Cinderella’s Tom Keifer: The Way Life Goes

By Jeb Wright

Procrastination is something that Tom Keifer knows all too well when it comes to making solo albums.  Case in point, he started writing his newest release, The Way Life Goes in the 1990’s and will finally release it on April 30, 2013. 

The biggest question is was it worth the wait?  Well, no album is probably worth waiting over a decade for, unless we are talking Roger Waters reuniting with Pink Floyd, or a Led Zeppelin album, but, that said, this is a good one that is going to make Tom’s fans very happy.

One can’t help but hear Cinderella in these tunes; however, one also picks up the Faces, the Stones and other bands that influenced Keifer, as well.  The result is a very tasty treat of musical flavors; all centered around, for the most part, Tom’s dirty guitar and unique vocal style.

In the interview that follows, we discuss what the hell took so long, as well as if we can, one day, expect another Cinderella record. 

Jeb: Your fans will finally have a solo album by you.  I think they have been waiting since the ‘90’s. 

Tom: They have been waiting so patiently.  It has taken quite a few more years than planned.  You’re right; I first started thinking about doing a solo album in ‘90’s after Cinderella parted ways after the fourth album. 

I came down to Nashville and was working with a lot of great writers and I eventually moved here.  The record kept getting put on the back burner.  Cinderella got back together and we started working on a new record.  The record deal we had ended up in court and turned into a big mess.  The good thing that came out of that is that the band has been touring ever since. 

In the midst of all of the legal hassles, I started working on the solo project again.  I started cutting tracks for it about 2003.  I had tons of songs, as I had been writing songs since the mid 1990’s.  The album was done independently of a record label.  It was on the heels of a record deal that had gone south and had gotten really messy with Cinderella.  The band was all working on their own stuff, so we were really on our own.  Nobody wanted to deal with a label.  I just wanted to make music and not worry about someone trying to tell me what it had to be, or how it had to be. 

I produced this record with my wife, Savannah, and a good friend of ours, who is a very talented producer and engineer named Chuck Turner.  The three of us started working on it and we decided that it would be done when it is done.  It is almost ten years later, but that’s how long it took. 

Jeb:  What is the oldest song on the album and what is the newest?

Tom: I would say that most of the stuff was written between the years ’97 and 2002.  They are all new songs; they were new when we started recording the record. 

For me, when you make a record you pick the songs and then you go in and record them.  You may come up with an extra one. 

The way I work is to pick around 14 songs and when they are produced and recorded right, then the record is done.  It took like a really long time to get to that point [laughter].  I typically don’t write any more stuff once I get into the production and recording aspect.  These are the newest songs that I have, even though they go back to 2002. 

Jeb: That was a rough time.  You can look at the titles of the songs like “Cold Day in Hell” and “Ain’t That a Bitch” and there is a lot of emotional turmoil in these songs. 

Tom: That is why the album is called The Way Life Goes.  For me, I draw on life experiences, or life observations, to write the songs.  The song always, for me, starts with the lyrics.  That goes back to all of my heroes.  They are all songwriters.  Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart were great songwriters.  They all went back to roots music and the blues and those songs are all about life and that is always the place that I have written from. 

Jeb: As this album played, I was thinking about this song, or that one, and I actually thought, “This one has kind of a Black Crowes thing going on.”  Then it hit me…this ain’t the Crowes…it’s the Stones. 

Tom: Yeah, I go back a little further than the Black Crowes, but I do love that band.  My influence goes back to the Faces and Rod Stewart and the Stones.  The Crowes got that from the same place, too. 

Jeb: Your solo album shows the fans a different side of Tom.  However, it is not totally foreign, as the key elements to your songs are there. 

Tom: When Cinderella moved on from Night Songs through Heartbreak Station, the influence started showing more.  We grew.  A lot of that is production and instrumentation. 

On the first record we had pretty basic production and we had a couple of electric guitars and bass and drums.  On Long Cold Winter, we started adding in a lot more dimensions in the instrumentation like pianos, acoustic guitars and dobros and even some brass in places.  It went even further on Heartbreak Station.  A lot of the production influence from the band that inspired me started coming out more and more.  This record is just a step further in that direction. 

Jeb:  This is not a solo album where the leader of the band goes way off in left field.  You still have the dirty guitar, some slide guitar and all.  But there are songs that Cinderella would not do like “The Flower Song.”

Tom: That song started from the lyric, and where I am coming from on that, is that as human beings, we all have this magical gift that comes from God, I guess.  We are able to recognize that person who you are supposed to be with in life.  That is really what “The Flower Song” is about to me.  You may meet a lot of people along the way.  It is a fun lyric about that.  I guess musically, or vibe wise, it has a bit of a Rod Stewart or the Stones feel to it, which I loved growing up.  Foot Loose and Fancy Free was a big record for me when I was a kid.  The Stones, certainly all of their stuff influenced me. 

