When you dedicate yourself fully to rock ‘n’ roll, you never know where the road will take you. It can be a journey full of dizzying heights, devastating lows and everything in between. Tom Keifer knows exactly what it takes to get to the pinnacle and just how precarious it can be once you reach the top. Now, after years of touring and creative exploration with his solo band, this iconic artist is ushering in an exciting new era in his already storied career. Keifer with #keiferband–Savannah Keifer, Tony Higbee, Billy Mercer, Kendra Chantelle, Jarred Pope, and Kory Myers—are ready to “Rise” to yet another peak in their ongoing music journey with the release of a second solo album on Cleopatra Records. Produced by Tom Keifer, Savannah Keifer, and Kyle O’Connor, “Rise” scales to renewed sonic heights. His creative renaissance is fully on display via the eleven tough ’n’ tender tracks that comprise “Rise.” From the tasty slide work that stamps “Touching the Divine,” the non-traditionally arranged, heavy, dark jam of “Untitled,” the breakneck thrust of “All Amped Up” and the tender coda of “You Believe in Me,” this powerful new album signifies the ongoing evolution of the former Cinderella frontman as a person, songwriter, and bandleader. It’s the aural portrait of an artist who, to borrow a phrase, is still climbing.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Tom Keifer for an inside look at the latest exciting chapter of his already iconic career. Along the way, the duo discuss the the bonds Keifer and the members of the #keiferband have formed, the making of “Rise,” and what the future may hold for them.
Tell us a little about this amazing band and the bonds you’ve formed over the past several years.
The band was formed when “The Way Life Goes” was released. There was no band when that record was made. When we got a deal for the record, it had been made with session players, so we needed to put together a band. The band came together very quickly overnight and had a great chemistry on day one. We’ve been touring and on the road ever since, initially in support of the record but then we continued touring after that cycle was over. We did that because we were growing and developing as a band. We were going out, making our way on the tour trail and growing there as well. Over the last six years, we went from very small clubs that were half full for the first year or two to the top of the bill or direct support on some really big festivals. We still do the theaters, underplays and stuff but the difference is that now they’re full! [laughs] So, it was kind of like starting over and we did it together! We’ve really grown some strong bonds. The fans started recognizing that as well and there was a lot of chatter about it online. People weren’t just talking about me, but the band, the whole show and our chemistry on stage. Actually, the #Keiferband came from the fans. We’ve lived a lot of life together over the past 6 years and we’ve all had each others backs. The chemistry is good not only musically, but also off stage.
It was a real pleasure making this new record, not only because of the musical and vocal abilities the band has, but because we all get along so well. It was really easy to sit in a room, work out arrangements, and create this record. It was just effortless with this band. We approached it very much as trying to capture the energy that we have live, so we set up a fairly small room studio. We were all in the same room together, headphones on and all pretty cozy looking each other in the eye. Savannah and I produced the record with Kyle O’Connor, who is our front of house engineer when we play live. He’s an incredible engineer but also a musician and very creative. He brought a lot to that side as a producer. He was in that same room with us and we had our Pro Tools rig in there. We really went for capturing the proper energy, angst and/or emotion for each song. We went for performances, which for us was a very natural thing to do because the band has toured so much that we have that chemistry.
What did this amazing group of people bring out in you creatively?
The priority with this band live, when we are on the road touring, let’s start there. The priorities are really straight with this band. Everyone on that bus walks onto that stage every night and the number one priority is to give the best performance for that audience that night that we can give them and leave everything on the stage. That’s very inspiring for me and it makes me want to be a better musician and performer. They’ve really brought the best out in me. You know, working live and in the studio are very different. Going in to make the record, you don’t know if it’s going to translate, so you are creating things and trying to pull a track out of thin air that has a particular sound and element to it. In terms of creativity and what each member of the band brought to the record, it was really amazing. Everybody really contributed creatively to the record in terms of the arrangements, the parts and the energy. I can’t say enough about what a great experience it was! There was a real contribution vocally as well because we are fortunate to have 6 really strong singers in the band. There are a lot of moments on the record with uniquely stacked vocals, shall we say. That’s something we really worked on, using those 6 voices in a way that had put a stamp to it or brought something fresh.
The music industry is ever-changing. What does it take to keep a project like this one moving forward in this day and age?
I think new music is important. I feel like something new has started here with this band, even though when we play live, we play songs from my past, from the Cinderella catalog. Since I wrote them, sang them and did the majority of the guitar work on them, it would feel wrong not to play them! [laughs] Plus, the fans want to hear them. At the same time, we’ve created a new band and a new entity. For that to really be legit, there has to be new music mixed in with the old. You have to have both. “The Way Life Goes” was our kickstart and we had great success with a couple of those songs on that record and a couple of them are still a staple in the show. However, it felt like it was time to make another record with this band. I think that energy of injecting new music keeps it valid or legit. It injects life into what you’re doing. It proves we’re doing something new here and not just going out and living on the old songs. I think that’s important and the fans respond to that. The reaction to “The Way Life Goes” was amazing and the reaction to this record, so far, has been really good. It’s been very well received. When you’re able to bring them both the old and the new together, it brings a great energy into the live performance and the spirit of the band.
