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Tesla Working on New Album, Live and Acoustic Recordings

By BRIAN HEATON

Tesla, circa 2008-2009Reuniting in 2000 after a tense five-year breakup, Tesla spent the last decade making up for lost time. The band toured relentlessly and released eight different recordings, including two studio albums and a live DVD. And while Tesla is enjoying some well-deserved downtime from the road in 2010, the Sacramento-based group remains busy, writing songs for a new album.

"We got together last week, me, Frank [Hannon, guitars] and Jeff [Keith, vocals] and put together a song, so we've got one in the can," revealed Tesla bassist Brian Wheat. "Troy [Lucketta, drums] and Dave [Rude, guitars] will come in and we'll cut the track and fire up the engines again in 2011."

Although it was too early in the process for Wheat to give many details about the forthcoming studio effort, the bassist did say that the new Tesla record would be entirely self-written. In contrast, Tesla's latest release, Forever More, was co-written with producer Terry Thomas -- a collaboration designed to help recapture some of the crossover appeal Tesla enjoyed in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

The experiment ultimately did not pan out, leading to a change in approach for the next record.

"We tried taking a shot to bring the band back to the time of Psychotic Supper and being on every radio station," Wheat said. "Unfortunately, radio doesn't want to embrace Tesla like they used to. It didn't work out the way we hoped."

In addition to writing a new slate of original tunes, Tesla is hard at work on two separate live records. The first, tentatively titled Live Across Europe, is made up of live recordings solely from Tesla's shows overseas the past few years. An American version also is in the works, highlighting songs performed in the United States.

Wheat admitted it's not something commonly done, but felt it was a necessary step in acknowledging the support Tesla receives overseas.

"I could have just done one big live record, but I wanted the European fans to have their own piece of Tesla," Wheat said. "We completely ignored them from 1991-2006, although we go there a lot now. I just wanted to say 'hey look, this one is for you.'"

According to the bassist, Live Across Europe will feature a more "hits-oriented" roster of songs, whereas the United States release will focus on some of Tesla's more obscure cuts.

"There will be some overlap, but not much," Wheat said, regarding the songs on each album. "Americans got the DVD, Comin' Atacha Live 2008 and that had a lot of hits. So the American [live album] will have stuff we haven't played in a long time or played ever."

Tesla, circa 2008If live material isn't your thing, perhaps a revisit to Tesla's acoustic days is. Right after the group finished its acoustic tour in 2005, Tesla hit the studio to record a number of songs acoustically. The material is also noteworthy because it contains the last recordings of Tesla with original guitarist Tommy Skeoch, whom Rude replaced in 2006.

That music will finally see the light of day at some point in the near future.

"Our biggest selling record is Five Man Acoustical Jam and it is the worst sounding album we [have] ever made," Wheat said, revealing the genesis behind the upcoming studio-quality acoustic release. "Hardcore fans will want that last stuff with Tommy, so we're going to put that out. It's a little sloppy, but it's a snapshot where we were when we finished the 2005 tour and I think it needs to be out there."

The break between Skeoch and his Tesla bandmates was not an amicable one. Hampered for years by alleged drug addiction, rumors circulated wildly in 2006 that chemical dependency was once again affecting Skeoch's ability to play. Later that year, Rude replaced Tommy, with Tesla citing Skeoch's desire to spend time with his family as the reason for the split.

However, on Feb. 16, 2008, in an interview with The Classic Metal Show, Skeoch broke his silence, performing an exclusive acoustic track titled "I Left the Circus," a satirical shot at his former bandmates, showing some anger about how the situation was handled and the personalities in the band.

"No matter what I say, people will think I am getting down on Tommy," Wheat said, with a hint of frustration in his voice. "Everyone knows there is no love lost between us. Tommy is Tommy."

Rude, however, has filled the void nicely in his four years with Tesla. Found on YouTube by Hannon, Rude played in Hannon's solo band in early 2006 -- a test run for eventually joining Tesla.

"He's a fucking great player," Wheat said of Rude. "Dave is dependable, no drug problems and he is easy as hell to get along with. It's a real win-win with Dave."

The victory for fans, however, will be the long-awaited Tesla box set. Announced a few years ago, Wheat confirmed that the set is still on the radar. Things are in a holding pattern, however, due to a difference in opinion with Universal Music (who owns the rights to the earlier, Geffen Records'-released Tesla material) on ownership of demos from Mechanical Resonance.

Wheat refuses to allow Universal to release a Tesla box set because of what he felt the label did with Tesla Gold, a compilation of hits and rarities put out in 2008. According to the bassist, Universal only shipped 3,000 copies to retailers, making the double-CD hard to find and did very little to support the album. He's adamant that will not happen again.

"You only have one time in your career to do a box set and we want it done right," Wheat maintained. "We've been together almost 25 years and this set needs a certain amount of attention. Tesla had become a classic band and I don't think Universal sees it that way. If I have to put it on my Web site and make them sue me, I'll do that. It'll come out eventually."

Soulmotor Revs Up

Soulmotor logoIn the meantime, 2010 also will spotlight the side projects of Tesla's members. Keith has a country album he's working on, Hannon and Rude are touring with their respective solo bands and Lucketta is busy with his studio in Nashville.

Wheat's attention is on Soulmotor, his band with vocalist Darin Wood. The group, rounded out by guitarist Mike Mathis and drummer Dave Watts, is hard at work on its third album, Wrong Place at the Right Time, which is slated for a May release.

Described by Wheat as "a lot more direct" than the progressive opus Revolution Wheel, Soulmotor's last release, the new album has embraced the roots of its self-titled debut a little closer, which featured the hit "Guardian Angel."

"We are really diggin' the way it is coming out," said Wheat. "When you break down [the songs] on the new album, you hear heavy guitars and dark melodies. [Lyrically], it's like a giant Quentin Tarantino movie with all these unfortunate scenarios."

One thing some fans may view as unfortunate, however, is the departure of guitarist Tommy McClendon. According to Wheat, the ex-UFO axeman simply wanted to do something different.

"I haven't talked to Tommy in some time, [but] he got to a point where he wanted to play music where he could shred in, and me and Darin wanted to write heavy pop songs," the bassist explained. "There was no big fight or anything. We have tons of history together and are great buddies. He wanted to do something else and Darin and I wanted to do Soulmotor."

Despite the lineup change, the rapport between Soulmotor's founders, Wood and Wheat, couldn't be stronger. After listening to "Warlord on 16th Street," a bruising new groove-laden track from the upcoming Soulmotor release, Wheat had no problem summing up the duo's chemistry.

"Darin is the Warlord, he lives on 16th and I'm the King of Midtown," Wheat said with a laugh. "When you put the Warlord with the King of Midtown you get Soulmotor. It's a giant movie brought to you in audio form."

For more on Tesla, visit http://www.teslatheband.com. All photos courtesy of Tesla and Brian Wheat. This article is dedicated in loving memory of Debbie Heaton. May her spirit carry on.


Copyright 2010, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.