Former Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer refuses to be kept down. He has battled lawsuits and vocal paralysis to come back strong with his second solo album Rise, which came out on September 13 via Cleopatra Records.
Keifer was discovered by the likes of both Gene Simmons of KISS and Jon Bon Jovi and became the driving force behind 80’s glam/hard rock powerhouse Cinderella. He was the songwriter responsible for hits like Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone), Nobody’s Fool, Gypsy Road and Shake Me among others.
After the Cinderella album Heartbreak Station, Keifer lost his voice due to paralysis of the left vocal cord and underwent several operations. He eventually had to retrain himself how to sing in order to combat the issue. Cinderella broke up in 1995, but Keifer formed a solo project. Unfortunately, Keifer then had to deal with legal issues surrounding the release of his first solo record The Way Life Goes. The Way Life Goes Deluxe Edition was finally released October 20, 2017 on Cleopatra Records, which is a compilation of his debut solo album with special artwork and bonus content, including a cover of The Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends, which is a staple at Keifer’s live performances. It also includes a powerful new take on the Cinderella hit Nobody’s Fool, newly recorded as a duet with Lzzy Hale of Halestorm.
Rise was produced by Tom Keifer, Savannah Keifer and Kyle O’Connor. His band consists of, wife Savannah Keifer, Tony Higbee, Billy Mercer, Kendra Chantelle, Jarred Pope and Kory Myers. It is a very eclectic, emotional and hard hitting album with songs like the groovy Touching the Divine, the weird and dark Untitled, the old school 80’s sound of All Amped Up, and ending with the tender You Believe in Me. Kiefer’s unyielding resilience is evident within the grooves and lyrics on the album.
Keifer tackles his issues head on in the recently released video for The Death Of Me from Rise, which was directed by Vicente Cordero. It depicts a television with various phrases on the screen like “bleeding vocal cords” and “lawsuit no new album.” Then Keifer comes in and smashes the TV with a guitar. He describes it by saying “A lot of the songs on Rise encouraged people that you can break through your challenges in life. When we made the Death of Me video, we decided on that track because that song really strongly speaks to that. The intro on the television set I wanted to put up some of the things that I’d been through in life by way of example. And it’s just that power of visualization, of destroying your problems.”
He elaborates on how it felt to smash the TV. “I’ve got to say, when I took the guitar to that TV, it really felt good. I encourage other people who watch that video to envision their own challenges and adversity on that screen and imagine yourself destroying them. Because that’s a powerful thing. We all have our stories and what we go through and those are just examples of mine, but everybody wakes up every day and has great things that happened and may also have things you have to overcome. So a lot of this music on this record speaks to that. Even watching the video for Death of Me now I feel like I’m past those things and I’ve talked about them a lot in the press and nothing felt as good as coming out with a new song where the topic is overcoming challenges, and to open it with something where I’m smashing the ones from my past. Not to say that I’m not going to have challenges moving forward because life can always be hard, but it was cathartic.”
Keifer discusses why he decided to be so open about his struggles in the video. “It’s all of that stuff’s been pretty publicized in the press and I’ve talked about all those things in interviews before, from my voice struggles to the couple of legal battles with the, we’ll call it the music industry, that have just gotten in the way and some other health challenges that I’ve had with multiple hospitalizations from dehydration and stuff from the shows that’s all on the screen and it’s all been out there. And so I knew that people would be familiar with that so they could relate to it as something real. But, like I said, that’s just my story, it’s just one example. Everybody has a story. Hopefully the video inspires people trying to overcome what they’re up against in life.”
Keifer is very humble about his accomplishments in the face of such adversity. “I love life and I love what I do. I’ve been playing guitar and singing since I was eight years old. So, yeah, I mean the determination is a big part of it and of course there’s that, but I think there’s people walking down the street every day that you see that are very determined in overcoming things that are equally as hard and that’s part of the human spirit and it’s also part of the human condition that we have to constantly overcome. We’re all kind of living the same life in my opinion.”
