Exclusive Interview: Tom Keifer

Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer released his first solo album The Way Life Goes in 2013. From being told that he would never sing again as a result of a partially paralyzed left vocal cord, to the emotional and personal battles that followed, his solo debut is a story of perseverance – a testament to the power of passion and will, combined with a true love of music.

Now available as a special Deluxe Edition, The Way Life Goes features two new studio tracks: the long-awaited studio recording of the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” and the spectacular duet recording of “Nobody’s Fool” with Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. Also featured is a bonus DVD with The Way Life’s Goin,’ a 30-minute documentary on the making of the bonus tracks as well as videos, live footage and more – all packaged in a six-panel digipak featuring all new artwork and a 20-page book with original illustrations for each track.

Rock Confidential caught up with Keifer to talk about songwriting, putting together all the special features for the Deluxe Edition of The Way Life Goes, and the coolness that is Rod Stewart.

You moved from South Jersey to Nashville several years ago. What initially inspired your move to Tennessee?

I moved here in the nineties, in 1997. The whole music scene was changing at that time for bands from the eighties. Cinderella was drifting apart. We lost our deal with Mercury. I started writing with people down here in Nashville because I was looking for a shot in the arm and some inspiration. There was a lot of cool writers down here I was starting to write with and I loved the creative community here. I literally just picked up and moved overnight. I’ve been here ever since and haven’t looked back.

The people that are really involved in the music community are so passionate. There’s a lot of excitement, creativity, and positivity in Nashville. I’ve never seen another town like it.

From the writers, the musicians to the studios, engineers, and producers. There’s such a high concentration of talent and creativity in such a small city. It’s very inspiring. I remember when I first moved here and was hanging out here. Every day someone was playing a demo of a song they wrote a couple of hours before. That was amazing. That’s the shot in the arm I wanted. I lived in Jersey and the Philadelphia area. That wasn’t the Mecca in terms of music the way New York or LA or Nashville is. I was being exposed constantly to amazing songwriters – my wife Savannah being one of them. She was here several years before I moved and we hooked up here and eventually got married. She took me around town, showed me the ropes and introduced me to a lot of great musicians and writers. It’s a really cool place.

Did the change in geography influence your songwriting?

It inspired me to be better at something I always did. It didn’t change my approach to songwriting. I always start with a lyrical inspiration and sometimes you can hear a melody with that. It’s never about starting with riffs or chords for me. It’s What are we writing about? What’s the title? What’s the emotion? You wait for those thoughts to come to you and that’s how all the writers here write. Savannah told me stories about being out in bars the night before she’s have a co-write with somebody and hanging out with writers who said, “I don’t have that thought to take in to my co-write tomorrow. I’ll buy you a beer if you give me one!” That’s what it’s always been about for me – waiting for that emotion to write about or that human thing that we all feel. Finding that one phrase that connects with people. Usually when you get that, the song writes itself. It was a very naturally thing for me to fall into the songwriting process here and write with other people. They inspire you to be better. I think a lot of times people think since most of the stuff I’ve written is on the hard rock side that the songwriting starts out with a heavy guitar riff. I’ve never written from that place. It’s starts with that feeling or emotion and depending on the emotion I then might find a cool riff that expresses it. Even the riff or the music is inspired by the emotion of the lyric.

That’s a big part of the difference between a songwriter and an entertainer. You can do both, but not every entertainer can be a songwriter.

True. Songwriting is something you do because you have to. You can’t not do it. Once that thing starts floating in your head you can’t escape it. It’s in your head over and over until you finish it. I’ve got to get this out! It’s not something I try to do. Every time I try to do it, it comes out sounding contrived. I have periods – years – where I won’t write a damn song. I don’t worry about that. That’s the period where you’re filling the well and living life and experiencing things and letting things build up. I’ll have seasons of creativity where it all starts coming out. Those are the ones that are the best and that ring the truest and connect with people. Every time I try to force it, it usually sounds like it. I usually don’t end up recording those.

Let’s talk about the Deluxe Edition of your solo album, The Way Life Goes.

