INTERVIEW AND LIVE PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
Tesla is an American hard rock band formed in Sacramento in 1982. The band has released seven 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. At that time, the band performed at the Sweden Rock Festival, where I had the pleasure of sitting down with the band’s bassist and founding member Brian Wheat and discussing 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 at the Sweden Rock festival, and this is your second time 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 to 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 wants 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 figure out if we are going to be a band again. What were we going to do? If we were 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 out of our own, we kind only played to 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 are 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 pretty popular, but so were many other hard bands.
BACK TO LIFE
Metal-Rules.com: As you mentioned earlier, the band was put back together in 2000, and you had a lot of discussions about what you were going to do with the band. After all, was it an easy decision to start working on new material instead of playing the old hits only and being a nostalgia act?
Brian Wheat: Once we got back together, we started playing some shows. It was always like, let’s make another album, 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 a new one coming out next week, and it’s called SIMPLICITY.
Metal-Rules.com: In fact, I was trying to get an 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 that album briefly?
Brian Wheat: I don’t know. To me, it sounds like Tesla. It’s 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 rawer than FOREVER MORE or INTO THE NOW. A bit more like the first album, in terms of not a lot of overdubs 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: The band itself produces it 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, and it’s a song called “So Divine.” We will play it today. And we will play another new track called “MP3”, so we will play two tracks today. So, you will know the tracks.
Metal-Rules.com: When will we see another live album or DVD from Tesla?
Brian Wheat: A live DVD? Maybe next year, after all these records, we 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 it did really well in America. I think the score is there, and I’ll live that to them. I think that maybe the next thing would be 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 does Tesla 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 are 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 again next year. 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 unfortunate.
Metal-Rules.com: That’s true, but Tesla wasn’t a totally clean band either, especially in the late ’80s.
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 outgrowing or gets the best deal. You’ll see us today, and you let me know if we’ve got the best of us or we are ruined. You’d have to decide-out. The last time we played in Sweden Rock, we had a 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 for 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 Tommy Skeoch and me. 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 a 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?
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 it comes to Sacramento to work with the band, he lived with my wife and me. 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 was great. I’ll never say it wasn’t, but it wasn’t like that in the end. So, there it is. At a certain point, you can’t.
Enough has been done, and I 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, for 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, what happened between Tommy and Tesla, 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.
LIVE PHOTOS FROM SWEDEN ROCK SHOW!