The title track to the album Rise is a very epic tune. It is also a collaboration with Thompson Square, the married country music duo of Shawna and Keifer Thompson. One might wonder how that came about. Keifer responds, “they are friends of ours here in Nashville, and they’re great, great songwriters and, and I had written a couple of tunes times with them. People do that here in Nashville. We just get together and write, and see what happens. And one thing led to another and Savannah and I ended up writing with them and the end result was Rise. It’s been one of those ones we’ve just been hanging on to when it was time to pick songs for the record. That one just felt great. We loved the chorus of it, the simplicity of it and the message in the song and it very quickly became the one that we felt would be a good title track. It kind of sums up the feeling throughout a lot of the songs on the record.”
Another really great song on the new album is Touching the Divine. The band released a beautiful lyric video which highlights the powerful message. Keifer describes, “We wrote that with Kendra Chantelle who’s one of our bandmates. She’s a vocalist, and sings with us and plays percussion. She’s also a great writer and I think that was a really easy song for the three of us to write because of the three of us have kind of leaned on our faith. I think that what’s divine to one person is different to another person. I think we all have things that we kind of lean on or look to in life in times of trouble when there’s darkness and they’re the things that ultimately lift us to a better place or a higher places as the lyric says. I feel like that song is a little bit of a theme song for our band because when our band came together, and it’s been pretty much from day one, everyone felt like the band found them at the right time, myself included. And if you ask anyone in the band about when the band came together, we were all at our own individual kind of crossroads or a place in life where we needed something new, something to inspire us. We’ve all been an inspiration to each other the six years that we’ve been together, six or seven years, we’ve been on this journey together and we’ve individually watched each other have challenges in life and help each other through them and had each other’s backs. Ultimately, we feel that this band has brought us all to a better place in our lives. So it’s kind of… I think that one’s a little bit of a theme song for our band. We opened the show with that one. Now that’s the first song of the night.”
In contrast, All Amped Up is the fun song on the album. Keifer tells us if it will become a single, “I’m seeing more and more people saying that’s a favorite, and so possibly, yeah, we’re gonna be shooting some more videos and working on some more singles. So that’s absolutely a possibility. I really loved that song. I think that’s one actually that’s kind of outside of the common theme of the record. That’s one of the tracks. It’s just a fun rock song about just cranking it up and having a good time. Very much a contrast to The Death of Me or Rise.”
The Tom Keifer Band is an ensemble of versatile artists ranging from an American Idol semi-finalist (Chantelle) to former Beasto Blanco drummer (Pope), Keifer explains how he assembled his band, “Well the first record, The Way Life Goes when it was released, there was no band. The record was recorded with session players and it took a long time to make it. It started out not really being a record. Savannah and I were just kind of writing stuff during the period of one of the lawsuits. The next thing we knew, we had something that felt like a record and before we could blink we had a record deal for it and they were talking about releasing it and wanting us to go on tour. So we formed the band then to go out on tour and support The Way Life Goes, and obviously the criteria putting it together will be that we wouldn’t just be doing that. It was the new songs and playing a lot of the old favorite Cinderella stuff too, which was a big part of my life and I still love performing. So you know, night one of auditions, and the energy just really felt great with this band and it’s continued for six years to grow on the road and that energy and chemistry is not just on stage, but in the studio, and also we just really get along well. And that’s really important when you’re creating, being able to communicate with each other and you’re honest with each other. We have each other’s backs and that’s really been meaningful to all of us in the situation.”
The amazing chemistry of the band led to Keifer taking the new group into the studio. “The new album Rise was recorded with this band. There’s no outside musicians or session players on it. We got off the road last year and Savannah and I had already collected a bunch of song ideas since we’ve been working on the last few years and we thought it was just time to make a record and we really didn’t waste any time. I mean we ended our tour and booked the studio and kind of locked ourselves up for a couple of months in this small tight room where we were all set up together right in each other’s faces. And we just put the headphones on to record and look each other in the eye. And it just kind of really went for a performance vibe, if you will, because we are fresh off of six years of touring. So that energy and chemistry was there and that’s what we were trying to capture in the studios. This record, of course there’s overdubs on it, but I would say it’s the least amount of overdubs that I’ve ever done on the record because we really performed live and we did our best to preserve as much of that as we could. Even some of my lead vocals are from the actual tracking sessions. We wanted to preserve the raw live energy and not over producer it, so that was the goal.”
