When working on material for their eighth album, the members of Canadian noise-rock quadrangle KEN mode ended up writing twice as much as they intended. This creative outpouring left vocalist/guitarist Jesse Matthewson, his brother and drummer Shane, bassist Skot Hamilton, and saxophonist/pianist Kathryn Kerr with a decision to make. “From a writing and story standpoint, we wanted it to all be one big piece,” Jesse tells Apple Music. “But for a band of our size and style, a big double record is a really bad idea. But the material is really good, so we figured we could divide it into two distinct stories that build off of each other.” As a result, NULL is the first half of a collection that will be completed by a second album—aptly titled VOID—at some point in the future. Below, Jesse discusses each track on NULL. “A Love Letter” “This was one of the first songs I started writing while I was teaching myself how to do preproduction on a digital audio workstation, so I probably rewrote it six times. When it came time to get the saxophone going, I wanted Kathryn to make a sound like a dying elk, and that’s the sound that you hear in the verses. When we were writing the chorus parts, she whipped out this mildly obscure jazz lead that felt part Miles Davis, part war horn. It sounded so special to me that it really set the stage for how I wanted to utilize saxophone on all our writing.” “Throw Your Phone in the River” “I wrote this shortly after George Floyd and the subsequent internet eruption. Obviously, it was a horrible act, but I couldn’t deal with how awful everyone was being to each other during the fallout. I get it—we were all in lockdown and people were freaking out and frantic, but it was fucked up. This song is largely about my inability to help those around me cope with their own mental health problems, because I just couldn’t keep my shit together. I mean, it’s no secret that social media is destroying the fabric of society, and I feel like more people would be better off if they pitched their smartphone in the river. At the same time, we need them for almost everything these days.” “The Tie” “I’ve been messing around with synthesizers since 2019, but during lockdown, I really got to experiment a little bit more. Skot and I wrote the bones of this one together, just messing around on my synths, creating a loop and getting together with Kathryn to throw some saxophone on top of it. The lyrics are entirely Skot’s because since he joined, I’ve been attempting to get him to contribute lyrically to the band because he’s a very good writer. You’d have to ask him about the motivation behind it, but I feel like it’s him facing his artistic ego head-on.” “But They Respect My Tactics” “This will make me sound like an old man, but you know how the kids say, ‘This one slaps’? I feel like it gets misused a lot, but for me, the riffs on this one slap. Lyrically speaking, it’s very much a commentary on social media and marketing in and of itself, with a mild disappointment in the world. It’s very much an existential circling-the-drain situation where I don’t want to become someone who clings for dear life onto a former version of myself. I get why that happens, but it just seems sad to me.” “Not My Fault” “One of the very first lines in the song is about dealing with an unnerving tension in the air. You just want to help get people through it, but it’s all for naught and you have the weight of that crushing you every day. This one was another of the early tracks that I wrote when I was starting to feel comfortable writing all by myself again. When I came up with the first riff in this song, I was just really happy with how catchy it was. Which I know sounds silly when it’s something you wrote yourself, but that’s usually a good sign that you’re onto something.” “Lost Grip” “This is another one that I wrote with Skot, and it’s very much a humans-abusing-the-planet song. It’s also a commentary on Western culture and everyone’s obsession with wealth and power and megalomania. It’s very much coming from the perspective of, ‘We deserve this pandemic. We had it coming.’ I can’t help but feel that there’s a lot of people on this earth that, no matter how they spin it, don’t mean well for everyone at all. They’re just trying to sell everyone their agenda. It’s also one of my favorite songs we’ve ever written.” “The Desperate Search for an Enemy” “I wrote the bassline for this on a synth and all the drum parts in MIDI without actually playing it, so Shane had to figure out how the hell he was going to apply that to an actual drum kit. Lyrically, it very much goes back to ‘Throw Your Phone in the River,’ about everyone feeling more virtuous than the other side that they’re raging against—and their obsession with making an enemy out of anyone who doesn’t agree with the way they think. I hate to come across as some bullshit centrist, but that’s where most of the world actually is, and I’m getting so tired of watching everyone fight all the time.” “Unresponsive” “After I came up with that one riff that’s like total Swans/Black Flag worship, I tried to create dynamics utilizing percussion and my voice alone. My brother has said he feels this is the strongest vocal performance I’ve ever had on any of our records, so I’m happy that he feels that way. Lyrically, it’s about feeling, like, this rise in tension just never gives. I was writing it when there was a storm rolling in that just never seemed like it was going to reach its crescendo. It felt like a metaphor for everything that was going on in the world.”


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