To go from the original release to the Deluxe, there’s a little bit of a story there. The original release came out and was received really well by the press and the fans. “Solid Ground” did really great at rock radio and it had taken off. After spending nine or 10 years creating it, it was great. We started touring and then ran into a legal issue somewhere along the way that I can’t really discuss. Basically, there was a bit of a corporate shakeup with the company that owned the label. The record got caught in the middle of these business dealings and was pulled from the shelves and online. We almost lost the master. It hasn’t been available for two years. Just prior to that we were talking about doing a Deluxe Edition and then we ran into all that stuff. We had to hire some lawyers and do a bit of negotiating to get the masters back. We finally got that all settled last year and we came back to the idea of the Deluxe release. We wanted to make it really special – not just for the Deluxe Release – but because it was going to be available again online. All I’ve heard for two years on my social media is “Where did the record go?” or “I can’t find the record.” We’d been touring and playing the songs live. People had been exposed to it and wanted to buy it and they couldn’t find it. I’ve even heard storied where people said it disappeared out of their iTunes account after they purchased it. A lot of times expanded releases are just a couple of leftover tracks from the original sessions. We decided not to take that route and we recorded two new tracks, the duet with Lzzy Hale and “With A Little Help From My Friends.” We selected those tracks because they were collaborations that came about as a result of the release of the record originally. “Help From My Friends” was the first creative endeavor that my touring band took on. We’d been playing that song every night for the encore. Basically the challenge for us was to take the Joe Cocker arrangement and really ramp it up into a hard rock version. The fans have responded to that really well and we’ve had tons of requests for a studio version. It was an obvious choice to record that. Same thing with “Nobody’s Fool” with Lzzy Hale. We did some shows with Halestorm and she and I ended up on stage during the encore singing that song together and everyone loved it. People have been saying “Please record it” forever. Those two made the most sense and they came out really special. They really make sense with this record to be the bonus tracks. We had a lot of fun last year putting this together. It was a creative effort and we brought our friend Tammy Vega in to document the sessions while we were recording those two bonus tracks. That’s one of my favorite features on the bonus DVD that comes with it. She hid cameras all over the studio and really captured the real stuff. You really feel like you’re in the studio with us.

Do I understand correctly that artwork helped inspire the way this record turned out?

Yeah. When the original idea came out to do a Deluxe Edition – this was before the original was even pulled off the shelves – we didn’t even think about what the extra stuff would be. We got into all of that last year when we got the masters back. A friend of mine gave me what ultimately became the album cover – a collage of illustrations of the members of my new band. I remember looking at it on the bus and thinking it should be the cover of the Deluxe Edition. It includes how life has grown for us. David Calcano is the artist who did the collage. I called him up, told him I loved it and wanted to use it for the cover and asked him to expand on it. I asked him if he could do a booklet and do illustrations for the whole thing. It ended up turning into this six-panel thing with two discs, all this artwork, and a 20-page booklet. That, combined with the bonus DVD and the remastered original tracks with the two bonus tracks, we spent the better part of last year putting this all together to make sure it was really cool. So far the fans really seem to be diggin’ it.

I’m a big fan of album artwork. Sometimes an album cover can be just as iconic as the music.

Yeah, and I really like this package better than the original. The original one was cool. They put it out on vinyl but there’s just something about David’s artwork and the extras that came about because of the record. There’s a theme to it. I like to do things with a purpose and this all kinda came together very naturally. It just feels good to have the album back out.

I couldn’t imagine having worked on a record for that long, finally releasing it and hitting the road – and then having the album disappear. That’s a lot of exposure to new fans with nothing available for them to take home.

When we first started touring in 2013 it was like starting over. Anyone that leaves a band that’s had a lot of success and is trying to start something new maybe is not quiet ready for reality when they start. You think it’s going to be easier. I realized very quickly that I was completely starting over. I loved the band. We instantly had a chemistry. Everyone was so committed. We started off in very small bars. We weren’t drawing really well in the beginning but it’s just grown. Even when the record got pulled and we were questioning if we should even be touring, people wanted to see the band. The band was becoming more popular on the tour trail and we were getting better gigs. Now we’re headlining or direct support on all the major festivals and fairs. We’re still playing smaller rooms but we’re selling them out now. It might seem unconventional or over the top to be touring as long as we have, but we’ve been building something new and watching it grow each year. It never made sense to pull it off the road. I’m glad we didn’t. Every year the excitement is to another level. In this day and age there’s a lot of noise to try and yell through and say, “Hey, check us out!” It takes longer to build things. People are overstimulated with a million different things. This band loves touring together.

