Tesla- Frank Hannon Interview 2/10/2009

21jun087Tesla, for the uninitiated, is a rock band from Sacramento, Calif. Their debut release, Mechanical Resonance was released in 1986. Their first appearance in the Gate City was in 1987, as support act for Def Leppard on the Hysteria tour. I was at this show, and after they finished their warm-up set I did not care what Def Leppard had to say. This was real rock and roll, not the over-processed hair rock that was beginning to saturate the airwaves, and would for the next five years. There were no samples or drum machines here. No spandex, no makeup — just five guys with an original singer, two great guitar players, a solid rhythm section… and great songs. 

 

The great songs continued for several more albums, with radio success following. “Love Song,” “What You Give” and a cover of the Five Man Acoustical Band’s “Signs” were all over the radio in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Twenty-two years later, the band has released a return-to-form album, Forever More, and is bringing its current tour to Greensboro’s historic Carolina Theatre on Feb. 20. Guitarist Frank Hannon was kind enough to talk to me for a few minutes about the new record, as well as give some insight into the Tesla fan of today.

Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. You kicked off your tour last week, correct?

Yeah, we are in Amarillo, Texas. Last night we were in El Paso, and we’re getting our tour rolling again. We kicked it off last week in our hometown Sacramento at the Memorial Auditorium, which is really cool for us. It’s an old venue that we used to go see shows in as kids, and anytime we can play there it is a great thing. 

You’re also celebrating the release of your new record, Forever More, on vinyl….

That’s right. We made a thousand of them, and it looks like we might make some more, because they are going pretty quick, people are eating them up. You forget how cool it was to be able to buy a record and have all that in your hands so you can look, hold and feel the music. 

I want to take a moment to talk about the new release. One immediate thing that impressed me about it was the production. How much openness there is, and how it lets all the components have some breathing room, and lets the song stand out… like the great albums of the ’70s.

Yeah. We took all our ideas and pretty much stripped them down, and brought them down to the bare minimum and tried to create a lot of space for the vocal.  We learned a lot of that from Terry Thomas, the producer of the record. A lot of the records that he has produced, if you listen to the Foreigner albums that he did, the Bad Company records… that’s his style. He likes to strip it down and put a lot of space into the mix. 

This is your first album of original material with new guitar player, Dave Rude, isn’t it? How was that experience? 

 
The vibes are better, the atmosphere is better…. He is willing to work and stay positive and be a member of the team. It just makes the flow better all the way around. From touring, living on a bus, making videos, making records, whatever…. It’s just a lot easier now that everybody is on the same page. 

Talking about touring. Touring now versus touring in the late ’80s: How is it now, what is the makeup of your audience? 

 

We have the classic diehard Tesla fans that are our age, and most of them have teenage kids now, and they bring the kids with them. There are also a bunch of younger fans that are finding us on MySpace and the internet. You know, the younger generation is really appreciating good rock and roll, in particular ’70s and ’80s rock cause if feels good and it’s good music… it’s fun to listen to and not a downer, and a lot of kids are grabbing onto that. 

You bring up an interesting point, that kids today are getting more into real rock music. How much do you think games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero play into that? 

My son plays Guitar Hero, man. Guitar Hero is great, because it has a lot of great music on there and kids are playing along to their favorite tunes, most of which came out long before they were born. It’s all classic, killer guitar rock. My 11-year-old son is a Randy Rhoads fan because of Guitar Hero, and I think that is great. 

Back to the new record, Forever More, for a minute. There are several great tracks on there. “I Wanna Live” with its upbeat positive message seems to have drawn from real experience. 

I think, when you get older, you start appreciating life a lot more, and realize that when you are young you just waste a lot of time. There is a lot of personal experience on there. On the song “Breaking Free,” Jeff really put his heart into the lyrics and exposed some of the things that he is going through, some bizarre things that he is going through with his ex-wife. 

“Fallin’ Apart” is a hit, in a perfect world… and the song “Pvt. Leadbetter,” is a very well written tribute to our troops, with a nice twist in the lyric. 

Well, thanks “Fallin’ Apart” is our next single at HOT AC radio. We just made a video for it. We had some friends act in it, and it should be coming out here in a few weeks. 

“Pvt. Leadbetter” we’re kind of psyched about, in that the twist can be taken in several ways. It started out as a song that I was working on lyrically, and Jeff took it and twisted it. A real collaboration on that one. 

Anything you want to leave us with? 

We are busier than ever. We have a new DVD, Comin Atcha Live, which I was finishing as we were writing the new record. We are totally independent now, busier than ever, but it is better than ever, cause we aren’t relying on record companies and people who don’t know us to do our artistic stuff for us. I look forward to coming to Greensboro. I love those old venues, and I met my wife in North Carolina, and I love it out there.

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Grace Potter interview from 10/06/08

A conversation with Grace Potter.

