Legendary Rock Interviews: Q & A with Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer

By John Parks

Longtime Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer is back on the road and supporting his debut solo record, The Way Life Goes, which is sure to make a lot of Top 10 year-end lists come this winter.

It’s the right album at the right time for Keifer, who has spent much of the last 10 years alternately touring successfully with Cinderella and battling back from some unfortunate vocal cord issues.

The album shows no wear and tear in Tom’s voice or songwriting abilities, and the new live shows are intimate affairs, which include both electric and acoustic “storytellers”-type and segments.

Tom will be in Rockford June 13 at The District, 205 W. State St., and I recently had the pleasure of speaking with him about the album — and more.

Q:  Thanks for talking with us, Tom.  Like so many people, I’ve been a fan of your band and your songs for so long, and this new album is a really nice collection of tunes. The title, The Way Life Goes, almost reflects the overall vibe of the record. Was that intentional?

A:  No, not at the time. That song, the actual song “The Way Life Goes,” was a song that I really loved, and as soon as I recorded it, knew it was going to go on the record. But as far as the album title goes, we really didn’t make that decision until a few months ago, when we were getting the credits and art together and we still didn’t have a title. I was kinda looking at all the lyrics after the fact, and that just felt like a natural title for the record, and we said, “Hey, how about this” (laughs). Everyone seemed to like it, so it stuck. But yeah, it does kind of sum up not only this record, but pretty much the way I’ve always written. My lyrics are inspired by life and real things because my influences and heroes as a writer have always been about that going back to Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, The Eagles, Skynyrd and Zeppelin. It’s all blues-based, and all about real stuff, so that title just worked for me.

Q: Your music evolved and changed and still does, but there are a lot of different moods here on The Way Life Goes. I like “Fool’s Paradise” and “Cold Day In Hell,” but I also like “Flower Song” and “You Showed Me.” Was that diversity partially because you had so much time to write and cherry pick the material that made it to the finished product?

A: The different styles or vibes or dynamics of the record are something that, again, ultimately comes from those influences that I grew up on. I mentioned some of them earlier, and I could go on and on listing people who meant a lot to me growing up as a kid, but I think that’s really what shaped that. I think even within Cinderella you can see it. Night Songs was kind of a basic record. I mean, there was a ballad on it, but it was basic hard rock. Very quickly, though, with Long Cold Winter, we started introducing more instrumentation, piano, dobros, acoustic guitars and more dynamics. The songs “Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone,” “Coming Home” and even the title track, “Long Cold Winter,” which is a blues song, really reflect that. After that, with Heartbreak Station, we went even further, and I think that’s just a growing process of discovering your roots and who you’re really all about. When we went in to do the first record, we didn’t really know what we were all about or really know how to get what we wanted in the studio, and Andy was working with some real greenhorns and did the best he could (laughs) and purposely, I think, tried to keep the record simple. The more we learned and grew, the Cinderella records progressed into something that was probably closer to what we wanted to have from the beginning, and I think this solo record is the next logical step for me. I’ve always liked records that have that kind of contrast, and this does, going from a song like “Flower Song” to a track like “Mood Elevator.” That was important to me. Led Zeppelin always had that contrast on their albums, or even within the context of a song, if you look back at a song like “Over The Hills and Far Away,” where the verse has, like, a single acoustic, like celtic guitar, and then it just kicks into this driving, electric kickin’ riff. I love that color and that contrast, and I’ve always tried to incorporate that, not even so much in the writing, but in the production. Obviously, you can produce and orchestrate a song however you want instrument-wise, so a lot of those dynamics are more of a result of the production of a record.

Q: I can’t wait to see the live show, but judging by the video clips I’ve seen, you have gotten pretty comfortable with your solo band. Did it take a shaking out period, or was it pretty seamless?

A: We rehearsed for quite a long time here in Nashville, and had a room here for us locked out, and I knew we had our work cut out for us, not only to nail down the new stuff, but also to get into a groove with the old Cinderella stuff with a different band. We rehearsed for a month, but it only took a couple days before it really fell together. They’re really great musicians and great guys, and I’m really enjoying working with them every night.

Q: These current live shows you are doing right now are very refreshing in the sense that you’re doing different things than a lot of current acts. You’re completely reworking the classic Cinderella stuff, telling great stories and switching gears from electric to acoustic to electric. Are you enjoying the intimate venues and keeping that formula?

A: Yeah, we are keeping the show pretty similar to the run we did prior to the album coming out, smaller venues and a real intimate vibe. We are leaving the “Storytellers” section in the show as well as the high-energy hard rock, too, because there’s so many places we weren’t able to hit on that initial tour, which was only about three weeks. The response to the show has been amazing, so if it’s not broken, we’re not gonna fix it just yet — at least not until we take it to a few more areas. We are taking this vibe and show and just enjoying every moment of it every night, and just taking it one day at a time.

See www.tomkeifer.com for more about Tom Keifer.

From the June 5-11, 2013, issue

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