Interviews

Interview: A Conversation with TOM KEIFER

Cinderella was one of those bands, born in an MTV era where big hair and rock music was at the forefront of a very happening music scene. They peaked early and achieved massive commercial success before bowing out with the impact of the grunge style, which also heralded a significant change in the music business world. Brief reunions over the years did not herald anything of a more permanent nature, as the respective members forged their own individual musical paths. Following the reissue of his debut solo release, I was afforded the fortunate opportunity to have a conversation with Tom Keifer himself, whose songs had formulated my rock upbringing in the halcyon eighties period when his band was all over our TV Screens.


ANTIHERO: Hi, how are you doing? I am really glad we finally got the opportunity to do this. We had this scheduled back in October, but then you were admitted to hospital.

Tom Keifer: I am doing much better. Thanks very much for asking.

ANTIHERO: What about your voice these days? Over the years you have had some serious issues with it. I just wondered generally are those problems ongoing now? Or have they all cleared up?

Tom Keifer: Yeah, I’m feeling really good vocally.

Tom Keifer
Photo © Tammy Vega

ANTIHERO: That’s good. Let’s chat about the re-release which you brought out a couple of months ago. The deluxe edition of The Way Life Goes has been brought out again. What prompted the decision for that album to be released?

Tom Keifer: Well, the record had been pulled from the shelves for the last two years and it hasn’t been available. It came out in 2013, and it hit with a pretty good reception from the fans and the press and radio, and we were out touring with a new band. You know we were talking about doing an expanded edition back at the beginning of 2014. Then we hit a bump in the road with a little bit of a business dealing or a corporate shakeup with the company that owned the label. The record got caught in the middle of it. It turned into a mess and the record got pulled from the shelves. It was pulled from online and it hasn’t been available for two years. We had to get a lawyer involved and had to fight to get the masters back. We continued touring during that, so we were playing the new music live and people were commenting online, “Hey, just saw you live. What’s the new stuff?”, but can’t find the record anywhere. Even worse, we were hearing that people had bought the record in 2013 when it first came out and it had disappeared from their iTunes. It just ended up a mess. We ended up getting the masters back last year and we decided to go back to the idea of the deluxe edition that we had been talking about prior to that and record some new tracks that we felt that were special to this project that had come about as we were touring. One being “Nobody’s Fool” with Lizzy Hale since we did some shows with Halestorm. That just went over like gangbusters out on the road and people were asking for a studio version. As well as “With a Little Help from My Friends”, which is a song that we have really made our own. In the beginning with this band, we took the Cocker arrangement and kind of amped it up into a very hard rock, high energy version. The fans have been loving that too and asking for a studio version. We recorded those last year with my touring band and they came out really pure. Produced with Chuck Turner. They are bonus tracks and we have a documentary that captures those sessions last year and a whole new artwork. We figured after we got the masters back and before we got new distribution and a label that we would add this new cool stuff to it and make it even more special.

ANTIHERO: You mentioned “Nobody’s Fool” which I have been listening to regularly. Did it surprise you that “Nobody’s Fool” has proved to be such a classic and really stood the test of time?

Tom Keifer: I don’t know. I guess. (laughs) It’s hard to comment directly you know and I’m just so grateful that people still like the song. When you walk out on stage every night and you play a song like “Nobody’s Fool” and they are singing every word, that’s just a great feeling. I mean yeah, surprised because when I wrote that song back in the early eighties, I mean, I was just writing a song and you don’t know what’s going to happen with the song. You have got hopes and dreams that something is going to be lasting or whatever as a writer. Yeah, I feel very fortunate on that one. The new version with Lizzy is …I never really thought of it as a duet and when we did it that first night when we did the shows together, she is just such a natural and I think that she has added a really cool new energy to it and it’s given it a new life.

ANTIHERO: You hesitated when I asked for your personal view on your own success. Do you generally find it difficult to comment on songs that you have done in the past?

Tom Keifer: I don’t know. I mean the songs …I guess for me the lyrics are my comment on the song (laughs). I mean those are my thoughts. A song is your expressed emotion. It’s just a great feeling when that song connects with other people, I guess is what I am trying to say and it’s always pleasantly surprising. To answer your question I guess more directly, yeah, I mean it’s a cool feeling to have that connection, particularly when you go and play them live. You can actually see it and feel it, you know, that energy back and forth.

