Todd Kerns has been around the block more than a few times musically over the years. His musical CV is varied but since 2010 he has been bassist and backup vocalist for Slash/Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. He also has his own clothing range in addition to having produced his own line of bass and guitars. Slash/Myles are currently touring the UK playing to sold-out audiences and I was able to attend their show in Manchester. Following the afternoon soundcheck, I was afforded the opportunity to sit down face-to-face for a chat with Todd ahead of the show that night at the legendary Manchester Apollo venue.
ANTIHERO: Okay, ready to start this? The first song that you ever figured out how to play?
Todd Kerns: First song I ever figured out how to play? Wow. That’s tough. When we first started playing guitar, we never really learned songs because we were so terrible. We just kind of made them up. I think eventually it would have been things like, my initial thoughts are “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. But I think that song’s an awful lot more complicated than I probably would’ve, I probably did some sort of butchered version of it, I guess.
ANTIHERO: Basic, sort of?
Todd Kerns: Yeah, exactly. Some sort of bar band version of it or something. But I’ll go with that one I think, yeah. It was probably pretty simple, I mean, right?
ANTIHERO: Which came first, then, for you personally? Singing or playing the guitar?
Todd Kerns: Guitar. Look, I never really had any intention of singing. I was just perfectly happy to be a guitar player. I was even really happy, I didn’t even need to be a lead guitar player. I would have been happy just to be standing up there playing in the band…
ANTIHERO: You do a bit of both now, don’t you?
Todd Kerns: Now I do a bit of all of it, yeah. It is funny. But the singing always comes up later on, once guys get together and they’re jamming, and they start to … It’s not like you’re auditioning anybody, you’re just, each guy’s trying to sing a song and eventually whoever can kind of sing the highest or the strongest usually…
ANTIHERO: You got roped in?
Todd Kerns: You usually get roped into it. And I almost kind of felt like, oh, the responsibility of singing and talking to an audience was always like, okay, that’s fine. And I really enjoy it now, obviously.
ANTIHERO: Do you recall hearing a song of your own on the radio the first time?
Todd Kerns: Yeah, yeah. We used to, it’s pretty surreal. One of the first, I think it’s always been kept in check, I’ve told this story before. But my brother and I used to paint houses for a living so we had a record out and it was on the radio. And I distinctly remember painting a window way up on top of this house and this car drove by and our song was playing on the radio. And I looked at him and I go, “The fuck is wrong with the music industry?”
ANTIHERO: Or maybe that was the catalyst that said, right, obviously music’s where I want to go.
Todd Kerns: Exactly.
ANTIHERO: Rather than the painting as a career choice?
Todd Kerns: It wasn’t long after that that we were so busy we couldn’t do that anymore. That was kind of cool.
ANTIHERO: You’re here as part of a band. How does that compare with what you do with your solo, acoustic thing? Is it more responsibility when it’s just you as a focal point?
Todd Kerns: It is. I think it’s always when it’s this I always liken it to being, I’ve got my little boat and I go off on my little adventures. And then once in a while, I get up on this big ship. Slash is the captain and I swab the deck, or whatever the hell you do. But any time you’re in a band the responsibility gets spread so much further. I mean, with Slash obviously he’s in this situation but when you’re with three, four, five guys, the responsibility gets spread out a bit. As a solo thing, it’s always a lot more, it’s about you and if someone says, “You suck,” you suck, not the band.
ANTIHERO: It’s more direct, yeah. There is nowhere for you to run and hide.
Todd Kerns: Yeah.
ANTIHERO: You’ve played with a lot of big names over your musical career. Who could you pick out to be the person who has taught you the most?
Todd Kerns: Well, Slash would be first. I mean, and he’s never the kind of person who would sit down and personally teach you anything but it’s more a case of just watching him and observing.
ANTIHERO: Learn by example?
Todd Kerns: Yeah. Example. I mean, which is all about his … For him, it’s more about just the how hardcore of a musician and the drive to just keep moving forward when really doesn’t have to. I mean, he really doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to. So, for me, it’s like that’s been a big lesson. And a lot of it is just, I’m very guilty of finding a show on Netflix and spending eight hours watching that rather than, I practically could have written a few songs or something.
ANTIHERO: But at the same time, I mean you need to shut off and you need to have something else to focus on…something outside music. You need that balance.
Todd Kerns: You do need to. And that’s the balancing act on the road like this is that sort of constant, it’s on, on, on, on and all of a sudden you have a day off and you just, it’s hard to, now let’s do something creative. Sometimes your mind is just a whirl.
ANTIHERO: What do you like to do, though, outside of music when you do get a little bit of time off? You don’t seem to get that much as you do tend to keep yourself very busy.
