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Raiding The Rock Vault: Interview with Todd Kerns

Interview with Todd Kerns by Mónica Castedo-López

After its conception in the US in 2012, the multi-award winning show comes to Europe for the first time ever. The UK band includes musicians of the calibre of Howard Leese (Heart/Bad Company), Rowan Robertson (Dio), Jay Schellen (Yes/Asia), Michael T Ross (Lita Ford), Tony Franklin (Whitesnake), Robin McAuley (Quiet Riot), Megan Ruger (The Voice US) and Todd Kerns (Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators). It was the latter we chatted to in order to obtain details in advance of their three-day London run on 5-7 December with no intermissions, no recorded instruments or vocals, all performed live. Here's what a very pleasant Todd had to share.

Todd Kerns Raiding The Rock Vault Interview

Are you excited to come to London and bring over Raiding the Rock Vault for the first time ever?

Yes, I'm super excited. It's going to be really fun. The fact that it's been talked about for so long and now that it's actually happening ... oh my gosh, I can't believe this is really occurring. This is going to be an amazing thing because we're coming with a couple of Brits in the line-up and it makes for an awesome night.

Will you be doing something special for the British fans, maybe more British bands being covered in the set?

There's quite a bit of Brit rock in there as far as that the show itself covers 60s, 70s and 80s mostly. There is a bit of a narrative in there with video and some dialogue that tells the story of Rock and Roll from its inception. We start in the early 60s and take ourselves into the 70s and then end off in the 80s. And although a lot of people ask what about the 90s and the 2000s, the quintessential Rock and Roll experience is in the Raiding the Rock Vault because it's raiding the rock vault, it's meant to be almost a time machine taking you back to a specific chapter of Rock and Roll. The finest and probably most celebratory period would be the 60s, 70s and 80s as far as people's memories and their attachments to the music they grew up on.

How many songs do you play throughout the show?

It's about 90 minutes so it covers quite a lot. We cover pretty much most Rock bands that you can think of in that time frame, from Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac; it covers a lot of the key points that should be hit during the course of a telling like that. Of course into the 80s you get more into Bon Jovi, Van Halen and that kind of stuff. I should probably know the actual song count but it's a lot! There are three male vocalists and one female vocalist with a backing band so it's a constant people coming on and off stage for the entire show.

Has the set-list always been the same or have there been changes throughout the years?

The show has been around for seven years and I've only been involved since 2017 but it has changed over the years, absolutely. And we're currently talking about changing it again. We start a new residency in 2020 here in Las Vegas. It's always good to reboot things once in a while to give it a fresh coat of paint and give it a new exciting take. The show that we're currently doing in Vegas is pretty much the blueprint of what is going to come over to London right now.

The show won a number of awards. What makes it so special?

I have to think about this objectively, but six years in a row in Vegas is no small feat for a show that's been around for seven years. It took one year to get it up and running and then six years just keep winning. It corners the market on Rock in a town like Las Vegas because you have a city that is rife with competition; visitors come to Las Vegas and there's a million things to do, but we always forget how many rock and rollers come. It is great for them to see some Rock and Roll and you get to see it with Howard Leese from Heart and Hugh McDonald from Bon Jovi and Blas Elias from Slaughter. It's done and performed by seasoned professionals and done well. So it really is the only game in town as far as Rock goes.

What is the song that you personally enjoy playing the most?

It's an interesting thing because I come from Punk Rock and loud aggressive obnoxious music so I never played Journey or that kind of music before, but they have me singing songs like 'Separate Ways' by Journey, which has been really fun to do and to see the response from the audience. It's really fascinating.

On the show, do you just sing or do you play any instruments as well?

During the show I get to play some acoustic guitar and sing mostly. In the grand scheme of things most people know me as a bass player but I've always been a singer and always played guitar. I have a lot of different things that I love doing, so when the opportunities arise I always jump at them to be able to do something a little different. And this show is a great deal of fun being to focus on vocals.

Who chooses who is playing in the show?

There's an existing line-up in Las Vegas that has a bit of a revolving door depending on Blas Elias doing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Howard Leese having to go to do some shows with Bad Company. But we have shows going to California, Nevada and Alaska, so it's imperative to have a line-up that is anchored in Las Vegas and then some of us will step off and do some of these trips with other guys. We started to create a larger web to be able to carry these things into other territories. It's basically like having your set line-up and then having a giant list of other people who can do the shows so that way one version of the show stays in Las Vegas and the other version goes somewhere. As a Rock and Roll fan I can stand there next to people like Tony Franklin from The Firm and Howard Leese from Heart. I have to scratch my head once in a while, what the Hell am I doing here?! Because these are all guys I grew up with listening to their records and watching them on MTV.

