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TESLA – Rhyme And Resonance
Dave Reynolds
Metal Forces, Issue 26 (1987)

Tesla (l-r): Tommy Skeoch, Brian Wheat, Jeff Keith, Troy Luccketta and
Frank Hannon

Released in the last remaining weeks of 1986, Tesla’s debut album, Mechanical Resonance, is going great guns, especially in the US thanks to opening slots on tours with David Lee Roth and Alice Cooper. Now the Sacramento, California-based quintet are ensconced on a world tour opening for management stable mates Def Leppard, a stint which will no doubt mean that many more copies of Mechanical Resonance (first ever review was in Metal Forces issue #21) will be snapped up by lovers of hard rock’n’heavy metal music. Great stuff.

Tesla were recently kicking serious ass over here in the UK on the opening leg of the Def Leppard / Tesla billing and, on the afternoon of the first of three Hammersmith Odeon dates in London, yours truly was found to be Iigging with vocalist Jeff Keith and guitarist Tommy Skeoch all for the sake of Metal Forces’ first major feature on ’em.

It wasn’t so long ago that Tesla had been gracing Europe with a set of showcase gigs in London (two nights at the Marquee), Amsterdam and Germany. Had Tesla expected to be back so soon? Jeff: “No, we hadn’t expected it but that’s the way things happen.”

Tommy: “Last time we came here I honestly didn’t think we’d be back for quite a while, but here we are, back with Def Leppard.”

Do you think Tesla having the same management as Def Leppard, Q-Prime Inc., helped? Tommy: “Well, they’ve hooked us up with a lot of great things, so, yeah, I guess it helped. The last time we were in Europe we loved it because, obviously, we’d never been here before. It was great.”

Jeff: “The first night we played at the Marquee in May was just amazing.”

Tommy: “The people over here get into bands more. There’s just a really special, different vibe in European audiences, singing your songs and everything which you don’t get a great deal in America.”

You’ve been very lucky getting the breaks tour wise, that has meant that Mechanical Resonance has become a hot seller. Jeff: “Well we have our management to thank for that and also David Lee Roth and his organisation who picked us out to open for him once Cinderella had gone off to join the Bon Jovi tour.”

When I first heard the album, an advance tape last November, it immediately struck me as being a very 70s influenced thing with traces of bands like Montrose and such like. Do you agree with that? Tommy: “Totally.”

But you’ve also been lumped in with the Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Dokken category. Tommy: “Right, but we’re definitely not influenced by ’em.”

The next Tesla album won’t be out until at least the end of next year. Why? Tommy: “Because after the Leppard tour of the States, which will last for seven months, we plan on maybe going to Japan or do some headlining shows of our own before starting work on a new record. The thing is, Mechanical Resonance is still selling so why make another one so soon?”

Jeff: “In other words, we still have to give this one a chance. With Leppard we’re going through the UK and all the A-Z spots in America, all the big places and also the places that we’ve never hit where they don’t even know us. This Leppard tour will really set things moving.”

Surprisingly, you’ve already been getting the attention of the commercial metal press in the States with features in Hit Parader and Circus etc. Tommy: “I guess Geffen Records is really pushing us. Everybody is behind us. We’re getting a great deal of help with exposure like that.”

Your latest single in the UK is ‘Modern Day Cowboy’, which was the first in America. Before that ‘Little Suzi’s On The Up’ was released over here. Why did you cover the song (previously recorded by pop rock band Ph.D, who wrote the track)? Tommy: “Who was it who put us on to that?”

Jeff: “Ronnie Montrose. Ronnie produced a four-song demo for us when we were called City Kidd and he played a tape of the Ph.D version to us which he thought we could do, and work with. He was right because if you compare our version to the original they certainly don’t sound the same. The song has always stuck with us. Tommy and Troy (Luccketta; drums) weren’t even in the band when we started playing it.”

What’s the average age of the songs on your album? Tommy: “A lot of the album’s songs are songs we wrote right up to the time we recorded it. Most of the songs only go back as far as two or three months before going in to do it.”

Jeff: “Yeah, we didn’t even have a name at that point because we didn’t want to be known as City Kidd anymore. It was only when doing the record that our management came up with Tesla and explained the concept behind it, so that’s what we became.”

You’ve also become the biggest band out of Sacramento since Steel Breeze! Tommy: “Yeah, what happened to them?!!”

They died. Anyway, what do you have planned for your second album? Jeff: “It’s really too early to say. It’s gonna be raw like the first one and recorded in the same way with the same production team too.”

I understand the recent ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ 12-inch single of live cuts is a UK release only. Tommy: “Yeah, that’s right. It was a record company idea; something to tie in with the tour. I hate it!”

