One of Ontario’s most successful musical exports, Mark “Kaz” Kasprzyk, is no stranger to comebacks. With over two decades spent slugging it out in trenches, refining, reinventing and meticulously tuning his craft, the Los Angeles transplant now arrives with In Our Blood — the latest full-length outing released through his riff-powered alter ego, Redlight King.
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Kaz was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario — a hardened Canadian steel town tucked away at the far western corner of Lake Ontario. His father taught vocational school and his mother was a registered nurse. “I grew up in that era where everything was tough,” Kaz explains. “You had to work hard to get by, people argued and screamed and swearing was the thing. Ha ha. It was blue-collar as hell!” As young men in clustered cities are wont to do, fighting was very much a part of Hamilton’s culture and Kaz proved himself uncommonly gifted in that regard. So much so that he went on to study judo at an early age, ultimately winning medals for Canada in both the Pan American games and the Commonwealth games. He spent four years on the national team and would have had a shot at making the 2000 Olympics but Canada didn’t send any fighters in his weight class.
Beyond his enduring commitment to sport, in his late teens, Kaz channelled his energies into his first band, a scrappy rap outfit called The Raccoons. While the Raccoons failed to survive, the band served as a launchpad for his career and songwriting. Synthesizing his adrenalized hip hop stylings with traditional hard rock, he formed Kazzer in the late-nineties, backed by a core of versatile musicians from Hamilton’s burgeoning local scene. Kazzer fused the arresting rap brilliance of bands like A Tribe Called Quest and Lords of the Underground with the grimy, bare-knuckled menace of AC/DC. He released a highly-acclaimed debut (Go For Broke) and scored a nomination at Canada’s 2004 Juno Awards for New Artist of the Year.
With a steadily-growing appetite for giving voice to his modern rock inspirations, Kaz formed Redlight King in 2008. The name refers to two of his great passions — cars and drag racing, which he explains, are family traditions. “The name ‘Redlight King’ comes from my dad’s first race car,” he says. “His first real drag car was called the Redlight Bandit. I tinkered with that name at first but felt like Redlight King had more of a ring to it.”
With longtime friend and collaborator Julian Tomarin, Kaz has built Redlight King into a stridently modern rock band whose music has spent considerable time on the Billboard charts, including multiple top-ten appearances. It was “Old Man” — his re-imagination of the enduring Neil Young classic, where he tells a story about his own father while sampling the original — that catapulted him onto the international scene. “Old Man” propelled their debut into the number 3 slot on Billboard’s Heatseeker chart and paved the way for “Bullet In My Hand,” which peaked at number 3 on the US Mainstream chart. Redlight King would follow Something For The Pain with Irons In The Fire (2013), Helldiver EP (2015) and Moonshine (2020), both of which expanded the band’s vision, pushing the sound deep into the heart of mainstream hard rock.
Furthering that sonic evolution, In Our Blood sees Redlight King notch soaring new highs with a clutch of revved-up, guitar-powered bangers. Kaz explains, “I wanted fast, heavy rock songs and I wanted it to seamlessly translate to the live show, with a full rock band — something that was well-recorded but nothing too slick or overproduced.” Mission accomplished. In Our Blood opens with the taut double-barreled swagger of “Cold Killer,” showcasing the band’s serious groove rock credentials. There’s a renewed creative spark evident in the boogie-drenched intensity of tracks like “Raise The Dead,” and “Do You Wanna Live,” one of the album’s most introspective and catchiest tracks.
What separates In Our Blood from so much of mainstream rock today is its unguarded sense of optimism. These are challenging, complex themes, yet running through all eleven tracks is a defiant undercurrent of hope. “I feel like my music has always been about telling people’s stories and saying what’s really going on from the grassroots perspective, with a bit of hope in the message,” he says. It comes across loudly in the title track, an absolute haymaker with mighty hooks and a towering chorus. Elsewhere, on lyrically-poignant cuts like “Paid Off” and “Evil Lies,” Kaz takes aim at political hypocrisy and the erosion of truth in today’s divisive landscape. For a double dose of driving riffs and searing blues rock vibes, “King Again” and “Eye Of A Hurricane,” pair turbocharged tempos with some of the vocalist’s most personal lyrics yet. “Heavy Heart,” written after losing his marriage, is a captivating slice of balladry, rendered in lush melodic textures, and closer “My Execution” considers the perspective of a man making his final steps towards his last moment on earth. Producing nearly all of the tracks himself, Kaz explains that the journey of In Our Blood was more personal and challenging than anything he’d worked on before. “Being the writer and the arranger and having to get my engineering chops to a place where I could trust myself to get a take the way I needed it,” he says. “Being able to put it down and walk away from it quickly. I’m used to running my ideas by lots of people and having another producer and mixer in the room.
The first single “In Our Blood” and its accompanying video have already drawn lusty praise and there’s much more to come. Certainly, there will be more tours, television appearances and down the road, more albums. But Kaz doesn’t want to plan too far into the future. “I’ll tell you this. I don’t know and it’s OK to not know. I spent a lot of years projecting that exact question and it’s set me up for nothing but heartbreak. So I refuse to say that I want to be here or there, but I know that if I’m breathing, I’m making music.”
Mark Kasprzyk, Julian Tomarin, Brian Weever, Mark Goodwin