HEROES AND MONSTERS – “There Are No Rules… Let’s Do Something Different”
January 25, 2023, 5 days ago
“It was a really fun process,” begins vocalist / bassist Todd Kerns, speaking about Heroes And Monsters - his new band with guitarist Stef Burns (Y&T, Alice Cooper, Huey Lewis And The News) and drummer Will Hunt (Black Label Society, Evanescence, Tommy Lee). Heroes And Monsters released their self-titled debut album, via Frontiers Music, on January 20, 2023. It’s energetic, guitar heavy rock ‘n’ roll full of big hooks and catchy choruses.
“There was a lot of conversation about, was there a plan going into this,” continues Kerns. “Not really. Honestly, it was just sort of like… start creating, see what happens, and go from there. I think that whole conversation – before you start an album – ‘Let’s make this kind of a record.’ Often, that seems kind of pointless, cause it just sort of presents whatever it’s going to be anyway. This was 100% seeing what happens.”
In recent years, Todd has spent a significant amount of time playing bass for Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators. While Slash has been busy with Guns N’ Roses, Todd kept himself occupied playing with Steven Adler, Toque, Bruce Kulick, Minefield, and Raiding The Rock Vault. Given that jam-packed schedule, how does one find time to start a new band?
“Well, the thing about Heroes And Monsters, that a lot of people don’t really understand, is that a lot of it came up in the midst of the lockdown,” explains Todd. “The lockdown is as much a reason why this happened as anything else, because we had time on our hands. It was worked on for quite a long period on top of that; but it definitely all came up during Covid, when, there was a lot of perspective that we’ll never be touring again. Everything we do is going to be completely different now. And the lion’s share of my focus had been on live performance. As much as making music is what it is, there’s a reason why Aerosmith is out on the road, and not making new music. Think about KISS – they don’t make new music anymore; they just go out and play. But that’s been the focus for a long time now. When you take that away… I guess we’ll just write and record music; and that’s what we started doing. Stuff like Heroes And Monsters came up – and really, the only option at the time was to write and record. This was when we weren’t supposed to be getting together so, the remote process of it was even more… the only option was to be doing it without actually, physically interacting with anybody.”
It's remarkable that Heroes And Monsters came together remotely. Although the ten songs were born at home, then file-shared back and forth, the album sounds like it was recorded in a proper studio. “I think I was always sort of skeptical about the idea of this type of recording,” admits Todd. “Guys like Slash and myself have always been like, ‘No, everybody gets in a room together and we bash it out.’ But when I think about it, over time, of course the process of recording a record often goes through phases of everybody’s in the room together. Then phases of almost solitude. Now he’s going to work on guitars, he’s going to work on vocals. That kind of stuff suddenly turns into… doing the drum tracks seems to be the most communal aspect. Unless you’re doing the last Slash album (4), where we were all together all the time. But it seems to be the exception to a much larger rule. This, in of itself, was interesting to be collaborating, and collaborative. But, at the same time, immediately back into solitude – which is not unusual either. When you sit down to write lyrics; sometimes just stepping away from the gang to get a perspective on arrangements and what’s working. Just take some time to yourself. That’s a big part of it; sometimes you can be too close to it. You have to step away on occasion as well. The actual remote recording of it, I’m sort of a big believer in it, in a lot of ways. Doing Slash, I had the exact opposite experience of recording a completely live album; and then recording a completely remote record – one guy’s in Italy, one guy’s in Florida, and I’m in Nevada. It couldn’t be more remote.”
Recording remotely, there isn’t a traditional producer. There’s no Bob Rock behind the board saying, ‘Try this!’ “That’s true. It was the three of us prodding one another to whatever degree. I suppose, in a more conventional sense, the three of us would have written a bunch of songs and demoed them around to whoever was going to produce it. But it becomes more of a self-produced idea. Will’s actually incredibly talented at mixing, so he was involved in a lot of that. Of course, the Frontiers guys have their own two cents as well. So, it takes a village. It always does, no matter who’s in the production chair. In this particular instance, we definitely self-produced.”
