After sound check at The Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, New York, TESLA guitarists Frank Hannon and Dave Rude invited BraveWords.com scribe Aaron Small backstage for an exclusive interview. The first topic of discussion was the forthcoming pair of live albums – one for Europe and one for North America.
“We record every show,” reveals Frank. “We have a new mixing console that has a built-in hard disc recorder. It’s soundboard and room mics mixed together. When we were home in September, Brian (Wheat, bass) and myself sat there for three days reviewing about 20 shows from the last tour in Europe. We listened to every one of them. Pretty much by the second song, you can tell if we were smokin’. We had a list of songs we were looking for specifically. We narrowed it down to Hamburg, Germany and Madrid, Spain – those two shows overall were the best shows and are the majority of the live album. But we still needed a killer version of another song. So we searched and searched and found one song from Belfast, Ireland. So the record is probably going to be called, Tesla – Live Across Europe.” Rest assured, pulling songs from different concerts and putting them together on one live album won’t interrupt the flow. “When you’re mastering you can cross-fade them together and if you do it cleverly, you can make it sound like one continuous show.”
The North American live album “is being recorded on this tour,” states Hannon. “That’s why we’re digging into the archives and pulling out songs that the die-hards want to hear. The live album that’s going to be done in America is going to be all obscure songs that have never been released live before. We’ve done Comin’ Atcha Live! 2008 and RePlugged Live, they (both) had ‘Modern Day Cowboy’. It’s already been released live a bunch of times. So we’re not going to put ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ on this new album. We’re going to put songs like ‘Last Action Hero’, ‘Steppin’ Over’ and stuff from the new album – ‘I Wanna Live’ and ‘Breakin’ Free’ – stuff that’s never been put out live before. We have a core fan base that allows us to do about 1,000 people every night. So there’s probably 30-40,000 loyal Tesla fans that are like Deadheads – but without hairy armpits (laughs). They’re the one that’ll be going after all this stuff that we put out.”
Although the upcoming live discs will be strictly audio; Hannon admits that, “We do have a ton of bonus footage from the European tour that I filmed. We’re going to make a DVD – we have about five things in the works: the live album in Europe, the American rarities songs from the basement live album, a new studio album of originals, a DVD of behind the scenes stuff from the past three to five years since Dave’s been in the band. We’ve actually got footage of the making of Reel To Reel.”
Tesla always changes their set list, which keeps it interesting for both fans and band alike. It’s not the same songs night in and night out. “Yeah. We did ‘Last Action Hero’ last night (October 30th) for the first time in the band’s career ever,” confirms Dave. “Then you heard it today five times at sound check. It’s always fun for us. We work on new old songs that haven’t been played for a long time at sound check every day. We’re trying to get a lot of different rarities recorded on this tour to put on the album. It’s a lot more interesting than playing the same songs in the exact same order every night.”
The touring for 2009 wraps up in a big way with the Ship Rocked Cruise, departing Fort Lauderdale, Florida on November 15th and sailing to Jamaica and Grand Cayman. “I’m really looking forward to it,” comments Hannon. “I’ve never been on a big cruise ship. I’m really psyched about it. Plus QUEENSRŸCHE’s going to be there, along with SKID ROW and RATT. And I’ve never been to Jamaica before. We play the first night and that’s it, we’re done for the whole week. So we’ll be hanging out with everybody.”
Halloween saw Tesla perform in a casino. “We always play a few casinos every tour,” says Rude. “It’s not like it used to be where it was like, ‘oh you’re a casino band.’ Now everyone does it – new bands to old bands. It’s just another gig. In certain cities, the only place to play is the casino and they’re great! It’s always fun. It’s always packed with people having a great time.” Hannon enthusiastically jumps in, “Casinos are awesome! You get great rooms and great food, great facilities. We’re used to playing a variety of venues. We can play dirty, dingy rock clubs. We can play really nice, old vintage theatres. We can open for MATCHBOX 20 at a festival in Wisconsin. We can play a festival with IRON MAIDEN and KISS over in Europe. Then we can play a casino. We can play anywhere.”
As far as winning big money in a casino goes, “I suck at gambling,” confesses Rude. “The only thing I can handle is Black Jack ‘cause I can count to 21. But after they keep feeding you all those free drinks, even that doesn’t work very long.” Hannon admits to an affinity for craps but hating slot machines. “That’s so mindless. You’re just putting your money in and pulling it. At least with craps you can bet on numbers and play the field, that’s kind of fun.”
Both Frank Hannon and Dave Rude have projects on the go outside of Tesla. Dave fronts his own DAVE RUDE BAND. “It’s great! It’s obviously a lot different. I love singing and writing a lot of the material. It’s a different trip. We’re a power trio so I’m not running around doing back flips. We’re just into the songs. We just put out a new CD called Carry Me Home. People have been describing it as SHINEDOWN meets BUCKCHERRY, sort of a newer twist but definitely classic rock.”
