Heroes and Monsters Worthy of the Name
Three stellar musicians have formed a new power trio and "Heroes and Monsters" is a standout self-titled debut.
Thanks for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. When a collection of great musicians get together to create some new noises, it’s always interesting, but if the right elements are mixed together, it can become something incredible. New rock trio Heroes and Monsters is that kind of band, and I spoke to lead vocalist and bassist Todd Kerns about it.
Let’s jump right into that story.
Heroes and Monsters is a new band made up of veteran musicians and could hardly be more aptly named. Consisting of bassist/vocalist Todd Kerns (Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, The Age of Electric, Toque), guitarist Stef Burns (Sheila E., Huey Lewis & the News, Y&T, Alice Cooper, The Stef Burns League), and drummer Will Hunt (Dark New Day, Black Label Society, Staind, Slaughter), Heroes and Monsters put the “power” in power trio on the band’s self-titled debut, which drops Jan. 20 from Frontiers Music.
While Frontiers often cherry picks standout musicians in various combinations to create new projects, Kerns said Heroes and Monsters came together more organically than the label’s various other “all-star” bands.
“Will reached out,” Kerns said or how he became involved. “I've known Will a long time and I'm a great admirer of him. He's a monster player. And a monster talent, actually. He's a great drummer, but he mixed a lot of recordings, he co-wrote and brought in songs and stuff, and I was like, ‘Wow, this guy’s a majorly talented guy.’”
Burns was living in Italy, which made it easy and logical to connect with Frontiers, because the label is based in Naples. In fact, Kerns never met Burns in person until they got together to do the video shoot for the song “Raw Power.”
The songs started coming together during the pandemic lockdown, with all three band members contributing to the writing collaboratively and sending files to each other. Kerns said the band worked on roughly 15 songs but ultimately recorded 10 for the album that they felt were consistently within the sonic palette they wanted to explore. That sound wasn’t something predetermined. The band didn’t find its core sound until it had worked on some songs together.
“I think, just as you’re writing — and like most records are written — you’ve written a few songs beyond what’s going to end up on the record, and you try and sort of trim it down to what feels like a good record or a good sound,” Kerns said. “So, it is always one of those things where, ‘What does Heroes and Monsters sound like?’ You don’t know until you've kind of recorded or collected a bunch of songs and then decided, ‘I guess we sound like this.’ It could sound like the softest version of Heroes and Monsters or the hardest version of Heroes and Monsters, and then it’s usually somewhere down the middle.”
The three musicians crafted a heavy rock album but with plenty of diversity. Although most of the songs are rockers, the tempos vary, and there are some softer, acoustic moments, hints of power pop and glam, and ballads. There are powerful vocals from Kerns alone but also exquisite blended harmony vocals in places. The group avoided the common heavy rock trap of having the entire album sound the same from one song to the next. The first two tracks are probably the closest sonically from one to the next, but from there the differences are easy to hear.
The album opener, “Locked and Loaded,” is the first song the trio worked on and ended up being the record’s lead single. It’s an in-your-face rock track that sounds much bigger than something three musicians should be able to produce. Everything sounds big — the drums, the bass, Kerns’ lead vocal, and (especially) the guitar. Like any good rock album opener, “Locked and Loaded” hits you in the face and sets the tone for the great record to come.
The appropriately named “Raw Power” is the second single and gives the record its second straight hard hitter out of the gate. Burns’ guitar solo threatens to melt your stereo speakers. It’s not what you expect from a guitarist who has been playing with Huey Lewis & the News. This is guitar god stuff. It’s inventive and flashy, yet it suits the song perfectly.
“‘Raw Power’ was something that Will had already worked up from Dark New Day,” Kerns said. “But I was like, ‘That sounds so great. We have to record that song.’”
Kerns channels his love of Cheap Trick in “Let’s Ride It,” albeit a much heavier version of Cheap Trick that perhaps entered our universe from a parallel dimension. It was the third single released from the album and is one of those songs that just seems to get better every time you hear it.
“Cheap Trick is definitely just sort of in here,” Kerns said while pointing to his head. “There’s a lot of Cheap Trick, a little bit of Sweet, you know, bands like that. That's kind of my jam, actually. When I talk about punk rock, or even rock, there’s a sort of common ground between, where it’s like, Cheap Trick and MC5, and Sweet, and bands like that. It’s sort of unquantifiable in a way. Glitter rock and glam rock — 70s British glitter rock — and all that is such a big part of what I love, as well. T. Rex, all that kind of stuff. So, that kind of stuff is all in there and ‘Let's Ride It’ has definitely got all the elements of that, for sure.”
