Interview with Jesse Matthewson of KEN Mode

KEN Mode, who have just released the album, Success

KEN Mode, who have just released their sixth full-length album, Success, pay homage to their Canadian Prairie roots. It’s a shift to a simpler time, when they first started to care about making music. KEN Mode will kick off their “Huge Success” tour in Saskatoon, SK on September 9th, and continue into November before concluding in their hometown of Winnipeg, MB. I spoke to Jesse Matthewson about his views on success, touring and its toll on the future of KEN Mode.

Northern Transmissions: Thank you for taking the time to talk to Northern Transmissions, Jesse. Are you at home, and what are you up to?

Jesse: Yep, yep. Ahh, what have I been up to? Kinda following up on a few tour things…god my brain is blank. I’ve been trying to update all the ticket links for all that junk. The joys of booking a 54-day tour yourself [laughs]. This year so far I’ve been doing all the booking. We have someone for Europe, but I’ve taken over North America, again. It’s been going okay but it’s a lot of work obviously.

NT: I wanted to start off by talking about the new record. Could you tell me more specifically where the idea for the cover came from and how it ties in to some of your views on success being relative or arbitrary?

J: The cover itself… it’s kind of a weird one because the cover hits the nail on the head the most out of all the panels that actually make up the artwork. That one’s the most overtly depressing looking ‘cause it’s seemingly someone working towards some sort of goal and showing the effect it takes on you and the ebb and flow of essentially trying to chase one’s dreams in this crazy, mixed up world maaan.
But the big thing with all the panels is that the panels themselves are very relative and depending on how you are looking at it and what your filter is on the scenes it could either be a positive scene or a very negative scene. I’ve been finding it very fascinating getting people’s reactions to it, especially when people actually view it in a positive sense and a heartwarming one. Most of the people that I hang out with will go: “Man you guys are depressing, fuck you, why did you do this?”
It’s like man your brain did that, it’s not my fault.

NT: What are some of the positive reactions you’ve gotten?

J: There’s the one panel with the women kinda standing over the crib and a man that I’ve worked with in the past said, “Aw isn’t that sweet, she’s expecting a baby” and most people I know go, “Aw man she lost a baby”.

NT: Would you say that cover embodies a more personal nature? Perhaps a younger you at a point when wanted to abandon the white collar model for success?

J: There’s definitely a certain element of that and it’s actually kind of funny ‘cause of the people who’ve all been coming up with a concept the artist Randy Ortiz actually kinda existed in a similar situation where he was working for an architecture firm and he ended quitting much like we did, right around the same time to pursue art full time.
There really is no right answer and on this album we aren’t specifically saying: “This is the right answer!” because we acknowledge that every situation is different and as much as some people might be in a position to take advantage of endeavors like we did it’s not always the most responsible thing to do and even in our case the kind of runway in running out to a certain extent.

NT: Do you ever miss the stability?

J: Having money so you can feed yourself and pay rent [laughs]. Yeah, well without saying it in so many words we’re kinda more in the gearing down process right now where we’ve been viewing this record as probably the last one we can support full-time as a touring act because the economics of it just aren’t there.

NT: Is that pretty definite, would you say?

J: Yeah, unless something crazy happens. We’re entirely too realistic. KEN Mode will not come to an end it’s just a matter of us touring less. We can’t really afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing the way we’ve been doing it indefinitely.
I’m going to be 35 next year and I don’t particularly want to be sleeping on people’s floor at 35, like 300 days out of the year, but for me personally I don’t think I’m gonna be going back to accounting. I’ve learned so much in terms of marketing and small business management, which was my actual major in school, getting to apply it with this band and within this industry that I think I’m gonna probably delve more into that side of things. My brother Shane is a chartered account here in Canada, so he’ll most likely still be utilizing his skills and his degree because that’s kind of a no brainer.
In all honestly, it’s kind of funny how people don’t necessarily think that way when they’re thinking of people operating and managing their own band but the amount of small business management experience you get doing this sort of thing, especially at a legitimately professional level, that kind of experience I couldn’t have gotten that any other way other than running my own business which I think is completely invaluable so it’ll be cool getting to apply that to some other avenues that maybe a little more lucrative [laughs].

NT: Can you tell me a little about the moment when you decided to quit your job and play music for a living?

J: For me the big thing was that I really didn’t want to be doing accounting anymore so it was a matter of either going back to school, finding a new line of work or seeing…the idea of trying doing the band full time was one that I always kind of romanticized. I always felt like we were a band that deserved more attention than we got, but we just never toured enough to get it because we’re this weird, obscure, noisy, angry band from Winnipeg, Canada and most people they’re reference point for Winnipeg, Canada may be the Winnipeg Jets if they know hockey and otherwise like what the hell is that? Winn-a-what? We kinda knew that if we ever wanted to be taken seriously we’d have to do that and part of it was just never wanting to look back and wonder what if we tried.
So we kind of built a framework to be able to start touring full-time and it took a couple years to get there and we did it, started in 2011 and really didn’t anticipate doing it for as long as we did.

