TODD KERNS - “I Never Really Worried About Who Isn’t There”

December 24, 2012, 4 years ago

By Aaron Small

todd kerns feature

Earlier this month, fellow Canadian TODD KERNS (THE AGE OF ELECTRIC, STATIC IN STEREO, SIN CITY SINNERS, SLASH) launched the Dammit Pledge Music Campaign for his forthcoming solo acoustic album and accompanying EP. Within 24 hours Todd achieved the 100% mark. Currently sitting at 119% of his goal, Kerns admits, “It’s pretty surreal to me. I’d always wanted to do an acoustic record. Back in The Age Of Electric was the first time I ever did an acoustic show; and I was terrified! Kevin Kane from THE GRAPES OF WRATH – wow, I’m digging deep into Canadian rock there – was doing an acoustic show and said a bunch of us are going to get up. It sounded awesome, so I said I’d love to do it. Immediately after putting the phone down it was like, wait a minute, I’ve never done an acoustic show in my life! I’m used to standing in front of Marshall Amplifiers, this was a whole other thing; it was liberating."

"That’s happened to me a few times, where people have thrown things at me - like acting - where my initial reaction is, I don’t know, that’s a little weird. And I almost embrace that feeling. I play loud rock ‘n roll and scream on top of it, and everybody seems to enjoy that. But the acoustic thing is more about the songs, and that’s the most interesting thing about stripping down – like the way JOHNNY CASH stripped down ‘Rusty Cage’ by SOUNDGARDEN. Wow! What a trip! Who would have ever thought of that? Apparently that was (producer) Rick Rubin’s idea, to pull that song apart and present it in its most naked form – there’s a whole other song underneath all this racket .That’s been part of the fun for me, taking a whole new look at things. The Static In Stereo record (released in 2001) was predominantly written in that fashion… there was a lot of me and an acoustic guitar. At one point, Shaun from WIDE MOUTH MASON – some more Can Rock for ya – hosted a night in Vancouver where people would come up and jam. He asked if I could cover for him for a couple of weeks while he was away. So I started doing that, somewhere in the era of doing Go Time! (2004) and some of those songs started to materialize; ‘Indian Summer’ is clearly an acoustic sounding song. Sometimes when you’re a songwriter and you’re in a band, you’re always thinking the guitar will do this and the bass will do that, and the drums will be doing this. You’re thinking in a much broader sense, and I’m still thinking that way. On the acoustic record that I’m doing, some of the songs will be just me and a guitar, and some of them will have some form of accompaniment, be it a piano or some electric guitar stuff here and there. It’s going to be more of an acoustic flavoured record.”

Todd explains the decision to utilize Pledge Music to raise funds, as the day of the traditional record deal has gone the way of the Dodo bird. Essentially the artist is asking fans to help finance the recording costs. “My intention was to put one out anyway,” clarifies Kerns. “I was going to record something during this brief hiatus (from touring with Slash) here in 2012 and 2013. I was going to release it in Canada, just as a nod to my roots and homage of respect for where I came from. I was even talking about renting a car and driving across the country, playing some shows. There’s sort of a romantic troubadour aspect to it that may or may not be reality. That was my intention until GINGER WILDHEART had all the success with his Pledge campaign. It’s a very different and new way to do this; a lot of people in the industry are freaked out by it, they don’t really understand. I think they’re afraid of the idea of looking like you’re begging people to give you money. I’m not begging anybody! I’m going to make a record, if you want to get in on it, that’d be awesome. If you don’t, ok, I’m still going to make it anyway. That’s the way I look at it. When it was presented to me, Ginger had such enormous, unexpected success with it – his album’s called 505% because he made 505% of his goal. If they had told me that when I was slugging it out on different record labels… the game that was involved, it still exists today where you’re trying to please your record company, agent, and management. But at the same time, ultimately what you’re trying to do is please yourself. I just want to make music! I didn’t get into this game to wear the right kind of shirt and get the right kind of haircut to make everybody happy."

"I never really understood that whole side of it and looking back I think, the JACK WHITEs of the world had it more figured out. He was like, I’m going to do what I do and it’s your job to sell it. I don’t think Jack would have changed much about that. If it didn’t work, I think Jack would have continued doing what he was doing and fade off into obscurity. I think that’s probably true of NIRVANA and GUNS N’ ROSES really. GN’R is a great example of a band that wasn’t going to change anything about themselves. We know all the stories about producers coming in and trying to polish and put a different spin on things, it just wasn’t going to happen. Guns N’ Roses was going to be Guns N’ Roses. It was a great moment in time where what they were doing hit and off it went. To me, that’s what music should be. What Pledge Music has created is an avenue for guys like me who just want to make music and happen to have an audience that’s receptive. I’ve always been that guy who’s going to throw a party and if 20 people show up, then those 20 people are going to have a great fucking time. If 1000 people show up, well they’re going to have a great fucking time too. I never really worried about who isn’t there; I was focused on who is. It’s going to be that way until I can’t do this anymore.”

