The Way Things Go With Tom Keifer

Pollstar recently caught up with Cinderella’s Tom Keifer as the finishing touches were being put on the deluxe edition of his debut solo album, The Way Life Goes.

As soon as we started talking it was easy to see that Keifer is really passionate about his new band and his fans. The deluxe edition of The Way Life Goes is a way to celebrate the group of musicians – which Keifer calls “the band that was meant to be” – and a thank you to his fans for supporting him for the past three decades. 

The band features Tony Higbee on guitars and vocals, Billy Mercer on bass and vocals, Paul Simmons on drums and vocals, Paul Taylor on keyboards and vocals, Savannah Keifer on vocals, percussion and piano, and Kendra Chantelle on vocals and percussion.

When Keifer released The Way Life Goes in 2013, following a decade of writing, it was his first new album since Cinderella’s 1994 LP, Still Climbing. Along with fans, music critics were also on board.    

Guitar Player declared that “the record features such vital, vibrant guitar tones and parts that are immediate and honest. They also have that cool, interlocking, layered quality that made so many classic rock albums so, well, classic.”

Los Angeles Daily News praised the rocker’s “amazing, raspy voice and a knack for writing songs that lodge themselves on the brain and refuse to leave for days.”

All Music ended its review by complimenting Keifer as “a musician who’s gotten better at his craft over the years, winding up with the best record he’s ever made.”

A release date for the deluxe edition of The Way Life Goes hasn’t been set but it could be out as soon as this summer. Along with two bonus tracks produced by Vance Powell, the package will include all new art from David Calcano, exclusive interviews with the band, a documentary about the extra tunes, a DVD with video extras, and the original album remastered by Richard Dodd.

Photo: Tammy Vega

How’s the tour been going so far?

We’ve had some really great shows. It’s really been a blast being out with this band and behind the record The Way Life Goes. It’s kind of put a shot of energy into the touring thing because people are excited not only to hear the Cinderella stuff but the new songs, too. And the band has a great chemistry that I’ve been touring with – it’s the same one [I’ve] been out [with] for a couple years. We’re just really having a great time. Touring is probably my favorite aspect of what I do. It’s always fun to get out and play live.

After performing for so many years, what makes you excited to get on stage?

I just feel really grateful to be able to walk out on the stage. The fans show up and they have the same enthusiasm that they did 30 years ago. It’s just mind-boggling and I feel very fortunate to have that in my life. You walk out there every night and the fans are what make it feel like the first time, you know, every time. They sing the songs and it’s just amazing. I feel very grateful for that.

That must be a wonderful feeling to know that you’re making their night, too.

Well, they make mine. It would be no fun without them.

You mentioned that you’ve been playing with the same group of musicians for a few years now. Have all of the members been with you since you put your backing band together? 

When it came up that I was going to release this record, I knew at some point I was going to have to put together a touring band that would not only be able to convincingly play the Cinderella stuff, but also play the new stuff, and also just be the kind of people you want to be riding on a bus with and all.

There’s a lot of things to consider when you’re putting together a band. I really felt like I was going to have to audition for months to find the right people [but] the very people who are on this bus with me today in Dallas are the first people who walked into the audition. And it just felt like magic and the chemistry was there from day one, not only musically but personally, too.

So the chemistry is great on and off stage. And I think that’s why we’ve continued to just be out touring. This band has really grown from the first year we were playing smaller clubs and … now we’re playing the major festivals and it’s really been cool to see that happen and to do that with these people.

That’s lucky you were able to find these musicians right away.

It just feels like the band that was meant to be. That’s kind of what I’ve been calling it lately (laughs) because it’s just rare that you find that chemistry.   

You and the band went into the studio in March.  

Yeah, we went in with producer Vance Powell to record some bonus tracks to be included on a deluxe edition or commemorative edition, as we’re calling it, of The Way Life Goes. It will be out later this year.

Those tracks were recorded with the touring band, which is something we’ve been wanting to do for a while because the chemistry is really good. And there’s a couple of songs in particular that we’ve been wanting to record.

So the idea of the deluxe edition came [after] I got this gift from my tour manager last year. It was a piece of artwork created by an artist named David Calacno. He’s done art for Rush and Mr. Big and created something called Fantoons. A really cool … creative artist. My tour manager commissioned him to do a gift for me.

And the gift was a collage of illustrations that were caricatures of my band and illustrations that brought song titles from The Way Life Goes to life. It had this almost Exile On Main St. feel, but it was all illustrations. I remember opening that gift and thinking that it kind of looked like an album cover, and it made me realize how lucky I was that these people came into my life and that they’ve been here working and building this whole thing from day one.

