Tom Keifer on ‘Rise,’ His Dream Collaboration + More – Interview

2020-02-21

Tom Keifer and his band – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Tammy Vega

Tom Keifer speaks with Anne Erickson about his latest solo album, “Rise,” what he loves about working with his wife and why the Rolling Stones are the “kings” of rock

Tom Keifer loves the feel of a live, real rock ‘n’ roll show, and that’s just the vibe he presents on his latest solo album, “Rise.” The set features songs recorded live, with plenty of grit and fire. It’s the way rock ‘n’ roll was meant to sing.

Keifer, who rose to rock stardom in the ’80s with his band Cinderella, has been touring in support of “Rise,” and that trend will continue through this year. He spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink about “Rise”; what he loves about making music with his wife, Savannah; his thoughts on the Motley Crue reunion and more. Read the interview below, and listen via the Audio Ink podcast. Tom’s band includes Savannah, Tony Higbee, Billy Mercer, Kendra Chantelle, Jarred Pope and Kory Myers.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on your latest album, “Rise.” It’s one of Audio Ink’s top albums of the decade. What are your initial vision for “Rise” and how did that evolve as you worked on the album?

Tom Keifer: We wanted to capture the live essence and energy that my the solo band has been developing and growing on the road– that chemistry we have. This is the first solo record I’ve made with this band. The first solo band was made with session players, and this band came together to tour behind that, and we’ve toured for years and are growing as a a band together. When we got off tour in the fall of 2018, it felt like it was time to make a new record. It really seemed that setting up in a room together and going for live performances was the way to go, and we wanted to get a raw, angst-y, high-energy record, so we went for live performances all together in a room performing together. We tired to not polish it too much. We kept it raw, and that that’s the vibe we were going for.

It’s so refreshing to get a raw, live-sounding album in an era of perfectly polished rock records.

It’s a fine line to walk, because if you hear something that sounds technically wrong, you have to make the decision, is it cool technically wrong, or is it something you have to fix? I don’t like rock ‘n’ roll to be slick. I came from a decade where the productions were really slick, and I’ve been moving away from that… When you get into that world when you’re trying to maintain that rawness and realness, it’s a balance between what you want to fix and what you want to keep.

“The Death of Me” is my favorite track off the album. Tell me about the inspiration behind that track.

That lyric was written almost 100 percent by Savannah, my wife who is my partner in crime in all of this. She handed me this lyric a few years back, and I remember reading it thinking, I can really relate to this, but more importantly, I think a lot of people can relate to this. It’s about overcoming your challenges and struggles in life. I tucked that in a folder and sat on it a couple of years. I remember telling her, “When we make a record, this one’s coming out!”

It’s so cool that you worked with your wife Savannah on this record. What is it like working with her on music?

It’s really amazing to be able to create music together. We approach songwriting and recording very much in the same way, and I think that’s what makes it work. We don’t ever foresee it. A good example is “The Death of Me.” She was inspired and wrote down the lyric, and I said, “I love this,” so I put it in a folder for a few years, and we came back to it when I was ready, and that works both ways. I find the best art is created when you don’t force it. You take the real inspirations, and if you aren’t ready to finish the painting at that time, you wait until you are ready.

You have been touring in support of “Rise” and you have concerts booked through August, when you count the Europe dates. What do you love about performing live?

This band has inspired me so much. When the band came together, all of us were at a crossroads in our lives and looking for something new, and we came together and found each other. I had no idea it would last this long! I thought that any day, these people would walk away and go do something else. (Laughs) We all stuck together and slugged it out through half empty little clubs, because in the beginning, I was rebuilding myself as a solo artist. They’ve inspired me and are incredible musicians.

The music industry has changed so much since when you were making music in the ’80s. What are the main differences you see, as you release music and tour today?

So much of it is still the same, from my perspective, anyway. Touring is the same. You get on the bus, and you go play shows, and you’re living in the moment with your fans, and that really doesn’t feel any different. Creating the music and art, and everything from the records to videos– it’s still creating the same kinds of art forms. I love making records and videos, so that’s the same, in terms of the creative process and touring. That doesn’t feel any different. What’s different is how everybody consumes music now, and there are so many different ways to do it. Some people listen to all their music on YouTube. Some people still like physical CDs and vinyl. We sell a lot of vinyl. It’s a lot more diversified in that sense, and that’s the biggest difference. You can’t really judge your success on hard sales anymore, because people are getting the music in different ways. Some of them are ways that are free, and you have to adjust to that mentality, where there isn’t money generated from the music or actual sales, but it doesn’t mean people aren’t familiar with the music.

I remember with the first solo record, we would look at the hard sales of the record and say, “That’s not what I’m used to.” (Laughs) But, you’d go out and play live, and we toured the world on that record, and everyone’s singing all the songs from that record, so the amount of people that seem to be familiar with the music compared to how much is sold is different. Now I think you generate your success by how many people are familiar with the music, because it’s just a different way people get their music and listen to music.

Do you have a favorite song to perform live, not just from “Rise” but from your entire catalog?

It’s hard to pick, because there are so many kinds of styles. I’ve always loved singing ballads, so “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got” or “Nobody’s Fool.” I’ve always loved performing those live, and we’ve been doing the title track “Rise,” which is banjo, gospel ballad thing, so I’ve been enjoying that. On the rock side, I would say I’ve always loved singing “Shelter Me” live. It’s one of my favorite songs.

I’m really curious for your thoughts on the big Motley Crue reunion tour. Were you surprised that the guys came out of retirement?

I guess that was the biggest surprise about it, but when you think about it, not really. That’s very common. I think people want to say enough is enough– I’ve had enough of this. It can really be a grind, touring constantly, but then I think you get off the road a while and you get the itch again. So, I imagine when they made that decision, they meant it, and then they got of the road and got the itch. So, in one sense, I was surprised, but not really.

Will you go to any Motley Crue reunion shows?

I think we’re on the road when they’re in town– I don’t know. We have a lot of dates that are being booked right now. We’re going to be announcing our tour stuff soon here, so we’re going to have a very busy year. We’ll see if our paths cross out there on a day off, maybe.

If you could collaborate with anyone in the world for a song on your next album, who would it be?

I would have to pick my favorite band and artist of all time, and that would be The Rolling Stones. That’s a no-brainer for me. They’re the kings of it all in my mind.

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