An Interview with Todd Kerns of Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators

Just two months into the new year, Slash’s fourth studio album with Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, appropriately titled 4, is poised to compete for the award of rock album of the year.

The revered Guns ‘N Roses axe-slinger, coupled with Kennedy’s inherent vocal prowess, power a punchy, vibrant fourth installment full of innovative guitar hooks and infectious melody. The Conspirators, comprised of multi-faceted bassist Todd Kerns, guitarist Frank Sidoris, and drummer Brent Fitz, each provide a unique component to the band’s sound and are in top form.

In addition to hit singles such as “The River Is Rising,” “Fill My World,” and “Call Off The Dogs,” 4 introduces acclaimed record producer Dave Cobb, who replaces Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette. The album was released on February 11 via the newly established Gibson Records.

Recently, I caught up with Todd Kerns to reflect on his tenure with the band and discuss the new album.

Andrew:
Todd, appreciate you carving out some time. Before we dive into your most recent endeavors, I’m interested to hear your perspective on what the Canadian music scene was like during your early days.

Todd:
Well, I grew up in the middle of Canada, so in what they would call the Midwest in the states, it was the Prairies in Canada. It was freezing cold in the winter, so you were either a hockey player — which we all played hockey when we were young — and then you just sort of played guitar and jammed with your friends because it was too damn cold to do anything else. As far as the scenes go, where I grew up in the middle of nowhere, really. It was a small town, and there is a huge Canadian scene — Canada is interesting because it’s like a day’s drive to the next city in most cases — so, it’s sort of a long-term touring situation, at least from big center to big center; you can hit smaller places but those aren’t as common.

With that said, there definitely was a Canadian scene, but that’s as varied as any scene, really. I mean, it was a lot of pop-rock, radio rock kind of music when I was a kid. But there was also punk rock, and there was new wave, and there was hard rock, and there was every other version of that within Canada, as well. But in my world, as a kid, it was like, “Do we get to play the local talent show, or the town hall, or a high school dance?” That was the scene I grew up in.

Andrew:
The Age of Electric, which also featured your brother, John on bass, was a band in which you handled vocals and guitar duties. How did the band take shape?

Todd:
Well, I had a band when I left high school. Me and my friends went on the road; we had a band called The Infants. There was a band called The Baby’s from back and the day and we were called The Infants. It was a three-piece band; I was the bass player/singer. We were all from the same small town; we had all just gotten out of high school and decided to go on the road and try to make a go of it. It was crazy, and every cliché story you can bring up about playing music and traveling and all that. Eventually, the drummer who went on to be the drummer in the Age of the Electric, he came in to work as a member of our crew. We just hit it off, and we loved each other. His brother played guitar, and my brother was also a bass player, so at that point, we put the band together. I moved out front and played rhythm guitar and sang.

The Age of Electric was about ten years. We did really well in Canada; we went gold and just toured and toured and toured. We just sort of hit a wall, which happens to every band when you take a hard look at each other and realize you’re probably gonna murder each other or something like that. [Laughs]. So, we just kind of went our separate ways. It’s funny because there was never really an official, “We are breaking up.” It was just sort of this hiatus that went on for fifteen years before we ever did anything together again. Although, we always remained in contact. We all just wandered off in different directions.

Andrew:
Now, how did you end up in the singer role?

Todd:
I always say, I started playing in bands as a bass player, which still is one of my main vocations to this day, and I was always that guy that was perfectly happy to just be in the band. There’s a game that eventually happens where you play, “Who’s the least-worst singer?”“You sing one.”“Okay, cool. Now you sing a couple of songs.” Pretty much everybody is singing in the band, and eventually, you realize one day that it’s, “Hey Todd, sing this. Hey Todd, sing this.” The next thing you know, you realize that you’re the singer, and you go, “Oh, okay.” So, in that context, it’s as if you passed an audition that you never even asked for or even knew you were a part of, and that’s gratifying.

