Interview: The True Grit and Graciousness of Tom Keifer

Photo Credit: © Tammy Vega 2019

Digital Beat Magazine’s Carrianne Stoker-Postier recently had an opportunity to catch up with a renowned frontman who holds a remarkable journey – Tom Keifer. The singer, songwriter, guitarist, and keyboardist discussed his writing process, what it’s like to be #KEIFERBAND, the new album, Rise, and more.
 

DIGITAL BEAT MAGAZINE: Let’s get started with talking about the sense of freedom that you seem to have in your writing process, the topics and flow don’t feel forced. Can you share more about that and how for you the spark from an idea eventually grows into the music that we hear on Rise?

TOM KEIFER: It starts with lyrics, really, you know it’s all about the song. So, as a writer approaching songwriting from that place, really a song idea can hit you at any time because you are just constantly analyzing your thoughts throughout the day and wondering, “Is that a song?” or “Nah, that’s not a song, but this might be!”. So, you know you try to store those little ideas or lines or lyrics here and there. I think the ones that stick with you, I try to let there be a natural sifting process. I figure if you remember it, it’s maybe worth sitting down and actually finishing and writing. With the solo stuff, I write almost everything pretty much with Savannah (Keifer). Starting with The Way Life Goes, we wrote a bunch of that stuff together and she writes from the same perspective, so it’s really easy to write with her. On both solo records, we’ve had other writers involved, on this one Kendra Chantrell was involved and co-wrote “Touching The Divine” with us, she’s one of our band members. We also co-wrote with Thompson Square, the country band, Shawna and Keifer Thompson, we wrote the title track with Rise. They were a lot of fun to work with too.

It starts with the song and then the song dictates what you think the music should feel like because that lyric is expressing some kind of an emotion. A song like “Death of Me”, you want the track to be heavy and have a lot of angst and energy because that’s what that lyric is expressing emotionally and then the opposite side of the spectrum there would be a song like “You Believe In Me”, which was pretty obvious from day one when that was written that should be very intimate and just probably be with an acoustic guitar, which is what it ended up being. That emotion in the lyric is what dictates what the music is ultimately going to sound like.

DBM: When I think of the song like “Death of Me” and its raw, aggressive, heavy riff mixed in with the visual story sharing that you see in the music video, it seems fair to say that you’ve captured a moment of taking your real-world struggles and smashing them to pieces. How has this envisioning process gave you, or really could give anyone a sense of having some power back to overcome challenges we face? 

TOM KEIFER: Well, visualizing your problems disintegrating is a very powerful thing to do. That was kind of a point of the intro of that video, and we use my challenges through life by way of example on the screen because fans are familiar with them – the lawsuits, the voice stuff, and some other medical issues I’ve had have been highly publicized. I think they can relate to what I’ve been through. But like I said, that’s just by way of example, the point of that intro is everyone has those things in their life. So, when you’re watching that video, envision your own problems on that screen and envision just smashing them. I’m here to tell you, it feels good. When I took that guitar to that TV, that felt good (laughs). It’s very powerful, visualizing is very powerful.

DBM: So, let’s move on to talk about #KEIFERBAND. Your style of singing and your sound sets you apart, although instead of pursuing a more solo road, you’ve chosen to be in lockstep with a band. When I’ve seen the chemistry you all have as a band on stage, that connection and the life you are sharing appears more important than what some might see as the benefit of going solo. Can you share about having this band family and its value to you?

TOM KEIFER: The band was formed when The Way Life Goes was released. There was no band when that record was made, Savannah and I produced that record with session players. It didn’t even start off really with the thought of being a record and it kind of turned into one. Before we knew we had a record deal and it was being released, and I was like “No, we’ve got to go tour, we need a band.”

Photo Credit: © Tammy Vega 2019

So, we put together a band and the chemistry from night one has been amazing. It was kind of weird going out the first year because my heroes, for the most part, were always bands – Stones, Zeppelin, Bad Company, and Skynyrd. They were kind of like the band, the gang, the family, and that’s what I always aspired to be a part of. I remember looking at, the first couple weeks we were on tour on the first record, and seeing the backdrop and it had my name on it and I was just like, “that’s weird.” But, I was relieved early on that online, fans were talking about the band and the energy of the band as much as they were talking about me and they were commenting about how it felt like a real band and I was like “whew, cool” because I want to be part of a band and I didn’t want to be a solo artist. Then, eventually they started tagging it #KEIFERBAND, and that’s where we got the name, it actually came from the fans. Then, it was like, okay, there’s the logo, we really don’t have to have my name, Tom Keifer, on the backdrop anymore, we can have #KEIFERBAND. It just felt like a band from the beginning and the fact that the fans recognized that really early on, I actually loved. I want to just be part of the gang and that’s what this feels like.

DBM: Anyone who experiences #KEIFERBAND perform live, gets to see you give all of yourself on stage. First, how are you taking care of your voice being out on the road? And also, do you find, given your history, you know your own needs and limits well, or do you have others encourage when to limit and when to push?

