Todd "Dammit" Kerns Talks PledgeMusic Campaign, "Hello Cruel World", and More
Wed, 26 Dec 2012 12:16:16
"For me, music was never about making a million bucks or buying a Lamborghini," declares Todd "Dammit" Kerns. "If you're lucky enough to play music and make a living, that's great. I wanted to make a record and give something back."
That's exactly what Kerns has done with his acoustic solo record, Hello Cruel World. Kerns teamed up with PledgeMusic for a campaign to fund the album with some incredible prizes. In addition, 5 percent of the proceeds benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association and its research. Within less than 24 hours of going live, the goal had been met, but the campaign will run for a full three months allowing even more money to be raised for this crucial cause—an admirable pursuit indeed.
You might know Kerns as the bassist for Slash's band "The Conspirators". However, he's an incredible songwriter in his own right. Hello Cruel World evinces just how potent, poignant, and powerful his writing is, illuminating another side of the musician.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Todd "Dammit" Kerns talks his PledgeMusic campaign, what to expect from Hello Cruel World, and so much more.
You can pledge to the campaign for Hello Cruel World on PledgeMusic.
What was your vision for the album as a whole?
I'm big on having a reasonably decent outline of how I want things to go as well as a certain amount of gray area. Anytime somebody makes a record, it's like "These are the songs, but let's allow for something to happen throughout". I always have ideas that have been started or half-finished. I often try to treat the good pressure as a way of forcing yourself to focus and finish. That's the thing about creativity. There's a certain amount of inspiration and rolling your sleeves up and getting work done, in a sense. I try to do a bit of both. Trying to wait around for inspiration can be fruitless. Whereas sitting down and applying yourself tends to have the best results.
You inspire your own inspiration that way.
I remember reading somewhere that Stephen King wakes up everyday, has a cup of coffee, and writes for like eight hours or something like that. He treats it like a job. I'm sure some days are productive, and some aren't as great as others. I find that pretty inspiring in a lot of ways. If you sit around and wait for lightning to hit you, it won't. I've always wanted to do an acoustic record. It's something that's been in the back of my mind. It's an endless conversation that goes back to the beginning of music with the idea of a voice and a guitar. I had 90 to 99 percent of the ideas solid, and I like to leave one percent to ten percent loosely there so something can materialize throughout. Often, those are the things that surprise you. You might have nine songs you feel strongly about, and you're waiting on the tenth. Or you have a gray area for the tenth and eleventh. Often, those are the songs that surprise you. I think that's true for any creative situation. You have to allow for creativity.
Is there a lyrical thread for Hello Cruel World?
When you're writing an overall project, whatever's going on in your life will dictate a bit of a theme, even if that theme isn't really clear to an objective listener. It's a snapshot of your life. Whether you wrote those songs in a year or not, it's going to be a picture of your life. For me, a lot of inspiration came from what was going on. We lost a very dear friend of ours to cancer recently. Initially, the idea had been germinating in my head to do an acoustic record anyway. When he got sick, it became one of those things. There's a real sense of urgency that goes on when you start to think of your own mortality and finality of it all. There's a feeling like, "I've got so many things I want to say. I can't imagine life being taken from me". It lit under fire me. You keep talking about this shit. You should probably get off your ass and do it. When the cancer got the better of my friend, it became an even more melancholic thing. It's the acceptance of the fragility of life. That's part of the Hello Cruel World title. You think you've got it all figured out, and you just don't. There's nothing funnier to me than the guy who tries to tell you, "This is how it is". As soon as those words leave the guy's mouth, something will come along to prove him wrong. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. You're just riding along in this crazy river called life, and it's going to take you where it wants to take you. For me, it's not really as dark as it may sound, but there's an interesting and unexpected journey that happens regardless of whether or not you prepared yourself for it.
Is this album the best way for people to get to know you? It's like an introduction to Todd Kerns.
I think that's actually the best way to describe it. I do have a lot of material. I've made a lot of music. The acoustic angle and side of what I'm doing is just one part of it. My natural state would be to play loud rock 'n' roll with Marshall amps cranked to ten and loud drums. In a weird way, I felt if I was going to go there again and release a solo album this would be the most, I suppose, intimate and honest presentation. I've been in rock bands my whole life. At some point, someone said to me, "I'm doing an acoustic show. A bunch of us are going to get up and do songs. Do you want to join us?" I'd never done it before. It's so much easier to hide behind the volume of a loud rock band. When you get up there with just a guitar, it's like standing there naked in a room full of people asking, "What do you think?" [Laughs] I've done that a few times. I was asked to act in a friend's film once, and I said, "Yes". Then, I was like, "What the hell am I talking about? I'm not an actor!" Either you embrace these super uncomfortable fears or you run away from them. I've regretted running away from things more than embracing them. These are fears that you beat. There's something to said about taking away the safety net of a loud rock band and standing up there on stage alone. It's a totally different headspace. This record will have some instrumentation, but then there will be songs that are just a guitar and a voice. I want to keep it very intimate.
How did you get involved with donating to Muscular Dystrophy research?
A very good friend of mine is an amazing artist and she's afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy. She's doing artwork for the album. We all have problems, but when you meet someone dealing with a disease, it puts things in perspective. She told me she wasn't supposed to have lived past the age of five. Now, she's in her fifties. I can't help but find endless inspiration from this one, and she can barely move. Still, she manages to paint things I would never dream of doing. It makes you think that kind of creativity and art is within the person regardless of their affliction. It's another thing we'll never know about. This was the first charity I gravitated towards. Of course, during this process, cancer became a giant part of our world here. It's another monster we're trying to figure out a way to contribute against.
How did you feel when the goal was met in less than 24 hours?
To be honest, I was a bit flabbergasted [Laughs]. I don't sit around at my computer all day. I went on with whatever I had going on. I was like, "Why is this happening so quickly?" It's a really wonderful thing. The involvement with Slash has changed my life in so many ways. Having people from Australia to South America to Japan to Europe be a part of this is amazing. I would never be able to reach those people prior to being part of Slash's world. All of these rock 'n' roll fans are taking a leap of faith with this acoustic record. For them to be a part of me doing something off the beaten path is overwhelming.
Will you pledge?
You can pledge to the campaign for Hello Cruel World on PledgeMusic.