Getting Together with Don Kerr

Image by Arden Wray
Image by Arden Wray

Nicholas Friesen @Nicholastronaut  October 25, 2016

Toronto’s Don Kerr is more than a renowned musician and producer, he’s a positive force. After sitting behind the kit as a member of the Rheostatics for over half the band’s 27-year career, Kerr has also mixed it up with Ron Sexsmith, Bahamas, BidiniBand, The Hidden Cameras. Now he’s the drummer/frontman of Communism – a new positive pop trio featuring longtime friends Kevin Lacroix (bass) and Paul Linklater (guitar).

“I got into running kids music festivals and I’d get these guys to back me up,” Kerr says over the phone from his home in Toronto. “We did Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and I had all these lyrics written by 10-year-olds and it was really fun. These are my best musical buddies, Paul and Kevin.”

After making about half the songs that would make up Communism’s debut LP, Get Down Get Together (out now through Zunior), at home in his basement, Kerr switched gears when he realized he didn’t know how to bring the songs to life on his own.

“I thought it was gonna be super multi-tracked dance music or something,” he says with a laugh. “I couldn’t figure out how to do that live, not being a DJ-type person or whatever. We’ve played in tons of other bands, and there’s pluses and minuses to every project. These guys are just there with me. We don’t know what it is yet, it’s just in the beginning. It’s pretty fun to be playing with your best friends.”

It’s that friendship that comes through in the layered and catchy songs, recorded live-off-the-floor at Toronto’s Revolution Recording. Trust us, you’ll be singing along within seconds.

“When we made our record we wanted it to be as much like the live set as we can, energy-wise,” Kerr says. “I just thought we should have no overdubs, no second guitar underneath the solo. I realized we could fill in a lot of stuff vocally that would normally be covered by a keyboard player or other little licks. Not a lot of three piece bands all sing well and sing a lot. When we play a show it’s pretty shocking how much stuff comes out of these three guys. I feel like it’s as if we have a keyboard player when the guys do the oohs and ahs.”

While Kerr admits to adding the odd finger snap and one or two piano parts, he notes that the live sound is more than enough for this record.

“Usually I say that a record can’t be at all like a live show because you can’t see the band,” he says. “You’re not energized by anything that you’re hearing other than with your ears. There’s no other people in a room dancing. That’s why a record has to be sonically unbelievable as it can get. Sometimes simplicity can pull this off, but normally you’re trying to make up for the fact that it’s not live and there’s no visual element. I felt like I coulda done the whole record in my own studio for no money, and we started doing that but it just didn’t have the energy of the live shows.”

Kerr knows what he’s talking about – he’s produced some great albums by Ron Sexsmith, Peter Elkas, The Minotaurs and more. The thing that he’s not focused on is making obvious hits, just good music. Though he admits that sometimes people stand in the way of themselves when the pressure is on.

“My kids are 10 and 5 years old,” he begins. “A few years ago my one son went to a birthday party and brought home a mix CD of some other 5 or 6 year old kid’s favourite songs, with like ‘Call Me Maybe’ and Justin Bieber songs, and I totally dug it! It was so much fun to hear super poppy music heard by people who just wanna sell you a million records! It was refreshing because I’d been making records for 30 years with people who, you’d say to them, ‘Oh, you should repeat that at that one place, that’s a good hook,’ and they’d say, ‘I don’t wanna sell out.’ What, you don’t wanna entertain your listener? I’m not saying you have to do something or you’re not gonna make a living, but put the good thing in there a few times and make it more fun. To be re-introduced to the world of more blatant pop music kinda turned my head around, but after five years of it, I cannot listen to this shit anymore! I’ve had too much of it.”

Kerr is quick to point out that he’s in the business of making honest music, and he feels good about that.

“My life as a musician, I think, it’s pretty amazing I get to do this. I’ve been doing music my whole adult life and it’s working. I haven’t had to do TV commercial songs or dress up a certain way or make too many concessions other than try to be really good, whatever that might mean. There’s just such a huge, giant wave of people talk about the music industry dying, and I think there’s problems at the top, or close to the top. Beyonce’s not having any problems, or U2, but it’s hard to make a living at it. There are more people touring and almost making a living at it than ever before because there’s this high level of playing stadiums and tour support, but the level below that is healthier than it’s ever been. There are more people making music and hearing music and yeah, I’d rather have a thousand bands scraping by than have 12 bands signed to major labels like in the old days, getting all the attention and having fun, and everyone else was just an amateur. Musicians complain about how people can make records at home and how the market’s flooded, but I just think it’s great that there’s more people making music. Doesn’t matter if the person who made it is a star or your next door neighbour.”

Speaking of neighbours, Kerr thinks that one of his musical neighbours may just be his musical nemesis.

“I was dropping off records at Sonic Boom recently, the big record store in Toronto, and they had a huge TUNS poster in the window, like a bedsheet of the album cover in the window. Chris Murphy lives down the street from me, and I go way back with Mike O’Neill and Matt Murphy, but I think TUNS is our arch enemy band,” he says with a laugh.

When you think about it, should the power trios band together or fight it out?

“I was kinda excited about the new rock trio format. (My friends) By Divine Right are now a trio as well. So I’m trying to put together a rock trio festival or tour at least, there’s another killer trio in Toronto called Run With The Kittens. They’re phenomenal, we’ve done some shows with them, you gotta check ‘em out.

“I feel like TUNS are kinda like us because they’re really good buddies who wanna make music together and then they put out a record that’s super high energy and it’s new – it’s not like a Sloan or Inbreds or Super Friendz. It’s awesome.”

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