Interview: Tom Keifer

Photo: Tammy Vega

Tom Keifer
Tom Keifer Band
November 2019
Interviewed by: Joseph Suto

Tom Keifer is one of the greatest songwriters to come out of his era. One listen to such rock radio staples as “Shake Me”, “Nobody’s Fool” and “Shelter Me” it’s clear to see why. After Cinderella’s fourth album Still Climbing came out in 1994, record company problems and a shift in the music scene as well as vocal issues to Keifer all caused the band to go on a long haitus. They have never released a studio follow-up to Still Climbing to this date. It wasn’t until 2013 that finally saw the long waited solo debut from Keifer with The Way Life Goes. These days things are moving a long for Keifer and his band as their latest release Rise came out in September to much fanfare. We had an opportunity to talk to Tom recently and found out how he writes a song and much more.

Rock Show Critique: I want to start talking about this great new album you have out here, Rise, which came out September. When did you start writing for the album and how long did it take from writing to recording?

Tom Keifer: All the song ideas came from, I would say a six year period of being out on the road with this new band. They’re all brand new songs that the ideas came into being after the release of The Way Life Goes, and after the band was formed that I’ve been touring with. So, I typically kind of gather a lot of song ideas before really finishing songs and preparing for a record. There’s a whole bunch of song ideas that got jotted down in voice memos and stuff while we were out touring and kind of becoming a band. Then last fall, about a year ago, is when we decided to actually make a record and kind of pulled out all these little notes and ideas and all. And the ones that really felt the strongest, we finished them up and went in and recorded them. The recording process, top to bottom, from rehearsals and tracking and mixing, all that, was about six months. And we started about this time last year and delivered the record in the spring to the label.

RSC: The album appears to have a heavier, much darker tone than your previous effort, The Way Life Goes. Was this intentional, or just the way it happened to turn out?

TK: I think it’s just how it turned out. I think the heaviness or the rawness of the record has to do with the fact that we’ve been kind of honing our chemistry on the road for, as I mentioned, a good six years, and we were a pretty well oiled machine when we went into the studio. We just have a very cool energy and chemistry on stage, and we went into the studio with the intention of trying to capture that kind of angst and raw energy that we have live. And that was the mission statement with the tracking this record, was to capture that, because we were fresh off the tour bus. I think that accounts for a lot of it.

RSC: Now Rise features only 11 tracks, as opposed to 14 from the previous album, were there actually more songs written, or did you basically just grab the certain number and go with it?

TK: Well, there were other song ideas. Like I said, over the course of the six years, there were a lot of ideas or seeds of songs, or lines, melodies, things that we were kind of documenting along the way. But like I said, I don’t usually get into like actually finishing those songs until you have a big pile of them, and you’re about ready to make a record. Then the ideas that are the strongest, that jump out, which were the 11 that were on the record. Savannah and I sat down and we finished them and then took them in to record them. So, yeah, I would say none that were really finished. There’s a whole bunch of ideas still floating around that we didn’t really finish out. We felt like these 11 kind of jumped out at us as ideas, and we finished these and recorded them and kind of didn’t waste any time, because we were excited to get in and make a record.

RSC: Now, as you have progressed in your song writing over the years, do you approach writing songs any different from your early days in Cinderella?

TK: No, I do it exactly the same with the exception that I co-write much more now. But the process for collecting the ideas or the inspiration is the same, and it’s life, and it always starts with lyrics first. And like I said, you wait for the idea to hit you, and it’s just an idea that you store, or it rolls around in your head, or you make a voice memo of it, or you jot it down. And you see which ones really stick with you over a period of time. Those are the ones that feel worthy of finishing, I guess, is the best way I can put it, and that’s the way I’ve always approached it.

And like I said, the only thing that’s new to the mix since I’ve been doing the solo records is I’ve worked with a lot more writers. Mainly Savannah, my wife. On The Way Life Goes, we had a lot of other writers on that record, and we had a couple of other co-writers on this record, as well. Savannah and I co-wrote the opening track, Touching The Divine with our band-mate Kendra Shantelle, who’s a vocalist and percussionist in our band and a great writer. And also we wrote the title track with Thompson Square. But the approach to the inspiration or where the song comes from has always been the same.

RSC: Now, you mentioned that the fact that now you are doing a lot more co-writing and that was a question I had set aside here about from day one you were the main songwriter in Cinderella, it seemed. Was that something that you decided from the start or how did that all happen to be?

