KEN mode: From the Heart of St. Vital on

Photo by Chad Tremblay

By Marc Evans
In case you have literally or figuratively been living under a rock, the name KEN mode has affectionately been hammered into your cerebral cavities. For a decade plus, this Winnipeg trio has been executing their wartime strategy with eerie precision.  Gearing up for a relatively massive touring cycle in support of their fourth full-length album, I sat down over a lovely cup of Lavazza with drum ogre Shane Matthewson.

Stylus: Damn this coffee is great, good call. Can you sum up the timeline of the band for those not in the know?
Shane Matthewson
: Well, we formed in the heart of St. Vital in 1999.  At the core we are two loser brothers [Jesse on guitar/vocals] who refuse to quit because it’s all we know at this point (and we love doing it, and all that good stuff). Our first “studio” album was recorded in late 2001 but didn’t come out until 2003.  Since 2002, we’ve been touring whenever our busy work and school schedules have permitted.  We’ve been touring and putting on our own shows locally for a long time now, so I suppose people might say we’ve ‘paid our dues.’ I see it more as we just didn’t quit! [Laughs] Our newest album Venerable, which comes out March 15, is our first with our new label Profound Lore Records.  We’re really excited to be working with Profound Lore!
Stylus: Speaking of Profound Lore, which happens to be one of my favorite labels right now, what sparked the change from Escape Artist, to your own label Arctodus Records, to now one of the hottest forward thinking aggressive labels?SM: Well, in 2008 when we completed our Mennonite album, we knew that Escape Artist Records was in the “wind down” stage of its life.  Our agreement with Escape Artist was to do two records, which we finished with our Reprisal album in 2006, so we began the search for a new home.  We ended up releasing Mennonite ourselves through Jesse’s label Arctodus Records, as we had booked a European tour for March 2008 and no other label would have been able to have the album ready for release in such a short period of time.  With our new album Venerable, we really wanted to give it a solid push through marketing and touring.  We knew to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish with the album, we would need the support of an established label. Profound Lore ended up being the best fit for what we wanted to do.  They do a great job promoting their artists, and are excellent at keeping the lines of keeping communication open and keeping us in the loop.
Stylus: There is a new member in your ranks. G. Therese Lanz, who is taking over bass playing duties.  Is she a permanent addition to the band, or is it just for the tour?
: Well, as far as bass playing duties go, it looks like we will have a bit of a revolving lineup in the next little while. First and foremost we are looking accomplish all of our touring goals for this record. Therese will be accompanying us on our tours in March, April, May and June, but has other commitments with her own band [Mares of Thrace] at other points during the year.  Chad Tremblay who played bass on Venerable will be doing some of the touring with us this year, as well as Jahmeel Russell [Kittens, Malefaction, Projektor, Red Vienna] who played bass on Mennonite.  As far as who we will be writing and recording with going forward, that remains to be seen.
Stylus: You and your brother are much more personally involved with KEN mode than most other musicians I have met.  I know you’ve mentioned in the past that in most circumstances you feel that ‘DIY’ labels are often under educated on the business side of music.  Can you elaborate on what you are doing differently?
SM:  Between my brother and I, we’ve graduated from 3 business schools, meaning compared to most other musicians we have a bit of a leg up so to speak.  By no means does this mean that we’re treating our band like any other ‘business venture’ we could be involved in, as it is most definitely a labour of love for the both of us.  If this band were an investment we would have turfed it a long time ago! [laughs] We do our best to use our collective education to help this band run as smoothly as possible, from budgeting, to filing our taxes in the most advantageous was possible for the band.  We’re very involved in all aspects of running the band, so if you buy something from us through mail order, it was definitely us who stuffed the envelope!
Stylus: Now, with the fourth KEN mode album, we have seen you guys step up to the upper echelon of the scene, if you can call it that.  Who are some of the people involved in it’s creation, why are they important to you as a band?
: [Laughs] Well I’m not sure if we can claim to be in the upper echelon quite yet, but we’ve definitely been getting significantly more ‘push’ on this record.  Working with Chris Bruni at Profound Lore Records has definitely helped get our name out there.  Also, our album was recorded at God City Studios by Kurt Ballou [Converge], with artwork and layout by Julie Anne Mann and Josh Graham [Neurosis, Storm of Light, Red Sparrows, Battle of Mice].  Getting names like these attached to your record definitely helps in generating a bit of buzz.  We’ve been big fans of Kurt, Julie Anne and Josh’s work for years now, so it’s great to have had worked with them!
Stylus: I know it’s cliché to say this but the new record rips.  What is different about this album compared to the back catalogue, which continues to win over new droves of KEN mode supporters?
: The writing process for this album was similar to albums we’ve done in the past, the exception being our last album Mennonite, which was written and recorded in a relatively short period of time.  I suppose the biggest change on this record was recording with Kurt, who has notoriously heavy production. The songs on Venerable are a little heavier than our last record, so having big production to back it really makes the songs pop!  One track on the record [“Never Was”] has up to four bass tracks and eight guitar tracks at points!
Stylus: This tour looks massive, with stops at SXSW for the Profound Lore showcase.  How long are you gone for?  Who are you looking to forward to seeing or performing with?
: For this run, we’ll be out for about two months in the U.S. and Canada, then home for about three weeks before we go out for another month in the U.S. We’re definitely excited to get out and play this new material, see some old friends, and make a whole lot of new friends! None of us have ever played or even been to SXSW before, and have heard great things about it, so it will definitely be cool to check things out.  As far as who we’re looking forward to playing with, this list is pretty long!  It will definitely be good to play with our buddies in Sulaco, Vilipend, Castavete, Gaza, The Secret etc., Engineer, Black Breath, Fuck the Facts, and the list goes on.
Stylus: Anything else you like to say before we go get some absolutely wonderful Thai food?
: Thanks everyone for the support!  Our tour dates and merch can be found at  Our last show of this two month tour will be in Winnipeg at the Albert on Saturday May 7 with Fuck the Facts.  It should be an awesome show and a great way to end that tour!