ARTIST OF THE YEAR: KENN NARDI
KENN NARDI ist unser ARTIST OF THE YEAR 2014.
Mit ANACRUSIS hat der 46jährige US-Amerikaner Progmetal-Geschichte geschrieben, jetzt hat sich der Meister mit seinem 28 Songs starken Solo-Doppeldecker ein spätes Denkmal gesetzt.
Da sein neues Werk und insbesondere sein Werdegang bereits bei unserer Würdigung als ARTIST OF THE MONTH beschrieben wurde, wollten wir diesmal Näheres direkt von Kenn selber wissen.
Für streetclip.tv nahm sich Kenn daher ausgiebig Zeit - hier das Interview im Originalton:
Hi Kenn, let's start at the very beginning. Can you tell us just when and where you grew up?
I grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri which is located in the Midwestern part of the country.
When did you first become aware of listening to music?
My Dad was a singer/guitar player. He was also playing and singing things like Elvis and old classic Country Western songs around the house and at our family get-togethers, so I think there was always music around our house.
What bands did you love in your younger years?
KISS!!!!!! I was a die-hard KISS fan from about the age of 9 or 10 and up into my teens. I stuck with them through ´Dynasty´ and ´Unmasked´, ´The Elder´ (still one of my favorites) and up until they took off the makeup and became more of a hair band. They were my whole life for many years until I got into other bands like the BEATLES, PINK FLOYD, REO and other stuff that my older brother would play.
Who brought you into metal?
One of my brothers who is three years older I am. In 1982 he went to see JUDAS PRIEST and IRON MAIDEN on the ´Screaming for Vengeance/Number of the Beast´-Tour and was blown away. He became a huge PRIEST fan and I got into them through him. I eventually started hanging out with him and his group of friends and we eventually got into SLAYER, METALLICA and the other underground thrash bands.
When did you start playing music? Did you take lessons? And was the guitar your first instrument?
The 1st instrument I tried to play was violin. I played it for one year in the 4th grade, but was disappointed because I wanted to play KISS songs instead! When I was about 12, my Dad began teaching me basic chords on the guitar and that’s how it all started.
HEAVEN's FLAME was your first real band, are we right? Or was there something before?
I had a couple bands when I was very young, but HEAVEN´S FLAME was my first band that really played original music. My brother played bass and we had a drummer for a year or so before we got Chad Smith, who would later join ANACRUSIS for the ´Manic Impressions` album in 1991.
Why did HEAVEN's FLAME break up?
We were basically in high school when we formed. By 1985, my brother was married and both he and Chad had a child to take care of, so it just wasn't possible to continue on playing original heavy metal and making no money. The band had run its course by then.
Kevin Heidbreder, Mike Owen and John Emery decided to form a band in 1986. Did you know the guys before, and how did you finally get together?
No, I didn't know the guys, but they knew me. They had come to see my band HEAVEN´S FLAME play some shows and went to a neighboring high school with my drummer Chad. When HEAVEN´S FLAME was breaking up, Chad suggested I give Kevin a call because they were looking for a vocalist.
Who came up with the band name ANACRUSIS ... and has it had a special meaning for you?
Kevin discovered the word in music class. It is a Greek musical term. He just liked the sound of it.
How long did it take until the first recordings?
Not long at all. I was always recording demos of my old band and when I started jamming with the ANACRUSIS guys I had no intent on joining them full-time right away. They needed a singer though, so I recorded two of Kevin’s song for them and sang on them so they could use the tape to find a permanent singer.
Can you remember the first demo recordings of 'Annihilation Complete'?
Of course I can. I spent many, many hours on both versions of the demo. We recorded the 1at version only a few months after I decided to join the band and then a few months after that we re-did everything including a couple extra new songs. That 1987 2nd version is the one most people know and the one which won the Best Demo poll in Metal Forces.
Can you tell us the story of your first contract with an English label?
Bernard Doe, who was the editor of Metal Forces magazine really liked our demos and after we won best demo of the year in the magazine, he began showing a real interest in the band. He was working with a label called Axis Records (later changed to Active Records) and signed us to the label for two albums in 1988 after we had already recorded our debut album with our own money.
Did you get any orders from your Label for your debut?
