Hometown heroes KEN mode remain grounded despite international success

Triple threat: Shane Matthewson, Andrew LaCour and Jesse Matthewson are KEN mode. The band worked with producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis) on its latest album, Entrench. Supplied

After 16 years spent climbing the echelons of heavy metal hierarchy, it’s safe to say that Winnipeg-bred noise-rock trio KEN mode have far surpassed “local band” status.

They have released five full-length discs (their latest, Entrench, drops March 19 on Sea of Mist Records) and earned loads of critical praise from such reputable music sources as Exclaim! and Pitchfork.

The group has also toured internationally and won the inaugural Juno award for Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year in 2011 to boot.

Not to mention that two thirds of the band members - brothers Jesse (lead vocals/guitar) and Shane Matthewson (drums) - are also certified accountants.
Wait, what?

“Ever since we were actually teenagers we’ve been in KEN mode, but it boiled down to when Shane finally passed CASB (the Chartered Accountants School of Business) - we were at a point where I was contemplating going back to school,” says Jesse Matthewson, who would eventually graduate from the University of Manitoba.

“We just kind of took a step back and said, ‘Do we want to try pushing the band full-time for a while?’ So we never have to look back and say, ‘What if we tried that?’ So we gave it our all for a couple of years around Venerable (their fourth major release in 2011), assessed where things were at, and it looked like it was a good idea to keep pushing it for a while. So here we are, en route to Boston!”

Having just set out on the road for what will be a year of constant touring, the Matthewsons, alongside a new recruit, bassist Andrew LaCour, are already looking forward to their homecoming show in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 4.

The gig at the Pyramid Cabaret will fall around the mid-way point of the North American leg of their tour.

“Lately it’s been a lot more intense (playing in Winnipeg) because there are a lot more people that come out, which is fun. Back in the early 2000s when the scene was more bands like us, like Electro Quarterstaff, those shows had really high attendances, then they dropped off for quite a few years,” Matthewson recalls.

“It seems as though now we have more of an international presence, and it’s picked back up in Winnipeg for us, so it’s definitely cool playing there again.”
Matthewson notes how the Juno award win opened a lot of doors for the group and gave them a welcome boost of mainstream exposure.

“We figured with this Juno we’d probably have more access to some of the funding that is out there, and as a result we accessed some and ended up recording with Matt Bayles (Pearl Jam, Mastadon) for a month, which I know we never would have been able to do (before the win).

“That turned out very cool, and I think we’ve pumped out the best record we ever have with Entrench. So it’s working out pretty okay for us right now.”

Despite the old adage that advises not to fix what isn’t broken, the boys of KEN mode thrive on constantly reinventing themselves to keep things interesting within the group.

“We’ve had a new bassist on every bloody record so that’s an easy way of keeping it fresh,” Matthewson jokes.

“Really it’s just keeping in touch with what’s going on with music in general that keeps us invigorated, and writing constantly. As long as it’s fun, we’ll continue to do this.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 14, 2013)

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