FirstBourne – Hold the Torch HighWednesday, 14th August 2019
There’s something magical about seeing musicians blossom in a band and understand their vision to execute to the highest degree possible. Such is the case for Massachusetts band FirstBourne. Originally containing Seven Spires vocalist Adrienne Cowan, they developed a melodic metal/hard rock sound that bridges the gap between neoclassical power metal and catchy, 80’s-oriented arena rock. Melodies, harmonies, hooks, and stunning lead breaks become the focal point – all wrapped up into some seriously addictive tracks.
Their latest album Pick Up the Torch features newest singer Ian Raposa, and the band hasn’t lost any ground in keeping engagement on high. Everything from mid-tempo anthems and speedy affairs to ballads and a brilliant cover of Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s “Rising Force” contains all the power and finesse necessary to bring the band to the masses – just as entertaining when aired on live stages in the Northeast as well as mainland China. We reached out to guitarist Mike Kerr to find out more about his Brazilian upbringing, the lineup changes within the band, the special touring opportunity in China the band received, as well as his concerns regarding global warming, food/water scarcity, and how he would like to contribute to aid the cause on a global scale.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about your personal background and initial first memories surrounding music? At what point did you decide to pick up a guitar, and eventually gravitate towards the metal genre?
Mike Kerr: So I was born on a tiny village in Brazil called Ferruginha, I lived there with my family till I was 5 and then my family moved to a bigger town called Mantenópolis. My father always played acoustic guitar and sang at home, at church and with family and friends so I always had music around me since I was a baby. I think I first attempted learning the acoustic when I was 9 years old. I started playing at church very early but didn’t have a chance to focus on studying guitar until I was 17. I started working around 9 to help feed my family so having a guitar was just a dream. I got into metal I guess when I heard the first metal/rock song in my life! It was Europe and the song “Superstitious”.
Dead Rhetoric: FirstBourne started in 2016 – did the genesis of the group started after witnessing Seven Spires live with vocalist Adrienne Cowan at the first One Epic Night show that the Mike Kerr Group performed at together on the same bill the year before? Did you know the type of direction you wanted to go in, combining influences from melodic/power metal and arena rock – or was it a feeling out, development process?
Kerr: It was always my dream to be in a band that played good rock ‘n’ roll, heavy metal, you name it! I always wanted to be in a killer band! I’m heavily influenced by the music of my childhood. You see I was raised by a Christian family so most of what I listened to was Christian influenced. I’m glad for that because that’s how I found bands such as Stryper and Whitecross back then! I would have their albums on repeat every day on my little Walkman as I was delivering meat from my dad’s meat shop. Yes you are correct that we shared a bill with Seven Spires and thus met Adrienne. The influences from the other band members were also similar in the golden era of hard rock, hair metal and heavy metal. When we started discussing the idea of a band with Adrienne, the direction was pretty easy to agree on. We all loved the idea of mixing metal and arena rock.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the debut album Riot – what were the songwriting and recording sessions like, and were there any obstacles, surprises, or interesting stories that occurred from the initial development of the ideas to the final outcome?
Kerr: On Riot, we worked with a killer producer and friend of mine Jim Oliveira. He does a ton of big names in Brazilian Folk music called sertanejo and has worked for Sony for a long time. We were looking for our identity at the time and Jim did the whole production alone. He had specific ways to dial tones, and pushed us very hard to get the best results. That shows on the record. It’s a nice and clean commercial record. We recorded all the parts to the songs in 4 days. It was 18 to 20 hour days of recording. We had to trust Jim 100% and play the parts even though we didn’t get to hear any of the songs as produced versions. A big challenge for me was to record guitars clean with little sustain, and just one drive. I am used to dialing in my tone very differently but when you work with a producer I think it is so important to find one that you trust and that hopefully they will make the right calls and that is how Riot was recorded. In the process a bit of wine, whiskey and McDonalds were consumed.
We got initial mixes of the songs a month or so later and loved them. A few tweeks here and there and we had final versions of the songs ready to go. It was very satisfying.
Dead Rhetoric: You were able to tour mainland China – what can you tell us regarding this experience, and how did it feel to play internationally this early in the band’s career? What memories stand out from that tour?
Kerr: Everything about China was great! From the warmth from Terry, Jake and everyone at Joyo who got us the shows with Chaser Records to every new fan and friends we made there. The food was fantastic, the other bands were amazing, it was insane. The last show in Zhuhai was the most intense experience ever! After we played for over 2,000 people, we went to our merch table and saw a large group of people who lined up to take pictures with us and with their kids, it was fantastic!!!! We felt like rockstars.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve gone through a couple of lineup changes over the last two years – including the loss of Adrienne Cowan due to her touring/recording activities with numerous international bands. How do you handle these changes, and how were you able to hook up with drummer Joe Bertola and vocalist Ian Raposa?
Kerr: We feel so blessed to have worked with Adrienne and so proud of how well she is doing. She works so hard and deserves every bit of success. When she had to leave it was super easy since we knew Ian Raposa from sharing the stage with him. Ian had volunteered to fill in if needed as he liked the band and its sound. Ian has the range and personality perfect for FirstBourne! We played our first show three weeks after Ian joined the band. We didn’t have to go through an audition process. Ian is also the eldest amongst his siblings so fit the FirstBourne requirement as well. We don’t want to be just a band but we want to be a family. In terms of Joe Bertola, when Chris Dovas (phenomenal drummer) left the band, it was also a no brainer since we have played with Joe for many years on my instrumental band the Mike Kerr Group.
