Tesla’s Frank Hannon on Return to ‘Simplicity,’ New Single
Tesla has been cranking out contagious riffs and rocking songs for nearly three decades, something that continued with the recent ‘Simplicity.’
We got the chance to chat with guitarist Frank Hannon during the band’s New York City tour stop, and he spoke about the creative process that led to the band’s seventh studio album. Hannon also shared his views on the technological advances in music, and revealed the deep meaning behind Tesla’s emotional new single ‘So Divine‘ …
What does this album title mean to you personally?
Well, it just dawned on me when I was driving that the word “simplicity” from the lyrics — I was listening to the rough mix of our record, while we were making it — and ‘Mp3,’ the opening track on the album, is a song about how technology has taken over and changed everything. The lyric that I came up with in the song was “we’ve got to get back to simplicity.” I’m always trying to simplify my life, and it’s very difficult to do with such a busy schedule. It dawned on me that simplicity is everything that seems to be the key to happiness in life, and so I thought it would be a great album title.
Speaking of ‘Mp3,’ as a musician how did you deal with the constant technological changes over the last few years?
A lot of people talk about the negative parts of the business and technology changing it, but really I think it’s been a blessing. It’s made us so much more independent; we’re do-it-yourselfers now. Everything is at your fingertips. In reality, you can make your own albums; you can promote yourself. You can do everything yourself now — which is why the big corporations, as far as record companies, have gone by the wayside. It’s great for the artistic side of things. You can do your own graphics, design your own websites, design your own album covers. You can email somebody a song instantly, which in our case came out good because when we were in the studio making this album, we were recording a song and literally within 30 minutes sending it to Michael Wagner to mix it — and then he would send it back to us and we would get it an hour later. That whole process used to take weeks with FedEx and sending tapes across the country, so I think it’s great. The only thing is being able to hold an album in your hand, and being able to physically look at something and get into more than just one song. An album is a collection of songs, especially if you make a themed album. That’s a whole other art form that kind of went by the wayside because of the convenience of downloading music. There are still some great bands that are awesome. Muse is one of my favorite bands; they make albums from start to finish that are just beautiful.
Many of the fans I spoke to kept saying they love listening to ‘Simplicity’ all the way through, which is rare today because we’re so used to skipping to the next song quickly.
We came from the era where there was only one or two good songs on an album, but luckily we grew up with a ‘70s influence. One of our managers, Cliff Burnstein — and one of the best managers in the world; he managed us for about 10 years — his advice to us was to “always make a great album where every song is good.” He said that same thing to Def Leppard when they did ‘Pyromania,’ and what a great album that is from start to finish, so he’s right.
Watch The Video For Tesla’s ‘So Divine’
Ultimate Classic Rock premiered the video for ‘So Divine.’ Talk about the song, both musically and lyrically.
With ‘So Divine,’ the guitar riff is something I’ve had forever. It was just one of those riffs that I’ve noodled on, and we never made a song out of it. Recently I lost a dear friend of mine who was only 23 years old. He was one of the most angelic people I’ve ever known, just a great kid. He was killed in a car accident and it was really heartbreaking — a lot of pain from that. I cried for weeks when I thought about him. We started thinking about the idea of writing a song about someone who will live on forever in your heart. It just fell together piece by piece when Jeff [Keith] started singing “You are the sun that lights the day / You are the star that never fades” and then I came up with “Soaring where the angels fly… / Severing the ties that bind / So divine…” So we put that song together, and I never once dreamed that it would be a single — because it’s more of a deep track. But somebody in the radio business said, “That’s what people want to hear is deeper tracks; they don’t want to hear fluff.” When it came time to make the video, rather than making the video about our friend, we wanted to keep it more open ended. We got turned onto a director named Kevin Custer who’s a great music video director and he gave us the idea to script a story in the video about a gal who happens to stumble upon a gravestone of a fallen musician. The concept of the video is a girl strolling along and discovers the grave site of an old blues legend, so we thought that was pretty cool.
Most of the members have been creating music together since the ‘80s. Were there any surprises while recording this new disc?
Well, the basic elements of our band, when it comes to writing, were the same. For example, our bass player Brian [Wheat] loves the Beatles, so he brought in a couple ideas that were on the piano that sounded a lot like Paul McCartney kind of stuff. The one surprise was J.K.; our singer was really open to collaborating with me personally on writing the lyrics. He and I would stay up all night brainstorming and telling these stories. I’m very proud of the lyrics on this new record.
If you could go back and give your younger self a piece of advice about the music industry, what would it be?
Not to worry too much about being noticed, and just remain true to yourself. I would have given advice to save my money a little bit better, because there was a time where I didn’t think twice about just blowing money on stuff — and now I realize that it’s a lot of hard work. You’ve got to save up for the future.
Just curious, what did you blow your money on back then?
Well, I’m a guitar junkie; I love musical instruments. So I didn’t waste my money on frivolous things. I did have a DeLorean once [laughs], the ‘Back to the Future’ car — but that’s about it.