The Arena Rock band Tesla’s Brian Wheat

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on February 18, 2019

HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) —   TESLA is a multi-platinum American rock band from Northern California known for their melodic songs and down to earth appeal. Thanks to their die-hard, loyal fan base and their younger generation offspring, TESLA continues to tour to sold-out crowds around the world.

Brian Wheat is best known as the bass guitar player for the multi-platinum rock band, Tesla. In addition, he is a gifted songwriter, producer, recording studio owner, manager, and talented photographer and artist.

He was born in 1963 in Sacramento, California, the youngest of six children. Wheat’s passion for music started young. Even as a preschooler, he knew he wanted to be a Rock star, thanks to his older siblings’ record collections. It was the 1966 Beatles album Revolver that lit the musical spark within him. It “changed my life,” says Wheat. As fate would have it, another childhood experience would further propel Wheat on his path to rock stardom, much by accident.

At age 12 Wheat broke his leg in a tobogganing accident, and his mother bought him a guitar to keep him occupied while his leg healed. Charmed by the instrument, but overwhelmed by its 6 strings, he soon traded up. With $40 obtained by selling his beloved Schwinn bicycle, he bought a bass guitar. This simple transaction would solidify a life-long passion for bass-playing that would come to define his musical career for decades to come.

In the early 1980s, he and his friend Frank Hannon began jamming together in the garage. First going by the name Earthshaker, and then City Kidd, Tesla finally emerged with the addition of lead vocalist Jeff Keith, drummer Troy Luccketta, and guitarist Tommy Skeoch.

Their unrelenting drive and unmistakable talent were quickly recognized, and by 1985 Tesla had secured a recording contract with Geffen Records. From garage band beginnings to multi-platinum success, Wheat has never lost touch with his passion for creating music, even after 30 plus years of touring.

Geffen A&R rep Tom Zutuat inked the band and packed the guys off to Bearsville Studios just outside Woodstock, New York: The same place Foghat recorded their best albums; along with Cheap Trick, Todd Rundgren, The Rolling Stones, and more.

The members of Tesla have taken their own path from the beginning, eschewing the clam and hair metal labels of the era for a casual and laid-back jeans and t-shirt look, reminiscent of their inspirations and heroes. Their debut album reached platinum status and the follow up, 1989’s The Great Radio Controversy hit the double platinum sales mark and spawned three hit singles with “Love Song”, “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)” and “The Way it Is”.

Recently,  Tesla released its seventh studio album, Simplicity.  It marks the band’s first full-length studio effort of new material since 2008’s Forever More. As usual it is packed with an impressive dual guitar attack, powerhouse rhythms, and the ever-present rasp of vocalist Jeff Keith

The group is often credited with starting the acoustic obsession that took over rock music in the 90s. The band released its Five Man Acoustical Jam album in 1990, and scored another massive hit with “Signs”, a cover of the Five Man Electrical Band song. The album featured a mix of unplugged versions of their owns songs as well as covers from The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and others.

Unlike the glam metal bands, they avoided emulating, Tesla weathered the grunge revolution with the platinum selling Psychotic Supper in 1991. The album featured more edge and more diversity than their first two efforts. They followed this with the Bust a Nut in 1994 which earned them a gold record.

In 2013, Tesla released a new song, “Taste My Pain” which whet the fans appetites for new music. That is when the band decided it was time to record a new full-length record. Choosing to eliminate hometown distractions, the band reconnected with old pal Zutaut and spent two weeks in Virginia writing the crux of Simplicity. The title and idea behind the album was to return to the basic feel of the band’s first album.

Tesla then returned to Wheat’s J Street Recorders in Sacramento to record the album after which legendary engineer Michael Wagener (Metallica, Skid Row, Motley Crue) mixed and mastered the effort. Brian admits the band could not decide which tracks to cut, so they put all 14 on Simplicity, allowing fans to decide for themselves which they prefer. Wheat, who is a mammoth Beatles fan lists the tracks “MP3” and “Life is a River” among his own favorites from the record. Simplicity reaffirms the bluesy guitar-driven trademark foundation of Tesla and further solidifies the band as a modern-era Led Zeppelin.