Is your solo career more rewarding than a band situation?

Well, my solo career has turned into a band situation. My solo career started as not even being a record or an aspiration for a career. It started with Savannah and I in our studio recording songs. We had both just come out of really bad publishing deals. It really started as a healing process. We were going to record music and write just for the sake of doing it. We did that over a period of nine or 10 years and eventually started realizing we had a record. At that point the record had been made with our friends here, session players. There was no band. We didn’t even play that stuff for anybody. The only people that heard it were the players that played on it, Savannah, myself and the other producer Chuck Turner. I didn’t play it for my manager until years into it. I was still touring with Cinderella at the time. When we thought we had a record and found a label to release it, I was like, “Woah, now I’ve got to put together a band.” I’d been used to the bubble of Cinderella and thought it was going to take forever to find the right people – not just musically, but find people who would be committed and would stick it out. People you’d ride on a bus with and share common values with. There’s a lot that goes into it. The people who walked into the first audition on the first night are the same people, for the most part, that are still in the band now. It very quickly became a band because it was just a great chemistry in the beginning. Most of our marketing assets are band pictures. The hashtag #keiferband that I use on all my posts and is on our backdrop – it’s kinda became the name of the band – was started by a fan. The fans recognized early on. They look on stage and recognized this chemistry. It’s never “Oh Tom, you were amazing tonight!” It’s “You’re band was amazing!” I like that. I like being in the gang. I don’t want to be a solo person. Everyone that rides on that bus will tell you I like being in a band. It’s just more fun.

Is the full band involved in songwriting for the new album?

Seeds of songs are being gathered along the way. Like I said earlier, those will float around in your head for a long time before you actually sit down and write them. As much as we’ve been touring I haven’t really sat down to “officially” write. The bonus tracks we did are the first songs we recorded with the touring band. It went amazingly well and everyone contributed. That was the easiest recording sessions I’ve ever done. The follow-up record will be recorded with the full band that we have now. We’re planning on touring behind the Deluxe release into next summer. We have our sights set on getting into the studio and sorting through song ideas at the end of next year.

I read your list of “10 Records That Changed My Life.” I loved your choices – one of my all-time favorites is on your list: Foot Loose And Fancy Free. Unbelievable record by Rod Stewart. I was so glad to see you mention “You’re Insane” – man, what a killer tune.

The things that really leave an impression on you more than anything else is stuff from when you were in high school. That record was huge when I was in middle/high school. Who the fuck doesn’t love Rod Stewart? The lyrics. The voice. The guy can do no wrong. Always will be one of my favorites. Just a true songwriter. The guy can paint a picture with lyrics. It’s just amazing. And the pipes – I don’t think there’s a singer on the planet that wouldn’t say “I would love to have Rod Stewart’s pipes.” That’s a great album for sure.

The Way Life Goes – Deluxe Edition is available now.

Keep up with all things Tom and #keiferband at TomKeifer.com.

The Way Life Goes – Deluxe Edition track listing:

Disc 1: CD

01. Solid Ground
02. A Different Light
03. It’s Not Enough
04. Cold Day In Hell
05. Thick And Thin
06. Ask Me Yesterday
07. Fool’s Paradise
08. The Flower Song
09. Mood Elevator
10. Welcome To My Mind
11. You Showed Me
12. Ain’t That A Bitch
13. The Way Life Goes
14. Babylon

Bonus Tracks

15. Nobody’s Fool (feat. Lzzy Hale)
16. With A Little Help From My Friends
17. Nobody’s Fool (Piano Version)

Disc 2: DVD

Chapter 1) The Way Life’s Goin’ (Documentary)
Chapter 2) Solid Ground (Music video)
Chapter 3) The Flower Song (Music video)
Chapter 4) It’s Not Enough (Music video)
Chapter 5) It’s Not Enough (Lyric video)
Chapter 6) Album Promo
Chapter 7) Cathouse Live
Chapter 8) Count Vamp’d Las Vegas
Chapter 9) Farm Rock Chicago

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