It really opened up other parts of my head. Often, the bass guitar is not necessarily the most forgiving as far as being able to play the parts and sing the lead vocals at the same time. A lot of people like to think that the bass is really easy, but it’s one of those things you notice when it’s not solid; you notice the bass more when it’s not there when it’s not tight. So, guys like Sting from The Police were a big influence on me. Geddy Lee was, although, that’s a whole other level; he was like a six-degree, black-belt ninja. But I looked to those guys as far as being able to split your brain in half and go, “This is the bass playing and this is the singing.” And the same thing applied once I moved over to guitar.

When my brother picked up the bass, he was much more into being a bass player. Like, he was the guy who was into Steve Harris and Geddy Lee and all these kinds of guys and really wanted to be a very adept player. Where I just wanted to play music, write songs, and put a band together. I wasn’t the guy sitting in his basement whittling away; I just liked the whole other process of being in a band. There’s a lot to be said about being proficient in your instrument, I was just like, “Eddie Van Halen is amazing; let Eddie Van Halen be Eddie Van Halen.”

Andrew:
That’s interesting. As we transition to your role with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, I would like to take some time to recall your initial involvement with Slash.

Todd:
Well, our drummer, Brent Fitz, is an old friend of mine from Canada, and he was living down here, as well. We were doing stuff with Bruce Kulick, oddly enough, even back then, and he just sort of got in Slash’s camp. Slash was putting together a band around in 2010 — it was 2010 because it was in support of his first solo album — an album that had Kid Rock, Miles Kennedy, Chris Cornell, Lemmy [Kilmister], Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, and all these people singing on it. And because Brent’s the drummer, I get the call. I was kind of getting accustomed to being in Vegas and staying in the same bed every night for the first time in my life, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Nope, we’re gonna go around the world a hundred times for the next — well, going on twelve years now.”

Andrew:
So, you join Slash in tour support of his self-titled record, but then Apocalyptic Love, the debut album for Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, is released two years later. I’ve always enjoyed that song, “You’re a Lie,” which was released as one of four singles. What are your memories of how the tour support ultimately evolved into a band?

Todd:
That album was really cool. It was early days, and as a band, we had sort of come together in support of this solo record, and in support of a lot of Guns ‘N Roses, Velvet Revolver, and Slash’s Snakepit songs, because this is the first time Slash had been out on the road for a long time. Of course, it was received very well, because we’re talking about a legend. I just remember sitting backstage one time, going through our wardrobe cases getting a jacket out or something for the show, and I remember Slash being very happenstance sort of like, “So, I think we’re gonna use the band for the next album.” And I go, “Like, us?” He goes, “Yeah.” I go, “Oh, okay. Cool!”

We went in and did three songs first with the producer, Eric Valentine, who had done the solo album. He’s done a lot of amazing things. So, we had three songs right away: “Halo,” “Bad Rain,” Standing in the Sun.” Those are the three songs we started with, and then we came in and finished up the record once we got off the road. It was very live — still early days — like, I was handling a lot of harmony and vocals and stuff on the road, but there was never a discussion about, “Todd’s gonna handle these harmony vocals on the record.” I just listened to that record not that long ago, because I had to start brushing up on a lot of material for this upcoming tour, and I’m all over that record. I’m like, “Oh, yeah. That’s my voice going, ‘Lie!’ in the background on ‘You’re a Lie.’” It was very live; a lot of stuff was being written in the studio. We were still trying to figure stuff out, and Miles was pulling his hair out trying to get lyrics finished for that and melodies finished for that, but it came together, and it was really powerful. And like I said, looking back on it now — because I don’t spend a lot of time sitting around listening to our music, but I had to kind of refresh myself — it was awesome. It was really great to hear that music and hear a band that had something to prove at the same time. I think that’s always a good sign when a band has something to prove.

Andrew:
What is it like to work with Slash?

Todd:
He’s very laid back. He also takes what we do very seriously — he’s not that kind of person who’s so serious he’s a drag — but he pushes himself real hard. I think he’s one of those guys who surrounds himself with people that he knows can do the job, who he respects as players. He’s not the kind of guy who goes, “You play this, you play that. You wear these shoes. You wear that jacket.” It was very much sort of like, “Do what you do, and bring your thing to the show and to the studio and make it be great.” Like I said, he’s very laid back, but he does want it to be awesome. I mean, he’s a better guitar player today than he probably ever has been, and that’s mostly because he’s constantly pushing himself. I think that’s probably what pushes us the most, is just watching a guy who is not kicking back, resting on his laurels, going, “Let’s just play “Nighttrain” and “Slither” every night, and collect cash.” He really is about making new music and having new accomplishments to accomplish. So, that’s the kind of stuff that really pushed us, as well.