The album’s first single is, “So Divine.”

Herald de Paris Editor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez had the unique opportunity to converse with Brian, thanks to lifelong friend Music Executive Al Evers.

AC: You were born and raised in Sacramento California and now you have come full circle with your recording studio J Street recorders, brand-new music, has it been and long strange trip with you and Tesla? What have been the highs and lows?

BW: Well there’s been lots of highs, I mean mostly highs. A few lows, I think the lowest point was when we broke up in 95. After we had done Bust A Nut. It was our fifth album or whatever and we had four straight platinum records and that album only went gold. The record company said, “Your career is over!” Chuckles. So that was kind of deflating. Another low was erm was when Tommy Skeoch left again for the second time. I’m not going to go in depth about that, that’s all been written about but that was, that was a pretty low period and then a high was finding Dave Rude, he has made life so much more easier the last 13 years of the band.

AC: Did you ever think the band would get so big? How does being from Northern California rather than LA or England affect your music?

BW: Well I think the fact that we were from Sacramento specifically and not from LA or London, New York or San Francisco where there’s a lot of bands trying to make it. They think that you know that it must be a similar kind of niche, we did our own thing, this is probably why we sound like ourselves and not somebody else. We obviously have influences and you hear them, but I think being from Sacramento definitely contributed to the sound of the band.

AC: Heavily influenced by The Beatles, you’ve always wanted to be a musician, what songs on Revolver and The White Album that really informed your musical palate?

BW: Eleanor Rigby was the first song I ever really heard and gravitated towards, this made me want to perform it, I heard Paul’s voice and from that moment on I became a Paul McCartney fanatic. I wanted to be like Paul McCartney. On the White Album, probably Helter Skelter, I used to listen to it every morning to get me into the mood of getting out of the house and to go to school.

AC: You choose the bass, who are some of your favorite bass players, and how does you bass playing style help define the Tesla music signature?

BW: My favorite bass players are Paul McCartney, John Deacon, James Jameson and Tom Peterson of Cheap Trick. I play more of a solid bass. I don’t play a lot of notes and that’s because when you have two guitar players. Our two lead guitar players are playing an incredible amount of stuff and a drummer who takes many liberties. Someone must hold down the fort and my style is holding down the fort. I’m the fort holder.

AC: In the early 80s when you were jamming with your friends during the Earth shaker/City Kid era what were some of the tunes the band covered.

BW: We did a lot of UFO, a lot of Scorpions, Van Halen we did some Y&T which is where we got the name Earth shaker from their first album. It had a song called song Earth shaker on it. You know it was that kind of stuff, early 80’s rock. All that kind of stuff that was out there, Quiet Riot, you know all that 80s driven tunes.

AC: Was there a band in mind besides the Beatles that you hoped to emulate?

BW: You know for me personally probably UFO. You know, UFO was the same kind of format, two guitars, bass, drums, lead singer. Blues based melodic rock, in a word that’s probably it.

AC: When did you start writing originals and what were some of the first tunes written?

BW: I think the first song that me and Frank wrote together was a song called “Tell me no lies” and we actually did that on the Montrose demos that had Lil Suzie on it. That would have been 1981/1982.

AC: What events led up to the signing with Geffen records in 1985? Why Geffen? How did it feel to be signed to a major label?

BW: I think it was in 83/84 we had this guy called Steve Clausman and he was our manager at the time. He was shopping the labels and we were doing showcases and this, that and the other.

He had sent it out to Elektra records and Tom Zutaut who had signed Motley Crue, they had an assistant name Theresa Ensinata and he had her come see us play a gig with Ronnie Montrose, she liked it and brought him back to the studio where we were doing demos with this guy named Duane Hitchings who produced us for a little while as well.

