The 80’s were a time when music ruled the world. You had MTV, who believe it or not, actually played music videos. Radio was THE place to hear new music and seeing a live show was relatively inexpensive. The airwaves were ruled by hair metal, as it’s been dubbed, but one band was still recognizable. That band was Cinderella. The lyrical depth was much deeper than most of the songs on the air and the majority of that sound and lyrical depth was owed to one man. That man is Tom Keifer. Tom is still the voice and guitarist in Cinderella, but he is about to embark on a musical journey into uncharted waters for him. He’s releasing his debut solo album on April 30th. That’s what brings us together today. We’re here to discuss the album, titled The Way Life Goes. Below is our conversation, I hope you enjoy it at least half as much as I did.
You can listen to the entire Tom Keifer interview below:
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Today I’m honored to welcome one of the most recognizable voices in music. Tom Keifer joins the Unsung Melody family today. First off, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.
Good to be here my friend.
Most will know your name from your band Cinderella, but we’re here to discuss something very special to you. We’re here to talk about your debut solo album titled, The Way Life Goes. Which, I’m going to be perfectly honest, is absolutely amazing.
Oh, well thank you.
Absolutely. Now, I mean no offense when I say this, but I was kind of shocked just how damn good the album really is.
Well thanks. (laughter)
The album is much more diverse than I expected. Is that just from the length of the journey to get here or was that something you set out to do from the get go?
I always like having different vibes and dynamics on a record. I think going back to even the Cinderella records, we really grew from Night Songs. Where we ended up on Heartbreak Station and even Long Cold Winter. It’s the kind of music that I grew up on. I love records that have contrast. Like a Zeppelin record, where it’s acoustic, then electric. Sometimes even in the same song it would jump from an acoustic verse to a hard rocking chorus. So, I’ve always really liked that. I tried to just carry that tradition on with this record. I had lots of songs to choose from. I’ve been writing for a solo record, really since the mid-90’s, so there was plenty to choose from and I had the luxury of really picking and choosing which tracks are going to end up on the record.
Once you had gotten ready for the studio, how long was the process in the studio?
We started cutting tracks in 2003 for this album. So, it took the better part of nine almost ten years to finish. We didn’t work straight on it. It was produced independently of a label, so there was no deadline or no rush to get it out or release it. It was just about making the best record that I could. One thing led to another and I look up one day and it’s like, “Wow, it’s been 10 years.” (Laughter) You get to that point where you just feel like you’ve turned over every stone. We certainly did on this record and it was a nice luxury to have. To be able to take long periods of objectivity and then come back to the record and listen to it fresh was a cool thing to do. Which I’ve never been able to do on previous records I’ve made. So, we really left no stone unturned, in terms of arrangement, and performance, and song selection, and production, and mixing. We just did the best we could.
A read where a lot of the songs were co-written with your wife Savannah. Music is always very personal. Was it therapeutic having her by your side or was it challenging from an emotional standpoint after all you had been through?
It certainly wasn’t a challenge. We work really well together and really write much in the same way. I’m from the school where my songs have always started with a lyrical inspiration. Something in life, something real that I’ve been through or something that I’ve observed. So, it wasn’t challenging in that way. It was cool to work with her on the record because she brings so much talent to the table, into the room. She’s a great producer and songwriter and like I said, we both approach it the same way. Neither of us ever force writing. I think that would be challenging. I know some songwriters who always have to be doing something. You know they start a song and they have to finish it, whether you’re inspired or not. I’ve seen a lot of good ideas, go bad doing that. (Laughter) I’ve set on a song idea for a year or two, until the right thing comes to me. She’s very much that way too. It’s not about a deadline, or about getting it done. It’s about inspiration and music and being real. So, we work quite well together that way.
A Different Light is a track that was such a pleasant surprise. Was that song written with Savannah?
Yes. Savannah and I co-wrote that song.
That song for me, was really a departure from anything that I’d heard from you before and it was refreshing.