Frank just released a new solo song, dually inspired by the 9/11 Tragedy in New York City as well as the recent wildfires in California, called ‘The Heroes’. “I’ve always been a fan of firefighters for some reason, I guess when I was a kid. But right around September 11th, there was a bunch of fires in California – Auburn specifically, which is right around our hometown (of Sacramento). A whole bunch of houses were destroyed. There was a fireman who ran into a house that was on fire and he saved this little old lady. I was just kind of tripping on that. It inspired me, along with the events of the World Trade Center. I was watching it on the news before the Towers fell ‘cause I was up early that morning. My wife had called me actually and said, ‘you’ve got to turn on the news.’ I just remember seeing the firemen all running in and everybody running out. I was just reflecting on that and wrote a song about it. I didn’t want to wait to see if maybe Tesla would entertain the idea of it, three years from now. Or I didn’t want to wait until maybe someday I’ll have a (solo) record out again. So I decided to experiment and put it up as a download – on my own – using PayPal and see if it works. Also, I figured, if I’m writing a song about these folks, if there’s any money generated from it, I’ll go ahead and send it their way. We raised about $1000 with about 100 downloads. It’s $5.99 or donate and a lot of people actually donated $10-$20 bucks.”
Compared to iTunes where songs are 99 cents each, it seems expensive. “I was originally going to do it for 99 cents, but then I figured I’m going to raise peanuts for the charity. So that’s why we decided to make it as a donation. It’s still peanuts. $1000 isn’t really going to help too much. I had anticipated a little bit more than that, but like I said, it was an experiment and it was a song I really liked. I didn’t want to wait forever for it to possibly not even come out. The way Tesla writes songs… I could have a song – like ‘Pvt. Ledbetter’ for example. I could have a song with lyrics and everything, but once it goes though the filter and changes, it turns into something different. So I just wanted to put that one out the way it was. As a lyric writer, I’m always straight to the point. I’m not good at cryptic writing. I’m pretty literal, which is what makes Jeff (Keith, vocalist) so great. I’ll give him a literal idea and he’ll take it and turn it into something that could have double meanings or whatever. But the words in that song are pretty direct as far as the firemen were running in and everyone was running away.”
2010 marks the 25th anniversary of Tesla. As previously mentioned, the band plans to release a brand new studio album. However, Rude clarifies, “we haven’t even started on it. We’ve been in touring mode since last October (2009).” Tesla isn’t a band that writes on the road. “Not really. You come up with riffs at sound check. It’s weird ‘cause your creative mindset is in a different mode when you’re on tour. It’s really hard to sit down for four hours and work on a new song. We’ve tried, but it never really happens.” Hannon chimes in, “once in a while you’ll come up with a riff and if it’s good, it’ll stick with you and you’ll remember it when you get home. Actually, I was working on ‘The Heroes’ at sound check in Europe. I get inspired on the road in Europe a lot ‘cause the scenery, the people and the whole vibe is so different over there. It’s more classical feeling. I wrote the riff for ‘The Heroes’ over in Spain somewhere and when we got home I was still messing with it. But that’s a rare occasion. Out here, it’s hard to write. On the bus there’s like ten guys staring at you – watching and listening – as you’re trying to work on a song.”
Last but definitely not least, there are plans afoot for a Tesla box set. “That’s been in the works,” shares Hannon. “It’s been put on hold because there’s a dispute that Geffen Records owns the rights to the songs we’re going to put on there. But the songs we’re going to put on there are all the original four track demos. So we’re arguing with them that these are demos we made before we got signed. But they’re saying those songs are… I’ll be honest with you, I’m glad it’s being held up because I don’t really want to put that shit out right now. I’d rather keep being more creative with new stuff. The box set that we have so far is about 50% done. Brian and I have been working on it. Like I said, it’s four track demos of ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ and the whole first album (Mechanical Resonance). We were really excited about putting it out and I don’t mean to be negative; it’s going to be a killer box set. We’re trying to get it out. It’s going to be really rare stuff like rough and raw demo tapes. I’m sure a fair-weather fan would buy it and think, ‘Oh my God. That’s not the Modern Day Cowboy I’m used to hearing.’ Oh – by the way – ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ is going to be on Guitar Hero 6.”
Guitar Hero seemingly receives equal amounts of praise and criticism. Rude offers his opinion. “I teach guitar when I’m not touring and a lot of people start in on that. A lot of people complain, but I think it’s a good thing. Even if people don’t learn to play guitar, it’s exposing them to all sorts of cool guitar-based music that they wouldn’t have ever heard otherwise.” As far as the actual selection of ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ for Guitar Hero 6 went, Hannon explains, “They (the video game makers) chose it. Honestly, there’s some pirate versions of ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ that people have made up for the game out there. They did ask us what we would request. That was one of our three that we wanted.”
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