He liked what we did, but wasn’t sure we were quite ready, but, about 3 – 6 months after that he said, “Ok I’m going to sign you but you’re not ready. I want to develop you.”

We sat around for another year writing songs undertake guidance of Tom Zutaut and then the first record came out in November of 1986. You know Geffen was the big dog back then it was great to be there, back then they knew how to sell tons of records. I Miss them.

AC: Tell us about Chrissy Hind of the Pretenders helping you name the band?

BW: Well we were sitting in Bearsville studio, recording our first album and prior to getting there we knew we had to change our name from City Kidd to what was going to become TESLA.

We couldn’t come up with anything and Chrissy was there working on an album. Jeff and I were in the studio lounge and she was very approachable, very friendly. One day she asked what we were doing? We said we were trying to come up with a name for you know our new name for our band.

She said, “come on in here,” and she took us into her control room and said, “Maybe I can help.” So we sat in there for about an hour and she gave us all kinds of suggestions and stuff, it was a great memory. She was great, really, really nice. Really, really kind. Unfortunately, none of her names stuck.

AC: Why Tesla, and have there been any legal problems with the Auto company of the same name?

BW: No, no legal problems. No free cars, no visits, nothing. No contact from them hardly ever.

AC: When you first heard your music on the radio? How did you feel? When did you know that you attained your dream of being a “Rock Star” was it all you imagined it to be?

BW: Hmm when I first heard Cowboy on the radio I and pulled over onto the side of the road in my 1974 Falcon. It was a pretty cool feeling man, I gotta admit.

I realized I was a “rock star” probably after love song and signs during that period. When we were all over MTV and people were freaking out, you know pulling my hair, attacking me and stuff. I never quite liked it to be honest with you, I prefer to be a musician.

I think rock star is what we see that when we’re younger, that glamour and all the stuff that goes with it. But when you start living it, 36 years down the road it’s a job, it’s a career. There’s more to being a rock star than people perceive. I like to think of myself as a musician.

AC: What are some of the pitfalls of fame and adulation? Does money change everything?

BW: Some of the pitfalls of money and adulation are that people think you’re something you’re not and put these crazy expectations on you that you just can’t meet. It can be your family, friends or people you don’t know. They just come at you from all directions and money doesn’t change anything, if you’re not feeling well or you’re depressed, you have anxiety or any of that, Money’s not going to change any of that. Money is just how we do commerce, you know money can buy you a nice house, but you can still be unhappy.

AC: The band is known for its power ballads, is this something you set out to do? Is there a favorite song you are most proud of or an album?

BW: I think we like power ballads because they’re deeper, Comin’ atcha live lyrically is not as deep as something like What you give, or something like that. Did we set out to do them? We like them, I think Jeff showcases on them well.

I like the Beatles and the Beatles did lots of ballads. Dream on was a ballad, so I mean we just do. It’s a part of what we do, it’s our DNA.

Is there an album I’m most proud of? Not really, I’m proud of all of them. Some more than others but you know it’s like having kids. There’s always a couple of f**k ups but they’re all your kids.

AC: Def Leppard helped mentor you, who would you consider your musical peers?

BW: Well, Def Leppard. Def Leppard are our musical peers, they’re like our big brothers. You know our peers are probably the people that came out around the same time as we did, that we tour with. Styx, Def Leppard, Poison, Motley Cru and anyone else we toured with even Great White. But the one band that we have a real strong connection with is Def Leppard.

AC: The Film Bohemian Rhapsody, shows what it looks like to be an Arena Rock star, Tesla is an Arena Rock Band, how does a band become an in-demand arena attraction?

BW: By the sheer number of people that are willing to pay to see you, that’s how.

AC: In the film, and as a gifted photographer, you see from the stage how the crowds of thousands look like spread out before you, how does it feel to rock a stadium with music you created?