Another Canadian band THE HEADSTONES IS currently utilizing Pledge Music to finance their comeback album, and they’re currently at 231% of their goal. “That’s so great! Again, what are the options for The Headstones? Let’s go back to the label we used to be on? I have great love and affection for all the people who are there… I just think that your analogy of the Dodo is not that far off. The Headstones could put that record out and start selling numbers that will suddenly have those record companies knocking at their door saying, ‘do you want to try and take this up a notch?’ That’s kind of weird cause it’s like back in the day when a band used to put out a record through Cargo or Sub Pop, one of the indie labels; then all of a sudden Universal swoops in to take it up to the next level. That’s the cool thing about music – yesterday this song didn’t even exist, today it exists and it can be anything; completely life changing or completely forgotten. All it takes is ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and your life is completely different. But I’ve never been worried about that side of things, I just like playing music. So whether I’m rich or just surviving, it’s all win-win to me.”

Kerns’ acoustic solo album will be called Hello Cruel World, an obvious play on the PINK FLOYD song ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ from The Wall. “Mine is the opposite, the embracing of a cruel world; I think it’s funny. But it also comes with an EP that will only be available through Pledge. On that I’m going to do some of the older songs from my catalogue that I’ve done in a million shows. The EP is called Near Life Experience, which of course is a play on Near Death Experience – see how funny I am. But Near Life Experience comes from the book Fight Club; it’s just a phrase they use which I thought was pretty funny. But Hello Cruel World will be songs that have never been released. I was going to say all new songs, but to be honest, some of the songs are not new, they’ve just never been released; they just weren’t appropriate for any of the things I was doing.”

To spark interest in his Pledge Music campaign, Todd has given away a new song, ‘Little Grace’, which starts with a very interesting lyric: Father Time bailed on Mother Earth. “I’m glad you caught that! You’re the first person who’s ever mentioned that. It’s based on a bunch of stuff, but that song is actually pretty old. They asked me if I had anything I’d like to get out there, just as a free gift to anybody signing up for this thing. A lot of people think it’s going to be on the new album, but it’s an old demo that had never seen the light of day. I could do this once a month for the rest of my life, issue an unreleased song. There’s some stuff that you never want to come out, just ‘cause it didn’t turn out the way you wanted. But ‘Little Grace’ was always a pretty dark song from a relatively dark time. It’s sort of about a time in Vancouver when a lot of my friends were falling by the wayside with drugs and bad things. Certain people ended up literally homeless or dead, and other guys pulled it together. Right around that post-grunge phase where heroin was a giant problem in Seattle and Vancouver; it was everywhere. The band you’re sharing a rehearsal space with is stealing your gear to sell for drug money, it was that crazy! Even if people in your band weren’t doing it, it was around you and you knew tons of people who were doing it. There was a whole bunch of songs from that period that will probably see the light of day that are all based around the same sort of thing – people who I really care about, and although the song isn’t super specific, it isn’t an anti-drug thing; it’s more like helping somebody.”

On a much lighter - and more enjoyable note - Sin City Sinners recently filmed a video for the Christmas classic ‘We Three Kings’ at KISS Mini Golf in Vegas. “It was hilarious! I assume you saw the last one, where it was a play on The Hangover. So it’s basically Hangover Part Two; except we’re not in Thailand, we’re in KISS Mini Golf. It’s more of the same shenanigans really. That crazy metal version we did with George (Lynch), as ridiculous as it is, it’s my favourite song on that record (A Sinners Christmas). I recently bought a guitar off of (former KISS guitarist) Bruce Kulick and it’s really weird. I was a kid at a hockey arena in Regina, Saskatchewan watching DOKKEN opening for KISS. Dokken was George (Lynch) and Jeff Pilson – both of which I know and talk to. I just saw Pilson at the AEROSMITH concert in LA. And then KISS goes on and that’s Bruce Kulick, and Gene (Simmons) and Paul (Stanley), and Eric Carr at the time. As a kid in a hockey arena, they may as well have been from another planet! It was a big deal to be breathing the same oxygen as Paul Stanley. I couldn’t believe we were both in the same room together. And then you know these people in some fashion or another; it’s very surreal to me, to be part of the same game now and playing the same size venues. You know, I never looked at that Christmas CD as a money-making thing or any way to capitalize. It was more like a gift; we recorded these Christmas songs, enjoy!”

