Todd Kerns
Photo by Blackfrog Media

With the exception of “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette, which was released in 1995, and the brand new original song “Never Enough For You”, the second album from all-Canadian cover band Toque, titled Never Enough, focuses on a very specific period of Canadian music spanning 1978 to 1982. “That’s really interesting, I’ve never really thought of it that way,” reveals Toque vocalist / guitarist Todd Kerns, speaking exclusively to BraveWords scribe Aaron Small.

The video for “Never Enough For You” is equally incredible. “We have such a strong connection to Winnipeg through Brent Fitz and our guy Darren Steen who handles a lot of our merch and art design.

Todd Kerns

Standing shoulder to shoulder alongside Kerns in Toque are bassist Brent Fitz, guitarist Cory Churko, and drummer Shane Gaalaas. “The first record (Give’r, released in 2016), is focused in very much the same way,” comments Kerns. “I would assume that’s 100% because of our… we recently did Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta; those three provinces cover the entire band. Fitz is from Manitoba, myself and Cory Churko are from Saskatchewan, and Shane’s from Alberta. Some of those specific groups (covered on Never Enough), like Queen City Kids and Harlequin, were extremely popular on The Prairies. So, I guess the choice of tunes is really based on that initial phase of being super into music. And the cool thing about being Canadian – I’m sure it’s the same way in Sweden or Norway, or wherever you’re from – the local scene is as much a part of your upbringing as any international scene. We always say, there was The Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Streetheart. We really didn’t designate who was from where or how that worked, they just happened to be a big part of our life musically. That’s the beautiful thing about Canada, even today when I’m cruising around Winnipeg, listening to the local radio station, you’ll hear all that stuff, and it’s still really exciting. I think that’s why our focus is so much on… I never really thought of it in terms of a time frame, but you’re very clever in finding that, yeah, we specifically chose a particular period of our romantic upbringing of Canadian music. Honestly, no one’s ever pointed that out.”

How then, did a tune from a Canadian songstress – who was born in 1974 – receive the Toque stamp of approval on Never Enough? “These funny things come in,” answers Todd. “They’re like little dares, ‘Why don’t you do something from the ‘90s?’ Like what? ‘Alanis Morissette.’ Next thing you know, you’re listening to that song, ‘I think we can do this.’” “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette was a global hit, unbelievably huge! And, it’s sung by a female. Kerns reveals if that altered his mindset in how to approach the song, being that everybody knows it, and it was originally done by the opposite sex. “It’s funny, I end up being fairly fearless about these kinds of things. I’ve never jumped out of an airplane or anything like that, but when it comes to music, I’m relatively fearless. That’s why so much of this record… we not only do Alanis, we do Darby Mills from Headpins, and Holly Woods from Toronto. It’s challenging, first of all, to sing female stuff. We had to alter some keys, only to make it not sound ridiculous. I’m never too freaked out by the challenge of it.”

“Cory felt really strongly about the Toronto song, ‘Enough Is Enough’. It was one of his favourite songs when he was a kid. Yeah, I’ll take a stab at it. I wasn’t resistant to it, it was more like, there were some other songs on the list I would have liked to seen happen. But in retrospect, I’m really glad he pushed for that cause I think it’s one of the strongest songs on the record; it’s just an amazing song! Toronto’s another one of those bands that is a completely underrated entity in that its catalogue is so strong. But doing female songs has certainly been an interesting challenge. Like you said, with the Alanis song being beyond regional – which some of the songs we go for is because we have such a deep love for them, and they’re stuff we grew up on; very specific to us. I find Toque to be not only regional, but also generational. Even Canadians don’t know a lot of these songs, based on where they grew up, or when they grew up. There’s a whole generation of kids who just wouldn’t know that music. They don’t listen to the classic rock radio stations or anything like that. In a lot of ways we find ourselves, as obnoxious as it sounds, somewhat of an ambassador of that old Canadian music from that particular time frame you’re talking about.”

Toque decided to cover a song by worldwide recognized Canadian rocker Bryan Adams on Never Enough, yet when you look at the tracklisting, none of the titles are immediately recognizable as his. Even casual Bryan Adams fans would pick up on “Summer Of ‘69”, “Cuts Like A Knife”, or “Somebody”; and here’s “Remember”. “Or ‘Everything I Do, I Do It For You’,” adds Todd. Funnily enough, we don’t remember “Remember”. “That’s off his first album. Bryan’s been around. Cory used to sing that, so he sings the lead vocal. There was no sense in me sitting down to learn it when he already knew it. Cory’s been playing music since he was seven in some version of his family band. So, we just jammed through it and it sounded great. As you say, if you’re going to cover a Bryan Adams song, there’s a lot of obvious things you can cover – just you and I riffing, we can probably drop 20 songs that are global hits. So, when it came up, in a funny way, you can’t not represent Bryan. But it’d be cool to turn people onto that particular chapter that’s maybe in some ways a forgotten chapter. We still haven’t included a Triumph song, which is unforgivable. We’ll definitely get to it at some point.”

And, the aforementioned Darby Mills makes a guest vocal appearance on “Don’t It Make Ya Feel”. “Darby comes in on the third verse at the end of the song. That was one of those funny things that Cory thought… one day he was talking to her about something else and it sort of came up. ‘We’re doing a version of this song; would you be interested in singing on it?’ She was like, ‘Yeah!’ So, at her studio out in BC, Darby recorded the third verse, and we sort of intercut myself with her. I wouldn’t call it a duet by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m there for the first two verses and choruses, then she comes in towards that third verse and after, at the end.”