TK: Well, I did co-write a couple of songs with Eric, and those, those are great songs, like “Hot And Bothered” and “If You Don’t Like It” and “Love’s Got Me Doing Time” off of Heartbreak Station. So, I think I ended up being the main song writer because I had the most songs (laughs). We came into making the first record and I had probably 60 songs. I think that was just more a result that I wrote more maybe. But if anyone had an idea, I would sit down with them. I love co-writing. I mean, since I’ve been solo, the opportunity to write with some really, really amazing writers, and again Savannah being one of the best I’ve ever worked with. I really welcomed that opportunity to collaborate. I think it’s more beneficial to be the weakest writer in the room. That’s what makes you better. And when I moved to Nashville, there’s so many great songwriters here that it was a real shot in the arm.

RSC: All right, well let’s talk about your new band. Although they’re not so new anymore, since you guys have been together for awhile now. How did you come about meeting Tony Higbee?

TK: Actually, a friend of ours recommended him. Tony has a local band that we went to check him out and he was kind of the first. When we got the deal for the record, for the first solo record, The Way Life Goes, we didn’t have a band. The label wanted us to go on tour, so we had to put together a band.

So, Tony’s kind of the first guy that we went out and checked out and just loved him and he’s just killing it. Sings great, plays great. And he actually really was instrumental in orchestrating the rest of the band because he knew a lot of local musicians. Most of the ones that Savannah and I knew were session players who had played on the record and a lot of those guys don’t like to tour. So, Tony was really instrumental at that point in finding the other people in the band. And I was like, oh. And then you know, so and so knows so and so, and the next thing you know, we’re all in a room together. The first rehearsal was just magic and it’s kind of been that way ever since.

RSC: All right, well it seems like now you’re pretty much done touring for this year. Any plans coming up for next year?

TK: Yeah, we’re just taking a breather and the touring behind the Rise album will continue next year. We’re already starting to book some dates.

RSC: Got a song here that goes way back that’s always been a favorite mine, but you guys never really seemed the play it live. What’s the story behind “Take Me Back”?

TK: I don’t know why we never played that one live. I really like that song, I love the slide guitar part. The slide being the main rhythm guitar part and that’s something that I really got into. Probably my Johnny Winter influence showing there. But I don’t know. I don’t what inspired that one. I remember writing it on the road, we were on the Night Songs tour, I guess, most of the Long Cold Winter tour was written on that tour. So, that was written along the road somewhere on the Night Songs tour.

RSC: I’m not sure if you have a record of how many dates you guys actually played, but it seems like from 86 to 88 it’s like you guys were constantly on the road. I think you came through Buffalo here a few times with Priest, AC/DC, David Lee Roth. Seems like every time I turned around you guys were coming to town. Did it feel like you were constantly on the road during that period?

TK: Yeah. All those tours were pretty long. For each album there was a touring cycle and a record promotion cycle, if you will, that were usually 18 months or so. And then on the first record we were getting support slots, so a lot of times we’d go back to the same cities a couple of times for supporting different bands. And the first half of the tour on Long Cold Winter was like that too, where we were with Priest and then AC/DC, and then we started headlining. So, we probably went around the country three or four times (laughs) on that tour too. And Heartbreak Station, the same thing. We started off headlining on that and then after we did a whole run headlining, we did a co-headline tour with David Lee Roth on Heartbreak Station. So, yeah, I mean it was lots of fun.

RSC: The last question I’m going to leave you with is a probably what has actually probably become of the bigger songs that you’ve ever written, “Shelter Me”. Seems like over the years it’s just gotten bigger. Can you talk about how that song has seemed to have just grown over time?

TK: Yeah, it’s always been one of my favorites. It was actually probably our biggest release on Cinderella. We went platinum on that song. The other ones that it took to the second release, when we released a ballad before we started getting into the million sellers. But “Shelter Me” was one of the rock tracks that had hit into the top 40 and it’s always been a pretty popular song. I mean, it’s like anything… like when we went out first for the Long Cold Winter tour, the new songs took a minute for people to get used to, because they knew Night Songs better. And same thing with Heartbreak Station.

But over the years, I think that song, “Shelter Me”, it took a minute in the beginning, it did really react well in terms of driving the initial sales of Heartbreak Station to platinum on the first release, single release. So, it doesn’t surprise me that over the years it’s become a favorite. It always felt like a good one to me, even when I was still in the demo of it. So, it’s one of my favorites to sing and we close the show with it with my solo band every night, and it’s a fun one.

RSC: I appreciate all your time and everything. Good luck with the album. I know it’s been out a few months now. It’s good to see new music keep coming out from you guys and hopefully you got many more albums coming down the road here eventually.

TK: Yeah, we got no plans of taking our foot off the gas.

Here is a photo gallery of Tom over the recent years

About Joseph Suto

Location: Buffalo, NY Photographer/Reviewer
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