Ask Winnipeg musician Ryan Settee what inspires him to be different, and he’ll answer with one word: Kittens.
Not the animal, but rather, the now-defunct Winnipeg noise-rock trio whose unique sound earned them a record deal with Sonic Unyon in the ‘90s.
In 1994, around the same time Kittens’ music videos were being played on MuchMusic’s City Limits show, Settee found himself in the same Glenlawn Collegiate art class as Kittens drummer David Kelly.
Settee couldn’t believe that someone his age was making music that distinct from the mainstream, and being recognized for it.
“That was probably my epiphany around here that you could do something completely different,” Settee said over beers at the Toad late last month. “It’s gotten easier (to make music locally) since then, but I don’t know if it’s ever gotten better than that.”
Settee, 30, is the brains behind High Watt Electrocutions, a one-man, drone-y, psychedelic metal act that is his own attempt at doing something different.
And different it is. His latest release, last year’s Desert Opuses, is a concept album based, both musically and lyrically, on a Middle Eastern theme.
Mastered by John Golden (Melvins, Sonic Youth), the album is a stoner/fuzz rock tour de force, drawing on influences like metal godfathers Black Sabbath and early ‘80s English rockers Spacemen 3.
As with his 2007 debut, Night Songs, Settee played and recorded almost everything himself in his home studio.
“If you can do something yourself, you should do it yourself. I hear full songs in my head, so it’s hard to transpose it for another musician to play. It’s not a control freak kind of thing – it’s just easier to do it myself.”
The LP version of Desert Opuses is pressed on to translucent gold 140 gram vinyl, and includes one track, The Desert Winds, that is not on the CD release. Conversely, the CD has two tracks, Stripped Ruins and Evilution, that are not on the LP.
It’s all part of Settee’s goal to provide music fans with a unique listening experience. He admits that Desert Opuses isn’t for everyone, but he’s also proud of that fact.
“I think if you end up chasing whatever’s popular, you’ll just end up tomorrow’s failure. So, you better find your own style,” he said. “If you can create something that’s different, I think everybody should do that.”
A tile salesman by day, Settee says he prefers to keep music as his hobby.
“If you don’t do it (as a job), it makes you pine for it a little more,” he said.
He adds that he has three albums’ worth of material written that he’s currently deciding what to do with.
“It’s kind of hard to leave (music) alone if you really like to do it,” he said. “It’s liberating.”
Published in Volume 63, Number 29 of The Uniter (July 16, 2009)