By José Oliveira, Rock At Night EU Editor
Interview with talented songwriter from the Strasbourg rock scene, Thomas Kieffer
What is good in this musical job is the opportunity to note that the gold mines have not completely disappeared and we can still discover real nuggets! Thomas Kieffer is one of those! His latest project is called “The Meltdwn.” The twelve tracks that compose it, helped me to take care of my doubts during this crazy lockdown and to project myself into an unmasked musical horizon! Thomas agreed to travel 140 kms to come to Colmar, France and we met in the Covered Market Terrace to talk with Rock At Night (RAN) about his new opus.
RAN – Can you tell us a bit about your musical career?
Thomas Kieffer (TK)- I started at 16 in 1987, in a group called “Infected Youth.” Young, edgy and full of energy, influenced by Hüsker Dü , Metallica, Cro Mags, we embarked on the hard core metal.
We played fast, hard and violently. We looked for a singer who could stick to this musical style but we did not find it. So one day I took the microphone and started singing and playing the guitar. We realized that we no longer needed anyone! Playing in a group and often in Germany was the fastest way for me to progress. Then, still in metal but influenced by Punk Rock and Fusion, I was able to play on the other side of the border and open for American groups such as Nofx, Shudder To Think or Neurosis. Later, in another project with P. Brane, we played at the prestigious Eurockéennes Festival in Belfort, just before Oasis. At 29 I wanted to move on, to open up to other musical styles. I was seduced, listening to old songwriters like Nick Drake, Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty, John Lennon and other emerging names like Joseph Arthur, Damien Rice or Ryan Adams.
RAN – What were your main influences? When did you start playing the guitar?
TK – I started to play guitar at 13 or 14 years old. Learning lessons as every guy but stopped them after two weeks, because too conventional. My first vinyls were Highway To Hell (AC/DC), The Number Of The Beast (Iron Maiden) and some stuff from Led Zeppelin. On Saturday evenings at home, watching a great French Rock Channel and the first MTV clips. One of those clips, with a song of Jane’s Addiction Mountain, with Dave Navarro with his black Gibson Les Paul, playing on the tops of the Hollywood Hills, was a real revelation to me. Suddenly, I wanted to play like Dave Navarro — Hard Rock!!!
RAN – You have already opened for consecrated names such as Gary Moore, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Canned Heat and the Scorpions. What impressed you the most? What do you take away from these experiences?
TK – It reminds me of excellent memories and a very impressive experience. Finding yourself alone on stage, opening for Monsters like the Scorpions, facing a floor of 8,000 people, it’s quite impressive! At that time I was playing alone onstage with my looper equipment. Playing my music live without playback and without a net. The slightest mistake was fatal.
I was drumming on my guitar. I wove guitar arrangements and choirs with my voice. I used a lot of pedal effects to color the sound of my folk. People discovered the composition as the title was built on stage. It was a challenge that required enormous concentration but a very good adrenaline! I remember, when the stage was dark, just before going to play, the cries and applause of these 8,000 people! A very impressive sound. I also remember this “encore” at the Olympia in Paris, where I was the opening act for Garry Moore. A superb evening with a conquered audience. Touring with the Scorpions was also a great moment.
RAN – How did you experience this painful lockdown? Did you do “live home sessions”?
TK – I would say that this period was not painful for me. I mean, I had to stop some live concerts for my new project “The Meltdwn” but it allowed me to dedicate myself a little more to my music. This also allowed me to introduce my music to a wider audience, with some Home Sessions. Through my songs, people had the time to discover me. Some comments as “Thank you for your music. It makes me feel good” were the most beautiful compliments. Making people forget a few minutes, by my music, the worries or a stressful situation, was a great satisfaction!
RAN – We were oversold “The next world will not be the same!” Are you one of those who dreamed of a better world? Are you disappointed with everything that is happening around the planet now?
TK – Well, you know, I think I had always been a sweet dreamer! I had the hope that this parenthesis will change the planet positively. I keep in mind only the positive things that I could see on social networks, mutual aid, love, sharing…this world and politicians must learn from it…
RAN – Do you think that in 2020, music can still have a role of raising awareness, as did the Americans with the “One World Together at Home?”
TK – Music has always been a great vector for changing opinions. The popularity of policies plummets by their catastrophic management of this crisis. People are no more fooled!
RAN – France is the country that has given the most help in overcoming this health disaster. For example, giving a blank year to the musicians. What are your feelings about that?
TK – This crisis is a terrible disaster for all the people in touch with culture! Musically, the year 2020 is to be wiped off the map. I’m only hoping that things become normal next year. Crossing my fingers that there will be no more second Covid-19 wave.
