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Makin Waves with Kanak: 'Music Was My Escape'


By Bob Makin

originally published: 10/12/2023

Makin Waves with Kanak:

Nov. 4 at Crossroads in Garwood, Jersey Shore-based Kanak will celebrate the release of an EP produced and engineered by the legendary Ed Stasium (The Ramones, The Smithereens, The Replacements). Pictured from left to right are guitarist Johnny Rao, guitarist Peter Wood, bassist Joe Rowley, singer-songwriter-guitarist Tom Kanach and drummer Steve Brown. PHOTO BY PETE SANTIAGO

Tom Kanach has led three great bands throughout a near 40-year local music career: Mischief, the Makin Waves Band of the Year Award-winning Well of Souls, and now Kanak.

Formerly Tom Kanach Band, the singer-songwriter-guitarist’s bandmates – bassist Joe Rowley, drummer Steve Brown and guitarists Johnny Rao and Peter Wood – elected to change the name of the band for the release of Kanak’s forthcoming EP. The highly anticipated collection was produced and engineered, as well as executive produced by two Central Jersey legends.

Green Brook-raised Ed Stasium produced and engineered the EP in his Poway, Calif. studio. Stasium got his start as a staff engineer at Venture Sounds Studios in Somerville, which was owned by Tony Bongiovi (Jon Bon’s cousin) and Tony Camillo, producer of Gladys Knight & the Pips. One of Ed’s first assignments was to record the classic “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

He went on to become an architect of punk and new wave recordings as the engineer of several albums by The Ramones and Talking Heads. His credits also include Mick Jagger, Jeff Healey, Joan Jett, Marshall Crenshaw, Living Colour, Soul Asylum, The Smithereens, Motorhead, Biohazard, The Reverend Horton Heat, Shirley Caesar, Misfits, The Replacements, and many more.



 
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The executive producer of Kanak’s forthcoming EP is their longtime friend Matt Pinfield, who first met Tom while spinning at the Melody Bar in New Brunswick in the late 1980s. Prior that gig, the East Brunswick-raised DJ served as the founding host of “Overnight Sensations,” a longtime chronicle of the New Brunswick music scene on WRSU 88.7-FM, the station of Rutgers University, Matt’s alma mater. He then went on to become music director of the pioneering alternative rock station WHTG 106.3-FM, as well as host of MTV’s “120 Minutes,” a program also dedicated to alt-rock.

Matt has performed several times with Kanak and is expected to do so again when the band celebrates the EP’s release on Nov. 4 at Crossroads in Garwood. On behalf of his talented bandmates, Tom, whose also won Makin Waves Awards for Male Artist of the Year and Song of the Year, spoke with me about all they have going on into early 2024, when an immediate follow-up LP is expected. Enjoy the following interview with Kanak, the Makin Waves Artist of the Month for October.  

What’s your favorite Ed Stasium recording?

That is a tough one. I love the Ramones records he produced or engineered, but my favorite is ‘The Smithereens11’ record.

 

How did it come to be that Ed produced your next album and why?

Ed produced an album that Johnny Rao did some time ago and suggested Ed. And it made sense because Ed is a guitar-band, rock ‘n’ roll guy who views his role as another member of the band. Johnny got Ed to listen to our songs, and Ed wanted to be involved.



 
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Did Ed record and mix the album too?

Ed engineered and produced the record, but we had Kurt Reill (House of Vibes, The Grip Weeds) mix it. We were originally going to mix it ourselves, but we needed someone to referee and make decisions. We wasted lots of time debating minutiae (laughs) so we determined that we needed a grownup. And besides Kurt is amazing whether mixing or producing, check out anything by The Grip Weeds or the latest Anderson Council release and you will hear what I mean. 

Makin Waves with Kanak:

Kanak is pictured enjoying lunch with legendary Jersey-bred producer-engineer Ed Stasium in his California studio. Stasium’s credits include The Ramones, The Smithereens, The Misfits, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Talking Heads, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, The Pretenders and much more.  PHOTO BY PETER WOOD

 

What was the best part of working with Ed?

The band usually records ad hoc, meaning we put down tracks when we have availability and add parts. But with this recording, we locked ourselves in Ed’s studio for two weeks and recorded almost everything together, live. We don’t usually have that luxury. And Ed is the real deal. He knows how to get great sounds and performances out of bands. Plus, it was fun. Ed is a very funny guy, also from New Jersey, so we all had a similar sarcastic sense of humor.

 

What did you learn from Ed, and did it surprise you?

Ed is a perfectionist and demanded my best vocal performances. Usually when it’s just the band, no one ever says, ‘Do better’ about the vocals. We record three or four takes, Joe and I pick the best one, and we move on. Ed demanded my best, which took more than three or four takes. Ed made me work. So that was different (laughs).



 
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Ed is a great storyteller with lots of interesting anecdotes. It was great to get to know him.

 

How many songs are on the album?

We recorded five or six songs at Ed’s, plus a couple of songs at Joe’s last winter. We are leaning toward putting out a five-song EP and using the leftover songs as part of a full-length album to be released in early 2024. We are still debating.

 

Is there a theme or concept to the album?

There isn’t a concept per se, but I notice that many of the songs are about loss and not fitting in. I guess all of us, and maybe creative people in general, feel like outsiders. All of us have been on the fringes our entire lives so I think alienation that comes across.

 

Tell me about the album’s first single, what inspired the song and why, when it will be released, and if there will be a video?