In the music business, back in a golden era, there existed a working business model- release a record and tour incessantly to promote it. Get on festival bills, get opening slots on big tours, pick up gigs on the days off, anything it took. Just work your ass off and promote the music you loved enough to put on wax.

This old model is making a comeback in the today’s broken music industry.

Last December, I took my wife to Asheville to the 20th annual Warren Haynes Xmas Jam. I was going to see Jackson Browne and Peter Frampton and really could care less who else was on the bill…little did I know.

The first band to hit the stage was – Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

From the first song I was hooked. Young, eager, and honestly thrilled to be playing, the four-piece band fronted by female vocalist/ guitarist/organist, Grace Potter, worked the old model on me.  The next day after driving home, I was on itunes buying their latest release, This is Somewhere. The old marketing tool called the live performance caused a reaction- I bought the product.

Sure, Frampton was great, and Jackson Browne was , well… Jackson Browne, but the first act on the bill, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, are the band that hooked me.

This is Somewhere has been the most played album in my music library for 2008. I had no idea that was the case until I started prepping for this interview. But this cd, bought after seeing the band play 6 songs, conquered all comers in the battle for airplay in my office and car.

The cd is filled with both rock anthem and introspective ballad.  Grace’s vocals, which have been compared to Bonnie Raitt, have that earthy realism that is absent in the majority of today’s music.  The songs on This is Somewhere are reminiscent of an earlier time, with themes that resound across the ages. You would never believe that this voice and these lyrics come from the soul of a twenty-five year old from Vermont.

CH: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me-

Oh, of course, absolutely.

CH:I have to tell you, in preparing for this interview, I realized that your cd, This is Somewhere, was played more than any other music in my itunes library this past year…

Really, that is awesome. I love hearing that stuff.

CH: The songs on this cd show a maturity that certainly belies your age. “Big White Gates” with its story of redemption, and “Ah Mary,” with its obvious political statements are great bookends for the cd. From what well do you draw the inspiration for songs such as these?

Those songs fell out of me. There are songs that come, and when they hit you, they hit you hard. And my goal as a songwriter is to bring somebody into a world. People listen to music to escape, or to augment and bring more meaning to their lives, so even when you are dealing with death (Big White Gate) or politics ( Ah Mary), you should do it with a smile on your face.

For the song “Big White gate” in particular, I was taking experiences and a rich life history that my grandmother had. At the time of her passing, she was doing a lot of reflecting. She didn’t actually live the life I wrote for her, but I  felt that her soul and her spirit deserved a fantastical story. So I gave her one.

CH: The thing that drew me in to this cd was the fact that this is just a great rock record- It doesn’t seem that you were trying to fill a niche, but were just writing the tunes that you needed to write at that time. Much like the great records I grew up listening to – a cohesive body of work , a powerful collection of songs, regardless of style-

Take Zeppelin III for example- totally a left turn from their second album, but somehow- cohesive and the right thing for them to do. Same kind of feeling with This is Somewhere

Thank you so much. I have to say, we did listen to Led Zeppelin while we were making the record, and that album was something that we referred to, to try and get some of the sounds we were getting, or working with the engineer to try and get a certain tone, we would refer to Zeppelin III quite a lot.

The music on your latest cd definitely shows inspiration from those classic albums of the seventies- specifically the early 1970’s.  Is that the music you listened to growing up, is it the music that helped shape your style?

Absolutely.It used to be the only thing the band listened to, because so much of modern music, and so much of what we were hearing on the radio was so frustratingly bland and formulaic. So we always go back to that. There was such a “lightening in a bottle world” back in the day, you know ’68. ‘69’ 70 … There seems like this little chunk of time when everybody was so incredibly prolific and yet… breaking down the barriers in so many ways.

So we really do respect and kind of hail that time period, although I wouldn’t say that we are trying desperately to sound like that. I think that there is a time and a place for nostalgia, but it doesn’t want to be bottled nostalgia. It shouldn’t be like, “ Oh let’s can this sound,” it should be more of pulling from those resources, that time period and those sounds and then bringing new ideas that the new youth have created, because there is so much more out there, so much more to talk about now. They didn’t have the Internet back then. Not that I would write a song with the word Internet in it, that would be death on a stick. But we should pull from this changing world and recognize the fact that we can’t just pretend that it is 1969 again.

CH: So what are you listening to now, from today’s music? What new music is not “bland and formulaic?”

For example, tonight I am going to a concert up in Burlington, Vermont, my hometown featuring Doctor Dog with the Delta Spirit, which is a new band that I am enjoying. Both of those bands do that same thing; they pull from that nostalgic world, without trying to sound nostalgic. There is no aim or goal that says’ We have to sound like the Beach Boys,” or “We have to sound like the Beatles,” but they do seem to stumble into those comparisons quite a lot.

