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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Noise A La Mode

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday September 3, 05:14 pm
“Success” is relative when you’re an underground band


Wednesday 9


What does success mean, anyway? Is it fame and fortune? Or, simply a roof over your head and the love of friends and family? That’s the question that preoccupies Winnipeg’s KEN Mode on their latest album, Success.

For a band that makes dissonant and abrasive music, they’ve had some big triumphs in the last few years, like being on the longlist for the Polaris Music Prize, winning a Juno for Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year, and touring the world over.

But are they a “success”?

The focus is the relativity of the term, right?”, says bassist Skot Hamilton. “We use the term on a constant basis, because of how snide and cruel to ourselves we are about it. If something’s not going the way it’s supposed to, or the best laid plans are falling to pieces, we always start laughing and someone says, ‘success’ somewhere in the background.”

Many people figure that once a band wins an impressive award it’s all mansions and riches, but for underground musicians it’s back to their day jobs once the ceremony is over.

They assume that you’re no longer struggling and that things are going your way from then on out,” Hamilton says. “But the reality of a trophy is a very different thing from what the general public assumes. The validation is nice, but you can’t put a down payment on a house with artistic validation.”

While founding members of KEN Mode, Jesse and Shane Matthewson are from Winnipeg, Hamilton is from Saskatoon. (You might know his band Adolyne.) But geography aside, they’re all cut from the same cloth.

They already knew the direction the album was going to take and they knew that my listening habits would dictate I’d be into that,” says Hamilton. “Initially, it was daunting, but even in our first batch of rehearsals we started writing the record almost immediately. It became clear very quickly that we had a chemistry, which calmed me down pretty fast.”

The direction that Hamilton refers to is a move away from the metal-influenced past KEN Mode albums and into a more stripped-down sound. They’re still questioning this horrible world, but they’ve been whittling at the bones of the sound to try and find the marrow of anger and revulsion beneath.

They had help from legendary producer Steve Albini, who’s worked with Nirvana and The Pixies — but also with a who’s-who of bands with underground cred, from Neurosis to The Dirty Three.

He’s a top guy,” says Hamilton. “I don’t give a shit about his profile; it’s how important his work is that matters to me. Within the first hour of working with him, we were like, ‘Okay, good, the sense of humour matches, he’s really friendly.’ He’s a lot warmer than I was led to believe he would be. He’s a funny guy and we were at ease by the end of the first day.”

The session went really smoothly — partially because of Albini’s input, but also because the band was very well-prepared.

Not that we would tell anyone else how to spend their time,” says Hamilton, “but we’re actually pretty boring people. I like the guys in the band a lot; they’re my speed. When we’re alone it doesn’t occur to us that we’re being lame. I don’t know that we know how to party, to be honest. Especially in a tour setting — if you’re healthy, it’s possible to be missing sleep two or three days in a row.”

I’ve seen a lot of people who think they’re beating the system on that one, but they’re not — and the next thing you know, you’re a sham and you’re ripping people off, putting on a cut-rate show. Priority number one when we’re on the road is putting on a show that, you know, while we’re engaged in it, convinces us that it’s going to break us. That’s kind of the idea every night.”



Thursday 3

The Capitol

Vancouver indie rock group Derrival take their name from a portmanteau of the words “departure” and “arrival,” which are also the words on their new EP. Derrival singer Adam Mah tells me that he came up with the word in grade seven, while screwing around with a dictionary. Their sound has evolved on the new EP, becoming a hybrid of ‘80s synth sounds with guitar-driven rock.

We’ve been using a lot of samples on this record,” says Mah. “In [the song] ‘Shoes Grow Smaller’ we use these pitched snap sounds. For ‘The Knife’ we used a vocoder for some of the effect in the bridge and stuff. There’s been a lot more experimenting with more electronic sounds and combining that with our current sound.

Doing the same thing for a while can get boring. A lot of the bands I’ve been listening to utilize a lot more electronic elements. We wanted to push that — obviously not too much because we want to keep our sound, but we wanted to try something new,” says Mah.

There’s a new video from the Departures and Arrivals EP for the song “Canvas” that you can check out on YouTube. It captures the spirit of this young, energetic band, whose songs are also occasionally lined with melancholy — much like, say, Death Cab for Cutie. The video, at the crossroads between sadness and amusement, features heartbroken monsters and Power Rangers.

[The idea] came from our friend Sean, who directed the video,” says Mah. “When he pitches his ideas, he comes to one of our rehearsals and he’ll play the song in the background and he acts it out. He acted out the entire music video. It was hilarious.”



Friday 11


Somehow, though it must weigh a million pounds, it’s flying through the air as if on gossamer wings. Or, maybe on big, Dumbo-style elephant ears?

In any case, the sound is so big that this local stoner-rock outfit has gotta call themselves Jumbo. Think ‘70s jams, with improvisational qualities — like The Grateful Dead, but heavier, beefed up like it’s got a faceful of coke or an armload of steroids.

Well, we’re kinda going for the ‘jumbo’ sound,” explains Jumbo keyboardist Erinn Blue. “It started off with [Holden Blue and Dylan Cooper] and they kept adding more, wanting more sound to back up everything. I think we portray that really well, hence ‘Jumbo.’”

Jumbo’s Love Boat EP is amazingly ballsy. It hits such a weird, distinctive sound — both musically and vocally — that I had to wonder whether it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But you can swing for the fences and take it seriously, while doing it with a wink, right?

We take it seriously,” says Blue. “When we’re writing songs and jamming, we might stumble on a really tricky or ridiculous riff, and we’re like, let’s just go for it. [Our sound is] different, it’s definitely different. And it’s kinda crazy. But we’re kind of crazy and different.”

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