There are some real extremes on this record and that is what I have always tried to do because the bands that I loved, when I was growing up, did that.  This song represents the more organic, intimate side of the record.  Of course, the extreme opposite of that is “Mood Elevator,” or “Welcome to My Mind,” “Solid Ground” and “It’s Not Enough,” which are all really hard driving rock.  Some of the songs may be even harder driving than anything I have ever done with Cinderella.  The record has a lot of variety on it and a lot of dynamics. 

Jeb: “A Different Light” is something new for you.  The vocals are very different than anything I have heard from you.

Tom: That whole song is a little bit different, from the production to all of it.  I am not really sure where all that came from.  Savannah and I wrote that together.  We wrote it a little bit at a time, as it took some time to come up with all of those key changes and stuff.  It has a different kind of vibe.  It has things creeping into it from the things that I listen to that are more contemporary. 

I really like Train.  I love their writing and production.  That song represents a little more of the newer side of stuff that I like. 

Jeb: “Fools Paradise” has more Cinderella attitude with a modern flair.

Tom: It has that straight up heavy half time drum feel.  Lyrically, I feel like a lot of the technology that we have now in our life really creates a double edged sword.  As really great as a lot of it seems, I think that there could also be some repercussions to be pay for it.

The production on that, we added a couple of more contemporary effects to add a slightly more technological element, which was fun to do.  We worked in ProTools and it was fun because there are a lot of things that you can do to mess with the sound.  You can easily add stuff. 

Jeb: On the very song you are warning us about technology you are treading on the same ground.

Tom: [laughter] I know and believe me that can be a double edged sword in the studio too.  For all of the great roads you can go down in ProTools there are a lot of really, really bad ones you can go down too.  Fortunately, you can back out of them after you spend 12 hours on something and it is six in the morning and you go, “What the fuck did we just do with that guitar?”  You just hit undo, thank God. 

Jeb: “Cold Day in Hell” is badass. 

Tom: Emotions in songs are accumulative, particularly in a song like “Cold Day in Hell.”  People ask me who that is about, or who inspired that?  That song is just your age old relationship gone bad song. The last really good one I wrote like that was “Nobody’s Fool.”  This one is the same thing as that one.  Who is it about?  I don’t know, but that has happened a lot in my life. 

A lot of times, emotions, or lyrics, are just things that you feel and are accumulative over your life and they are things that everyone can relate too.  I wrote that song with Jim Peterik and I am sure he has been through a few himself.  There is a lot of angst over relationships that have gone bad over the course of everyone’s life.  It is a topic that a lot of people relate too. 

Jeb: We have to mention “Solid Ground.”  The guitar playing is great. That could be a Cinderella song. 

Tom: I don’t really think of it in those terms.  I just think of things in terms of songs and which songs I think are good. I don’t think about trends, or popularity.  I just have always tried to stay true to what I love to do.  Certainly when you take ten years to make a record you are not worried about trends, as six probably came and went during that time.  I can honestly say that is not the motive. 

I just dig the song and I think a lot of my sound and style left a footprint on the Cinderella records, as I was the main songwriter and singer and I did a lot of the guitar work and, obviously, it is going to carry over to this record.  I think a lot of the songs on this record very much have a Cinderella feel to them, but I can‘t help that, as it is who I am .

Jeb: You have a tour coming in May. 

Tom: We are starting in May at that Canyon Club and we are going to head east and go through the Midwest and hit a lot of places we didn’t hit in February.  We were mainly in the Northeast and part of the Midwest in February. 

Jeb:  How much of this album is played live?  How did you choose the set?

Tom: We are playing a good bit of the record live, probably more than I would normally do.  We started the tour in February and the record wasn’t out.  We purposely went into very small venues. 

The purpose of starting the tour like that was twofold.  I needed to put together a band and get a groove with the new guys.  We also wanted to give the fans an opportunity that was a little different.  Since it was way in front of the record, they could come out and get a preview of the record.  I do some other stuff in the show that I don’t normally do.  I do a sit down acoustic set in the middle of the show that is almost like a Storytellers thing.  I talk about how the songs came about and I tell old stories and stuff.  That is really different for me because I usually don’t say much onstage.  That is really something unique to this tour. 

The tour has about six of the new songs in the show and there is a lot of Cinderella stuff, as well.  It ranges from sit down acoustic to really paint peeling hard rock.  

Jeb: I have seen you live and numerous times backstage.  I am not going to say you are not friendly, but I will say you’re intense. 

Tom: I am there to play some music, man.  That is what it is all about for me.  I think the style of music that I am doing on my solo record and the kind of stuff I am doing with Cinderella have an intensity to it.  You have to feel it.  I try to pour that out every night on stage. 

Like you said, even backstage, particularly before a show, I am just focused on the show.  I have had these voice problems and I am on such a schedule, in terms of warm ups, and when I can eat and in terms of everything I do that effects my voice.  Actually, everything affects it.  It is a very difficult condition to sing with and most people who have this never sing again.  I have really struggled with it.  I am trying to just be focused on show day and I am trying to be very disciplined. 