If you mean did they tell us what to do or put on it, then no. We had already gone ahead and recorded the album with our own money before we signed the contracts.
With whom did you tour in the demo-times and in the times of the debut-album?
We didn’t tour at all until our 2nd album, but aside from doing shows with local bands, we did open for a few national bands in St. Louis (ARMORED SAINT and CORROSION OF CONFORMITY) and did one show in Chicago with VIO-LENCE and VOIVOD.
What happened between the debut and his successor?
Mainly just local shows and writing material for the 2nd album. We recorded another demo called ´Quick To Doubt´ which had many of the songs that would be on that album. We also split with our original manager and began working with someone else with the business side of things. This is also when we began contact with Metal Blade.
When did Metal Blade contact you and what was the reason for the drummer-change?
We originally were working with them on a distribution deal for our Active Records releases, but ended up also signing a full record deal with them starting with our 3rd album.
Our drummer Mike wanted to go back to college to work on getting a degree and then decided to join the Navy to continue his education. He wasn't really interested in playing music or touring around in a little van for the rest of his life. So he left after our 1st real Tour with DRI in 1990.
With this new deal you could tour with OVERKILL and MEGADETH. What stories do you keep in mind from this tour? How did the bands treat you and ANACRUSIS?
During ´Reason´ the year before, we did a short tour playing sometimes with local acts and sometimes one-off shows with national bands. The 1st show was in Rochester, NY opening for OVERKILL. Backstage Bobby “Blitz” came back and introduced himself and just chatted for about an hour with us. He was really cool and afterwards, Kevin stayed in touch with him. The following year, when they were setting up their tour for ´Horrorscope´, they got in touch with us and asked us to open. We played with them for about 40 shows over two months in the fall of 1991.
Prior to that, we managed to hook up with MEGADETH for about 10 shows as they worked their way back home from the East Coast where the Clash of the Titans Tour has finished up. I believe that may have been thanks to the very well know manager Debbie Abono (VIO-LENCE, FORBIDDEN, POSSESSED) who we had begun working with.
How did it get in the progressive direction?
I think it was mostly due to our change of drummers. Chad had a very different style of playing than Mike did and more technical. This kind of opened things up to me as a writer and I started trying more and more new things with the arrangements and things like that for the ´Manic Impressions´ album.
Can you name us five of your favorite Prog-Records?
Yes, but they would all be VOIVOD albums, hahaha. I am not a big "prog" fan actually. To me that usually means lots of time changes and musical virtuosos and all of that. It’s never been my thing, though I guess we were considered “prog” because we were progressive in our thinking and arrangements.
´Screams And Whispers´ was a milestone in progressive-metal. What was the inspiration for this masterpiece?
We were just trying to continue in the same style as ´Manic Impression´ only with even more of an emphasis on song structures. The addition of orchestral/keyboards in some songs was inspired by CELTIC FROST’S ´Into The Pandemonium´ along with bands like ELO and the MOODY BLUES.
Who did write the classic song ´Sound the Alarm´ and what is the lyrical background?
I am proud to say that I wrote every single note of this one; the drums, bass, guitars, vocals, lyrics, etc. If you listen to the demo on our website, you’ll hear that barely a single note was changed between the demo I recorded alone and the final album version.
The lyrics are basically talking about people pretending to be involved with various social issues just to look like they really care about something. At that time, it was becoming very popular for bands to start writing about social issues and most seemed to be doing it just to look „socially aware“ or whatever. Shoving their views down everyone’s throats when just a week before they no idea what they were even talking about. This song says to leave me alone and let me find out for myself what I feel is important.
With this album out - you were on a European tour for the first time. Did these days leave a lasting impression on you?
Yes, the crowds overseas were some of the best we ever played for. We had always had a better following in Europe and after 4 albums we finally got to play there. Unfortunately, by this time I could feel the band was probably over and we broke up shortly after we got back to the States.
You were on the tour with DEATH. How was it with these guys?
From what I understand Chuck was a fan of ´Screams And Whispers´ and personally requested that we do the tour with them. I didn’t know what to expect when I found out not only would we be touring with them, we would also share a tour bus for a month. Chuck was actually very mellow and really down-to-earth. I didn‘t hang out with him or anything, but he was really cool to me and the band and even allowed us to do an encore at some of the particularly god shows, which is pretty unusual. The Death lineup was excellent then with Gene Hoglan, Craig Locicero and Steve DiGiorgio in the band at the time.
