KEN mode's Jesse Matthewson

KEN mode's Jesse Matthewson
Just shy of their tenth anniversary, Winnipeg noise rock trio KEN mode celebrate the release of tertiary effort Mennonite. That in itself might not seem overly extraordinary, but when you listen to the stripped down attack the album provides and couple it with the fact that Mennonite is the result of an unusual - at least for KEN mode - writing process, the final result of some musical and business shifts from within, the tale surrounding both band and album provide an interesting backdrop to what is unquestionably their most unique and engaging release to date. Guitarist/vocalist Jesse Matthewson speaks on behalf of brother/drummer Shane Matthewson and new bassist Chad Tremblay about the staunch DIY independence that has inspired the creation of Mennonite and the formation of the band's own Arctodus Records.

What were some of the goals with creating Mennonite?
Our primary goal with Mennonite was to test the chemistry we had/have with our friend and co-conspirator Jahmeel Russell (Kittens, Malefaction, Projektor). We [Shane and myself] had played together with him in our other band, Hide Your Daughters and he had also filled in on bass for KEN mode when we did the Aggressive Tendencies tour in '06. That's when we immediately recognized there was something special from a writing perspective in that pairing. We decided to take two weeks off, fly Jahmeel in from Vancouver, write for ten days straight and record the outcome. Mennonite is said outcome.

How come Jahmeel didn't stick around after finishing Mennonite? Is it just the distance thing?
The distance thing is a big factor and later in 2007 Jahmeel joined the Black Halos, which limits his availability even more.

Did you know he'd only be a part of the album and then you'd need to find a new bassist?
We'd actually tried to work it out so Jahmeel could do our European tour with Taint but he was touring Canada with the Black Halos at the time so we had to seek out other resources. We'd been playing with both Drew (EQ) and Darryl in 2007, but neither of them were able to/interested in touring, so we dug a little deeper and found Chad via a mutual friend of ours - Marc Evans, who actually did a couple backups on Mennonite.

Do you think you'll work with him again in the future or is it just Chad from now on?
In the summer we actually got together with Jahmeel while he was in town and jammed out some riffs that have become a tribute song for our mutual friend David Kelly (Kittens) who passed away this spring (additionally, we're collaborating with Shawn, aka Pony, from Kittens on the same song). Chad's a full time member of the band now but whenever Jahmeel's around, we make an effort to get together and throw riffs around.

How do you feel Mennonite expands on KEN mode's music?
Mennonite wasn't so much about expansion as it was about retraction. Due to both the time constraints and general desire to experiment, we pared down our song structures pretty drastically for this album. With these less complex structures came the need to essentially do more with less. It was an experiment in songwriting for us and I think we all view it as a successful one.

Were there any difficulties with recording it on a tight deadline and limited pre-planning or was a pretty straightforward process?
The recording process was pretty straight forward, as we worked with our friend Craig Boychuk (Electro Quarterstaff, Under Pressure, Fuck the Facts and Propagandhi), the same engineer we'd worked with on our previous four recordings. That is, the process was straightforward up until it came time to track the vocals. Since most of the songs had no lyrics coming into the tracking of the album, I had no time to rehearse any of the patterns. In many cases we were recording the first time I'd ever even attempted to perform the songs. That was a pretty stressful process, one I don't intend on doing again.

Did it end up coming out as you'd expected?
I suppose going into the project we really didn't know what the end result would sound like; we had a hunch and I think the outcome was pretty close to said hunch. The proof is in the puddin'.

How has the addition of Chad altered things within the band?
The addition of Mr. Chad Tremblay has finally brought some stability to KEN mode. Since 2004 when [original bassist] Darryl Laxdal chose to leave, this band had essentially been held together by sheer determination and a patchwork of our friends filling in. Of course, we fully appreciate the help we've received over the years but this is not the way Shane and I have ever wanted to run this band. With Chad now in the mix, we've actually been able to maintain a regular practice schedule, did our first European tour and are already well into preparing material for our fourth full-length.

