In 2013, Tom Keifer released his highly-anticipated debut solo album, “The Way Life Goes,” to rave reviews. At the time of release, he couldn’t have foreseen the tremendous impact the album would have on him both personally and professionally. As his journey to bring this collection of incredibly soulful tunes to the masses began to pick up steam, Keifer soon found himself connecting with scores of amazingly talented people. These connections would soon begin to unlock new adventures for him as an artist and plant the seeds of inspiration for future work.
Flash forward to 2016. As a thank you to the fans who supported him and the solo project for the past few years by attending shows, Keifer and his bandmates (#keiferband: Tony Higbee/guitars and vocals, Billy Mercer/bass and vocals, Paul Simmons, drums and vocals, Paul Taylor/keyboards and vocals, Savannah Keifer/vocals, percussion and piano, Kendra Chantelle/vocals and percussion) entered a Nashville studio earlier this month to record with four-time Grammy® Award-winning producer/engineer Vance Powell (Elle King, Chris Stapleton, Jack White). These new tracks will be featured as bonus material on an expanded, deluxe edition of “The Way Life Goes”, set for release later this year. A true labor of love, the package will also include the original album that’s being remastered by Richard Dodd (Kings of Leon, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum), a bonus DVD with video extras, a documentary about the creation of the bonus tracks, and exclusive interviews with the band filmed during the new recording sessions. The deluxe set will be wrapped in a new expanded art package designed by artist David Calcano.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Tom Keifer to discuss the incredible impact “The Way Life Goes” has had on him creatively, what fans can expect from the upcoming deluxe edition of the album, and what the future holds for him and his band in the months to come.
What went into the process of finding your creative voice early on?
Much like most artists, you have your influences and the things you cut your teeth on. I go back into the ‘60s and ‘70s with the hard rock that was inspired by the American roots music — blues, country and gospel. I came up on the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart and Janis Joplin. I think you just want to emulate them when you are younger. That starts by covering them. I played in tons of cover bands. Eventually, I decided I wanted to start writing my own music. When I started writing my own music, I heard a voice in my head and there was no one in the area that sounded like what I heard in my head, so I just started singing in that voice myself. For me, the creative process and writing is something I feel that is ongoing. I think most people who write songs and perform would tell you it is a process that you are constantly trying to improve. The way I feel about it is that the next time I write a song, I want to write a better one. The next time I do a performance, I want to sing or play the song better. It is kind of an ongoing process. The recording end of it is also a big part of the creative aspect. When you are in the studio, that is kind of where you paint the picture of your songs. I guess that is why they call it a recording artist. [laughs] When we went into make the first record [with Cinderella], we were very green and didn’t know very much about that process. As a result, the record came out a simpler production, would be the best way to put it. It is very basic. That really grew as time went on with Cinderella and even with my solo record, where you are getting better at using all the colors in the studio and bringing in different instrumentation. On “Long Cold Winter,” the second record we brought in dobros, pianos, acoustic guitars and things that weren’t on the first record. We went even further on “Heartbreak Station.” There are so many aspects of creativity and I guess to dig in and grow in each area every time you step into the studio is really important.
Where do you look for inspiration to fuel the creative fire these days?
I have been listening to a lot of Top 40 radio. When the solo record was released, “The Flower Song” was being played on the Top 40 channels on Sirius XM. Our family started tuning in because you always like to hear your own song on the radio! [laughs] It was kind of cool to hear “The Flower Song” right after Kendrick Lamar and then Taylor Swift would come on. It was like, “Wow! Back on Top 40!” That is where all Cinderella’s big hits were because we crossed over. It is kind of a situation where I’m back where I started in a way. Obviously, the Cinderella records were big in the rock format too but when they really crossed over, they went to Top 40 radio. It was exciting to be on that format again. We kind of got hooked on listening to it. My son really loves that channel, so I listen to that a lot in the car when I am riding around with him. I have discovered some really great artists from there ranging from Imagine Dragons to Bruno Mars to Elle King. She is my new favorite on there and I think that record is really killer! That is actually one of the records that led us to Vance Powell, who is the producer we hired to record these tracks for the deluxe set of “The Way Life Goes.” I find that format to be very creative and there is a lot of inspiration there in terms of production elements and songwriting. Not all of it is my taste in music but it is certainly more colorful and interesting creative format than a lot of the other formats out there.
