A musical prodigy in all aspects of the term, Andrew Kesler’s superior talents as a musician serve as proof that certain people are destined from birth to achieve greatness using their god given talents in a way that will change the industry in which they focus forever.
Kesler’s widespread talents as a multi-instrumentalist, engineer and producer have given him an unparalleled reputation as an international music genius.
As a musician some of his releases include the award-winning album “Dragon Suite,” co-written and created with renowned violinist Aline Homzy, SOMA’s self-titled debut album, which he co-wrote and produced, Holy Oker’s “Diamonds” EP, and the a cappella jazz group Accent’s album “Here We Are.”
Over the course of his career Kesler has played some of the most recognizable festivals and music events in the world including Byron Bay Bluesfest, SXSW, Toronto Jazz Festival, London A Cappella Festival, Music Matters Live, Atina Jazz Festival, NXNE, and Canadian Music Week. He is also a highly sought after composer in the world of commercial jingles, with some of his past clients including Google, IBM, 7UP, Filler Magazine, Tourism Australia and others. In fact, in 2011 he won the Nokia N8 Producers video competition for an original a cappella jingle he created, but that is only one of many of the young artist’s incredible accolades.
What really sets Andrew Kesler apart from the rest of the astonishingly talented musicians working internationally today is the way he has melded his musical prowess into a successful career as a recording engineer and producer. As a producer Kesler has doted his genius upon acts and artists including Milan Boronell, Bear Mountain, Tara Priya, Andy De Campos, Melody Rose, Justin Dunlop, The Little Brothers, and Janée Olivia.
To find out more about Andrew Kesler and how he has managed to achieve so much success over the course of his short life, be sure to check out our interview below!
You can also check out some of his musical creations for yourself by going to his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/AndrewKesler
And his website: http://www.AndrewKesler.com/
PLM: Where are you from? What was it like growing up there?
AK: I was born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada. It’s a modest city of about 200,000 people with a big emphasis on local art and culture. It provided everything a kid would want, a healthy balance of urban opportunities and beautiful nature to explore. As a child on most weekends my dad would take me out to local pawnshops and music stores to look at guitars of all shapes and sizes. I would marvel at them, imagining the sounds they could make and the stories they could tell of the 60s and 70s, a golden age of music my dad had told me so much about.
PLM: How and when did you get into music?
AK: I was born into a very musical family. Growing up my mom was classically trained as a soprano, pianist and violinist. My dad is the definition of a rock’n roll baby boomer, having taught himself guitar and bass. He raised me on the classics like Zeppelin, Cream, Yardbirds, Beatles, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Grand Funk etc.,
When I was 2 years old I picked up a ukulele and started strumming along to whatever happened to be playing. To my parents’ surprise, my instinct was to play it left-handed. They tried to switch the ukulele around so I would play it like a normal person, however even at age 2 I was stubborn and would always change it back.
When I was 5 my parents got me my first real guitar, a small-scale white electric. Picking it up from the store is one of the few memories I have from that age, I was so excited and as soon as I came home I remember plugging it in and jamming along to Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose”. Although I was mostly strumming the rhythm, I remember being able to pick out the song’s key and play the root note on the downbeats. It wasn’t long before I was learning by ear all the records that my dad had in the basement. In fact, I could play Jimi’s “Foxy Lady” long before I knew what any of the lyrics meant. I started classical piano lessons when I was 7 years old and in my teenage years the melding of both rock and roll and classical music developed my love for jazz.
PLM: What did music do for you when you discovered you were able to communicate through it?
AK: At first music was just something I always did. For me it has always been part of my life, especially since I started so young I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t playing music. But it wasn’t until many years later in my late teens that I started playing in bands that I learned the collaborative nature of music.
I spent so much time alone in the basement practicing until then that I hadn’t really understood how to musically communicate with others. When I finally figured that out, music become so much more to me than just notes, it was a way to connect with people on a deeper level. I have never been a lyricist, or really ever paid attention to the words in songs. I have always been able to deliver the message and emotion of a song without relying on words, rather by phrasing my musical ideas instead. This has made me extremely sensitive to making sure that my performances are just as dynamic and passionate as a singer delivering powerful lyrics in a song.
PLM: How many instruments do you play and how long have you been playing each?