So Chad has an effect on the musical structure/sound on the material you're currently writing?
With Chad in the band we're able to practice more regularly and thus have been on somewhat of a writing roll. The material is sort of a blend of our Reprisal and Mennonite albums (both in sound and song structuring) while still taking a step forward. I suppose we'll all hear how it has changed once this next record is complete. At this stage, our chemistry is still sort of setting, so the different sounds coming out of each song can be pretty different. It's an exciting time though. Very exciting.

Why did you elect to release Mennonite on your own label?
Essentially, we wanted to try something different. We aren't able to fulfill the touring obligations that larger labels pretty much require. Taking the DIY approach means we see more returns on the units we move, even while we're purposely limiting the distribution of the records.

In what was did this DIY move help/hamper KEN mode?
[It helped because] when you're DIY, you're much more involved with every facet of releasing a record making it a more fulfilling process and leaving you in complete control of what happens with your music and when. How it hampers: it's your money on the line and it's a hell of a lot more work. The biggest difference I've seen since taking the DIY approach is that because we're operating Arctodus Records distribution strictly via online mail order, we don't lose any cut to unnecessary middlemen. Every sale counts and means another KEN mode record can come out next year.

There was recently a piece on Winnipeg as a heavy music city in Terrorizer that features you as one of the predominant bands. How do you see that from within the circle?
Well, since we're pretty much the oldest aggressive band left in Winnipeg that never went on any kind of hiatus - if you exclude Propagandhi though they only started to get more aggressive over the past eight or so years; let's not forget they were more of a pop punk band up until Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes - nor left Winnipeg and have always shied away from any kind of drug abuse, we have pretty accurate accounts of what's been going on for the past 12 or so years. It's very cool that the editors of Terrorizer were into the idea of focusing on an obscure scene such as the one we have here. All of the bands featured all have their own thing going on and work hard given the restrictions we all have. Definitely a strange blend of aggressive music...

So being a remote city has its advantages?
Winnipeg has always had a fairly high concentration of genuinely creative heavy bands... at least since I've been around. Nobody sounds alike, nor do they necessarily even sound like anything you can hear anywhere else. I suppose it tends to happen because we don't get a ton of touring acts through here so we have to entertain ourselves. Couple that with the cliché, "Ohh that miserable winter weather keeps us inside and playing" shtick and I suppose you can start to get somewhat of an idea as to why these weird sounds are coming from this city.

What's the plan now that Mennonite is out? Touring, I presume?
Hah! Well, since we're full-time jobbers, it's difficult for us to get out and hit the road. We might do some dates in the New Year - Canada or Europe again - but for the winter months we're focusing on writing. We're already about half way into a new record and, if possible, I'd like to be able to record it next summer before I go back to school in the fall.

Both you and Shane are in HYD. It seems unusual to have two members from one band creating a side project. What does HYD offer you that KEN mode doesn't necessarily?
The original line-up of HYD was the original KEN mode line-up - Shane, myself and Darryl - plus Drew Johnston [Electro Quarterstaff] and Jeff LaPlante [who used to sing for seminal Winnipeg noise rock band Meatrack]. Basically the only reason we started the band was to get Jeff singing in a band again.

Nowadays, the formula we have for HYD is pretty different. We have a new guitarist named Curran Faris and I play bass so the experience for me is different starting there: fresh blood creating some new and very interesting chemistry. The second aspect that makes HYD different from our main project is that, at least for me, all of the material generated is 100 percent improvised on the spot. We construct the songs based on riffs that are developed via jamming, while in KEN mode a fair amount of material is written outside of the traditional band practice setting.

HYD has been taking a much more rock-oriented approach since its last line-up change, losing some of the metal influence we had while Drew was in the band while KEN mode still has a tendency to get pretty oppressively heavy; though not necessarily in a metal way.