Interview: KEN Mode’s Jesse Matthewson talks about their ‘Success’

Posted by on July 22, 2015

KEN Mode have always had an Amphetamine Reptile noise rock heart beating beneath their hardcore exterior. For their sixth album, Success, the Canadian band fully embraced the former sound, calling in Steve Albini to record the album. If listening expecting to hear a metal album, you might be disappointed, but it’s a rewarding album that transcends genres. Jesse Matthewson caught up with up on the eve of it’s release to chat about the seemingly different sound, working with Steve Albini, and the importance of America to the band. Success is out now on Season of Mist Records. 


Success sounds pretty different from your first five albums.

Well, not a lot of people ever heard our third record which we actually released ourselves. I think if anything it’s the closest to that one, our Mennonite record, than any other record we’ve done. Due to the fact that most people haven’t heard it, that’s why it’s a little more surprising. In terms of the actual song structures and some of the sounds, that’s definitely a lot more where we’re coming from. There are certain tones to it and especially the vocal delivery, its taken people by surprise.


So you flirted with that sound on Mennonite. What made you go back to more hardcore?

It’s more or less a matter of what we’ve been listening to. I haven’t really been listening to a ton of metal in the past couple years and I’ve been kind of burnt out on the scene in general with metal. At least the overwhelming, more mainstream approach to it, obviously metal is a very, very variable term and the things that get thrown into the category nowadays really run a gigantic gamut of different sounds. So to be that general with it is kind of unfair, but we’ve never really fit in very well and I think it’s because we draw from so many different places and even just the noise rock aspect of our sound has always thrown people for a loop. We were always just a little bit too heavy for people who like noise rock, little bit too noisy for people who like metal and hardcore. That’s why it’s always been difficult to categorize us. People try to throw us in the Converge and Botch realm and then people who like those bands hate us too so it’s never worked out really well for us.


What made you to go with Steve Albini?  Was it his resume? 

I’ve just always wanted to. The first album I ever cared about was Nirvana’s In Utero and a large portion of my favorite records ever were recorded by him and it was something we knew we always had to do, it was a matter of how we can make it happen, how we could afford it. So we got some funding from the province we’re from. We got more funding for our last record through a couple different Canadian agencies and things are starting to dry up for us now, so we figured we have to strike while the iron’s hot.  “We got some money, lets get Albini, lets do this finally ‘cause it’s never gonna happen again for us.”


I heard he has a sliding scale for what he charges musicians. Is that still the case?

I’d heard that’s the way he operates.  I don’t think he does anymore. While we had him up in Winnipeg, his traveling rates increased. He gave us a deal cause it changed while that was happening but I’d noticed that actually when we had this all finished.  It’s like, “Oh shit, we actually got a deal on those dates.”


So it wasn’t particularly cheap to have Albini do it?

No definitely not.  He can make a record in like two days if he needs to. He’s pretty good at what he does and if you’re pretty good at what you do, you can get things done quite quickly. We had a very relaxed schedule with him cause we had a decent amount of time booked so we didn’t have to stress too much. We got to eat good food and take our time mixing it, which was a luxury that I’m sure most people don’t get when making a record with him and we’re very appreciative of the fact that we got to do it that way.  But in the future, if we wanted to do it again, we’d cut out some of the steps that we used on this one cause it’s entirely plausible to make a record in a much shorter amount of time with him.


If you were to do it again with him, you would probably be able to do it quicker?

Yeah, most definitely, Not to shoot myself in the foot here, but I bet we could do it in probably half the amount of time.  Granted we also recorded four extra songs this time too.


Four extra songs that are on the album?

They are not.  They will be released on subsequent releases.


Did you just like the way Success flowed that you kept these four extra tracks?  Did you record them knowing they would be used at different times?

Yeah, we recorded them knowing that they would be part of a different release. We didn’t even know 100% what tracks would be on Success when we finished the actual recording session. We wanted to record all the songs we’d written up until that point and then based on how they turned out in the studio, figure out what made the best album, which ones fit in and made it flow a certain way and tell a certain story.  It just so happened that that’s the way the chips fell with this record.


In terms of touring and the hardcore/metal crowd that’s embraced you before, did you want to step away from that toward a more noise rocky type Amphetamine Reptile-sounding bands or are you fine with playing and maybe confusing the person that expected nothing more than just another really hardcore record?

We’re really down to tour with anyone. We’re getting a whole ton of offers these days so we’re kinda doing our own thing for this record, in which case we’ll pick bands that we want to tour with and ones that sonically make a little more sense. With support tours, when opportunities come up, you figure out whether it makes sense or not. We got a few really cool ones on the last record but I’m not counting my chickens before they’ve hatched with this one. We don’t really foresee a lot of interesting tours cause we’re in a weird spot right now where we’re not really like an easy opening band on package bills. We’re a little bit bigger than kind of the classic band that’s just starting out and we’re not really popular enough to be like a second out of three so I foresee us getting overlooked on a lot of those. We’ll do what we do and do it as hard as we can while we can.


