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Todd Kerns - Winter 2020

Live in Manchester, UK, February 2019. Photo credit: Roger Clarke
Live in Manchester, UK, February 2019. Photo credit: Roger Clarke

2019 was another incredible year for multi-instrumentalist, Todd Kerns. It was a year that allowed him to stretch all of his outstanding musical talents and to deliver jaw-dropping performances within the many projects he committed to. With Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, the band completed their most successful tour to date. Not only was it the biggest tour but it was also one which saw them break new ground by playing – apart from 1 song - only SMKC material. On lead vocals and guitar, Todd would also released new album Never Enough and play supporting shows with his band Toque. He also once again fronted the Bruce Kulick Band on their third appearance on the annual KISS Kruise, widely regarded as a true highlight from this very prestigious event. During his (ahem) ‘downtime’, Todd has also been fronting Raiding The Rock Vault, a band of world renowned artists playing classic rock favourites in what is the most positively reviewed of all the shows in Las Vegas. If all this wasn’t enough, Todd still found time to be a part of the Planet Rock Allstars charity single You’re The Voice, helping to raise money for, and awareness of, mental health problems. Reflecting on this huge success leaves us proudly breathless! We catch up with Todd at his home in Las Vegas to reminisce on what has clearly been a remarkable 12 months. At 9 degrees Celsius it’s a surprisingly cool morning in the desert but we are met by a bright and very healthy looking Todd. With his hair casually tied up and a huge smile, we are given the warmest of welcomes from the man who could also quite reasonably add ‘the nicest guy in rock’ to his CV. It certainly feels like we are catching up with a very dear friend. As the sun begins to think about stepping things up our conversation begins...

The Bruce Kulick Band
The Bruce Kulick Band

I’d like to come straight on to last year’s Living The Dream Tour with Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. This was an absolutely incredible tour and widely reported to be the most successful tour to date. What are your memories of that specific tour and how did it compare to the band’s previous tours?


You know, it's so hard sometimes subjectively when you're so much in the middle of the storm to really have too much of a take and too much of an opinion, but I know for us we felt it was widely received. I think the big thing was the fact that we had gone out on the tour and had basically brazenly deleted an entire Guns n Roses catalogue from our set as well as Velvet Revolver and Snake Pit. It  was basically largely Conspirators music, and at first when Slash first brought it up, I was sort of like "Are you sure?". He’s very bold that way. He just kind of says "This is what I want to do" and and I'm from that school of like "Well we should  have, you know, Sweet Child O’ Mine here and a Velvet Revolver song here" so that there’s these little tent poles throughout this set but he's very "Look, this is the Conspirators". Guns n Roses is a thing now again for him so it makes sense that he does Guns n Roses over there and we do Conspirators here. It’s the same with Miles. When we first started playing with Miles we would play Rise Today by Alter Bridge and stuff like that and it was really fun but I think Miles felt the same way. It’s kind of like "Look, this is this and we'll keep everything else in the other camps". So we basically play 1 or 2 different things but largely it was just a Conspirators set. We kind of went into it - I wouldn't say trepidatiously - but I was a bit reticent. But I thought "Well let’s see how it goes". We started in the States. We've always been very fortunate to have the UK, Australia, South America and Japan and all these other places that have always been very receptive to what we do. And America is always America. North America is always hung up on whatever is kind of hip and happening and ‘now’. Rock and roll is still alive and well in the rest of the planet but we did America the first time around and we were the most well received on that initial Living The Dream American run than we'd ever been and that was all largely Conspirators music: the 3 albums plus the first solo album that he did 10 years ago. It was very triumphant in a way to be able to do what we do and stand on the legs that we created rather than, obviously, standing on the pedestal of Guns n Roses. You’ve already got a hell of a leg up. But it was a reall, really amazing tour. We had some some crazy stuff on that tour. Frank's (Frank Sidoris, Conspirator guitarist – Ed) wife had some health issues. Fitz (Brent – drummer) had some health issues, but thankfully we're on the other side of that now and everybody's on the up and up but that's part of what happens when you tour as much as we do. Slash is an animal! He just loves to tour, he loves to be on the road, he loves to play and I'm very much the same way in that the road and the traveling and all that for me is not so much about ‘let's go see the Louvre’ and ‘let's go see you know Red Square’ or ‘let's go see the Coliseum’. Of course I want to do all those things but the best part of my day is always on stage. The best part of my day is always playing music and I think that Slash feels the same way. It's just sort of like he wants his tank of petrol - or gas! - on full all the time, and I think that the music really does that for him and and it does for me as well.


