Who is The Kernal? If you don’t know, it’s best you start knowin’. The Tennessee native has been doing his thing for some time now, playing as a sideman with the likes of Andrew Combs and Jonny Fritz among others, and now he’s stepping out on his own with this album. On March 3rd The Kernal will release his debut album Light Country on Single Lock Records, the label started by Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes that is home to acts like St. Paul and the Broken Bones and John Paul White. It’s safe to say Light Country is an early contender for one of the year’s best albums and The Kernal is someone we will definitely be seeing and hearing more from.
Over the course of eight songs, the album conjures up a strikingly potent cocktail of 70′s Southern rock, Cosmic Country, Memphis soul, and backwoods boogie. Of course, in true Kernal fashion, this is all done with a laugh. Between his playing, singing, and lyricism, The Kernal brings to mind legends like Spooner Oldham and Glen Campbell. There is something retro about The Kernal, sure, but maybe it’s actually just something down-home and real that makes him such a refreshing artist.
Today Glide Magazine is excited to premiere one of the more humorous tunes on Light Country, “At the Old Taco Bell”. To our knowledge, it’s the only tune that’s been written about Taco Bell, and it’s a rambling, rowdy one at that. It even features The Kernal’s long gone Georgia relatives singing gospel music he transferred from the original reel-to-reel tapes. Given his name, one might expect a song about KFC, but with The Kernal you never quite know what to expect.
Showing he has one foot in the past and one in the present, The Kernal reflects on the tune by saying simply, “It’s a Yelp Review Country Song about a man who has moved into the first Taco Bell rental home. There’s no shower but it’s not so bad for the price.”
LISTEN to “At the Old Taco Bell” and read our chat with The Kernal below:
Your dad played in the Opry for years. What role did he play in getting you into music and (if so) influencing your personal tastes?
Growing up going backstage to the Opry was fantastic. I still think about it a lot — so many great performances, like Jumpin’ Bill Carlisle sauntering out on stage with a walker, performing a song, then hiking that walker over his shoulder and high-stepping off stage. I was drawn more toward playing music the older I got, especially once my father died — it felt like so much music had gone out of the family — I began focusing on it more at that point. Having been a road country player from the 60s-80s, he wasn’t too keen on me pursuing music, which is why I didn’t really jump in until his death.
You’ve been a sideman for people like Andrew Combs and Jonny Fritz. What made you want to step out and make your own record?
The goal all along was to do my own thing, I just had a bass and I played it around until the dots connected a little more.
The instrumentation on this album is striking. Who were some of the personnel you enlisted?
Thanks! My band, the New Strangers, are Jesse Dean on drums, Scott Schmadeke mostly on keys, and Cotton Clifton on lead guitar. Folks like Jon Estes (bass) (strings) (pedal steel) (etc), Joel Hamilton (Nordascord) were so much fun to work with and one of my favorites, Cheyenne Medders, also played a utility role. Not to mention Ben Tanner of SINGLE LOCK Records — we were like those weird twins in that Kurt Vonnegut book, SLAPSTICK.
The inside of the album has a picture of a recipe card, which appears to be some kind of cake. What is the recipe for and what is the significance?
Well my hope was that people would just make it and see for themselves, but since you asked, it’s my mother’s poundcake. Have some.
The album seems to have a distinctly 70s country soul rock sound. What kind of stuff did you draw from when writing this album?
We used nothing in particular as a guide but we had played these songs on the road a lot the past couple of years.
On the album you included clips of your long gone Georgia relatives singing gospel music. How did you come across the clips and how did you get them to fit into the music?
I found them in an old box of quarter-inch tapes in my parents’ attic and they sounded bad but really cool; I had to use them and it worked out perfectly.
A lot of the lyrics are on the humorous side. Do you write based on personal experiences or do you come up with characters and stories?
It’s both but I try to insert myself into it. The process is like being compelled by frustration which is a mystery but you get drawn into yourself and into the story and somewhere the lines dissolve and it’s a song.