Tom Keifer has released his second solo CD, “Rise”, on September 13th via Cleopatra Records. The CD contains eleven powerfully diverse songs providing fans with his unique brand of the blues. All the songs were written over the last few years as he and the band were on tour. It is an introspective look into his journey with all the life experiences of being on and off stage with the band.
From the angry and dark “The Death of Me,” to the breakneck thrust of “All Amped Up” to the beautiful ballad “You Believe in Me” which Tom wrote for his wife; “Rise” showcases his progression as person, songwriter, and bandleader from Cinderella until now. The #Keiferband consists of Savannah Keifer, Tony Higbee, Billy Mercer, Kendra Chantelle, Jarred Pope, and Kory Myers.
Contributor Robert Cavuoto had the pleasure of speaking with Tom about “Rise” as he shares his passion for the blues, how his songwriting process always starts with a lyrical idea, and how his work ethic drives him to seek the ultimate expression in his songs.
Rise is dripping with blue bravado; tell me about your passion for the blues?
It started at an early age for me; I was a teenager when a buddy of mine who I was in a band with, turned me on to BB King. Prior to that point, my exposure to the blues was Jimmy Page and Keith Richards as they were my rock heroes. When I heard the BB King records, I realized my heroes had influences, so I started to research it. As a teenager, I was listening to Muddy Waters, BB King, and American roots music and R&B like James Brown. I was soaking up stuff like Elmore James and Robert Johnson so I could hear what inspired my heroes. That was a powerful thing to be able to listen to what the players you like listening to. You can interpret it and put your own spin on it. I loved the simplicity of how BB King would pick two notes and make you feel so much from them. Not to mention that his voice was amazing. I would sneak into Resorts International Casino in Atlantic City, which wasn’t hard at that time [laughing], to see Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, and James Brown who I must have seen ten times there.
Cinderella songs were always based in the blues but with a heavier rock or metal edge; tell me about your musical evolution or progression from Cinderella to your solo band which I think is more rooted in the more traditional aspect of the blues.
From the first Cinderella record to the newest solo record, it all comes from the same place. It starts with lyrics before anything. The lyrics dictate the guitar that will go to the song, or maybe its piano as it could be a ballad. The heaviness varies on the lyrics. For instances on “The Death of Me,” the lyrics are intense, so the song needed to be heavy. Melodically everything from “Night Songs” through “Rise” is based off the blues scale. When you mention dabbling in the more traditional sense of the blues; over the years that’s had to do with instrumentation or production. A song like “Shelter Me” is more organic which has the dry strumming of an acoustic guitar and steel guitar. The intro of “Bad Seamstress Blues/Fallin’ Apart at the Seams” is still the blues it’s just presented in a more traditional or organic sense. Ultimately something heavy always kicks in [laughing]. I think that contrast of going from the organic/authentic sound of “Bad Seamstress Blues” to “Fallin’ Apart at the Seams” was learned from Led Zeppelin. They were the kings of that. When you think of a song like “Over the Hills and Far Away,” it starts with a Celtic acoustic guitar and kicks in with a heavy guitar then drops back down. Their dynamics were so amazing, and the colors within one song’s style of going from organic to heavy and back. I feel songwriting comes from the same place. And it’s both blues-based melodically and lyrically. It’s about real things and emotions, which is what roots music brings to the writing; good times, bad times, falling in and out of love and overcoming adversity. That is what the blues has tinged to my sense of writing. As I mentioned, the lyrics start the process, and then the music follows that.
What I enjoyed the most about the CD was its diversity. The CD offers a heavy song like “The Death of Me” to an acoustic ballad of “You Believe in Me.”
I’ve always liked records that take you on a journey. I don’t think anyone wants to put on a record where all 10 or 11 songs sound the same. That goes back again to my 70s roots of Zeppelin where one song could be a reggae song, the next would be a country blues song, and then a heavy Rock & Roll song. The dynamics of the record is really important to me. We don’t determine before starting a record that it is going to be; we just wrote and ended up will eleven songs. The challenge is always after you get them produced, the energy comes when you are sequencing them. The flow of the record has to make sense; it has to be hard for a certain amount of time then the dynamic comes down for a period of time then it goes back up. You can spend a lot of time figuring out where to place songs like “You Believe in Me,” “Rise,” or “Waiting on the Demons” within the record. When writing songs that diverse, you want to make sure the flow makes sense and dynamics hit in the right spot. Savannah and I listened to many different running orders [laughing]trying to figure out the journey. That’s always the biggest challenge because we don’t write with anything in mind. The next thing you know, you have 10-11 songs that you love, and when you start recording and producing, they take on a life of their own. Then you go, “How am I going to make them all work together?” That’s the art of sequencing!
Speaking of attention to detail, I noticed on the versions of the song I received there was a mix number next to each song title. “All Amped Up” had a high number like 200 mixes. Was there 200 mixes of the songs and how were they different?
