Bringing the Noise – Winnipeg Free Press

KEN mode has switched to Go mode.

concert preview

KEN mode
Featuring Vile Creatures and Mares of Thrace
● Friday, 8 p.m
● Good Will Social Club, 625 Portage Ave.
● Tickets: $24.55 at

The Winnipeg noise rock band have been a dormant volcano for nearly three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have been building a pool of musical magma since their 20th anniversary show at the Good Will Social Club on Oct. 27. 10th, 2019.

The volcano erupts on Friday as the Juno Award-winning group return to Good Will to release their new album. zeroand embark on a brief western Canadian tour with Calgary doom metal duo Mares of Thrace and Hamilton’s Vile Creature.

“It seems ridiculous that three years later we’re finally doing this thing again,” says singer Jesse Matthewson.

The group, which also includes Jesse’s brother Shane on drums and Scott Hamilton on bass, added a fourth member during the break, saxophonist Kathryn Kerr, and she takes center stage on the KEN Mode single A love letter. She adds a manic tone with a synth-infused saxophone to a song already packed with messy-sounding power chords and Matthewson’s haunting vocals.

She performed on three songs on KEN Mode’s 2018 album lovedand the band decided to welcome her on board permanently.

“We’re just lucky that she’s such a talented musician and plays so many instruments — she plays piano, synth, saxophone, guitar, you name an instrument she can probably play — and the fact that she’s willing to do that Doing things in our band is so cool,” says Matthewson. “We’re going to take advantage of that and just crush people live with that fourth member.”

Kerr’s entry into the band was a pleasant coincidence. She originally applied for an accounting position at the Matthewsons’ music business, MKM Management Services.

“It’s very strange that we’d come across a person like her because Shane and I aren’t normal in this music scene,” says Matthewson. “To meet another person who wants to do something like this (accounting) and is willing to be a part of this weird style of aggressive music is an anomaly.”

A love letter also highlights another side of Matthewson’s singing. He shifts from his regular, angry-sounding howl at the beginning of the song to a clearer style that’s as close to rapping as a metal band gets.


From left: Kathryn Kerr, Jesse Matthewson, Shane Matthewson and Scott Hamilton of KEN Mode.

“I wanted to convey a certain level of desperation in the tone,” he says.

His voice often breaks during this new vocal approach, and he’s surprised that after over 20 years of recording and performing, he’s still been able to sing his own way.

“I never thought I’d be doing this at that age,” says Matthewson, 41. “I come from (hardcore singer) Henry Rollins’ school, where he quit when he was my age. He just destroyed his voice and I assumed I had too… I’m basically going broke and if one day I destroy my voice I’ll have to deal with it.

“My voice is limited because we play pretty harsh music and I’m not a spring chicken here.”

The four shows in western Canada will serve as a warm-up for KEN Mode ahead of a vocal 22-show, 24-night tour of the US and eastern Canada in October and November.

Matthewson says he’s up for the challenge.

“Granted, what I do is a far cry from what classically trained opera people deal with, but you still use the same raw materials and tools,” he says of his vocal cords. “It’s like every muscle in the body. You can’t go from zero to 100 without warming up and practicing for months.”


KEN Mode’s new album, Null, was recorded at Private Ear Studios last fall.

Before the recording he got a fright zero last fall at Private Ear Studios in the Exchange District. The band sounded great but Matthewson didn’t, forcing him to record the vocals at home afterwards.

“My voice was pretty much destroyed before we even got into the studio because of the wildfire situation we had last summer,” he says. “We just had smoke in the air all the time outside. It put quite a strain on my throat, so during rehearsals we prepared for the studio. I blew my voice out and it didn’t come back, which is always great when you walk into the studio.”

Like countless others, Matthewson has had to find a work-from-home studio medium during the pandemic.

“It became a blessing in disguise for me because I was never given the timeframe to work on songs with that kind of freedom. I really had to break everything down and make sure everything was as perfect as possible for what I was going to do,” he says.

KEN Mode is poised to benefit from all the hard work and intense touring the group has put in over the first two decades.

“The pandemic has engulfed the last two years of my 30s. I’m hoping I can do (the 40s) better than my 30s, but that’s going to be hard to beat. It’s been a good decade,” says Matthewson.

“We’ve laid a foundation that I hope we can use in the future, but in the entertainment industry you never know. I feel like we’ve built enough fan bases around the world that I think things should improve as long as we keep making music that does something for us.

“As long as we’re artistically fed up, I think we should continue to be OK because I think we’re our own harshest critics.”

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

alan small

alan small

Alan Small has been a journalist with the Free Press for more than 22 years in various capacities, most recently as an arts and life reporter.

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