Minefield - In Conversation With Todd Kerns, Summer 2021
Minefield is a musical collective comprising of Brandon Fields (guitar, vocals), Jeremy Asbrock (guitar), Matt Starr (drums) and Todd Kerns (bass, vocals) and together they have just released their self-titled debut album. And what an incredible album this is! 10 tracks representing the very best in high energy rock and quite possibly the soundtrack to your summer. The outstanding quality of this record is perhaps of no surprise given the heritage of the personnel. Collectively, the band members have worked with Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Bruce Kulick, Mr Big, Age Of Electric, John Corabi and many others. We catch up with Todd Kerns at his home in Las Vegas to find out what Minefield is all about and how this incredible debut album came together.
It has been said Minefield is more of a musical collective than a band or solo project. What does that actually mean?
Well I think the most telling part of this is that whilst Brandon Fields and I co-wrote a whole ton of songs, we’ve never been in the same room together! Ever! Every time I’ll stop and go like ‘I know him so well’ with all the time we spent together online and just writing together and whatnot but it’s a really bizarre thing. It’s literally the product of the lockdown, the fact that everybody is sort of sitting around. I’ve known Jeremy and Matt for some time and they reached out and said “Hey, we are thinking of doing this thing”. I really believe that it started off as a single song: “Would you like to sing a song? Because we are doing this thing?” and Jeremy was close with Brandon. I was literally on the couch and it took me a couple of weeks to really acclimate to this new world. I’m so accustomed to having many things going on at all times, like ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to play there, I’ve got to call this guy, we’re writing this thing, we’ve got this project’, and all the sudden everything just stopped as you know. Stopped dead! It took me a little while just to really unplug it completely because there was nothing to plug into. No one was expecting a call from me or an email or anything like that. The deadlines had all evaporated. When they called it was sort of like “Yeah, that sounds like fun!” and it just spun into that conversation where I asked “Well, who’s playing bass on this?” and they were like “Well, we’re not sure yet” and I’d go “Well, I’ll play bass on it” and everyone said “Cool, okay!”. The intention of it being a band was not really a conversation until it became what it became. Initially it was going to be a collective of a lot of people - lots of people singing on it and lots of people playing on it. To some degree that was what it was but it became the focus of the same 4 guys. So it became a kind of band though it’s hard to call it a band when we’ve never played a show and we’ve never been in the same room rehearsing together. But there is something really telling to me as a guy who’s come from a world where I prefer being in a room together jamming out the ideas, crafting the arrangements and all that kind of stuff as a group, and then recording as a group. This was 100% everybody recording individually and a sort of an experiment to see how the songs would turn out. I was pleasantly surprised every time! Brandon started sending over riffs and I think the first one was Home or Alone Together, and with Seventh Heaven those 3 came out very quickly. I was just in that mode where I was like “Yeah, let’s do that!”. We then threw a few more on the pile and Brandon had some songs that he was going to sing anyway and then suddenly there was another song that Jeremy was going to sing which was great. There was no pressure to do anything. We live in a day and age where selling music or making music has become almost an excuse just to go on the road where the real actual business is. So the reasons to make music (now) are so much more about the music itself rather than stroking our beards and thinking about what’s going to sell and what’s not going to sell. That’s not really a conversation. It’s about making music because you love making music and hopefully you will have an audience who will follow you.
Before we talk about the music, let’s talk a little bit more about the band members themselves because the personnel, their artistic achievements and their rock heritage is incredible. Of course people will know you from a Slash featuring Miles Kennedy and The Conspirators, your work with Bruce Kulick, Age Of Electric, Toque and so many other wonderful bands and projects. Matt Starr has worked with Ace Frehley, Joe Lynn Turner, Love/Hate, and of course Mr Big. Jeremy Asbrock has worked with Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, John Corabi and The Talismen. And Brandon Fields of course from Detroit band Whiskey A Go Go and a solo artist. What does it mean to be making music with with such incredible and accomplished musicians?
Well that’s a big part of it, the fact that guys like Jeremy and Matt who I already knew and respected with the things that they’ve done, for them to vouch for someone like Brandon – I didn’t know who Brandon was and I wasn’t familiar with his work so when you respect people like Jeremy and Matt and they vouch for somebody you go “Okay, if you’re saying it’s cool then it must be cool!”. Jeremy’s a part of that whole collective in Nashville with the other guys in Ace Frehley’s band, Phil Shouse and Ryan Cook, who were all in Gene Simmons’ band prior to that. Those 3 guys are like a 3 headed monster from Nashville (laughs!). They always seem to be together so we pulled Jeremy out of that collective. They’re collectively known as the Talisman. They’re all wonderful and incredibly talented guys. And Matt is inevitably one of those guys who whenever I ask “Who’s playing drums on this?”, 9 times out of 10 it seems to be Matt Starr! He is one of those guys who is always hustling , always moving and always has something going on – a very solid and musical guy. And Brandon, every once in a while I’ll stop and listen to his guitar solo for Alone Together and go “Wow!”. He’s a very young man – 25 or 26 years old - so it’s a very surreal thing to me to have this connection with somebody that’s so much younger than me… and it’s becoming more and more common frankly! (Laughs!) The songs, riffs and ideas he had, I’m glad to have been a part of this. I don’t necessarily think he needed me to be a part of it but I’ll tried to do my part to elevate it and we had some chemistry together!
It would appear that there are some strong KISS influences present within the music, and that’s perhaps no surprise given the band’s collective work with Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick. But just to say a little bit more about this, I can absolutely imagine Paul Stanley singing Seventh Heaven and Gene Simmons singing So Help Me . You even cover KISS’ All American Man. How much if this album is about paying homage to KISS?