Thanks. I would say that song is probably, in my mind, the most different track on the record. In terms writing, well not so much the writing, but as of more the production of it or maybe the instrumentation of it. It’s got a pretty unique instrumentation and production to it. That’s a song that we really took our time with. It didn’t happen just in one day. It happened over, actually over the course of almost two years. We just kept coming back to it and plugging away. Eventually, we ended up where it’s at on the record. The key changes were a big part of it going into the chorus. Originally, we loved the song and the melody and the lyrics, but it was all the same key. We didn’t have that big key change going into the chorus and that took us a while to discover that. Then we did that and we were like, “Oh, wow.” It really brings it to life. That was one of those ones that was written over a period of time. I think it would have been ruined if we just finished it the first day. (Laughter)
The time and work really showed on that track. It’s awesome. Solid Ground is a single and it seems to be a battle cry, for lack of a better word, for some of the things you’ve been through. Is that what led you to the decision to release that song as one of the lead singles?
That’s another one that Savannah and I wrote. It’s kind of the opposite of Different Light. It happened very quickly. We wrote it in one night. We were just sitting around with some guitar and bang! The next thing you knew, we had a song. Lyrically, to me, not to sound corny, but we’ve all heard the old saying, life’s a journey, not a destination. That to me, is what that song is about. I think that we’re all looking for this thing where we feel whole. Where you feel like you’ve arrived or something that makes you happy and you feel like it’s going to be a breeze now. I don’t think that is really the nature of life. Life keeps moving and changing and keeps throwing things at you. Life’s something that you have to keep up with. So, that’s what that lyrics about.
The video was shot in Nashville, which is where I believe you now call home. I can hear a little bit of that Nashville sound on this record. How has the Nashville scene shaped your recent songwriting efforts?
It’s a very inspirational town to be in, in terms of songwriting for sure. Not to mention the musicians and the engineers and the studios. It’s pretty crazy, but songwriting especially, it’s referred to as the songwriting capitol of the world. Music City. It’s served as a great inspiration when writing songs and hopefully it’s helped me become a better lyricist. I’ve not only worked with Savannah here, but some other really great writers here. This is the kind of place, where even if it’s not someone you’re working with, there are songwriters everywhere you turn. Someone’s got a song that’s better than the one you heard five minutes ago, so it’s really inspirational. Sometimes, (Laughter) it makes you want to give up. You’ll hear a song and you’ll be like, “Holy shit. That’s amazing.” (Laughter) Then, that’s inspiring right. You get a little kick in the ass and you say, “I want to write like that.” So, hopefully it’s made me a better lyricist and a better songwriter. Certainly I’ve learned a lot about arrangements and getting to the point a lot quicker, because they are very good at that here.
The next song on the record I want to discuss is Mood Elevator. It’s my favorite track on the album. That riff is just fantastic and I really love hearing that bluesy voice really opened up again. Tell me a bit about the backstory of that song.
Again, that’s another one that I wrote with Savannah. That happened over a period of time too. She came to me with the lyric. People will take it different ways, really what it’s about, is it’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing about our society and depression being described by the happy pills. (Laughter) She came to me with this lyric, it was the B section lyric, she was kind of humming the, “Have a little with your supper, let it be” and then it ends up with the pass the Prozac please. I was like, that’s kind of cool. I had, well Savannah did as well, I just came out of a dark time and I had been through a lot of therapy. I won a t-shirt that says I survived the 90’s. (Laughter) It really hit home and was obviously something that both of us had been through. So, obviously millions of people are experiencing it everyday. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a doctor’s office and they say, “Well, just take some of this and everything is going to be great.” I never found that magic pill to be honest, so that’s why I think it’s kind of humorous. So, that’s really where that song started. It started with that lyric and she had that melody and I put several different chord progressions behind it before I settled on the one that’s on the record. We just kind of ran with that idea. Then from that point, we kind of worked up the rest of it together. There’s the song.
It seems that the songs that I’ve picked out are the songs that you’ve worked on together. So, it’s obviously a very good working relationship. So, that’s awesome.
Oh yeah, yeah. We can definitely write a song. (Laughter) What’s kind of fun too about Mood Elevator, because of the nature of the subject, and you’re talking about that guitar riff and you really like it. I think on a song like that it was really fun, because I got to really play around in the studio and try different sounds and parts to come up with something that sounded like a little whacky or a little off-centered (Laughter) part wise. I tried to make the mood of the guitars match what the lyric was saying.