Even if it hurts you maybe you could tell us here again the end and the reasons of the ANACRUSIS-split.
Mostly we were just frustrated with feeling like we were getting nowhere. We weren't making any money at all and felt that the label were not doing enough to promote the band. By the time the final tour happened we were taking all of this out on each other. There is just no way we could have continued at that time.
What did you do afterwards?
Not much at all, musically speaking. I got divorced and then re-married, went to work like everybody else and basically just forgot about music for many, many years.
Did you consider a complete withdrawal from music?
Yes, that’s basically what I did. I played a few shows with another St. Louis band I was friends with, but never intended on pursuing music professionally again.
In which projects/bands have you been involved after the end of ANACRUSIS?
I played a few shows with TRIBES WITH KNIVES after ANACRUSIS split up. They were friends of mine and I had recorded their earliest demo tapes. The released one album in 1994, but I had nothing to do with it.
Later in around 2005-2006, I recorded a set of acoustic-based songs called CRUEL APRIL.
What do you think of CRUEL APRIL in retrospect today?
I love the songs. The sound isn't great, but the songs were recorded one after another, very quickly as they were written. I think the music is very well-arranged and the lyrics are the best I’ve ever written.
Can we expect a worthy publication on CD or LP in the near future?
Probably not. I’m not sure. Those songs were never really intended to be an official release. I’ve tried to update the sound a bit, but I know how people are and everyone will just say they like the originals better … hehe
The ANACRUSIS-Reunification in 2009 was a dream coming true for many fans. Why didn’t it last longer than a few concerts?
None of us was interested in doing ANACRUSIS full-time. We were asked to do a German Festival and had a great time. However, all of the old tensions within the band were still there, plus a few new ones. It was great to play again, but everyone just had too many personal commitments to do more than a show every once in a while.
If you could go back 25 years, what decision would you correct regarding ANACRUSIS?
That is a very tough question to answer. I feel like there is so much I would have done differently, but things also worked out OK in the end. A full-time music career would probably never have worked for me, so everything turned out as it should have.
Do you know what your former band-mates are doing today? Has anybody had success in the music-business?
Yes, I am in contact with all of the ANACRUSIS guys. Of course the four original members reunited for a reunion show and a festival in Germany. Our last drummer Paul Miles who played on ´Screams And Whispers´ now plays in an Ozzy Tribute band. Our guitarist Kevin Hedbreder has had a 70s-‚ 80s-cover band since the mid-00s and still plays around St. Louis all the time with that band. Probably the most successful outside of ANACRUSIS was our 2nd drummer Chad Smith who played with Geezer Butler’s solo project GZR. He toured with the band and even played drums on their 2nd album a few years ago.
It was a good decision, but why didn't you release the new album ´Dancing With The Past´ under the ANACRUSIS-banner?
It just would not have been proper to call it an ANACRUSIS album, especially with only me playing on it. Even though the style is very similar on many of the songs, there are also other things that have really gone beyond the scope of the band.
What can you tell us about the writing-process and your inspirations, musically and lyrically?
It has changed a lot over the years. Early on, I would write heavy riffs and usually the vocals followed those riffs. Later I began to sing counter-melodies and things like that. I would sing completely different parts than what the guitars were playing. These days, I often write the entire song on acoustic guitar and then add riffs to that once I have things structured the way I want. It just depends though on what style I am going for.
Lyrically, Roger Waters and Justin Sullivan (NEW MODEL ARMY) are probably my favorites, but there are others too. Also, I don't necessarily try to copy the style of my idols. Just like with music. There are bands that i love and respect, but that have very little to do with the sound of my own music.
Kenn, 28 songs! That is ... like the White Album of THE BEATLES ... your die-hard supporters will love every second, but don't you fear, to "overkill" the people?
Not really. I wanted to do the very best album I could for the fans who waited 20 years for some new music. This may be the last thing I ever record and I wanted something that would keep people occupied for a long time to come.
Was it too expensive or complicated to form a new band or why did you record the new album on your own completely?
