After Forty Years and Counting, for Tesla it’s Still ‘Time to Rock!’ (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part One

They fixed more than a few things on that album…

I remember saying, “Oh, man, you’re killing me!” So they said, “You have to re-play and re-sing some stuff.” And we stuck to our guns and said, “We’re not going to do it. You either put it out completely live or just put it on the shelf.” And you know what they said? “We’re going to put it back on the shelf.” then if you’re not going to redo it. And you know what? When me and Tommy and Frank wouldn’t play that at that radio station signs. And the phones were ringing off the hook back when phones were on a hook, right? And the phones were ringing off the hook, Jeff. And records goes, we got this whole evening of it, but they won’t redo some parts. And you know what they said, “You’re going to be sorry.”

But you know what? It turns out we’re not sorry for it. And they put it out completely live. And that’s what the people appreciate, and that’s what, as a band, we appreciate about it. It was from start to finish, completely live. And then it turned into our biggest selling record to date. It was a total fluke.

Tell me about the band’s mid ‘90s breakup and reformation several years after.

Tommy left the band in ‘95. We went on as a four piece because we wanted him to see that the position was open. We were not trying to replace him. But it never worked out. And we broke up in ‘96 as a four piece.

I started a band with Tommy in ‘97, ‘98 called Sofa King. Then we changed to Bar 7. And I was still friends with Brian, Frank and Troy. And eventually, in 2000, we got back together. We played Arco Arena. People flew from all over the place. We did that show, then went, “Well, the next commitment is playing three shows in northern California, like Fresno, a few shows like that.” Then, “Okay, that was great. Now let’s commit to doing a whole leg.” Then we did a leg, then we did another leg. And finally we got to 2003 and we go, “We need to make another record. That’s the next commitment.” And that’s when we wrote, produced and mixed Into the Now ourselves.

Then in 2004 or ‘05, that’s when went out with the Scorpions. And the requirement was that Tommy had to go clean and sober. And that’s when I said, “You know what? If he’s got to go clean and sober, then I am, too. Because how can I ask somebody to jump over the moon if I can’t?” And the rest of the band followed suit.

But it didn’t work out for Tommy. He left in 2006, and that’s when Frank found Dave Root. And you know what? We’re going stronger. Now we’ve got Steve Brown as our drummer because Troy [Luckketta] needed more time for his family after Covid hit.

And that’s the only lineup change you’ve had change since Tommy left 18 years ago! I read that you lost your voice temporarily at one point in the mid ‘90s. What do you do these days to protect your vocal cords?

I ended up losing my voice in Reno because I was going through a lot of stuff. But it’s happened more than just in the mid ‘90s. A voice is an instrument that’s built-in. So if my voice dries up or the vocal cords get swollen from overworking it, we’ve just got to push the show back and make it up. The other instruments, you just change the strings, tune them up, and you can still go. But when your instrument is a voice that’s built-in, there’s nothing you can do. So back in the days when I used to, let’s say, party a lot, there was always that pressure of, “Did that party four days ago that went into three days ago, that went into two days ago have anything to do with it?”

Now when I write songs, when we put songs together, I don’t sing all that high stuff on 20 cups of coffee and a case of beer, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day… I don’t do that stuff. And I write melodies that I can sing today, because some of the stuff I did in ‘86 I can’t sing anymore. So the guys will tune down. And anywhere where I have to readjust something, I just do a little different melody. And the people still love it! Because they know that, “Hey, okay, so you tune down. You can’t hit those notes, but you’re doing some other notes in place of them.” The people love it, and we’re having a blast.

Tesla has largely steered clear of the glam posturing that a lot of other metal bands adopted. Was that something that you consciously avoided?

What we’ve always been taught by our management was this: “Every song you write, write it from the heart, because you may never sell one record, and you may be playing in front of five drunk people that don’t care. But as you write songs from the heart, you’re going to be up there on stage playing those songs. And that might be all you ever get. It turns out that worked out for us; things did work out for us. And we became successful playing songs from the heart.

Musical styles and fashions change. When grunge became popular, how did that change the band’s fortunes?

Here’s what I say. When grunge came in, their image was “no image,” which is still an image. Wearing jeans and plaid shirts and letting your hair grow long and not dressing up is still an image. It’s like Geddy Lee says: when you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

When grunge came along, the grunge movement kind of immediately said, “You who are dressing up and dolling up, using all the hairspray: You’re out. No matter how good your songs are, you’re out.” But we never worried about how we were looking. My belief is that Tesla got to stay around because the grunge movement looked at us and thought, “Yeah, you didn’t really play to all that, so we’re going to let you hang.” But what really kept us hanging around was that our fans were with us. And they’re still with us today. That’s what ultimately lets you stick around. No matter what the movement or fad is, when we have a fan base like ours, we’re going to be able to play until the wheels fall off.

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