Todd Kerns: No, no. I don’t really take much time off. That’s the thing. Usually, it feels almost crazy to say but it feels like once I’m done doing this I’m already finding things to do and work on next. I mean, we’re already promoting a show in April for Vegas that, once this is, well, it’s like home. And that’s the kind of, it really is my favorite thing, is music and that kind of stuff. I mean, just for chill time I love movies and that kind of stuff but largely it’s just a constant sense of making music or playing music or doing something musical.
ANTIHERO: What about fame? I mean, do you get pestered when you go out? Is it worth achieving that level of recognition and loss of personal privacy for what you do through your music?
Todd Kerns: It’s funny because I always say that it’s like the level where I’m at, is perfectly…
ANTIHERO: At a comfortable level?
Todd Kerns: Comfortable, exactly. Where you’re like if you do get recognized it’s rare and it’s somebody who is invested in the thing enough to know who you are and then to follow your thing. And that’s great. It always seems a bit frightening to see the reaction to people who are bigger than I am or whatever.
ANTIHERO: Or even within the band, I’m sure with Slash and Myles?
Todd Kerns: Exactly. They deal with a whole other level of it. I mean, and they deal with it differently. Where Myles largely is very removed, as far as social media and all that. He’s not as hands-on with that kind of stuff. It’s just how he deals with it because he has to sing every night and all that, he takes care of himself. And Slash is insulated by his own world. For me, the fame part is really not the motivating factor. And I think that maybe that…
ANTIHERO: That it just comes along with what you do. It’s just a byproduct of your job?
Todd Kerns: It comes with it and I really don’t feel like it’s … When I was younger, I think I probably would have been a lot more … I think it’s a lot harder to be 23 and just not fall for every aspect of fame. But I sort of slowed and steadied this race a little bit.
ANTIHERO: What in your life are you most proud of? Is it something that you’ve created musically? Or maybe something personally?
Todd Kerns: Well, my children. I mean, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. I’m proud of pretty much everything we’ve managed to do musically over the years.
ANTIHERO: There’s nothing in that musical back catalog that you can look at and you have some certain regrets?
Todd Kerns: Well, I think Borrowing Trouble, the solo CD I made. I feel a great deal of pride in that. Mostly because it was never about, “I’m going to make a million dollars off of this thing.” Or, “I’m going to be super famous.” It was like, no, I just wanted to make some music. And it was the first time in a long time where I wasn’t making a record with somebody breathing down my neck or telling me how it should be done. I just wanted to make music.
ANTIHERO: For yourself?
Todd Kerns: And it connected with people and people still to this day, people tattoo lyrics on their arms and stuff and I’m like, it’s a heavy thing to … But I’m pretty proud of that.
ANTIHERO: Okay. Rock music and excess, obviously, go hand in hand. You’ve mentioned you’ve kids. Obviously, they weren’t always there. Anything maybe that you’ve done on tour … I mean, have you ever been arrested, for example, due to too much rock and roll excess in your youth?
Todd Kerns: Well, when we were younger, I mean, I grew up in a small town. Drinking in public and being assholes was just part of the deal, so we were arrested a couple of times back then. But it’s funny because I think once I got into, once I wrapped my head around the professionalism of playing music, like, “I want to do this,” I think I took it so seriously that I started to veer away from the kind of behavior stuff. Which, I was always very keen, being Canadian, that I wanted to be in the States, that I wanted to come to England, that I wanted to go to Tokyo. And the last thing I needed was something on my record that said, “You cannot travel.”
And that’s something we’re always aware of. I think when you’re younger, you are kind of like, you’re going to set the world and fire and don’t care what happens to … There’s a cliché for you. But I think now it’s, we always laugh because our touring entity now is so sober and so seemingly tame. Where the party now happens for two hours on stage where, I’m just saying, sometimes back in the day the show was only part of the party. You played the show and then you’d go and have a whole other life after the show. But now it’s like…
ANTIHERO: I’m sure Slash has some stories…
Todd Kerns: Oh yeah. He has all the stories. I mean, we’ve all read the book.
ANTIHERO: you’ve launched your own clothing line, you’ve got your own bass, your own lead guitar. Is it important for musicians these days to have other sources of revenue? I mean, obviously, you get virtually nothing from the album releases. Do you think it’s essential for the musicians in this era have other business interests as you have yourself?
Todd Kerns: I think it makes sense. But that’s really not why I do those things. I mean, it’s foolish to think that we’re not thinking outside the box because…
ANTIHERO: You still have bills to pay.
Todd Kerns: Yeah. I mean, it’s always nice to have a couple of different revenue streams. But even the t-shirts and all that kind of stuff all started very innocently and very like, I was just wearing a shirt that said, “Dammit.” And people start to ask about it and the next thing we knew, we just were making shirts.
ANTIHERO: Do you actually have direct input into those? Do you personally design the product items?
