The first declaration Tom Keifer offers up in his longbrewing solo debut The Way Life Goes is one of unbridled satisfaction; a scream that’s loud, raw and convincing, a triumph for the Cinderella frontman who was once absolutely certain he would never sing again. The album is the first new music from Keifer in since Cinderella’s 1994 release Still Climbing, when his partial vocal paralysis sparked two decades of ambiguity for glam metal’s bluesiest band. Keifer’s rollercoaster ride has leveled out for now, and he’s placed enough confidence in the pipes that once filled arenas that he’s embarking on his first ever solo tour, a month-long run to preface the album’s April 30 release, kicking off at Ziggy’s this Saturday.
Y!W: When Cinderella came to Winston-Salem, the Millennium Center in August 2010, water poured down onto the stage from the monsoon outside. The imminent threat of electrocution might have trumped a couple of decades of vocal issues on your list of concerns.
TK: Hey, I remember being worried more about my vintage Marshall stack being too close to that leak that night.
Y!W: There wasn’t a lot of restraint on your part then, and there definitely wasn’t in the first 10 seconds of the new album. How much were you pegging your personal comfort meter there?
TK: It felt pretty good the night that I did that. It just came out.
The vocal condition that I have is something that I’ll deal with for probably forever. The good news about it all is that I was told I would never sing again, but I’m still singing. It’s been a lot of work with great coaches and speech therapists to try and help me place things the way they need to be placed, which my vocal cords often don’t want to do. That scream that night in the studio was pretty good though. That take felt great.
Y!W: The few available songs lean more toward the hard rock most know you by, but there are hints at hot blues and soul on “Cold Day In Hell.” Are those elements explored more throughout the rest of the album?
TK: Every song has a personality of its own. There’s some really hard-driving rock, some acoustic that’s more in the vein of old Rod Stewart and Faces. I would definitely say it’s a hard-rock record, but it has dynamic balance.
Y!W: This album sounds a bit more grown up than the last thing we were left with. You’ve obviously had a lot of time to think about what kind of songs you wanted to write.
TK: Songwriting for me is something that you hope to always grow at and get better, and that’s where a record starts. My main focus in the beginning is to always write a better song than the last one, and moving to Nashville provided a lot of inspiration because there’s a lot of great songwriters here, my wife being one of them, and she co-wrote some of the songs with me. It’s probably the first one where I worked with a lot of different writers, so that brought another dimension to it.
Y!W: There’s been talk of a new Cinderella album to follow this one, but after 18 years, is there really a sense of urgency on that front?
TK: I don’t know if there’s a sense of urgency, but I do know there are a lot of fans out there who would want to hear it. We haven’t not done one for any other reasons than it’s been one thing after another with voice problems and legal issues with one particular label we tried to make one with in the late ‘90s. In the midst of all that, everyone started working on solo stuff.
Y!W: With your rehabilitation being ongoing, have you found that you’ve needed to write songs in keys that you normally wouldn’t to ensure that you’re accessing and strengthening those sounds that need it the most?
TK: I wish I could do that, but when you write, melodies and inspiration can take you all kinds of places and sometimes you end up getting locked into them. Say you need that open string to make it sound like what the original inspiration was. Then you start to sing and maybe this isn’t the most comfortable place to sing. It’s difficult to change the key. The goal is to eliminate any break points in your voice, but unfortunately a paralysis just makes those break points even bigger. And I’ve had some real dark moments in trying to get that under control. Between 2006 and 2008 I thought I was just done.
Y!W: Did you have a contingency?
TK: I don’t know what it would be. I think that’s what keeps me going trying to sing. Believe me, I’ve thought about it, because this has been a twentysomething-year battle, and it’s not always pleasant. I’ve been doing this since I was 8 years old and I just don’t know anything else.