I say job well done. So there ya go. You’ve already had a small tour to help with the hype of the record I suppose, but I see quite a few dates coming up in May. Tell us what fans can expect from a Tom Keifer solo show? Is it a mix of the past successes that you’ve had or is it mainly the new album? What can fans expect?
I can describe to you what we did back in February. I mean, it’s pretty much what we’re going to be doing on the next leg here. At least until we get through all the places that we haven’t been to yet. It’s a mixture of new and old. Probably about 50/50. It’s very similar to what people are used to from me. The most different part about it, not that we never did this with Cinderella, but I never did it quite this way before, there’s a sit down acoustic section in the middle of it. There are about four or five songs. We’ve done that with Cinderella before, so it’s not anything new. But what’s different about this on my solo tour is I’m actually talking and telling stories about how the song was written, giving some back stories and it’s kind of like an episode of Storytellers. Within that section, there is a couple of newer songs and a couple of old Cinderella songs in there. The opening of the set is some blasting hard rock and then after the storytellers thing, it picks back up with some more rock off the new record and we go out on a bunch of our favorite Cinderella stuff. It’s a nice mixture of, as I call it, paint peeling, blistering, high energy rock and a little sit down acoustic section. (Laughter) It’s a little bit of everything.
I’m actually a little disappointed. I had to work when you came through my town. I’m based in Lexington, KY. I’m pretty bummed I missed the show, so hopefully I’ll be able to catch another one.
Oh yeah, at Buster’s.
Yeah. Clark and all those guys down there are great. So, hopefully you had a good time there.
We did. We had a great time there. It’s actually a really cool sounding venue.
You’ve always kind of been the reluctant frontman, looking back at the beginning of your career, did you ever imagine that you’d have sold millions of records and be sitting here 25 or so years later discussing a solo album?
Wow. It’s hard to say. When you first pick up an instrument and start playing it, for me at least, it was always purely about the love of the music. I mean I started playing guitar when I was about seven. That’s because I saw The Beatles on tv and I loved that tv band The Monkees. Their songwriting was amazing. Mike Nesmith was a really great guitarist. So, it was always about the music for me. It just creeps up on you, ya know? It’s one step at a time. You start learning. Then the next thing you know you are up playing in cover bands, which is a lot of fun. Then eventually, I made the decision to start writing my own music and we put together Cinderella. It’s kind of one step at a time. Any endeavor that anybody is involved in, ultimately you hope for some kind of success from it. Because I love playing music so much that, that’s what I want to do. Obviously, we all have bills to pay. (Laughter) I guess on some level you’re hoping for some level of success where you are able to continue to doing the thing that you love to do. Which music is truly that for me. I guess there were times along the way where I’d imagine what it’d be like to be feel that. Where I’m actually making a living doing the thing that I want to do. It’s almost like what I said about Solid Ground though, I never really felt like I arrived there. Where you can sit back. Because life keeps moving, and keeps throwing curves at you. Obviously if I went through the whole Cinderella career and my career with what I’ve been through, there certainly have been amazing things that have happened and there have certainly been a lot of obstacles that make you to continue to work. Just trying to get better at what you do, because that’s just the nature of life. I always feel like I’ve got to keep on my toes. Life will swallow you whole if you don’t keep up with it.
Before you ever even realize it. Alright, I always end on a random question. I actually was a little intimidated about the random question with you. You’ve probably been asked every question under the sun. I’m a slave to continuity though, so here goes…Someone creates a Tom Keifer doll, complete with a pull string and voice box. (Laughter) When you pull the string, what does the doll say and why?
So, they create a doll and when they pull the string, what does it say?
It probably says, “Why the fuck is there a Tom Keifer doll?” (Laughter) That’s the first thing that came to mind, if you want the first thing out.
Ay, it’s perfect for me. That’s what I love about the random questions. You just never know where they will take you.
There you go. There’s a random answer.
(Laughter) Alright Tom, I appreciate your time so very much and I wish you absolutely nothing but the best.
Alright my friend, that was a good one. I have not been asked that one before.
Awesome! Hopefully we can get caught up at a show sometime soon.
Pre-order The Way Life Goes below:
Check out the video for Solid Ground below: