Tom Keifer: The Culture Brats Interview

Owner of one of the most recognizable voices in rock 'n' roll, Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer released his first solo album, The Way Life Goes, in April. He's also travelling across the U.S. on his first solo tour to support the album. We caught up with Tom and spoke about the album, touring, his voice, streaming music, and chili dogs.

You just played Canton at the Hall Of Fame Festival. How did that go?
It was awesome. It was a lot of fun. We got to tour the Hall Of Fame in the afternoon, which I had never done before. I had my son Jaidan with me and Savannah who's on tour, so that was cool. That's how the day started. And then... great show! Great crowd and a really great time.

The Way Life Goes, your first solo album, was released back in April. It was ten years in the making. At any point were you concerned it wasn't going to see the light of day?
Probably the whole time we were making it! It was really a leap of faith. It was really about making the music. We produced it independently of a label, so right then and there we had no idea if anyone was going to pick it up. We took a long time to make it. There was also the concern that the whole time we were making it I was having a lot of voice struggles. I wasn't sure that what I was putting then on tape was even something that I'd be able to reproduce live ever, so there were a lot of aspects that made it a walk in the dark or a walk of faith.

So far, it turned out okay. My voice has gotten stronger over the years. I've been on tour and been able to sing the material fairly well and we also were fortunate enough to have the record picked up by a great label, Merovee Records, who is doing a great job of getting it out there.

Were these songs that you originally wrote for Cinderella but they didn't fit for one reason or another or were these always for your sole use only?
I started writing for the solo record in the mid '90s when Cinderella parted ways with Mercury Records and we were drifting apart, purely because we didn't have an outlet for our music or support of a label at that point. So I started thinking about a solo record then and I just started writing. When I write songs, I don't think about what it's for. There's a lot of stuff that I write that's not appropriate for me or Cinderella and probably better for another artist but usually they just lay around because I'm not actively pitching songs. I just write to write and the idea of actually recording and producing a solo record just kept getting put on the back burner for years until 2003 which is when I decided to start production and recording. There was a lot of songs piled up by then and certainly some of them could've been on a Cinderella album.

You're also on your first solo tour. How's that been going?
It's been great. We've been out off and on since February. I think we've done about forty dates so far this year. It's been cool to play some new material and I'm also playing some of the old Cinderella stuff. It's been a lot of fun.

What's your favorite song to perform live from The Way Life Goes?
Hmm... Probably "Solid Ground."

You mentioned the problem with your voice. How are things nowadays?
It's pretty stable now. It's been an up-and-down battle since the early '90s when I was first diagnosed with the partially paralyzed vocal cord. I was told I would never sing again. There was no magical cure for that. Basically, it's been a struggle, bouncing from one coach and speech pathologist to another, trying to pick up whatever knowledge I could gather to try and teach my vocal cord to work right again. Over the years, it's gotten stronger and more stable but there were years of hell when I couldn't sing at all. I would try to and I'd injure myself. I've had six surgeries to repair those kind of injuries, what I refer to as the collateral damage from singing with the weakness.

I feel fortunate that it's pretty stable now and some nights it's stronger than it was before I had the problems. It's still a daily maintenance thing, a lot of therapy and exercises to keep it in shape.

What is your daily routine like for your voice? How many hours do you have to put in?
Usually about ninety minutes, rain or shine, year round. Sometimes I take days off to give it a little rest. Even on a show day, my warm-ups can be ninety minutes to even two hours sometimes before a show. One of the symptoms of the condition is extended warm-up. It just takes forever for your cords to get into that place where they can actually perform. It's part of the condition.