I’m really pleased that you mentioned about the the setlist because one of the the really interesting things about that tour was the fact that you only played 1 Guns n Roses song in the set, usually Nightrain, but what I observed was that there was never any fan disappointment. That to me says a huge amount about the strong body of work Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators has built and that the fans want to see you perform SMKC material. How does that make you feel and did you welcome the fact the set lists for the Living The Dream Tour were 95%  SMKC material?


I think it’s really rewarding, honestly. When we actually start doing the math, April this will be 10 years of us making a racket together. It’s fascinating - at least Miles, Slash, myself and Brent - Frank came in a couple of years later. It’s a fascinating thing. A decade is a giant chunk of time in anyone's life, you know, and I think that to have spent it together… I wasn't sure when I started playing to support Slash’s first solo record if we were just going to be doing a few months of flying out and playing weekends and then like ‘High five! Good game! See you whenever I see you!’, you know, and then off we go off into our own little worlds. Mikes Kennedy was obviously this lead singer in a very successful group called Alter Bridge. I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on and Slash was Slash. Whatever Slash does is gonna be awesome so the fact that to have gone through the entire process of that initial first tour in support of his solo album, including Miles on that, and then at the end in a very casual backstage getting my jacket out to put on to go on stage and Slash saying something so flippantly casual as like "I think we're going to do the next record with the band" and I'm kind of like "You mean like us?" and he's sort of "Yeah!" and that was the end of the conversation. I was like "Okay!". The next thing you know, we're into Apocalyptic Love and then from there things starts spinning pretty fast. The fact that Miles Kennedy was able to do this is incredible. He’s been living the life of five people just constantly working. It’s the same with Slash - and myself in a much less visual way to say Miles, but the ability to just keep moving, it makes SMKC - I always sort of refer to it as a project because it's obviously this separate entity to what everybody else has going on, but it doesn't mean it's any less of a priority or any less of what we would we would consider very important. I really do consider it a band and I really do consider it in a funny way a family. Like we still have group texts that go around and even long after we aren't really together we still keep in contact. So I think that the music, it wasn't so much a case of removing Guns n Roses or Alter Bridge or Velvet Revolver or Snakepit or any of that stuff from the set, it was more a case of this unified, shared history of this music just sort of made sense, especially to Slash. He’s very bold that way and I think that he's proven that in his career over and over and over again where Slash is gonna do what Slash wants to do, and where a lot of people would feel the need to kind of rest up on a couple of touch stones throughout the set, he doesn't feel that way. He’s sort of like ‘this is what we do, this is who we are, fuck it!’. We wondered whether the reaction from the audience was going to be (crowd chants) ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, Welcome To The Jungle’ but nothing! None of that happened. If anything we built an audience from 2010 onwards that has supported this thing and it's grown and continues to grow hopefully. We’ll see you what happens.


One specific output from the Living The Dream Tour was the new Live at London Hammersmith Apollo CD and DVD. This is a fantastic package and one that beautifully captures what it means to be at an SMKC show. Why was this particular show chosen to be recorded and what are your memories of that show?


