Five Questions With… Jesse Matthewson of KEN mode
The Juno-nominated hardcore trio from Winnipeg is about to release a seventh album. In this interview, their vocalist terms it their nastiest yet funniest yet, and reminisces about playing early gigs with an open wound.
By Jason Schneider
Loved, KEN mode’s seventh full-length record out Aug. 31 on New Damage Records in Canada, represents yet another pivot point in the acclaimed Winnipeg hardcore outfit’s sound. Drawing from not only the desperate noise and industrial sonics of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the band has mixed in the decidedly more extreme tone and presence of death and black metal.
Coming off their 2015 Steve Albini-produced and Juno-nominated album Success, KEN mode took a step back the following year, with core members Shane and Jesse Matthewson forming their own company, MKM Management Services, that now maintains an impressive roster of Canadian metal, punk, and hardcore bands, while bassist Scott Hamilton released records with his other bands, Adolyne and Greylight District, and worked as the film programmer at the Broadway Theatre in his hometown of Saskatoon.
The trio reconvened in 2017 and began writing with a newfound focus and desire, resulting in Loved being their most collaborative effort to date. Having taken their name from the term legendary Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins coined to describe his state of mind before each show—“Kill Everyone Now mode”—the Matthewson brothers and Hamilton continue to live by that principle when it comes to their music, and Loved proves they have no intention of lowering the intensity anytime soon.
KEN mode hits the road in Canada this fall with Shallow, North Dakota and Birds In Row. For more info go to ken-mode.com.
What makes Loved stand apart from your previous work?
It’s meaner, nastier, and funnier than we’ve ever been before. The production is like being caught by a grenade—pounded by the sheer force and shredded with shrapnel. This is ugly in a way we've never been before, while still being the most refined piece of work over our almost 20 years of being a band.
What songs on the new album are you particularly proud of?
“The Illusion of Dignity” is one of my favourite songs we've ever written. It’s got the filth and groove of Black Flag and the Cows mixed with a metallic/industrial hammer of bands like Godflesh and Cop Shoot Cop. It also has the tremolo picking of a death metal band, while still mixing in some free-jazz elements. Vocally, it might be my favourite performance of my “career.”
What’s been the most significant change in your life over the past year?
I decided to fix up my teeth finally. It sucks. I’ve chipped the shit out of them over the years performing, and some decent work needed to be done on them. I chose to do this right before recording our new album and immediately flying off to Thailand to train in muaythai [martial arts] for a month. Super smart decision.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
I recall it being the only show that I was nervous about. We were practiced enough, had decent sufficient material—we just needed to get over that first hurdle. It was kind of like getting punched in the face for the first time, you either acclimate yourself to it immediately, or you continue to be crippled by anxiety. We were quite literally kids at this point, playing the basement of a community centre in Winnipeg. I got appendicitis the next week and had my appendix removed. I think we played two shows after that with me having an open wound on stage. Oh to be young again!
If you could fix anything about the music industry, what would it be?
Proper monetization of recorded music. The fact that things like Spotify are normalizing paying for music again helps a lot, but despite that artists are NOT being paid correctly. Within the industry, it’s something like 750 plays represents an actual album sale.
Now, think of your favourite record, one you listen to all the time. Now think of how many times you hear it in a year. I know for me—and I listen to a lot of music all the time—if I REALLY like an album I might listen to it 25 times in a year. Say that album has 10 songs; we’re looking at 250 plays, which is one-third of what is required to even count as a sale of that album. Not to mention each play is worth a fraction of one cent. Even with 750 plays, we're only looking at maybe a $3.00 return on that from one person for that one “sale” from such a streaming platform.
The fact that the artist is always the last one to get paid in our industry, an industry that is entirely dependent on our creativity, is pretty skewed. Oh well.