Interview and Photos by: Robert Cavuoto
The revolutionary California based rockers, Tesla, are currently out on tour this summer with their friends of 30 years; Def Leppard. This is not Tesla’s first trip with Def Leppard as they have been on several tours dating back to 1987 with the Hysteria Tour.
Tesla have been alive and kicking for 30 years with plenty of life still left in them. Most recently they put out a stellar rock solid CD called Simplicity, in 2014 and are already six songs deep with their follow up CD due out in 2017. Producing this new CD is legendary guitarist and good friend of the band, Phil Collen of Def Leppard. Together as they travel across the US they are recording their new CD on buses, in back stage dressing rooms and in hotel rooms. An interesting approach that the band feels is invigorating and has them re-energized.
If the current tour and a new studio CD weren’t enough, the band will be putting out a live CD this July called, Mechanical Resonance Live.
Speaking with Tesla guitarist, Frank Hannon, I can feel the passion and emotion dripping out of the phone as we spoke about making music with his band mates and the new approach they are taking with recording their next CD.
Robert Cavuoto: It’s a pleasure to speak with you again, last we spoke, Simplicity came out and it was 2014.
Frank Hannon: It’s great to be alive after two years. Simplicity was a great CD and we put a lot of work into it.
Robert: Phil told me that he is producing you next CD, how did he become involved and what does he bring to the table for the Tesla?
Frank Hannon: I can tell you it’s been really great to have Phil on board as a musician and not a business person. He has such a passion for Tesla and fan of the band. We’ve had a great relationship with him as we have been friends for 30 years since the Hysteria Tour. When Tesla got back together in 2000 after eight years apart, we did a comeback CD called, Into the Now. I wanted Phil to come in at that point as I had done some dates with Def Leppard in my solo band. It’s really great to me that we are all working together. It’s like you have a great team but if you don’t have the right person motivating the team the team doesn’t do well. Phil is that right coach!
Robert: What does he bring to the table as a musician/producer?
Frank Hannon: He brings creative ideas, energy, and his sense of melody. He also brings openness trying not to limit us. For example, some of the guys in the band would never consider playing blues but Phil suggested that we try a blues jam and it came out great. It’s that type of open mindedness that he brings as a musician. When you have a guy like that working as your producer it helps foster more creativity.
Robert: Phil is a very hard working guy; whenever we speak he is always traveling with his computer and guitar; recording songs and riffs with iRig. Has that translated over to Tesla?
Frank Hannon: We’re doing a lot of work with him on the computer as the technology is amazing and you can get great guitar tones. So far the music we are recording with Phil is guitar rock and roll and we are using the computer to do it.
Robert: Can you talk a little bit about the vision you had going into your next album and how it may compare to Simplicity?
Frank Hannon: I don’t think it will be much different than our other CDs in the sense that the messages and the lyrics will remain positive. The band has always been diverse. I think it’s going to be more focused with Phil motivating us.
Robert: For the recording of Simplicity the band hid out in a studio for 10 days and recorded live. How will this CD be recorded?
Frank Hannon: We will be recording in hotel rooms and dressing rooms while on tour with Def Leppard. It will be more crafted and put together in pieces like a big puzzle. We recorded vocal on tour bus and actually and set up a recording booth on the bus. It’s incredible. We won’t be recording live but some of the jamming during sound check may be recorded.
Robert: How many songs do you have written and/or recorded?
Frank Hannon: We have about six songs right now that we are going to finish in June and then do six more by December.
Robert: Does each member contribute to the writing process?
Frank Hannon: Yeah, we are all submitting pieces and parts.
Robert: Being a professional recording artist is it tougher to record using this approach vs. going into a studio?
Frank Hannon: The pros to doing it this way is we are on the road and your schedule is piece meal which lends itself to the process. In between shows and traveling you put the pieces down when you can. It’s more spontaneous this way. You have a limited amount of time in the dressing room to get to get ideas down and you are keeping it real and fresh. It’s more difficult when you get a band in a room looking at each other for a month arguing over parts. This is more fun for us.
Robert: Your music has always merged hard rock with a commercial sense of melody; tell me about that approach, where did the mixture come from?
Frank Hannon: We have five different elements in the band but the one common denominator which has always been melody. All of us have different input but ultimately the song writing and song structure is at the core of what we do. We may have one song that sounds jazz while another rock out and another has a metal influences. Regardless of the style they always have a melody and positive lyrics.
Robert: Was Tesla’s unique sound formed from experimentation over the years, or was it just a happy accident?
Frank Hannon: I personally don’t think our sound has changed on each CD, it been pretty much the same. Each guy has a different style. We have always incorporated an acoustic mix with electric guitar. Every CD has a little country, rock, and metal. They all have diversity. I don’t think you can point to one of our CDs and say that’s a metal CD or that’s a country CD. Every CD has the same vibe to it. We were experiment with that on our first CD. I put a piano solo on it that sounds like a jazz piece.
Robert: What guitars are you using to record the CD?
Frank Hannon: We tend to stick with Gibson and Fender guitars. They have the most consistent sound. I have been using a Telecaster a lot. We just had one built for us as and it’s a natural body and unfinished without any lacquer on it so the wood has a great sound. I have been getting used to using a Strat again. I have always liked the Humbucker sound but find that the single coil pick-ups give more detail in the notes. I recorded one of the songs the other night with a Strat and was really grooving.
Robert: I saw a photo of you recently and you had a silver sparkle Gibson SG. It looked pretty cool, what is the history behind that guitar?
Frank Hannon: That was a custom shop guitar that I bought from a friend of mine who needed some money. It has a Maestro tremolo bar on it as well. When we jointed the tour I gave it to Vivian Campbell as a thank you. I had a wild hair and wanted to give him a guitar. I’ve had guys give me guitars before and it’s a cool feeling. It’s like a Samurai passing a sword around. Steve Clark gave me an SG in 1987. I wish I still had it as it got stolen. I remember how I felt.
Robert: How have things going with Def Leppard on tour?
Frank Hannon: We have done a bunch of tours with Def Leppard. We did the Hysteria Tour in 1987. This one is going fantastic. We are celebrating a 30 years anniversary as we toured with them 30 years ago and doing it yet again. We are re-releasing our first CD performed live called Mechanical Resonance Live with all live versions. It will be out in July.
It was motivated by Phil as he loved our first CD and though the band was on fire. Last year we recorded every show and we took pieces of it and put them together. Brian Wheat and I produced it. It has a great photo collage. It will have a bonus track. The songs all sound better with more energy like “Changes” and “Too Late for Love.”
Robert: Did you have to revisit Mechanical Resonance and did anything change since it was originally recorded?
Frank Hannon: Yeah, we went back to the first CD and got all the details right. Some have evolved and some had gotten worse [laughing]. We went back and made them better. The song “Cover Queen” we do a jam at the end of it and extended the outro.
Robert: What have you learned from touring with Def Leppard ass seeing them playing live night after night?
Frank Hannon: I remember seeing them as an opening act during High and Dry and they had so much energy, they were so hungry, and on fire. Just taking that and using it to entertain the crowd. That is what we still do today. That’s why they will gravitate towards us.