I’m not entirely sure why that particular venue was chosen but it’s always a thrill to be in these places. As a big rock and roll fan like I am, I mean it's straight nerdum all the time. It's like when I talk about going to the Coliseum or going to the Louvre and going to all these places…  it's like when I go to London, I'm like, "Where was the Marquee?". New York City is a ton of different obvious rock hangouts like CBGBs or Max's Kansas City, and then Memphis and Nashville and there's all these kind of like places that are so much more like a chunk of music.  In the KISS camp there's a lot of talk about like England and growing up when they were young how a lot of American rock and roll was lots of moustaches. It wasn't quite as stylish, and all of a sudden the English groups come over - whether it's The Faces or The Small Faces - or all those groups would come over and they just looked bitchin’ and had such style. America and England has bounced that rock and roll ball back and forth so many times, you know, it's like it starts in America and it bounces over to England and they just keep influencing one another that way, not to mention Canada and Germany and all the other countries that have done great things too, but particularly those two cultures in a sense. The English rock and roll culture is such a massive part for all of us: The Beatles, The Stones and the list goes on. So the Apollo as you know, when you're standing on that stage, it takes a minute to really take in all that has happened in that building. You're like ‘this is where No Sleep Til Hammersmith, the live Motorhead album was done’. Right there alone, when I think about the amount of hours spent just listening to that record and then imagining what it must be like. And to stand on that stage knowing that Queen was there and any number of legendary groups. I think Maiden played on that stage. So pretty much anybody who was anybody worked their way up through that into the next level. The ghosts and the spirits of rock and roll in that building I think is a probably a very good reason why Slash and people much more important to me chose that room to do it in. That’s on top of the fact that the UK has embraced us from the beginning. We were always doing better numbers there and our biggest numbers there and our biggest sales there, so it only made sense that in a lot of ways England should be represented. Slash was technically born in London but he immediately went to Stoke so Stoke claims him – and Lemmy - so I think that's a big part of it too. 

A band that’s very special to you in TOQUE and 2019 was also a great year for The band with the release of your new album Never Enough. With yourself and other band members being involved in many projects, how did the opportunity to create this wonderful record actually happen? It must also have been a great feeling when it was completed and released with such huge praise?


It's a whole funny thing too on that because it's such an organic sense of these guys that I've known for 30 years and 30 plus years in some cases. Cory and I were teenagers – Cory Churko from Shania Twain’s band and Kelly Clarkson - he’s played with some amazing people. Cory's one of the most talented people I've ever known and Brent (Fitz – bassist) and I are more family than we are actually friends. It’s more brotherhood than mates. It’s just Canadians hanging out talking about Canadian rock and all these songs that we used to love and ‘Wouldn't be fun to do a version of that? Wouldn't be fun to make a version of this song?’ and then Cory, being a very ambitious cat, will suddenly say ‘Come over! We’re doing this, we're doing that!’.  A lot of it was happening in conjunction. The first record we did during the break between World On Fire and Living The Dream. Never Enough we sort of chipped away at during the process of Living The Dream because we were in LA recording and whenever we were off we would just go over to Cory's house and muck about. We also ended up writing a song here at my house. Cory came over and we put together a song and called Never Enough For You. It was just a very organic process of pals getting together, recording music and having fun. What started off as basically a fun little project suddenly became quite a time-consuming process and it still is - in a good way. So we ended up going and doing a ton of shows in Canada and whatnot and people really enjoyed it. I'm really excited to continue to chase that down and see what what that flourishes into.


2019 also saw you working with Bruce Kulick again where you again played the KISS Kruise for the 3rd time. All the reviews from this show and from previous shows have shown the Bruce Kulick set to be a massive highlight of these events and there is clearly something really special here. What’s also interesting is that we have recently heard Bruce talk about the possibility of recording and touring with this band. Is there anything you can tell us about this and also what would it mean to tour and record with Bruce?


