Mark Kasprzyk’s path to fame may be uphill, but he doesn’t seem to mind the rocky climb.
Known by his stage name Kazzar, or just Kaz these days, he was an aspiring Olympian before he received his break with the hit single “Pedal to the Medal,” but after record deals fizzled, he formed Redlight King and started fresh, making waves when he secured permission from Neil Young himself to sample “Old Man” on the rock band’s debut album, “Something for the Pain.”
Now promoting his second Redlight record, “Irons in the Fire,” the Canadian musician and drag racing fanatic is on tour and will be stopping at Brews Brothers West on Sunday, Oct. 13. Kaz talked to The Weekender about his journey so far and how to alter your own future.
THE WEEKENDER: You started off practicing judo. How did that transition into music, and as arts, are they related at all?
KAZ: They’re very related to me, but I’ll tell you, I recorded and wrote my first song when I was seven, so I’d always kind of done music, and I professionally started recording songs when I was 16. I was on the National Judo Team for four years, and that was in my 20s, so I always did music. I just didn’t really think I could make a living at it. It was really always about fighting, and I had aspirations to go to the Olympics. I didn’t make the Olympic team because Canada didn’t send a whole team to the Olympics, so after that was finished, the timing of it just worked out. I had been working on demos and I sort of just put it in full gear for a year, and I was able to acquire a record deal in New York and I just transitioned out of fighting into music.
W: What made you choose the name Redlight King and start recording under that?
K: I sort of exhausted myself with the Kazzer stuff in about ’07, and I just wanted a fresh look, a new start, and I had grown up a lot. So my music had changed and the message had changed a bit. Redlight King, the name of it, sort of has a double meaning. It was inspired by my dad’s race car. When I was growing up, he had a race car called the Redlight Bandit – it was a ’57 Barracuda drag car. He called it the Redlight Bandit because he would always get red lights; he’d make to the finals and then lose. So Redlight King, to me, is sort of owning your own mistakes, the king of red lights, as it were, pushing things too far maybe when you shouldn’t. I battled drug abuse and alcoholism, and also just the fact that my music career had come to so many halts and I pushed through those enough times that I feel I earned that name.
W: What inspired the songs on this latest record?
K: I’m constantly inspired by just life in general, life and death in general, and the human condition. I don’t want to write the same song twice, although I have. [Laughs] But I just wanted a more live rock record, something that would translate really well as a four-piece rock band.
W: Where does the title “Irons in the Fire” come from?
K: I like the way it sounds, first of all. I really like the way it rolls off the tongue. It’s an expression that we use coming up. Where I’m from, Hamilton, Ontario, is a steel town, very blue collar townsfolk. There’s a lot of expressions, and one of them is “irons in the fire.” When times are tough and you’re struggling and you don’t want to put everything in one basket, so to speak, we put a lot of irons in the fire and different things so we could get by, we could survive and continue our livelihood. Especially as musicians, sometimes there’s no specific right way to do things, get things done. It’s really about facing adversity. The other thing I like about it is it’s sort of looking forward.
W: What made you choose “Born to Rise” as the latest single? What does that song mean to you?
K: To me, it’s about being able to come from anywhere and be successful. Being successful sometimes means just freedom itself. I think there’s something so simple about being able to live your life. For me, I’ve struggled so much with my own issues or whatever you want to call it, coming up, trying to be a musician, becoming a musician. After two and a half, three record deals and so many small successes and what some people call big successes and big failures, after 10 years, I decided to become a musician. That’s my own perspective, but whatever you do in your life, I think you can relate.
It’s about being able to change your own outcome, your own fate.