BW: Fucking fantastic!!! Hahaha. I mean it’s what I do, it’s why I do it and I’ll continue to do it. You know that hour and a half, two hours on stage is the best two hours of the day while I’m on tour.

AC: Speaking of Photography, you are an accomplished photographer can you tell us about that and where people can observe your work?

BW: Well I started taking photographs about ten years ago with my friend Ross Halfin who is a famous rock photographer, we go to all these places all over the world, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam…

On one of these trips he let me play with his Leica camera I started taking pictures. He said “Oh, you got a good eye” and so I got a Leica and started taking pictures, the then gave me one of his Nikon’s and I started taking pictures ten years ago as a form of relaxation.

Long story short, fast forward, I was on this boat during the Monsters of Rock cruise that we do, and Rick Allen was on it, selling his paintings. He was selling his paintings through the Wentworth gallery and they have six or eight of them across the Eastern United States. I was sitting with the owner who’s a really nice guy Christian O Mahony and I said “Hey would you like to take a look at some of my photos I’d like to exhibit one day?” he said, “You know Brian those are really good but I don’t standard photos, could you paint on them?” I didn’t really paint but he said give it a try, so I did…

I sent him some images to him, and he returned the images to me on canvas, paper, weird wood, metal and all these different mediums and I started to try. Then it started to take shape and come together and look really good and that’s how I became a painter. It’s called enhanced photography, I take the photos, I paint on them and then they frame them and put them in the galleries.

You can get them at the Wentworth galleries. I believe I’ll be doing a small little showing on the cruises this year.

AC: A Google search of the Band Tesla reveals over 50 Million inquiries, 644,000 Facebook friends,  How has New Media effected the music business for you?

BW: Well I think it has affected it in the sense that if you want to get the word out there, you can get it out immediately. You don’t have to wait for someone to do it, you can actually take the initiative and something on your Facebook page or your Instagram or twitter, whatever. I think it’s very handy and a useful tool.

AC: Tesla has never really stopped performing, what are some of the best concerts ever, what does your touring schedule usually look like and what are some of your favorite venues worldwide?

BW: I’ve played so many concerts that you know, some of my favorites I guess would be the Texas Jam in 87. Going back to London in 2006 to play Shepherds Bush was pretty cool. The reunion show in 2000 was also amazing. We do anything from about 80 – 100 shows a year and we stay really busy. You know what else am I going to do? Ha.

AC: Tell us a little more about Simplicity, how has it been received and what has been the fan reaction? What kind of a record deal do you have now, I understand that the full Tesla Catalog is and or will be available?

BW: Simplicity was our last studio album, we did it with Tom Zutaut. It’s a good little album, personally I would have liked to mix it a little differently but that just my little quirkiness. All the catalogue that we did on our own label TESLA Electric Company is available. We have a brand new album coming out called SHOCK which is on Universal which is where the first five albums lay and that’s that.

AC: What does your touring schedule look like for the upcoming year?

BW: Right now, we’re in February and we’re probably going to go in to November with some breaks in there. Like I said we’re probably going to do about 100 shows this year.

AC: How long do you intend on touring and what are some of your personal plans for the future?

BW: I guess we’ll tour until we can’t tour anymore, or until people don’t want to see us anymore. There’s no end date marked in stone, as long as we’re still enjoying it, and everybody is still healthy. I think we plan to do it for as long as we can.

AC: Anything on a bucket list?

BW: That’s a funny question, on a personal point of view. I’d like to go photograph Russia, the Hermitage and the Kremlin.

AC: When it’s all said and done, what would you like your legacy to be?

BW: I guess I would like it to be that I was in a band and helped form a band that was honest, hardworking, decent band that wrote good decent songs and never ripped anybody off and hopefully that people had a lot of sex to love song! Hahaha.

Thanks everybody, happy new year and love to everyone.

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