Before getting into the original Toque song and video, Rush must be discussed. A brilliant version of “The Spirit Of Radio” is nestled snugly, mid-album. Although incredibly revered, it seems there’s just as many people who can’t get into Rush, citing Geddy Lee’s voice as the breaking point. Now that Todd has added his endearing vocals to this Canadian classic, some naysayers may be converted. “I don’t think Rush needs any help from us, but I appreciate you saying that. I’m actually quite the opposite. I think Geddy has such a distinctive… it’s the kind of thing most of us yearn for. There’s so many great singers out there who just don’t have any… character, I think is the best word for it. Where Geddy is all character! If you’re doing a Rush song, you can’t help but impersonate him to some degree. He’s the man! Rush created their own thing and their own sound.”

“That was a very sort of random thing we landed on as well. When I was a kid, I was playing Ramones and KISS songs, Cheap Trick, and happy as a clam. I never really had that moment where it was like, I should be learning… take your pick. I should be learning Genesis and Yes songs. Why? I like playing this music. It’s just sort of the way I rolled. Whereas the other three guys in Toque are from that school. When Cory plays that Saga guitar solo, you realize, he’s one of those real deal guys. That just wasn’t my jam. Shane is a monster drummer – and the funniest thing when I talk about this – Brent Fitz is actually really anally crazy about Neil Peart’s drum parts. So, it’s funny having them both sitting there stroking their chin talking about how to play ‘The Spirit Of Radio’; and then Brent picks up a bass and decides he’s going to do his best Geddy Lee. It was really fascinating to see that go down. Those guys come from that school. Even though I’ve always been a great appreciator of Rush, I wouldn’t say I was in any way qualified to play it. I can sing high enough, so I do my version of the song, which if nothing else, hopefully I have enough character to have my own sound.”

Onto “Never Enough For You”. An all-covers band decides to smash their own mould and give birth to an original composition. It’s no secret that Todd is a prolific songwriter; just look at his discography with The Age Of Electric, Static In Stereo, and his own solo material. What made Toque strike out on their own? “It’s a funny thing, I’ve always said, when you get enough musicians together, eventually things just start falling out,” reflects Kerns. “There’s a riff, there’s a lyric, there’s an idea; next thing you know, you’ve got a song. Cory, in so many ways, has been the impetus of so much of what we do. Even the idea of recording ‘Dance’ by Queen City Kids (which appears on Give’r) was kind of like, ‘Yeah, that’d be fun.’ Then I moved on to whatever I had going on. But, Cory being the very productive individual that he is, pushed and started to make that thing roll. When it comes to the original song, ‘Never Enough For You’, Cory had an idea, and he came to my house. We initially recorded the lead vocal in my house, which is not a studio. As much as I’m a musician and I have a room dedicated to music, I don’t have a studio setup. We literally recorded it in my living room, just me singing at the top of lungs. I ended up doing some further vocals, cause we made some changes, at Cory’s studio in LA. So, a lot of the credit goes to him, he was instrumental in taking it from an idea to, let’s plug in a microphone and guitar and record some stuff. We sat there with pen and paper, carving out some lyrics; next thing you know, it was a song.”

“It’s not like I’m the most confident person in the world, but I really feel like, when a song happens – and I’ve been involved in so many of them – if I like it, that’s usually enough for me,” elaborates Todd. “I don’t really sweat that whole idea of taking it to this person and making sure. I really don’t care what anybody’s thoughts are; maybe that sounds obnoxious. But it’s more a case of if I like it, I assume somebody else is going to like it. That’s just the nature of music. It’s the same as anything else. If I prepare a meal, there’s a good chance nine out of ten people will enjoy it. I can’t really worry about the tenth person. It’s the same thing with music, cause it’s such a subjective thing. There’s plenty of music going on that I don’t get, and it sells bazillions of records. But we came up with the song and I thought it was great; I really like it! We kind of went into it with the idea of, this should sound like a Toque record. It would be really strange to be listening to a Toque record and have that song come up and be totally different; you want it to be at least in the same vein. I wouldn’t say we went out of our way to write a Toronto song, or something like that. It was more in the application of it. Cory loves playing with the keyboard stuff; he totally has a blast with that, and he’s so good at it. It’s a poppy, hooky song. Then you attach that kind of production to it, and it immediately sounds like Toque. And that’s the beauty of it.”

The video for “Never Enough For You” is equally incredible. “We have such a strong connection to Winnipeg through Brent Fitz and our guy Darren Steen who handles a lot of our merch and art design. He and Dave Swiecicki were involved; Dave’s pretty much the director and Darren was co-directing. They had this cool location; an old water-pump building. It was freezing cold! We’re talking like November 2018. So, we went out to Winnipeg and shot this thing over the course of a day or two. It was such a cool location. You never really know. I’ve made a million videos in my life, you put your trust in the person, and wait to see how it turns out. But there’s really great artistic people out there, and I’m thrilled that we were able to find these guys. They did such a great job editing this together; it looks really sharp! I said to the guys, if this was 1996, it would be on MuchMusic in high rotation; that’s a no-brainer. But in 2019 it’s a little bit more confusing as to what it all means. It wasn’t that long ago where the very notion of making a music video became kind of like… what’s the point without a format to play it on? Of course, the Internet has changed all that; the Internet changed everything.”