INTERVIEW AND LIVE PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Tesla is an American hard rock band formed in Sacramento in 1982. The band has released 7 studio albums including multiplatinum sellers THE GREAT RADIO CONTROVERSY and MECHANICAL RESONANCE. The band broke up in 1995 but returned to stages in 2000. INTO THE NOW followed in 2004 and since then the band has been actively touring and recording. The latest Tesla album SIMPLICITY was released in early June 2014 and at that time the band performed at the Sweden Rock festival where I had a pleasure to sit down with the bands bassist and founding member Brian Wheat and discuss various topics including the new album, touring, and the bands disputed split with guitarist Tommy Skeoch in 2006. Read on!
Metal-Rules.com: Here we are in Swedenrock festival and this is your second time in here. But you have never played in Finland which is a pity. I can’t hesitate to ask, why you never made it to Helsinki?
Brian Wheat: I don’t know. We’ve been in Copenhagen but we haven’t been to Helsinki. They haven’t asked us to come and play, I don’t know why.
Metal-Rules.com: In fact, Tesla is one of those big 80’s American hard rock bands that never toured much in Europe, not even in the band’s early days. What was the reason for that?
Brian Wheat: Yeah. Unfortunately, the last time we came to Europe was in ’91 and we did the whole European tour with the Scorpions. And then we broke up in ’95, and when we put out BUST A NUT in ’94. Kind of the climate had changed and grunge came in, so no one want to know about us in Europe at all. In America we still did really well, we sold three quarters a million albums, but we were still considered over because of grunge. And then we broke up and then we got back together in 2000, and we spent four years trying to just figure out if we are going to be a band again. What we were going to do? If we were just going to play in the summers and the hits? And then in 2004 we did, “INTO THE NOW.” And then we started coming back to Europe in 2006. So, we’ve been over five, six times now but we’ve never been in Finland. So, I don’t know why. I mean, we are here but no one has asked us, “Hey come play Finland.” Or, “Come play Helsinki.” Is there a Finnish festival?
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, there are a few.
Brian Wheat: How come they haven’t asked us? They do not like the kind of music Tesla plays maybe?
Metal-Rules: In Finland, the festivals are about, as a rule, either extreme metal or mainstream pop. There are not too many hard rock/traditional metal bands playing on those festivals.
Brian Wheat: So, Tesla probably doesn’t fit? And that’s probably why we don’t go, because Tesla is a melodic hard rock band. And even if we Tesla goes our own, we kind only played to a 100 people and that’s why we won’t come.
Metal-Rules.com: A few weeks ago we had UFO and House of Lords in Finland and they both played for 150 to 200 people. That’s the reality nowadays.
Brian Wheat: But UFO going from England to Finland is a lot easier than Tesla going from California to Finland. So, that’s probably why. But it’s not on purposes, if someone offered us to come. If we could make it work financially, I’m sure we would.
Metal-Rules.com: There is always some exceptions. A few years ago Cinderella came to Helsinki for the first time, and sold nearly a thousand tickets.
Brian Wheat: Were they big in Finland?
Metal-Rules.com: In the 80’s they were quite popular, but so were many other hard bands.
BACK TO LIFE
Metal-Rules.com: Like you mentioned earlier, the band was put back together in 2000 and you had lot pf discussions about what you were going to do with the band. Was it after all easy decision to start working new material instead of playing the old hits only and be a nostalgia act?
Brian Wheat: Once we got back together, we started playing some shows. It was always like let’s make another album, just pick up where we left off. So, it was never like let’s just play the hits. No, never. And we are still on; we’ve made three studio albums since then. We have new one coming out next week and it’s called SIMPLICITY.
Metal-Rules.com: In fact, I was trying to get advanced copy of it and listen to it before this interview but it didn’t happen.
Brian Wheat: Fuck, that’s too bad. Frontiers… you know?
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah I know…But about SIMPLICITY, how would you describe briefly that album?
Brian Wheat: I don’t know. To me it sounds like Tesla, its people like you who say, “It sounds like this, it sounds like that.” But to me it just sounds like Tesla. I think some people think it’s a bit more raw than FOREVER MORE or INTO THE NOW. A bit more like the first album, in terms of not a lot of over dubs and stuff. Yeah. This one maybe is a bit more like the first album, I don’t know.
Metal-Rules.com: Who produced the album this time?
Brian Wheat: It’s produced by the band itself and Tom Zutaut, the guy who discovered us. Michael Wagener mixed it. Michael is great, a good guy.
Metal-Rules.com: Do you have any plans to make promo videos for some songs from the album?
Brian Wheat: Yeah. There is a new video coming out for the first track of the album, it’s a song called “So Divine”. We will play it today. And we will play another new track called “MP3”, so will play two tracks today. So, you will know the tracks.
Metal-Rules.com: When we will see another live album or DVD from Tesla?
Brian Wheat: A live DVD? Maybe next year, maybe after all these record will do another. The last one did really well, did really well. It did really well in America. I don’t know how it did all over here, but in America it did really well. I think the score are there, I’ll live that to them. I think that maybe the next thing would be maybe another live DVD, 2016 or 2017… I don’t know. We are just getting started on this new album, so that’s the next two years to owning up and promoting that.
Metal-Rules.com: Now when the album comes out, what kind of touring plans do you have after that?
Brian Wheat: We are touring all summer, we are here for two weeks doing some festivals and some shows in Europe and then back to America. And the festivals and shows are through the end of September, and then we pick back up in January in America.
Metal-Rules.com: How about a full European tour?
