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Dave Kerzner Shows His Versatility
"Heart Land Mines Vol. 1" satisfyingly crosses genres and styles to become a modern classic rock masterpiece.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. This week’s story / album review stands out as an interesting one. Dave Kerzner, who you may recall previously helped me dissect The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, has a new album out, Heart Land Mines Vol. 1. It’s a concept album based on a trip he took driving across the country when he left Los Angeles after a breakup.
Kerzner infuses the album with his usual progressive influences (lots of Pink Floyd on this one!) but I was struck by how much the songs are driven by acoustic guitar. It’s almost an Americana take on prog at times that settles into a classic rock album. Anyway, it’s a great release and I couldn’t wait to talk with Dave about it.
Let’s get to that story.
We’ve all had our hearts broken at some point, but few of us have turned that unforgettable breakup into a fantastic collection of songs nearly 30 years later the way Dave Kerzner has on his newest solo album, Heart Land Mines, Vol. 1. Kerzner left Los Angeles after his memorable breakup, not sure of what his next move would be. He simply left town in his car with an acoustic guitar and crossed the country, seeking space and writing music. The resulting songs began in the 1990s and took some time to finish up, but the final product dropped on Oct. 18 and it was worth waiting for.
Why did it take so long to finish?
“I had all these songs. I wasn’t happy with the lyrics yet,” Kerzner said. “I wasn’t sure if I could get someone else to sing my personal songs. But I wasn’t a lead singer yet in my mind. And then when (his previous band) Sound of Contact happened in 2010, I really had big hand in that. Even singing, but still backing vocals, but a lot of writing and a lot of production, and I just really sunk my teeth into that creatively. And it was so well received, and then coupled with it being a little out of my control that the band kind of split up, I was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna be the frontman.’ And that’s the only way to do it. And I did my debut (solo) album in 2014, and I sang lead, and everything changed.”
The album is a conceptual piece with songs that flow freely from one to the next. The subject is a breakup Kerzner endured in Los Angeles and his subsequent drive across the country with his acoustic guitar as he reflected on what had happened and what to do next. Kerzner originally met the girl in the story earlier, but it wasn’t until their paths crossed again while he was in Kevin Gilbert’s band that they became a couple.
“I moved to L.A. and I stayed with a family friend in Malibu,” Kerzner said. “Like the first day I was there, we had to go pick up a girl who was in distress from the airport, who had just gotten out of a crazy breakup. And she was pretty. And this was ‘Genevieve,’ the character in my album. And I asked the daughter of my dad’s friend, ‘What’s the deal with this?’ And she's like, ‘Don’t. You don't even want (this), just trust me.’
“So then flash forward years later, she’s at my show backstage, and I’m like ‘You look familiar.’ And then we went to this party the next day with a bunch of people from Madonna’s band. And I’m like ‘I know what it was, we met at this thing and blah, blah, blah. And we hit it off and then started dating.”
It wasn’t long before Kerzner moved in with his new romantic partner.
Heart Land Mines Vol. 1 tells the story of that period in Kerzner’s life, but it’s not a linear tale. The album starts in the present, with “True Story Pt. 1,” in which Kerzner sings about writing the songs for “an album no one’s ever heard,” so the listener is literally hearing the album no one’s ever heard while it’s playing, which is a pretty cool twist. The short song is a straightforward acoustic, singer-songwriter number that serves as an introduction to the story. “True Story” was one written recently, while most of the record’s music was written in the 1990s.
The album closes with the brief “True Story Pt. 2,” in a similar vein to the two parts of “Pigs on the Wing” that Pink Floyd used to bookend Animals.
“Eye of the Storm” is the first song — but certainly not the last — on the album with Kerzner channeling his inner David Gilmour. Parts of the song date back to the original writing sessions, but some bits were added for the record. The song has a dark Pink Floyd vibe to it and Kerzner manages to sound somewhat like Gilmour with his vocal delivery. Kerzner has a bit of a chameleon voice and he displays several different flavors of it throughout the course of Heart Land Mines Vol. 1. The musical maelstrom at the end of “Eye of the Storm” seems appropriate in the album’s context and it’s just a great listen.
