The most Canadian rock band ever just might employ a bunch of guys currently living in the United States.
They’re called Toque, and they’ll perform at Surrey’s 2018 Canada Day event, on Sunday, July 1.
The foursome features Todd Kerns on vocals and guitar, Cory Churko on guitar, Brent Fitz on bass and Shane Gaalass on drums.
If you don’t recognize the names, maybe you’ve heard their work on songs by Slash, Kelly Clarkson, Alice Cooper, Shania Twain, the Guess Who, Gene Simmons and other high-profile artists.
As a band, Toque first played in 2012 at a charity event in Winnipeg, where they exclusively rocked Canadian rock-pop covers — songs by Streetheart, Queen City Kids, Kim Mitchell, Loverboy, Saga, Aldo Nova and the like — for a packed house that had the A-list musicians thinking about future gigs together.
Kerns, who plays bass with Slash’s band, first rose to fame in the 1990s as leader of alt-rock outfit Age of Electric.
He recently called the Now-Leader from his home in Las Vegas, where Fitz also lives.
“It’s funny because I’ve known Cory Churko since we were teenagers, because he’s from Moose Jaw and I’m from Saskatchewan as well, and we just sort of kept in touch,” Kerns explained. “He lives in L.A. and plays with Shania and Kelly Clarkson, all that stuff.”
One day, they got driving around Hollywood and had Queen City Kids songs playing on the vehicle’s sound system.
“That’s the weirdest thing to, like, look around at all the cars on the road and think how weird that is — not only playing Canadian music but extremely regional Canadian music, specific to where we grew up,” Kerns recalled. “For me, that’s part of the fun, as Canadians living in the States and having all this deep knowledge of all this Canadian music.”
Years later, Toque has become a “passion project” for Kerns and the others.
“It all started with the idea of, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to record all these songs and turn our American friends — and European, South American friends, Asian, Australian — on to Streetheart and Queen City Kids and Orphan, those super deep cuts,” Kerns said. “And obviously we got into stuff like Loverboy and April Wine and things that translated into a more universal sense. But to me the passion was always about working as a sort of musical ambassador for this music we grew up on and had such passion for. And I’ve seen that happen — people in places like Japan saying, ‘I love that song,’ and they’d have never heard it if we hadn’t played it, you know. That’s a rewarding part of it.”
Toque’s 13-song GIVE’R album includes bang-on covers of “Go For Soda,” “Raise A Little Hell,” “New Girl Now,” “Fantasy” and other beer-drenched hits of Can-Con past. As a promo release notes, the songs are all “inspired by a love of hockey, rock, beers and being Canadian, eh.”
A second album is in the works for Toque, with a “mildly more modern” take on Canadian songs from a certain era, Kerns noted.
“We’ve done some Red Rider and still another Harlequin song,” he said with a laugh. “We could probably exhaust ourselves on just the Prairie music we grew up on, but it does get a little more on the newer side, this next record. We’ve tried to stretch out a little bit, and we’ll all come in with new songs and we try to pick the ones that overlap throughout. I’ll still be fighting for ‘Eyes of a Stranger’ by the Payolas, and someone else will be fighting for a Rough Trade song, you know. There are obvious ones we all kind of agree on and then there are others that just don’t make the list.”
No Triumph song has been recorded or played yet, but that may change.
“Not doing a Triumph song is kind of sacrilege when you’re doing a Canadian tribute thing, but part of this is definitely about turning on people to music they’ve never heard before. So Triumph or Rush or Loverboy, some of the ones that crossed over in any huge way, everybody will know. But that said, we have done a Rush song, a couple of Rush songs, actually, so Triumph still needs to be added, along with a few other things as well. But that’s the fun of it, getting the ideas out there.”
Toque rehearsals don’t require a lot of homework, Kerns says, because everybody in the band has either been playing the songs since a young age, or the music is just “part of their DNA.
“It’s prog rock, and there’s pop, rock — it crosses a lot of streams under the umbrella of Can-rock, and it still has a wide variety of stuff going on,” he said. “In some ways, the only continuity of it all is that it all comes from the same country.
One of the best parts of Toque is the ultra-Canadian band name, which can cause some to verbally trip.
“Hearing all these people try to pronounce it is the best part, right – toke, talk-we, I’ve heard every possible version, and I just kind of giggle,” Kerns said. “Any place other than Canada, that word is just alien, you know.”
Looking ahead, Kerns will be busy again with Slash’s band once summer turns to fall.
“We just finished a record – mixed, mastered and in the can,” he said. “There should be a single out this summer, and then we’ll be on the road as of the fall, and that’ll probably take us into late 2019. Getting everyone’s schedules aligned has been really crazy, but it’s starting to come together. And the new record’s killer, I’m really excited about it.”
As for Age of Electric, 2019 marks that band’s 30th anniversary.
“Although nothing has been planned or structured at all, I would have to deduce we’ll do something based around that idea,” Kerns said. “And I like to try and step up for these causes – that’s the wrong word. It’s an event, more like it, you know. Thirty years later, I’d like to see something at the Commodore. I don’t know, we’ll see. We’ll try to make something happen, for sure.”