WITCHPOLICE RADIO: All right, welcome to Witchpolice Radio. I am here with a guest who has been on the podcast before, but it's been a really long time. I think it was 2014, the last time you were on the show. And obviously, before we get into who you are, I mean, you've done a lot of music in that time.
JESSE MATTHEWSON: For a long time. Was it really in ’14?
WR: Yeah. ‘14. It's ridiculous.
JM: For some reason, it feels longer ago. We have that void last like two and a half years.
WR: Yeah. Everybody does, for sure.
JM: Time doesn't exist.
WR: To get this started off properly, I think the best way to do it is if you want to introduce yourself and give a bit of background about what you do as a musician. I think a lot of people, especially here in Winnipeg, are familiar with your band, but let's hear you introduce yourself and sort of explain what your sound is and what you do.
JM: Well, I'm Jesse from the band KEN mode. We've been doing the thing for going on 23 years here in Winnipeg and around the world. My brother and I formed the band in 1999 and we've been making a mess of everything ever since. We basically… our whole existence revolves around music because now our day jobs we run MKM Management Services, where we do business management for bands that are considerably more popular than ours. Grant writing, accounting, all that fun, boring stuff that you can actually do if you're not cool. And we've always lost money doing the things that you're supposed to be cool to make money for. And now we're finally using our uncoolness to our advantage.
WR: Right on, that's awesome. I'm glad you managed to turn it into an actual day job as well, because it's one thing to be in a band for 20 years, but to be able to have the band and then your straight gig, your real world gig, if you want to call it that, also being music related is pretty awesome.
JM: Yeah. And the funny thing is, at this point, it's not that the band is not a job too, we very much did it as a full time job for five, six years from like 2010 through the end of 2015. But it's not a very good living and I don't like sleeping on people's floors. I like to be able to pay rent or maybe even buy a house one day, which anyway, we don't need to talk about the housing market right now.
JM: I mean, it's kind of a long game that I was playing since I first went to university. That probably would have been like 2000, 2001 when I switched from the sciences over to commerce because I realized I wouldn't be able to make a living in the sciences because I didn't really love it. And music was always going to ruin my life and I knew I could never make money doing what I like to play because, well, if anyone is familiar with my band, you know what it sounds like. Yeah, that's not exactly a house buyer there, so yeah, I got a business degree. My brother got his Chartered Accountant designation and we use that for good instead of evil.
WR: That's awesome. I think that's almost a whole other podcast on its own. The idea of being accountants in music, which it sounds funny on the surface, but it makes a lot of sense as a career path. But the reason we're doing this now and catching up after all this time is because you have a new record coming out that you just announced the other day, a few days before we did this call. This is your first album since… 2018? ’19?
JM: Yeah, ‘18, which I guess we wrote in 2016-17. I mean, we were going to try to start writing earlier than that, but then obviously the pandemic started, like March 2020. We'd be done writing probably near the end of 2019. And I basically threw all that material out, lost my mind, threw everything out, started from scratch alone. And that's kind of where we've come to now. We wrote and recorded two albums last fall. And part of the reason it became that is we're trying to schedule, trying to bring our producer, Andrew Schneider, who lives in New York, up here. And we just couldn't have last year. So all along we decided we were going to try to record everything that we had and it just became so much that we had to make the call. We're not the kind of band that a big, deluxe two double record arc would really work. I don't see people buying that. We're a bit much for like I don't know if you listen to it for 75 minutes straight. So we figured we'd try to make two distinct statements out of it that also fit together as one statement. So that's what we come to. We have the Null album coming out September 23, now on Artofact Records.
WR: And then the follow up is the second part of that, which you've already recorded at the same time.
JM: It is, yeah. And it's done, the artwork is all done. It was all done by the same people at the same time, basically, as one record, other than it will look different and it will sound different because for the most part, they're kind of written in the two different periods. Much of the no record, with the exception of the last track, unresponsive, much of it was written more in 2020. And then as we started being able to get together more, we wrote more as a band. So a lot of the material on the Null record, I wrote on my own, and I play all the instruments and then taught everyone else them. And then for the most part, it's how I wrote it, other than Shane can completely dunk on me as a drummer because I'm not a drummer.
WR: Is that very different from how you usually write? Is it usually a lot more collaborative?
JM: It has been the last years, it's been a lot more collaborative. That was the one thing that the only positive thing that came with the pandemic for me is I taught myself to finally learn how to record stuff on a computer. I kind of flirted with it back in 2007, but it's a completely different world for that sort of stuff now. Like, computers are all way more powerful, all the tools to record yourself are way easier to learn, and a lot of the gear is a lot cheaper. I'd say meager like some opening, like, just beginner stuff. And then I quickly started to buy a little bit better equipment. But for, the most part, I don't have delusions of grandeur. I'm not going to try and replace some of the people that we work with when we go to the studio, because that's one of the things I really get a kick out of it being able to hire some of the best people in the world and bring them up to Winnipeg.
