It’s doubtful that when Henry Rollins wrote the phrase “kill everyone now mode” in his journal while on tour with Black Flag, he had any idea it would inspire two brothers from Winnipeg to name their band that, but it did.
Jesse and Shane Mathewson formed KENmode in 1999, and since they’ve recorded five albums, quit their day jobs to become full time musicians, toured North America and Europe a bunch of times, had an unintentionally rotating roster of bass players, and won a Juno. Not bad for two kids from St. Vital who grew up listening to bands like the Melvins, Nirvanna, Drive Like Jehu, and the Jesus Lizard.
“We’ve always been interested in heavier and noisier music, and our main influences as a band have remained relatively consistent over the years,” drummer Shane Mathewson said. “I’ve always said that heavy aggressive music is either something that you “get” or you don’t. We caught the bug at pretty early ages.”
Not just noise, not just metal, and not just punk, KENmode’s songs include elements from most of the “angry” types of music, and that has lead them to be described as anything from “audience punishing,” to “skull crushing.” The band has their own description of the music they play, and even then, they don’t always agree on it.
“Years ago we coined the term “Mammoth metallic noise rock” to describe our genre,” Shane said. “We essentially exist in the gray area in between a plethora of subgenres of rock and roll, metal, hardcore etc. Even within the band we’ve had disagreements as to how to describe our sound. When we’re asked what kind of band we are at the U.S. border on tour, I always say “Somewhere in between hard rock and heavy metal”, which might actually be the best way we can describe it.”
Having four different bass players on five albums could potentially spell the end for some bands, and indeed it’s been discouraging for the brothers, but their resolve to make music that they really wanted to hear has kept them going.
Their latest bass player, Andrew LaCour, lives in Chicago, which made the song writing process for their latest album, “Entrench,” an ambitious endeavour.
“The writing process is significantly condensed as a result of the distance,” Shane said. “For the new album most of the writing was done in two sessions in December 2011 and May 2012. As Andrew is our first “long distance” fulltime bassist, we really had to make sure we got all of our ducks in a row to make our time writing together count.”
For the brothers, KENmode is their full time job. From planning tours and all that entails, to working with artists on merch and album design – local artist Ben Bonner’s incredible creation cloudghoultrillghost is on the cover of “Entrench”, and local illustrator Randy Ortiz did the layout – they are involved in it all. Oddly enough, or maybe not, their background in Commerce – both went to the University of Manitoba and Shane was a Certified Accountant – helps with everything.
“Our professional backgrounds have most definitely helped us in running our band,” says Shane. “From analyzing sales data for trends in merchandising, to writing grant proposals, to negotiating record deals, a solid business background is extremely helpful! I doubt many other bands analyze things to quite the extent that we do. For example, in assessing two spring 2013 European tour options, I did a full qualitative and quantitative analysis like it was a bloody business case question!”
Rock star accountants, they’re a thing, but they don’t get a person any cred, really.
“For the most part my co-workers aren’t particularly interested in what we do with the band outside of work,” says Shane. “We would get the occasional “Where do you play in the city?” and “Do you guys get groupies?” questions, but for the most part we fly under the radar.”
At last year’s Junos, the group won the first ever Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year category, which might add another level of perceived pressure on the band – what’s next? What happens if your new album doesn’t win a Juno? – but they put that kind of pressure on themselves as a band already.
“We’ve always put pressure on ourselves to make better and better records, so the Juno win didn’t add anything extra,” says Shane. “I will say that people seem to putting the pressure on us to win another Juno for our new record, because the 2014 Junos are being held in Winnipeg.”
With glowing reviews from the likes of Pitchfork and Exclaim!, they just might be walking the red carpet in their hometown.
“Entrench” is available now, and they boys are back in town this Thursday, April 4th at the Pyramid.
Sara is in a committed relationship with Winnipeg. They fight, and sometimes need to take a break, but they always come back to each other. She doesn’t tweet, but she does have a blog: http://sawtoday.blogspot.ca/