So, wheels starting turning and I thought this would be a great cover for a deluxe edition and we can include all the cool things that have come to be since the release of the record. One, being the band.

We’re going to include a documentary about the band and the making of the bonus tracks, which was filmed by Tammy Vega, who is a videographer and photographer who travels with us a lot. And she was in the studio with us when we were working with Vance Powell recording these new tracks. She’s an incredibly talented girl and she had cameras hidden all over the studio.

The package is going to include the new tracks with the band, the new artwork that David has done –  a 20-page booklet of art depicting each song title. You have to see it. It’s pretty cool. It’s been completely repackaged. … The original record is also included in the set and has been remastered by Richard Dodd. It’s a pretty cool package that will be out later this year.

It sounds like you’re really offering fans a lot of great extras.

And there will be interviews in the documentary. It’s a very intimate, kind of inside look at the process of recording these songs. And these are songs that we went in and deliberately recorded. We’re not announcing what the songs are yet but when we do it will make sense as to why we want them to be part of The Way Life Goes. Because these songs actually came as a result of the tour and the release of the record. … We’ll be announcing what those are soon.

A lot of times deluxe editions are nothing more than just throwing a couple of songs that didn’t make the record the first time around. But that’s not really what we’re doing here. We went in after the fact and picked some songs that are actually very connected to the record and the project and the tour. And like you said, there’s going to be a lot of really cool extras. I think the fans are really going to like it.

That’s good to know because I had been wondering why you decided to release these extra tracks as part of a deluxe edition rather than waiting to release them as part of a full-length album.  

And I’d seen some people wondering that online too, which is why I brought it up. These songs wouldn’t make sense on a new record. And a new record is in the works. I’ve been writing and we hope to be in the studio next year recording a follow-up to The Way Life Goes. But these songs don’t really make sense for a new record. They really truly do belong with The Way Life Goes. We feel like the last few years we’ve been out supporting this record have been a really special time in all our lives. So this package is a way of celebrating all the good things that The Way Life Goes has brought to us. And we’re trying to make it above and beyond the average deluxe set. I promise that it will be. (laughs)

Have you set a release date for the commemorative album?

We [haven’t]. We have a rough time frame of mid- to late summer. But we’re running a little bit behind on production. We’re doing so many things between the documentary and the new artwork and the bonus tracks and we’re touring at the same time, too. So we’re running slightly behind on getting all the stuff together for it but we’re pretty close to getting ready to start setting it up and all that.

Photo: Tammy Vega

Vance Powell wasn’t the original producer on The Way Life Goes. Why did you choose to work with Vance on the bonus tracks and what did he bring to the recording?

Well, we wanted to have somebody come in and just produce [the bonus tracks] top to bottom. The Way Life Goes was done kind of piecemeal. It was produced by myself, Savannah [Keifer] and Chuck Turner, who is an engineer/producer in Nashville. We took our time with that record and it really didn’t even start out as a record.

When we decided to record the new band we wanted to just have a really amazing producer come in and just take the bull by the horns and produce the band. We had a limited amount of time to get it done. It wasn’t like how we made the original record (laughs), where we took nine years.

We just wanted to take the complete opposite approach – hire a producer, put your faith and trust in him, let him drive the ship. We locked [down] Southern Ground Studio in Nashville for a few days. The truck showed up, unloaded the gear and we just went in and started recording. And Vance was pretty much driving the ship, calling all the shots.

It was great working with him; he did a great job. … We wanted someone really great at the board the first time we recorded this band because it has a great chemistry and we wanted to make sure that got captured in the short amount of time that we had. We checked out a bunch of different producers. You always kind of vet and you ask people, “What do you think of this guy?” and you go online and you listen to their stuff and all. There were several that we were looking at and Vance just kind of stood out. The stuff he’d worked on really sounded great. And our drummer actually had known him for years and vouched for the fact that he was a talented guy and a really good guy to work with.

So we approached him and he said yeah. And one of the things about him is he’s very versatile. He’s worked with Jack White, he’s worked with Al King, he’s worked with Chris Stapleton. … He seemed like he’s be an interesting person to work with and he was.

You mentioned that the bonus tracks weren’t left over from the original album session. Were they written after you released The Way Life Goes?

If I answer that question it might give away what the songs are. (laughs) So I can’t commit to that either way. (laughs)

Fans will just have to wait and see.

Yes. It’s quite the mystery.

When you put out The Way Life Goes in 2013, you hadn’t released an album since 1994. But now you’re already talking about another record in the works. Did recording The Way Life Goes make you excited to get back in the studio?