Dead Rhetoric: Pick Up the Torch is the band’s latest album – which combines re-recordings of the older material, newer songs, and a special Yngwie Malmsteen cover. What was the thought process behind the record, why did you decide to re-record the old songs with Ian, and where do you see the development of the songwriting as far as the new material compared to the previous effort?
Kerr: As we started playing with Ian we were getting asked all the time if we had the Riot songs with Ian’s voice on it. We talked to Adrienne about re-recording with Ian and got her blessing. We had also recorded four demos for what would have been our second album with Adrienne, so we decided to add these to the record as well. We had a little more time to work on the pre-production of this record Pick Up the Torch. We worked with another Brazilian producer Jota Vox. We changed some of the song arrangements, re-wrote vocal melodies and basically made all the songs more radio friendly. The album also has “Truth of The Lion”, “My Choices” and of course a cover of Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Rising Force”. We had a little more time to record this album though Joe recorded all the drum parts in two days. We were very very excited with the final recordings. We shared them Adrienne and she loved the new record.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the cover art to Pick Up the Torch? Do you believe that album art still plays an important role in telling the visual story of what the listeners can expect when they put on the album?
Kerr: “The Truth of The Lion” was the first song I had a chance to work with Adrienne Cowan, it was the title track of my instrumental featuring Adrienne Cowan as a special guest. This song won an award as IPMA’s best Rock Song of The Year. The lion has a strong symbolism to strength, fearlessness and leadership. We relate to this in a lot of ways. There is also the Christian side of the lion that I relate to it myself.
Dead Rhetoric: As a guitarist, what do you hope to get across to the listener? Do you find that you have to balance your technical prowess and obvious skill sets with trying to get across ideas in a streamlined manner to be catchy for a broader audience base?
Kerr: There is always a balance between technicality and appealing to a broader audience base. This balance definitely changes from song to song. I want to touch the listener’s heart, I want to be aggressive and gentle at the same time. I want to be bluesy yet shreddy. When Doug Aldrich, John Sykes or Gary Moore bend a note, or hang on a note with a good vibrato it gives me goose bumps, if I can ever do that to someone it’s a win right there.
Dead Rhetoric: I’ve seen the band perform live for diverse audiences – opening for thrash/death artists just as much for more melodic/power-oriented bands. What do you believe FirstBourne offers live, and what have been some of your favorite shows to date?
Kerr: We have definitely played all kinds of shows! From acoustic to Death Metal gigs! I love it all and we hate saying no to gigs! I think every gig is great but I must tell you, we bring an enormous amount of energy to every gig whether it is at a local bar or at a theater. We love to perform. We have been working hard on our stage show to get the audience involved with our show in every way possible. We want to give the audience the experience of 80’s arena rock where people sing along, lit up lighters and have a great time.
We have had the pleasure for opening up for some of the bands we grew up listening to. We opened for Stryper at Tupelo Derry NH, Gramercy NY,NY, Paramount Huntington , NY, The Chance Poughkeepsie NY and Jergels, Warrendale PA. These shows were special as I have been a fan of Stryper since I was a kid. We have also opened for Michael Sweet, Lynch Mob, Dave Ellefson, Bumblefoot, and Last In Line! So many amazing shows! Finally, we toured China back in 2016 and it was a different kind of crazy! We loved it.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the biggest challenges that FirstBourne faces trying to ascend up the ranks and building the brand of the band?
Kerr: This industry is extremely difficult! So many great bands trying to all do the same thing. We are hunting for distribution, record labels, promoters, booking agents etc. so that we can get the brand of the band established.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the personalities with FirstBourne as band members – and what do you think each member brings to the table to keep things fresh and interesting?
Kerr: I will start with myself. I’m a pain in the butt (laughs) I’m serious! But I mean well, to me it’s all about the music and fun! In this order of music first then fun! We have to kill it every night.
Ven Thangaraj is the man of mystery in this band and the best speaker of the band (laughs). Ven is always ready to say yes and he will do what it takes to get things done. He is always smiling and saying: Come on guys!
Ian Raposa is the best looking for sure!! That’s what’s I hear from all the dudes in the crowd (laughs) now seriously! It is so great to have Ian in the band! Here is what happens all the time: Ven cuts Ian off within a few works of a sentence with a “yeah yeah yeah yeah” and Ian turns red. It’s a fun time.
Joe Bertola…. he is the most laid back in the band, Joe wants to enjoy the flames of glory of being a rock star! (laughs) He is going to kill me for saying this but it’s true! I think he is the ultimate rock star of this band.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the heavy metal/hard rock scene in New England as well as on an international scale?
Kerr: I think in general there is not enough of it. The scene was so much bigger in the 80’s, went down in the 90’s and its coming full circle making a comeback but we need more bands, fans and more support from venue, promoters, sponsors! We need more Rock!
Dead Rhetoric: What concerns you most about the world that we live in today? If you had the opportunity to work on one or two specific areas that you think the leaders of the world need to solve, what areas would they be?
Kerr: This is a tough question to answer. As the population keeps growing, it is adding a lot of strain to the planet. From global warming, to food and water scarcity to new technologies etc. it is tough to pick battles. Personally, I would help people in Africa, Panama and other parts of the world that need basic things like food, health and education. Me and my wife would love to get involved in missionary work, maybe I can teach a little guitar to poorer countries.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year developing for FirstBourne in terms of shows, tours, outside activities?
Kerr: There are lots of plans as always! We already have six songs written for the new record and it’s going to be more hard rock then metal or neoclassical. We do love bands like Journey, Stryper, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Maiden, Whitesnake so it will be a little more that and less Malmsteen-ish. We are working on a European tour and some other big shows that are in the pipeline. All I can say is that FirstBourne will be doing bigger and better things soon.