Words by Francijn Suermondt / Photos (c) Erik De’Viking
FS – Hello Frank and thank you so much for meeting with me today! I am so looking forward to seeing you play here tonight, you played Download on Friday, have you dried off yet?
FH – Yeah, we were able to stay dry, my friend Charlie from Blackberry Smoke had an umbrella, which we shared! He is very kind, I love Blackberry Smoke, do you know of them?
FS – Yes, I do, they are fabulous! How was your set?
FH – Their set was killer, our set was killer, you know it is very short. We had to narrow down 30 years into 6 songs, that’s very difficult. But we played one new song which is called ‘Tastes Like’ it is off our new record, and it is very upbeat, up tempo, and then the rest of them were the classics like ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ Little Suzi’ and ‘Love Song’. stuff like that.
FS – Good reception from the crowd?
FH – Yeah considering it was early in the day. You know I stayed till the very end, watching Def Leppard and it was just so amazing how many people were there, it is just mind blowing!
FS – I have seen you play only once in 2009 at Download and it was the Sunday morning, the sun came out, it was absolutely heaving, I had two guys in front of me with wigs on, I said please, please, please, I can’t see! I have been waiting to see Tesla since I was about 18, can you please move! And they let me go in front of them bless them. You guys were the best band there that weekend. Your set was just brilliant!
FH – Wow, thank you!
FS – So obviously, Def Leppard were on the bill too, and Phil Collen as produced and co-written your new album.
FH – Phil Collen was very instrumental in us making this new record. The last record ‘Simplicity’ was very difficult to make on our own. And we probably would not have made another record for a while. Phil was very motivating and very positive in his love and energy for our band. I think Phil wants to get involved with producing more artists and so we were his test subject!
FS – But you are such good pals, aren’t you? I mean he has done work with you before….
FH – Yes, we have known Phil for ever and all of the guys at Def Leppard have been so good to us for many years since 1987, when we toured with them over here on the Hysteria tour when it first came out. When Hysteria was released, we did the first leg of the tour with them. Even during our hard times when Tesla had broken up, I had another band and I called Def Leppard’s management and they allowed my other group to open for them, so they have always been so supportive!
FS – And talking of supportive, you really were the mentor for Dave Rude and the reason he joined the band weren’t you.
FH – Yes I found Dave, I had been searching for a permanent replacement, as we had a had a couple of guys come in and out over the years as unfortunately our original guitarist couldn’t keep it together and it was a long search and I finally found Dave and I was jumping for joy, cos I knew he was going to be the permanent guy we needed!
FS – Well that enthusiasm of his is second to none and the way you guys battle which each other on the stage is amazing. You love it don’t you, you really feed off each other!
FH – He has a great energy and you know 99% of anything in live is your approach, your attitude and your energy and he has very great energy.
FS – Yes, he is a good man. I interviewed him over the phone a couple of months ago and he was just very generous, like you are being to me now, and thank you both for that. The new album ‘Shock’ is wonderful! A lot of people are raving about it and what I really loved, as I lived in LA at the beginning of 1990, were that the songs ‘California Summer Song’ and ‘Love is a Fire’ were really evocative of that time for me. I sort went back to LA in my head when I heard those songs. You have really kept the old school Tesla sound, but you update it for modern times and keep it fresh, how easy is it to do that?
FH – Again, Phil definitely kept pushing us to keep it fresh and test the boundaries of our production. We had never done so much multi tracking and singing and really detailing the music, you know we have always kept very raw. And did get a bit of a backlash from our old diehard fans for doing that, but I guess if you need to ruffle people’s feathers, you need to ruffle them up you know?
FS – You are not going to please everybody all of the time
FH – Yeah and we challenged ourselves more, Phil challenged us more, but we did keep the spirit of the lyrics with ‘Love Is A Fire’ and kept positive messages in the lyrics.
FS – Definitively and actually I disagree with those that have not been happy with it as I think you still have the roots of Tesla there and just because it has been produced extremely well, that should not take anything away for that fact
FH – Hey, you know we are not going to make the same record over and over again.
FS – So let me ask you this, what do you think makes the perfect rock track?
FH – The perfect rock track? Well I mean melody, groove…there are all kinds of ingredients. Storyline, vocals, guitar licks, but the energy and the spirit are really important. You can tell when a song is jammed live and the band is performing well together, it doesn’t matter so much about the sound quality, if it makes you feel good, then it is the perfect track. That’s why ‘All Right Now’ by Free is still a great classic rock track or ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, or Van Halen ‘Running with The Devil’ when you hear that it just has a spirit to it.
FS – Yes and the fact that you can feel that, at that time (I think Van Halen were getting on ok then!) the band are just loving playing together! What I love about your album ‘Shock’ is that it is available digitally, on cd and on vinyl, vinyl really seems to be coming back big time. Do you think this will continue as a trend?
FH – Well yeah, especially us that remember the joy of getting a vinyl product and the joy of going to a record store and holding the record in your hand. So, a lot of people that are buying vinyl are those that remember it back then.