I also get really anxious and I get really nervous since I have this problem. I am very nervous walking up on stage because some nights are harder than others and I never know what night that is going to be. 

In recent years, I have worked with so many great people that I feel that I am maybe, finally after years and years, rounding a corner where it is actually getting more consistent and I’m getting my confidence back. 

A show date is intense for me between trying to keep up with the regiment, but also just all of the nerves and anxiety that are associated with this disorder.  It is getting better because you get more confident the more consistent the voice becomes.  For years, there were nights I would walk up on stage and my voice would be cracking and breaking and that is hard to do.  It is hard to stand in front of an audience and have that going on. 

Jeb: Some of the Cinderella stuff is not the easiest to sing either.

Tom: I don’t recommend trying it at home unless you have a good surgeon [laughter].

Jeb: Is Cinderella off for a while?

Tom: We decided at the end of the last summer’s tour…it was our third year in a row being out, we went to Europe twice and we did the States three years in a row.  We really, between 2010 and last year, we really burned it down and we figured it was time for a short hiatus.  That presented a good opportunity for me to clear the decks and do this record. 

The record in no way is me leaving the band, or anything like that.  I love Cinderella and it has been a big part of my life for years.  We will certainly continue to tour. 

Jeb: What about a new Cinderella record. 

Tom: It is not for a lack of desire on our part; it is just that the last time we tried that it ended up pretty ugly with lawyers and stuff.  We all had a bad taste in our mouths and we all went on to do solo things.  I am actually just seeing mine come to fruition after ten years. 

In the future, if the right time and place, and the right label comes along with people who are serious about making a record, then we would consider it.  We will see what happens. 

Jeb:  Are you comfortable in Cinderella just playing the hits and not worrying much about new music?

Tom: I love playing the old hits.  I’m so thankful that we are still able to, after all of these years, go out on tour and our fans are so great and they come out.  Every time we walk out on the stage it feels like the first time again.  It is so great to play those songs and share those moments with our fans.  It is also great to put new music out and get new blood out there and that is what I am doing with my solo recorded.  That opportunity has been muddied up by legal things in the past with us.  We were touring the whole time and actually preferring that. 

Not one of us wants to really deal with a record company, or any of that crap after what went down in 2002.  I know that is a long time ago, but we’ve done a lot of tours and there have been a lot of things that we’ve done on the side.  We’ve had a lot of offers along the way, but they didn’t feel right, or they didn’t feel serious, but we will see what presents itself in the future.  We are certainly open to the idea. 

Jeb:  Long Cold Winter really kicked it up a notch over the debut.  From the songs, to the production to the cover, this, to me, was more like Cinderella.  Do you agree?

Tom: You’re right, even on the first record, all of the melodies, guitar riffs and stuff like that are all blues based.  The production was a lot sparser.  I think coming in we were green and it was the ‘80’s and all of the engineers and producers then were going for the flavor of the day sounds like a ton of reverb and stuff like that.  It was all more processed and slick.  That is kind of where ours ended up and we didn’t know any better because it sounded better than anything we had ever done by ourselves, so we were like, “Hey, this is great.” 

As time went on, we realized that it was not really what that band was about.  The band is not slick and we are not processed, the band should be raw.  You learn about how to bring in more instrumentation and how to color a record.  Each step of the way was a learning process.  I think where we ended up on Heartbreak Station had that kind of raw sound and I think that would have suited the first record a little better.  I think musically, all of the records were all coming from the same place.  It is amazing what production and instrumentation and how things are mixed can really change how something is presented.  It was the sound of the times and that is what Andy Johns was doing.  He was hired to make two really big sounding hit records and he did that.  He did an amazing job on those records. 

We grew out of those ‘80’s processed slick things.  That is the thing that was most intentional.  You’re writing and playing grows and grows and it is organic and it just happens.  I remember walking into Heartbreak Station and saying, “Enough of this slick shit.  No more.”  I walked into the mix room and I grabbed the faders where the effects returns were and pushed them down.  I said, “No, mix it dry.”  I remember Michael Barbiero looking at me and saying, “Are you fucking nuts?”  He is a great mix engineer, but everybody was caught up in that whole ‘80’s sound.  I told him it was time to do something different.  Once he got into it he was fine.  He had been mixing a long time and he had mixed dry records before.   It took him a minute to readjust, but he ended up doing an amazing job mixing that record. 

Jeb: Last one:  Did Cozy Powell play drums on Long Cold Winter?

Tom: He played most of the drums.  Fred was new to the band.  We had a session drummer on our first record and Fred came in and did the tour.  Fred was very young.  When we came back in to do Long Cold Winter, Andy didn’t think he was quite there.  We had a couple of guys come in on that.  It was hard for Fred, but he took it as motivation and he woodshedded and worked really hard.  He played on the next record Heartbreak Station and he did a great job.