Friday, December 21, 2012

Chicago musician Todd Kessler talks about appearance on "The Voice"

Chicago musician Todd Kessler has had quite a year.

Along with releasing a new CD with his band, The New Folk,, Kessler made an appearance on the music reality show, "The Voice."

The New Folk will perform Jan. 4 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Vintage Blue and Tree also are on the bill.

The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at

Kessler will also be hosting a month-long residency at Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark St., Chicago, with the following guests:

Wed, Jan 9 - Tom Schraeder
Wed, Jan 16 - Miles Nilesen
Wed, Jan 23 - The Lims
Wed, Jan 30 - Shuma

More information is at

I had the chance to Kessler about his current activities.

Q - It seems like this has been a banner year for you. Has this year been bigger than you ever imagined?

Going in to 2012, there were three big things that I knew were going to happen: I was turning 30, my album was going to be finished and I was cutting off my dread locks. 

But I never would have thought that those things were going to be outdone by being on national television. I had been working on my album for almost two years, knowing that my dreads (which I had for 12 years) were coming off when it was done, so clearly I'm not one to jump in to big decisions slowly. 

But then I decided to try out for "The Voice" only a few weeks before the audition.

Q - Of course, your band, The New Folk, recently released its debut album, "Sea Fever." In sitting down to make the album, what goals did you have and do you think you accomplished them?

When first sitting down with producer Manny Sanchez, we talked a lot about making sure this album was going to be radio-ready — that was something I feel I hadn't had from my previous albums. 

Also, I wanted to expand on the sound that I had previously achieved in the studio, opting for a more pop approach to the songwriting and production, and I feel we achieved those things.


Q - How do you think the band has evolved since its formation? Where do you see the band fitting into the Chicago music scene?

The band has evolved quite a bit since we started in 2007 as a quartet. Bob Parlier, Graham Burris, Sam Smiley and I first got together when I needed musicians for an EP I did in 2007, which led to another EP in 2008. 

From there, we started playing shows. Then, in 2008, when in the studio I added a second vocalist and strings and horns to our sound [it] increased the size of the band from 4 to 9, and we played as a 9-piece for two years until we began recording "Sea Fever." 

The band has evolved once again as our original guitarist Sam Smiley has moved away and in lieu of strings and horns for every show, we've added Chris (our former Cello player) on guitar and Shane (who engineered the album) on guitar and keys.

The music scene in Chicago is similar to Chicago itself in that there are so many different music communities within the scene as a whole—similar to the neighborhoods of Chicago—that fitting in is somewhat a relative thing. I describe our sound as “Alternative/Folk/Pop” and we have done really well at clubs that showcase those styles, such as Lincoln Hall, Schuba’s and Double Door.

Q - You will be hosting a month-long residency at Uncommon Ground in January. Was that another goal of yours? What do you think of the bands you will be supporting?

I actually hosted a similar residency at Uncommon Ground back in 2008, so it was something I wanted to return to. I have been playing at Uncommon Ground since I started out in 2005 and have formed a really great relationship with the club and the owners. 

It had been a while since I played there so I thought it would be a really nice thing to do, especially in January since it will be cold outside and Uncommon Ground has such a warm and intimate atmosphere.

All of the artists joining me are friends of mine who I've done shows with in the past and each night is going to be something different. We're going to have Tom Schraeder, Miles Nielsen, The Lims and Shuma.

Q - I understand friends convinced you to audition for "The Voice." Were you satisfied with how far you went on the show? What did you learn from the experience?

That's right. When the first season of the show ended, I had two friends tell me about it and that I should try out for the second season. 

I had never seen the show, so I caught a couple of reruns and thought it was a really cool concept. So when the auditions came through Chicago I decided to go for it. 

I made it through a couple of call backs, but ultimately did not make the show. But I decided to watch from the beginning of the season to see what it was really all about. 

I ended up loving the show and when I heard season three auditions were coming back through Chicago I decided to go for it again. 

Actually, at first I wasn't sure the timing was going to be right as I was not completely finished with "Sea Fever," but ultimately decided that it was too big an opportunity to pass up.

Obviously I would have liked to make it a bit further on the show, but I really wouldn't change anything about the experience. I learned so much and made some great friends in the process.


Q - What made you want to cut your dreadlocks and do you ever have second thoughts about the decision?

I do occasionally miss my dreads but cutting them off was something I just had to do. When deciding to go in to the studio to record "Sea Fever" I had already made the decision that I was going to  cut my hair when the album was complete and what really solidified that for me was when Manny Sanchez (the producer) said to me on the first day of tracking, "You know when this record is done you have to cut you hair, right?" 

I was kind of shocked when he said that; I thought "how did you know?!" But what it came down to was new beginnings. 

The making of this album was a departure from everything I had ever done with my music in the past, from the songwriting to the production. Really the only logical thing to make the transformation complete was to cut my dreads.

Q - Are you already seeing more fans because of your appearance on the show? How do you think the show compares to other music reality shows? What advice would you give to someone auditioning for a music reality show?

Yes, I had a big surge [of] fans on Facebook and Twitter when my episodes were airing and have had people recognize me at gigs and around town. 

Even now that my run on the show has been done for a number of weeks, I am still getting new fans sending me messages that they saw me on the show and they love my voice and my songs. It's been a really humbling experience.

The biggest reason I tried out for "The Voice" was because it is so different from the other music reality shows out there. I've watched a couple of seasons of "American Idol" throughout the years and never wanted to go that route. 

But as soon as I saw "The Voice," I knew it was something I wanted.It has a different vibe than the other shows and it is a much friendlier environment for real artists, as has been shown by my good friend Nicholas David making the finals this season.

I've already spoken to a number of people who have approached me about auditioning and I tell them all the same thing: "Be yourself." What the show is looking for is artists that have a good idea of who they are and what kind of music they want to make, so it's really important to go in to the audition and show them that. 

And on the show that is something they said to us a lot, "just do you."

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?

My short terms goals are to obtain representation in the form of management and booking. The exposure I got being on "The Voice" has been huge so I'm looking for a team of people to help me really capitalize on that. 

Long term, I would like to make my music full time. Right now I also teach, and although I love what I do, I'd like to be able to focus on my music and make my whole living on playing shows and writing .