Andrew:
What does the creative process typically look like? Is it collaborative?

Todd:
Well, it’s always been sort of the same plan. Slash has a gazillion riffs; every one of them, he’ll play a riff and I’ll go, “Well, I look forward to watching a kid of YouTube play that riff the day after this song comes out.” It a hundred percent happens every single time, from “You’re a Lie,” to “Driving Rain,” to just now, with “The River is Rising.” Literally, the day [“The River is Rising”] came out, there’s a bunch of guys online playing; they’ve learned the whole song. They’re playing the solo, it’s mind-boggling, but he inspires that kind of thing in musicians. He makes them want to pick up the guitar. He comes up with the music, Myles comes up with lyrics and melody, and the rest of us are there to support. I’ve been lucky enough to contribute a thing or two here and there. I always laugh, because people are like, “Well, why don’t you give him a riff?” I go, “You mean, like, give Slash a riff? Who has, like, the coolest riffs on the planet, and has, like, a gazillion of them?” Like every one of them is a classic riff; every time he starts playing something, I’m like, “Well, yeah. There it is. That sounds like Slash.”

Andrew:
Earlier you mentioned Eric Valentine, whose credits include Queens of the Stoneage, Third Eye Blind, and Slash, to name a few. He produced the tremendous-sounding record in Apocalyptic Love, but then Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette took the reins for the next two, World on Fire and Living the Dream. Why the switch?

Todd:

I don’t know what the actual reason was for it, but I know Myles and Elvis have a very close relationship; they’ve been working together in one form or another for like twenty or twenty-five years. Maybe thirty years. But I think when that conversation opened up to check somebody else out, I think Elvis moved to the top of the list. I’ve done a bunch of other records as a session player for Elvis, as well; he’s one of the most talented people I know and the most driven people I know. It’s quite mind-boggling. So, I think that it was definitely where we needed to go.

In a lot of ways, I think World on Fire — there are elements about that record that I think are our best. At least as far as still having something to prove, still really wanting to do something important, where it’s like seventeen songs for some reason on one record. It was a really big, big project. Living the Dream, in a lot of ways, to me, is almost even more important of a record because it was the first time we finally had all five of us on the record. Frank was finally on the record and the most recent record, 4. In a way, it’s the most complete; now it’s the band. But for whatever reason, World on Fire just felt like we were in the middle of a very hot streak, we’d been around for a chunk of time, and I just thought Elvis did amazing work on those records.

Andrew:
You mentioned the most recent record, 4, which is exactly where I was going. How long had this project been in the works?

Todd:
Well, it would have been in the works for a long time, because we often come up with songs during soundchecks on the road. We would have been on the road in 2019, so a lot of those songs had started to kind of evolve back then. And Slash is a real completest that way. It’s funny to me, too, because there were a lot of things that were coming up, even as we were finishing up the songs for this album. He’s like, “Okay, well this will be for the next album because we have to finish these songs that we already worked on.” I thought that was actually really cool of him because a lot of people would be like, “Well, we’re just writing a million songs here, so let’s just pick the best of them.” He’s sort of like a completest in that, “These are the songs we were writing for this album. We need to focus on these and finish them.” So, even as we sit now, there’s still material that’s sort of bubbling for the next thing — whenever the hell that’s gonna be.

So, things often take shape in soundchecks on the road. We show up at two in the afternoon, plug our guitars in and make sure everything is working, and we’re jamming some new riff. Miles is mumbling along and humming along, and that’s an idea. In saying that, whenever the next record is — if it comes out in 2025, say — well then, some of those seeds have been planted already. Some of these things, the seeds get planted and they kind of just grow for a long time. That said, there are examples of songs on all the records that sort of came together right there and then and they ended up on the album.

Andrew:
What were some of the challenges the band encountered recording an album amid a global pandemic?

