(I recently caught up with Brett and Dan from Ten Kens and posted this interview on my blog, Leading Us Absurd. I’m re-posting the entire thing here. Check it out below.)
Two years after their acclaimed sophomore album, Ten Kens return with their most powerful and poignant record to date. The aptly titled ‘Namesake’ moves the band away from their signature genre-bending dither, into a darkened psychedelic voyage of self-discovery.
Based in Toronto, Ten Kens is the brainchild of songwriting duo Brett Paulin and Dan Workman. Discovered by Fat Cat Records in 2006, Ten Kens became one of the first Canadian acts ever signed to the famed UK label. In 2012, after two celebrated releases on both Fat Cat and Last Gang Records, and several successful tours in-between, Ten Kens carry on their mission as the ever-evolving, genre-altering, sound and vision no-scene music collective.
Why did Namesake take a year to make?
Dan: We were being pretty meticulous and we had a lot of time our hands. And we wanted to make this as perfect as we could. We had a deadline for the last record, and it just stifles creativity a little bit. We made this on our terms. Because we had the time, we used it. It didn’t have to be a year, but we wanted it to be a year. It’s just the way it had to be and we could tweak things, as they needed tweaking. We’ll probably do that for the next one as well. Not intentionally take a year, but take as much as time as need, so that we’re happy with it.
Brett: It’s changed a lot from the original forms of what’s on record. I spent a lot of time listening to things over and over, and you could take things out.
That sort of fits the music a little bit. It takes a little bit and builds into a crescendo and takes it times rather than thrashing it out.
Dan: For sure. That’s changed from the way we used to write songs before. We just wanted things more mature and progressive. The more time you spend with a song and let it soak in and breathe, the more things you find wrong with it. You don’t want to over think it, but you want to make sure its right. That’s one thing I think we fixed for this record. The songs have a start and they have a finish. Unlike before, you play for three minutes and then you stop.
You can definitely sense that in the songs, especially “Death in the Family” which has thing Pink Floyd vibe going on in the beginning.
Dan: Oh, there’s a Floyd influence on that one all the way. We’re not gonna deny it. (Laughs.) We’re not doing a cover song; we’re just taking influences we like and putting our own spin on it.
What different techniques did you use in the studio to create the overall sound for Namesake?
Brett: The last record that we made, we recorded in a small space. We had a small drum room, and everything was done in the same space. We mixed on the same board we recorded it on. We used the same gear we used the entire time. And this time we had access to better studios, so the drums were recorded in a really big live room and the guitars were done in a smaller place. We had really great amps and really great microphones. We had a lot access to a lot more stuff than we did before.
Dan: For the vocals on the record before, they were done in like a day and a half. Whereas this time, it was more of a do it til you get it right thing and it took the pressure off. There were at least two different mikes at all times. I’m really happy with the way the vocals came out. Brett’s the technical gear guy and he’s like “ok if we get this mikes, we’re set.” And soon as you hear it you’re like, “oh yeah.”
You guys are known for your live performances. Is it hard to recreate the sounds off the record live?
Dan: It’s not always just layers and instrumentation, but also the vibe. Obviously, things are going to get stripped down. For instance if you got 14 layers of guitar on the record, you’re not going to be able to have 14 guitars at a show, unless you have 14 guitar players (laughs.) It’s finding that perfect balance, making sure you have the right balance of instruments and vibe, so people don’t feel like they’re getting ripped off. It just took a lot of time and effort. I do vocals, but for the other guys it was a lot of changing guitars and pedals to recreate the sound live. I think it’s a pretty successful way to recreate the record.
Brett: Oh, I went through a lot of pedals. We finished the record, and then we had to figure out how to play it, and get the same sound. (Laughs.)
Dan: There are a lot of bands that record with their two pedals, their microphones and go on stage and just do it. But we wanted a record that was half-studio half organic. But then you gotta figure all that shit out afterwards, because we’re not using the same gear live that we use to record.
I read that you guys recorded Namesake without any outside influences. I was kind of intrigued by that, and what exactly it meant.
We basically that means, those that want to come out and hang out – they’re not invited. The sessions were late at night epic sessions, with outside interface.
So basically like the Beatles’ sessions until Yoko showed up.
Dan: (Laughs). Absolutely. It is self-produced and self-engineered. We have a specific sound we want, and we’re not gonna have anybody else come in. That’s not to say there aren’t great producers or engineers that turn average records into amazing records, but if you have a sound you want, you gotta create it yourself. Even with rough demos, you have to be careful not to let people it, because they’re gonna tell what’s wrong. It’s not pride, but we know how want it sound and when we get, we’ll know it.
Brett: It was better to do this way, actually.
Dan: There’s a mutual respect. If something sounds like shit, I’ll take Brett’s word for it.