Jeff: “We’ve got so much better live tapes. This stuff they’ve put out was a radio broadcast of a show we did in Milwaukee in front of 11,000 people.”

Tommy: “The mix is useless.”

Jeff: “It’s all really because the record company wanted something to put out to promote the tour, and that was the only tape they had at the time; they liked it so they put it out. We’re not really that annoyed about it because they give us so much freedom elsewhere. With the first album for instance, the sleeve’n’all.”

Yeah, I guess so. Actually with this whole elaborate concept some people are under the impression that you’re the first thinking man’s metal band! Tommy: “Ha! Ha! I don’t know about that.”

Jeff: “We’re not wise at all man!”

Tommy: “We’re into the concept that’s all. We’re not philosophers at all. It’s just that the concept appealed to us with the comparisons between rock’n’roll and Tesla. Rock’n’roll is electric and Nikola Tesla was an underdog in the science world just like rock’n’roll is in the music world.”

I understand it was all Cliff Burnstein, your co-manager’s idea? Tommy: “Yeah, but Tom Zutaut, A&R man at Geffen, also had something to do with it too. They’d both been in a book store reading all about it a year before and it suddenly sparked in Cliff’s mind to suggest it to us.”

What kind of names had you, as a band, come up with previously? Tommy: “Tuff Luck. Now there’s a band with that name. Rock Holland. We came up with some fucked up names!”

Jeff: “Remember Hammer Lane? Ha! Ha! We were getting ready to do the album and we were cruising down this four lane street called Hammer Lane and I suggested it as a name. That was as bad as it was getting!”

I’ve noticed you’re one of the few bands who can get away with the no image thing and just get a reputation with your music. Jeff: “Well it was either that or nothing.”

Tommy: “We’re not into all that dressing up weird and shit. We like rock’n’roll and we’re just dudes… who don’t look like ladies! That’s our show.”

Has your record company or management tried to dress you up? Jeff: “No, completely the opposite. Now and then we might go to a store and find a neat little jacket we like or something, but it’s nothing like Poison or anything.”

Do you listen to any glam stuff? Jeff: “Sure, we listen to everything; Ratt, Dokken, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Def Leppard…”

How about the, uh, heavier stuff? Tommy: “Yeah, I’m into that fuckin’ heavy shit!”

Jeff: “I don’t listen to it, though I’ve got nothing against it. I like Metallica though. I can only handle thrash if it’s a controlled type of thrash.”

Tommy: “You have to be able to have some humour about it, you can’t get seriously into it. I don’t dwell on it. I like to laugh with it… it makes me happy. The lyrics and stuff crack me up. Metallica has a little bit more of a message though, and I think that’s good.”

What sort of message do you think that is? Tommy: “How kids feel rebellious and stuff, and I just feel Metallica are an extension of it, that’s all. It think it’s good, it’s healthy.”

How about the Christian metal stuff? Tommy: “I don’t like that. I think the feeling of rock’n’roll is much more sleazier than talking about God. I don’t think it connects. But I don’t like Satanic bands either.”

Have you had any trouble with the PMRC yet? Jeff: “Never talked to ’em Dave! If they call me up I’ll tell ’em what I think though.”

Tommy: “Our message doesn’t get controversial. Our songs are more true to life.”

Jeff: “‘Modern Day Cowboy’, for instance, was inspired by reading and watching the news. This was around the time there were terrorist attacks and planes getting blown up. What got me thinking was when I was watching old westerns and gangster movies on TV, and I saw these three stages as to how the modern day cowboy has developed. Now the weapon is just a button. A nuclear assault. The evolution of violence. We put it all in the video.”

Tell me more about Nikola Tesla. Has anybody related to him been in touch with you yet? Jeff: “No, but we did go to Colorado Springs where his laboratory was. It was one of the first places in America that had electricity. They had a real love / hate relationship for him, because he gave them electricity but whenever he would experiment he’d cause a power blackout. His laboratory isn’t there anymore but there is a sign that says where it stood. We felt the buzz that’s where it was!”

I understand he was possibly murdered by the CIA or something? Tommy: “Yeah, there’s a lot of weird stories. He was a weird guy, a real eccentric.”

Jeff: “He used to frighten people way back when because this guy was talking about things back then that some of ’em haven’t even been applied yet. This guy was talking about satellites and turbine engines on a jet at a time when they barely had planes. Well, he was just way ahead of his time and people were scared of him.”

Sounds like some of those stupid TV evangelists and senators’ wives when faced with the booming thrust of supersonic heavy rock! There’s a strong chance that Tesla could, in fact, zoom back for a quick headline visit in the UK early next year following the all-round success of the support shows with Leppard. They rocked, didn’t they kids?!

There’s more to come. Don’t touch that dial, don’t tamper with the mechanics. I’m off for a pizza.

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 26 (1987)