After “Eye of the Storm,” the album picks up the linear tale of Kerzner living in Los Angeles and meeting “Genevieve,” their subsequent romance and breakup, and his trip to find himself, including the second thoughts he had about leaving and coming to the realization that the signs had always been there that this wouldn’t be a permanent relationship.
Throughout the album Kerzner pulls from a number of influences encompassing classic rock, singer/songwriter, Americana, and progressive rock. There’s quite a bit of the late Kevin Gilbert’s influence present throughout the album in various places, which isn’t surprising, as Kerzner was in Gilbert’s band at the time of meeting and getting together with Genevieve. But there are hints of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and others, along with Kerzner’s usual prog rock influences.
“Dreaming in L.A.” is a humorous song about the posers that Kerzner often saw in Los Angeles in those days. The music is rooted in Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” — itself a song about the rise and fall of a musician — but to me there’s a heavy dose of Gilbert’s influence in this song as well. Kerzner said seeing posers like Tommy and Sheila — the ones he sings about in this song — was another part of why he decided to leave L.A.
Kerzner’s love interest arrives on the scene in “Genevieve,” a song with some nice acoustic guitar flourishes. The song has a late 70s vibe to it. It could have been something written and performed by Christopher Cross, although Kerzner sounds nothing like the yacht rock legend.
“Back to One” has an infectious groove that hits somewhere on the scale between Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right” and Richard Marx’s “Hazard.” At this point in the story, Kerzner has packed up the car and is heading out of town. He drops his voice low in this one and it features a beautiful guitar solo that sounds like it stepped out of a Steely Dan song, so I’m guessing that’s Elliott Randall on guitar, although I don’t have a breakdown of what each musician played on the album.
“Pushed Me Out” is a short nod to Yes, with strong Fragile vibes and it’s infused with humor. Pink Floyd backing vocalist Durga McBroom sings the high, Jon Anderson-type parts brilliantly.
Kerzner salutes his former bandmate Gilbert on “When the Heart Sinks Like a Stone,” which starts with a strong “Leaving Miss Broadway” vibe and eventually morphs into that song. Gilbert gets a writing credit on the track, and Kerzner sings (and then alters) some of the lyrics from “Leaving Miss Broadway.” The use of it illustrates the parallels between his relationship and breakup with Genevieve and Gilbert’s real-life romance with Sheryl Crow prior to her becoming famous.
Kerzner said that Gilbert tried to warn him off of the budding relationship due to Genevieve being similar in many respects to Crow.
“I was playing with Kevin (at the time), and she was a lot like Sheryl Crow. That was his girlfriend and she kind of left him in the dust,” Kerzner said. “I mean, there’s two sides of that story, but from his perspective. Kevin was sort of warning me and was saying, ‘Dude, this looks like another Sheryl. Another Miss Broadway.’ Of course I ignored his advice. I talk about that in the music. I’m actually talking about Kevin and other friends.”
“Worlds Apart” might be my favorite track on the record. It’s a slow, dreamy, Pink Floyd-y song. At this point in the story, Kerzner was reconsidering leaving and tried to call Genevieve, only to find that she’d had the phone disconnected.
“In terms of the timeline of the story, it’s about a day or two out in the journey and I had second thoughts,” Kerzner said. “Because I didn’t catch her cheating, I just suspected it. I could just tell. In fact, if anything I was probably dim and clueless about the signs and finally it was like, ‘All right, she’s pushing me out.’ So I called, and she had disconnected our landline, which is a real like, you know, eff you.”
Kerzner crafted “Worlds Apart” from the three tones of the automated “this number is no longer in service” message that those of us of a certain age remember all too well.
“Later, when I was back in the studio, I was thinking about that moment, and I sampled the tones,” Kerzner said. “And I wrote the song not with a normal keyboard sound but with those tones. I put it across the keyboard and wrote a song with the tones. And it was my melodramatic, poetic way of using those samples as a way of like, ‘This is all I have left of her and I’m going to write a song with it.’ So it just kind of had a meaning.”