The last time we spoke, it was just before the release of “The Way Life Goes.” You covered a lot of miles and it has been a wild ride for you since the release. What impact has this album had on you personally and professionally?
It has been beyond my expectations in terms of many things. The way it has been received by the fans and the press and in reviews has been amazing. It has also brought some truly incredible people into my life. Being able to work with my wife, Savannah, in creating the album and now with her being part of the touring band has been a really, really cool thing. The band that came together for the tour has had a really, really great chemistry from day one. I thought I was going to have to audition for months because the record was created with session musicians. When it was time to release it and go on tour, I had to put together a band that could convincingly play the new stuff and the Cinderella stuff and be people who you want to be around! That was kind of a tall order. What is amazing is that the very first people who walked into the very first audition are the same people who are on this bus I am standing on as I talk to you. [laughs] It feels like it was the band that was meant to be. The chemistry on and off stage has been really amazing and they are a really great inspiration to me. They are amazing musicians and people and we have just been having a ball. That is part of the reason we have continued to tour behind the record. As different as things are today, it takes awhile for the music to seep in. There isn’t one format or outlet that is going to take you platinum overnight. It is a very different climate. We are out, as our bass player Billy [Mercer] likes to say, taking the music to the people! [laughs] You know, it is a pretty long tour cycle for a record but the record took forever to make and I feel very blessed to have this band and these people in my life. We are just having a good time out here!
That is great to hear! As you mentioned, you are preparing a deluxe edition of “The Way Life Goes.” What has gone into the process of bringing it to life and what can we expect?
It is kind of a celebration of what I was just talking about, in terms of the really cool things the release of the record has brought to life and how life has expanded. What inspired it was a piece of artwork that was given to me as a gift from my tour manager. It was a collage of illustrations by an artist named David Calcano. He has done some artwork for Rush and Mr. Big. He also created something called Fantoons. He is a pretty well known artist and he is pretty amazing actually! The collage was illustrations of members of my new band, illustrations that kind of brought some of the lyrics of the record and its songs to life and illustrations that depicted life situations. I remember opening it as I was sitting on the tour bus and looking at it. I was thinking, “Wow, life has really expanded since the release of this record.” It made me think about how fortunate I was to have this band and Savannah involved. Since the band came together, because of the chemistry, we have been talking about recording the band. There have been a couple of songs we have been wanting to record.
We had also been talking about doing a documentary. When I opened this gift, Tammy Vega, who is a photographer and videographer who travels with us constantly, was sitting right next to me. She is amazing and we call her the eighth member of our band. She is a really talented girl. The wheels started turning and I thought, “This could be an album cover, what I am looking at here. Tammy could do this documentary. We could record the band and do the songs we have been wanting to record. We can tie all the things we have been talking about doing and let David repackage the record completely.” The artwork is completely new and David has done 20 pages of art for each song and it’s crazy. It is pulling all these people and things we have been wanting to do together and celebrates what we feel has been a really special couple of years that we have spent together out touring with this record. I think the fans are really going to like it. The tracks came out amazing. The artwork is amazing. The documentary not only covers a lot of stuff on the road that Tammy has filmed but she was also right in the studio with us when we were recording the bonus tracks with Vance Powell a couple of weeks ago in Nashville. She had cameras hidden around the studio and it is really an intimate inside look at the process. You are literally inside the vocal booth with me while we are doing takes! You see us around the console as we are talking about the playbacks. There are also a lot of interviews and it is really great!
Can you tell us about the songs you and the band cooked up at this point?
We aren’t announcing what they are quite yet but we will be shortly. The only thing I can say about them is that they are songs that came about as a direct result of the release of this record. They are something that came about as a result of this project and all the touring we have been doing. When we announce what they are, I think it is really going to make sense to fans. Some people have asked me, “Why aren’t you just making a new record?” Well, we are actually in the process of writing but the songs that we selected and intentionally went into the studio to record, a few weeks ago, are things that don’t really make sense for a new record. They make sense with “The Way Life Goes.” That will make sense when the deluxe version is released and everyone knows what it is.
