. It just kind of happens and comes together. It’s not something that I ever really try to force. But, yeah. Along the way, there’s been some collaborations and some things here in Nashville- probably, not a ton of them because, since I’ve moved here, I’ve been pretty tied up between- when I first moved here, Cinderella had first gotten back together in ’98, and we were contracted to do a record for a label which we put a lot of time into until we started touring again. A lot of things got put on the back burner at that point, including my solo record, which was why I moved here- to make a solo record. That immediately got put on the back burner. A lot of other projects, like artists wanting to write with me, or co-writing and stuff like that in Nashville, got put on the back burner because I was so busy touring with Cinderella and preparing and writing for this Cinderella record, which turned into a lawsuit and a big mess, and never was released. So, it’s been pretty busy and hectic since I’ve lived here in Nashville, because I went from that whole scenario of Cinderella attempting to make this record kind of turning into an ugly legal battle, to starting to produce my own record at that point, because we were legally restricted from recording with each other. That’s one of the reasons why the solo record started out as not even being a record. It was more of like a healing process, where I just wanted to go make music, write music, and make music with people who I really liked and loved- Savannah being one of them, and some of my songwriter friends here in town. It just started off as like, “There’s no lawyers, there’s no record companies. It’s just about the music.” And, over the course of 10 years, it became a record. It felt like a record. That’s kind of the back-story of that ugly thing that happened with Cinderella. Not amongst us, but between us and the label. I turned it around, and went back to wanting to work on my solo record, which is why we moved here in the first place, but had to put it on the back burner for that opportunity that Cinderella had. It was more about, “I’m sick of the business, I’m sick of lawyers, sick of labels. I just want to make some music; I don’t care if it ever gets released.” Nothing. Didn’t care. So, that’s how it started.
RMS: Yeah, that really sucks that you had to go through all of that.
TK: No, I don’t think so. I never cry over spilt milk. I ended up with a record that I’m really proud of, and it’s out now. I think everything happens for a reason.
RMS: When you signed with your current record label, were you a bit reluctant at first, to be signing with a record label again?
TK: No, actually. Surprisingly, it was one of the easiest decisions that we had to make because, one of the positive things about shopping a finished record, which is what we did. I woke up one day and thought, “You know what, this is a record.” We started shopping it around. When you’re taking something that’s finished to labels, they don’t have to imagine what the end result is. It’s not like you’re coming in with some crappy demo and asking them to invest a bunch of money into producing a record and not knowing what the outcome is going to be. They’re hearing what they’re getting. So, their decision is really easy. We had a lot of people, who right off the bat said, “No thanks. Don’t like it.” It’s like, “Cool. Great. You don’t have to use your imagination. You’re hearing it. You don’t like it. Great.” And there was a handful of people that liked it, one of which was Merovee, who were so over the top about how much they liked it. We met with them, and it was a very easy decision to picking them and deciding to sign with them, because they were so enthusiastic about it, and we just got a great feel from them right off the bat. But, part of the reason they were able to be so enthusiastic, again, is what I said: when you’re hearing the finished thing, it’s a little easier to get behind it than, “Hey, we need a budget and we’re gonna go record this record.” You never know how a record is going to turn out when you start it. So, I think that’s one of the positives of shopping a finished record, because a label knows exactly what they’re getting into.
RMS: Tom, the last question I have for you: I don’t know if you’ve been following it, but the Buffalo Bills are up for sale, and everyone in the area- that’s what our main focus is on- finding out who the new owner is. As you probably know, Bon Jovi has been one of the people who has been rumored to be a purchaser. Bon Jovi released a statement last week that he had no intention of moving the team out of Buffalo, but he’s aligned with Toronto owners. There was a release that came out today that said that their intention really is to move the team to Toronto. You’ve worked with him before. In Buffalo, do you think we should trust his word?
TK: (Laughs) I don’t know anything about this story. I mean, I’m just hearing about all of this for the first time. Jon’s a good guy, ok? So, that’s all I’m going to say about that. My experience with him has been great. So, what’s going to go on with the Buffalo Bills? I have no idea. So, there’s your answer (laughs).
RMS: Ok, took the safe way out. Alright, Tom. I appreciate your time. I just want to tell you that I really enjoy the record. It was great to finally hear new material from you, and I hope we hear something from you again very soon.
TK: Cool, man. I enjoyed talking to you. You have a great day.
For more on Tom Keifer, please visit www.tomkeifer.com
Special thanks to Doug Weber for setting up this interview. Also, thank you to Dana Kaiser for transcribing it.