Tesla took a lot of people by surprise when their seventh studio album, Simplicity, debuted just outside of the top 20, selling over 13,000 copies. Their first album in six years, it doesn’t deviate that far from the relatively straightforward heavy rock that netted them a string of gold and platinum albums in the ’80s and ’90s. We caught up with guitarist Frank Hannon about the new album, running their own label and being lumped in with hair metal bands in the ’80s.
Simplicity had a great first week, which probably took some by surprise. What were your expectations going into the recording of the new album?
As far as sales go, I didn’t have any expectations because things have changed so much in the industry but we have such a loyal fan base. We have a pretty solid, hardcore, loyal fan base and I knew that at least those people would buy it. There has been some buzz about the record because we’ve been setting it up pretty good. Our loyal fans bought it right out of the gate, but I don’t think it’s done yet. I really believe that this album has a lot of longevity because there are some really good songs on it. I’m really proud of the songwriting.
It seems like there is so much hype in a lot of bands putting out new records and this was genuine support by your fans.
Our band is very blessed in that sense, like I said our fans are diehard fans they are really loyal. I think it’s because our songs, lucky for us, somewhere along the line, in the ’80s our singer really made the conscious decision to write lyrics that were really from his heart and not fabricated or cheesy. The lyrical messages that he wrote about, like in “What You Give,” “Hang Tough,” “Love Song” and stuff like that, made the fans feel good so they became very loyal.
You’ve been releasing albums on your own label for a couple or records now right?
Yes, I have a label called RedHawk Records. I’m really pretty busy all the time, but I’m slowing down on my side projects right now with the release of Simplicity and all that. I have released a few solo albums and I’ve produced a couple different artists.
How have you found running a label as well as being in a band?
It’s a lot of work. Our soundman, Steve, and I were having a conversation on the way home last night about how lucky we are. We are definitely lucky because we are living the dream and we are doing what we love to do but there is a lot of work that goes into it as far as coordinating things, organizing time, planning, keeping track of people and trying to get people to get along and stay together. There is a lot of work involved in it and you have to try to manage that and try not to overdo it. Especially if you have a family and a home and everything, which we have all those things now at our age. We are all older guys with families.
Getting back to that, the making of Simplicity, we had to really plan our time and make a plan and stick to it. That’s what I’m really most proud of. Brian Wheat, the bass player, and myself co-managed the band and we said to ourselves, “Look, we have to have a record done by the summer of 2014, in order to go over to Europe and do the festivals on time and do Download Festival.” So we set that date, June of 2014, as when the record has to come out. My father used to tell me, “You have to set a goal, and then plan backwards.” So that’s what we did. We planned every step, from the release date backwards. In November we planned two trips to our buddy Tom Zutaut’s house, who lives out in the middle of nowhere. We go there just for writing, nothing else, just write ideas and collaborate. Then we planned for two weeks to come back in January after we’ve written as much as we can to rehearse, practice and do some pre-production because I was really adamant about this record being recorded live in the studio. In order to do that, you can’t go into the studio cold turkey. You have to practice, at least for two weeks before you go in. So we had to plan that on a calendar. We had to really plan that and get commitments from every guy in the band because, “This is what we are doing and you have to stick to it.” That’s what we did back in the old days. On the first album, the reason Mechanical Resonance sounds so good is because we had been playing those songs live in the clubs for years. So we planned two weeks of pre-production. Then we planned four weeks of recording, two weeks of mixing and we wrote it down on a calendar and we stuck to it. I’m very proud that we pulled it off because at our age, with all the stuff we have going on in our lives, it’s very difficult.
With Tesla’s Electric Company Recordings label, how important was it to establish your own label as opposed to rely on being on a major?
It was very important. Nowadays, we do everything ourselves. Everything from the artwork, to manufacturing our own t-shirts and we try to do it the most cost-effective way. We know that it’s going to get done most effectively if we are doing it ourselves. So we decided to take that over. We’ve been screwed over and lost so much money over the years so we decided that now is the time to take it over. Especially with the internet, YouTube and the computer where you can do everything yourself now.
You’re still working, with eOne on this. How’s that working out so far?
It’s fantastic, because that is a case where you can’t do it yourself, with the distribution and the team of people that can get the record and put it in stores properly and help us put together press releases and set up interviews like the one we are doing now. On that level, we delegated all that stuff for eOne and we made a partnership with them. But on the level of producing the album, having complete creative control, that’s all in our hands. It’s a perfect marriage.
Tesla was initially lumped in with hair metal, which you never claimed to be. Are there other bands you feel that were lumped in that genre as well?
It was the era. It was the 80s. It was so hard to avoid the style of it. We all had long hair and tight jeans and stuff, but, for us because we came from Sacramento, which was a small town kind of removed from everything, we were more like hometown boys. Like I said, our singer, the lyrics that he wrote, didn’t have a hair metal vibe to them and our songs, some of them, have a little bit of country, southern rock kind of flair. We are really influenced by Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones. I think Tesla is more like The Black Crowes, that kind of vibe.
I don’t disagree.
As for other bands that are unfairly lumped in, I really don’t know about that. I know Cinderella is a great rock n roll band.
Agreed on them as well. They’re really just a rock band, but because they dressed a little bit glammy…
And the name Cinderella. They started off as a glam band, but then they tried to change it midstream, unfortunately. They are a great band. They have great songs and I love Tom Keifer. Man, I was looking at some pictures of Mötley Crüe the other day and I was like, “Good God, I’m so glad we never did that shit.”
What’s touring been like so far? Are you finding younger generations out there?
Well those loyal fans that I was telling you about are bringing their kids and grandkids to our shows now. We’ve had a little bit of exposure on Guitar Hero and a little bit here and there like Grand Theft Auto. Kids are very smart. I have teenage kids and they are listening to music that’s not even on the radio. They are searching out quality, underground indie bands and stuff. As far as touring for Tesla, we can draw about 1,000 people minimum in every town we go to so we are very blessed for that. Right now the band is on fire because we are so excited about playing new songs in the set.
How many songs from the new album are you playing?
Right now we are playing three. We are playing “So Divine…,” “MP3,” and “Ricochet.” In January we are planning to release “Life Is a River” and we are probably going to make a new video for that.
How important do you find the music video in this day in age?
I think it’s very important because people are on YouTube, man. VH1 is still pretty cool. I think videos are great. It’s exposing the band; people want to see the band. Like if we have a video, you can put it on your site, right?
I think videos are cool.