Pop Parsha: The Voice's Todd Kessler—The Man Without a Mane

I was recently asked by a congregant about what happens when the Torah ends (which it will next week with the final Parsha, V’zot HaBracha). I told him that we restart it all over again, and that the Torah is continuous like your favorite record. And like a record, we do not just listen to it once; we play it again to hear the words we connect with. We listen for new meaning and sounds, and we praise the writers (or in the case of the Torah, God) for their masterpiece.
Twelve years ago I sat in Room One of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house in Champaign/Urbana, after just signing my pledge bid. I was there to meet some of my new fraternity brothers. In the room with me were the Kesslers, identical twins from Northbrook, Illinois. These two pledge brothers, Todd and Adam, became good friends of mine. Adam is now my brother-in-law (I set him up with my wife’s sister), which makes Todd and I each an uncle to the same little one year old, Eli. Eli will grow up with one uncle as a rocker and the other as a shuckler.
Todd was always driven to become a musician. He played all the time at the local Canopy Club perfecting his craft. We all knew Todd had talent, and we often imagined him on a big stage rocking out. He has finally gotten his chance. Todd has recently taken his talents to NBC’s The Voice and joined Team CeeLo (@TeeamCeeLo) on his quest to expand his fan base, and ultimately win the third season of the show. I caught up with Todd (wasn’t too difficult) to hear his story and learn why the Minnesota community should watch out for Todd Kessler and Team CeeLo!


Pop Parsha: How long have you been playing music? Where did you get your start?
Todd Kessler: I’ve been singing since I was a little kid and began to play trumpet at 9 year old.  At 12 I switched to the guitar and knew immediately that I had found my instrument.  After having a band in High School and studying music in college, I began playing Open Mic nights in Chicago upon my graduation in 2005.  From there I began to gain a following, started playing bars, and now I’m playing some of the best venues in town.
PP: Who are some of your musical influences?
TK: My all-time favorite Singer/Songwriter is Paul Simon with Glen Hansard a close second. But I also love David Gray, Ryan Adams, Coldplay and Mumford and Sons.
PP: What was The Voice Experience like?
TK: My experience on The Voice was life altering.  Being in the company of so many talented singers and getting the chance to sing for the coaches was mind boggling.  For the Blind Auditions I was in Los Angeles for three weeks, which is a long time considering it all boiled down to a 90 second performance, so with all that free time it was similar to being at camp.  I made life-long friends from all over the country and the whole experience was extremely humbling.
PP: You chose “Maggie May,” by Rod Stewart for your audition. Why?
TK: Song choice is a huge decision going in to the Blind Auditions.  If you’ve seen the show you know that can be the sole reason that the coaches don’t turn their chairs. So going in to it I knew I had to make a statement.  In choosing a classic song like “Maggie Mae,” I knew that as soon as the coaches heard the first few notes they would know what song it was, and that they would have an immediate emotional response. Yet I also knew that I had to make it my own.  The original vocals by Rod Stewart is so recognizable because his voice is so unique, with his raspy combination of Blues and Classic R&B. I decided that my clean tone would be exactly the change the song needed to make it mine.   Maggie Mae is one of my all-time favorite songs but I had never had the chance to perform it, so when given the opportunity I had to jump.
PP: What was your family’s reaction?
TK: I actually did not tell my family that I auditioned for the show until I got the call that I was going to L.A., so suffice it to say they were shocked and very excited.  When I got through the Blind Auditions and made it on to Team Ceelo I called my parents immediately. When I told my Mom she almost started hyperventilating!  My entire family and all of my friends have been so supportive of my career from the beginning and I think this has made them even more proud.
PP: Are you excited to be representing team Ceelo? How will his style help yours?
TK: I am so happy to be representing Team Ceelo!  Our team is by far the most diverse this year and getting to know the rest of the team has been such a blessing.  Ceelo’s style is very different from my own but going in to this whole process I wanted to be challenged, and he gave me that challenge in the Battle Round as you’ll see.  Ceelo heard something in my voice that I had never heard so getting to hear myself from his ears was a very eye opening experience.
PP: You’re coined “The Man Without a Mane,” having had dreadlocks for 12 years. Tell us that story.
TK: In 1994 I saw the music video for “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, with his Dreadlocks waving every which way, and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to have hair like that one day’.  They were so fascinating to me and something just told me dreadlocks were in my future.  Growing dreads is a very long drawn out process so you really need to have the long game in mind when you start, but the first few years when they were just getting started really taught me patience, and that if you know what you want you need to go for it.  After having them for a while they become not only part of your image, but they become how other people see you and recognize you.  I was no longer Todd Kessler, the Singer/Songwriter, but Todd Kessler, the guy with dreads.  I loved having dreadlocks and wouldn’t take back a single day with them but I knew it was time to cut them after I finished my last album, “Sea Fever,” with my band, The New Folk, a process that took over 2 years to complete.  Also, I was turning 30 and had the same hair style from when I was 18. I needed a change.
PP: What’s next for Todd Kessler and his music?
TK: After my run on The Voice is complete, my band and I are hoping to go on tour to support our new album.
PP: Where can your fans find your music?
All of my recording can be found on iTunes but you call check out my Facebook page, my band’s website, and my YouTube channel.  I’m also on Twitter @toddkessler.
Big thank you to Todd Kessler for taking the time to answer my questions. We will be rooting for you over here in Twin Cities and watching right after Simchat Torah ends.
And Let Us Say…Amen.