ANTIHERO: I also understand that you have already started writing songs for its follow up and what will be a new Tom Keifer solo release. Can you confirm that is the case?

Tom Keifer: Yes, there has definitely been some song ideas, gathering or collecting. Once The Way Life Goes was released and the many years that we had spent creating that. We started touring with the new band and kind of entered that season of refilling the well with experiences of life and my inner emotions, traveling, and being out there just living life, and that is when the songs come. So yeah, there has been a lot of really cool song ideas that have been piling up. I am hoping to be in the studio by the end of next year and working on a follow-up.

ANTIHERO: Do you find that it becomes easier or more difficult to write a song and composing as the years go on?

Tom Keifer: I don’t think that it is harder or easier. I think that as time goes on that you become more selective about what you are going to write about. Once that idea strikes you the song usually writes itself. I try to not force writing, and I never have. You wait for that inspiration to hit you. It’s like a title or a line that you hear in your head or a melody that you hear in your head with a line. It’s like this is a great emotion or thing to write about and you just kind of know. I don’t use voice memos, I just kind of let them all kind of float around in my head and the ones that stick with me are the ones that I eventually sit down and really finish and write. So, I think that you become more selective about those ideas that are floating around in your head, but once you get a hold of one, the song just usually falls out.

ANTIHERO: Will you be writing and working with other people on the next album? There were a few outside writers involved on The way Life Goes.

Tom Keifer: Yeah, as you stated, there’s a lot of modern writers going on that release. Savannah, my wife, and I wrote a lot of the stuff together along with three or four other writers. So, yes. I’ve been enjoying that process of taking song Ideas to some other writers and then hammering them out, and then also, you know, working on ideas that they have to bring in some fresh ideas. So, yeah.

Tom Keifer
Photo © Tammy Vega

ANTIHERO: The music business has changed both dramatically and drastically since you first started back in the 80s with Cinderella. I just wonder how you find it these days? I mean, is it easier or is it more difficult? There’s good things involved and also bad in the business.

Tom Keifer: You know, it’s different. The touring industry it’s the same for the most part. You book shows, you get on the bus with the band, and you go, and you get on a stage and you rock, and you move on to the next town. You know that that’s pretty much the same and that’s a big huge aspect of what we do. Creating the music is the same. You know, you create it from your heart and soul, and I have always tried to write about real things, and so that is all the same. The big difference is all the different ways you get music. it’s not the same as it was like in the 70s and 80s, where there was pretty much only one way to get it, where you went over to a record store and you had to purchase it. So, that’s made it a challenge for labels and record companies. Which basically trickles down into artists too. They don’t have the same kind of money to throw around in promotion and even creating records. So, that’s why we chose to create The Way Life Goes without a label initially because we don’t want to be subject to their budgets, time constraints, and schedules We just wanted to make something that we were happy with and then find a label that wanted to release it and partnered with them more in the distribution. So, you know, that takes a lot of pressure off the label. They don’t have to pay for the creation of it. You just have to look at things differently these days and how you go about them. Having had a foot in each era the old way with the Cinderella stuff and now with The Way Life Goes it’s like being a new artist. I have a pretty good feel for both. The most challenging thing is the record sales being down.

ANTIHERO: I was going to say exactly that, you have gone from being an artist that has achieved international success in the late eighties. The subsequent changes in the music industry must have made it difficult to nearly reactivate again compared with other artists that have not previously experienced the success part?

Tom Keifer: Keifer: Well, yeah, it is absolutely like starting over. I mean even with the touring thing when I started with the new band and the debut release, I wasn’t under the billing of Cinderella anymore, it was my name. You are building something new and that takes some time. That is why we toured for four years straight and we stuck with it. We rebuilt it from very small clubs where we were lucky if they were half full the first year, to now, where we are, you know, properly the bill headliner or direct support on all other major festivals. You know, we’re still playing smaller clubs and theatres but we’re now selling them out. With the new band now, it was like starting over and a building process which takes some dedication. It’s really been rewarding to do it with this band because they’ve been so dedicated and just such a great bunch of human beings and musicians, and we have had such a blast doing it.

ANTIHERO: Just looking back, I wanted to ask you about the final album by Cinderella, Still Climbing. That came off the back of some huge sellers for the band and then it hit a quite significant drop in sales. Do you think that it should have been more successful or was it just simply the wrong musical climate for its release?