Well it’s fascinating because the first time I ever saw KISS in ’85 as a kid, Bruce was the guitar player, so it's a funny thing to see your favourite band and then, in the weird way the world works, I'm doing ‘this is my life, this is Bruce's life’ and somehow we end up in this thing together and to me it’s exciting! The cruises have been crazy. It’s a very baited audience. There's no place you'll find a more hungry audience for the music we're playing. We're talking about 4 very creative guys. I've known Zach (Throne – bassist) again 26 or 27 years – a long, long time – and Brent I've known forever and Bruce, certainly we've known each other a long time but I've been aware of him since my youth! We're actually going to have lunch together today. Socially we actually really enjoy each other's company, which seems to be a big part of a lot of the things that I do. If playing music is supposed to be enjoyable I'd rather do that with people that I enjoy being around. It’s pretty early days because I think what Bruce sort of casually mentioned suddenly turned into the clickbait of clickbaits, but that's to be expected. So we're going to try and start something. We’re all in Vegas. I'm in the middle of recording an Original Sin re-release. The Sin City Sinners in 2007 put together a group called Original Sin.  The 4 original guys have gone on as Original Sin and we have a re-release of our album that we put out 10 years ago (Exile On Fremont Street). Again, it’s like that 10 year mark: 2010. I put it out just before I went and started playing with Slash. So we hope to get that record out in March. We’ll see what happens. It’s got some new music on it, it's got some new stuff in the package, so that's gonna be exciting. So it's funny - when I talk about Miles being 5 people, I’m literally 5 people! I'm with Slash and the Conspirators, Toque, Original Sin, Bruce Kulick  and then I play Raiding The Rock Vault when I'm here in Vegas. So I have many, many hats that I wear and I have to find these little places where they all fit. And when they stop fitting, like when something like Slash comes up that's so all consuming everything else has to go on pause. But I think with Bruce we could definitely do some very exciting stuff. He's still vibrant, creative and a great riff master that way. You never know! New music and original music is this cool thing that sometimes just your friends like and sometimes you can write a song and somebody hears it and it turns into something that changes your life entirely. So it's always good to keep creating and to keep moving forward and and see what happens. It's never a bad idea to keep pushing forward, doing something new, doing something creative and doing something fresh, and I think that everybody in the Bruce camp would benefit from just doing something new and doing something fresh and having a reason to do this thing other than waiting for a KISS Kruise to appear once every 365 days. We really enjoy each other’s company, we enjoy playing together and I really respect all the guys in the band and we’ll see what we come up with.

One thing you have mentioned, and it’s wonderful project you’ve been part of – and continue to be a part of - is of course Raiding the Rock Vault. Most of the shows have actually been in your hometown of Vegas. What attracted you to be a part of Raiding The Rock Vault, and for someone who tours a lot is it nice to be able to return to your own home after a show?


Well that’s a big part of the decision making, absolutely, is the idea that when I'm home these awesome guys ask me to come play and I go "Yeah, it sounds like fun!" and what starts off as kind of filling in for a friend, because he's going away or whatever, suddenly turns into something bigger. It’s like I said before, it's like a big part of it is if I enjoy people's company, it makes it a lot more like ‘yeah, I like being around these people, I like being around the thing’ and that's a big part of it with with the Rock Vault as well. I've massive respect for Howard Leese. He's another one of those guys that I'm constantly like "Hey, Howard" asking these dumb questions, and he’ll tell you stories about 1975. So many of the guys I’ve really grown to love. Blas Alias from Slaughter I've known a long time and he's an amazing amazing talent and and somehow inexplicably it's as if he's frozen in time in 1991. Rowan Robertson's an amazing guitar player an amazing guy - a fellow Englishman - and just the group in general I really, really love. I've known Paul Shortino a long time. Robin McCauley I've always been a massive fan of and it's a fun show! They've hired they as a vocalist which I think is really nice and to stand next to Robin McCauley and say "Okay, I'm gonna sing with this guy?". But it's another part of my abilities that really helps me focus on that and refine that in some way. Some people either know me as the bass player for Slash, some people have known me as the front guy for other groups that I've done mostly in Canada,  and then seeing me as the lead singer without a guitar on… But these are all parts of myself that I feel are all viable pieces of my puzzle and in a lot of ways as as a vocalist, I really find it a challenge of showing up night after night. If  anything, it's really the exercise of singing on a regular basis. When I first came to Vegas it was my main gig. I became a singer in multiple different things and singing all the time and that was sort of my thing but then of course playing in Slash’s band I get a lot of love and a lot of praise for what I do (vocally), but I always say "Well I don't have to be Miles. Miles has to show up here every night and do 2 hours of lead vocals". I do what I do and and just tear it up and that's not so challenging, I guess. It’s fun but it's not that challenging to just you know sing along with Miles basically. So Rock Vault gives me another another thing to do and the big part as you mentioned is being able to go be a big rock star and sign some autographs and take some pictures and then go home and roll the garbage bin out to the front of the house (laughs!). It is nice after a year and a half on the road with the Conspirators to be home. There's always just never a bad reason to just stay at home with your family. The thing is that I know that at some point someone will come along and go "Hey, Todd!" and then I get sucked into the vortex of the road.