Sure!  Are you happy with the performances so far?

Uhhh… Yes and no…  I think a lot of people don’t get it which is okay.  I’ve come to terms with that most certainly.  Artistically speaking and just even as a person I don’t understand most people so why would I ever expect them to understand something I’m doing or like it.


If you’re a fan of say Pissed Jeans or Metz or bands like that that are critically popular or anything and listen with an open mind, you can pretty much get it right away.

Yeah, I’d like to think so too and I don’t think a lot of those people are giving it a chance at all and it’s probably just because we have this weird metal stigma around us.  Which I don’t quite understand why that kind of world looks down upon metal.


I know that metal radio is embracing the record, if maybe not the metal community as a whole.

I find metal listeners in general, shy of the classic type of people who like only listen to metal, but a lot of people who do listen to metal listen to a lot of different types of styles of music which I can’t say is as true in a lot of other styles of music.  Like [with] indie rock, people will listen to indie rock and hip-hop and then they’ll look down on everything else. With metal people tend to be, I’m being extremely generalizing here, but people who listen to metal especially as they grow older tend to listen to a much wider spectrum of music because you can’t listen to just metal.  It might turn your brain to mush.


I’m sure there are some people that do that’ll pick up the new Slayer album or the new Godsmack album or whatever and that’s all they’ll buy this year.

Yeah.  It’s a certain mentality and a lot of the people who are more artistic with it will listen to a lot of different stuff.  I see us definitely being adopted by people who like music in that way.  And that’s always been where we fall into.  People who can listen to a Yob record and at the same time enjoy Discordance Axis or Botch or whatever.  There’s so wide a spectrum within that extreme music world and it tends to be the people who like the whole lot that would pick up what we’re doing.


So let’s talk a little bit about Canada.  You said you were able to get some grants to help record the record.  Are there still a lot of bands doing that, and do you have to be at a certain level to be able to do something like that?

It’s definitely getting harder.  For us, we saw one of our major sources dry up on this record which is gonna make living quite a bit harder for us doing this full time right now.  We’re still getting support from our province; we have some cool programs out here in Manitoba but other than that we’re basically left high and dry.  I know a lot of the revenue streams are drying up for those and therefore it’s a lot harder to access the funds.  More bands than ever are trying to get the funding and there’s less money to go around so it’s definitely more difficult.  And especially for a band playing a style of music that we do cause not everyone cares nor gets it so why would you fund that.


What are the reasons those programs are drying up financially?

Well, we’ve had a conservative government for quite a few years and arts tend to get squeezed by that. There’s no secret and I know one of the other major funders for the program, Factor, which is a big one in Canada, is radio broadcasters and I know everyone in that world is hurting too.


What’s the scene like in Manitoba?

I think it’s alive and well. There’s a lot of really cool new bands.  I say new in air quotes cause they’re really not that new, they’ve come out within the past five years and I’ve just been touring so much that I’m only starting to discover some of them now. There’s a lot of really weird noisy stuff going on up here.  We’re gonna take this one band Conduct from Winnipeg out through western Canada with us on the first leg of a gigantic tour we’re undertaking.  And they’re a really cool band that’s started up within the past few years around here but very strange, old sounds done in a modern kind of way which is really cool.


Are you happy with concentrating on Canada or do you really want to be known as a worldwide artist?  How important is America to you?

For us, America is basically number one.  It’s the biggest music market in the world.  It’s our biggest market at this point, which has been one of the coolest things to see happen over the past few years.  Historically, Canada had always been our best spot. Touring wise and making money wise, we still make more money per show in Canada, but our audience in America has more than tripled in the past few years. So the US is undoubtedly the most important marketin terms of being able to continue touring and even just from a media side. I guess you don’t have to focus on it, but you’d be crazy not to at least try and for us, now especially, I think the States is our biggest market, even just from like a stupid social media side of things.  It’s far beyond every other country in the world for us.


Is that part of the reason you signed with Season of Mist?  

The biggest reason we actually signed with Season of Mist is we wanted to get a better foothold in Europe specifically. We knew that Season of Mist was growing in the States and it actually just ended up being a weird added benefit that the guy that shortly before we were talking with Season of Mist, Gordon Conrad, took over and he used to run Escape Artist, who put out our first two records so that was just kind of a weird twist of fate.  It’s been really cool working with him as his full time job.


Anything else you want to add?

I hope people check out the record.  We’re very proud of it, all aspects of it. For me especially, talking about it like the parts that I didn’t have anything to do with are my favorite parts. Albini’s production, I’ve seen some people talk about his work on this record as being the best they’ve heard from him in years. For me, it stands up to a lot of the records that were my favorite records and even just the artwork that our good friend Randy did, it’s my favorite stuff I’ve ever seen of his. And I think it’s one of our finest. I hope people check it out and hopefully people want to come out and see us on tour cause we’re gonna be on tour a lot of this fall. We’re gonna be everywhere.

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