Perhaps my favorite track on the album is “Angels Never Sleep.” With its acoustic guitar opening, it immediately announces itself as something different from the previous songs on Heroes and Monsters. Kerns’ vocals and some incredible harmonizing shine throughout, even after the song kicks into higher gear with a sound not too dissimilar from 80s hard rock trio Zebra at times. One of the catchiest songs on the record, “Angels Never Sleep” may be an early contender for one of my songs of the year.
“That was kind of a sleeper for me, too, because I wasn’t sure what to make of it,” Kerns said of the song. “And then it really kind of grew into this big…little bit of an epic.”
Epic isn’t a bad descriptor, but don’t let that fool you. At 4:14 in length, it’s the album’s longest song, but it’s hardly “Supper’s Ready,” or even “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for that matter.
Hunt brought “I Knew You Were the Devil” to the band. Like “Raw Power,” it was a song that began with the intention to use it in his previous band, Dark New Day. It returns the trajectory of the record back to the power rock that opened the album. Kerns cited it, along with “Raw Power” and album closer “And You’ll Remain,” as among his favorites from the record.
“Those ones really are strong and great songs, and sometimes you're given the gift of singing something that's really, really pleasing and really kind of a gift to be able to sing,” he said.
The variation on the album continues in the album’s back half with “Break Me (I’m Yours),” a melodic rocker that has a lot of 70s influence to my ears. That’s followed up by “Blame,” a slower rocker — not quite a ballad — that has some heavy riffing but also some gorgeous flourishes, which melt together nicely.
Power ballad “Don’t Tell Me I’m Wrong” showcases more excellent vocal work by Kerns and the backing vocalists and starts acoustically, although the song goes electric not long after it starts. Not all the voices are Kerns being doubled, and that was something he said he wanted.
“There’s other guys on there too,” Kerns said, mentioning that both Burns and Hunt pop up in some of the songs. “And there’s actually an Italian guy that sings backup on a couple of things, too, just because as Stef was mixing and stuff and they you know, they were coming up with…’What if we had this or what if we had that?’”
The logistics of Kerns having to get to the studio to fly in backing parts at that point in the process was impractical and the vocalist/bassist trusted Burns and the production team to handle it. Blending vocals was something Kerns said he always enjoyed hearing, anyway.
“I like the correlation of different voices, from Michael Anthony to David Lee Roth kind of thing (in Van Halen), you know. I love that kind of stuff. It was weird when David Lee Roth’s solo album was sort of happening and it was all Dave’s voice.”
Just before the album concludes, more of Kerns’ influence surfaces with a cover of Sweet’s “Set Me Free” that might be better than the original, as much as I love that song.
The acoustic guitar returns for the closer, “And You’ll Remain,” which is another of the album’s considerable highlights and shares some acoustical DNA with “Going to California” or a couple of the tracks on Led Zeppelin III.
Heroes and Monsters is a terrific modern rock record that has enough heft to it to appeal to fans of heavy rock, enough melody to appeal to AOR fans, and enough of the right influences to appeal to classic rock fans. It’s sure to be in the hunt for a lot of rock writers’ best debut album lists at the end of the year.
To learn more about Heroes and Monsters, check out the band’s Facebook page. For more information on Todd Kerns, visit his official website.
Locked And Loaded
Let’s Ride It
Angels Never Sleep
I Knew You Were The Devil
Break Me (I’m Yours)
Don’t Tell Me I’m Wrong
Set Me Free
And You’ll Remain
For my full interview with Todd Kerns, check out the video below or download/stream Episode 94 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. There was a strict time limit for this interview, so I didn’t get to dive as deeply into some of the individual tracks as I would have liked, but that’s also partially because we got sidetracked in a discussion about KISS, a band we both love. Todd spoke about his first favorite record, getting into music, playing with Bruce Kulick’s band on the KISS Kruise, how Heroes and Monsters got together, and much more. As an added bonus, you’ll get to meet one of Todd’s cats, Strawberry, who guest stars in the most surprising and adorable ways.
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