You mentioned working with Vance Powell on these tracks. How did you two cross paths and what did he bring out of you and the band for these songs?
We were vetting different producers for this project. Like I said, I felt from day one that the chemistry with this band was really amazing and I had been wanting to record it. I wanted to make sure the first time we did it, we did it right! We were looking into some serious producers. Vance is no slouch! [laughs] He is a four-time Grammy Award winning producer, so we are not fuckin’ around here! His name came up and I was familiar with the artists he had worked with from Jack White to Chris Stapleton to Elle King, as I mentioned before. Our drummer, Paul [Simmons], had been friends with him for a while. We were thinking he might be cool, so Paulie approached him and told him what we were up to. He said, “Yeah, cool!” He was into it! We had some pre-production rehearsals and then we went into Southern Ground Studios in Nashville and rocked out for a few days. We wanted it to be a live recording, built from the ground up and didn’t want it to be too processed. One of the first discussions I had with Vance was, “This band plays and sings incredibly. We have seven people who sing in the band and I want to capture all of that at once.” He is very good at that process and has done it a lot, so that is how we approached the tracks. Obviously, we went back and enhanced them and did some overdubs and stuff but the heart and soul of the tracks are really live off of the floor.
As you said, you are already looking ahead to your next record. Where are you headed musically?
You know, it is hard to say because it is in the writing process. The writing process for me is like collecting seeds from here and there. Some of the seeds are lyrical ideas. Some are melodies that pop into your head and you jot a few things down and they start to develop. There are some things that are starting to develop into songs. It is hard to say what it is going to be like until you actually get into the studio and start recording or at least playing them with the band. Like I mentioned before, there are so many ways you can paint that picture at a studio or with the band. “Is this going to be a heavy song with guitars or is it going to be a ballad with piano?” It’s not at that stage yet and is more in the writing process where we are starting to collect those song ideas. That is something I don’t like to rush because I like them to come from real inspiration and real life stuff. There has been a lot of life going on over the past few years, so the well is being filled! The way I write, the way Savannah writes, who was a big part of the writing with the first solo record, and the way a lot of the people I write with write is by going out and living life to fill the well. Then, all of a sudden, these ideas and inspirations start coming to you. Sometimes, I will go a couple of years without writing a song but I am living life, being inspired and gathering things to write about. Now, those are starting to come out. They started coming out last year. In those periods where you are not writing, it is always like, “Will I ever write a song again? Ohhhh noooo!” But then they just start falling out. [laughs] That is what is starting to happen and the state that it is in now. The stage we hope to be in next year is in the studio with a producer, maybe Vance because we certainly love working with him, and laying it down. Then we’ll have more of an idea of what it all feels like.
So much can be said about the climate of today’s music industry. As an artist who is immersed in it and out doing his thing, what excites you about being an artist today?
The fans excite me more than anything. It is their enthusiasm that is really satisfying. Playing live has always been my favorite aspect. I mean, I love writing songs, painting the picture in the studio and recording them. You go through the struggle of love and hate in the process. Sometimes it is very easy and sometimes it is a challenge. Sometimes you are trying to pull something out of thin air while trying to create this song or this sound. Sometimes it is as simple as, “There it is” as it comes out of the studio monitors and then other times it is, “No. That’s not what I am hearing in my head.” Then you have to really struggle to find that. It is a great process and I enjoy it but there is nothing like once you have finally found it and then you take it out on the road and you are in the moment playing it live. There are no do-overs and you are sharing that moment with people who are returning the energy and singing the songs back to you. That inspires me more than anything!
What is the best lesson we can take away from your journey as an artist?
I think it is important to remember that nothing is impossible. Before Cinderella was signed, I was told it was a pipe dream and the odds were a gazillion to one. You just have to believe in yourself, always do your best work, make it about the work and the music and not about the ancillary benefits that come with it. It should always be about the music!
Thanks for your time today, Tom. I loved “The Way Life Goes,” so I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us with this deluxe release, as well as new music! I wish you continued success!
Cool, brother! Good talking to you again and thanks for covering what we are up to! I appreciate it! Take care!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.