Do you feel you get enough time at home with your family? Of course, you have a job to do but do you have enough time at home and do you think you have enough of a balance between work and family life?


I don’t know if there’s ever really enough time at home. I’ve often said that when I look at Slash and I look at some of my friends like Duff, when you have enough money to do whatever you want to do, you do things because you love doing them, which is clearly why Slash and Duff and those guys do it. They have a legacy to uphold and they have that whole thing that I 100% support. I'm like "You guys have got to go out and do that, that's crazy not to do Guns n Roses", but the thing I often question is like what if I was a gazillionaire? I honestly don't know. I honestly don't know if I might be living in a cabin in the woods and you might never hear from me again (laughs!). It’s hard to say because it’s never really about the money. We play music and obviously we make a living and there are bills to pay, but it is because of love. I think you’d probably be a lot more selective in what you would and wouldn't do but I don't think it would change much. I often think well, when the guys call and say "Hey, let's go make a record, let's go on the road" I’d probably be like "Yeah, okay that's what we do". Of course, we're gonna do that. It’s one thing to be at a certain level where you can drag your family with you but I don't know how fair that is either! We're gonna drag you around on a bus like it's a constant camping trip, you know! But we make the best of it and I've been very lucky to have a good home life on top of it all so no complaints here!


You recently took part in the Planet Rock Allstars charity single You’re The Voice which was all about raising funds for and awareness of mental health problems. You should be incredibly proud of your contribution. How did you get involved and why is this cause important to you?


Well, I mean a friend of mine, Gav McCaughey, who once managed Ginger Wildheart reached out and said "This this is what we’ve got going on" and asked if could be a part of it. Absolutely! They sent over a track, I sang on it and then they used what they used. Obviously the cause is such a big, it’s so important needs to be drawn more attention to as far as I'm concerned. It’s like we don't really talk a lot about all that do we? Not enough anyway and I think that anything we can do to benefit this is really important. Plus You’re The Voice is one of my favourite songs! Every time we go to Australia we crank that song up. Frank Sidoris had never hear that song before! I would play it and then he couldn’t get enough of it! This is one of those songs which is just so infectious, so when they asked me if I wanted to sing it I said "Of course!" It’s challenging! John Farnham is a badass singer! Really impressive!


You mentioned Ginger Wildheart there and Ginger has always been really open about mental health which is a wonderful thing. Depression specifically is something that appears to be quite common within the music industry, especially within touring bands and I wondered whether if that's something that you've seen first-hand?