Tell us a little bit about how the ball got rolling for “Rise.” When did it start to take shape for you?
When we got off the road, we were winding up our tour dates at the end of 2018, and it was apparent that it was time to make a record. We had already recorded once with the band for the two bonus tracks for the deluxe edition of “The Way Life Goes” that was released in 2017. Savannah and I, being in the studio and doing a session on those two songs, felt the energy was really translating. With the creativity and how well everyone worked together, there was no doubt in our minds that we could make a great record with this band. We toured for one more year and at the end of last year it felt like it was time. We got off the road and, like I said, just set up in a room and started working on songs. It just felt great!
How did the songwriting process play out for these sessions?
The songwriting process has always been the same for me. It starts with a lyric, the subject matter and emotion. If you approach songwriting from a lyrical standpoint, an idea can hit you at any time because it’s your thoughts that you are analyzing throughout the day, no matter where you are. You’re constantly saying, “Oh, is that a song? Nah, that’s not a song…” or “Is this thought a song? Maybe! Let’s store that idea!” Savannah writes the same way. She writes the lyrics first and the lyrics dictate the music. So, songwriting has always been the same for me. With the solo stuff, I’ve done much more co-writing. Most of it I’ve done with Savannah, obviously. On this record, Savannah and I co-wrote “Touching The Divine” with Kendra Chantelle, who is one of our bandmates and that was a great experience. She’s a great writer. We also wrote the title track, “Rise,” with Thompson Square, Keifer and Shawna Thompson, who are our big country duo here in Nashville. They are great writers too. For the most part, the writing on this record was Savannah and I, aside from the two songs I mentioned. That’s where the creative process starts — with a great song. You don’t even walk into the studio unless you’ve got a great song. At least that’s how we work in this world, but everybody does it a different way! [laughs] We don’t write in the studio. We had a handful of songs that we really liked and went into the studio to start cutting them with the band. At that point, it’s a different process. You’re deciding what instrumentation, what parts, arrangements and energy you want out of the song. In terms of making a record, this was the easiest tracking session that I’ve ever done. I think that speaks to the musicianship of this band and the chemistry we’ve developed over the last 6 years on the road. We were walking in with songs and they sounded like tracks and records before we could even blink! It’s a great chemistry between us all and everybody brought something really unique to it. It wasn’t like pulling teeth and the parts came together pretty easily.
How did the finished album differ from what you might have expected at the start of the process?
When you start hearing those song ideas in your head, you can imagine what you want the energy and feel to be. When we walked in with the songs and the band to record them, that started happening instantly. It wasn’t like, “Woah, woah, woah. Hold up. We are way off base here.” It sounded immediately like what you were hearing in your head when you wrote the song. When that happens, it’s great! [laughs] I say that because sometimes it doesn’t immediately have that feel or energy that you want it to. All of these songs, when we started tracking them, just feel into that spot that Savannah and I were hearing in our heads, which was cool. Obviously, there are a few things you have to massage here and there but it was definitely the most effortless tracking I’ve been involved with.
You’ve lived with these songs for a little while now. Which resonate with you the most at this point in time?
The thing is that the variety makes it hard to pick a favorite! [laughs] I like them all for different reasons and I think they all do have a different feel. I do love the title track, “Rise.” I think it’s a unique song that starts in one place and ends up somewhere that you probably don’t expect. It’s a real progression and I like how that one came out for that reason. There are a lot of different ways that song could have been cut, developed and arranged. I think starting with it very intimate and broken down and ending up with that grand, gothic, gospel out section with the heavy kind of Queen-bridge in the middle of it was a unique arrangement. I like that one for that reason. Like I said, I like every one of these songs for a different reason. “The Death of Me” is another one I love. It came from a lyric that Savannah gave me. Reading the lyric, it was obvious to me that it would be a heavy, dark riff. It was clearly a song that needed to be aggressive and heavy. It grew from there and became an anthem for whatever is holding you down and allows you to say, “Fuck you.” I relate to that one because I’ve had my challenges in life. I’m not unique. I think everyone faces challenges every day when they wake up and get out of bed. In the video, by way of example, we put mine on the television screen because they have been fairly publicized, and the fans are familiar with them. The power of taking that guitar and smashing them felt good! [laughs] It felt really good! I would encourage anyone watching that video to envision your own challenges or adversity on that screen and imagine smashing them. That visualization of destroying your problems is a powerful thing.
As you’ve said, this album came together easily for you. However, I’m sure you must have encountered a challenge or two at some point in the process. Any lessons learned along the way?
