If at first you don’t succeed – join a supergroup!
This mandate certainly worked for lead vocalist Larry Gowan with Styx and with ex Sherrif/Alias guitarist Steve DeMarchi with The Cranberries – and the latest Canadian to luck into a high profile spotlight position is former Age Of Electric lead vocalist/guitarist Todd Kerns who now toils as vocalist/bassist for ex Guns & Roses axeman, Slash.
On the verge of completing an exhausting two-year world tour sojourn in support of Slash’s highly-successful “Apocalyptic Love” CD, Kerns had squeezed in a three-week break to complete his own solo recording “Borrowing Trouble” which has just been released on ITunes.
[quote]”Yes I could have gone for a rock album and had Slash throw in a couple of high-octane guitar solos but instead I wanted an insular, bare bones approach, just guitar and vocals with a minimum amount of percussion.”[/quote]“I’ve been running a slipstream of madness for the past three years,” jokes Kerns, phoning in from Buffalo, New York as the Slash tour winds down in August after almost two years circumventing the globe. “I first joined Slash’s group as a bass player who could sing high harmony vocals. Then he said; `Why don’t you sing a couple of songs’. Next thing you know I’m singing `Welcome To The Jungle’ which is the unofficial Guns & Roses anthem!”
“So I had all these songs floating around in my head, I’d been playing loud every night so when I went home, I thought now would be the time to lay down some of these tracks,” explained Kerns. Yet those bombastic performances influenced Kerns to do a polar opposite in recording “Borrowing Times” “I had been influenced by the latter albums of Johnny Cash. I liked the way he stripped down the arrangements so he sounded like he was playing in your living room. Yes I could have gone for a rock album and had Slash throw in a couple of high-octane guitar solos but instead I wanted an insular, bare bones approach, just guitar and vocals with a minimum amount of percussion.
Kerns has certainly produced an impressive vocal performance on tracks like `Nothing Personal’, `The Devil In Me’ and `This Changes Everything’, the only cover being a version of Daniel Lanois’ `The Maker’. “That’s always been a song that touched me spiritually,” noted Kerns. “Guys in the States ask `Who is Daniel Lanois?, “My response is, check out your CD’s, he probably produced half the records in your collection.”
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Another controversial lyric is “Hideous” which hints at the egos most musicians have. “I suppose I have an ego but I’d rather have someone give me a compliment that a particular song meant something to them rather than a girl saying `you’re so hot, what do you do to take care of your hair’ and all that vacuous stuff. There are times in life when even the most beautiful people feel insecure about themselves.”
To fund the CD, Kerns used the Pledge Campaign, to secure funding, a program that is becoming increasingly popular to raise fund for movies and music recordings. “There’s a way things were in the recording industry and there’s a way things are now,” philosophized Kerns. “I’m not sure what it means to be on a recording label these days, the CD format has virtually gone. With this Pledge idea, the public become shareholders in the record, they are pre-ordering the record but you are putting the record in the hands of people who actually give a shit. And you avoid all those confrontations with the label where they argue for an alternative CD jacket and fight you on the singles’ releases. The Pledge Campaign is an invite for your fans to participate in the record and that’s awesome. In return, I can do things like thank them personally on the CD’s liner notes.”
A friend of Kerns’, Greg Verdusco provided the necessary encouragement. “Greg was a friend of mine in Las Vegas who became sick and died at a very young age but before he died, he encouraged me to finish off my solo record,” noted Kerns. “His passing made me realise that you really don’t know what’s going to happen in the future so If you want to do something – do it now .”
How Kerns ended up in Las Vegas was a complete quirk of fate. Having initially enjoyed a degree of success in Canada fronting Age Of Electric then a spinoff project Static In Stereo with his two brothers John and Ryan and a solo record “Go Time”, Kerns travelled down to Sin City to help some friends with a recording project. “While I was down there, I was offered a gig, and then another gig, and next thing you know we had this residency band called `Sin City Sinners, also featuring former Faster Pussycat vocalist Brent Muscat. Initially it was just a bunch of guys and a bunch of revolving doors,” he explained. “We’d sit in and jam on a Tuesday night, it was a fun night, we’d play covers of people’s favorite songs and from there we became a bit of a Vegas staple. We had guests as varied as New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain, Dokken’s George Lynch and former pop star Tiffany sit in with us.”
A fellow Canadian, Brent Fitz landed Kerns a try-out with Slash’s new band. Fitz had joined the band himself, and when the original bassist didn’t work out, Fitz suggested to Slash he might want to check out Kerns. “Slash had just done a solo record with various vocalists so I didn’t know what he had in mind, whether it was for three weeks or three months. But we got along together, I think he liked the fact I could play bass and guitar and I could sing the high harmonies – which lead to me singing a number of songs in the set.
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Performing with guitarist/vocalist Myles Kennedy, rhythm guitarist Frank Sidoris and percussionist Fitz in a band tagged as The Conspirators, the quintet was well received on tour, which led to the recording of “Apocalytic Love” which Kerns sang background harmonies on a number of tracks. “My first reaction was that I’ll stay until they tell me to go home, but here we are three and a half years later, still going strong.”
[quote]”On reflection we were snotty little pricks”[/quote]So what is Slash (a/k/a Saul Hudson) really like to perform with? “He’s an amazing guy,” responds Kerns. “He listens to you, appreciates your input and he’s a massively dedicated musician. It’s inspiring to see him constantly pushing himself to be an even better player. He has a very strong sense of what he is, he has things to say, things to do and things to prove. That’s what “Apocalyptic Love” is all about.”
Headlining in Rio De Janeiro Brazil with Slash could only have been a pipedream for Kerns when he and bassist brother John hooked up with the Dahle brothers Ryan and Kurt in 1989 to form Age Of Electric . Heralding from Lanigan Saskatchewan, their 1993 self-produced EP Ugly earned them a bit of a reputation and they toured the Canadian club scene incessantly, often in partnership with Vancouver band Rhymes With Orange, releasing their self-titled debut LP in 1995. An internal split between the two sets of brothers saw the Dahle brothers launch their own side-project “Limblifter” but they reformed and seemed to have cracked the U.S when Mercury signed them in 1997 to record “Make A Pest A Pet”. Unfortunately, a change in executive at Mercury meant the album was dropped from the schedule and although the band released “Make A Pest A Pet” independently, in Canada, distributed by MCA, and enjoyed some exposure with the debut single ‘Remote Control’ the band finally split after an opening gig tour for Our Lady Peace in 1998. The Kerns’ brothers were then joined by a third brother Ryan, to form Static In Stereo in 2000.
“On reflection we were snotty little pricks,” reflected Kerns of his Age Of Electric era. “We had a lot of Canadian interest, but our attitude was `we liked doing that independent thing`. We got picked up by Mercury, and then they dropped us but we got to record “Make A Pet A Pest” on their dime. Then we had a hit song with `Remote Control’ and then we broke up like a bunch of idiots.”
Kerns himself was approached by Anthem Records “but MCA and my management wanted me to continue with the Age Of Electric name and I absolutely refused,” he explained. So further adventures with Static In Stereo, building his own Vancouver studio, which resulted in his first solo record “Go Time” (“a bit of blue-collar rock ”) and his supposed brief sojourn down to Vegas has lead Kerns into the spotlight on a heady three years plus adventure.
“We’re winding things down in August, the band will take a break, Myles (Kennedy) is off on his Alter Bridge band project, that guy is unbelievable, I can’t keep up with him,” allowed Kerns. ” Hopefully I can find time this fall or early winter to organize my own Canadian tour to push this record. Then it’s back to helping to record the next Slash record and off we go again. Life can be funny that way.”