The release date for Hello Cruel World and Near Life Experience “is just in discussion, because it’s usually a three-month campaign and then you put it out. I have January off, technically. I’m in Vegas but The Sinners will run me ragged. I’m going to try and record it during that. Then I’m gone for February with Slash, and I’m home for March and April – which will be spent finishing it. Somewhere around late April I guess? That’s my intention anyway. We’re doing vinyl, we’re doing everything. It’s going to be pretty cool. But again, it’s never been about making a bunch of money off of it. In reality, it’s just one of those things where your sales are kind of done up front in a funny way.”

It’s almost like concert tickets. If you’re going to see KISS live, you pay for your seats three months in advance. “Exactly, that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about with Pledge. If they’d done this when I was a kid, I wouldn’t think twice about it! KISS is putting out a new record, here’s $10. There’s also different levels of things you can get, if you put in a certain amount of money, you’ll be thanked in the album; I think that’s pretty cool. Imagine I was a kid, here’s some money and I buy fucking Asylum, or whichever KISS album at the time, and I look at it and there’s my name; that’s a real trip. Pledge really creates a community which is cool. People talk about the music industry like it doesn’t exist anymore. But I’ve been around the world several times now, and there’s legions of people who are really into music and really want to be a part of collecting and something fun. Now, in any city, it’s like let’s go to the record store – as opposed to multiple record stores. Or it’s like fucking Target and WalMart and you’re only going to get whatever the Top Ten are, and maybe some back catalogue type stuff. It’s like going back to if you liked THE CIRCLE JERKS and D.O.A., you had to go to special stores to find those bands; or go to their shows. Pledge Music is for people who like music and want music; there it is. It would be nice to see it flourish and become a very direct way for people who make music to get music to people who want to fucking hear it. You’re never going to lose people who like music and are looking for music, it’s more a case of how easy it is to find; and Pledge creates a whole new world. Ginger is the poster boy of that whole new world cause he was so successful at what he was doing. A lot of people may have seen dollar signs on that, but for me it wasn’t about that; I was doing it anyway. To me, I could have the actual process of making it paid for in advance as opposed to paying it on the back end with sales. And the Pledge thing raises the awareness of it.” It definitely builds anticipation. “But you never know. You know how many records I’ve made in my life, sometimes it’s surprising how much people like it, and sometimes it’s surprising how much people are totally ambivalent to it.”

This past summer, Sin City Sinners manager Jason Green announced he was working on a SCS book, what’s the progress update on that? “It’s still in the works, it’ll be out 2013 for sure. It’s a collection of photos and whatever he’s got going on. My book will be out… here’s the thing, if we were finished the tour with Slash… we go out again in May to Asia, so that’ll take me pretty much to the summer. Then we want to try and release my collection of blogs in a proper book, with some extra written stuff and photos. As you know, I’ve been talking about a biography but that’s… I keep taking on these projects saying, I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that, but I really have to focus. The blogs are actually super exhausting for me. I’ll be on tour and someone will say, ‘you haven’t written a blog in three weeks.’ Really? It feels like I just wrote one. Then I sit down to write one and I sure have a lot to talk about, all these shows. But people like it and follow it. That’s another one of those things where I really don’t expect to make a fucking dime off of releasing a book for myself, but it’s more something I’ve always wanted to do.”

It’s an accomplishment. “Hello Cruel World and Near Life Experience is an embracing of, you know what, you just don’t know. A friend of mine is in a really bad way with cancer right now. And that was a big eye-opener to me, a big kick in the pants to do this. If I get hit by a car tomorrow and I’m on death’s door, I won’t be thinking, oh man I really should have bought a Lamborghini. What I’d be thinking is, I wish I put more music out, ‘cause your music lives on long after you are gone. In many ways, that’s what Hello Cruel World is to me. I’m not 18 anymore. I just saw Aerosmith the other night and they’re 60-some years old. You kind of think to yourself, I guess I’ll still be fucking doing this in 20 years from now. How much music can I make between now and then? If what you really enjoy and get off on is making music, then you should do that. Apocalyptic Love was a gigantic, great experience to be a part of. It’s funny because when you’re part of a record, it’s just something you did. I don’t sit around listening to records I’ve made, but once in a while it’ll come on the iPod and… this fucking thing sounds great! You’re kind of blown away by it. You feel a sense of pride about it. I feel like that about most of my entire catalogue. People ask, ‘why would you do an acoustic record?’ I think it’s the most intimate thing I could do. It’s the most naked thing you can do – here’s me singing some songs, hope you enjoy it, until next time when I’ll definitely make a loud rock ‘n roll record. But this time it’s just your pal Todd singing in your ear.”

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