On Facebook the other day, you wrote about how companies with unfair royalty payments are hurting the development of new artists. Would you like to elaborate on that?
I think it just comes down to the thing about the lost revenues in the industry. There's a lot of emphasis placed on that lost revenue contributing to artists not being paid fairly for their creations, which is true. That's just one aspect of it because the lost revenue in the industry due to illegal downloading and some of these streaming networks, a lot of that revenue that's been lost would flow back through record companies and publishing companies to develop artists. I was lucky enough to come up in a time when a label would spend a lot of time and money to record a record. They would not only record the first one, but the second and a third, add develop an artist and bring the artist along. I think that that's an aspect of how the industry's been hit that a lot of people don't think about because the emphasis is put on unfair rates paid to artists, which doesn't resonate with a lot of fans. I think the broader picture of up-and-coming artists not getting the same opportunities afforded to them because of the lost revenues is a much broader issue and problem and I think the window is closing and getting smaller and smaller for those kind of opportunities for new artists. It's sad.

What advice would you give to a band starting out today?
It all starts with the music and that music should be you. It should be uniquely you and come from your soul. Don't chase trends, stick to what's true to you and what's in your heart. If you do that and you're fortunate enough, maybe the trend will become you. That's first and foremost, no matter what generation you're in. Secondly, every generation has its challenges to overcome. The more you can arm yourself with information and knowledge and try to figure out how to get around the challenge you face today, it's important. We had our set of challenges, there's nothing new, there's always challenges. So you stick to your dream and figure out how to make it happen.

This goes beyond music, too. The current challenges due to technology [are] really punching the creative industry hard due to lost revenues. It goes into literature, movies. It goes into software development because a lot of that is pirated. It's way beyond just music. It has a real domino effect, too. Look at all the bookstores closing, all the movie stores closing, all the record stores that are gone. Obviously, it's a far-reaching problem beyond people being paid fairly for their creations. Which I'm not saying isn't an issue, I think that is an issue. It comes down to the technical term which is intellectual property, which applies to software, literature, movies, music. And I'm sure there's a bunch that I'm not even thinking about.

Are there any plans for a Cinderella tour or album in the future?
Certainly touring. We're on a hiatus this year because we toured three years in a row and burned the candle at both ends. As far as a record goes, it would need to be the right situation and obviously that situation is affected greatly by the current state of the industry. It's why I chose to produce my record independently of a label. I didn't want my music to be subject to the attitude about the artist development or recording funds or budgets of today. Once you sign with a label, they give you x amount to make a record. When you come to the end of that x amount, they tell you you're done. If artistically you don't feel your music's done, you're faced with a compromise. I felt I didn't want to do that to my music.

This was thirty years ago, but how did the Pat's Chili Dogs commercial come about?
I don't know exactly how it came about. We were a local band. Cinderella was all original from the beginning. We had all played in cover bands prior to that but once Cinderella was formed, it was all original music. There was only a couple of clubs locally that would allow that to happen. If I remember correctly, the owner of that hot dog establishment saw us at one of these shows and approached us to do a jingle for him. I was faced with the challenge of... He told me all the information, the locations, and everything that had to be in the jingle. I never wrote a jingle before. Wrote it, went in and recorded it, and then he shot the commercial for it.

MTV was really big then. We weren't signed and didn't have a video. He was smart and I think his business probably went through the roof. He wanted to take a young rock band, create the jingle, create the commercial, and then he went and bought all this advertising time for the commercial on MTV locally. We felt like we were on MTV. It was a good trade-off. I think he sold a lot of hot dogs and we got a little recognition.

So do you get free chili dogs for life?
I think if we pulled through there, he'd hook us up.

A lot of artists write books, giving all the details from back in the day. Any chance we'll get one from you?
A book? I've been approached. I just don't feel the story's over yet. I don't know if I'll ever write one. I'm a pretty private person. But the offers and approaches I've had so far didn't feel like anything I wanted to do. But that's not to say there won't be a day.

One day they decide to make a movie about Cinderella. Who plays Tom Keifer?
That's a loaded question, my friend. I'm not much of an actor, but maybe I should just go with playing the role myself. At least that way I would know it was accurate.

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