Todd takes us back to the very beginning of Heroes And Monsters. “I knew Will. He seems to be quite a knowable guy; he’s always around, and just a monster talent. He just reached out, in the middle of the nothingness, in the middle of the void. He was like, ‘Hey, I’m knocking some stuff around with a friend. What do you think?’ Well, send it over. I literally was on the couch. I wasn’t doing anything. It took me a long time to get to that point cause I’m a hustler, and I’m always doing something. It took me a minute to get to where I wasn’t actually doing anything; just watching Netflix. It was like, yeah, send it over and I’ll take a listen. Then it just sort of went from there. I really leaned into it. The first song was ‘Locked And Loaded’. That came together, then another one, and another one. Next thing you know, you’ve got a record’s worth of material. But I had never physically met Stef Burns until we made the videos for ‘Raw Power’ and ‘Let’s Ride It’. It’s a very surreal thing to imagine. The amount of time on the telephone, and on Skype or Zoom, we were in constant contact, discussing this and that’ it’s a very 21st century relationship in that you feel tight with somebody, then you realize, we’ve actually never physically met – what a strange concept. Then when we finally do, it’s like, oh, this is so weird. But it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. In a lot of ways, it creates a safety distance, being over the computer or over a phone. You may not have been quite as bold in the same room together. I don’t know, it’s hard to say.”
As far as the origin of the name Heroes And Monsters… “I think Will might have mumbled that out at one point. To me, it’s always sort of been that… well, it’s been an interesting time to have witnessed how completely polar opposite the outlook of everybody has been; whether it’s politics or anything else. Everybody’s sort of like, this is the greatest thing in the entire world. And the other side are going, this is the worst thing that ever happened. I’ve sort of equated it to things like the Internet. Almost anything you can imagine that has been a great addition, comes with a very negative thing. I like the idea that this person is my hero, and to another person, that very same person is a monster. That’s what I get out of it anyway. Initially, I’ll be honest with you, I was really pushing for Burns, Hunt And Kerns. I wanted to be like Beck, Bogert & Appice – one of those old school gatherings of musicians. We all know we’re guys from other stuff, and I think that sometimes putting a name on it just sort of – in a lot of ways I was very aware of the fact that I’m in multiple projects.
“Of course, at that moment, when it came up, I was only in Heroes And Monsters. I was literally sitting in a void of nothingness going yeah, we’re going to write a record, that sounds like fun. Minefield, the previous project I had done, was done in exactly the same fashion. But to me, it was treated as sort of an experiment, a very successful experiment in my opinion. I never really consider success based upon how much things sell. The fact that a song like ‘Alone Together’ did not exist, and then all of a sudden is a thing, is really important to me. Putting a name to it, is one of those things with Heroes And Monsters that I like the idea of it sounding like a ‘project.’ Because people keep saying, ‘Is this a project or is it a band?’ I just kind of giggle. Aren’t all projects bands and all bands projects? It all depends on everybody’s… he’s in Evanescence, I’m with Slash. I’ve been answering the band vs. project question when it comes to Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators for 13 years now. It’s something we do whenever we can. In essence it’s a project, in essence it’s a band. But putting a name to it, Heroes And Monsters, took it away from three guys just jamming, which I guess gives it somewhat of a different focus.”
Looking at the tracklisting, “Set Me Free” immediately stood out. Is Heroes And Monsters really covering a Velvet Revolver song? No, it’s The Sweet. “Now that you mention it, I love that song. But I completely forgot that there’s a Velvet Revolver song with the same title,” admits Todd. “In the discussions of what we should do, there’s always a loose game plan in place – let’s do one cover, cause it’s always good to have ‘You Really Got Me’ for a band you’ve never heard of… some touchstone of familiarity. For whatever reason, we just kept coming back to ‘Set Me Free’. It’s interesting when you get a group of people together and you find the common ground of the music that you like, which is usually the case with any band. You have a common ground of what you like, and each guy has his own different tastes of what he’s into that the other guys may not be familiar with. But The Sweet was one of those bands that we couldn’t help but be like, yeah, that’s the shit! Honestly, having a song like that where a guy like Will Hunt can really cut loose is sort of the game, just let him do this thing. He really shines on a track like that. It has all the elements of the vocals and the big harmonies. It’s sort of an early… I wouldn’t say thrash, but it has this double-time, kind of cleaned up Motörhead thing to it that I think is kind of adorable. But it’s heavy and it rocks. The drums are huge, and the guitar has plenty of room to shine. It just felt like the right song.”
