May , 1992
By Cheryl Harris
Feasting on a Psychotic Supper
For a group whose first three albums went platinum (two studio and one live release), Tesla has got to be the most no-nonsense, down-home, low-key band in today's market. And positive energy continues to flow with the recently released Psychotic Supper, which will have joined that platinum ranking by the time you read this. Known in their formative years as City Kidd, the Sacramento-based Tesla, undoubtedly the city's most famous musical export, includes vocalist/lyricist Jeff Keith, co-lead guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch (the "ch" is silent), bassist Brian Wheat, and drummer Troy Luccketta.
Unbelievable. Not a feminine name in the band. And a quick glance at this scruffy bunch found not one mousse-infested hairdo, nor did I hear the word "dude" even once!
"After we signed the record deal (with Geffen) we didn't really want to continue as City Kidd," Luccketta laughed about their original name. "We didn't know we were gonna go to Tesla, until our manager mentioned it to us and we wondered 'what the blank's a Nikola Tesla?' We found his life story extremely fascinating, and being he never got any recognition — we identified with that sense of being an underdog — and just liked what it was all about."
Psychotic is one label that could never be applied to Tesla.
The man from whom they derived their name, Nikola Tesla, is credited as being the discoverer of the rotating magnetic field, and is often referred to as the Father of Radio. But the deranged scientist was undoubtedly playing with a few screws loose— maybe the elevator didn't go all the way to the top floor — maybe he dropped a few cards out of the master deck or, I dunno, maybe be was just a natural blonde.
Regardless, it seems Tesla (the man) was not only a fanatic about cleanliness — he always cleaned his eating utensils with exactly 18 napkins — he was also obsessed with the fact that all numbers he came in contact with must be divisible by three.
And the band Tesla—whose five-man band total is not divisible by three — became so fascinated with the madman that they christened all of their studio albums after situations related to the inventor. But there the comparison ends.
The unassuming personality of drummer Luccketta— who hails from Sacramento via the Bay Area — is the talkative ingredient for this interview. He's settled comfortably into the routine for the current tour which features Tesla in both an electric and acoustic environment.
"We started this tour in February," Luccketta said, "but we just took a ten day break and we're ready to go again! Firehouse has been with us since we started, and they're gonna continue with us, from what I understand, until the tour ends in November."
Tesla's trademark is rough-edged, no-nonsense, blue-collar rock, and it was just that sound, ironically, which threw them into the public eye in early '90 with the release of the single "Signs" off their only live album, Five ManAcoustical Jam. This "one-off" effort (meaning the venture was something they did for kicks, not the direction in which the band was headed) achieved mainstream success, as their renditions of classic Stones, Beatles, and CCR material appealed to the radio market as well as to a wide age range of fans.
"We played the BAMMIES (Bay Area Music Awards) a few years ago, and performed one of our songs acoustically." he said, regarding their live album. "Queenie Taylor — she's kind of a legendary figure who has booked a lot of clubs — asked us if we would be open to playing a club that Boz Scaggs owns, and doing a full acoustic set. We figured we'd go ahead and play a few major cities while we were at it, but since we were getting ready to leave on the Motley Crue tour, time was a limiting factor. We just happened to record the Philadelphia show — it was a fluke really, because we only recorded it for ourselves — and the whole thing just took off!"
"Song & Emotion" off the new Psychotic Supper is dedicated to the memory of Steve Clark, Def Leppard's late guitarist. "He was a close friend of ours," Luccketta related. "We spent eight months on tour with them, plus we share the same management company. Spending that much time together, we all got pretty tight — it was kind of like family —and we miss him."
As to Tesla's aggressive sound on the current release, he went on to add, "I think we've always been an aggressive band, that's where our roots have taken us, and we've always had a lot of energy. But I hear what you're saying about this album, it's just that we didn't plan it that way. And if Jeff had finished the lyrics on the other songs he was working on, who's to say what else would be on the record? We don't set out to write harder songs, or ballads, or top-ten singles. Maybe it was just where we were at that stage of writing, We just write songs as a group!"
What's nice about the Sacramento area," Luccketta said of their home base, "is that it allowed us to simply play music as opposed to getting caught up with the trendy stuff— like in LA — with everybody trying to capitalize on the same thing. It allowed all our old influences to come out as a natural evolution, and worked in the band's favor. We've always stuck to what we believed in musically and been open-minded, instead of worrying about what we looked like!"
Although vocalist Jeff Keith is responsible for the lyrics, the music is composed by the group as a whole. "When it comes to the arranging, however, that's where all of us take a big part in putting the music together," Luccketta added.
Psychotic Supper is the first album on which the band was given full control, and it's also the first time they have taken coproduction credits.
"The five of us picked all the songs, we decided what the record was gonna be. It wasn't about what the management, or record company, or the producers thought. This was collectively, Tesla, and we felt we deserved the credit. We had complete control," was his no-nonsense rationalization.
"If I were growing up in this day and age, I'd probably be listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or others involved in the "Seattle Scene," Luccketta continued. "But I'm from the older generation."
Early thirties, it seems, is now considered the older generation.
"And I just feel extremely lucky because I'm really happy with the music I grew up with, yet I do appreciate all the new music as well. I go through a lot of phases, but I listen to a lot of Motown sounds lately, even a lot of country music, 'cause it's good for me. I study the sounds and check it out for what it is."
I guess this means we shouldn't look for a big production when Tesla rolls through Dallas?
And since they probably won't become trendy in their old age, don't expect sensible, formulated music-for-the-masses. After all, why be sensible?
With Tesla— like the song goes — what you see is what you get!
They will be appearing on June 12 at Starplex Ampitheater, along with opening act Firehouse. Tickets are available at all Rainbow Ticketmaster locations.