Yeah, you know, The Way Life Goes … there was no agenda or real aspirations of it even really being a record. When we first started making it I was on the heels of a bad record deal with Cinderella and a record that never got made. And a lawsuit with the label that ended up in court.

And my wife, Savannah, who is a very talented songwriter and artist and singer in her own right, had gone through a very similar experience with a label that she was signed to in Nashville. So we were both kind of a place in her lives where we didn’t want to deal with labels and lawyers and A&R people and all that. We have our own studio and we just started working on music together and working with Chuck Turner, who’s our producer, who knows how to run Pro Tools (laughs), which was a good thing. And bringing in friends of ours and musicians and stuff and just kinda was making music for the sake of making music.

It wasn’t even a record when it started. Over the years it evolved into … this pile of songs that we really liked and woke up one day and thought, “Well, there’s a record here.” And in the meantime, we had healed a little bit from the scars that were left from those industry experiences that we had.

So it was kind of a cool way to make a record but it was scary at that point to say, “Now we’re going to hand this over to a label.” And our baby is kind of in their hands again. But enough time had passed that we were willing to leap off that cliff again and we found a great label and everything’s been really positive since the release of the record. … We found a label that really believed in it. And they released it and did a great job and we were back on the radio again.

It was just kind of like, wow, cool. And the really inspiring thing is how well it’s been received by the fans and critics. When you spend that much time making music you hope that it will be received positively and it was. So those are the kind of things that help you put the next foot forward in the creative process.

It’s been really, really fun to be out here playing these songs alongside the Cinderella stuff and then being received every bit as well. … I’m not unique in this, but the music industry can be a harsh place and I’ve had my share of that. Sometimes that knocks you down but it’s the fans that ultimately pick you back up. And with the release of this record, that’s how I feel. They’ve accepted it and it’s been a real inspiration.

You have a lot of solo dates lined up. Are there any plans at all to tour with Cinderella again?

Currently the band is on a pretty extended hiatus. The truth of the matter is that the band had some issues without airing any laundry or anything, which I don’t want to do. There have been issues within the band that have existed for decades, to be honest. They really came to a head in 2012 and we took some pretty extreme measures to right the ship and correct the problems and we actually made a pact at that time that we wouldn’t do anything together as a band until the issues were resolved. And we’ve had a couple of attempts since then. We did a cruise with the band [in 2014]. It was apparent that the issues were not resolved so currently the issues are unresolved. So that’s where it’s at. In the meantime, everybody’s been doing their own thing. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I will continue doing it.

Are there any dates you’re particularly looking forward to playing?

You know, tonight in Dallas. The Gas Monkey Live! is a great venue and Dallas is a great place to play some rock ’n’ roll in so I’m looking forward to tonight, right now. But I look forward to all of them. (laughs) Every night is just great. I’m really so grateful that fans are still so loyal and come out. Like I said, they make it feel like the first time every night. And it blows me away every night.

Upcoming dates for Tom Keifer:

May 28 – Herrin, Ill., Downtown Herrin (Herrinfesta Italiana)       
June 3 – Nashville, Tenn., Marathon Music Works (Farm Rock Nashville)  
June 9 – Traverse City, Mich., Ground Zero (appearing with Whitford St. Holmes)
June 10 – Saginaw, Mich., FirstMerit Bank Event Park        

June 11 – South Elgin, Ill., Vasa Park
June 15 – Pleasanton, Calif., Alameda County Fairgrounds (Alameda County Fair)
June 18 – Tucson, Ariz., Kino Sports Complex
June 23 –  Newton, N.J., The Newton Theatre    
June 24 – Uncasville, Conn., Wolf Den         
June 25 – New York, N.Y., B.B. King Blues Club      

July 16 – Thunder Bay, Ontario, Fort William Historical Park
Aug. 5 – Algona, Iowa, Kossuth County Fairgrounds
Aug. 12 – Three Forks, Mont., Rockin’ The Rivers Festival Grounds (Rockin’ The Rivers)
Aug. 20 – Calgary, Alberta, Deerfoot Inn & Casino
Sept. 8 – Ashwaubenon, Wis., Green Bay Distillery  
Sept. 9 – Hinckley, Minn., Grand Casino Hinckley Amphitheater (Grand RockTember Festival)    

Sept. 10 – Winnipeg, Manitoba, Club Regent Event Centre
Sept. 24 – Sioux Falls, S.D., Badlands Pawn

Oct. 2 – Lakewood, N.J., FirstEnergy Park (Rock Carnival)
Feb. 2-7 – Tampa, Fla., Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance Of The Seas (Monsters Of Rock Cruise)

Visit for more information. And be sure to follow along at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (Keifer updates all of his social media accounts himself).