An Evening with Kenny Youngar
There’s a lot of questions Kenny Youngar could have answered and those words never would have come to mind. But as usual in interviews, you start a little basic and grow out from there. Leave it to Kenny to start anything “basic” when asked the simple question of “Where did ‘Kenny the Drummer’ begin”?
Laughing, Kenny backed up a bit and took a sip of beer and clarified himself.
“I actually got my first drum set in middle school while living in Paris, France” Youngar decided to explain. “I rarely played even then because my neighbor played and he was good and I was embarrassed to have him hear me sucking so bad.” Youngar finished with a smile and a little less beer.
“It was around this time I was considering joining the military of all things. My dad, a Vietnam vet, really wasn’t too hot on the idea so when I mentioned I wanted a kit my dad was like “where and how much!”” Kenny retold with the excitement his father had at a different career.
When pressed to pinpoint this moment in life as the birth of “Kenny the drummer” he said it wasn’t ever that easy with him.
“If you’re asking me where it all began, I can’t have one answer for that, man!” Kenny laughed. “I’m still learning my first and *only* instrument in drums and while things may have started in a tiny town called Kemptville, Ontario around 16 or 17, I “began” in a lot of places in my career, I suppose.
Sitting back and pointing his beer bottle at me, Kenny continued.
“Up until about 4 years ago I would have said that’s where it all started” said Youngar. But indicating times change and the evolution of ourselves changes how we approach things, Kenny dove in a bit deeper into this revelation.
“Today, I feel like I just scratched the surface and am barely starting. You see, I feel in the last 4-5 years of being in this band (Messer) is when I’ve really learned the most, even more than the 10 years before” Kenny said, putting quite a bit of thought into his own growth as a musician.
“You really have to force yourself out of your comfort zone and try things that are new. No one likes to fail and I’m no different, but you have to be prepared to fail to get better.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Youngar finished his thought a little more quietly with “I’d get discouraged easily I suppose.”
But, what brought on Messer, per se? Can you talk more about the growth of this band? I must admit it seemed like an easy question but with Kenny, nothing is that easy.
“My playing has changed so much,” he started off pulling forward to make sure I understood where he was going while he put his index finger to his temple, illustrating his mindset.
“I think before I was playing from the heart and now I’m playing from the mind. I have definitely learned to tame the emotion in my playing which in turn helped in my rushing or slowing down. I guess just being conscious of “time” and being more convicted in my fills. I have definitely improved in my accuracy on where I hit the heads, as well as improving muscle memory.”
Pushing back again, Kenny continued.
“I think a lot has to do with having outside ears. In this case a producer. Since we teamed up with Chad Gendason it was a whole new level. He’s an amazing producer and really like family now. We have the utmost respect for him as a musician, producer, music director, friend and brother.”
In following up with the impact Gendason had on Kenny he popped back and looked up and said “he forced me out of my comfort zone” coming back around to the very nature Kenny points to in his growth from his mentor.
“I’ve never had anyone really pushing me in new directions. No one breathing down my neck if I didn’t practice or no one to notice if I didn’t get a part right over and over again, no one to really show me things he’s learnt over the years.”
The impact he had on Messer is equally impressive as he credits Gendason for pushing them out of bad habits and rebuilt their processes from the ground up.
By now the evening with Youngar had only began but we’ve already been to Canada, Texas and Paris, France, but how did his own career grow along the way?
Elbows to knees and laughing, Kenny pulled forward to continue.
“Well, that is a longer story. In Canada, I was what we called a “Cellar Dweller”, or a musician that only playing in basements. I had a couple buddies that played drums and we would meet at each other’s houses and jam our favorite covers. We all had rock and roll taste but chose different songs so it was cool to see each other play.
“Anyway, to make this long story longer…. The guy that owned the arcade across the street from school turned it into a new and used music store/arcade. One Friday he told me his band wanted to fire the drummer and that if I could fill in for the Friday, that night, I’d get $100 to help them out. He pleaded with me that I didn’t even need to know the songs. He’ll count me in and just keep the beat. When he would look up I was slowing down, when he would look down I was speeding up and when he raised his guitar neck up we were about to end the song on his down beat. Lol”
All in the name of love, music and rock and roll, Kenny just wanted to jam. But as usually happens in this Canadian rockers’ life, nothing is ever easy and everything has a twist to the story.
