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A-T interview with JK Kerns, Sum 41 FOH Engineer

Sum 41 FOH Engineer John ďJKĒ Kerns took time to talk with us at Summer Sonic 2010.

We were honored that Sum 41 FOH Engineer John ďJKĒ Kerns took time to talk with us at Summer Sonic 2010. Despite the injury of Sum 41 lead singer Deryck Whibley, Deryck and band mates Steve Jocz, Cone McCaslin and Tom Thacker performed as part of the Summer Sonic festival.

Audio-Technica: How did the PA sound today?

John Kerns: I liked yesterday a lot better.

Audio-Technica: Really?

JK: Same PA, but it didnít work as well. For whatever reason, it just seemed very compressed to me today. When you just sort of unmute and go I donít know whether thatís a factor of a whole bunch of stuff aiming in lots of directions and a round building with overhead, you donít know if it squishes upon itself or whether there was something else going on. Yesterday was fantastic. Probably one of the 15 or 20 best shows Iíve ever done.

Audio-Technica: Really? How was the crowd?

JK: It was good today. Today was a better crowd.

Audio-Technica: Working with Creativeman, how do you feel that works as far as transitioning from Osaka, where you were yesterday, to Tokyo today? How did that transition go?

JK: Oh it works great. I mean youíve got the same PA, thereís at least one front of house guy and one monitor guy that know exactly whatís going on. Theyíre both people that can interpret as well, theyíre both bilingual so it makes it really easy. Same PA, same consoles, you know. Load it up and go.

Audio-Technica: Thatís awesome. What console were you working with today?

JK: Digidesign.

Audio-Technica: And you have what, 30 minutes between acts?

JK: Itís like 30 or 40 or something.

Audio-Technica: How does that work in a festival environment, rather than doing a headline show?

JK: Weíre pretty lucky in that I donít have a tremendous amount of inputs with this band.

Audio-Technica: How many?

JK: 24. 23. Itís a drum kit, two guitars, and a bass player. And four vocals and thatís it. So we usually sit around for the last 15 minutes looking for something to do.

Audio-Technica: Really? You donít like get in there and start - ?

JK: You know, itís a festival, so until you actually hear it, I mean you can do it through your headphones, but you donít even have a chance to tune the PA yourself. Right off the box you sort of go uhh, on the first song, is this reacting ok? Even if you had the same pair of headphones and all that, youíd EQ to that, but you didnít tune the PA.

Audio-Technica: You donít know the room, yeah.

JK: Itís sort of a crap shoot when you unmute. Thatís the same with any festival, anything you do.

Audio-Technica: Really? But in general, here in Japan?

JK: Oh, everybody loves coming to work in Japan. Everybody in Japan really still takes pride in everything they do. They want to be correct. Theyíre really not happy if anything does happen because they take pride in it. Everybody loves coming to Japan to work. Everybody in the business does. Youíre going to be pretty hard-pressed to find anybody that doesnít like coming here to work.

Audio-Technica: Youíve actually been an Audio-Technica user for quite some time, starting Ė

JK: 2002 maybe? Something like that, 2001 maybe.

Audio-Technica: With?

JK: No Doubt, probably. Thatís the first time I used a lot of them.

Audio-Technica: Do you have a couple of favorites?

JK: 4050ís are still always really good. You can use them on a lot of things, even though most of the time nowadays itís mostly overheads. I love AT4047ís on guitar.

Audio-Technica: Right, we have the new dynamic, the ATM650 ó I know you were starting to use some of those.

JK: Yeah. Three out of the four guitar channels on here have 650ís on them, and the snare is a 650. Theyíre great. You put them up, I think Iíve had one problem with one that I sent back to you guys inó I donít know how many, the couple of years Iíve had them. And that one got whacked. If a drummer hits things hard enoughÖ

Audio-Technica: Sonically you dig them?

JK: Absolutely, theyíre great. The ATM650ís always sound fantastic. And everybody I know that Iíve turned them on to loves them as well. Itís always a question mark, because whenever youíre deviating from the standard, [people say] why donít you just put this up, especially in festival situations.

Audio-Technica: Right, people are comfortable with what they know.

JK: So I say, just try it, you know. If you hate it, Iíll change it. Iíve never had to change it for anybody.

Audio-Technica: Is there any piece of gear that you find indispensible, that you have to travel with personally? Or that youíre bummed out if it isnít there?

JK: Iím quite fond of this company in New Zealand called Buzz Audio, they make really, really good compressors I like, so Iíll use a version of that somewhere on most tours that I do.

Audio-Technica: Really? Outboard?

