TESLA - Geffen Records Can "Go Fuck Themselves"

June 16, 2014, 5 years ago

By Aaron Small

tesla feature

With their new album Simplicity, Tesla has successfully captured the elusive element of a classic rock band putting out vibrant, remarkable new material. In order to create the music that came to be known as Simplicity, Tesla was sequestered at producer Tom Zutaut’s 150 acre ranch, isolated in the woods of Virginia. “Yeah, there wasn’t a whole lot there, just a farmhouse,” recalls bassist Brian Wheat. “We took whatever ideas we had and stayed up all night; just wrote a bunch of songs.” As opposed to having each of the band members writing on their own, and then bring the ideas together at rehearsal. “If we were going to do it in Sacramento, there’s too many distractions with wives and kids and family and friends; all that stuff. So we need to go in lock-up.”

Tesla has an important history with Tom Zutaut as he signed the band to Geffen Records in 1986 and worked on their finest albums. “Yeah, he’s really good at bringing the best out of us. He’s one of the few people we respect and we won’t just tell to fuck off. That goes a long way with the five of us,” admits Wheat. After the writing was completed at Zutaut’s ranch, Tesla headed over to Brian’s studio, J Street Recorders, in Sacramento and according to the bio, did one song a day. “Pretty much, that’s kind of how it started. That reads well, but that’s not exactly how it went down. We’d start on a song and then we’d finish it. If something didn’t get finished the day before, then we’d finish it when we came in the next day. There were some things we had to revisit a couple times to get the right feel. But for the most part yeah.”

There’s not a song called Simplicity, but “in ‘MP3’ when it says, gotta get back to simplicity. That was the underlying message of the record. The whole way through it was, let’s go in and make a record that isn’t over-produced. Or spend time doing a lot of overdubs, layers on Pro-Tools and stuff. It was kind of let’s go back with the mindset of the first album (Mechanical Resonance) – really spend time working on the songs and pre-production.”

“Sympathy” kicks off with a cool bass line, yet Brian readily admits, “I didn’t play that. Frank (Hannon, guitarist) played that piece and the reason is, when we were doing the demos for it I was asleep. Jeff (Keith, vocalist) really liked what he played on the demos, so rather than have me play what Frank played… Frank kind of had a different feel than the way I was playing it. So I said, you go ahead and play it, I’m not bothered by it. It doesn’t matter to me. And I didn’t play the bass on ‘Life Is A River’ because I was playing piano; the rest of the bass is me. At this point in our career, we just want the best song.” Piano also appears in “Cross My Heart”. “Yeah, I didn’t play that (either). It’s Frank playing that honky tonk piano; I play more the ballady stuff. Frank likes to play a lot on everything. But it’s cool, like Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

In “Ricochet” Ted Nugent gets a mention with the line, “Like Uncle Ted said, a free for all.” Although Brian “didn’t work on any of the lyrics on this album,” he isn’t shy when it comes to sharing his opinion of the man behind Cat Scratch Fever. “I love Ted Nugent. I like him on a personal level, I think Ted Nugent’s alright. I like everything about him. He’s no bullshit. He’s not afraid to piss people off and I like that about him.”

14 tracks make up Simplicity. In a day and age where a lot of bands are opting for EPs as opposed to full-length albums, that’s a lot of music providing great bang for the buck. “Yeah, it’s just a snapshot of where you are at that time and those are the songs we had. We couldn’t make up our mind which one or two to cut off, and you know the fans aren’t going to argue that there’s too much material here, so we just put them all on. If you don’t like one, skip it.”

Simplicity seems to be aimed at Tesla’s pre-existing fan base. It doesn’t appear that the band is going after the teenage market as it’s hard to imagine them appreciating “MP3”, although that’s their preferred musical format. “It’s just a statement. Vinyl sounds better than MP3 – period. That’s what we’ve come to. People communicate through texting now instead of sitting around a dinner table or going and visiting each other, hell even picking up a telephone. People just text each other, so it’s kind of an observation of the state of where we are socially these days. But I see young kids all the time in our crowd. There’s a lot of young kids that are discovering classic rock, wearing Led Zeppelin t-shirts and Bad Company t-shirts. We’re their parents. I’ll talk to the kids and say, how’d you hear about Tesla? ‘From our parents, you’re the only band our parents listen to that we like.’ There are some kids, but we’re not marketing ourselves towards young kids that are listening to My Chemical Romance or Fall Out Boy, ‘cause it’s just not what those kids are into. I was those kids, I didn’t want to listen to my Mom and Dad’s stuff; it’s all cyclical. But it’s us out there being a classic rock band today, and I’m glad we are. I’m glad we’re still around and working; hell I’m glad I still have a job.” 35 years ago when Tesla was just starting out, if somebody had forecast, one day you’ll be classic rock, Brian most likely would have been horrified. “Yeah, probably, absolutely – but not anymore.”

The first video from Simplicity will be for “a song called ‘So Divine…’ and it should be coming out in the next week or so; look on YouTube for it. We filmed our part in Oakland, California in some warehouse.” When asked if it was management or the label that chose ‘So Divine…’ to receive video treatment, Brian quickly clarifies matters. “We are the label. We are the management. So we all collectively picked it. eOne is our distribution company, but the label is Tesla Electric Company Recording. We’re using the promotion staff at eOne, but we’re not on eOne Records.”

A lot of touring lies ahead for Tesla in support of Simplicity. They’re playing Europe and The UK in June, the States in July, August and September; the complete routing can be found at the band’s official website. Any chance of some Canadian dates? “Hopefully, we’re trying to sort some stuff out. We don’t know yet.” Having rocked stages of all shapes and sizes, when it comes to headlining casinos, playing club shows, or being part of a big ‘80s package with two or three other bands, Brian confesses, “I don’t know if I have a preference honestly. As long as the crowd’s good I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me if we’re playing to 50,000 people or 600 people, as long as the crowd’s into it, it’s a good show and I’m fine with it.”

Round Hill Music recently announced their acquisition of 100% of the publishing for Tesla’s entire song catalog. “It’s kind of complex,” but Brian tries to explain it. “They bought the publishing share of the catalog from the beginning until when (guitarist) Tommy Skeoch left – all the Geffen Records stuff. They didn’t buy our writers share, they bought the publishing share. It means that maybe now you’ll see Tesla songs in commercials or movies, because that’s what they do. That’s what they specialize in. It was a good move for our music to be out there more. We’re not publishers, we’re songwriters and performers. They’re a publishing house, so it made sense.” That being said, we’re not going to be seeing a slew of reissues or a new greatest hits package. “No, I just turned down a greatest hits. Geffen Records wanted to put out another greatest hits and I told them to go fuck themselves. Literally, that’s what I told them. They’ve put out enough greatest hits and watered them down.” A lot of bands would have just taken the pay cheque. “No, not us.”

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