It's mind-blowing that the original came out in 1974. The Sweet were so far ahead of the game with that song. “They really were. They do not get the credit they deserve. That’s one band that, for whatever reason – I mean, they do get the credit. Everybody goes, ‘Oh yeah, love The Sweet.’ But why are they not in a more legendary status? Cause every single song on Desolation Boulevard is a keeper. We could have just thrown a dart and picked any song on that record and covered it. That was the one we landed on, and it was the right move.”
There’s another very familiar title in the tracklisting for Heroes And Monsters, that being Raw Power, which was the name of the 1973 album by Iggy And The Stooges. But it’s not that song, it’s an original composition. “Yeah, that was part of the charm of it. The funny thing about that song is, it was one of the songs Will had been working on with Dark New Day. That and a song called, ‘I Knew You Were The Devil’. I was like, we’ve got to record these. They’re great songs, how are they not being used? I’m one of those people who, a great song is a great song. I always remember that Freddie Mercury is singing John Deacon’s lyrics in ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, which is a strange thing to consider, but it’s true. He’s singing Brian May’s lyrics in ‘Tie Your Mother Down’. Part of the fun is the changing of perspective and taking on a character, as a vocalist being able to sing somebody else’s ideas. So, for me, it was kind of like, there are no rules when it comes to a project like this, where we can do something a little different. Let’s lean in and try and do something a little different. ‘Raw Power’, the title alone is a bit cheeky to me. As a Bowie and Iggy fan, I get it, but it goes completely somewhere else other than being the touchstone of the title.”
Todd breaks down the lyric writing process within Heroes And Monsters. “It’s pretty much a complete gang effort. There are occasions where I’m writing the full song, and there’s other things that were brought in that we curtailed and changed a little bit here and there. But I’m always very respectful of other people’s – when they bring in stuff. I think it’s important to do that. When people are creative and writing, it’s good to help them see that through. So, stuff like the couple of songs from Dark New Day, they’re great. I didn’t have any thoughts on changing them. It was important to flesh out the vision of what it had initially started out as. But basically everything, when it comes to the lyrics or the songs, it was a communal effort.”
Although a video has not been made for “Don’t Tell Me I’m Wrong”, that song is sure to resonate with listeners all over, because nobody wants to hear that they’re wrong. “It’s funny, cause to me, it’s almost like we live in a day and age where being right is the most important thing. If you listen to the arguments of people these days, no one’s really listening to anybody else. You surround yourself with people who think like you do, and that’s that. No wants to hear anything else. No one wants to be told they’re wrong. Everybody wants to believe that what they think is right. It actually takes a much bigger person to stop and go, I never thought of it like that. I think we all do that in life. If you’re adult enough to just stop and listen, and take in a different perspective, that’s a much bigger concept. It’s also one of those songs that’s really catchy and really fun; and a little different. The fun thing about this record was being able to find a little bit of diversity within the tracklisting, so it wasn’t just ten or twelve versions of the same song.”
Finally, how did Heroes And Monsters land the deal with Frontiers? “That’s another interesting thing, because as you know, Frontiers is so good at gathering up a group of dudes, to do some sort of super group idea. With this, it was more like, although I was presented initially that Frontiers was certainly a part of the equation… Stef is in Milan, so there was a big Italian connection going on there. But I think this thing is slightly different. It’s not the melodic metal thing that Frontiers does so well. It’s melodic, but it’s more hard rock. It’s a little different than that compiling of dudes from other things and doing a metal record for the novelty of it. This actually felt more like we’re a real band.”