TODD KERNS On New TKO Album - “Not Every Song Is Super Rowdy, But That Was The Theme”

January 13, 2016, 8 years ago

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TODD KERNS On New TKO Album - “Not Every Song Is Super Rowdy, But That Was The Theme”

“That’s the interesting thing about music, yesterday this song didn’t exist; there was no such thing. Today, it’s done. We really forced ourselves to go into the studio in the morning – musician morning – and complete that song. We would write and record everything in a day,” says Todd Kerns, speaking exclusively to BraveWords scribe Aaron Small about his upcoming TKO album, currently available for pre-order via Pledge Music.

15 years in the making, TKO “was a really interesting exercise, and it really proved to me that if you put on your fucking hard hat and go to work, you can get it done,” reflects Todd. “I don’t really look at it as work, but it’s very easy to kick back and say, I’m not feeling inspired today. It’s the same thing whenever I write a blog. Until I sit myself in front of the fucking lap top and turn off the phone… the same thing can be said for music. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be your best work on Monday, maybe not even Tuesday. But maybe on Wednesday you’ll get a great one. It was a really cool experiment. If you dedicate 100% of yourself to something, good things will happen. When I was a kid and I started to play music, I didn’t give a shit about an apartment. I didn’t give a shit about the furniture. All I cared about was playing music, and it frustrated everyone around me to the point that when I became a proper grown-up, it was even harder to adjust. Now I’ve been able to find some sort of weird simpatico between the entire thing.”

“But I really threw myself into this. I 100% respect so many of my friends who are so talented, but didn’t want to kill themselves to do this. I never felt like I was killing myself. Even at the hardest of times, it still felt like I was on the right road. I still felt like it was what I was supposed to be doing. Certainly, there are times in your life when you question, is this the right thing to do? Part of the fun too is the journey versus destination aspect of it. As long as you enjoy the ride, which looking back on my life, certainly there’s been tough stretches of road, but I don’t think I would have learned nearly as many things if I had not been through that. I can’t imagine being that guy who picked up a guitar, and the next year he was a rock star; the end.”

Closer to the beginning than the end, TKO is comprised of Todd, alongside Reed Shimozawa and Ian Grant; both of whom also play in Zuckerbaby. A mixture of old and new material, TKO dates back to 2004 – the year Kerns released his solo album, Go Time! While there is some overlap between the two projects, “More than half is all new. I don’t know the actual math on that,” admits Todd. “There’s five or six songs from Go Time! – of course these are all being remixed and remastered. But when we talked about it, we had a full album’s worth of new material that’s never been released. Go Time! was a long time ago now, and because it isn’t available in any other form than the wacky Internet, we thought we’d release it as an entire package. It completes an entire story; it would be like having a book with a couple of missing chapters if we didn’t include those songs.”

“Some of those songs, we ended up recording Sin City Sinners versions of, like ‘Turn It Up’ and ‘Probable Cause’. At the time, what was going on was I had this TKO project, and I had a solo project through my friend Bif Naked’s label. It was kind of like having two girlfriends on the go, and I had to pick which one was going to be my wife. The solo thing had started to pick up speed, we decided that I could include some of these songs as well cause they’re so fucking great! We started to get a bit confused as to how that was going to work as far as TKO goes; I was living in Vancouver, and those guys were in Calgary. The interesting thing about the TKO project was that it would kind of fall by the wayside, and then flare up again like some sort of tuberculosis. We’d find ourselves coming up with a couple of songs; I still have one song to sing actually. We kept coming back to it – maybe we should just complete this fucking thing.”

“The other thing is… so many people have come along since Go Time! came out. So a lot of this material that kind of got lost in the mix is all brand new. Trust me, it’s weird to me man. People coming up to me with Static In Stereo CD jackets in Europe; they have no idea how disappointing that record was when it came out. It was right at the height of - yesterday we had a record industry in Canada, and today we don’t. If we had put that record out one year earlier, we would have been in better shape. But there’s something really rewarding about somebody who found this CD, however they found it. Through Guns N’ Roses they followed Slash – who’s that guy? He’s got stuff going on. Here’s one of his CDs, I really connect with this song. Go Time! and Static In Stereo are finding a new life in a weird, unexpected way. The TKO thing is kind of like putting a period at the end of that sentence. After the TKO thing, I’m more focused on doing something completely new, so we’ll see what happens.”

