By Ryan Meehan
Metallic, post-hardcore outfit KEN Mode up the intensity with their new album Entrench. Produced by the band and Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, Pearl Jam, The Sword), Entrench is an unhealthy dose of modern hardcore severity that honors the band’s noisier roots while being their most creative and sonically diverse album yet. Epic ragers like “Counter Culture Complex” and “The Promises of God” sit comfortably alongside the brooding “Romeo Must Never Know” and low-end, gut-punch of “No; I’m in Control”. A gripping journey from start-to-finish, Entrench is KEN Mode’s master work, and nothing short of a future classic. KEN Mode has also won several awards in their native Canada, including the coveted Juno award (Canadian equivalent of the Grammy). KEN an acronym which can be found in the Henry Rollins book “Get in the Van” that stands for “Kill Everything Now”, and lead guitarist and vocalist Jesse Matthewson is our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: Growing up in Canada, who were some of the artists that you really looked up to as being influential and something that really made you want to create something different than the traditional genres which had previously existed for so long?
JM: Winnipeg in the 90s was a noise rock town. The closest city of any significance to us is Minneapolis, MN, which in the grand scheme of US independent rock, is very much THE noise rock city of the US. As a result, I believe Winnipeg was rubbed off on, and bands like Kittens, Meatrack and Stagmummer helped pave the way for a band like us to begin. Kittens was a band that we got into as teenagers, having no idea they were even based out of our home town; and thus were our first ‘show’ that we ever attended, and inevitably inspired us to start performing our own music live.
RM: Speaking of genres, under Wikipedia (sic) it lists three classifications for what KEN mode does: Noise Rock, Sludge Metal, and Post-Hardcore. Of those three sub-genres, which do you feel best describes the music that you create and perform for a living? Do you think that all of these different sub-genres and classifications are of any use to musicians themselves, or are they just simply terms that are supposed to make journalists like myself sound smarter than they actually are? Have you ever sat down to write a song with the intentions of “I’m going to write something that has a total (insert sub-genre here) feel to it?”
JM: I’ve always been drawn more to the noise rock tag, but we’ve never fit into any specific sub genre. Even now, as a newer ‘2nd wave of noise rock’ seems to be emerging in the US, we’re being largely ignored when people get down to their nit-picky categorizations; which is entertaining as before this ‘movement’ occurred that was always the pigeon-holing we received. Classifications are an easy way to discover bands, but I’m fairly indifferent to when bands go out of their way to categorize themselves. But what do I know, do what makes you happy.
We’ve definitely sat down with the intention to write a song with a specific feel, though we never go in saying “this song needs to be a post rock song with sludge elements”…None of us are 21 years old starting a band trying to fit into ‘the scene’ .
RM: You and your brother (drummer Shane) have been playing together for quite some time and are the two original members of the band…Forgive me for asking…What is the reason for the fact that you have had so many bass players?
JM: We honestly haven’t had THAT many bass players. We’ve largely worked with 4 longer term bassists over the course of nearing 15 years, while we’ve had other friends fill in to help us through touring obligations when some people were phasing out of being in the band. Darryl Laxdal was in the band until 2005, Jahmeel Russell wrote and toured with us in 2006-2007 while we were going through a transitional period with no full time bassist, Chad Tremblay was with us full time from 2008-2011 and Andrew LaCour has been with us since. All things considered, as the years roll on, we really haven’t had that bad of a track record. I think people only notice this sort of thing when you have a few members who are mainstays, and the band doesn’t have as many members (ala us being a three piece).
RM: Other than capturing the effect of the band members and their instruments moving in slow motion, what was the idea behind the video for “Romeo must Never Know”? I can almost hear a little bit of Mogwai influence in that song and the way it’s constructed. What’s your take on the whole video making process and how essential do you think that medium is for a band like KEN mode?
JM: The video for ‘Romeo’ was actually a totally spur of the moment thing…Christopher Mills, who is presently finishing up a video for ‘the Terror Pulse’ filmed a set we did in Toronto on our last Canadian tour and whipped together a video out of the footage he took in about a day. Everyone thought it turned out really well, and captures our live presence accurately (because that’s literally what our shows look like), so we ran with it! The song itself is definitely a different vibe from a lot of the rest of the album. I’d been wanting to let some influences like Slint shine through a little stronger on a track, and this was the result. Where Andrew was coming from, I can’t say, but it’s cool that you hear Mogwai in the end result.
RM: Over the years, what’s the strangest thing that you’ve ever seen happen on the road? The funniest? How about the most depressing?
JM: Strangest? There are probably too many things for me to register there, so I’m drawing a blank. Maybe the busking Jimi Hendrix eating poutine in the park in Montreal for strangest and funniest? Most of the funny things are inside jokes…I’m honestly having trouble thinking of something worth sharing. Maybe I’m just burnt out from the last year’s worth of touring. I know the most depressing was definitely seeing the human road kill in eastern California. Road worker twisted up like a pretzel; definitely a sobering sight.
RM: You’ve been at this now for a decade and a half – In that time how has your approach to touring and songwriting changed?
JM: We’ve got better at both, haha. We toured pretty inconsistently for the first ten years of the band’s existence due to schooling, jobs, etc…we’d still get out almost every year, but it was never even close to the extent that we’ve been doing it for the past four years. This band is our full time job now, so needless to say, things are run quite differently in such a scenario.
Songwriting wise, I think we come at it all with a more mature attitude. We write what we want to hear, and that is reflected in the music we’ve been writing. I used to love technical, off kilter music…now I’d rather listen to the Foo Fighters; which makes me feel like WAY too much of a suburban white dude…but it is what it is.
RM: Do the members of the band have any sort of unusual pre-show ritual, or is it pretty much just a “get down to business” situation?
JM: Not particularly. I tend to get twitchy, and will pace back and forth, but it’s entirely dependent on how much energy we have and how long we’ve been on the road. Sometimes we fall asleep at the merch table while waiting to play, hah! I should warm up vocally or something…but I don’t.
RM: You’ll be hitting the road in February with Russian Circles, Inter Arma, and Helms Alee…Will you guys be playing any post-Entrench material that you’ve been working on since the record came out last March?
JM: We actually haven’t written any new material yet. We’ve been on the road pretty much solid since the record came out, and haven’t had any time to really get back into generating new material. We’ll likely do a few concentrated writing sessions after this tour is completed and start focusing on when/where/with whom we’ll track the new record. I definitely am looking forward to playing some new songs.
RM: What’s up next for you guys in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JM: Hopefully a few cool tours that are in the works, but time will tell what pans out! Other than that, we’ll begin writing our follow up to Entrench, record it, and plan for a 2015 release along with more touring. We’d all like to write something pretty different for the next record, so we’ll see what those sentiments end up translating into. All I have on my mind right now is writing and getting back into training Muay Thai and BJJ for the whopping month that I get to be home. I’m in pathetic shape right now.
Official Website: http://www.ken-mode.com/
KEN mode on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kenmode
KEN mode on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kenmodenoise
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