Jesse Matthewson Of KEN mode — The Heavy Blog Is Heavy Interview

It’s no secret that we adore KEN mode here at Heavy Blog. Their ferocious brand of in your face, jarring rock hits the spot for hardcore, metal and noise fans alike. While I was at Temples, shortly before catching KEN mode destroy the second stage, I got to chat with Jesse Matthewson, the frontman of the band. Jesse and I shot the shit about their brand new album Success, the band’s appreciation for wit and of course, breakfast (or brunch, it’s debatable).

Hey Jesse. Firstly, I have to ask. Steve Albini. How was it and what was the process of recording Success like? Also, how did you get him to work with you?

How did it come about? I emailed him and said, “will you take my money?” and he said, “yes, I’ll take your money”. So we flew him up to Winnipeg. It was actually the most fun session I’ve ever been part of. It was very relaxed. We did tracking live, shy of the vocals which we did after the fact. The whole thing was very smooth. He obviously is a professional. He’s done over 2,000 records. We did prepare a lot for it. We demo’d all of the songs like four or five times. I did all the vocal demos for each song about three or four times too. We more prepared than we’ve ever been for any other record. As a result it was just easy going in there. We had a lot of fun, ate a lot of great and a lot of really gross food. I did a lot of things you’re not meant to when recording a record. You’re not supposed to eat sugary things or drink coffee when you’re doing vocals. I was drinking coffee and eating cinnamon buns and donuts then going in and belting that shit out. It turned out great. Some songs I did in one take which I’ve never done before. It was very cool, very relaxed. He has a really great sense of humor. We kinda thought we’d get along with him. With people who are infamous in underground music or just famous in the general sense, it’s weird because people are always expecting something. Like, they’re either gonna be a dick or down to earth. He wasn’t a dick.

Just a genuinely nice guy?

Yeah. You can tell he’s just a nerdy dude who’s really into what he does. It was really cool to see his enthusiasm for the craft and the music has not changed.

Even after more than thirty years?

Yeah, he’s still just that same energetic nerd who loves this shit that much.

The modern record producer stereotype is one that is notorious for tinkering and coming in with ideas. Was there anything like that with Albini?

He’s actually notoriously hands off. He sets up mics and presses record. He doesn’t like to get into the song writing shtick. He feels that that’s the bands job. That’s why your recording the song you wrote and he’s there to capture that to the best of his ability.

His discography kind of speaks for itself I guess. Now, everything I’ve heard from Success sounds amazing and I’m really looking forward to hearing the new material live. Do you gear songs to the live environment when you’re writing or do you consider how it’s going to sound on wax first?

Nah, we think live first. It’s always live. I dunno, we don’t necessarily think that this is going to sound this way on the record or this way live. We’re playing stuff in a basement you know? We’re capturing what we’ve written in the studio with the intention of playing it live. With the way Steve records the album, he’s capturing you playing the songs live as a band, together. If you listen to Success, that’s how we sound live.

And both sound amazing! When the first new material surfaced, a lot of people kicked up a stink that it isn’t Entrench or Venerable.

Fuck ’em.

Exactly, we’ve been championing the new material since we heard Blessed. Is Success really you guys going back into your musical roots? Obviously you’re a big fan of noise rock in all of it’s forms and throughout it’s prominence in the 80’s and 90’s. (Jesse is sporting a fetching Jesus Lizard shirt – MM)

Yeah, that’s where we’re coming from on this record. We wanted to strip away the metal and hardcore, just try something different. These were always sounds that were part of our own sound and if you’re listening for it then you’re not gonna be surprised that we did this record. If it alienates some people then cool, whatever. We’re just doing something different. We can’t keep making the same bloody record every time, it’s not fun. We’re not Slayer. This isn’t like a corporate machine where we’re pumping out metal records for the sake of a paycheck. We don’t make enough money out of that for it to matter. We’re doing this for the artistic sake. If we’re not happy and satisfied from a creative point of view then we’ve failed ourselves.