WR: Well and you have. You have you have done that repeatedly.
JM: Yeah, quite literally. And, I mean, part of that is the benefit of living in a place like Winnipeg, where we have programs like Manitoba Film and Music, where they do. I mean, for a band like us, who has the accolades that we have, and they know how to write the grants for them, they've been very kind to us for basically since we won that Juno. We've been getting our albums supported by them. So we end up making records that we probably shouldn't make on our own. It kind of just takes our budget and doubles it. So we've been very fortunate. Granted, part of the reason it is so expensive is because to work with these people, we have to bring them to Winnipeg to do it. Generally speaking, if you work with them in the US, when they're at home, it's cheap. But anyway, regardless, we've got to work with some of the best people in our genre, period. So it's been very cool. And I'd like to continue doing that, but anyway, I kind of went on a tangent there. I learned how to demo stuff on a computer, which has allowed me to experiment a lot more with our songwriting, more so than I've ever been able to in the past. Because a lot of the time I have these crazy ideas. But because I didn't play the instruments or have the gear, we would have to try and wing it in the studio. And I'd bring people in and try the things out, and it's like, Yeah, that doesn't really work. Especially with a band that plays the way we do and has the type of tones that we do. It's not always easy to fit other instruments in there. You have to spend a lot of time crafting a place for another instrument, especially since we've been a three piece since 1999. I don't usually leave space for other things.
WR: Well, that was kind of my next question, too, is that now you're a four-piece and I mean that's an extension of the previous record too, is having the sax on there, which I think was like one of the strongest parts of that album and they really stood out a lot on those songs. So it's cool to hear that this is now expanded and she's a permanent member.
JM: The funny thing about all that is the saxophone. We were encouraged not to really stress it too much by the label we were on at the time because within the heavy metal genre, it's a very divisive instrument where people who are either into stuff like jazz really enjoy that being mixed in or they absolutely fucking hate it. As a result, we just didn't really showcase it on any of the singles that we had and I think people didn't really realize there was an evolution going on unless you actually spent time to listen to the records because all my favorite tracks on that record are the ones with the saxophone.
WR: Sure. Yeah. It's really noticeable. It comes out super strong on those songs.
JM: Yeah. And the tricky thing about only having three songs with her on it is it doesn't really warrant bringing her on to her paying for a whole other person. So with this record I started getting really into Moog synthesizers and bought a few of them and then started mixing in piano more because I had the ability to in the demoing process and all along when I started messing with all that. If you're going to do it, you should do it live, not just reliant samples and kind of the long game there was I wanted to have Kathryn doing all of that and we wanted more saxophones. So there's more saxophone on this record, there's more saxophone on the next record, there's piano, there's synth, there's all kinds of stuff and her job is going to be miserable live.
WR: How is it going to work then? I mean, you have Kathryn in the band now, which is awesome. But how does that work for the old stuff? Like, if you're on tour and you're going to be playing something from three albums back, does it get retrofitted to add synth or sax or piano… or what?
JM: We've actually just begun the last two, three weeks. We've started to have sessions where her, Shane and I get together at my place and we figure out synth and saxophone parts for all the old stuff, if it'll fit, which synthesizers a little easier, especially on some of the songs that we have as regulars in our sets right now. What do we have? We have like 14 or 15 songs that we intend on playing on the road and I think we've got eight or nine that we've written all the parts for. So she's doing something on every song.
WR: That's cool.
JM: So we've just got a few more off of Entrench and loved to write some synth to make it so she's not just standing there. Some of these songs, like Blessed, are going to be wild. I'm really excited for people to see that.
WR: Does having the synths there, does that make your job easier at all? I mean, because you're singing and playing guitar, does it change kind of what you're playing or are you still doing everything?
JM: I'm still doing everything the same. It's just going to make things sound gigantic. It's going to sound like the sun is falling into the earth on some tracks.
JM: I'm all for that. That'll be fun.
WR: Yeah. Well, it's interesting you said the sax being divisive because I totally get how it is. But it also seems like a lot of people who are into really aggressive, really kind of extreme music would also be into, like, avant-garde jazz and free jazz and stuff that's really noisy and discordant in itself. It's just a different way, right?
JM: You'd think so. Yeah. Like I've been telling people, I think the saxophone is one of the most violent instruments there is on the planet.