AK: I’ve picked up a lot of the instruments over the years. I’ve been playing guitar for 21 years, piano for 19, and bass and drums for about 18. I also picked up saxophone in elementary school and studied that for 7 years until I got bored and picked up French horn and trumpet, which I studied briefly for a few years. It wasn’t until high school that I started singing, so that’s probably the most recent addition having been singing in groups for 11 years or so.
PLM: Which was your first? And which one do you currently get the most enjoyment out of it?
AK: Guitar was my first, however recently I’ve been playing a lot of bass. Something about the simplicity and the instrument acting as a musical anchor has really captured my attention. I’ve learned that things that seem simple and easy rarely live up to that reputation.
PLM: Why are you passionate about playing music?
AK: Music has always played a big part of my life and that’s not going to change. My perspective on music however is constantly evolving. Once I grew out of the selfish “I want to be the best musician in the world” competitive mentality that I had as a teenager, I opened my eyes and was able to see the difference music made in people’s lives. It’s an amazing way to meet and connect with people, even complete strangers. I’ve formed my most valuable friendships through music and I’ve always felt that music is the ultimate form of self-expression. People who connect with my music are also connecting with me. Being a creative personality, the possibilities with music are endless. My career has been built on trying new things and stretching myself to grow musically, which invariably causes me to grow as a person.
PLM: When did you start producing music?
AK: It’s hard to pinpoint an exact time when I became a “producer”. Early on when I started dabbling with writing music I was making all the arrangements, playing all the instruments and recording everything myself. This was around when I was 12 years old. So I guess you could say I was producing my own music back then. I joined my first garage band (Keepers of the Groove) when I was 17, and my role changed to include overseeing the direction of the band, and handling the engineering and production of our first and only album. For me all of those things fall under the umbrella of “musician” and are natural extensions of what I was already doing. I didn’t necessarily change my role to do that, I just naturally grew into it because it needed to be done and I was willing to give it a try.
PLM: How does producing tie all of your talents together?
AK: Producer is a term that means something different to everyone. There are the old-school producers like Al Schmitt and Quincy Jones, then there’s this new wave of “bedroom” producers who work mostly programming music on computers.
Over the years I’ve dubbed myself a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer and engineer. I’m sure I must receive some skepticism for claiming to be all of these things, but the term “producer” ties them all together. It allows me to bring all these skills to the table when embarking on a new project, be it live or in the studio. With my background as an instrumentalist, it allows me to either play a lot of the parts myself or to clearly communicate with the musicians involved. As a composer or arranger, if a project needs to add original music or embellishment (horns, strings, vocals) there’s another way I can contribute. Music production is a marriage of art and technology, and being a producer allows me to use as many or as few of these skills as necessary for a project. I guess I’d like to think of myself as a studio “Swiss-army knife”.
PLM: Can you tell me about some of the artists you’ve produced and how you’ve approached “producing” their careers/music?
AK: My approach when producing is to do whatever it takes to make sure the artist’s vision is realized. It’s never about adding my footprint to their music, but rather understanding who they are, what the message is and using my skills to present it loud and clear. I’m not chasing top40 chart placement or copying popular artists. In my opinion music is only successful if it has sincerity. The artists I’ve produced in the past have come to me because of this reputation.
I recently produced an EP for Montréal-born artist Milan Boronell. He’s an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist so I was thrilled to collaborate with him. I helped finesse some of his writing and we spent a lot of time together making sure we shared the same vision for the record. Once we agreed on a direction I had my work cut out for me, playing a lot of the instruments, hiring additional musicians, arranging parts for strings and background vocals, engineering the recording sessions and mixing the album. I wouldn’t normally suggest to an artist that I be the one to fill all these roles, however Milan’s music resonated with me and he really liked my contributions, which lead to me shouldering most of the load.
I also worked on the new Bear Mountain record “BADU” that’s soon to be released. They wanted to create an album that would really take their musicianship to the next level. We booked Canterbury studios in Toronto for 2 weeks straight, and worked 16 hour days to record the 10 songs they had written. My role with them as a producer was going over their songs and ‘trimming the fat’, adding harmonic and melodic elements to help the music stand out, playing all the keyboards, arranging parts for horn and string sections, contracting those additional musicians and conducting the arrangements. I worked in tandem with a close friend and extremely talented engineer Andrew Mullin. With him handling the majority of the technical side of things, it freed me up to focus entirely on the music and performance.