Without being a defense of your work, that was the best defense I’ve heard. But I guess you don’t need to defend anything when you’re just out here doing your own thing.

Yeah, if people don’t like it I don’t give a shit. We’ll just quit. We’re prepared for this to be the biggest flop we’ve ever made and in that it would be really funny. If an album called Success fails miserably that’s funny. Dark comedy is the best.

It really is. I hear a lot of comedy in your words when you’re literally spitting them out live, spit flying everywhere.

Yeah, it’s gross.

Where does the inspiration for those words come from? Is it from comedy or even the comedy found in day to day life?

Day to day life, definitely. With the new record, well, I take a lot of notes on my phone. I actually have a long active list of amusing word combinations, concepts and sentences that me and my band mates will say randomly. Mean inside jokes and the like. I mean I’m constantly taking notes and a lot of this record was made up of those quotes that I’ve managed to piece together and make a concise actual concept. One for each song. A lot of it is dark comedy. I mean, it figures, you saw us touring with Garrett (Jamieson, stand up comedian that toured Europe with KEN mode and HARK last year – MM) and we’ve done a few tours with him doing comedy. A band like us, that’s not quite normal. We have a very big connection with comedy, stand up comedy and improv too. We just love it. Tying it into the noise rock, I think is a natural thing. Especially even going back to the roots of this stuff and what Steve has done. A lot of it is very funny and very sarcastic. There are a lot of inside jokes. It’s quite funny, even recording with him he was telling us a few stories and in some of those he’s telling us, we’re realizing, “these are Jesus Lizard lyrics”, then he’ll say “Yeah, this is what that song’s about, it’s about this book I had in my old place then they took the lyrics from it”. I mean, holy shit, that’s hilarious.

Layers of funny. I’m going to pick your ear about some bands just now. I’ve been playing the new Fight Amp album...

Cool.

Yeah, I’m actually struggling to think of a word to describe it on the spot.

It’s a boner.

Yes, it’s a big boner, scanning the room for something to enter.

Or club. They don’t need to penetrate. Sometimes they just wanna stand over you and hit you with a few times.

Sometimes that’s twice as fun.

That’s horrible but I love those guys

It was actually through you I heard about them. You’d be surprised at how many bands I’ve been checking out just from your recommendations on social media or through the band page.

Then I’m doing my job. Because that’s largely what I like to do with social media. Post about cool bands and if people hear about new shit, that’s cool. We’re hitting some of the cities in the States that we do well in, with Fight Amp. On the East Coast.

You’re playing a show with Pyrrhon yeah?

Yeah, them and then Fight Amp are with us on the rest of the dates. They’re shows for releasing our records. We’ll be doing more touring around fall, through the States, Canada and hopefully back to Europe. Hopefully we’ll get someone cool to come out with us.

Do you see the benefits of using social media in sharing music with others, like with Fight Amp?

It can be useful but things like Facebook, I’ve been noticing that they’ve been squeezing, really, really hard. They want you to pay for everything. Like, our last couple of posts, we have over 25,000 people who follow us on Facebook but about 700 of them are seeing the posts. Like, what the fuck? That’s twisted.

Everything that can be monetized will be. It’s a sign of the times.

That’ll be what kills stuff like Facebook. It killed MySpace, it’ll happen again.

Just a matter of time. Now, heavy question time. How do you like your eggs?

Typically I do them scrambled ‘cuz it’s easy. I add chili powder, hot pepper medley, some pepper…

No salt?

No I don’t do salt but I have thick cut bacon on the side and I do that every day with a piece of cinnamon raisin toast.

Sweet and savory. 

Mmhmm.

You’re a man of eclectic taste

That’s my favorite part of every afternoon. I start the day off with coffee then I can usually go for like four hours before I eat…

Your scramble and toast.

And bacon. Always bacon. Gotta be thick cut.

 

-MM

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