JM: It inherently… the way it punctuates and the way it especially can punctuate over extreme music. It is a wild instrument. I guess I wanted to start incorporating it because when we started writing Loved, I was listening to way more jazz than anything else. And I've kind of continued that while mixing in I mean, there's a lot of really good death metal and even, like noise I don't even want to say hardcore, but kind of a lot of really cool, noisy things going on right now. And it's just blending all the things that I love right now into our music. And actually, we're using the saxophone for more than just a violent noise tool too, trying to think if that's more so on the next record or if it's on this one.
WR: It's going to be hard to remember if you recorded it all in one kind of big chunk that's going to be you don't want to give away you don't want to give any spoilers about the future record when this one's not even out yet.
JM: I mean, I can kind of tell people that the first record is very much reflecting kind of the feeling we all had at the Pandemic first, starting like just this frantic, crazed, scared. Kind of just all over the place. You don't know what to think of what's happening. And then it was just followed for me by great sadness. And that's the next record.
WR: I've been talking about the pandemic kind of like twice a week straight for the past two and a half years doing this show. And then on my day job, talking about it constantly as well. I'm sick of talking about it. But aside from the obvious, how has that affected you guys as a band? Because I think that it's not that unreasonable that you take usually a few years between records anyway. This is obviously drastically affected your ability to get together, , and things like that. But did it really derail anything? Or did you just kind of push things a little further back?
JM: We were intending to do a bunch of touring in 2020. So completely derailed that, and it pushed that writing process more. I feel like it killed some of the momentum. We were starting to get some pretty decent tour offers again after quite a few years of not getting tour offers. And it seems like when the pandemic hit and the whole industry got the pause button pressed on, no one's come back to ask us. And that's annoying to me because we have new stuff we want to promote and we'd love to do some cool tours. And instead we're left kind of going like, well, guess we got to do something ourselves because I'm not going to sit at home. A lot of people our age, if they didn't become like, a cool band that is in high demand, they're all kind of planned, well, we're just going to sit at home and wait for only good offers. And we've never really been that band who sits and waits for good offers because we don't get them when we do that. So we're going to get out and pound the payment a bit in the fall. Hopefully it all comes together. I mean, I'm working on it. We got to promote this record, so I don't want it to just kind of get released like a wet fart. It's got to be a nice big airy fart. That drift.
WR: What you just mentioned too, about people our age. Are you still as excited about doing this as you were 20 years ago? Because the first time I would have seen you live would have been ‘98, ‘99, or whenever you got started. Are you still as comfortable playing a show or even more maybe, at this point? Has it changed at all?
JM: No, I'm not. I'm kind of hoping that we'll be able to find a new balance with this new material and new lineup that I actually will be excited about playing shows. Honestly, the last bunch of years playing shows have not been very much fun for me. I don't know. It's that old. There's, like, memes and sayings about it, if you want to ruin something, become a professional at it. Touring as professional musicians and doing it for as long as we did kind of ruined playing shows. For me, it's just stressful and not fun. And I put an awful lot of pressure on myself. And I think part of that is the stage show we have been putting on hurts also, and even just when we're filming the music videos for this album cycle, I re injured myself, an injury that I incurred in 2015 while touring on our success record. And I haven't really been able to exercise ever since because my hip hurts so much. So I've been acknowledging that I need to change the way I approach things on stage for a number of years. But because we haven't been able to practice, I just kind of went back to old habits because they die hard. And when you don't practice for things or train for it, you do what comes naturally. And what comes naturally is hurting my body.
WR: I feel like having seen you live at various points over the years, too, I feel like people would not necessarily want to see a show where you're all just sitting on chairs playing calmly. Right. I mean, the vibe of it is part of the experience, I think, right.
JM: And we very much I don't think we'll become like a sitting on chairs band, but some of the stuff I've done to my neck, like, I know I've done permanent damage and I can't swing it around like that anymore because I'll get chronic headaches and yeah, it's a mess. I got to figure something out. I mean, there are other ways to be engaging and intimidating and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and make the image of the music, the sound of the music, but I got to stop hurting myself. So it actually is fun to do again because I don't know the concept of going on tour if you're not having fun on stage.
WR: Why still do it?
JM: It’s because I like traveling and going to cool restaurants and meeting all the people who like all the same stuff as we do all over the world. Even the last tour cycle we did, I was trying to collect craft beer through the States as we toured. And people just give you stuff because they like your band a lot. And I don't know, I get where they're coming from with that sort of thing. Because when you like someone's music, and especially in the age of social media, where you kind of get a piece of their personality through it and so many of the people in this community end up being really cool people who like a lot of the same stuff as you, you essentially make friends everywhere and what do you want to do with your friends? You want to share cool shit with your friends. And that's what they do with us when we come through town. And that sort of stuff is just very humbling. And I mean, that for me is part of the meaning of life for touring, is meeting these people, getting to eat the food that they like, drink the beer that they like. Hopefully get some coffee next time. That's why I like traveling. I like experiencing all those things that make life worth living. And honestly, that's what I'm looking forward to about getting back on the road.