I recently produced the single “Into the Cold” for singer-songwriter Justin Dunlop from Hamilton, Ontario. In most cases when I’m producing I spend a lot of time on pre-production, this ensures that studio time is used wisely, sessions are organized and that everything we set out to do gets accomplished while leaving room for inspired bursts of creativity. However this wasn’t the case this time! I was excited to work with him, having played on his album Black Bay Nocturnes (recently nominated for the 2015 Hamilton Music Awards). The day we recorded the song was my first time hearing it. We spent about half an hour playing it through on the piano and molding the arrangement. Because I know Justin’s style I knew what kind of contributions I could make that would be fitting for his music. Within a few hours we had recorded the whole song, bed tracks, overdubs, vocals, everything. Justin being a roots musician, it was more important to keep the creative vibe alive, rather than focus on capturing perfect performances. Knowing this we were able to achieve a “live off the floor” feel with nuanced performances and interaction. I try to bring this approach to the pop productions I do as well. The minute you’re stuck on trying to play a part 100% perfect, or trying to make everything fit to a formula or grid the music starts to become stale and lifeless.
PLM: What makes you want to work with an artist as a their producer?
AK: Some producers might look to work with artists within a certain musical style. You have pop producers, and RnB producers, or folk producers. Having a background as a professional in a variety of music genres, that doesn’t so much concern me as I work in both the acoustic and electronic worlds. The difference between projects is what makes it exciting! Having the flexibility to produce a rock album one week, then vocal jazz the next. I’m more concerned about finding an artist who has that spark. To achieve my best work as a producer, I have to find something about the artist I can invest in, I have to develop a connection with them. If I think my skills can contribute to helping them create the music they hear in their head then to me that’s a perfect fit.
PLM: Who are some of your music influences, and how have they influenced you?
AK: My influences are all over the map. I’m extremely influenced by some of jazz greats like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Gary Burton, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and many others. As far as arrangers I’ve been really inspired by the works of Gene Puerling, Mervyn Warren, Jorge Calandrelli, Jerry Hey and Robert Farnon to name a few. My upbringing of classic rock, blues and classical music has definitely had an impact on me, showing me the similarities between what might be considered opposing musical styles. I’m very influenced by the music of the 70s, artist like Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Queen, Steely Dan… they embody what I believe to be real people making real music, and doing it live. I have so much respect for that and it’s encouraged me to become a better and more consistent performer. More modern artist like Mute Math, Muse, Umphrey’s McGee, Snarky Puppy, Sigur Rós, Beck, Vulfpeck and Mike Snow have really made an impression on me as groups who are evolving unique sounds and using the recording studio as a creative tool.
PLM: As a musician, do you have a personal music style that you prefer to play?
AK: My musical style is in a constant state of progression. Starting out with rock’n roll and classical music that soon evolved into jazz and blues. Soon after it was funk and classic soul. Then it was more fusion and avant-garde, which lead to playing world-inspired music. Instrumentally I’m trying to find a way to bring all these elements into pop music. About 6 years ago I developed a strong passion for a cappella singing, specifically barbershop music. That then grew to a love for close-harmony jazz singing, which is where I’m at today.
PLM: What albums have you released as an artist? Can you tell me about the style and creative influences that you incorporated into each one?
AK: My first release was “Dragon Suite” (2013), a concept album of piano and violin duets that I co-wrote and performed with distinguished violinist Aline Homzy. We collaborate under the name Homzy/Kesler Duo. We were very influenced by the music of the fusion group Mahavishnu Orchestra at the time, as well as twentieth century classical composers. We started writing music together one day and realized that we had unbelievable artistic chemistry. The music is chamber jazz, and most of the movements are through-composed, meaning they don’t follow a particular song form. While extremely difficult and daunting music, our goal was to tell a story and have it be received as if it were a soundtrack for a film. We won awards and nominations for the record and it has received high praise from musicians and non-musicians alike.
My second release was with my instrumental fusion band SOMA (2014). I co-wrote and produced the record and it features some of Canada’s best young talent. We were very influenced by groups like Void, Snarky Puppy and Yellowjackets. The style features catchy melodies with really innovative harmony over funky grooves. This record really showcases our musical virtuosity as players.
My third release was the “Diamonds” EP with my indie-pop band Holy Oker (2014) that I formed with Andrew Mullin and Greg Bevis. We locked ourselves in the studio for a week during a particularly harsh Canadian winter and the album is the end result. Although the idea for the record was to create something unique, we also wanted it to be pop friendly and accessible. We decided to focus on keeping the music relatively simple, but relying on crafting new sounds and studio effects to add the vibe and feel for the record. Basically allowing the production to be the major creative force rather than the music. Upon its release it got great reviews, achieved major play on Canadian radio, and the music video for the single “Diamonds” was featured on MuchMusic.