As previously noted, some of the songs on TKO are 15 years old, and others are brand spanking new. Given that time span, how do you make the album sound cohesive? “We really went into it with a goal in mind; even without speaking about it. This is our garage rock project. Let’s not get caught up in guitar solos and that kind of world. We wanted it to sound really raw, and I think we really captured that. We weren’t adverse to guitar solos, but we didn’t have those hats on. Reed Shimozawa is one of the most under-rated guitar players on the planet! He could be playing guitar for McCartney or anybody. It’s staggering how good he is. When we said ‘Let’s dig into our inner Stooges and make a really rowdy rock ‘n roll record’ – ‘Wide Awake In The American Dream’ from Go Time! is another one that came from the TKO sessions, and is really balls out rock ‘n roll. It doesn’t mean every song on there is super rowdy, but that was the theme. So it was really easy to go into these sessions with exactly the same mindset. It wasn’t like there was a manifesto, but we were very direct about it (TKO). It was so guttural as far as the arrangements. You need the right kind of players who can hang like that; we’re not jazz musicians by any stretch of the imagination, but you need to be on the same page.”

Pledge Music is the only outlet currently offering TKO to consumers, in a variety of different formats and bundles. Thus far Pledge has been incredibly successful for Todd; he reached 250% of the established goal within 24 hours of launching the campaign. “There’s been a real interesting take on Pledge Music, or crowd funding as we call it. All you’re asking is your audience to pre-order a CD you’re making. You’re not holding a gun to anybody’s head; you’re not forcing anybody to do anything. It’s just like, I’m going to make some music and you can get it here; it’s really that simple. To me, it felt like the most direct way of avoiding the middle man and record industry – which is such a mess right now. I kept thinking to myself, if I was a kid and I had the ability to have my name thanked on Blizzard Of Ozz by Ozzy Osbourne, I would have been like ‘Hell yeah, sign me up!’ There’s all kinds of really cool things about Pledge Music. The focus is always, this is the CD and this is how much it costs; the end. On top of that, we put all kinds of crazy things in there like stage worn clothing. What’s the catch? The catch is will the expectations of the people you’ve promised you’re making a CD to be met? You just hope they like what you do. But that’s the case every time you put a CD out. There are certain artists – and there’s a long list of them for me – who, when they put a CD out, I’m going to buy it, period. That’s just the way it goes. If somebody asked me today, ‘Iggy Pop’s putting out a record next month; do you want to buy it in advance?’ Here’s my $20, just send it to me. That’s all I’m asking of my audience. If you are invested enough to say, ‘Yeah I want that,’ then here it is. You try and make it worth their while with all kinds of other fun stuff. It creates a community, it creates a scene.”

“They’re always saying ‘rock ‘n roll is dead.’ Dude, I’ve been around the world a billion times now, and I see it alive and well. It’s thriving! The first Pledge that I did back in 2013 for Borrowing Trouble – within 24 hours we hit 100% and my mind was blown by that! Now with TKO, it’s a similar idea in the sense that it’s a project where my best friend Reed and I have been writing songs for 15 years now. We always had every intention of trying to release it at some point. That conversation becomes, how do you release this? Do we go to record label A, B, and C hoping they’re interested? Or do we just say; this is something we feel strongly about and really care about. Why should I have to pull in this whole other equation? Why don’t I just go to the audience and say, look, we made this thing, hope you enjoy it, and here it is? We’re at 289% now. I’ve been really fortunate. To go around the world as many times as I have, to see all these Facebook pages pop up like Todd Kerns Finland and Todd Kerns Budapest, it’s never anything but flattering and mind-boggling. I love that there’s other people as passionate about music and the stuff they follow as I am.”

Available strictly to fans who pre-order TKO via Pledge Music, is the online only Campfire Favourites.  The first video features Todd’s cover of “Livin’ In A Dream” by Arc Angels. “We’re always trying to come up with new and original ideas for the people who get involved. I thought it would be cool to just play some songs. For whatever reason, when I pick up an acoustic guitar, I love that song! For these Campfire Favourites, I’m trying to be left of centre as far as what people would expect. I’m probably not going to do any of my own songs, it’s just going to be weird covers; things that are a little different. I’ve done a million acoustic shows over the years, and the idea of boiling songs down to just a guitar and vocal can be done with almost any song on the planet really. It gets a little more difficult when it’s ‘Symphony Of Destruction’ by Megadeth. But it’s not impossible. The big proof in that is the Johnny Cash record where he did songs like ‘Rusty Cage’ by Soundgarden, in a different approach. That’s where the Campfire Favourites comes from. And a lot of people don’t know who The Arc Angels are; it’s kind of a lost gem really. I’m a massive fan.”