RAN – You’ve just released a new album, Keep On Running which I consider to be the most refreshing thing I have heard in recent times. Can you tell us about its concept? Who worked with you and where?
TK -The twelve tracks of Keep On Running were written back home after a North Carolina Tour, in the USA. I had been shooting alone with my loopers for many years and during that tour I went to a bar in Carrboro and attended a jam. I went on stage and I started to jam with an African American drummer and a bass player with an unstoppable groove. It was like we’ve known each other for 15 years and that gave me back a taste to replay with a band. Back to France, I started to write and compose the music for this album. A few months later I presented the tracks to a producer and he decided to give me the chance to have a team of excellent musicians to help me record these twelve tracks. We met at Studio Saint Germain and at Studio Gang, in Paris, two beautiful legendary French studios and in Belgium at the ICP. François Delfin on guitar (Bashung, Pagny, Zazie) Steve Davis on bass (Archive, Craig David, Seal) Serge Perathoner on keyboards and musical direction (Johnny Hallyday, Michel Berger, Céline Dion). The producer was Jean Pierre Janiaud, who worked with Johnny Hallyday, Jean Jacques Goldman and Michel Berger.
RAN – In the “That’s Hell” video, I immediately recognized the charm of a Portuguese beach and I was not mistaken. I know that your girlfriend is Portuguese and she has the task of achieving these beautiful images! What is her participation in your artistic project?
TK – Well seen, José! It’s indeed a beautiful Portuguese beach located in Torreira, 60 kilometers from Porto. Alice made me discover a few years ago, her (and yours) magnificent country. How not to fall in love with this beautiful natural setting and still wild landscapes! I like to play there. They have a musical culture turned towards various horizons and I like it. The video was made by Joao Correia de Campos and my partner Alice Henriques. I like her feminine artistic look. She’s my artistic lover and knows how to make me beautiful! (laughs)
RAN – Tell me a little more about this “Meltdwn” project…
TK – I released this third album Keep on Running under the name of “The Meltdwn.” It sounds much more an electric album and really different from my other albums. I would say that “The Meltdwn” represents the band who is playing with me now on stage.
RAN – It’s rare for a music journalist to tell the artist that he is interviewing, that he likes all the titles of his album! And I keep passing it when I am alone on the highway, dreaming of the great American spaces! Let’s talk a little about these songs…
TK – “Sister” talks about the advice that a big brother or a caring person can give to his sister. Beware of the traps of life, of bad people but that life can be good and that it is worth living.
“Keep On Running” talks about a subject which is still unfortunately news: the mistreatment of women, physical and verbal violence. This song simply says to escape from your torturer, to run away without looking back.
“That’s Hell” talks about lack, separation, addiction to a person…
“Infinity” talks about the meeting of his soul mate, the twin flame, the person who will bring out the best of you, about the love of truth.
“In the Desert” tackles the subject of introspection, crossing a zone of discomfort, feeling yourself dying slowly, meeting ghosts from the past, being confronted with your demons and fears…
“New Life” is a hymn to a change of life. A time to take a new direction in your life, to leave the negative behind, to see the positive even in dark situations…
“Stay” talks about separation, about the complex subject of love between two beings.
“Fool for You” is sort of “Love the One You’re With.”
“The End of the World” was perfect for this lockdown. The fact that the world is falling apart but without feeling lonely, holding the hand of your lover and watching this huge wave crashing down, staying together whatever happens.
“Too Close” is just love at first sight.
“A Brand New Feeling” goes through a traumatic experience but draws positive from this situation, to share it to move other people around.
“Guinevere” is about loving a person despite the distance.
RAN – Listening to these songs we still feel an attraction to the American musical horizon.
TK – I lived a year in London in 2009, where I played in music clubs like the Half Moon in Putney, where the Who or the Stones started their career. In this kind of club, personalities like Pete Doherty or Carl Barrat (The Libertines) can sit quietly in front of you, have a beer while watching you play. At the time I lived with an American girl, who introduced me to her family in North Carolina. I had the chance to play in several clubs like the legendary Local 506, in the famous city triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. An enriching experience. Over there, you turn on the radio, you go into a bar, everything sweats up rock n’roll. Two years later, I toured some clubs and bars in North Carolina again. I particularly love that place.
RAN – What names are currently helping you to better support this musical lockdown?
TK – Ryan Adams remains my favorite songwriter. I dream of being able to work with him one day. I listen to a lot of the Raconteurs, Phoebe Bridgers, Mark Lanegan among others.
RAN – Thank you very much for having traveled 150 kilometers to come to this interview. A great pleasure. Before leaving, let me show you Ryan Adam’s design that he made for me in five minutes after a superb show in Basel! It will surely surprise you!
Check out these exceptional song videos!