TOM KEIFER: Keeping the voice healthy on the road involves a pretty strict regimen of everything from hydration and diet, sleep and rest, but most importantly the vocal warm up that I do beforehand, which takes about an hour, and then the cool down afterwards which kind of stretches and calms the chords down afterwards. Knock on wood, that’s been very successful and has got me through the paresis that I’ve had. I learned this technique from Ron Anderson and he really kind of turned things around for me when I started working with him. That’s really the long and short of it, in terms of me keeping it healthy on stage. It’s that good warm-up where everything is really stretched out. Singing is really the whole body, just not the vocal chords, and the warm up involves a lot of deep breathing and core stuff that opens up the breathing and all of that stuff, that’s all important. And once I do that, in answer to the second part of your question, I just get on stage and I go for it and I do my thing. Then, you walk off stage and you cross your fingers that you’re cool for the next night (laughs). It’s hard to hold back once you’re up there.

Tom Keifer live at The Firmament in Greenville, SC on 8/09/2019. Photo Credit: © Carrianne Stoker-Postier 2019

DBM: Let’s talk about the connection between the holding of history and staying creative. On stage, you’ve melded the classics of Cinderella with your evolution as an artist and as #KEIFERBAND. How do the joining of these worlds exist for you overall and what are you hoping to share with others that come out to see you live?

TOM KEIFER: In terms of what you are talking about in the show where there’s the new material mixed with the old material, I think they join pretty well. I think a big part of that is that stylistically in the writing on the solo stuff, it’s rock n’ roll. I mean, it’s not like we are making jazz records, nothing against that, I’m still making the same kind of music, writing the same kind of music. My voice for the most part is still the same. My guitar playing has a stamp to it. So, the solo music is familiar sounding. It has worked really well alongside of the Cinderella stuff. “Solid Ground” in the show follows “Nobody’s Fool”, which was one of the biggest Cinderella hits. “Solid Ground” kind of goes to another level, which tells me that it’s working. I think there is a familiarity there in terms, to kind of summarize, it’s the same voice, the same style of music. I think they work very well together.

DBM: I’ve heard some people talk about an underappreciation that exists for your songwriting and your musicianship. I’m curious as to what you define as success in your life.

TOM KEIFER: I try not to think about that, to be honest (laughs). The way the industry is today, it changes, if you are going to look at it just purely from a business standpoint, that changes from year to year. The business is so different, so you can’t really say, “Well, you know, you didn’t go triple platinum on the solo record.” Well, nobody goes triple platinum anymore, people get their music a different way. It was interesting, on this on the solo stuff, to compare sales to how many people are actually singing the songs at the show (laughs). Something there just doesn’t add up, which tells me more people have it than what was actually sold, and obviously that takes into account streaming. The music is still getting out there. So, I guess really, live is where you kind of get a feeling of how people are receiving things because you can’t just look purely at sales figures anymore because they’re much different. But, like I said, that doesn’t necessarily reflect how many people are familiar with the music. When we do the live shows, and like you said, with the new material sitting alongside of songs that were part of albums that were triple platinum and they are going over just as well, it sounds to me like we’re doing something right or we are striking cord. The live has always been my favorite part anyway, because it’s immediate, it’s in the moment, there’s no do-overs and just get out there and you have that kind of exchange with the audience. When you walk off stage and feel like you’ve had a great show and everyone enjoyed all the songs, old and new, that’s a good feeling.

DBM: Away from the business side, is there anything personally on how you would define success for yourself?

TOM KEIFER: I think just to write songs that you feel are honest and true, and not things that you are forcing or not to chase trends. That’s something I’ve always tried to do, to just write from the heart and play music that I love. So, hopefully I’ve been able to do that and if I have, l guess that’s one definition of success there.

Tom Keifer smiles to the crowd at The Firmament in Greenville, SC on 8/09/2019. Photo Credit: © Carrianne Stoker-Postier 2019

DBM: That’s awesome. Well, thanks Tom, I’ve been a fan since the early days. I have one last question, if you don’t mind. Can you let us know what music might currently be on your own personal playlist? What are you listening to and what sound might be inspiring you?

TOM KEIFER: I’ve got to tell you, in the last year or so, with the creation of this new record, I’ve been a little bit out of touch with what’s new out there because I tend to kind of go in another place, when you’re creating, so I haven’t been listening to a lot of this stuff in the last year or so, I got to be honest. But, prior to that, I remember The Struts catching my ears, I really like their stuff. I love Halestorm. I mean they’re killer, and obviously I’ve worked with Lzzy and the band, and done some shows with them. Yeah, I mean there’s probably stuff I’m not thinking of right now (laughs). That’s a couple that come to mind. I love the new Halestorm record, I think it’s killer and the one with “Uncomfortable” on it is great. The Struts are great. There is a band right now that I’m thinking of too that I really like..oh, Rival Sons! I think is really great, too.

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Much appreciation to Tom for taking time out to chat with us, it was great talking with you! 

Get out there to see #KEIFERBAND and enjoy Rise.