I really enjoy a lot of new singer/songwriters. I was just down in Nashville, and had an opportunity to meet a lot of people. Just watching these people who just created something brand new, with just an acoustic guitar and their own voice, and can channel their own truth. That is really what I love about music now. People can tell the difference between a bottled, formulaic method for success, like so many people you hear on the radio now.

 

CH: You spoke about songwriting. You play both organ and guitar live. Which instrument is your writing tool?
( btw- l Iove the Flying V. you play)

Oh,Thank you. I would say that I mainly wrote on the guitar for This is Somewhere, but that was the first time that I had done that. I tend to write on the piano, because I think I am a better keyboard player than I am a guitar player. But I really liked writing on the guitar, because it limited my chord choices. It made me have to get more creative lyrically and… channel myself into writing something better than anything I had done before. The guitar helped me do that. It took me out of my , kind of , mold for songwriting. But now I am getting back to the piano, and it is making it even better, you know.

CH: The band is named after you, how much of the writing is you?

Primarily they are my songs. I always say that I make the skeleton, and they ( the band) make into this big, juicy fat woman.

CH: HA

The guys are instrumental in how I write the songs, why I write the songs and the way the songs come out and become what they are. They add so much zest and life to songs that would otherwise just be a girl sitting at her piano crying her eyes out. It is nice to have the ability to make it fun. That is what the guys do. They make it fun, and they make it bigger, larger than life.

CH: Speaking of your band, each member seems to perfectly compliment the other. This is extremely important as much as you guys tour.

I saw you in December, fresh off a tour with Gov’t Mule. Then a month later, I saw you at Amoeba Records in LA.. One month- whole country covered. From October through December you will be covering the entire US again.

Have you guys taken a break at all in the year that the cd has been out?

It can be challenging, to plug away, but it is what we are best at. And we are not going to kid ourselves and wonder if we can promote our cd on VH1 with a music video…its just not the way to do things. Especially now with the industry where its at. People are getting creative and finding new formulas, so yeah. We are trying.
We have a little bit of time off,. I was looking at my calendar and averaging out… we get to be home, I’d say 3 -5 days a month.

 

CH: You are living the dream for a musician; this past year alone has seen you share the stage on tours with The Black Crowes, Gov’t Mule and the Dave Matthews Band.

Your music has been featured on Grey’s Anatomy; you have performed on the Tonight Show and Good Morning America. As far as your musical life- is there anything more you want?

GP: It’s crazy. Oh God, there is always more. Its all about using your energy and your talent wisely, and not… I try not to exploit it or the people who like us too much, because I think there are limits and there are places where you need to know to stop. But I am not anywhere close to my limit yet.

I hope that our fans would follow along any direction that we take ourselves in, whether it is music for a movie, acting in movies. I want to do a cameo in a movie, kind of like Lyle Lovett or Dwight Yoakum.

CH: When can we expect a new release from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals? Are you working on a new record?

I am, yes I am.  I hope to be in the studio through the winter. Once the new year rolls around, we really will be solidifying the songs, working on getting the arrangements together and hopefully by February, March we will be in the studio which would put the album out somewhere around Fall 2009.

CH: Thanks for your time- I look forward to seeing you on the 16th in Charlotte. The VIsulite is a cool venue.

Will you be at Asheville as well?

 

CH: With gas costing $400 a litre, I will have to miss that one. By the way, how have gas prices affected your touring, or has it?

It has deeply affected it. We could not afford, nor did we want to be in a bus this summer. Given the affect that traveling has on the environment and the carbon footprint the band leaves behind them, I think we really wanted to do everything we could to save money and to save the earth. So we stuck to a little van. We are going to hopefully upgrade to a bus this tour, but for a different reason. We have joined up with Cabot Cheese and Creamery, and they have offered to invest in our tour. So we will be running around in a bus, running on biodiesel, of course. We will be bringing cheese to the shows and having cheese tastings…The “Wine and Cheese” tour. I am really excited about it.

It is pretty crazy, we just played Farm Aid with Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Dave. Then we turned around and called a creamery that supports family farms all over Vermont, and have them step up and say, “This is a no-brainer, of course we’ll help with a bus, help with bio-diesel.”

CH: How was Farm Aid. Willie Nelson and Neil Young, those two names in one sentence… it just doesn’t get much bigger than that. To get to share the stage with them, kind of dumbfounding…

And I got to sing, on-stage with Willie! I mean, “here I am standing there right beside him.” It is me, Willie Nelson and Steve Earle singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

CH: Well there is your rock and roll moment for a lifetime right there. It doesn’t get any better than that.

It doesn’t, it really doesn’t.

 

But somehow, for Grace Potter, I think there are many more moments like this in her immediate future. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals play October 16 at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC and October 17 at the Visulite Theater in Charlotte.