WR: Better than the sleeping on the floor part, obviously, is not the fun part. The food and the meeting people and everything, for sure. I can see that being worth the physical injuries and discomfort and all that stuff.
JM: And it is. I mean, traveling in a band with your bandmates as long as you don't hate them. And at this point, like, why the hell would we been a band for this long? We wouldn't be in a band if we didn't like our bandmates. That's part of it for us, too, with this, is just like, we have a bassist who doesn't even live here. The reason he's in the band is because he's our good friend and we like spending time with him, and we like collaborating and making music with him. So it's nice to spend time with your friends in a van living like deranged hobos.
WR: At this point. You have the one music video that just came out for the first single from the record. , where can people hear that? Where can people hear the song? I know that the song is also out on the various ways people consume music.
JM: The song’s everywhere. YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, all the streaming things. The single is out. The video you can check out on YouTube. Where else… Facebook, Apple Music, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All the ways everyone consumes music these days it's available. The vinyl and CDs are available for pre order. We've got T-shirt designs. Our artwork guru, Randy Ortiz, who we've been working with for many years, also from Winnipeg. We collaborated on a print of the album art with him for this one that I don't think a lot of people realize is even for sale because we kind of packaged, it as part of the whole pre order thing through our site. But that's available and that looks so menacing. Yeah. It's nice to finally get this stuff out, particularly because we submitted the music and the artwork back in January. Yeah, the vinyl situation in the world is so bad that it's been sitting since January. And we've just been kind of like, granted, there was things to do. Like, we had to film music videos, and now it's editing music videos. But when you finish this piece of art, you can't have anyone hear it for like, nine months. That was part of my dilemma because we booked Andrew Schneider to come up to record everything last fall. And originally it was supposed to happen in the summer, but the borders hadn't opened up and we had to make the call as to when we were going to fly him up. We made the decision that we had to figure it out by May. And last May we were all in lockdown here still. So we basically went like, yeah, this isn't going to happen. It's not going to work by the summer. And I know, like, Canada didn't even allow people to come up from the US. Until sometime in July anyway. So in the workout, so it got moved. And when it got moved, then I was predicting there was going to be another swell of a new variant in the fall, and if it didn't happen, we were going to have to completely change the plan because I wasn't going to wait until 2022 to record this stuff. Because writing songs in 2020 and waiting two years to record it, the stuff is going to feel meaningless to me. Then we were faced with that, like, well, we're going to have to pivot if this doesn't happen. Thankfully, it happened, and then the next variant outbreak happened.
WR: When there was that brief period.
JM: I feel really bad because our recording engineer and producer, Andrew Schneider, he's from New York, so he caught it in January 2021. And then when he got back home from recording us, he caught it again. That was when Omicron hit New York. And that was at the time when nobody believed you could actually get it twice. And there were certain conspiracy theorists, doctors saying like, you can't get it twice. And then everyone started getting it twice. Of course. Of course it's this way.
WR: Yeah, of course. Well, hopefully this eternal waking nightmare that everyone's been going through is going to be ending soonish. I don't know, but we could get a variant tomorrow and then it goes back to lockdown. But you are going to be going on tour, presumably. Where can people find out tour dates and things like that? What's the best way to sort of keep in touch with where you're going to be and what you're doing?
JM: Generally speaking, we use what are all those music databases? Bandsintown and Songkick. Songkick. Yeah. They're like the two main ones, that kind of populate Spotify and Bandcamp. What else do they do? All kinds of shit. Anyway, if you follow any of those, you'll be able to figure out what's happening. When do you ballpark think this will come out because I could talk about some of the dates.
WR: Sooner rather than later. I do two a week now, and my backlog of episodes while I was sick with COVID pretty much evaporated. So they come out within like a week and a half or two weeks of recording, though.
JM: Okay, well, we're releasing the first dates on the 24 June, so if it comes out after that, we're starting four dates in Canada with a Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton with Vile Preacher and Mars Race to kind of launch the record. The first show in three years being right here in Winnipeg at the Good Will. So that'll be, hopefully, a lot of fun. And then we're supposed to be going to the States for three weeks in October or November, which I don't know where all of that's at, but I do know that we're playing No Coast Festival in Dallas, which is like a noise rock festival. So that should be awesome.