Winnipeg’s KEN Mode have played Toronto multiple times before, but I have never made it out to see their ferocity live. On June 8th, they rolled into town alongside Miami’s sludge kings Torche and Columbus’ Lo Pan and proved their power in person. I also had a chat with KEN Mode’s guitar player and vocalist Jesse before the show and asked a series of questions about their new record amongst other things.
As soon as the 3 members of KEN Mode entered the stage, tension was raised until their explosive set was started with the fast single “Counter Culture Complex”. The intensity was visible the most in the vocalist Jesse Matthewson, who jumped all over stage while belting lines and wailing riffs. Their bass player Andrew LaCour also had a strong presence while almost destroying the venues subwoofers. A standout track from the set was “No – I’m In Control”, in which Jesse and Andrew both played bass, which made for one of the most pleasantly ear splitting tracks I’ve heard live. Though the members of KEN Mode may have appreciated people moshing, their stage presence made it difficult to stop watching. It was a very strong set, and what made it more interesting was the fact that I had a calm conversation with the vocalist that had the strongest stage presence all night.
Check out all the photos from the concert here: http://imgur.com/a/yjUwa#0
Here’s some live footage from their show in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks earlier.
Interview with Jesse Matthewson of KEN Mode:
BG: So how’s the tour going so far?
JM: It’s been going great, just great.
BG: Yeah, because you guys have been on the road for at least a few weeks now right?
JM: Yeah we’ve been touring with Torche for about a month now, and we literally haven’t gone home at all. We’ve been on the road since March 1st
BG: Did you guys not play Winnipeg?
JM: Yeah we played it on the tour with Today Is The Day, but we were only there for like a day, then onto the next stop.
BG: And the reception has been good? Are there any stories that have stood out from the tour so far?
JM: I don’t know, there hasn’t been anything too crazy, this tour in itself has been kind of weird for me because I’m not used to having a merch guy. We’re also not used to having good beer, so I’ve been getting drunk a lot more, which I don’t usually do on tour because I end up having too many jobs I have to do. Like, I’ll end up being our merch guy, our driver, our accountant, basically everything. And this time when I don’t have to stand around at the merch booth people buy me drinks when were done playing. It’s fucked up.
BG: That’s pretty sweet at the same time though.
JM: Yeah it can be for sure.
BG: You probably don’t want to say no though
JM: Yeah.. (laughs)
BG: So I’ve noticed that with all your album names you guys prefer one-word titles, does each record have a specific story or meaning behind the word chosen? Or are you guys just fans of short names?
JM: We do like the one-word titles, but they do also have meanings behind the names. The only one that doesn’t really mean anything is Mennonite, and that’s because we thought it was just a cool word, and it doesn’t sound like it’s a religion. It sounds like some sort of cool rock, and we thought that naming our album that would make a lot of people go: “What the fuck do you mean by that?”. We had some people that were upset by it and some people that were stoked on it. It was just funny. As for the rest of the albums, the name tends to blend into the overall feel of what the lyrics are about, the visual concepts and the actual riffs themselves. It all ties together in a weird loose theme for the entire record.
BG: Cool. I know the KEN in KEN Mode was taken from Henry Rollins book Get In The Van, were any of your album or song names inspired in the same way?
JM: Not particularly. I don’t read enough to get inspired that way. (laughs)
BG: Are you guys animal lovers by any means?
BG: Just with album names like Mongrel and song names like “The Goat” and “Flight of the Echo Hawk” among many others I had to ask.
JM: And even look at our T-Shirts.
BG: Plus, the bass player of Kittens used to play with you guys
JM: And our new bass player looks like a bear, so that counts. He’s been with us for a year and a half, almost two years now too.
BG: Yeah I know that you guys have had many bass players through the years.
JM: Yeah, that’s something I was thinking about earlier this year. Even though we’ve played with many different people, we’ve really only had 3 full-time bassists. Those were Darryl our first bassist, Chad who was our third or fourth bassist who stayed with us for a few years and wrote Venerable with us, and then Andrew who’s been with us up until now. Andrew has almost doubled the amount of shows that we’ve played with any other bassist at this point.