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How did you get the gig?

Honestly, from being around Vegas and playing with Slash and that kind of stuff. I'm relatively well known, I suppose, and I was asked to play when one of the versions was travelling to Branson, Missouri. It was myself and also Hugh McDonald, who plays bass for Bon Jovi. Now I'm involved with the Las Vegas cast.

Since you've been in the show, what do you think is the song that attracts the most reaction from the audience?

That's a good question. It's funny because there are a lot of centre-points. 'Stairway to Heaven' by Led Zeppelin comes across really strong. 'All Right Now' by Free and 'Alone' by Heart are big moments. 'Separate Ways' by Journey is also a big moment. It gets to a certain point of the show when we have to come out and everybody's up having a good time and it stays that way to the very end. It's pretty full on from the beginning to the very end of the show.

How different is it from you from playing with Myles Kennedy, the Kiss Cruise, Dizzy Reed or solo?

It's very different in that way because most of us never really performed in a situation where you are one of several vocalists. Usually a show starts at 9pm, I walk onstage and I stand there until the end of the set. So there is an interesting dynamic that happens when you walk on stage for a song, then walk off stage and come back for another song. It changes your entire approach performance wise. It's been really interesting and fun for me because it sort of builds this show aspect to that really creates a completely different vibe from what I'm accustomed to and that is something that I can bring into other things that I do.

I guess the three London dates would be a way to test the waters. Do you think there will be other shows around the UK or Europe?

I certainly think that anything is a possibility. Like you say, it's a way to experiment and I think it definitely opens the doors for almost anything, really. That's the beauty of the Rock Vault, they haven't rested on the idea of being Best in Vegas for six years in a row. They want to try and be able to take it elsewhere where they could also be successful.

Would you like to talk about your career outside Raiding the Rock Vault?

So many people know me for so many different things, depending on who you talk to, so it's a funny thing that I go from this to doing a trip to Canada with a side project that myself and Brent Fitz from the Slash band, Toque, and we have a lot of fun doing that because we're both Canadian. Then I play around Vegas in my band called Original Sinner with Brent Muscat from Faster Pussycat. Then I do solo stuff, so I'm a very busy individual. I love music so sometimes I'm playing bass, sometimes I'm singing and sometimes I'm playing guitar. I never get too lazy and I keep pretty sharp, as much as I can anyway.

How is it playing with Slash and Myles Kennedy?

It's amazing, it's the best. Those guys are really inspiring individuals. Slash is absolutely tireless; we're always shocked at how much energy the man has. I started in 2010 with him thinking that I'd do a few months' worth of fly-out dates to support his solo album at the time with Myles Kennedy and almost 10 years later we're talking about the next chapter. So it's really fascinating.

What do you think is the secret of being in a band with such an icon in the Rock industry for so many years?

Only in recent years have I stopped to take a look around and see Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and these people in their 70s still doing this, and I guess this is what you do: you do music and you carry on doing it until you physically can't anymore. I don't think there's really any secret to keeping something together. As long as you're enjoying it and as long as it's rewarding, in whichever definition of rewarding you have, you can't think of a reason not to do it. Luckily the five gentlemen in Slash and The Conspirators, we enjoy each other's company, we make quality music together and that's the end of it, really. As long as we enjoy doing it, we will probably continue to do it until we can't do it anymore for whatever reason. Myles is very busy right now with the Alter Bridge record, Slash is very busy with Guns N' Roses and I'm free to chase other fun things like Raiding the Rock Vault, Toque, Original Sin or whatever else I have going on like the Kiss Cruise, where myself and Brent Fitz play with Bruce Kulick and we do sets of entire non-makeup Kiss music. It keeps things very fresh to do, to the point where I sometimes literally wake up and go "What am I doing today?" I like to challenge myself, otherwise I would get complacent and lazy. Having to learn two hours' worth of Kiss music or a bunch of lyrics is a challenge.

Do you have any messages for the readers?

The very first show of the Raiding the Rock Vault in London at Subterania is my birthday. I have people coming from all over Europe to celebrate with me. We play so much overseas with Slash that when the opportunity of going to London with Raiding the Rock Vault came up I was like "Absolutely, I have to go there and finally connect with a whole group of people who I have great relationships with but it's physically difficult to get over there unless you are on a tour."

Do you have any plans to come over here with any of your side projects like Toque or Original Sinner?

I do an acoustic show as well where it's just myself and an acoustic guitar, and I have done a few records in that vein inspired by guys like Johnny Cash. I have one coming up in 2020 and my intention is to come to the UK and play some shows like that. To get in France or Germany would be fantastic too.

Mónica Castedo-López

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