[Laughing] I’ll be honest there wasn’t 200 mixes of that song. I think there was a glitch in ProTools on that song and not to get it confused with any other version we randomly started the mix number at 200. So “All Amped Up” did not take 200 mixes [laughing]. I don’t remember how many mixes we had, but for as simple as that song was, we did have quite a few mixes. Sometimes the simple songs are the hardest. The songs you received were the early versions right from the master. Kyle O’Connor is an amazing engineer, and sonically this was probably one of the easiest records that I made because his ears are great. He also mixes the band live too, so he knows what the band is supposed to sound like. I think most of those mix numbers are fairly low. We got from point A to point B pretty quickly on this record. For example, from mix 12 to mix 13 might just be raising the volume on the solo or something basic like that. That’s the cool thing about ProTools that you can go in and select “Save As” on each adjustment and still keep all the previous versions.
“You Believe in Me” is a beautiful acoustic son full of real emotions. Was that written for anybody in your life?
That was for my wife, Savannah. There is a page in the CD booklet that explains how that song came about. I wrote it for her as she is my whole world. No one has ever been a better friend; there are no words to really describe it. I’m not sure the song even says it all! It was a very personal and heartfelt song to me. I wanted the recording to feel very organic with no overdubs. It is literally me sitting with an acoustic guitar and two microphones; one on the guitar and one for the vocals. There was only one mix of that song. I’m not even sure I would call it a mix; it was just balancing the two microphones and putting a little compression it. I wanted it to feel like I was sitting in the room with the listener. That’s as real and organic as it gets!
What did she think of the song the first time she heard it?
She loved it; I think [laughing]. She was very moved by it.
On the other end of the diversity spectrum is the song “The Death of Me,” which makes a powerful statement about your past personal struggles. Are you still plagued by them or still dealing with the sigma of those situations?
That song started with a lyric by my wife Savannah as it was 98% written. When I started reading it, I loved it. Instantly I thought this would be a very dark heavy riff. The voice issue is a daily thing as I have to maintain that condition as there is no medical cure. It’s a daily concern and worry. Fortunately, it has been very strong due to the help of all the voice teachers and coaches. They got me to a place where I can make it work. The other stuff like the two big legal battles with Cinderella and the other over the masters for my first solo CD; which almost vanished into thin air wasn’t fun but it’s part of life and business. Those were some dark times that I had to go through. Smashing the TV in the video was letting you know that I’m over all of it. My personal experiences or challenges that we put on the TV screen were familiar examples of the thing that fans know about my struggles. We hope people will envision their own struggles on that screen and they can smash them. We want that song to be an anthem for people who are struggling with anything. They can make their own list and smash the fuck out of that TV which is what I did, and it felt good [laughing].
Songs are written in different ways and for different purposes based on your frame of mind. Do you do find yourself creating something average one day then suddenly creating something very special the next?
I have average ideas that go through my head every day! Writing from the standpoint of lyrics first, that’s the seed you constantly have your antenna up for; like what’s a cool topic to write about? Savannah writes the same way. Anyone who writes from that perspective without an instrument is constantly analyzing things and asking themselves, “Is this a song?” I let them simmer for a while then ultimately inspired to pick up an instrument and say, “This is something meaningful, and it’s time to turn it into a song.” It also could fall by the wayside. To answer your question, the ones that you feel inspired to sit down and write are the ones that smack you in the face and the ones that are more average we hopefully let those slip away [laughing]. At least that’s the goal.
How many songs did you write to get the eleven on this CD?
These eleven songs are new seeds that popped up to Savannah or I within the last six years since “The Way Life Goes”. Nothing is left over that CD or the Cinderella days; they are all brand new ideas. They are inspirations that hit us along our journey of touring with this new band. They are life experiences of being on and off stage with the band, what we have gone through individually and collectively, and just observing life. So eleven ideas really stood out, and we only had those eleven, we didn’t cut anything extra. It’s impossible to tell how many ideas went by the wayside over the six years.
What song off this CD would you say came as a gift to you?
The one that was written the quickest and easiest where I felt like I was taking dictation was “You Believe in Me.” There is an entire page in the CD booklet dedicated to the process of writing that song with an email that I wrote to Savannah that morning of writing the song. So I share a little bit of that personal experience in the booklet. If any of them were a lightning bolt that one came together the fastest. In some ways they all did, if you have a really good idea lyrically, the songs write themselves. When Savannah and finished touring last year and decided to make a record, we thought, “Do we have any songs.” We pulled out these notes and voice memos that we thought were a great idea. When you have a great idea, they write themselves. If it’s not a good idea, it’s like “pulling teeth.” There was no “pulling teeth” on any of these songs. When we were finished recording, Savannah and I both felt the process was effortless.
You mentioned that you didn’t pull old demos or ideas from Cinderella for this CD. Do you have a lot of demos and would you ever consider developing down the road?
The most leftover songs are from the first record. That is why they warn you about the sophomore jinx because you spend your entire life writing for that first record. There were 60 songs going into “Night Songs”, and we picked ten. We never went back to that pool expect once for “Hot and Bothered” which was on the Wayne’s World soundtrack. I’ve always move forward with my writing. “Long Cold Winter” was written on the “Night Songs” tour while we were experiencing new things. We wrote ten songs, and they were all on the record. There weren’t any leftovers and same with “Heartbreak Station” and “Still Climbing”. The old “Night Songs” demos are out there somewhere on bootleg. I don’t think there is anything in that batch that I would ever get back to.