Todd Kessler is a Chicago-based indie folk-pop performer. His pure, slightly country, voice has a soulful quality that delights his fans as a solo act or with his band Todd Kessler and the New Folk. Todd recently appeared on NBC’s The Voice, chosen for Cee Lo’s team, and although he was eliminated in last week’s battle round, Todd’s appearance on The Voice can only help his burgeoning music career. His band, Todd Kessler and the New Folk released a new album, Sea Fever on CD Baby in July.
I’ve known Todd for several years, so when I asked him if he would share his thoughts about his experiences on The Voice, he agreed to sit down for an interview.
Great talking to you Todd. So, how are things going?
Doing really well. Yeah, can’t complain. It’s been kind of a whirlwind recently. But all good things, so I’m doing well.
So tell me how you got involved in The Voice.
So after the first season wrapped I got two calls from two separate friends saying they watched this new show called The Voice, and that they really think I should try out. I didn’t watch the show. Was not even really aware of the show, but caught a couple of reruns and thought, hey, you know, this is actually kind of cool. So I went ahead and tried out for season two. You know, I never wanted to try out for American Idol because I don’t, I just didn’t like the format and it didn’t feel like organic and it didn’t feel like something I wanted to be a part of. But then I saw this show and my initial reaction was this is definitely different. So I went ahead and just signed up for the open call audition for season two. I ended up making it through a couple of call-backs, but then didn’t make the show. But then I started watching weekly, and fell in love with the show even more. So I went ahead and tried out again for season three. Again, I went through the open call auditions at McCormick Place [in Chicago]. I waited in line for like four or five hours. Made it through the first audition. Made it through the second audition. Got the call to go to LA for the final call-back. And then the rest is history.
You’ve always struck me as kind of a singer/songwriter, folk kind of a guy—an acoustic music kind of a guy. And that was really an interesting take you do on the Rod Stewart song “Maggie May” on one of your The Voice appearances. You know, it was like you expect the kind of gravely voice ala Rod Stewart, but your voice is quite different—clear and country-ish voice. So, why tackle an iconic rock song like “Maggie May?”
Well, I wanted to, I definitely wanted to challenge myself. And doing “Maggie May” was kind of a double challenge because, for one, it’s a classic song. So as soon as the coaches hear those first few notes, they’re going to already have a preconceived notion of what they’re expecting, and what they want to hear. So in that regard it’s a challenge because you want to be different from the original, because it’s not a karaoke show, and also because the original is so unique and Rod Stewart’s voice is just so recognizable. My voice is just very clean. That was going to be just another challenge and just a way to make it completely my own.
So you want to make an impression on the coaches. You want to show them that you can tackle the classic songs and do that kind of thing, but still make it unique to you.
Tell me about the process. Once you got the call and you went to LA, when did all that happen?
So the blind auditions were in June. I was in LA for most of the month of June. And then the battle rounds were a few weeks later, like the second half of July, first week of August.
So you had to actually sit on the results for August, and not tell anyone. I can’t imagine keeping such a big secret! How hard was that to do?
It was definitely difficult. I wanted to share all my experiences with everyone around me. Because I was gone for so much of the summer and everyone was like, “Where were you? What were you doing?” I had to cancel gigs, and I had to be like really cryptic. My go-to line was, “I’m working on a special project in LA. That’s all I have to say.” And it was hard. It was kind of fun at the same time. It’s kind of fun to have a secret like that because you know once it’s out it’s going to be all good things. It was kind of difficult though this summer because not only was I keeping that in, my wife and I were just pregnant and weren’t able to talk about it yet. So it was just like all those things happened together and then it all kind of came out at once.