With its first new album in five years coming — whose track “California Summer Song” is premiering exclusively below — Tesla is ready for a year of Shock and awe.
The veteran California rock troupe recorded its eighth studio set with Def Leppard’s Phil Collen producing, working in piecemeal fashion while out on the road. “We would do it in hotel rooms,” guitarist and co-founder Frank Hannon tells Billboard. “We would do it in the lobbies of hotels, in little conference rooms, with a computer. We would do it backstage, in hotel rooms on days off, just in little pieces.” Collen, meanwhile, was a linchpin, providing continuity in the creative as well as the sonic process.
“This is the first time that we’ve really allowed another person, a producer to really be involved to the extent that Phil Collen was, like a sixth band member.” Hannon says. “We weren’t really gonna make a new album; After (2014’s) Simplicity, it didn’t seem like there was any point. But Phil really motivated us. We’re definitely kindred spirits with Def Leppard, and (Collen) brought in a lot of production techniques and a lot of organization that they learned from Mutt Lange.
“And (Collen) would help us orchestrate and organize all the pieces. He helped us write lyrics. He helped us arrange. He would work with each guy individually and help them bring out their ideas…and then really put the finishing touches on the songs with his input.”
And songs, Hannon adds, were key to making Shock viable for the quintet. “When we first got signed to Geffen in the ’80s (Q Prime’s) Cliff Burnstein was our first manager, and his advice to us was always make a great album full of great songs,” Hannon remembers. “So that’s always our intent. Now sometimes, depending on the state of mind we’re in at the time, albums don’t come out as good as they could. But it’s something we take to heart and always keep in mind.”
With Shock out March 8, Tesla is currently on the Monsters of Rock Cruise and resumes its U.S. tour in earnest at the end of March, with European festivals during June and Canadian dates in July. This year also marks the 30th anniversary for the group’s double-platinum sophomore album The Great Radio Controversy, which is giving Tesla even more to celebrate. “There was a lot of pressure because (1986’s) Mechanical Resonance, our first album, did well and when it came time to make the second album, back then the record company would put a lot of pressure on you to create something even better,” Hannon says. “So we really tried hard to make an even greater record and did a lot overdubbing on the guitars and layering parts and crafting those songs. I was a really young dude, like 20 when we were writing the second album. I was shy and bashful and scared — playing my ass off, but still scared as hell. But it worked out, and a lot of people still love that album.”