A Solo Todd Kerns Is Open to Beautiful Disasters



By Steve Newton

Strolling into the living room of Todd Kerns’s Burnaby townhouse is a bit like entering a ’70s-rock museum. The first thing you see is an array of fine electric guitars, including an AC/DC–style Gibson SG; the second is a set of Kiss action figures atop the TV. The glam-rock legends are portrayed in the same poses as those on the Love Gun album of ’77–you know, the one with “Christine Sixteen”.

Up high on a bookcase crammed with CDs and DVDs is the latest addition to Kerns’s collectibles stash, a nineinch plastic model of Sid Vicious. Happily, the self-destructive Sex Pistol comes with neither needle nor knife.

Kerns himself is the physical embodiment of the arena-ready rocker. He sports dyed-black hair, a black Ramones T-shirt (“Gabba gabba hey”), black jeans, black socks–even black fingernail polish. So when he picks up one of those nifty six-strings–a black Paul Stanley signature-model Silvertone–it looks right at home in his hands.

“I bought this one just ’cause I thought it looked pretty cool,” he says, “and it’s cheap, made in Indonesia or something like that. But I actually used it a lot on the album, and I play it a lot live.”

The disc in question is Kerns’s debut solo CD, Go Time!, just released on Bif Naked’s Her Royal Majesty’s Records. But the lanky rocker’s in no rush to hunker down and promote his latest product; he’s more keen to show off the other pop-culture items strewn around the home. So, after offering up a coffee laced with addictive French-vanilla creamer (“This stuff’s like liquid crack!”), he leads the way downstairs, past an altar holding autographed promo shots of actors Frank Gorshin (the original Riddler from TV’s Batman) and Gary Busey (the original nutcase from TV’s I’m With Busey).

On a wall at the bottom of the steps hangs a gold-album award for Make a Pest a Pet, the ’96 release by one of Kerns’s previous bands, Age of Electric. It seems like an unlikely location for such a prestigious prize to be displayed, and Kerns agrees with a shrug that he “should probably move it upstairs” at some point.

When we encounter a bookcase jammed with vinyl recordings, it’s hard to tell what the actual titles are as their cardboard spines have been ravaged by some severe cat-versus-album action. But Kerns pulls out an unclawed copy of Genesis‘s Seconds Out release of ’77–you know, back before Phil Collins sucked–to show what he’s been into lately. At 36, Kerns is barely old enough to remember much about the ’70s; in fact, he would have been just six when the first (and best) Kiss album was released in ’74. So where did this infatuation with the sounds of the 8-track era come from?

“When I was 12 or 13 I started playing bass with guys who were 10 years older than me,” he explains, “and they were really militant about what’s cool and what’s not cool. They were like, ‘Here’s a little stack of albums to take home,’ so I’d go and listen to everyone from Blue Cheer to Black Flag.

“And I was really obsessed with the Beatles as a small kid,” he adds. “My aunts and uncles, ’cause they were all grown-up and didn’t care anymore, would kinda go, ‘Well, here’s an old vinyl Beatles 65,’ and I’d be like, ‘Fuck yeah!’ ”

While Age of Electric definitely borrowed from the Fab Four in terms of its pure pop melodies, the group Kerns formed after AOE dissolved, Static in Stereo, was more influenced by ’70s glam-rockers Kiss and T-Rex. The quartet released its self-titled CD on Universal Music Canada in 2001, and garnered some national airplay for the single “Before My Time”, but didn’t make a huge splash. Looking back, Kerns blames himself for allowing the major-label intervention that he feels resulted in Static in Stereo sounding too slick and overproduced.

But that didn’t happen on the much more immediate-sounding Go Time!, which Kerns will showcase when his band opens for the Tea Party at the Commodore next Wednesday and Thursday (November 17 and 18). With no major-label bullies breathing down his neck, Kerns rounded up buddies like Zuckerbaby’s Reed Shimozawa–who coproduced the CD, cowrote several tracks, and played various instruments–and took a no-frills approach in the studio.

“The drums are not quantized,” Kerns writes in his self-penned bio, “the vocals are not auto-tuned. The songs are not arranged and rearranged until there is no life left in them.” He describes the tunes on Go Time! as “beautiful disasters”, in that they came together quickly, out of the blue.

“It wasn’t really about, ‘Is this gonna be on MuchMusic’s Top 10?'” he says. “As much as I understand the business, I don’t really care about that stuff. When you look at Motorhead or the Ramones, these bands toured for 20-plus years, building audiences one person at a time. They never had platinum albums, but they created such a legacy. You know, [Motorhead leader] Lemmy gets up there every year, puts out an album, and goes on the road. That’s his life, you know. I look at that more as like the benchmark of what I’d like for a career, rather than Good Charlotte or what have you. It’s better to me if you have a hit kinda by accident than when it’s by design.”

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