It looks like a modernized, solidly reunited, more grown-up version of Tesla will be heading to Charleston this Friday. The multi-platinum-selling rock group from northern California retains four of its original members — vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Frank Hannon, bassist Brian Wheat, and drummer Troy Luccketta — plus new guitarist Dave Rude. They still rock their radio hits on stage. They still look like scraggly acid-rock hippies. They still tour like crazy. However, they're less distracted by the clichéd trappings of rock stardom than ever.
"We're older and more mature, and we learned from the mistakes we made when we were young," says bassist Brian Wheat. "A lot of it was typical stuff surrounding drugs and alcohol. Those kind of things take the focus away from the music and what's important. When you're young, it's easy to slip into those vices, get spoiled by the fruits of being successful, and believe your own bullshit. Now we don't [laughs]."
Wheat and his bandmates have toured heavily this year behind a new album titled Forever More.
"The new album definitely has that Tesla sound," Wheat says. "But Tesla's always been a diverse band. I think we covered all the bases. Some people think it's a little reminiscent of the earliest stuff.
"We always tour when there's a record to promote," Wheat adds. "The only time we toured without one was when we got back together in 2000 for a long reunion tour. We always promote a new collection. You've got the legacy of this band, which is over 25 years old, so we gotta play 'Signs' and 'Love Song' and 'Cowboy' and stuff like that."
Tesla formed in 1985 in Sacramento, jamming on a guitar-based blend of blue-denim boogie, blues-based hard-rock, and Beatles-inspired guitar-pop.
Tesla enjoyed success in the late-'80s and early-'90s with hits on commercial radio and MTV, including a cover of the 1971 hit anthem "Signs" by the Five Man Electrical Band. The rendition was one of several classic rock covers featured on 1990's all-acoustic concert album Five Man Acoustical Jam.
By 1994's Bust a Nut (a strong seller among a plethora of hit grunge albums at the time), drug abuse and fatigue within the band took its toll. They staged a small-scale reunion in 2000, which led to a healthy and successful comeback.
"When we broke up in '95, really, all we needed was a rest," Wheat remembers. "We kind of turned it into a breakup. We were all messed up on dope and stuff, and we needed a break. Had we really taken a good rest, we probably would have been back with a new album and tour by 1997 or so, but since we all went our own ways and started our own things, it took until 2000 to get us back together. We started with one show, and then one little tour ... Now, we've been together longer than we were before we broke up."
Music critics usually struggled to neatly define Tesla's musical style with a tidy phrase. Their heavy-but-melodic rock never fit nicely in the hair-metal, grunge, or power-pop sub-categories.
"We're none of them and all of them," chuckles Wheat. "Really, what we are, man, is America's working man's band. I think they relate to us in that way. We're a lot like the common working man. There are no stars in the band. You don't see us on TMZ or reality shows. We're about being an honest band, trying to make an honest buck. And we're melodic. You always remember the songs you can sing, you know?"