There’s stubborn. And then there’s Kaz stubborn. The singer-songwriter of Redlight King refused to take no for an answer when music business suits denied his request to sample a Neil Young classic, pressing relentlessly until he got a “yes.” More importantly, Kaz held on to vanquish the inner demons that nearly wrecked him several years ago. Now, with “Something for the Pain,” Redlight King’s redemptive Hollywood Records debut album, Kaz relives both his darkest days and the turn-around, when he clawed his way back to the light.
Kaz grew up in Hamilton, Ont., once a booming steel center on the shores of Lake Ontario, and now struggling in the global economic meltdown. He grew up in middle class home where his parents “struggled to pay the bills.” Like his dad, Kaz loved cars and drag racing (Redlight King is named for the light “tree” that signals the start of a race). As he grew, music also began to take hold. He loved Queen, Springsteen, Dylan and Lennon no less than A Tribe Called Quest, Rakim, Treach and Nas. He started writing early on, recording his first track at age 16. But in his teens, music took a back seat to judo. He was good enough for a shot at Canada’s Olympic training center to prepare for the 2000 Games. But he didn’t make the team — a blow that would take a toll later.
Meanwhile, Kaz returned to music, landing a deal and releasing an album in Canada. That led to a Juno Award nomination for Best New Artist, but the affirmation wasn’t enough to halt a steep slide. “You know why it’s happening,” he recalls of his struggle with substance abuse. “You don’t know where the end is, you’ve lost all rationality. You’re borderline insane. But in the end, you make a decision to start again, and the only way was to forgive myself for my mistakes.”
It worked. Kaz came back strong, headed to California in a rebuilt ‘49 Mercury pick-up and converted his two-year nightmare into the song cycle that became “Something for the Pain.” Says Kaz, “Writing songs when you’re in a dark place is dangerous. The songs I wrote for this album I won’t write again. I won’t have to.”
Just because he lives in Los Angeles now doesn’t mean he’s gone Hollywood. When the mood strikes, he takes his rebuilt 1950 Harley up the PCH, just to clear his head. Hot rodder that he is, Kaz is currently restoring a rare 1937 Lincoln Zephyr coupe, with plans to make “a film capturing the journey and process of bringing the car back to life,” he says. “Hot rod culture runs deep in my roots.”
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Redlight King’s charismatic frontman to discuss his influences, the making of “Something For The Pain,” and what the future holds for this band on the rise!
What are your first memories of music in your life?
When I was a little kid we had an old record player cabinet in the living room. I remember lifting the top, and holding it up with my head in order to put the records on. I was fascinated by the process and just watching and listening.
What made you pursue music as a career instead of going a s different route?
I feel my best when i’m making music. It only made sense to pursue my passion and to contribute to something bigger than myself.
Who would you cite as your biggest influences as an artist and songwriter?
Some of my influences as a songwriter are Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Queen, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, The Pharcyde, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, The Clash and Bob Marley.
For those who may not be familiar with the origin of the name Redlight King. Where did that name come from?
It was initially inspired by my father’s race car built in the 70’s. He called it The Redlight Bandit. Redlight King is a term for people who break the rules, and regardless of the odds, stand by the decisions they make; and continue to push those boundaries regardless of the outcome.
What can you tell us about your writing process for “Something For The Pain”?
It was a record that was written over three years and there were well over twenty songs that were on the cutting room floor.
What was the biggest challenge in putting the album together?
The entire process was challenging from finding the resources to capture a great sound, to laying down tracks in a studio setting when it’s not a live to the floor situation. I spent a lot of time with the arrangements.
“Bullet in My Hand’ is a very powerful song and one that introduced a lot of fans to your work. How that song come about?
I initially co-wrote the song with my friend Tawgs, I wanted to write a song about a very fragile moment, and the process that brought me to that moment where i faced my own mortality. A moment where in a split second everything can change.
When you look back at your musical work so far, how do you feel you have evolved as an artist?
I’ve become a better musician, I’ve listened to a lot more music and continue to see as many live shows as i can. I don’t force things anymore, I write what feels good, I stay in the moment and reach for what is real.
What is the biggest thing you have you learned about yourself along the way?
I tend to be a knucklehead sometimes!
You recently toured with Everlast. What was that experience like for you?
The shows were great, I’ve bought most of his records, so it was a blast playing with him and his band.
Is touring the land something that you look forward to?
Touring is a big part of our existence, we definitely look forward to connecting with people and hanging out in some of our favorite cities. Some of the drives can get rough and back to back shows with a long drive can take its toll. You take the good with the bad, it’s what we do.
What do you hope that people come away with after seeing your live show?
The biggest compliment for us would be people wanting to come and see us again.
Where are you in regard to new music and a possible return to the studio for a followup?
Half of the second record is already written and in the demo stage, the recording process is under discussion and we’ll dial it in as we get closer to winding down on this record.
What is the best piece of advice that you can pass along to someone who wants to pursue a career in music?
If you’re in it for the money, you’re in the wrong business.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for Redlight King?
We are constantly evolving, working, recording, rehearsing, and playing live shows.
Anything you want to tell your fans before I let you go?
Thanks for calling your local radio station and requesting our songs, it keeps us alive, and thanks for supporting live music!
For all the latest new and tour dates from Redlight King, visit the official website at www.redlightkingmusic.com. Be sure to “like” the band on Facebook at www.facebook.com/redlightking and follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/theredlightking.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.