(Laughs!) I know! There is something bizarre about that. The truth is, and I hope I’m not outing too many people on this, Brandon had this dream of someone like Sebastian Bach come and sing on that song – one sort of superstar cameo on the record. The talk of doing a cover had come up and it initially started as perhaps getting Sebastian in if he was available however it turned out to just not be the case. So I was like “Of course I’ll sing it!” And it wasn’t until you’re kind of into it that you’re you realise how unusual it is to have this guy singing about being a six foot hot luck all American man who’s not even American. But that song is just a huge part of my DNA. As a child that record KISS Alive II was a big part of what started all this. It’s largely KISS’ fault that I’m not a doctor or a lawyer (laughs!). I don’t know if I was ever any chance of that happening!
(Laughs!) Yes I know!
Todd, you are an absolutely incredible vocalist and the album’s vocals on mainly about you and your incredible voice, but others step up front too, for example on songs such as Rockstar, So Help Me and Lady Danger. How much do you enjoy the opportunity to take lead vocals and how comfortable are you when others step up to the mic too?
It’s interesting that you bring that up because for me in a lot of ways when starting to play with Myles (Kennedy), Slash and the guys, it became very normal to be ‘the other guy’, and there is no better position than being the other guy next to someone like Myles Kennedy but that became very comfortable to me. I just love music so much and I love playing rock ‘n’ roll. When I was a kid I started on bass guitar and I fell into playing with older guys because no one could ever find a bass player! No one wanted to be a bass player. They wanted to be a drummer, a guitarist or a lead vocalist. So I kinda got a lot of gigs. Eventually as time went by I noticed they were giving me more and more to sing but I was perfectly content being the bass player in the band. I was 14 or 15 years old playing with guys who were much older than me and I was just thrilled to be there playing music! To me it was like watching MTV and being aware that I was doing what those people were doing. Sure, sometimes I might be doing it in some crappy club where no one cares about us but I’m doing it. Of course, as time goes by and you get into creating your own music, writing lyrics, having your thoughts and being able to convey those through your voice, that’s very important to me. At the same time I went through a big chapter of my life where that was the main focus. I was a vocalist. I had switched to guitar because my brother was also a bass player and to be honest, much better than me – much more of a technical muso type bass player. That’s when I moved to rhythm guitar and I became a vocalist and that’s what became the focus. When I came into the States the bass became a big part of my life again. It was like taking a paddle out of the water and going ‘Okay, let’s see where this current takes me’. Sometimes you find you’re paddling against this terrible current and you’re like ‘But I wanna get over there!’ and it’s like life’s way of saying ‘Yeah, you’re probably not going to get over there and if you do get over there it’s not going to be without a great deal of strife and sacrifice’. But it wasn’t just about the bass. Being in Vegas was a big part of me knowing a million musicians and going “Come down tonight! We’re gonna play a blues jam!” or “Come down tonight! We are doing 80s rock night!”. Sometimes I’m playing guitar, sometimes I’m singing, sometimes I’m playing bass. I feel very fortunate that I have these 3 things because there are often times where if I didn’t sing I wouldn’t have got this chance or if I didn’t play guitar I wouldn’t have got that chance. But the bass has been the calling and that sort of took me to Slash, and I didn’t expect it to be 12 years later doing that in a lot of ways, and it’s still continuing! It’s still going even though there are a lot of other things happening: Myles has a solo record out, Frank (Sidoris – guitar) is playing with Wolfgang Van Halen, Slash has got the whole Guns N’ Roses make updates they’ve got to do, but at the same time that thing is very much alive and well. Even with this Minefield project, it’s Brandon’s project and the song Rockstar his father wrote back when his father was a young man playing in rock bands. It was a cool idea to do this song and it was important that Brandon sang it. When we first started doing it I was asked if I wanted to sing one song. “Sure, that sounds like fun!” and it kind of grew. It’s always been sort of known to me that it was going to be a bunch of guys doing the vocals. If you look at bands like KISS and The Beatles, there’s always been multiple vocalists within the group. Even with Bruce Kulick, Zach Throne and I share all the vocals. Zach handles the Gene stuff and I handle the Paul stuff. I always think that’s kind of a cool thing.
It’s definitely opened up possibilities of something I probably wouldn’t have considered. Although the reality is that this is something that’s been going on for a long time and as a musician I am often asked if I would sing or play on a recording. Those things are often sent to me, I do them here and I ship them off. So the idea of doing a complete record was not beyond the realms of possibility, and to be honest it’s happened a lot since. Now it’s sort of become the norm. It’s become very normal that everybody’s got some kind of home studio situation. Sometimes I worry that maybe I’m sort of spoiling the myth of like when you’re listening to a record like this and you’re imagining the band in the studio together. As a kid I used to imagine KISS in the studio together in full make up playing the songs. Meanwhile you’re like ‘that’s not the case - there’s guys in sweat pants and pony tails sitting there playing the tracks’! It’s the down and dirty reality of making a record. But there was something really fun and really freeing about this record. It didn’t have to be anything. I’ve always thought that there’s always a chance that the next song you write is going to change your life, and that’s a reality. You never know what’s going to happen to this one song you wrote. So when it comes to Minefield, or anything else that I do, it’s about hoping people make a connection with the songs and it meaning something to them. That to me is the goal.
As our conversation draws to a close we reflect on what a fantastic debut album Brandon, Jeremy, Matt and Todd have made as the musical collective Minefield. Absolutely outstanding and highly recommended! Find out more at www.minefieldusa.com and in the meantime check out the video to opening track Alone Together below.