My most recent release was with my a cappella jazz group Accent titled “Here We Are” (2015). We are six guys from five different countries that collaborate over the Internet. This has proven to be a very unique way to make an album. Some projects have required some long-distance collaboration but this album takes it to the extreme. We have developed a very unique style as a group, singing close-harmony jazz and taking popular songs and arranging them in our trademark fashion. Our influences come from other vocal groups such as the Hi-Los, The Singers Unlimited, The Real Group and Take 6. Our goal as a group is to continue the narrative of vocal jazz and take it somewhere new and exciting.
PLM: Has any of your work been used for commercial projects?
AK: My compositions and productions have been featured on Internet ads for IBM, Nokia and 7UP! I co-wrote and produced the soundtrack for a featured visual piece by Montréal based FILLER magazine. My a cappella arrangements have been commissioned by Google and I frequently collaborate with famous photographer Von Wong, with our video “Nikon Symphony” going viral in 2013. My work is also heard on various radio station IDs throughout North America. I’ve produced the sound design for both live action and animated short films in collaboration with Five Knights Productions. I have also done work for music production houses such as ELIAS Music Library, Vapor Music and STRZ Enterprises.
PLM: For someone so young you’ve won and been and nominated for an impressive amount of awards, can you tell me about them?
AK: I won a lot of awards during my time at Humber College. I kept very involved musically both in and out of school and was recognized for my contributions and achievements on the stage and in the studio. The international awards and nominations for my album “Dragon Suite” came as quite a surprise to be honest. Aline and I were both extremely proud of the music we had created, as it really was technically demanding and extremely complex. To be recognized for that hard work in a musical style that’s not even close to being mainstream is quite humbling. In 2011 I wrote and produced a video-jingle for Nokia that won a creative award. For me it was a fun excuse to try a cappella jazz in a modern project just as they used to do back in the 60s. The Nokia N8 Producer award I won resulted in a trip on a zero-gravity plane at the Kennedy Space Center (dubbed the “vomit comet”). That was by far the most exciting thing I’ve ever done!
PLM: What do you think separates you from other musicians?
AK: Part of what makes me unique is my versatility and experience. I don’t think it is common to find someone who plays a lot of instruments proficiently, writes, arranges and engineers music. I think an even bigger reason why I stand out is my personality. I’m someone who above all, wants to have fun and be creative. It’s not about proving myself or saying my piece, and when you’re brought onto a project it should be your goal to lift up everyone around you. I like to work in an environment of respect, that way everyone can be free to truly express themselves and their ideas. Although I bring a lot to the table musically, I think most people have chosen to work with me based on who I am as a person.
PLM: What are your plans for the future?
AK: I’ve just moved to LA and have been working on establishing relationships with fellow musicians, engineers, producers and recording studios. My group Accent is in the midst of recording our second album and I’m producing that. We have been invited as a special guest presenter at the renowned EG Conference in Monterey in May. We are planning a tour in Germany for November and looking forward to 2016 we are following up on show and festival opportunities here in the states. I’m heavily involved in the a cappella music scene outside of my work with Accent and will be doing commissioned arrangements for vocals groups all around the world as well as clinics and workshops on arrangement and production. The Homzy/Kesler Duo will be publishing the sheet music for “Dragon Suite” this year and I am producing a new single “The Sixth Day” for release in June. Holy Oker is planning a sophomore album for release in 2016.
I’m currently working with distinguished soul-artist Mario José on his debut record. He’s an incredibly gifted vocalist who has made his reputation singing with some of the country’s best a cappella groups and has been featured on NBC’s “The Sing-Off”. He opened for Pentatonix on their most recent tour and has performed onstage with legends like Michael McDonald. His potential is incredible and we’re looking for the best way to present him and his original music.
I’m still doing collaborations with Von Wong, and will be supplying music and sound design for his future productions for his YouTube channel (over 45,000 subscribers and nearly 5 million video views).
I work in collaboration with labels and music production facilities, most notably the label Chart Attack in producing and developing new artists. In addition I will be spending more time co-writing songs with artists and composing music for corporate and commercial use.
On top of all of this I will continue freelancing as a composer, arranger, performing and engineer. The fun never stops!