Also exclusive to Pledgers, is Todd’s in-depth description of the lyrical inspiration behind “All Systems Go” from TKO. Just for BraveWords readers, Todd shares the secrets of “You Know What You Did”, again from TKO. “The funny thing is… we were trying to do these songs in a day. I’m one of those people who always has ideas jotted down. With ‘You Know What You Did’, each verse… I guess it’s cause it was in the moment, I wrote about things that had occurred to me, or in my surrounding. The first verse is about a friend in a band that was playing in Ontario, Canada. In the song it says, ‘Arizona’s in Ontario, the bouncers beat the band after the show.’ At a club called Arizona’s, there was some sort of issue with getting paid, and it ended up with the bouncers roughing up the road manager, who actually is Rich Jones from Michael Monroe’s band. The first verse was about that fucking bullshit – you know what you did. The second verse was around Stampede time in Calgary – which is madness! I rented a room in some hotel. I pull up in a cab; I take my guitar out of the trunk – a Les Paul in a case. I walk into the lobby and this lady’s going ‘Oh no, no, no. No musicians.’ I say, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ She says, ‘We don’t want any musicians here.’ You’ve got to be kidding me. So I ended up in this shouting match… it turned out I just went down the street to another hotel and got a room. The third verse is about me playing a festival in northern BC. Me and my band drove all the way up there; it seemed like an epic journey. By the time we got there, it was a complete disaster. They hadn’t promoted it right, it wasn’t well attended; it was really fucking crazy. How did they expect anybody to come up here? Anyway, the promoter’s refusing to pay us – seriously dude? So I actually name drop the guy in the song. It says something like, ‘Danger Hoffman you small time fuck, you rip me off, where’s my $500?’” Sounds like “You Know What You Did” is comparable to “Get In The Ring” by Guns N’ Roses. “Yeah, in a more polite, subtle Canadian way,” laughs Todd. “Being forced to write good lyrics, do you make up some bullshit like, ‘you have the eyes of an angel,’ or do you just reach into yourself and tell a fucking story of what you know and what has happened to you. That song in general, ‘You Know What You Did’, is basically fuck you.”

In addition to the awesome music and online-only goodies, 10% of all money raised via Pledge Music for TKO goes to charity – specifically to Baby2Baby. Based in California, Baby2Baby provides low income children aged 0-12 with diapers, clothing, and other basic necessities. “I really can’t think of the negative of this. We dug in this time and researched it. We’re not raising millions of dollars; we’re just not that kind of operation. But we can raise thousands hopefully; we’ll see how it goes. That kind of money is going to make a difference to something like that. Obviously every dollar counts in every charity, but it seems like the Baby2Baby organization would really be able to make some differences with that. It’s fucked up, living in a society that’s so affluent, yet there’s still people out there who can’t afford to take care of their own; it’s mind-blowing.”

“I was just in India dude, and it was fascinating to see. This Indian guy says to me, ‘Suicide is a white man’s problem.’ What a heavy thing to say! He explained, ‘These people are just happy to wake up tomorrow, they’re happy to be alive.’ Over there, the difference between poor and rich is so wide; and the poor are proper poor – like families living in the streets fucking poor. When I come back to America and Canada, the fact that we are as affluent and advanced and all the things we like to think we are, yet we still have families unable to take care of each other. It’s a heartbreaker. Anything we can do to help, hell yeah, I’m all over it. Trust me there was a lot of… not obvious, I don’t like to use cavalier words like that, but the bigger ones like Cancer, AIDS – these are massive fucking problems we need to focus on. I just felt like my little operation here, which by all intents and purposes is an independent label, if we can help anybody; maybe we should help an independent, smaller charity. We might actually be able to make some kind of actual difference if we come up with $1000 or $2000 worth of diapers and clothing for needy children. Fuck yeah, let’s do it.”

(All photos copyrighted by and used with permission of Mo $)



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