FS – Yes but also a lot of youngsters too….
FH – Yes, I am so glad for that, because soon the younger generation are not going to even know what a photo album is you know, or a picture frame on a wall. Because it’s all on the phone and there is nothing that replaces a beautiful print, you know …. your photographer friend over there (big up to Erik De’Viking), he knows what I’m talking about! The art of printing out a black and white picture, there is nothing that replaces that. And for me with music, that is what a vinyl LP is, it’s artwork.
FS – And so, when you think back to when you were a rock band and you were sort of playing Sunset Strip or other areas in the USA and look at how technology has changed would rather be a band starting out then or now?
FH – Well, gosh, I feel very, very lucky that we came out when we did. It was so much fun, the era of what we did back then, you know I would not want to do it now. The flipside is that now with the technology we have so much freedom independently to be creative. It’s easier to be creative now and it is a little easier to get your music out, but of course everyone’s expectations have changed. You have a phone in the palm of your hand and you can just click to listen to the music. Everything is done so fast now and over quickly now. You know we could spend months making a beautiful video and put it out and a week later it’s old hat.
FS – And can I ask you about the inspirations behind the stories for the ‘Shock’ album. Did all the band members have a hand in writing the tracks?
FH – Yeah pretty much and Phil was the mediator or all of it, every song he co-wrote with each of us guys individually.
FS – I think it looks like our time is nearly up now…. I don’t want to get in trouble!
FH – No it’s ok, keep going (whispers – “it’s ok we won’t be in trouble!”)
FS – As you are here in the UK, which UK bands have influenced you most?
FH – Well, you know The Beatles versus The Stones, right? When I was a kid, I love the Rolling Stones, I mean ‘Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out’ is one of my favourite live albums and just the raw roughness of it is great. But since we have been on this trip, I have taken a crash course in The Beatles. I listened to the Beatles, but since we were invited to play at Abbey Rd Studios last week, I have just been studying them and blown away by the Beatles. So those two are the top and then there is the British Wave of Metal music, like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Saxon!
FS – Yeah, I LOVE Saxon!
FH – Me too! And Queen. Then, I know Scorpions are not British, but they are European band and for an American kid it was still in the import European section of the record store. The Scorpions were a really big influence, you know ‘Black Out’, ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ and ‘Still Loving You’…. All those great songs. It all comes down to songs, so if it is The Beatles or the Stones or Scorpions or Def Leppard, its songs that matter.
FS – What other personal projects do you have going on apart from Tesla?
FH – We all dabble in solo albums and side projects, my last one was a covers album, which had twenty songs. But right, now I am having a break from the solo stuff.
FS – So how do you relax when you get home from a tour?
FH – I enjoy my animals and I love my horses! My wife and I work together with horses and we train them and exercise them. We go out on these long rides and round up cattle and we work with cows and horses together…. cowboy stuff! You have to be fully present when you are around horses, so you can’t be thinking about music or bills or other things. The horses rely on you, they actually train you, we don’t train the horses, the horses really train us to be leaders and to be consistent. In the wild, that’s what they rely on, body language and each other, a horse will rely on another horse to lead it, and so that is the magic of being around horses when you are a human. They make you better yourself as a person.
FS – Wow! Well I keep roller pigeons, when they fly, they do back ward somersaults in air, they are amazing!
FH – Wow! Cool! That’s neat! Jeff loves pigeons!
FS – Cool but also a bit weird I know!
FH – You know Mike Tyson keeps pigeons
FS – Yes, he loves to race them from his roof!
FS – Lastly, you have so many classic songs, which is your favourite to play live?
FH – I would say probably ‘Love Song’ or ‘What You Give’, from the new album there is a song called ‘Tied to The Tracks’ …. We open our show with that now and I really enjoy that.
FS – As I was early to come and interview you today, I thought I would ask people in the queue for your show, what they would love to ask you. Time and time again they said ‘Why don’t Tesla come and play the UK more often?’
FH – You know, we haven’t been able to afford it to be brutally honest. By the time we come over here, as we don’t come over enough, it seems that we lose money every time, for some reason. It could be down to the fact that we have had so many management changes and for some reason we just haven’t been able to afford it! But I would love to come over here more!
FH – Have you got any more off the press news that you would like to tell your fans about? I know you have just had a secret gig at the Abbey Road Studios…are we allowed to tell people about what your secret mission was there?
FH – Yeah! It was for a live recording, which will be coming out next year, live at Abbey Road – the anniversary of five-man acoustical jam. So, half of the record will be songs from that as a tribute and the other half will be new songs done acoustically. We are planning to release it for our 30th Anniversary 1990 to 2020!
FS – OK! And will that include a tour over here?
FH – Yes, we will do some dates around that celebration yeah!
FS – YAY!!!! Thank you for speaking to me today Frank!
FH – Thank you it’s been fun!
While you’re here, why not check out our live review of the gig!