I am not in a position to just call a bunch of guys and have them come and play my music. I am also completely out of touch with the current music scene and wouldn‘t even know where to start looking for other members. When it came to the album, I didn‘t really need anyone else to accomplish what I set out to do. Once things weren't working out with Mike and John, it seemed like the logical thing to do. Aside from pats of two songs, I had written 100% of the music and had already recorded most of it including the bass parts, so I just figured I would do it my way without any arguments from anyone and at the pace I wanted to work.
The songs seem to be very personal. Aren’t you afraid, to reveal too much of your inner self?
No, not really. They are personal, but there is much, much more to my life than is revealed in these songs. I want the personal touch that others can identify with, but I try to keep things relatively universal in their themes and not too specific. Most of the fans I have met and that I communicate with online know me pretty well and know that I am a very accessible person and that I try to tell things the way I see them.
What do you think about bands that sing about dragons and wizards?
It’s better than listening to bands sing about "partying" all the time … laughs
Who designed the digipak?
I did everything aside from the actual cover painting myself. I wanted something visually interesting to go along with the music. It basically mirrors the basic design we used for ´Hindsight´ a few years ago, but I wanted a much different look this time.
Will the next album be in the same musical direction?
Well, there are really no plans for any more albums at this point. I do have many ideas that are in the same basic style as this album that I was not able to use this time, so I may end up recording some of those things at some point, but there is very little point in a musician like myself to go through the whole process of making a cover and pressing CDs and all of that only to sell a small number. So many people download their music, either legally or illegally that albums like this are all but dead. I did want something tangible for the fans who still like a physical album to preserve this huge collection of music, but in the future...who knows?
But, hope dies last ...
Which are the bands that fascinate you nowadays?
I honesty do not listen to a lot of newer bands. MUSE is probably my favorite band of the last 20 years. I love how they combine heavy riffs and things like that with great songwriting and vocals.
Why do you still play metal?
Well, I really only did when we played the reunion shows and to record this album. I don’t really play any music these days aside from writing sometimes. I think metal is something I do well, so it was not difficult for me to get into that mode again in order to do this album. I do think metal, for the most part is a young person’s kind of music to play. It is physically challenging and takes a lot of energy and work.
How do you consume music? Vinyl, CD, Download or Spotify?
If it something "special" to me, I may buy the physical release, but mostly I just download albums and mostly only listen to the iPod. Even if I buy a CD, I immediately rip it to digital to listen to.
Has music lost its worth because the physical element (Vinyl / CD) has almost vanished?
Yes, although vinyl is making a big comeback. I grew up with those great LPs and the big cover-art and all of that. I am not some audiophile or vinyl lover at all, but I do like the physical size and format of the whole package.
You work as a computer programmer. What are you most afraid of in the digital world?
I am not a technophobe. I love technology and all it can do. Like anything, it depends on its use. It can either hurt us or help us. I see it as a tool, though of course there are social ramifications of the digital age.
Your Idols in metal were David Wayne of METAL CHURCH and KING DIAMOND, are we right?
I love King Diamond, but David Wayne was my real metal vocalist hero early on. I did try to mimic him a bit in the beginning, but later I tried to have my own style too. I think his voice was just incredible. So powerful and so perfect for METAL CHURCH’S style of music. Another favorite has always been Jon Oliva from SAVATAGE.
Is there a person in music, you would like to meet and talk to?
I have a few people that I really look up to, but wouldn't know what to say to them if I ever met them. I have been very fortunate to have met many of my influences from the metal realm since I was once a member of that scene professionally. Another person I really admire is Justin Sullivan from NEW MODEL ARMY. I had the pleasure of meeting him and speaking with him a bit back in 2009 when I drove up to Chicago for a NMA show.
Do you have children?
No, no children. Unless our three cats count? ... laughs
Are there plans to return to Europe?
Not right now, no although we had a great time coming over for the festivals. The European fans have always been very dedicated to our music and it was a real treat to meet so many cool people over the last few years.
Do you have a dream-project in music or other arts?
This album is the closest thing to fulfilling a music dream that I have ever had. I wanted to see if after all this time I could make music that ANACRUSIS fans would still appreciate. I feel like I have succeeded in doing that.
Yes, and how!! Thank you very much, Kenn, for the answers and of course for the new album !!
Von: Michael Haifl ... with a little help from my friend Ludwig Krammer