Dave Kerzner: Man Of The World

Fancy making an album with Neil Peart, Keith Emerson or Colin Edwin? Dave Kerzner can arrange that for you, and for only a few hundred dollars.

Though he rose to prominence as a member of Sound Of Contact, keyboardist, songwriter and now vocalist Kerzner has kept body and soul together since the mid-90s with Sonic Reality. He runs this software/sound design company with fellow keyboard whizz Erik Norlander, building up a library of instrumental samples from Peart, Emerson, Edwin and many more major names. Their latest comes from Nick Mason, no less.

“Nick’s drums were recorded for us by Alan Parsons,” Kerzner tells Prog from his offices in Miami, Florida. “I reunited them for the first time since the 70s to recreate that classic Pink Floyd drum sound.”

Sonic Reality’s mission is, Kerzner says, “To honour these musicians in a classy way, and make these sounds accessible to all musicians. If you don’t have a major label and tons of money, there are ways of sounding like you do have that budget.”

Money has been no object on Kerzner’s upcoming star-spangled solo album. He looked to crowd-funding site Kickstarter to finance New World, initially setting a target of $17,000. At the time of press, the total stands near a whopping $32,000, with 600 backers eager to hear the fruits of his labour. “At this point in my life, I’m not going for massive commercial success. I want to make the music I like, but it’s difficult to afford. Go to a label and say, ‘I want to do a 140-minute album,’ they’ll say, ‘Okay! Goodbye!’ But the fans are interested in it. I asked online if they’d prefer a single or double CD and almost everyone said double. So I presented my idea on Kickstarter, played clips, and that’s what made the album possible. It gave me the headroom to do everything without compromise. I’ve kept my backers informed, and the feedback I’ve got is that they love the ride. It’s been an adventure.”

With a guitar solo supplied by Steve Hackett, the 10-minute-plus track Stranded gives a flavour of the album. Kerzner has terraformed a future world that’s atmospheric, conceptual and none-more-prog. Here he casts his lead protagonist out into the desert, and across the record he must trek back to his bio-dome city with seemingly malevolent machines, wise shamans and much soul-searching along the way.

The result is testament to Kerzner’s keen eye for prog glories past, and also his shrewd engineer’s ear for what today’s tech can bring to the template. “My general thing is to be eclectic. You’ll hear all sorts of stuff: Genesis, Queen, King Crimson, Beatles. I like to think in a way that serves the song, having one foot in nostalgia, one in the modern world.”

It’s his first time as lead vocalist. His pleasing tones perhaps evoke Eric Woolfson in parts, David Gilmour in others, and he’s backed by a bona fide who’s who of prog, no samples required. Talk about the sound of contacts – Kerzner’s address book bulges with names: Hackett, Francis Dunnery, Heather Findlay and Nick D’Virgilio, his former bandmate in the late Kevin Gilbert’s unit, Thud. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘What would Kevin think of this?’ I wrote My Old Friend in my version of his style, his wordplay. I always held him in high regard. He crops up here as a person helping the lead character, like a guardian angel as he goes from darkness to light.”

It’s not hard to find the allegory here, nor the significance of the album’s title. New World marks a fresh start for Kerzner, a hopeful, positive end to a year that began on a sour note in January with the news that he’d officially left Sound Of Contact. After the warm reception for Dimensionaut, their 2013 tour had ended shakily with their July date at Lorelei’s Night Of The Prog festival, where their set was plagued by technical gremlins.

“That was the last time I saw Simon,” says Kerzner. His tone implies that it still rankles. “We had to cut our set short because our American-powered gear wasn’t working. I was in Miami when the announcement was made in January that we had decided to go our separate ways. It was a mutual decision.

“They didn’t kick me out and I didn’t bail on them either, but from that July to January, certain attitudes and band politics had changed. I really wanted it to work, but for a band to stick it out takes everyone working toward the same goal, to be able to share and also be willing to give credit where it’s due.”

Purportedly ‘mutual’ and ‘amicable’, the falling out was actually such that Collins and Kerzner haven’t spoken since. “I talk to pretty much everyone else in the band except Simon, and it’s sad. We were good friends and I miss him, and I’m disappointed how it was done. But that’s all water under the bridge now, and I’m doing this. I’m hungry to do it on my own, with this great support cast. I’m proud of Dimensionaut and the validation from that was incredible, but this is my personal next phase, my follow-up.”

You might have thought the album’s star line-up would make it untourable, but there are plans to form a core ‘New World’ band featuring Fernando Perdomo (who contributes most of New World’s guitar and bass), Miami drummer Derek Cintron, and vocalist Durga McBroom, who sings on New World and whose Pink Floyd credits include work on The Endless River. The star turns would appear at shows as and when schedules permit.

“Having Colin, Heather, Francis show up and play with us would be killer,” says Kerzner. “I love playing live and I miss it. I’ve been itching to get out and play some Sound Of Contact songs and some of these new ones.”

As Dunnery himself once memorably sang, there’s a whole new world out there. Dave Kerzner’s finding his way to it.

New World is out now. See www.davekerzner.com.

Supporting Cast

Kerzner on the collaborators who helped shape New World.