It’s a gorgeous ballad, and it repeats bits of the automated message in an effective way. For those young enough to be unfamiliar with the message, it goes “We’re sorry, the number you have reached has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Please check the number and try again.” The way it’s cut in the song, it says “We’re sorry…try again,” and Kerzner distorts it somewhat as it repeats, illustrating perfectly the confusion and conflicting emotions that were going through his mind at the time.
“Dirty Girl” is an interesting mix of Get Back-era Beatles, Gilmour-esque guitar stabs, and a Steely Dan-esque chorus. The bridge, which was written for the album rather than being penned with the bulk of the songs in the 90s, sounds like it walked out a Jellyfish album. Kerzner puts an effect on his lead vocals. It’s got an incandescent, bluesy guitar solo from Fernando Perdomo. Despite so many disparate influences, the song’s parts melt together wonderfully.
Kerzner seems to come to grips with his situation in “Manic Calm” through writing about his experiences.
It’s such a fine morning, when the words seem to flow
It’s a way of healing, not so far to go
I particularly like the drumming in this mid-tempo track that seems likean interesting mixture of the Beatles and Pink Floyd, but with a rockier middle section.
The last “proper” song on the album is “Too Far Gone,” which serves as the beginning of a sort of a crescendo to the story. At this point, Kerzner realized he was at the point of no return and that he couldn’t go back, he could only move forward. I love the changing tempo between the verses and chorus. There’s a Spanish-sounding acoustic guitar solo reminiscent of classic Al Stewart, but also some Kansas-like violin/acoustic guitar interplay.
The final three tracks are all short pieces, starting with “To the Eye (Reprise),” which is the longest of the three at just under three minutes long. As the title suggests, it calls back to “Eye of the Storm.” There’s a vintage-sounding, Pink Floyd-style keyboard solo in the latter stages of the song that classic rock fans should find particularly pleasing. Along with “Sirens Song,” it starts to bring the listener out of the past part of the story.
“Sirens Song” allows McBroom a chance to provide some of the types of vocals she’s known for with that band. It’s under 90 seconds long and fades into “True Story Pt. 2,” as Kerzner returns the listener to where they started, bringing you all the way back from the past to the present with the familiar opening acoustic guitar riff that lasts under a minute.
Heart Land Mines Vol. 1 is a well-crafted album and it should appeal to classic rock fans. It has some progressive elements to it but it rarely hits you over the head with them, despite having a stellar supporting cast of musicians, such as guitarist Fernando Perdomo (Echo in the Canyon), Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, ProgJect), Durga McBroom (Pink Floyd), Elliott Randall (Steely Dan), Lyle Workman (Jellyfish, Beck), and Joe Deninzon (Kansas).
It satisfyingly crosses genres and styles to become a modern classic rock masterpiece.
But as the “Vol. 1” suggests, there’s more to come from Kerzner in this style, although he said he’s not sure how many there will be. It wasn’t Kerzner’s only breakup, and one he attributed to dating a much younger woman who wasn’t right for him in sort of a midlife crisis has been mentioned as a catalyst for Volume 2. But the vibe of the songs and the style of the music may turn this into a full-fledged series of releases down the line.
If they are as good as this first volume, that’s great news for fans of classic rock tinged with prog, and as much as I like his other work, I’ll be happy if he can keep those coming.
True Story Pt. 1 (1:08)
Eye of the Storm (4:57)
Dreaming in L.A. (4:46)
Back to One (5:28)
Pushed Me Out (1:25)
When the Heart Sinks Like a Stone (4:18)
Worlds Apart (6:33)
Dirty Girl (5:31)
Manic Calm (4:46)
Too Far Gone (5:44)
To the Eye (Reprise) (2:46)
Sirens Song (1:26)
True Story Pt. 2 (0:46)
For my entire discussion with Dave Kerzner, check out the video below or download/stream Episode 125 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. As a returning guest, Dave mostly talked about the new album, however, he did mention some of his upcoming projects, including future volumes of the Heart Land Mines concept and discussions about a possible second crack at a Sound of Contact album. He also went on several tangents, telling some great side stories about his time in Los Angeles.
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