“Turns out the drummer they fired was a big ole boy in overalls and tractor grease from problems getting to the show that night. Him and his buddies got a couple of pitchers of beer and sat smack dab in the middle of the front row, not lookin too happy” Kenny said laughing in the memory.
“The guys just vanished somewhere during the 1st of (3) 45 minute sets and the band needed me again and the gig stuck for at least a few more paying shows to keep my interest.”
Thinking back to his first “real” band where he felt a part of something he was creating as well was a band called Boomerang.
“They were a few years older than me and had already made a name for themselves by opening for some national acts like Killer Dwarfs, Lee Aaron and Helix. I was asked to join because their drummer quit after a tour and I just happened to be in the proverbial right place at the right time.
“After that first bar band, things progressed to basically touring from 16-26 with Boomerang, and on and off with several cover bands. The cover circuit was 6 days on, and Sunday you drive to the next bar, 3 45 minute sets and the bar usually gave you accommodations either above the bar or some run down band room that has been thrashed.” Youngar went into details from his early years.
“Anyway, Karaoke killed the rock star and clubs started to cut the production budget down, as well as live music nights because it was cheaper to hire a guy with a Karaoke set up. So, touring started to not make sense when you had 3-4 nights off and only playing weekends. Eventually I got sick of playing covers and took a year off to save up some money and move to the States.”
In the states, Dallas Texas to be specific, Kenny somehow fell into a group that came together as a band called Strangleweed.
“I met Kurt while I was installing Satellites in Dallas,” Youngar began. “He showed me his guitar room and we instantly hit it off. From there we jammed with a few people, but nothing stuck till we met Gary at a strip joint, Gooch through an ad, then came another great friend Travis who brought in Neil in on bass and then Patrick Stark on guitar.
With the birth of Strangleweed into Dallas, Kenny also brought about – The Compound!
“Ah yes… THE Compound!!!” Kenny lit up in order to talk about his home.
“When I first moved there around 2000, the neighborhood was pretty bad. (just south of downtown Dallas) and the landlord knew it would be great someday, but then it was still building up. We could party constantly and jam at all hours of the night. Some days we would jam morning afternoon, before we went to the clubs, then after the bars…” he laughed until he stopped for a moment to remember the times more vividly in his mind.
“We wrote some of the best songs there in Strangelweed. It was such an organic environment we built up that made everything fun”
Before Strangleweed breaking up and going their own way, Kenny recalled perhaps the highlight of the band when opening for STYX in front of 23,000 people.
One certain skillset for Youngar is his marketing skills and always looking out in how to promote the band.
“Stay current, stay focused and always hone your skills. There are so many ways to market yourself now. Try as many as you can and pick the ones that get the most response. Don’t be afraid to fail.” Kenny said with a serious tone.
“Even if you fuck up, learn something from it. It took me years to really be ok with messing up” Kenny said with a bit of disbelief in his tone.
“I didn’t practice as much as I should have for sooo long because I was afraid someone would hear me. If it’s any advice I could give anyone is just keep going, it will get better. Tomorrow is a new day. That’s how you win a game.”
Coming to a “modern day Kenny” we arrive to the point in our conversation where we talk about his current project, Messer. Digging back to make the connection, Kenny went as far back as Strangleweed, 2.0.
“At the time I was done with Strangleweed 2.0, just got off a month long tour with ADEMA, playing in Turning Point. We got nominated for 4 Grammy’s that year then did a tour to Costa Rica for Costa Bazooka, and then we broke up.
“That lead to a band called Sweet Texas Crude and toured Costa Rica again with Rainforest Aid with them. While I was with them I was approached by Javier who wanted to start a band called Shitfaced, seriously. Later we scoped out Dereak and ultimately that lead to Maddox then Donnie rounding out the rhythm section.
“As the story goes he was asking Dimebag Darrel some advice on band names and I think Javier asked him which he preferred Shiftface or Shitfaced and of course Dime loved Shitfaced” Kenny recalled laughing and hoisting a shot glass to Dimebag.