Steve Hackett

“I contacted him a few years ago to see if he wanted to use our software and we became friends, and he played a solo on Simon’s [Collins] album U-Catastrophe, which I worked on. Simon, Francis Dunnery and I ended up playing on Supper’s Ready on Genesis Revisited II, the Apocalypse In 98 section. He heard that I’d left Sound Of Contact and when his tour hit Miami, he pulled me aside backstage and said, ‘Let’s talk.’

“He was really fatherly about it, said he was really happy I was doing a solo record and told me all this stuff about when he left Genesis. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.

“He offered to play on the album – I didn’t have to ask – and he was incredible. He plays his brand of emotional, melodic and inventive guitar on Stranded, and actually ends the album with a two-minute solo on Redemption.

“When you’re growing up, you place ‘guitarist wanted’ ads in the paper – ‘Must be influenced by Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, David Gilmour’. Here I had the original person. What an honour.”

Francis Dunnery

“[Sound engineer/producer] Nick Davis worked on Dimensionaut and he was testing speakers with stuff he’d worked on – XTC, Genesis, Marillion – and when he put It Bites on I thought, ‘That sounds good.’ So I reached out to Francis to see if he wanted to work on Sonic Elements, my prog rock band project. He said no: ‘I can’t do that Dave, I’ve been doing prog for 30 years. I’m working on an R’n’B record now.’ I sent him one of our R’n’B libraries and he was so thrilled with it he agreed, and we’ve been friends ever since.

“He’s an amazing guitar player, and on New World I wanted to utilise him in a way you’d really like if you’re an It Bites fan, a Francis Dunnery guitar fan. Here he does that amazing Holdsworth-orientated shredding thing that he doesn’t really do much any more.

“I tried to hum a guitar solo to him once and he got so pissed off! ‘Who do you think I am?!’ It was a good lesson, and luckily he’s a good friend. He told me I was one of the people who’d got him back into prog and guitar. I can take partial credit for that.”

Keith Emerson

“At Sonic Reality we did a Modular Moog library with Keith, and at one point we just jammed in D. I kept that part and asked him if I could write something around what he did and he said yes, no problem. That became Crossing Of Fates.

“It’s a pretty flashy prog instrumental. It’s a duel, if you will, in the character’s mind. The picture in the CD is a David and Goliath thing, one guy with a stick, the other with a sword. It’s a tribute to Keith, and to the other great prog keyboard players like Eddie Jobson and Tony Banks.

“Billy Sherwood’s on there too doing a Chris Squire bass part, and Simon Phillips is being Simon Phillips, just going nuts! Keith hasn’t even heard this song yet, but he’s been so supportive about the whole project.”

Simon Phillips

“Nick D’Virgilio plays drums on most of the record, but he wasn’t available for Crossing Of Fates. I didn’t know Simon but Erik [Norlander] had worked with him and knew he had a studio up in Sherman Oaks, so I just emailed him, told him what I was doing and he said great. He’s an incredible drummer. One of the great things about the success with Kickstarter was that I could afford to hire musicians like Simon.”

David Longdon

“I love Big Big Train. When Sound Of Contact toured with Spock’s Beard and Beardfish last year, our sound guy would play East Coast Racer after soundcheck. I thought it was brilliant and immediately bought all their records. I reached out to Greg Spawnton and David to say, ‘Let’s get together.’ David and I first worked on a Pink Floyd tribute record for my Sonic Elements project – we did an intense version of Us And Them. What he did on [title track] New World was really excellent. He brought a real ELO kind of feel to it. I wanted more of him on the record but he’s really busy at the moment. He’s a perfectionist, has such a brilliant voice, and I’m so pleased to have him on the album.”

Colin Edwin

“I co‑produced the LoFi Resistance album Chalk Lines for Randy McStine in 2011, and the rhythm section was Porcupine Tree’s – Gavin Harrison and Colin. Colin plays on my Pink Floyd tribute album too, and on New World he’s on Into The Sun. What he did was just cherry-on-top stuff.

“The more established an artist is, the more delicate I am as a producer. I like to offer them a mock-up of their part for reference, but don’t push it – I wanna hear what they’ll do. He did a pass I liked a lot, but I asked him to add one little piece from my mock‑up that I was missing.

“He and Steve happen to be two of the nicest people in the music business, and they were fine with that. Everyone wanted the song to be as great as it could be. There were no ego clashes and I didn’t control freak it. It was a good balance.”

Jason Scheff

“I met Jason years ago at a music convention. He liked my keyboard drumming and sound design work, and we became friends. We’ve been talking about doing something for a while now but he a busy guy, touring with Chicago every year. But when I asked him if he’d sing backing vocals on the album, he found a way to make it happen. He sings the Beach Boys-esque vocal layers during Steve’s solos on Stranded and Redemption.”

Heather Findlay

“I’ve always been a big fan of female voices in music and Heather’s voice grabbed me. There’s a certain ethereal quality to it that fits the music I write, and she’s a lyricist. We’re working together on a band project called Mantra Vega too, which is more centred on Heather. That album’s half done, we’ve tracked most of it and it’ll probably come out next year.

“She offered to do a cameo vocal on New World – she sings harmonies with me on Into The Sun. It gives you a hint of what’s to come with Mantra Vega.”

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.