It’s time. After nearly a decade of work, a span of years marked by vocal issues that nearly ended his career, Cinderella’s Tom Keifer has finally reached the point where he is ready to unveil his first solo record, The Way Life Goes, to the world on April 30th. So what was the trigger that made him, say okay, it’s done?
“I don’t know, maybe I was tired of listening to it,” he laughs. “You have this idea in mind of what you want to hear. Usually when you write a song, you can hear it in your head, with the production and the kind of energy you want the song to have, and it’s a process to find it sometimes.”
He found it, with the 13 tracks delivering what has been sorely missing from the music scene in recent years – a solid hard rock record that isn’t retro or glam, but an eclectic collection that doesn’t sound dated at all, a claim that can’t be made by many of his 80’s rock peers that are still recording. But as the 52-year-old Keifer is quick to point out, The Way Life Goes isn’t a response to a hole in the market; it’s a record he would have made today, five years ago, or five years from now.
“I never really think about markets when I make music,” he said. “I think about playing music that I like. And this is true to what I’ve always done, and hopefully there’s some growth or it’s better. You’re always trying to do what you like to do better, but it’s certainly not a departure. It’s what I’ve always done in terms of it being a hard rock, blues-influenced record with a lot of dynamics because I love acoustic music. It ranges from very organic stuff to some of the most hard-driving stuff I’ve done. I’ve always liked records that mixed that up because it takes you on more of a journey.”
Keifer’s had quite a journey to write about since his last recorded work, 1994’s Still Climbing, which he made with Cinderella. At the time, Keifer had been dealing with a paresis of his vocal cords for three years, a condition which threatened his ability to sing. It was a crushing blow for someone who had been playing music in one way, shape or form since he was a child.
“Fear, depression, anxiety, stress,” said Keifer when asked his reaction to being told by doctors that he would never sing again. “I was told in the early 90s, after they finally figured out what it was, because there was about a two year period where I just couldn’t sing and my voice was going haywire and nobody knew what it was. Then they finally ran a neurological test and I was told I would never sing again. For some people, this kind of rights itself, but in most cases, it’s usually the end of the career for the singer.”
Keifer, whose performances on stage and on record saw him belting out songs with no intention of leaving anything for the ride back home, wasn’t about to accept that diagnosis though, kicking off a long and arduous vocal process that continues to this day.
“It’s scary and I work very hard at it,” he said. “I get up on stage and I’ve beaten the odds almost every show. I pull it off, I walk offstage and I’m just very thankful that I got another show under my belt. Some nights I sing better than I did before I had the problem, so it’s up and down. But it never feels as fluent or as natural as it used to. Singing used to be like breathing for me. I never had to warm up, do anything, I could just sing anytime whenever I wanted. Now there’s a whole process I need to go through. I constantly have to keep the strength building on it throughout the year, whether I’m working or not, because if I get behind on it, it’s a nightmare.”
As he got his voice back in fighting shape, Keifer didn’t disappear. After Still Climbing, he continued to tour with his mates in Cinderella, and between each set of gigs he would go back to work on his solo record. And yeah, it was a nine year process, but not nine years of full-time work. This is no Chinese Democracy here.
“We took a lot of breaks, which provided some objectivity,” said Keifer. “I’d go on tour with Cinderella for three or four months, and it would take me away from the record. You come back and say ‘I like that, I don’t like that,’ and redo things. It’s the first time I made a record all in ProTools, and that system allows you to do that because you save the session as a session and everything comes back exactly – the levels, the effects, everything. So it allows you to work on something over a long period of time and just change things and push things around until it sounds and feels the way you want it to.”
He also had the luxury, if you could call it that, of working independently. Some would call that a nightmare scenario, but without someone watching the clock and the set recording budget, Keifer was able to make the record he wanted to.
“From the beginning I decided that when it’s done its done,” he said. “We produced it independently of a label, with private investors and I put a little of the money up myself, and we didn’t want to be rushed or anything like that. So it was like the sky’s the limit, whatever it takes time wise or money wise to get this thing right, and I don’t think a lot of the record deals that are available to bands these days allow that. Maybe that’s why I took a different route with producing this record because I didn’t want to short change the music in any way.”
The proof is in the finished product, with early reviews of tracks that have hit the radio like first single “The Flower Song” and opener “Solid Ground” drawing rave reviews. And despite previous standards like “Night Songs,” “Shake Me,” “Gypsy Road,” and “Nobody’s Fool,” representing Keifer and Cinderella at their finest, The Way Life Goes clearly contains some of the singer / guitarist’s best work to date.
Now it’s time to take this show on the road, with Keifer going on a 14 date solo tour that begins Saturday in North Carolina and hits New York City’s Highline Ballroom on Monday, February 11th. The Pennsylvania native admits that not having the rest of the Cinderella gang behind him will be a little nerve-racking, but at the same time, he’s ready for this new chapter, one that he nonetheless says does not spell the end of one of the 80’s most revered groups.
“That’s a scary step, I gotta be honest,” he said. “But I feel really good about the band I put together. They’re great players and a great bunch of guys, so from the first downbeat in practice, a little of the fear went away. I’ve played with Cinderella for almost 30 years now if you count from when before we got the deal, so it was a big step and a scary step. I love my brothers in Cinderella, and this record and project is by no means me pulling away from them. We still tour together, and this is just something I actually started in the time when we couldn’t work anymore because we had gone through a lawsuit with Sony over a record deal that went bad, and we were tied up in the courts, and really everyone in the band had started doing solo projects at that time. I started mine, and mine just took a little longer. (Laughs) So here we are.”
Welcome back. And though it’s been a long, strange, trying trip to get to 2013, Keifer’s commitment to his craft remains strong.
“I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” he said. “And believe me, I’ve tried to. (Laughs) With what I’ve gone through, it’s like ‘well, maybe there’s something else.’ But from the time I was eight years old I strummed a guitar and sang. It’s hard to say what makes a person what they are – DNA or past life experience, I don’t know – but when something feels like a part of you and the hell that I have been through to try and maintain it, I guess this is what I’m supposed to be doing, because otherwise I would have given up a long time ago.”
Tom Keifer plays the Highline Ballroom on Monday, February 11. For tickets, click here