The video for the title track from Rise really captures the vibe that Keifer is describing here. It features the whole band playing together in a room with Kiefer playing a white piano. It is quite different from The Death of Me video. Keifer explains why that is: “We were trying to do something that felt like just a 180 from The Death of Me video. We actually shot those videos on back to back days. The Death of Me first and then the next day we were in, in the other room, doing Rise. And it was intentional that they be different. The Death of Me is very deep, very dark and then Rise would be more bright. When we saw that room with the white piano, it was just sort of simple and bright and so it was a great contrast to the first video. We just wanted the song to speak for itself and kind of capture the energy of the band performing it in more of an uplifting kind of look video-wise, so that white room just felt right for the song, and the fact that they had that gorgeous white piano sitting there too, and we thought ‘This place is perfect.’”
Keifer shares his approach to writing music, “I just think when you’re creating music, writing songs, it starts with writing the songs, and those are really just emotions that pop into your head or thoughts. I always write from the place of lyrics first, and then you’re constantly analyzing your thoughts during the day and thinking, ‘is this a song or is this not a song?’ And certain lines or little lyrics and melodies pop into your head and kind of stick with you and you ultimately write them. And then the next phase or the next step in the process is to record them. That’s the point where you decide what the sound is going to be. If you’re true to the lyrics with the song itself, the lyric dictates what the energy of the song is. So a song like You Believe in Me, Savannah actually wrote that lyric and handed it to me. As I read it, instantly the lyrics were saying to me, this needs to be a heavy, dark, angsty, high energy song. When you’re creating you don’t think about what other people are going to think. You think about doing what’s right for the song. The flip side of that is when I wrote You Believe in Me, as I was reading those lyrics back I thought, ‘well, these songs are saying that these lyrics to me should be very intimate. It should be very private. They should be stripped down.’ And it was obviously an acoustic guitar song. You don’t really think about the sound and what other people are going to say about it. If you’re being true to the song you recorded, any emotion that really feels right for the song makes sense. And that’s always kind of a first thought. Then when you’re done with it, you hope people like it. I mean they’re rock songs and I have a guitar style and a voice style that is mine, so when I perform the songs, there’s a sound there that’s going to be there regardless of how we present the song. So I think that’s part of the sound people are going to be familiar with. I think that the vocals and the guitar sound has a stamp that kind of makes it similar regardless of how we’re presenting the track, but you approach every record differently.”
Tom Keifer Band are just wrapping up a U.S tour and plan to take a break before going out on the road again next year: “As far as touring, I think we’re gonna wind down because we’ve been just really burning the candle at both ends for six years and then we went straight into recording and making videos. We’re going to tour a little bit more in October this year, and then we’re planning to be out next year behind the record after we take a little bit of a break.”
Keifer says that being on the road has been amazing, despite some health issues, and he is always grateful to have loyal fans: “We love what we do and we’re very grateful to be able to go out and do it and that there’s fans to come out and support it. Playing live is just one of my favorite aspects of the music that is, shall we say, has always has been there. Creating the records are too, but there’s kinda like different seasons. We came off the road last year it was like now it’s time to create a record. And it was like a whole different gear. We shift into a whole different place and go into a new world mentally. When we were done with all that and got back out on the road it was like ‘cool man.’ Kind of like that release playing live again. There’s not a day that I wake up and don’t feel very grateful for our loyal fans that have been loyal from day one and it’s continued through with this new adventure. Every time you walk on stage I’m just really grateful. It’s a big rock and roll party and everyone’s having a good time singing the songs and I feel very fortunate.”