“So that’s how the story goes, but you’d have to ask Javier for all the details on that lol It stuck around for a couple shows until we got some label interest. We knew it was kind of tongue in cheek, but industry people were suggesting we change it. We kicked around several names, but we kept coming back to Messer. Not only is it Dereaks last name, but it’s also German for knife. We agreed it was pretty unique and it stuck.”
Already working on a new record, Kenny took some time to talk about how it’s all coming together.
“Well, we have been working with Nick Allison as our front of house since before the BLS tour in 2012, he is our man on the scene for rehearsals, shows, meetings, a bunch of other stuff. Jonathan Blakemore fell into place soon after we moved into Messatory Studios after meeting him at The Hard Rock Battle of The Bands. He was doing front of house, but in Messer he is our technical guru.
“For a producer we all agreed that from the wind in our sails from Simple Man and Whiskey, working with Chad Gendason was the only choice. We signed on to do another 8 songs with him and to step up our live game as well as our recording game. To do that we found out it takes more than a few weeks.”
When pressed about the extra time it would seem to accomplish this lofty goal, Kenny pulled forward in a rare serious tone and continued.
“Let me put it to you this way. We basically shut out the world for almost 4 years now recording this. Our producer first words were PRACTICE! He told us he wasn’t going to work with a band that didn’t take music seriously. We all thought we did back then, but we had no idea what we were in for. Now I know what “serious” means.”
When pressed on how this changed the sound, Kenny was all too ready to explain.
“Well, definitely a tighter more confident band. As musicians, we have grown exponentially. With that comes self-assurance. The reason some musicians come off as badasses is because they are. They know it, they live it, they sell it and you buy it. You can’t do that if you think you suck.
“Our attitude on this record was we didn’t care how long it took to make or finish it. However long it takes, is how long it takes. We are doing this record ourselves. All ourselves. There is no record label breathing down our neck rushing us. Having that kind of freedom allows you the time to get it right. Sometimes it takes a week, sometimes it takes a month and sometimes it takes years. We all agreed,” as long as it takes.”
Once ready, only more work is there for the band, it would seem. When it comes time to make a list showing a path to success, Kenny has it ready to go.
“A good lawyer is definitely at the top of our list. Management and a publicist are on the radar. We are being selective on shows at the moment so as not to burn our local crowd out, but we want to continue to keep the live chops up. The Breaking Silence tour was good to test all the gear and blow the cobwebs out from not playing out in so long. A video has been the topic lately and have found a company to work with.”
The night was wearing down and the empty shot glasses adding up next to the empty beer bottles in the studio. With only a few questions left to go, we decided to talk about achieving success only to redefine it and chase success all over again.
“I think success can come in a feeling and a state of mind. It doesn’t have to be the bottom line of a bank account or awards on a fireplace mantle. Both as a band and as individuals we have surpassed some of our goals and expectations. I know speaking for myself; I never would have seen me at the level we’re at now 10 years ago. I mean everyone dreams of being a rock star or “making it” but the long road to that point is barely visualized, and that’s where the blood sweat and tears happen. Have I hit it yet?? Let me put it this way, I don’t feel bad “feeling” successful at the moment, because the Kenny 10 years ago or hell even 4 years ago wouldn’t even have the nerve to begin to feel successful.”
Pulling up the last empty shot glass, Kenny put it back down, just a little left behind, and slid it to the middle of the table, took a deep breath and things came full circle this quiet evening.
“Earlier you asked me where “Kenny the drummer” began” Youngar started, now leaning back to make sure he doesn’t miss any of his memories here.
“Looking back “Kenny The Drummer” began almost 4 years ago when we all agreed we are in this to win this. We pushed our egos aside and “WHATEVER it takes” became our motto and that means swallowing pride, missing parties, staying home on the weekends, practicing like the rest of your life depends on it type of stuff. Because it does.
“At times I literally feel like I started drumming back then. I have learned more in the last few years with these guys not playing live than probably all my live years of playing before Messer. We battened down the hatches and got to work. I live near a bar called Lee Harvey’s and there would be several nights I can hear the bands from my practice room, and I’d be like…. Yep, keep practicing you are not going out tonight. Sacrifice.
“Some musicians have a natural ability. Me? I have to fight all the way for some reason. It is getting easier because I’ve never given up.
“That’s the key. Never give up.”