Todd:
Well, that was the biggest challenge of all. Of course, we switched producers again, so Dave Cobb became the focus. And Slash has always been really gung-ho about recording as live as possible, and this record was one hundred percent that. And Cobb was sort of the guy to do that with; he didn’t want to have click tracks. We didn’t even have headphones on; we were literally just jamming together in a room, and the red light was on and that became the album.

That said, we had to get on a tour bus — because we wanted to create our COVID bubble — and basically drive all the way out to Nashville and live in, basically a big ranch-style place. And basically, that would be our life; we would just live in this place together. We never really went anywhere; we just kind of went back-and-forth, and back-and-forth, and back-and-forth. Unfortunately, COVID caught up with us anyway.

Basically, four out of five of us got COVID, and we still completed the record. Within the first five days, we had recorded basically the entire backing track of the album. Miles had sang most of it, as well. Then, Miles was the first to go down. He got sick, then Fitz and I both got sick directly thereafter. Then a week later, Slash and our guitar tech got sick. It’s part of the story now. To be honest, it was more annoying than anything. Obviously, not to belittle the fact that we were going through something that could have been very serious. Luckily for us, we were fine, but it did sort of make it more of a story that we all went through that together, and still managed to make this record.

Andrew:
So, Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette wore the production hat for the previous two albums, but you guys opt to bring on Dave Cobb for 4. Perhaps, most notably, Dave has produced Rival Sons. What influenced the decision to go with Dave on this one?

Todd:
I really do believe that most of it was the ability to try and record a live record. Like, with Cobb, we talked a lot about things like the first Black Sabbath album, the first Led Zeppelin album, early Aerosmith — those records that literally would be made in a very brief amount of time and played very live and you’re bouncing off of each other. I’m not suggesting one way is better than the other, because, during the pandemic, I’ve made multiple recordings where the drummer is in Florida, the guitar player is in Europe, and we’re passing files back-and-forth and just sending stuff around. That actually can be a very, very successful way to make music, there’s just something to be said about standing in the same room together, looking at each other, and just bouncing the energy off of each other. A lot of records can be made in more of a solitary thing, where like, sometimes I’ll be recording my bass parts and it’ll just be me in the studio; me and the producer. The other guys kind of aren’t there. And the guitar can be like that, or the vocals can be like that. But with all of us there, Miles sang — he would be better at pointing out what he didn’t sing live and what he did because, of course, he got sick — so, I think he was probably feeling the effects of COVID already while he was recording his vocals on a few of those songs.

Andrew:
How has your role within the band evolved over time?

Todd:
Well, I always kind of consider myself as more of a conciliary, as far as, I don’t need to have my ego stroked, or “I did this, I did that.” I’m a big fan of being in a band and being able to be a part of it, and that takes captains and it takes soldiers. With this current record, I was really the only one involved in the very earliest stages, because normally what would happen is, Fitz and I would get together with Slash and we would start jamming out ideas and start putting together arrangements and stuff like that. But because COVID was happening, Brent was trapped in Canada, when they had all kinds of border issues, and I was down here. Literally, Slash and I were getting together with drum machines, just kind of throwing down demos and ideas. A lot of it has to do with Slash’s preference to be playing with other human beings. When he’s got an idea, he wants to bounce it off the drummer, bounce it off the bass player and just hear it, as opposed to sitting there with a drum machine. It’s not that satisfying. That said, that’s just the position we were in. We had to do that because we were stuck. It goes back to the same thing I said when I was a kid, I just was happy to be in a band. But that said, I felt the love very early on having been a part of this thing. Then all of a sudden, there are Todd Kerns Argentina, Todd Kerns Brazil, Todd Kerns Italy, and Todd Kerns France Facebook and Instagram pages. It’s just so strange because you don’t think of yourself in these terms — I still don’t. I don’t really care about the famous side of it; to me, it’s really about the music, honestly. It’s really about making great music and being able to get out on stage and celebrate playing that music with other human beings. So, being Slash featuring Miles Kennedy and the Conspirators — I’m perfectly OK being a Conspirator. And if people wanna consider me the head Conspirator — whatever they call me — that’s fine. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but it’s cool.

Image credit: Me On Your Wall Photography

Andrew:
From your vantage point, how does this record compare to the previous three?