Tom Keifer: Well, I think that it was a sign of the times. Everything from our decade was declining with the changing of the guard as well in the industry. There was a big ‘in with the new and out with the old’ mentality when the Seattle grunge thing came in. There were really no survivors from the old guard from the eighties for a number of years there, and then slowly some of them floated back to better standing, shall we say. It just is what it is man. It’s part of the business, it’s life, you know. I like Still Climbing. I wish that it had done better but it was not in the cards, you know?

ANTIHERO: What about this resurgence? As you indicated, there are a lot of those bands of that era and time that are back in the music business again. I’m sure the question is always going to be asked, and that you still must be asked it almost on a daily basis. Jeff LaBar actually features on your solo album. There have been a few Cinderella reunions but nothing more permanent. The other guys are all still involved in the music business. So just why not? It’s a question certainly that fans are always going to want to ask. Is it simply a case that you prefer to focus on what’s ahead of you rather than what is behind?

Tom Keifer: I am just enjoying where I am at now, the release of this new music has been received really well. The new band is just beyond my expectations musically. On and off stage our chemistry is great. It just feels right.

ANTIHERO: Just returning to your follow-up album. As you are residing these days in Nashville, will that play a significant part in how the release will shape up in terms of the sound and style? Or will it be a return to the rockier style of Nightsongs?

Tom Keifer: Well, I think The Way Life Goes is a mixture of both. It is mostly hard rock Maybe three things that are a little more organic acoustic kind of thing, and the rest are in the vein and not a whole lot different from what I wrote on Heartbreak Station or “Coming Home” on Long Cold Winter. There has always been a little bit of that country flavor that I got from the Stones really, and not from being in Nashville (laughs) Any country influence here, take it from me, did not come from living in Nashville. It came from listening to the Stones as a kid. I have always had a little bit of that in the sound, and there is certainly some of that on The Way Life Goes. For the most part, all of the records that I have been involved with are hard rock blues influenced mainly. That is the road that I will continue down. I always try in terms of instrumentation to do something fresh and for lack of a better word contemporary. It will always be in that vein of music.

ANTIHERO: Well, what surprised me, I was looking online and I could not find any reference to an official autobiography of your life in the music business. Is there one?

Tom Keifer: No, there is not. I have had a few offers from writers, but I am not really ready to sell the story yet. It is not something that I am interested in right now.

ANTIHERO: How do you spend your downtime outside music? Any spare time interests of hobbies?

Tom Keifer: I don’t really have a lot of spare time between music and touring with the band, and my family. Savannah and I, when we are not on the road touring we are with our son who plays lots of sports. He is about to turn fourteen and he keeps us very busy. Our favourite past time right now is following him around and seeing him living his dream. We spend most of our spare time just being a family supporting him and he supports us too.

ANTIHERO: Do you still have unfulfilled dreams and goals, or have you already ticked all those boxes?

Tom Keifer: Well, I don’t know. I think yeah, I have lots of dreams. I have got dreams for this new band and this new project. As you mentioned, it’s been a rebuilding process. We are shooting for the moon here; the whole band is. We have lots of dreams and hopes, that’s what keeps you going.

ANTIHERO: If the roles were reversed who would you like to sit down and interview yourself? Maybe somebody that is a personal hero or influence. Maybe not even a musician.

Tom Keifer: That’s a good question. I would say, Mick Jagger.

ANTIHERO: Christmas just around the corner. Is this something that you look forward to or that you struggle through?

Tom Keifer: No, I love Christmas, I always have. It’s just a festive time. It’s the end of the year, everything slows down, and Savannah and I and Jaden really get a chance to hang out, have nice meals and watch Christmas movies. It’s a great time to reflect on the year and its always been a time that I enjoy.

ANTIHERO: OK that’s good. Thank you very much. Hopefully, with the release of the new album, you’ll get over to the UK and play some shows here next year.

Tom Keifer: Yeah, hopefully so we are definitely going to tour until next summer with the deluxe release. Hopefully, we will get over there because we have not been there since 2015, but we had a blast over there. Thanks very much for having me, bro. Good to talk to you. Take care.

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Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time. Photo: Mark Dean with Jeff Kendrick of Devildriver - Photography by Olga Kuzmenko

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