BG: So it seems like Andrew is here to stay then?
JM: Yeah, we haven’t killed him yet. (laughs)
BG: How was it recording and working with Matt Bayles? And getting Dave Verellen of Botch to join in on one of your tracks?
JM: It was really cool. Matt is a very intense and unique personality and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to work with him. We brought him up to Winnipeg for like 3 weeks, and it was really cool to work with a guy like that. I thought that our working styles really blended together too which helped.
BG: He’s definitely someone that seems like a crazy genius, especially with engineering.
JM: Yeah, he’s very particular and knows what he wants to get out of a project, and it was a very pleasant surprise to see that our overall goals were very much in line. Because I didn’t have too much of an idea of what he wanted to do with it, because a lot of what he’s produced hasn’t been as heavy as us.
BG: Yeah, like Minus the Bear, Polar Bear Club, etc.
JM: Even the heavier stuff like the old Mastodon records, they’re very clean sounding and we don’t really need a clean sound like that, nor should we, but he nailed it.
BG: What makes you guys decide which producer to work with?
JM: Well we wanted to work with Kurt like we did on Venerable. We actually were going to use him on Entrench, but he was booked up well into this year. Plus after winning the Juno we realized what kind of funding we could get available in Canada, and decided to start throwing things against the wall to see how much money we could get. So we had a loose list of producers we would work with if we could get money to actually work with them, and when we got approved for one of them it was like “holy shit, we can actually book someone for a decent amount of time and pay him”. So then I reached out to him (Bayles) and he was interested. I’d actually talked to him about a decade ago or more when we were recording Mongrel, and we didn’t have the money. We were literally kids, I think I was 19 and Shane was 17.
BG: How was working with Kurt Ballou compared to Bayles?
JM: It’s very hard to compare the two. Kurt has a very particular way of working and he always works in his studio. It’s also hard for me to compare because we spent almost 3 times as long working on Entrench than we did on Venerable, so you can’t really say like “Matt did better with this”. We just had so much time to work on the new stuff. If we weren’t happy with the way it turned out we would be really failing bad at our jobs right now.
JM: Well when we found out we were on tour at the time in Europe, and we actually thought that it was really funny…
BG: I guess you really weren’t expecting to win.
JM: Yeah, would you ever expect a band like us or Fuck The Facts would be up for a major, mainstream music award? We just thought it was really comical. Then the more I thought about it the more I thought that we actually had a chance. Because it is a critical award, it isn’t based on record sales so I started thinking: of Canadian music press and critics, did any of these bands actually get higher regard than we did that year? Not really, so maybe we’ve got a shot. All the papers were saying that it was Anvil’s win.
BG: Big surprise..
JM: I remember hearing some interesting things post-Junos like Anvil calling for recounts of the votes and believing that they won and stuff like that. They snuffed me at the awards too.
JM: Yeah I just went up to one of the guys in Anvil and introduced myself as Jesse of KEN Mode and said that we were his competition for this year and he replied “I wasn’t aware we had any competition” and turned his back to me. Plus I’ve heard horror stories since then from various people that have worked with those guys.
BG: That’s crazy. Do you have any favourite new bands at the moment?
JM: Yeah, a new one right now that I’m interested in is called Cult Leader, which was formed from the ashes of Gaza. I’m really stoked to see where they go. We actually hung out with them during a recent stop in Salt Lake City and they’re playing their first show next week, so it should be interesting. And they’re basically taking off where Gaza left off. It’s essentially Gaza minus their singer.
BG: Awesome. Last question: would you say you have a musician that has inspired you the most?
JM: I don’t know, not really. Maybe King Buzzo of the Melvins. We always get comparisons to bands like Unsane and Jesus Lizard, but not many people pick up The Melvins. It’s definitely the band I steal from the most. (laughs)
Buy KEN Mode’s records via their Bandcamp