When drummer Brent Fitz invited bandmate Todd Kerns to play with Slash’s new band three years ago, Kerns didn’t really think his life was about to change so quickly. “I got a phone call saying, ‘Hey, can you be in L.A. tomorrow at noon?’” recalls Kerns. “But it wasn’t put to me like, ‘We’re looking for a bass player.’ It was more like, ‘Hey, come down and jam.’” The Las Vegas-based Kerns drove out to Los Angeles the next morning without preparing. “I thought, ‘I’ll just show up and play—I know all those Guns N’ Roses songs, anyway.’ I think I played ‘Night Train,’ and immediately, they were like, ‘Okay, so here’s the schedule.’ The next week we were doing The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Two records and several tours later, the Canadian-born Kerns has fully embraced his role in the band now known as Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators. Prior to hooking up with Slash and company, the 45-year-old Kerns was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist in one of Las Vegas’ most notorious bands, Sin City Sinners. He also fronted several popular Canadian bands, including Age Of Electric and Static In Stereo. On Slash’s latest release, World on Fire, Kerns’ talents blend seamlessly into the supportive roles of bassist and backing vocalist. Live, he demonstrates a unique ability to honor his predecessors without sacrificing his sense of self.
Are you a guitarist who plays bass or a bassist who plays guitar?
I had an acoustic guitar as a child and learned a few songs. When my family moved, there was a local band of high school guys that needed a bass player, and for some reason, my father—in his own bizarre reasoning—thought, “You have a guitar, now you need a bass.” So he bought me a Gibson EB-3.
When you play Guns N’ Roses songs in Slash’s band, do you stick to Duff McKagan’s classic bass parts or do your own thing?
We’re pretty religious about making sure the GNR stuff is accurate. I was in my car listening to the radio recently when “Sweet Child O’ Mine” came on, and I was like, “Oh, that’s how that goes” [laughs]. When I learned that song, I started with the absolute blueprint of the Duff McKagan part, but two years into a tour, I can’t help that it has become my own thing. But I do try to make sure it’s the part. Appetitefor Destruction is the blueprint for that band. There’s a lot of really cool interplay between drummer Steven Adler and Duff McKagan on that album, so it would be a real shame to miss out on that. We want to make sure the interpretation is correct.
Are you trying to capture Duff’s tone?
I don’t feel as enslaved to the idea that I have to sound like Duff. When you listen to our new record, my playing doesn’t sound like Duff’s at all. If anything, it sounds like Lemmy [laughs]. Obviously, I certainly don’t want to stray too far. Doing some sort of weird fretless thing wouldn’t work, for example. The GNR songs have become part of our DNA and our consciousness, so I just want to play them correctly.
Who are some of your bass playing influences?
People like Sting and Geddy Lee. I don’t play like them at all, but as a bass player who sings, they’re just part of what I do. I was also always hip to guys like Tom Hamilton [Aerosmith] and Tom Petersson [Cheap Trick]. Dee Dee Ramone, the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, and Paul Simonon from the Clash were big for me, too. Obviously with Sid, there’s a question about what he played or didn’t play, but that aesthetic—the pick-wielding player with the low-slung bass guitar—became a part of who I am, and it all comes from those guys. I believe Duff once said, “You want to be Sid Vicious, but good.” I want to carry that aesthetic but also focus on the musical side of things.
Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators, World on Fire [2014, Dik Hayd]
Basses Ernie Ball Music Man Classic Sabre, Gibson Thunderbird IV
Rig Gallien-Krueger 2001RB head, Gallien- Krueger Neo 810 8x10 cabs
Effects MXR M81 Bass Preamp (clean), Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI (dirty)
Strings Ernie Ball Cobalt Power Slinky (.055–.110)
Picks Dunlop Tortex 1.14mm
Etc. Boss TU-3 chromatic tuner, Line 6 Relay G50 wireless