As half of the guitar duo in Tesla, Dave Rude is a busy man.
It seems hardly a month goes by without Tesla shuttling their blues-driven rock to concert venues around the world. Somehow, amid the demands of Tesla, Rude has managed to keep the Dave Rude Band intact — and producing new material.
The Key marks the band’s first full-length album and displays Rude’s vast array of influences.
GUITAR WORLD: The first thing I notice listening to The Key is that it's a little different than what we're used to hearing from you with Tesla. There are elements of modern rock, punk, metal and even country. Was your intent to take the music in directions other than Tesla and flex your muscles a bit?
My goal was to put out a really original rock record. Most of my favorite records have peaks and valleys and stylistic departures but still retain the sound of the band. All of my favorite bands have their own unmistakable sound, which is almost more important than anything else to me.
That said, I didn't have any particular stylistic goal when I started the album, but I do think it came out pretty diverse, while still pretty firmly planted in a rock vein. I was really just writing because I always write and we'd throw new songs into the live set as they became ready. In the end, we had enough new material to do an album, which was nice because the two previous DRB releases were EPs and I really wanted to do a full-length.
Also, some of the stuff was written at rehearsal with the guys just by jamming. We'd always end up going off on 15-minute tangential jams in between songs, and sometimes new songs developed out of those improvisations. The guys input definitely took things in a different direction because they're such unique players; we'd always wind up in a different place than I'd expected, and it would almost always be better than I had envisioned.
Do enjoy being the frontman in the band?
I do. It's an entirely different mindset, but it also gives you freedom to do whatever you feel like. You really have to think differently than when you're just playing an instrument because you're the face and the mouthpiece of the band when you're the singer. People relate everything about the band to you, so you really have to be present and attuned to the mood of the crowd.
Do you have to alter your playing because of the demands of singing?
Yes and no. I usually write the music first with DRB and then start singing a melody over what I'm playing on the guitar. I'll let the interplay between the two guide me on what works. Usually the melody that works best is the one that fits naturally with what the guitar is doing, so it's not that tough to play. That said, sometimes you'll have a really great riff that might be kinda hard to sing and play at the same time, but when you listen back, it's the right part so you know you have to make it work.
But I've got a quick and foolproof fix for those times: Remember James Hetfield! If any guitar-playing singer ever complains about having trouble getting a part down on the guitar while also doing the vocals, just show them Live Shit: Binge and Purge and have them watch "Battery." That's one of the hardest (and best) riffs of all time, and he's playing that shit perfectly at 100 mph, not missing a beat, while screaming out some seriously badass vocals and putting on a great show for 20,000 people!
So whenever I feel like I'm having too much trouble playing and singing at the same time with a complicated riff or vocal, I just slow it down and practice the hell out of it until it's perfect. If James Hetfield can be as badass as he is, none of the rest of us have any excuse!
Do you write as a trio or do you stockpile riffs and work them into songs as a band?
I write a lot of songs and have a lot of riff ideas so sometimes I'd bring in a full song (or almost full) to rehearsal, and we'd just kinda jam it out and everybody would find their part to fit the song. Other times we'd just jam in between songs and stumble across something really cool and turn it into a song on the spot. Lots of times I'll come up with a riff while not paying attention, like when I'm messing with the PA or sending a text with one hand and I've got my guitar in the other.
My left hand will inevitably start fretting notes while I'm not paying full attention and every now and then it'll sound really cool. "Afterlife" started that way. I was just fiddling with my volume knob in a rhythm for no apparent reason, and I slid my fingers down and up the neck a few times and instantly heard this really cool riff. It was essentially the riff the bass starts off the song with on the album version. I actually used to play the verses in that song with my volume knob and hammer-ons exclusively. Live, it was too involved and unpredictable, so I started changing my part around until I got it how it is on the record.
What led you to pick "Sledge Hammer" in particular to cover?
I've always loved that song, and it seems like something that everyone else loves too. Even people who don't know they love that song love that song! It's an instant smile on people's faces when it comes on a jukebox or a DJ spins it. One night at rehearsal we decided to give it a shot and instantly realized we were on to something.
I've never been into doing covers with my solo band because I figure if we're gonna spend time in the studio learning a song, I'd rather spend that time writing our own instead. But once in a while a cool cover comes along that you can make your own and get excited about. The original Peter Gabriel version is very produced and lush sounding, but we were a trio so we had to strip it all down to its bare essentials, which gave it a different feel right away. Also, the end solo is a big, improvised, freak-out jam between the three of us that was different every time we played it. I think of it as a heavy blues version of Peter Gabriel.
