Tesla is a band that presented one of my first live experiences when they supported Def Leppard back in 1987 in my home town of Belfast in Northern Ireland. They are still around delivering both live and in the studio. Ahead of their follow up to 2014’s album Simplicity, I had the opportunity to have a chat with guitarist Dave Rude, still the new boy in the band despite having been with them since 2006. Having been briefed that it would be long-standing bassist Brian Wheat that I would be talking to, I was momentarily thrown when it was changed as the connection call was made. Still, we got there in the end as we discussed the new Tesla album, “Shock”, which was just recently released.
ANTIHERO: Hi, Dave! Have you been drafted into this interview last minute?
Dave Rude: Hey, how’s it going? Yes, sorry… I don’t know what happened. At least it didn’t get canceled.
ANTIHERO: Okay, you’ve been in the band quite a while now. I’m just wondering, do you still feel like the new guy? Or, do you feel like you’ve got a band of brothers?
Dave Rude: You know, I’m really lucky because I definitely feel like I’ve got a band of brothers. And honestly, they make me feel that way since I joined the band. They were always… Since day one, they were really, really nice and welcoming and you know, treated me really well. Like equals since I very first started. But, now, it’s been 13 years. Yeah, it’s definitely almost time that adds a lot to that. It feels like cool we’re in a band and stuff. But I still definitely get those moments now and again when I look around on stage and holy hell, I’m in Tesla! It sounds pretty great, so surreal.
ANTIHERO: I wanted to talk to you about the new album, follow up to Simplicity. Just wondered, obviously, the band has a very long history with Phil Collen, and he’s been involved as a producer in this album. I just wondered what role did Phil actually play? Or, was he more of a co-producer with the band?
Dave Rude: You know what? Actually, he really was a full-blown, 100% producer, which was nice. I can’t say that as a blanket statement, but I’d say many of the records we’ve made since I’ve been in the band really, we co-produced it with whoever we were working with. When we worked with Trey Thomas that was different. He definitely produced it and that was cool too. But really, Phil was 100% like really playing the producer role. And, that was nice because especially within an established band it’s easy to listen to anybody. We’ve done that, we did that on Simplicity. It’s like I need somebody listed as producer, but really, we produced it.
And, sometimes that ends up great, but usually, the songs are still good but, we get someone like Phil whose written some of the biggest songs in rock history and he tells you to write a better chorus. You write a fucking better chorus. It’s like okay, Phil says it’s good, but it isn’t great. I’ll go back to the drawing board. And then, every single time he’s right and it’s a better song for it. It was really cool because you worked with him individually with Phil before anyone heard it. You work on the core elegance of every song and make them really, really good and hooky and okay cool. That riff is cool because that chorus is strong as it could be as a melody. Are the lyrics great? And, before you even started making real demos. It was just a quick demo. Record them on your phone and send a little voice memo. Things like that.
Then, once Phil and whoever was writing it got it to the point where they were happy, then we would start producing and actually recording. That was cool, and then he definitely had a big role, as well, in the actual recording process.
ANTIHERO: I was just going to ask about that recording process. Do you guys have your own studio? Did Phil actually come over or was it again like you said, an exchange of ideas on the internet back and forth?
Dave Rude: You know, it was both. Because we made this record while we were out on tour with Def Leppard a lot. We would leave with them for a while. From 2015 to 2018 about we were doing … We pretty much just toured with Def Leppard and so we were together all the time. And, what we would do is we would do some back and forth ideas over email, but usually we were together because we were on tour together
We would record most of that actual tracking of the album. We would record almost all of the guitars and bass at venues, which is usually the dressing room and record. And, Phil would be there before the soundtrack or after the soundtrack. Be there before our meet and greets and all that stuff, and we were able to knock out a good percentage of the record before the tour was even done.
Whereas normally you would have to get your ideas together, but then wait until the tour is done. And then, do the whole recording process from the ground up. We were able to come in with a majority of the record recorded from the tours. And then, we would go in on breaks and Phil would fly out from LA and fly to Brian’s studio in Sacramento. He has really nice studios there and we would track all the live vocals and acoustic guitars and all the drums there.
We were kind of a mix. We’d get the ideas together over email. We’d record a lot of the guitars and bass on the road together, and then we would do real studio stuff during the break. It was kind of every which way.
ANTIHERO: When you take some of the tracks off the album, I find as a long-term Tesla fan going back to that debut album, there are a few things on there that too many would sound a little bit different for the band. I’ll sort of just pick a few. “California Summer Song”, for example. Using that song as an example, do you feel like that is something the band set out to do, i.e. different things on this record more so than maybe previous releases?
Dave Rude: I’d say so because we definitely wanted a varied album. Not like make them completely the same. We wanted to make a varied album but still within the context of Tesla. There’s not going to be anything like a reggae song or something in there. But, you know, Tesla has that sort of bouncy vibe and feels like some other songs they have done like that in the past. There were songs on other records and songs on Into The Now, they had that sort of more pop feel.