Todd Kerns: Initially. I mean, more and more as time’s gone by it’s become a little bit out of my hands, but I still get to green-light things and whatnot. And the guitars are more of a complete obsession with guitars as a kid and still to this day. And just deciding for what I’m gonna use on stage, it would be great to design A, B and C and put that into my instrument. And that’s where that came from. And again, it’s really exciting when great things happen and when people are playing your instrument or purchasing your instrument, that’s fantastic. But at the same time, it’s not really why I did it.
ANTIHERO: Do you still have hopes, dreams, and ambitions? And if so, what are they? I’m sure you’ve ticked a lot of boxes from when you started in music.
Todd Kerns: For me it’s … I don’t think it ever really stops. I think music is such an interesting journey that way that I … I have a lot of things I still want to do and still want to do for myself as a solo artist or as a songwriter and that kind of stuff with other people. And I’m constantly stretching out in other areas to try and scratch that itch. But at the same time, there’s a big part of me that hopes this thing can still flare up every few years. Like a bad case of herpes or something, it just keeps coming back. I really enjoy my time with these guys and we all really love each other and it’s…
ANTIHERO: That’s good. It’s not a rigid thing, you still have the opportunities, to go off and do your other things.
Todd Kerns: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that keeps it fresh because it’s a fine line between being a band and being a project. Because everybody has their own things and then when we get together it’s for, it’s just because yeah, we want to make music together. It’s not really about any other thing. I mean, those guys, especially Slash and Myles, don’t have to do this. I mean, they could be perfectly busy with the other things that they have going on. So, when they do it, it’s for the right reason.
ANTIHERO: We touched on this earlier, you seem to be endlessly working. Is a strong work ethic something that’s always been instilled in you from maybe family, parents, or is it having worked with Slash and people like that and watched, rubbed off from them?
Todd Kerns: It’s a bit of everything, I think. I think a lot of it, too, is the music industry is such that if your phone stops ringing … And it’s happened to everybody, I mean, no matter what your profession is, eventually something tapers off. And there are lean periods and then there are busy periods. And I think that for me, having been through a couple of lean periods here and there, you eventually start to avoid those lean periods as much as possible. That usually just means staying as busy as much as possible. So having whatever you’re doing now if you can see that it’s winding down at a certain point to start winding something up at the same time so it kind of … And that’s just how it works.
ANTIHERO: You’re always looking ahead?
Todd Kerns: Exactly. And because I love music so much it’s not really a grueling thing or a difficult thing. It’s more like, well, this is winding down, so let’s do this. This’ll be fun. And obviously, you have to be smart about it and hope that it financially pays the bills. But I think that it’s, the work ethic is … It would be different if I had a job I didn’t enjoy. But I mean my work ethic might be terrible. But I love what I do so I just try to do it as much as possible.
ANTIHERO: Okay, just a final one. I’m sure you’ve done many, many interviews but if you could sit face-to-face like this and interview somebody with you asking the questions, who would you pick?
Todd Kerns: Wow, that’s a good one.
ANTIHERO: Maybe a personal hero, inspiration. Maybe not even a musician.
Todd Kerns: You know, it’s funny that you say that because I think about this kind of stuff all the time. Just, I’m currently, for whatever reason, I grew up in a punk rock world. I grew up in, and I never really listened to a lot of the things that we weren’t allowed to. Punk rock is very strict, you listen to this and … I was in a small town so we kind of listened to everything. But I’ve only recently gotten into things like Pink Floyd, bands like that. I can’t help but, I constantly have questions about, “Where did The Wall come from?” Any time I see somebody like Pete Townshend writing Tommy or any sort of complete narrative to an entire piece I’m like, I want to sit down and understand that. But of course, guys like Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, all the guys you wish you could just sit there and pick their brain. Because as an interviewer yourself, I’m sure you hear people ask questions where you think, “There are so many things I would also want to ask this person that never seem to get asked.”
ANTIHERO: It is difficult to come up with something different each time.
Todd Kerns: It is.
ANTIHERO: Because you guys go through many, many interviews and you’re asked the same questions over and over. It must be difficult for you to keep on answering them in a different way.
Todd Kerns: You’re doing a great job. I really, honestly, I … it’s such a bizarre thing, sitting around talking about yourself anyway. It’s a very narcissistic, strange thing. But if people are genuinely interested, to me it’s like … Because I understand. I’m a fan. I really do believe, at the end of the day, people relate to that aspect of what I do because I still am excited about, like Phil Campbell. It’s like fucking every night I go on stage and I go, “Fucking Phil Campbell was on this stage.” We play Doctor Alibi and I say every night, “Phil Campbell from Motorhead was just on stage.”
And that’s the kind of thing that I never lose that thing. Being in this building. I mean, how many fucking shows have been in this building? I mean, it’s like, I don’t even know. I would probably have to sit and look at a list of who all played The Apollo. But it’s a lot of fucking bands.
ANTIHERO: Todd, it’s been great chatting to you.
Todd Kerns: My pleasure, I have enjoyed it.