The Kernal returns to Macon alongside Paul Cauthen on Sunday, February 25th for a show that’s been brewing for an age. “We’ve been trying to get together on something for… It feels like a year and a half or two years now,” says Kern. “Of course, Paul’s gotten real busy and you’ve got to plan this stuff pretty far in advance. We finally were able to lock down some dates, and I’m excited to get out there.” Though it’s been a minute since The Kernal’s excellent Light Country, the man in the red suit has been busy releasing a live album, touring as a bassist under his alter ego Joe Garner, and writing for a new album. I was especially happy to learn the last– and to get a few details on the project. In the meantime, interest in the show on February 23rd has sparked a necessary venue change from The Creek Stage to the Hargray Capitol Theatre. More tickets are available– and while it may sound cliche, that doesn’t make it any less true– you don’t want to miss this one! “Red velvet, red velvet cake, and Big Velvet! We’ll have all the velvets there for you guys,” laughs The Kernal. “And with me and Paul, I think we might get up there, elbow each other a little bit and try to push our sounds. It’s fun goin’ out with your friends like that. You can try to impress each other!”
AI- I know you’ve been traveling, I know you’ve been out doing a lot of festivals. What have you been working on? What’s new?
K- Well, I’ve been working on a new record for the last couple of months here and getting pretty close to being done with that. So that’s taken up quite a bit of time when I’ve been home. I’ve been touring a lot on bass as well. This winter, I was in Europe for two and a half months doing that with Andrew Combs and Erin Rae, kinda splittin’ duty with them playing bass. Other than that, just trying to write and working here and there and trying to pay the bills– you know, normal stuff.
Let’s talk about this new album. Have you guys begun principal recording for it or are you just still in the planning stages?
We are actually into the mixing phase at this point. It’s one of those things that… Anytime I mention that I’m working on a record to the label, they’re like, “Don’t tell anybody!” (Laughs) So I never really know how much to say or not to say and all that, but we have been working on something, and we’re getting to the mixing. We have it down, we’re just kind of pushing it around at that point.
Where did you guys do the recording? What studio were you working at?
Down in Muscle Shoals at Single Lock Studios.
You workin’ with Ben Tanner again?
Ben Tanner, yep, exactly. Same thing we did for our last record. Different personnel this time. We have some of the same guys and then we got some new blood in there for this record. So it should be good. I mean, you know, there’s a couple of good songs on there!
I saw several spots where you had been out doing like the singer-songwriter in the around thing where you had debuted some new songs. Unfortunately, they weren’t recordings. I couldn’t hear any of them– but I was like, “Oh great! He’s got new stuff coming!” Do you have a release date in mind for it?
We don’t have a release date yet. Normally don’t set that stuff until the records all the way in the can with the mastering and all that kind of stuff.
And it’s still going to be The Kernal?
Still The Kernal. Yep.
‘Cause I know the last time we spoke, you had talked about possibly getting away from that at some point.
When I started the project, I kinda had a term limit set for it as far as the number of albums and that kind of stuff. It just kinda had an arc that I was working with and I’m getting to the end of where I wanted to get with it. Now I’m just kind of in a reassessing phase. If something happens that I can keep doing this Kernal stuff, I definitely want to do it. But I’ve got a lot of other interests and some other things that I’ve kinda been working on, on the side… So it just depends on what I have come available. I might change direction at some point if the Lord allows me! But if not, I’ll keep doing this.
Who else you been collaborating with over the last year, year and a half?
I’ve done some stuff with Caitlin Rose outta Nashville there. Another guy on our label named Caleb Elliott… Worked with him some. Me and Ben Tanner actually have been talking about doing a bunch of… Kinda some more weird stuff. You know, I’ve just got so much material that’s not songwriter type stuff or country stuff. It’s more like, I guess the kind of stuff that you put in movies and that kind of thing. We’ve kinda been talking a little bit about doin’ some more things like that ’cause that just would be fun– to exercise our muscles in a different way like that. So we’ve kinda been talking about that lately, trying to get into foolin’ around with stuff like that.
I’ve always thought that everything that you do has a cinematic quality to it. I could actually see you getting into doing some sort of a film, maybe not for the Kernal but with something else in that strange realm that you live in.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I do have a lot of interests in that way. It’s just a matter of finding the right people to work with and the right opportunities and things like that. That has a lot to do with it, really, just having the resources and the opportunity to be able to do that. ‘Cause otherwise, you’re just trying to knock on doors and see who’s interested. And sometimes that takes years and years of doin’ before you get an opportunity. So we’ll see. I’m not really sure what the future holds, but I’m excited to do something whenever it is.
You did get to release a live album, Kern! Live! Was that just like you had the opportunity, it was available? Was it planned and would you do it again?
Yeah! We’ve obviously done a lot of live shows over the last several years and enjoy playing live and feel that’s a stronger aspect of what we do when we’re out playing. We played a show up in New York and after the show, the engineer said, “Hey, well, I recorded this. If you want to get it just send me your email.” And we said, “Well okay, we’ll just listen to it.” But then we did that again with another show and we just decided… I mean, it’d been a couple of years since we put something out, we’d started working on this new record… So it just gave people an opportunity to hear what we sound like without any foolin’ around behind the mixing board, just kind of as we are. It was just an opportunity to put something out ’cause we hadn’t in a while. It’s something else for people to find on Spotify– and it didn’t cost us very much either, which is nice. Normally, you’re paying $15,000 to get a cent back on a listen. Now, it’s a little easier with that Kern! Live! to get little in the green. So that’s nice.
I know you’re always listening, you’re always on the hunt for things. Tell me something new and unusual that you have discovered recently– a new artist, an older artist, something you’ve forgotten about and rediscovered…
Oh yeah! There’s always so much! You’re right about the fact that there’s a lot of stuff in and out. This guy, I guess he’s outta Texas, Vincent Neil Emerson? I’ve been listening to him some lately. I’m diggin’ his stuff. My buddy James Steinle from out in Texas too. He just put a new record out that’s really good. But I like all kinds of stuff, man. There’s this guy named Burial that I liked a lot. He’s kind of like an early EDM artist. Really cool. I don’t know? Carole King, Bill Evans Trio… That’s just what I listened to like in the last day or two.
What’s the status of the New Strangers? Who you runnin’ on the road with these days?
For this tour, Jeremy Gibson is on drums, and he’s a big session drummer down in Muscle Shoals. He was on John Paul White’s record, the Lera Lynn record that Single Lock put out… He does a lot of session stuff. He’s got a couple of kids now and he lives in Shreveport and he splits his time between there and Hot Springs, Arkansas. So he’s not on the road a whole lot these days. He played a lot with Dylan LeBlanc too and played on Dylan’s records. But he’s coming out with us starting with this tour. And man, an old buddy of mine that used to play with me when I first started The Kernal, this guy from up in Bloomington, Indiana, Glen Meyer. He’s going to be with us.
It’s kind of funny ’cause we’ve never played with this iteration before. Of course, Cotton [Clifton] is always with me. We live right next to each other and we hang out all the time anyway. He’s always with me and those two guys will be with us, so we’re just the four-piece on this tour, but it’ll be fun. I mean it’s kind of fun to work with people in different groups and over different periods of time. Like with this thing, we’ve never all four done it together, but we’ve all done it with separate iterations. So I’m pretty excited about it ’cause it’s always a little bit different when we get different players in here. So it should be good!