Making waves for more than 35 years, Tesla continue to grind, keeping current fans happy and impressing new fans at each and every stop along the way.
According to bassist Brian Wheat, the California rockers will probably play close to 80 shows this year to support their eighth studio album, Shock, released in March. The band visits The Clyde Theatre on June 3.
Comfortable in the studio
After putting out Simplicity in 2014 and feeling like it didn’t quite turn out the way they wanted, Tesla had no plans to make another album, maybe ever. It wasn’t until they decided to record a bonus track for their live album, Mechanical Resonance Live, that Tesla gave a new studio project a serious thought.
The experience of recording a song, “That Goodness,” with Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen as the producer was a very positive one for Tesla.
It was so positive that it reignited a fire in the band that they hadn’t had in years.
They felt comfortable enough with Collen at the helm that they wanted him to produce a whole album, mostly because, after three and a half decades in the music business, Collen and his fellow Def Leppard members are some of the few people who have opinions that matter to them.
“We will listen to Phil because we respect him,” bassist Brian Wheat told Total MK in a recent interview, “A lot of people we don’t listen to, but we have a lot of admiration for Phil.”
Singer Jeff Keith, in a separate interview with AXS, agreed.
“When you work with somebody, you’ve got to like them as a person,” Keith said. “Because you’re on stage or you’re in the studio for all these hours, and if you don’t like the person as a person, it just doesn’t work. But Phil is just such a great guy, and he’s easy going and laid back, and makes you feel relaxed and comfortable at trying new things. So the chemistry was just amazing.”
Rock of ages
The one popular criticism of Shock is that it sounds too much like Def Leppard. In addition to producing, Collen also has a writing credit on every song, so the point is an easy one to make.
Wheat says he understands the comparison, but he feels Tesla have always sounded similar to Def Leppard, so Shock’s sound isn’t really a huge departure for the band.
“The criticism is that it sounds like Def Leppard,” Wheat said. “Well, I’ve got a newsflash for you, so does Mechanical Resonance, so does Great Radio Controversy, and so does Psychotic Supper. The Great Radio Controversy was really influenced by Def Leppard because we’d just spent 18 months on tour with them on their Hysteria Tour. ‘Song and Emotion’ (from Psychotic Supper) could be Def Leppard. Just put Joe’s vocal on it and it’s Def Leppard.”
Despite what critics may think, keeping the classic Tesla sound was a priority for the band, but, as Wheat says, they weren’t afraid to branch out a little and try new things. Working with Collen brought a decidedly different approach to the studio, one that was nearly a 180 degree turn for the band.
Tesla has always had an organic, laid-back style in the studio, spending very little time recording, while Collen and Def Leppard are known perfectionists that don’t mind taking as much time as they feel they need in order to make their albums sound the way they envisioned them.
“We feel like we’ve still kept that live, raw feel (on Shock),” Keith said. “With Tesla, we’ve always recorded our rhythm tracks live, raw and together, and then added to it. So with Phil, he’s got all these different approaches on things and he really got us to try some things we never would have thought of, much less tried. With this new record, it is collaboration; he’s like the sixth member of the band. He really brought the best out of us as a good producer will do.”
Refocused on the future
Reenergized and refocused with the release of the new album, Tesla seem to have a new outlook on the future, one that may now include more new music in addition to the continued requisite touring.
“We’ve got no plans to slow down,” said guitarist Dave Rude in an interview with Antihero. “We actually want to ramp it up. As other bands go down, we want to be the ones that you can come and still see.”
Even as other bands break up or members retire or die, Tesla is dedicated to staging terrific live shows.
“We’re still out there and are able to do it and people are really excited about it,” Rude said.
“There’s nothing worse than going to see your favorite band and they suck, so we put a lot of effort in to make sure it’s a good gig. Being able to keep that classic rock feel and style alive, it’s a gift to be able to do it, and it’s a gift that people still want to hear it.”
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December 27 • Clyde Theatre