We are not sure which song will be the first single but there will be a video.

 

Will a second single coincide with the release party?

Right now, the timing looks like a single with a video right around the release time, then second single and a video a few weeks later, and so on.

 

What do you like about Crossroads that made you want to have your record release party there rather than at your native Jersey Shore?

We love Crossroads and wanted to do something there. The staff there is excellent, and we really love the room. I am sure we will do something next time in Asbury.

 

What do you like most about each of the opening acts?

I love the Grip Weeds. They’re are a band I wish I was in (laughs). They are great musicians who play the style of music that I love. Dogpile on the Rabbit are great guys with a cool new record out. And Sponge Worthy are a great alternative cover band that I am excited to see.

Makin Waves with Kanak:

Legendary Jersey-bred DJ Matt Pinfield is the executive producer of Kanak’s forthcoming EP. Having played with the band several times, he may share the stage with them again at their EP release party on Nov. 4 at Crossroads in Garwood. PHOTO BY PETE SANTIAGO



 
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What role will Matt Pinfield play in the record release party?

Matt has been a huge part of this recording. Every step of the way, he has listened and given us feedback, which is invaluable because the band plays the song as their parts and sometimes get too close to be objective. Matt is the executive producer on the record. Matt is going to be at the Nov. 4 show and may do some songs with us.

 

How and why does your manager Pete Santiago strengthen your relationship with Matt?

Pete and Matt have been close friends for a long time. They help each other, so Pete being involved has the additional benefit of Matt willing to listen.

 

How and when did you connect with Pete to be your manager?

I did not know Pete, but he came to a couple of shows early on. I think Loretta Windas dragged him out. And the second time he saw us, he asked, ‘Why aren’t you famous?’ He felt like we had fallen through the cracks somehow, and he wanted to get involved to help us get our music in front of more people. We are good at music stuff but not good at business stuff, so thank God for Pete.

Since the last time Makin Waves interviewed you in the Summer of ’21, you have gotten remarried and had a baby. How’s family life, and what impact has it had on your music?

Well, I am very happy but exhausted. Our daughter, Kalina, is feisty and determined. Add in the fact that because she does not want to miss a thing and fights to stay awake, and you can understand that we are not getting a lot of sleep.

 

Do any of your older kids play music?

My four older kids all love music and dabble a little in singing or playing. I never pushed them to be musicians because I thought it made sense to let them be who they were going to be.

I did covertly try and influence their musical tastes. When they were small, I got a bootleg DVD of the old Beatles Saturday morning cartoons and played that for them all the time, thinking it would give them a solid music base (laughs). As adults, we got to shows together and discuss music. I always ask their opinions on my latest songs. I have been very lucky to have great human beings as children. I am very proud.

Who and/or what made you want to make music, why and when?

When I was little, I was surrounded by music. My Dad was in a doo-wop group, and my Mom sang in a choir. But the reason that music matters to me is because it was my escape. Then I discovered The Beatles, and that was it.

 

What is the greatest musical common ground among the members of Kanak and why?

We all grew up listening to early guitar-based rock, and then, as we got older and became disenfranchised, we all separately gravitated toward punk. We all love well-written power-pop songs with an edge. Now, we don’t always agree on what is well-written (laughs).



 
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Another thing that has changed since our last chat is the name of the band, which previously was Tom Kanach Band. What made you want to change the name of the band to Kanak and why?

Originally, some of my friends were helping me out to perform my songs live and because it was me and my songs, we played under my name. Then as things developed, we truly became a band. I didn’t feel comfortable calling it ‘Tom Kanach.’ Because we had already played as ‘Tom Kanach,’ the band voted to add the word ‘Band’ after my name, which I hated. I asked that we come up with the straight band name. They wanted to call it ‘Kanach’ but because no one ever pronounces my last name correctly, they decided to spell it phonetically and call it ‘Kanak,’ mostly because we like palindromes.

 

What do you like most about each member of Kanak and why?

I am very fortunate to get to play with guys who are great musicians. We all have different yet compatible senses of humor. It takes a lot of effort to make music with a bunch of opinionated, professional musicians, so it helps to be able to laugh.

.Joe Rowley, the bass player, has the quirkiest sense of humor of anyone that I know. After years of working together, I still don’t know what he’s thinking. But he plays and writes bass parts the way that I hear them in my head.

Pete Wood is a true rock ’n’ roll guitarist. On any song that he plays on, whether it’s a rhythm part or a lead, if you isolate his guitar, he always plays something that wows you. He comes up with parts that I would never think of yet are perfect and immediately necessary.

Johnny Rao is a legendary guitarist. He is Keith Richards to Pete’s Mick Taylor. I used to think I could play guitar solos, but after hearing Johnny, I realized that I was wrong. He is that good. He also is very detail oriented, which makes the songs better.

I have known Steve Brown the longest although this is the first band that we have ever been in together. Steve is a great drummer. We fight over arrangements and parts every day, but his opinions are valid and even sometimes good (laughs). And as Ed Stasium pointed out, he has perfect timing, which is rare.

 

When and where else will Kanak be playing into the New Year?

After we release this EP, we go back into the studio to start work on the full record. We will do some shows to keep sharp but will ramp things up in February or March to support the full album.

 

Bob Makin has produced Makin Waves since 1988. Follow Makin Waves on Facebook and contact Bob at makinwaves64@yahoo.com


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