Todd:
That’s really interesting. You know, it’s still so subjective for me, so it’s really hard for me to kind of get out from behind it. Like I know in a few years from now, I’ll look back and be able to compare each one for its strengths as they are. When I listen to it now — again, I don’t sit around listening to our music but because we’re getting ready to do a tour I have to really get invested — I find it’s a really exciting record because I sometimes feel if you were sitting in a room with us, this is what it would sound like. Where sometimes, in bigger production, with lots of harmonies and lots of overdub guitars, say a punk rock record or a Queen record with all that kind of production, everybody has their preference of different things, and I think in a lot of ways we’ve always walked the wire between both of those camps. ACϟDC is a band that sounds like a rock band, and I think in a lot of ways, that’s all we ever really wanted to sound like. So, this record is definitely a rock record. That said, there’s always sort of a couple of up-tempo, over-the-top rockers; there’s always kind of a really interesting, vibey song; and then in this case, on this record, there’s another epic, David Bowie-Pink Floyd kind of song that closes the record and might be my favorite song. So, it’s really difficult to compare them in any sort of way.

Andrew:
Was there any significance behind releasing “The River Is Rising” as the first single back in October, or was that simply because it kicked off the record?

Todd:
I think mostly because it’s just kicking off the record. We all really resonated with that song and felt like it really was a big statement for where we’re at and what this record is all about. I just feel like it’s a really strong song with a very strong message. Some people get really afraid of the idea of if you’re listening to a rock radio station and that song comes on … “Is it gonna sound too markedly different from the song before it and the song after it?” And I go, “I hope it does sound different,” because I think just blending in with whatever is going, to me, isn’t really a positive. I think being able to be different than what’s going on, or at least different in its own way, separates you from what’s going on, in a way. I think that “The River is Rising” has a lot of energy and this really crazy double-time part in the middle of the song, and for anybody who thought, “Maybe they’re out of gas. They’ve been around for ten-plus years,” it’s like, “Oh, wow. No, these guys are still on fire!”

Andrew:
Given the uncertainty regarding touring, what are the tentative plans to support the album?

Todd:
Well, it looks a little too brief, but there’s not too much to be done about that, because we’re not even sure if we’re able to even go to Europe, or South America, or Australia, or Japan, or Asia — all the places that we go. When we go on tour, we go around the planet a couple of times, and currently, all we’re signed up for is the US and one show in Canada. Everybody complains, “How come you’re not coming here? How come you’re not coming there?” I’m like, “Look, guys, it’s early days. As everything’s canceling around us, we’re hellbound and determined to make this thing work, so we’re planning on going out there and doing this thing right.” It changes the game as far as, “Hey, I’m coming to Nashville, looking forward to seeing all my friends. Let’s go to our favorite restaurant, this and that.” It’s like, you almost can’t do any of that. It’s not that I’m afraid of getting sick or I’m afraid of this or that, I just don’t wanna be responsible for our entire camp having to shut down because somebody got sick or whatever, and we have to throw the entire tour in mothballs and shut it down. That’s the last thing I wanna see happen, after two years of waiting to get this record made and everything else. It’s like, “Let’s just do this and do it right.”

Interested in learning more about Todd Kerns? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full archives of Shredful Compositions, by Andrew DiCecco, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/shredful-compositions-archives/

About Post Author

Andrew DiCecco

Predominantly known for his NFL coverage, Andrew DiCecco is a Pennsylvania-based journalist with a profound passion for Rock music and its illustrious history. What initially began as a childhood hobby collecting CDs eventually evolved into a full-blown absorption into the world of Rock and Roll. An aspiring rock historian, Andrew seeks out every autobiography and documentary on Rock artists imaginable to further his knowledge to go along with a growing collection of vintage albums and magazines. Andrew’s musical preferences include, but are not limited to, Def Leppard, Van Halen, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Foreigner, and Journey. An innate appreciation for guitar heroes, Andrew cites Vito Bratta, Eddie Van Halen, John Sykes, George Lynch, Dave Meniketti, and Neal Schon as some of his personal favorite players. Andrew is also a regular listener to SiriusXM’s <i>Trunk Nation</i> with Eddie Trunk, his primary source of inspiration.
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