NT: How important was it to bring up success now, on this album, as opposed to an earlier one?

J: Specifically the reason we brought it up on this one is ‘cause we think it’s really funny. We got to do a lot of cool things with this band, but at the same time we’re very cognizant of where we are in the world and whenever people like to throw around like: “Oh he’s such a successful blah blah blah”. The vast relativity of it all is humorous and that’s why we decided to call this album that, particularly because coming into it we kinda thought like this is, as we felt like it, our last big kick at the cat in terms of being able to tour something that extensively and if it were to be a massive failure we thought that’d be really really funny.
Either way we made the record we wanted to make with the guy we wanted to make it with and we did the artwork with our good friend Randy who we kinda felt this is something we always had to do. So everything that went into this project I’d consider it an artistic success, whether or not people like it and they’re paying for it that’s kind of the other half of it, but honestly in terms of my own fulfillment, we kind of got what we needed out of it. So whether or not the world agrees with us, I don’t give a shit. I’d be nice because we can actually pay ourselves back for the money we put in but we can’t expect that.

NT: What is your definition of success? It sounds like you’ve definitely fulfilled it, with this album at least.

J: Yeah at least from a creative standpoint. For me personally, my own concept of success kinda more has to do with the journey rather than the end point and a lot of it is just constantly growing and learning and experiencing new things.
I can’t dwell on any one thing too long ‘cause that’s just not the way I’m psychologically made up. So I constantly want to have more which is kind of sick and twisted but at the same time it’s what makes life worth living, always something new, something cool. There’s so much to experience so why get stagnated on your own… resting on your laurels, I’m just not down for that.

NT: What made you want to explore some of your music roots and turn Success into a mid-‘90s noise style record? Do you think your eighteen year old self would identify with the album and the band you are today?

J: Yeah, I think so. I’d like to hope so. I think my eighteen year old self would be really stoked with what we’ve made. I think part of it was partially some of the music climate that’s going on right now and some of the almost throwback sounding bands that are happening and that I’ve been enjoying like with contemporary music that kind of drove this dwelling back to the past to a certain extent.
The sonic things going on, it’s always been there we just decided to focus rock-side then the metal and hardcore and part of that’s also just that I’m just kinda getting burnt out from some of that. We’ve been living within the metal and hardcore worlds a lot more in the past couple of years and I think that may have contributed to the burn out, so wanting to get into more of the meat and potatoes of what made us who we are in terms of musicians and music listeners. I think that’s largely been what’s happening with this record and that’s why it turned out the way it did.

NT: Did you find yourself listening to them again when you began making this record?

J: Oh definitely. I never stopped listening to a lot of that stuff and it’s not necessarily like a “the music I listened to when I was a kid was the greatest ever”. Like I love a lot of that stuff and I’m constantly listening to new and interesting music all the time. I’d hate to be one of the people who gets frozen in time, but at the same time I’ll never forget where I came from and what I liked and what made me care about music in the first place

NT: What track on Success defines the album as a whole, or speaks to your growth as a musician?

J: Ah, I don’t think any one song can speak to a whole to where we’re at now ‘cause that’s one of the things I think I enjoy so much about all of albums is that you can’t really pick one and say well that’s how that sounds. With this new record in terms of something I find a bit more new and exciting, “These Tight Jeans” is something kind of in a realm we’ve never really dealt much with. It’s more melodic but at the same time it’s using in more of a catchy, punk context which I think that may be the catchiest song we’ve ever written and I like that, it’s different yet it doesn’t sacrifice any of the energy that we historically have had.

NT: What lies ahead for the future of Ken Mode? Where do you see yourself and the band in five years from now?

J: Ah in the next five years, god I hope I’ll have a job that pays me by then [laughs]. In the next five years I’d say we’d probably be writing our eighth record at the time, yeah we’d be working on our eighth probably. I dunno maybe doing short tours here and there, who really knows. As long as we’re making music and still playing the odd show I’ll be happy ‘cause I just need to be making music that I care about, whether anyone else cares I don’t give a shit. As long as I can pay for someone to record it that I respect then we’re all cool.

NT: You hit the road in September, is there any place you’re stoked to play. What can fans expect from one of your shows?

J: I’m stoked to play pretty much everywhere. We’ve toured North America so much in the past couple years that we obviously have a lot of friends all over the place so it’ll be nice to get out and see everyone. Who knows if some of these places will be the last time we ever get out there…you never know.
I’m just excited to get out there, especially with our best friend Garrett Jamieson doing standup on the whole tour too, he’s just the most fun guy to be out with, in the whole world, so I’m really stoked to get to spend two months with him.