By Julijana Capone
CALGARY — For Winnipeg noise-rock unit KEN mode, who came of age on the loud, abrasive riffs of Nirvana, Jesus Lizard and Neurosis, recording an album with master of noise Steve Albini had been on their bucket list since forever.
With the trio tapping the legendary engineer to record their new album—in their hometown of Winnipeg, no less—KEN mode’s sixth full-length, Success, shows the band hitting a career high-water mark. Aside from Albini recording Winnipeg noise weirdoes Stagmummer in the late ‘90s, along with punk outfit Conduct in 2014, his association with the city has been limited.
“[Albini] played in Winnipeg with Shellac in 1999 or ’98,” recalls guitarist/vocalist Jesse Matthewson. “He played at the Albert, and it happened before I turned 18, which really irritated me. I think it was also the same year that Neurosis came though. There was this span when I was in high school that is like torture. All of my favourite bands were coming to Winnipeg, and I couldn’t go see them because I was 17 and looked 15.
“Anyone who’s heard our band knows that we’ve obviously been influenced by a lot of the bands that have worked with [Albini] in the past,” he adds. “Nirvana’s In Utero was the album that made me start listening to music in the first place…I’ve always wanted to hear what my stuff would sound like through that filter…We always wanted to try doing a record with Albini when the time was right.”
On opening track “Blessed,” a salvo of earsplitting feedback, unnerving bass and shrill guitar bursts showcase the engineer’s signature punch. While Matthewson sardonically spews the line “we’re blessed/we’re so fucking blessed,” the track jokingly remarks on the band’s trajectory from relative unheardofs to world-touring critical favourites.
“Part of it is a commentary on the life that we’ve been living over the past five or so years, living this rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp,” says Matthewson. “It’s been a lot of fun, and the fact that we’ve had any attention still surprises us to a certain degree. When we started getting media paying attention to us, it was surprising that it was happening, and a lot of people treated us like we were a new band. Meanwhile, I think we’d been around for 12 or 13 years…Those things come in ebbs and flows, so we’re just joking about everyone going back to not giving a shit.”
Yet it is the subjective notion of success—how one person’s success can be another person’s failure—that KEN mode wants you to ponder.
“When we came up with the title itself, it came with a joke of redefining success to cover massive failures,” says Matthewson. “We find the whole thing very funny and very arbitrary.”
Known primarily for their sludgy metal/hardcore-leanings, the band cycled back to a pared-down rock sound on Success, taking a similar songwriting approach to their less-heard third album, Mennonite. Matthewson admits that the direction will likely alienate some of the band’s metal and hardcore fan base, but insists that he is “extremely satisfied” with the album’s outcome.
“We’re doing what we want to do and we’re playing what we want to play,” he says. “I couldn’t be more satisfied with the album itself in terms of the artwork and the way it sounds. It’s my favourite thing that we’ve ever done. I think it’s the most important piece of art I’ve ever been a part of making.”
KEN mode perform at Wunderbar (Edmonton) on September 10, Broken City (Calgary) on September 11, and The Hindenburg (Vancouver) on September 12. KEN mode’s Success is out now via Season of Mist. Visit ken-mode.com for more info.AB, Alberta, BC, British Columbia, Broken City, KEN mode, The Hindenburg, Wunderbar