KEN Mode Interview: “If you’re a thinking individual, you’re either laughing or crying”

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ken mode interview

New EP, Nerve, is out now.

Named for Henry Rollins’ infamous ‘Kill Everyone Now’ mentality, Winnipeg’s KEN Mode have been pummeling ears and melting faces with their particular brand of noise rock/post hardcore since the late 90’s. In that time they’ve released six increasingly violent and humourous albums, and a damn fine EP called Nerve. Released towards the end of the last year, it contains what might be our favourite KEN Mode song in the form of ‘The German Businessman’. Combining their irreverent humour and jagged angular riffing, it is a damn near perfect example of how to combine ferocity with hilarity. The are obviously men who don’t talk themselves too seriously, but definitely take their music seriously. Which is quite refreshing when faced with aisles and aisles of po faced bands whose shtick borders parody.

We had a chat with Jesse Matthewson (vocals/guitar/piano) about their efforts to include humour in their music, working with Steve Albini and Kurt Ballou, and Donald Trump.

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Overblown: I saw on your Facebook page that you love Tad. We also love Tad. Did you see the documentary about them, Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears? I found it a very sad experience. What did you think of it?

Jesse Matthewson: Huge TAD fan, and I did see it. Definitely a sad and unfortunate tale, but it was really cool that the doc was made in the end. The drugs part aside, they really were a cursed band when it came to the business side of things, which is such a bummer to see. I have no idea to what extent that film contributed to the re-issue of the first three records on vinyl last year, but either way – I was stoked about that!

O: I also saw that you’re a bit baffled as to why bands are labelling themselves ‘grunge’ again. Why do you think this is happening?

JM: I think it’s just a generational thing. The term was a joke to the bands that were being labelled it in the first place, and the retro version of that scene isn’t in on said joke. It’s probably only a trip to me because I’m old now, and the stuff I grew up listening to is now old people music. I’m sure it happens to everyone when they realise they’re old.

O: ‘The German Businessman’, the opening track on your new EP Nerve, is a personal favourite. Two things in particular tickle me. I like how disappointed the person at the start sounds when he says, “Oh. Hello there.” I also love the lyrics like, “The German businessman is a lovable guy. When he gets his nails done, he gets them galvanised!”. I probably mangled those lyrics. I reckon there’s not enough humour in heavy music.

JM: You got the lyrics right! The German Businessman is a song we actually co-wrote with our friend Garrett Jamieson, a stand up comedian who we’ve toured with a number of times. It was an inside joke that started on a European tour with our friends HARK that became a series of short videos on our Instagram account. When we returned from the tour, I wrote the riffs, formatted the lyrics from a bunch of Garrett’s writing on the subject, and recorded the song! We’ve definitely made a conscious effort to inject humour into our songs for the past few releases. Life is frequently pretty heavy, and the way we see it – if you’re a thinking individual, you’re either laughing or crying. We’d prefer to be seeing the humour in the darkest parts of consciousness if we can.

O: You worked with Steve Albini on your last LP, Success. The record sounds pretty ferocious and raw as a result. Also, it’s pretty good to be able to tick ‘Record with Steve Albini’ off the bucket list. What did you expect before working with him? How did it turn out?

JM: We actually got pretty much exactly what we expected. We’re big fans of a lot of his previous work, which I’m sure comes as no surprise; so we’ve read plenty about his process and prepared accordingly. As fans, we had an inkling of what his sense of humour would be like, and it meshed quite well with ours, so overall it was probably my personal favourite session. Things were fairly relaxed due to our thorough preparation, and we had enough time booked that we never had to fret about the schedule. Definitely a bucket list experience, and I’m so glad we were able to make it happen.

O: Before that you worked with Kurt Ballou of Converge on your fourth LP, Venerable. Can expect another producer of an esteemed reputation on the next album? Any plans in place for the record?

JM: Of course! We’ve had a pretty good lineup for our past 3 records with Ballou, Bayles, and Albini. I have one last producer I’ve always wanted to work with that I’d love to line up for the next record, but I’m going to keep that a secret for now. We’ll see if we pull it off! I don’t want to jinx my plans!

O: Another track on the new EP I love is ‘Absolutely Not’. What inspired that track?

JM: ‘Absolutely Not’ is a stomper that is basically an ode to the toxic and pointless negativity people tend to spew under anonymity. It was originally released on our split 7” with The Atlas Moth that came out in 2015 on INIT records, but we decided to digitally release it in 2016 on the Nerve EP to round out the digital version of the release. It’s a fun song to play.

O: As Canadians, what do you make of the election of Donald Trump in the US?

JM: When this hot garbage fire began it was all very funny, particularly as a Canadian. It got progressively less funny up to the point of him being inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. The whole thing has really filled me with an overwhelming amount of existential dread, yet at the same time…you can’t help but laugh at the fact that THIS is reality. This is such a fucked up black comedy we’re living.

O: What you up to this weekend? Have a good one!

JM: It’s actually my mother’s birthday on Monday, so we’re doing a bit of a birthday dinner on Saturday! Besides that, Thai box sparring, writing music, and eating tasty treats is my M.O. every weekend while I’m at home.

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