Brian Wheat: I don’t know? Maybe next summer we will come back to play some more festivals and some headline shows.
Metal-Rules.com: What size of venues Tesla does play in America nowadays?
Brian Wheat: Anywhere from like 2000 to 6,000 people and then we do big festivals. They are big, depending on what it is.
Metal-Rules.com: And you’re also doing cruises like the Monsters of Rock Cruise.
Brian Wheat: Yeah. We’ve been doing that for about the last six years. That’s a big boat and we get on it, and there is about 30 bands. And you play two shows, you play an acoustic show and electric show, and it goes up previewing for three or four days. The Tesla fans love us doing it and we enjoy doing it. We are doing it next year again. Every year they ask us to come back.
Metal-Rules.com: About touring in Europe, have you ever been thinking about doing a package tour with some other bands from your genre in here? I think that it would work great?
Brian Wheat: Yeah but promoters have to put it together, that’s the thing.
Metal-Rules.com: But are there some certain bands you would like to tour with?
Brian Wheat: Over here? Queensryche would be good I think with Tesla. I don’t know. Who do you think would be good?
Metal-Rules.com: Hmmm… Night Ranger? Or maybe you should tour with some European bands?
Brian Wheat: With who?
Metal-Rules.com: For example Europe could work?
Brian Wheat: What about UFO?
Metal-Rules.com: They’re a great band too but they’re not selling too many tickets anymore. If they could have Michael Schenker in the band things could be different.
Brian Wheat: And there’s no Pete Way either.
Metal-Rules.com: No. But there is a good reason for that.
Brian Wheat: I know and it’s sad. It’s really sad.
Metal-Rules.com: That’s true but Tesla wasn’t totally clean band either, especially in the late 80’s.
Brian Wheat: Yeah, yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: But you managed to handle it somehow?
Brian Wheat: Yeah, we are alright. It’s all fixed man. You are either out growing or gets the best deal. You’ll see us today, you let me know if we’ve got the best of us or we are ruined. You’d have to decide out. Last time we played in Sweden Rock we had lot of technical difficulties so hopefully today will be fine. We will play a couple of new songs in the arena.
LINE UP TALK
Metal-Rules.com: SIMPLICITY is your second studio album with Dave Rude?
Brian Wheat: Yeah, yeah. But he’s been in the band eight years now. And, it’s actually the third or fourth album as we did the covers record with him.
Metal-Rules.com: So, he’s a full member of the Tesla family.
Brian Wheat: Yeah.
Metal-Rules.com: Do fans still ask about the old line-up?
Brian Wheat: Maybe they ask about Tommy Skeoch. Yeah, of course. Every now and again. Just like the Rolling Stone fans ask about Brian Jones or Mick Taylor.
Metal-Rules.com: What do you think of those questions and what you answer to them?
Brian Wheat: What do I say? It’s no secret, that there is no lost love between me and Tommy Skeoch. He doesn’t have good things to say about me. So, I don’t have good things to say about him. But in spite of all that, he was the guy and he was in the band and I look at it like The Rolling Stones. And it’s the Mick Taylor period for the Tesla. So, I mean, it was like Brian Jones that period.
Metal-Rules.com: But Brian died so it’s not similar situation to yours?
Brian Wheat: Well, to me it’s the same thing. You have to kind of literary cut yourself loose. I liked the time with Tommy; I’d say I loved that time. But it wasn’t working for him, it wasn’t working for us and we parted ways.
Metal-Rules.com: Do you think that if you had not made those changes the band would no longer exist anymore?
Brian Wheat: I don’t think the band could have gone on. That’s the truth. I think it was either, it was going to… A change had to be made. And I don’t know what he would say today about it, because I haven’t spoken to him since the day he left or whatever. Left, asking me. How do you want to put it? But I hope he’s doing well. It’s a shame that we are not friendly, because maybe I’m used to be really friendly. He used to stay at my house, because he lived in a small house… When comes to Sacramento to work with the band he lived with me and my wife. So, we were good buddies and then because I’m the most vocal one in the group when it comes to someone fucking up. So, I became the bad guy. But I just said, “Look! Get it together man.” So, that made me the bad guy. I’ll take that, I’m the bad guy now. But the work he did with the band when he was at his top form, it was great. I’ll never say it wasn’t, but it wasn’t like that in the end. So, there it is. At certain point you can’t, enough has been done and just can’t do it anymore. I think that’s what happened. And Dave is a great guitar player; he’s really easy to get along with. And we still have working guidelines; we’ve been together, me, Frank, Troy and Jeff, over 30 years. Me Frank and Jeff, longer than that. Me and Frank even longer than that. But it’s not that negative element that was there, and that’s I think the major difference I suppose. But it’s been eight years now and I wish the guy all the best.
Metal-Rules.com: Life goes on.
Brian Wheat: Life goes on. But I don’t want to ever play with him again. I’m sure he doesn’t want to play with me, he said enough rotten things about me that why would he want to. So, it’s okay.
Metal-Rules.com: In a way the story, what happened between Tommy and Tesla, it sounds pretty similar to what happened between Jeff Watson and Night Ranger?
Brian Wheat: Jeff, yeah, that’s odd. Because I knew Jeff just from Sacramento, we used to grow up watching Jeff play. And I never knew there was a problem between those guys, I was surprised when Jeff was gone. I never knew but he’s a great player. But I don’t know. Jeff is always, I don’t know. I don’t know what happened, I don’t even know. Who knows?
Metal-Rules.com: Brian, it seems that our time is up now. Thanks for your time and see you on the show soon!
Brian Wheat: No problem and thank you.