Oh, absolutely! I think that creative people in general sort of vibrate at such a frequency that it’s unfortunately a characteristic where you're constantly trying to do better than you've already done. I'm not speaking for everybody but I know for myself that when someone comes up and goes "You’re great!" you're supposed to go "Hey, I'm great!". You never really feel that way. You kind of always have this feeling where you’re trying to constantly do better than you're doing. Creative people in general are perhaps a little bit more sensitive I think in a lot of ways. Obviously, regardless of whether it’s the music industry, all people can have their own issues too. I think it's very, very common that there's ups and downs and I think that's where a lot of the chemical abuse comes from. I’ve learned over the years as I’ve gotten to know people enough - I’ve been a sober, boring guy for a long time – and I’ve witnessed that a lot of people who have problems are obviously medicating something. Someone may be an alcoholic but the alcoholism is attached to a bunch of other stuff. The only way to really fix the alcoholism is to fix the other stuff.  And that goes for drugs and everything else, and it's why it's so rampant in the music industry in some ways because there is a period between sound check and the show which is always very dangerous. I always say that this is when everybody may start to say "Well, I’ll have a drink" or "I'm gonna go out with these guys and score some drugs" or whatever. It’s just this weird grey area between sound check in the afternoon and the show where you're just sort of sitting there like a bull in the bull ring, just ready to get out there and do your thing and you just have all this weird energy that you're not really sure what to do with and usually leads to a drink and sometimes another drink and the next thing you know, you're on stage and you're feeling good. Then once that continues, the next thing you know you’re off the rails. A  younger me would have been like "That sounds like fun!" but whether it's my vanity or just my pride, I cannot justify going on stage and being 50% of my ability because of what I did to myself. A lot of that I found in Vegas. When I first came to Vegas, what started off as a good time and having fun became like ‘wait a second - people are coming to the shows’ and I never wanted to be ‘Todd Kerns used to be great. Todd was great last night but tonight he's a little off’. The Vegas experience in a lot of ways has really helped me in terms of like being able to show up and try to always be my best. If I was a bus driver I wouldn’t want to show up and hear "Oh, he drove better yesterday. He crashed the bus today". Whether you're a bus driver or a musician you're still expected to show up and do your job. The thing is I don't consider music work. There's a great New York Dolls line that says ‘We go to play, they go to work’ and I think you should never lose that sense of how lucky we are to be able to do what we do. You have to give 110% of yourself to try and make sure it's as good as it can be. I know that a lot of my friends can smoke and drink and get on stage and and still kick ass, but I knew it wasn't in my cards, so I had to kind of abandon it. I felt like in a lot of ways I've had my own issues with anxiety and depression and all these things that go along and I had a hard look at myself. I'd rather deal with it head on than cover it and I’ve sort of turned that into an entire way of life. I would rather just deal with things as they are rather than have a few drinks and then realising the problem is still there and but now there's a hangover on top. And then I’ve got to get on stage and try and be great.


We are now at the beginning of 2020 and as I said earlier this is a really exciting team with more Raiding the Rock Vault shows and shows with Toque on the way. We’ve also talked a bit about your plans with Original Sin and things that might happen with Bruce Kulick. Reflecting on this it does now seem a little greedy to be asking what else we might see in 2020?


Well like I said it's a very full plate at the moment so right now I'm getting this Original Sin project wrapped up and that should be wrapped up in the next week or so, as far as what we're releasing. The Original Sin is 4 guys who love each other and love to play together - schedules permitting. So we try and do it a couple times a year. We had a record in 2010, so it only makes sense to go look at each other and go "You know it was 10 years ago?! Well, I guess we should do the 10 year anniversary!". We recorded some new songs and and decided to just include them. There's never a bad reason to get together and make some new music, so we came up with 3 new songs, 2 of which we released on an acoustic record, but we've been doing them full electric, and then 1 brand new song. So I thought let's just record them and include them in this new package. The record’s been on the back burner for a long time and hasn't been available so it just makes sense to get it out there. And then the Bruce Kulick  thing will eventually start to unroll, we're trying to get together in February to start talking about that. Then I do have a solo record that is slowly being chipped away at. It’s probably half done. It's probably the most done of all the projects that I have done. It goes back to my acoustic record in 2013 Borrowing Trouble. Again, it's what I work on when everything else isn't picking away at me. Once these other things are off my plate I'll start to go and chip away at that again. I'm excited about that because I realised not that long ago, I did an acoustic show in Vancouver in December and I was like, this is the first one I've done in a long time! A very big part me was playing acoustic shows by myself and people really ask all the time like "When are you gonna do one another one of those shows?" and I'm like "I don't know. I guess when I have something to support.". So I'll probably try and get that out towards the end of the year. Then who knows with SMKC. That’s sort of like always hovering around and like I say it’s all about 5 people’s different schedules.  

As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredible career Todd has enjoyed and continues to enjoy. To be involved with 1 great project is a gift most musicians would feel incredibly lucky to be a part of but for Todd to be successfully spinning 5 high-profile musical plates is testament to what an amazingly talented and versatile artist he really is. 2020 is going to be a great year for Todd and we shall be watching closely as these exciting activities and events unfold! 


Find out more at www.toddkerns.com. In the meantime, check out the fan-filmed footage of Todd fronting the Bruce Kulick band on the 2019 KISS Kruise.