"We like to make records that we can keep simple and reproduce live"
Tesla release their new album “Simplicity” on 6th June through Frontiers Records (http://www.rockradioni.co.uk/back-stage/music-reviews/1552-ni-rocks-recommends-qsimplicityq-by-tesla.html ). As a huge fan of the band since the late 80s, it was amazing to get the opportunity to speak to lead singer Jeff Keith over the phone and record an interview for Rock Radio NI. The main focus of the interview was to get Jeff chatting about five of the tracks from the album.
The interview was broadcast on the Friday NI Rocks Show on 30th May 2014 and was then available for 8 weeks via the On Demand Player. The show from 30th May which includes the interview can be heard at http://www.mixcloud.com/NIRocks/
A transcription of the interview is posted below.
NI ROCKS – Jeff, thanks very much for taking some time to talk to us at Rock Radio NI. The band is about to release their latest album “Simplicity”, which as a fan I have to say is a real classic. The theme of simplicity is evident throughout the evolution of the album, from your approach to recording of the tracks right through to the album cover. Was there a conscious decision from the outset to keep it simple or was that just the way it worked out?
JEFF – Yeah, we wanted to keep it simple. With so much of today’s technology , Pro Tools and all that stuff its very easy to overdo it and oversaturate the record, because there is an endless amount of tracks you can do and there are so many ways you can cheat and stuff. We like to make records that we can keep simple and reproduce live you know.
“Simplicity” we thought was a great name for the record because we wanted to keep it simple and we’re a simple blue-collar rock ‘n’ roll band. We always like to make records, like I said, that we can play live.
NI ROCKS – Was that the idea with the album cover too? It’s just a very simple logo to keep things in the same vein.
JEFF – Yeah, it’s black and white, very simple just with the Tesla logo like you said. That represents the simplicity of it. Most records we made, they always had Nikola Tesla’s theories – like Mechanical Resonance and The Great Radio Controversy and all that kind of stuff. So we thought that this record we just want to keep it simple and we came up with a basic design and we’re very happy with it.
NI ROCKS – Rather than a straight forward Q&A I was hoping to get you to talk about some of the tracks on the new album. About the recording process and the thinking behind the writing of the tracks. So “MP 3” is a great opening track, tell us about it.
JEFF – Yeah we thought that with so much technology today, the world is overrun with technology and is out of touch with reality. That’s where we got the title of the record from – in those lyrics. We just wanted to talk about how there was so much technology and for a simple band like ourselves we thought it was a great track to open with, because we think it represents Tesla. A simple band and simple rock ‘n’ roll.
NI ROCKS – It sounds like it starts with a vinyl LP playing – a crackle you used to get.
JEFF – Yeah, we thought it would be cool you know because everything is on CD and people can download MP3s. We got the sound of a needle on vinyl and thought it was a cool way to start the record.
NI ROCKS – The next track I wanted to ask about was “Rise and Fall”?
JEFF – Tom Zutaut who signed us to Geffen and worked on the first three records with us co-produced this record and we went to his farm in Virginia. He was telling us this story when we went there for the first trip of pre-production about how he and his daughter had seen a ghost on a horse riding straight through their house, just missing them in the living room and going through the walls. I’ve never seen a ghost and never witnessed one myself but “Rise and Fall” was inspired by that belief that people can see ghosts, I just haven’t seen them myself. We just started building off that – how Tom and his daughter said they’d seen a ghost on a horse riding through his house. That inspired the song and started the ball rolling about beliefs and seeing visions of things. It’s a fun track and one of my favourites on the record as a matter of fact.
NI ROCKS – The third track I wanted to ask about was “Honestly”.
JEFF – “Honestly” was one of two songs along with “Burnout to Fade” that Frank and I wrote about two years ago in his garage. Northern California gets pretty hot in the summer. It’s normally around 115 degrees, no air conditioning in this hot garage. We just wrote those two songs in the extreme heat and they’ve pretty much stayed to their true form on the record two and a half years later. It’s just an honest song, hence the title. It’s a fun song that me and Frank put together. A lot of times a track can start out and then get turned into another whole different animal by the time you get it recorded and put on a record. It’s just a fun song, straight from the heart that has as I said stayed in its true form.
NI ROCKS – Would those be the oldest tracks on the album? Would the rest all be written much more recently?
JEFF – Yeah, most would be more recent. With “Forever More” we were in the studio and writing songs as we were recording them, which didn’t work out well for us. So this time we did a lot of pre-production out in Virginia on Tom Zutaut’s farm. Having the time for the pre-production, having the songs all prepared before we went in to record them really played in our favour. We think the record came out just fantastic and we’re really pleased with it.
NI ROCKS – One of my favourite tracks on the album is “Flip Side!”. Tell us a little about that one.
JEFF – “Flip Side!” was a riff that Frank had come up with. We had the first riff and Frank came up with the chorus riff. We were playing the song and next you know Brian came in and said hey I think we need to do something that’s got that swampy feel for the verse. So Frank’s playing the slide and I’m kinda singing and we got everyone snapping their fingers and we got that swampy feel for the verse and a rockin feel for the chorus. Every time when we say goodbye we’ll say “see you on the flip side” so it’s just a fun loving song and we think it came out great. From the form it started out in and the way it evolved in the studio, getting the slide guitar and the snapping of the fingers then the chorus slamming in, it’s just a fun song.
NI ROCKS – The final song I wanted to talk about was “Time Bomb”.
JEFF – We were doing pre-production in Virginia where a lot of the Revolutionary War went on and we started out wanting to write a song about the revolutionary era and next you know it evolved into a song about how things get a little bit crazy in the world. At times you just think things are gonna explode, so we turned the song into the whole idea of how the world is ticking like a time bomb, who knows when it’s gonna explode! So until then we just make the best of it and hope that it doesn’t really explode! Right?
NI ROCKS – I’d be amiss if I didn’t ask one final question, which everyone in Northern Ireland would like to know. Any idea when we might see Tesla back in Northern Ireland?
JEFF – Hopefully soon. We’re leaving tomorrow for a couple of shows in the Mid-West then we’re heading over to Europe including the UK. We’re hoping that with the new record out that it’ll open some doors and we’ll get the demand for us to come back over there. We’d like to play everywhere but for right now we’ll take what we can get. It’s not like we can sit and throw darts at a map of the world and say lets play wherever the dart lands. It has to be where we’ve got the demand and promoters that are willing to bring us to whatever city it may be. So we’re hoping that our two week trip over there will open the doors and bring attention to everybody that we’ve got a new record out and hope that there’s demand and that we come back to do a whole lot more shows over there.
NI ROCKS – Hopefully so, you’ve a big fan base here in Northern Ireland. Your last show here in 2009 was one of my favourite gigs.
JEFF – It’s been too long!
NI ROCKS – It is too long. Anyway, Jeff thanks again for taking the time to talk to us. Best of luck with the album and the tour.
For more on Tesla check out http://teslatheband.com/
Also check out our interview with Tesla guitarist Dave Rude from June 2013 - http://www.rockradioni.co.uk/interviews/1257-ni-rocks-interview-with-dave-rude-tesla-dave-rude-band.html