It was pure joy making this record, right up until the end! We kind of boxed ourselves into a corner by setting a release date before the album was finished! [laughs] I’ve never done that before, and I’ll never do it again because we actually had dates booked. We would not compromise the music, so we ended up delivering the record to the label late, but they wanted to maintain the release date because we had dates booked. I don’t think we will do that again. We stuck to our guns and make sure the album was right before we delivered it, but we went straight from delivery into setup and tour, setup and video and all of that. There was no break or gap in between. That was a lot of pressure. I’d never really done it that way before but, in one way, sometimes you perform better under pressure. We got it done and I don’t think we compromised anything by doing it, but it definitely wore us out a little bit!
You’ve got some great cover art for “Rise.” What went into finding the right image to represent the album?
Quite a bit actually! [laughs] We spent months kicking around ideas. We worked with David Calcano, who is an amazing artist. He did the repackaging for the deluxe version of “The Way Life Goes.” That was the first time we worked with him and we just loved the experience. His ability to shift gears is amazing. This package has a very different look to it, so he is very versatile. We kicked around a lot of different ideas. The concept of the wings and the positive/negative energy signs is where we ended up. The “Rise” logo with the plus sign being higher than the negative insinuates that we need to rise above the negative and gravitate toward the positive. That is the concept of the album. A lot of the songs have that theme, overcoming adversity, in them. On the cover, you will also notice that there is a serpent at the bottom and the wings are rising out of the evil serpent with the positive and negative energy signs tilted toward the positive. That was the idea. It was pretty simple, but we went through a lot of different ideas before we landed on that.
Your live show is absolutely phenomenal. Obviously, you’ve been on stage the majority of your life. When did you get comfortable in your own skin in that regard?
Oh, I don’t know that I can say that I am! [laughs] I’m always nervous about every show. I become comfortable in my skin about halfway through each show. I don’t know if it’s just adrenaline or what, but I just feel anxious. You wake up on the bus and there are all these hours to kill in between the time you wake up and the time you play the show. So, you spend hours anticipating the show and I still get nervous about each one. I love what I do, and I don’t mean to sound like I’m not comfortable on stage. I’m very comfortable on stage but that anticipation of each whole makes you crawl in your own skin a little bit. I just care so much about each show and I want them all to be great.
You’ve dedicated your life to rock ‘n’ roll. Does it mean something different to you now as a seasoned pro than it did when you were a young man?
No, it has changed at all. I was inspired, grew up and cut my teeth on the rock music of the 70s. It was blues based, it had an edge to it, it had angst to it, and it expressed every kind of emotion that humans feel. I think that’s what’s so great about that era of music for me growing up. Zeppelin and The Stones, not only did the express every emotion, but they presented them in the proper form. What I mean by that is that their records were very dynamic. There were acoustic ballads that expressed one type of emotion. There were heavy songs that expressed angst and songs that spoke to everything in between. To me, rock ‘n’ roll is still that. It’s all of that. It expresses all the human emotions from sorrow and heartbreak to angst and anger to overcoming adversity and challenges to celebrating your successes. It’s all of it! To me, I think each emotion needs to be presented in the proper type of song, if that makes sense. Some things need to be intimate and acoustic and other things need to be loud and ripping your head off. I always want to present those emotions the right way. With some records, everything sounds the same on them. I don’t think anyone’s emotions fit all inside of one box. The songs are going to feel and sound different from track to track.
It’s so cool to hear you in such a great creative space. What does the future look like for you?
The short term is that we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re going to go out and play shows. As a band, we love being on the road and playing shows and we’re really excited about this record. We’re just getting this thing going and the record dropped on Friday. We have more dates coming up and we’re already planning more for next year. We’re definitely not going to take our foot off the gas! We’re really excited to share this music with everyone live. Long term, it’s kind of “who knows?” I see music in the future, and I see that continuing with this band for sure! Where we will end up as a group? Who knows! [laughs] When we released “The Way Life Goes,” that led to this band and where we are now. I think we’re going to find out where this record leads us next!
What’s the best way for us to help support the band and help grow your art?
Word of mouth is a big thing these days with social media. If you like the record, tell someone about it. I think people listen to their music or get their music in different ways, so whatever your way of listening and consuming music, all the options are available with this album. On my website, www.tomkeifer.com, there is a link to buy the record and it goes to Amazon, iTunes and everything else. There are digital formats, physical formats and even vinyl. We actually have 3 different colors of vinyl. The vinyl package is beautiful! So, “Rise” is available in any format that people could want to listen to it from streaming to vinyl and everything in between. Like I said, in this day and age, we’re doing all the traditional things. We’ve got a single at radio, we have videos out and we’re touring. In this day and age, I would encourage people, not only for our record but for any record you feel strongly about, to tell people about it! I think that’s a big part of the new world. One of the advantages of the new world is that everyone out there has a voice, so talk about the things you like!
As a fan of what you’ve created, I can’t wait to see where the road takes you. I don’t know how often you get a pat on the back for what you’ve accomplished but consider this one from me.
Well, thanks! I really appreciate it.
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.