ES&CM's pragmatic Editor ventured North (a bit!) to meet a new talent with MCA — Nik Kershaw
A new name and a new approach to combining synthesizer atmospherics and guitar, expounded by MCA's latest signing — Nik Kershaw.
That was enough to warrant a trip to one of North London's lesser known rehearsal studios, where Nik was auditioning artistes for a planned tour. Upon arrival, fortunately, we adjourned to an adjacent den of intoxicants and I asked Nik about his career before the MCA contract.
"Up to the beginning of '82 I was in a dance band (Fusion). We used to do dinner dances and barmitzvahs, but we also used to do jazz-rock and jazz-funk gigs just to keep ourselves sane." Nik sipped some tonic water and continued: "I was earning a living as a professional — you play things by people like Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. You can learn a hell of a lot from those guys about structuring songs." So, what happened to the band, I asked. "It split up at the beginning of 1982 and I thought I'd better get up and do something. So I made loads of demos on a portastudio — a friend's Teac — tried record companies and got nowhere. Then I met my manager and he got me the deal."
Quite a jump from putting together demo cassettes to getting a record deal you may think, but as Nik explained, the right manager makes all the difference. "Out of sheer desperation I used to advertise for management and I got answers from about ten people — nine loonies or investment companies and one from Mickey Modern who'd just stopped managing Nine Below Zero (latterly The Truth). Mickey knew the A&R man from MCA from Nine Below Zero's days with A&M, so that was how we got in there."
Well before that fortuitous meeting, however, Nik had experienced the short-lived satisfaction of bringing out his own record. It was the title track off the current album 'Human Racing', which he wrote about four years ago. "Yes, we brought that out on our own with Fusion. We only got about 1000 pressed and sold them at gigs. We already had tapes in existence from a management deal that didn't quite work. They paid for the recording and everything, but we parted company and they weren't going to do anything with them. All we had was a ½ track copy of the album — we cut it from that. It seemed to be a total waste having all these tapes that we spent time and effort doing and nobody was gonna do anything with them. We didn't make any money out of it, though the original investment was recouped. In total it cost about £900 to get 1,000 pressed and I think I got a couple of plays on Capital Radio, but that's the nearest we got. We had a following in Essex and they mostly went to them."
Now was the perfect moment to enquire about Nik's song writing technique, especially since the band were confident enough to 'release' their own record. "I usually start with a hook, a tune in head, and usually a lyric suggests itself. Humming it over and over again in the bath or the car with just the basic lyric for the hook. Then I write a verse around it and then stick the lyrics on. The lyrics are always hardest. If I try and find a tune on a guitar, it always ends up sounding like a guitar riff. I do most of the work in my head — most of the arrangement's done and I know what the drum track's gonna sound like. Once I've got all that together I usually start with a drum track and put that down on a Fostex and then start playing around that — messing about on bass and then keyboard parts. I usually don't write any lyrics until its time to do the vocals".
So, what about the equipment used to implement these creative processes. Surely Nik must have an extensive home studio set-up? Well, not quite, since before the 'big break' Nik Kershaw merely owned a custom guitar "...basically a Strat body and Les Paul fingerboard made by a guy from Wivenhoe called Dave Gladden", and not a lot else. After Nik's financial situation changed, however, so did his inventory of gear. "I've got a Fostex portastudio and TR808 drum computer. Then there's a Juno 6 and recently a Juno 60 for stage 'cos the '6' is virtually useless as you can't program it. Then there's the DX7, a Yamaha fretless bass, a Boss RX100 reverb plus some junky old AKG 90 microphones." And what of the elaborate home studio? "There is a separate room, but we keep having people to visit and it's the only room we've got so the equipment keeps getting packed away and stuck in the attic." But isn't there a problem with the noise upsetting the neighbours. "Well, most of the stuff goes straight into the portastudio, as I keep my Roland Bolt 60 for stage and use the direct output, via a Boss overdrive pedal, into the recorder. You can get quite a reasonable sound if you mess about. It's just a matter of taking your time to get something good. The demos aren't particularly good quality, but then they don't have to be as long as the atmosphere feels right on them."
Listening to some of the tracks on the album, there's no doubt that the 'atmosphere' is right, but what also comes across is some accomplished playing. Nik, however, is the first to admit that he's no piano virtuoso: "'Cos of the technology about at the moment you can get away with so much. I don't pretend to be a keyboard player — I can hear what sounds good and what goes in the right place. On the album, I didn't do all the keyboards, a couple of others contributed a lot. There's a guy called 'Wix' who did most of the work and another called Don Snow. Then there's Reg Webb from Fusion, who did Human Racing — that's probably the most difficult keyboards because its pianistic."
With the interview being brought to an abrupt end by the noise of a nearby Juke box, I just had time to find out those all important release dates. The mini tour due around the middle of this month will be followed by a third single, either 'Shame On You' or 'Gone To Pieces'. The current single "Wouldn't It Be Good" should be rapidly climbing the charts, if there's any justice in this world and the album "Human Racing" is set to follow it, but we'll leave it to Nik for the last word on that: "I actually think the album's quite good — I'm not sick of it yet and I usually get sick of anything I do after a few weeks" ...what better recommendation could you ask for?
Interview by Paul Coster
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