Do you use different gear with the DRB?
I started using Krank Amps last summer on the Scorpions tour with Tesla, which I absolutely love. Before that, I was using a Marshall JCM 900 with Tesla and a Marshall Slash Signature head (which is an exact replica of the old Silver Jubilee head from the '80s) at home with DRB. So they were similar rigs but not exact.
I have a separate pedalboard at home that I used in DRB as well. There's some crossover with the effects between Tesla and DRB, but there are a few pedals on my home rig that are different. I use a Dunlop Kirk Hammett wah pedal, which is absolutely fantastic. I got that killer harmonic overtone sound at the end of "Afterlife" with that pedal. It's got a really great mid-range and a nice overall sweep.
Also I've got an MXR EVH Flanger pedal, which I used a lot on "Sledgehammer" when we'd do it live. And for guitars with DRB I used my Number 1 Les Paul which is probably about a 2003 Standard that switched Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pros into with coil taps. It's in Tesla's live DVD from 2008. Also I used my Gibson Explorer with the dark, natural-wood finish. That guitar sounds monstrous and plays like a dream.
Also I used my Epiphone Sheraton II live and in the studio. That guitar actually proved to be the secret weapon for the tone on the song "The Key." I had already recorded a track with my Explorer, but it needed another texture so I plugged in the Sheraton. It sounded so thick and creamy through the distorted Marshall that I ended up using that as the main rhythm track and then doubling it again. The semi-hollow howl!
I've got a killer Gibson AFD Slash Signature Les Paul, which is one of the best Les Pauls I've ever played. Sound, tone, feel, look — it's got the whole package. It comes with Seymour Duncan Alnico II Slash Signature pickups, which are slightly hotter versions of the regular Alnicos. They are the clearest, most biting but still warm pickups I've ever played and I had them installed in my Epiphone Explorer Pro that I use with Tesla too.
"On My Own Again" sounds autobiographical. Is that the case?
Actually, no. That song was written to pitch to a country artist. I've been going out to Nashville every few months for the past few years to write with country songwriters with the intent of getting a song cut by a mainstream country artist. It's something I do separate from my solo stuff and Tesla, and I really enjoy it a lot. Writing for other people and staying within the parameters of what gets on the radio is really exhilarating and challenging.
It's so much fun to walk into a room with another writer or two at 11 a.m. with nothing but your guitar and a notepad and walk out at 2 p.m. with a full song. Anyway, "On My Own Again" was one of those songs. I wrote it with my buddy, Doc Holladay, who's one of my favorite writers in Nashville.
We cut most of the music and my vocals at his studio, and Troy Luccketta from Tesla ended up playing drums on it as well because he lives in Nashville and really dug the song. There are other versions with country guys singing it that are really cool, but I thought it worked well as a rock ballad with my vocals so I decided to include it on The Key to keep the album more diverse and interesting to listen to.
A lot of new bands stick to one sound and just do it on every song because they're trying to establish their brand. I get that mentality, but I could never do it myself. y the fourth song of most of those bands' albums, I'm bored. All of my favorite bands put out albums with all sorts of styles and dynamics, so I wanted to do the same. If it's all done with heart and played and sung by the same people, it will still sound like the same band to me, so having some variance in the song styles can really work.
Do you plan on doing any DRB touring with this record?
I don't have any plans to tour The Key at the moment. The band isn't together anymore, but I could still do dates if something cool came up. Right now I'm really busy playing shows and writing with Tesla, working on a new solo instrumental guitar album for Rat Pak Records and doing my pop/country songwriting stuff, so there's really not any time to devote to doing DRB shows.
I have to ask: Does Tesla have any firm plans to follow up Forevermore?
We are writing new songs on tour and working on them at sound check and in between dates at home. We've already finished recording a new one called "Taste My Pain," and we've been playing it live every night for the past couple weeks. It's a real heavy rock freight train of a song. A lot of the new stuff is coming out in that heavy, in-your-face direction too, which we're all super stoked about. We plan to release a new Tesla studio album in early 2014 and start touring behind it then.
John Katic is a writer and podcaster who founded the Iron City Rocks Podcast in 2009. It features interviews with countless rock, hard rock, metal and blues artists. In 2013, he started Heavy Metal Bookclub, a podcast and website devoted to hard rock and metal books.