But the thing is, yeah. We did want to sort of try to do because… look at it like this, Tesla‘s done a ton of records and really the majority of people that like Tesla already like Tesla. They like all the releases and so I grew up as a fan of Tesla, too. We all grew up with those great songs on the first few albums and we still play all of those songs. That’s kind of the core of what the band is known for and still what we do.
If you come to see Tesla, you’re still going to hear all the songs you want to hear. And then, we’re only ever going to play one or two new songs from an album, because we have all these older songs that we play. And, we cycle through them all, so if there’s stuff on there that’s a little bit different it was fun for us. But, it’s not like oh, we’re changing the sound of the band.
It’s one song on a record and maybe we’ll play it live once and maybe we won’t. But you’re still going to get the same kind of Tesla show that you get as you know try to get new on the record. But, hopefully, it’s fun for us and we hope other people will like it.
ANTIHERO: What about the track “Taste” then, for example? I see a lot, on the internet in terms of criticism. I’ve seen a lot of comments regarding “Taste” as a track saying it’s probably closer actually to Def Leppard than Tesla. Is that something that bothers you or not?
Dave Rude: You know, I don’t read the comments. No, because you know, people say stupid shit on the internet. Yeah, absolutely, I’d still respond to it though, because there’s definitely that sound, and I think really mostly in the vocals. Because Phil sort of showed us that style of singing that he and Leppard are known for. Just the way to use your voice to get that sound, and then the actual physical production of multi-tracking in a way that it sounds like that. And, it is that signature Def Leppard vocal sound. It’s just for the gang vocals, like the background vocals, and we did that knowingly and intentionally. Because, as I said, it was something different. Like, cool let’s try it like that. We’ve made all these other songs so, it’s cool to do something different and I think for the songs on this record that production style worked really well. And, it looked like I said there was a change for us, so there’s that Leppard element. I think it’s the strongest in the background vocals. To me, it’s like just a really cool classic rock sound. To me, it sounds more like ACDC than Def Leppard. That little bit… That’s cool that it’s definitely noticeable. That doesn’t bother me at all that people are noticing the similarities on some of the songs, I guess.
ANTIHERO: What about touring? Last time I talked to Brian way back in London 2014, he said to me that it was difficult to get gigs in Europe and the UK. I assume that situations still the same. Do you have any definite touring plans in those areas for the new album?
Dave Rude: Sure, yeah. I know we’re coming to Europe in June. We’re doing some festivals and some concerts. I’m not sure which ones have been announced. I know we’re doing some… There’s definitely Download Festival, which I’m really excited about because we’ve done that a few times. So cool, that’s like the best festival. And, I think we’re doing something in Germany and maybe some other festival that I wish I knew offhand. But we’ll be there for about two weeks, which is great because we haven’t been there since the 2014 tour.
And, you know it’s always fun, especially, to do those festivals because they’re such a cool mix of bands. We get to see all these other bands play, to hang out with them, and the vibe of a European festival is like you can’t duplicate that. It’s very unique. You guys really get into your rock and roll. That’s really cool. It’s so neat when you go up and even bands that are on early, as some of the festivals we might be on at like one o’clock in the afternoon. And, there are still 30,000 people there. It’s not like empty. It’s like everyone’s still there ready to rock with a drink in their hand. It’s pretty cool. And, I mean it is economically it is hard to go over there. It’s expensive to come from the other side of the world but were not as big over there. On our own, we need smaller venues’ money and all that. But, it’s worth it to come over and do those festivals, and we’ve tested it pretty recently and at least every few years we get to come over for a summer sweep.
ANTIHERO: Of course, Tesla had achieved most of the success in that earliest period before you joined the band. Do you think it was easier joining a band that was already successful? In terms of less pressure or indeed did that actually create more for you personally?
Dave Rude: Sure. I mean, yeah, in that respect absolutely, because there’s always the pitfalls that everyone the things in a rock story that repeat themselves, right, in most bands. And, I did miss that and that’s something I’m definitely fortunate for. It was easy in the respect of that Tesla was already a known sort of entity and like a touring sort of… It was already its own machine and world, and I got to just sort of fit in and become a part of it as opposed to doing the whole thing of breaking a band from its inception.
Especially, these days or even when I joined in 2006, it’s so different and infinitely harder than in the 80s when Tesla and all the other classic bands did come out. It’s such a different world now it’s even … It was always very difficult, but it’s 10 times harder now. That was cool, but honestly, I think in many ways I was in club bands trying to make it for years and years. Doing the thing of having shitty jobs and fucking putting your gear in the van and driving for hours and playing for 10 people and you know? Just like everybody else, just like Tesla did back in the day. Trying to build a following and handing out flyers and making demo tapes and all that stuff. Just on a personal level, it was kind of like I did all the same work, it just wasn’t with the same band. It was just being a successful band member. But, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.
ANTIHERO: Hopefully, I’ll get to see you in the UK.
Dave Rude: Oh, that sounds great, and hey, great talking to you. Thanks!