JK: Yeah. Iíll lug it around. Analog, you know? Itís really the only thing I do outboard wise, I use their ARC. Itís a channel strip that Iíve always used with these guys and I Ė

Audio-Technica: What do you use it on?

JK: Lead vocal. Itís the only thing, you donít have to chase anything. Itís best to worry about other things. And they make a stereo compressor, or a dual mono compressor also, which I used with No Doubt.

Audio-Technica: Whatís your least favorite thing about being on the road?

JK: Being away from home.

Audio-Technica: Whatís the least favorite thing about being front of house guy?

JK: Worst thing about it? Probably walking through the crowds. Trying to get out there during a 30-minute set change. Thatís probably the worst part. But other than that, I donít know. Noise I suppose.

Audio-Technica: Do you do anything to protect your hearing?

JK: If Iím not mixing Iíve got attenuators in. If I go out as the system guy, which I do a lot still, once Iíve got it all tuned up and I know itís running, I just put 25 dB pads in.

Audio-Technica: I think we talked about this before, but maybe you have a new answer for me. People starting out in the business, any advice you can give them?

JK: Just really pay attention to the little things, try to learn as much as you can. Youíre always going to learn something. I went through a period when I was young when I thought I knew everything; it didnít help me or anybody else. So just always sort of pay attention and learn what you can off of people, ask them questions, donít get cocky. Itís good to be confident, you have to be confident in this business, especially if youíre coming about it from an independent point of view, if youíre not working for a company. And more and more theyíre hiring independents now, just because business-wise I suppose it makes senseóyou donít have to carry a lot of the paperwork and such that you have to financially employing them full-time. Itís a little different where I live.

Audio-Technica: Speaking of that, thatís kind of interesting because you live in Australia. And how does that work? Do you find thatís a help or a hindrance, or you donít care?

JK: Well, I suppose if I still wanted to work eleven months of the year on a tour then it was probably a hindrance. But I work full-time for a sound company down there and I do a lot of work with a couple of other companies down there as well when Iím home. And tours in Australia are two weeks long so itís not a big deal to go out on them. Other than that I really just sort of take care of previous clients. Iím pretty lucky in that I havenít had to really be in the game of really hunting and trying to cold call all the time, so it works out for me. Like I said, whenever Iím at home I work full-time at a company.

Audio-Technica: Any specific challenges mixing a band like Sum 41, where you have limited inputs? Youíd think itíd be easier but there might be some challenges.

JK: Itís like anything else, you want to make everything as big sounding as you can. But obviously once everything sounds big by itself, you run out of Ė the cup sort of fills up.

Audio-Technica: You run out of big.

JK: Yeah, so thatís probably one thing. And they like an approach thatís pretty much in your face. I wonít use like onslaught or anything, but they want it to be big.

Audio-Technica: It definitely is big, for the size of the band, it definitely is a big-sounding show. How are the band to work with?

JK: Oh theyíre fantastic.

Audio-Technica: So you find that they get it from an audio standpoint?

JK: Absolutely. Derek is very, very, very in tune with whatís going on audio-wise. He owns a lot of gear himself, he produces a lot of records himself. Whenever weíre doing shows, not festivals, heís walking out front.

Audio-Technica: Do you like that?

JK: Absolutely. Itís great. This last summer when No Doubt reunited, we went out and I had a ProTools rig out there so every day Iíd listen back to the previous show. They were there all day, just running around, doing their exercises with the trainers and all that stuff, and theyíd all run down one at a time, let me hear that part, and theyíre all very vocal about it. Itís great working with bands like that. Iím really lucky to have these two keeping me busy.

Audio-Technica: So whereís your favorite place to tour?

JK: I love touring in Japan. Canít say enough about it, itís great. Everythingís always happy, thereís never any drama, everythingís always there. Other than that, I donít mind Australia only because a lot of itís outdoors and I obviously prefer mixing outdoors. Less of a building to worry about, you know?

Audio-Technica: Any superstitions or rituals you do before a show?

JK: Not really. I just make sure I check everything and make sure the console output is actually on about 40 times. Thatís about it really anymore. No set lists or anything, they change it all the time and nobody can get it out to me.

Audio-Technica: Well youíd never know itóIíll tell you from listening to the show, itís seamless.

JK: Cool.

Audio-Technica: Well we certainly appreciate your support, supporting us out on the road. Hopefully weíve done the same.

JK: Hey, itís great that the stuff always works. I know that the bands, every time Iíve put it out Iíve never had a musician say itís not working for me, whether theyíre on ears, out front, whatever. I canít do my job if theyíre not happy with what theyíre hearing. But Iíve never run into that issue.

Audio-Technica: Well thatís pretty much the best compliment we can get. Thatís great. Thanks man.

JK: Youíre welcome.