Innovative and influential doesn’t even begin to describe cEvin Key, whose legacy and talent has now resulted in his fifth solo album wherein he invites us back into the Too Dark Park with a renewed historical context.
An InterView with cEvin Key
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
You’ve maintained a fairly visible presence on social media, and I’m sure some of these questions could be answered by reading your posts, so I do apologize if any of them seem redundant. As you a few years ago received surgery following cancer treatment, my first question is simply… how are you, sir?
Your new album, now titled Resonance, is your first solo effort under your own name in 20 years, following 2001’s tHe gHost oF eAch rOom and 2003’s The Dragon Experience with Ken Marshall, although you’ve had numerous other releases with Skinny Puppy, Dubcon, Download, Scaremeister, etc.. What can you tell us about the creation of this album? Were there any sort of recording or production techniques that you hadn’t tried before that are presented on this record?
Key: I sat down and just started writing and jamming about the time of my surgery. I took some time off but kept a large folder of ideas. The first album culled from the folder was 2017’s Brown Acid Caveat for Tear Garden – always a joy to work with Edward. The second album culled from the folder was with Phil Western, where we created Unknown Room for Download in late 2018. This was quite a great experience, but unfortunately ended even before the album was really finished when Phil had a resurgence in his addiction and ended up dying of an OD about a month before the album was released. This was crushing, as my other partner Dwayne Goettel had also died the same way upon the making of the first Download album, Furnace, where he died also about a month before the album came out. I thought, ‘OMG, what will I do to hopefully not go into a five-year tailspin of depression like I did when Dwayne died?’ It has been challenging, as you can imagine. So, the first thing I did was to go to the folder and start to develop the ideas that were speaking to me. Much like Music For Cats, this album was musical therapy.
On the album, you’ve worked with regular associates like Traz Damji, Otto Von Schirach, Omar Torres, Dre Robinson, and Edward Ka-Spel. When working with Ka-Spel, what is the songwriting process like? At what point in that process is it decided whether it will be a solo track or a Tear Garden track – in other words, what differentiates the two? This question can also apply to any of your projects – what determines for you which project a track will be part of?
Also on Resonance is a collaboration with Chris Corner of IAMX. How did this come about? What did you find to be the major challenges in bridging your two working styles together? Same question for Soriah? Are there any artists, either long established or newer/up-and-coming, that you would be interested in collaborating with?
Much of your discography across your various bands and outlets shows that you have a remarkable wellspring of ideas, many of which often get put away in the vault for later completion/remastering/release. How much of the new album stems from sessions in the vault, and how much of it is newly created material?
Key: As I said earlier, I will make songs and place them in a numbered order in folders by the year. So, I can go back and play the ideas, and typically rate them and see if they have any effect on me after a few listens. Typically, then I’ll start to rebuild an idea with the attractive things being the ground basis for me to feel attracted to. I like happy accidents or things that seem to be kind of a fluke. Even a song can come in a dream that I may or may not recognize. With ‘Kullakan,’ I dreamt of the melodic structure and then went to find the idea in the folders, and it was not there. I ended up finding it about two weeks later in a folder from seven years ago. I like these types of things to make an idea special. When COVID came up, I actually had a plan to go play in Japan again, but that was cancelled, so I decided to just devote an extra amount of time to get into making the music speak as deeply as I could. Working with Greg Reely again was quite amazing. His ear is definitely in tune with where the album was headed, and collaborating on the mixdowns with him was exciting.
The new album’s original title, X̱wáýx̱way, is the indigenous name of a village located in what is now Stanley Park, and you’ve now changed it to Resonance out of respect for its survivors. You’ve been referencing this history for many years, as you’ve said that Too Dark Park refers to Stanley Park. Can you tell us about your experience with this history, how/when you first learned about it and the effect it had on you that it has been part of your music?
It has been two years since the passing of Phil Western, with whom you worked on numerous projects, most notably platEAU and Download. Reflecting on your partnership with him, are there any stories are memories about him that you’d like to share? Are there any recordings with Phil from the vault that might turn up in some form in the foreseeable future?
Key: It is so sad to have lost Phil. It’s hard to believe that all three of my most significant musical partners have passed away at a young age before their time, all the while having a strong musical connection with yours truly. I don’t have words for the loss of Dwayne Goettel. Still now 25 years later, I’m at a loss for explaining how hard it has been to continue without painful emotions, sitting in the very studio with our equipment. Some days, I feel a good sense of them in the room, or a feeling they may approve, or even perhaps a feeling to strive to say, ‘Dwayne would have liked this,’ or ‘Phil would have dug this.’ That always leads to the sadness of wanting to hear what they would add. The silence can become difficult. It has not been easy, I’ll tell you that. In some ways, maybe it has helped me to make musicmaking somewhat special and sacred in some manner. It was quite impossible for me to even enter my studio for months after losing Phil. I’m glad I can go back in, but in some ways, it will never be the same.
We’re also coming up on eight years since the last Skinny Puppy album, Weapon, and four year since the last time you toured with Skinny Puppy. Is there anything you can tell us about the band’s activity at this time? Is it simply a case of working when the time is right?
Key: Pretty much. Working with Skinny Puppy for some reason is not as easy as it once was. Gone is the regular workflow, exchanged for positions of file exchanges that in some ways loses the impact of working on an idea. In the past, Dwayne and I would craft an idea that would speak pretty loudly. It rarely would get changed very much in the structure, so we’d get into refining ideas and the team knew the dynamics to make that special. I think Rave was the best producer for Skinny Puppy, and in some ways, I feel that the reformation SP has been a collaboration on the concepts of the band with Mark or Ken, but it really wasn’t until Weapon that I felt that we were actually working on the same project. Now that has happened, I haven’t felt a sense of a band that needs to be there to make things exciting, so the focus for me has been on solo stuff, Tear Garden, and Download. Also, going out and playing small shows has been inspiring. I’m not sure about when SP will be the main loudspeaker like it once was. I guess it’s correct in saying that when the time is right. I did feel like the last tour we did in 2017, we played a strong set. Sometimes touring can bring together the idealism. So, who knows!
Live music is in a great deal of turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What possibilities do you foresee for live music to survive or evolve in the wake of the current situation? A livestream obviously doesn’t hold the same power as a live show, but as it’s become part of the status quo, what sort of possibilities do you see to use new and online technologies to keep music alive and maintain the excitement of audiences?
Speaking of technology, working with analog and digital synthesizers and advances in computer technology, what excites you the most about where it is headed? Or at the very least as it pertains to your working methods and the way you make music?
Key: I love seeing the direction new gear is headed. It’s hard to keep up with the pocketbook, so ideally, I sit and do a lot of online study about the new forms of synthesizers and effects. Sure, I’d love to run out and get a Quantum or a Hydrasynth, or even one of Dave Smith’s new synths, but honestly, I don’t have the cash to be so luxurious. I try and sense that at this moment, I may already have a synth I’ve neglected to get inside and learn more about, so I think before running out now, I’ll look to get something repaired or updated and work with what I have in a different way… so many choices these days. I’m also developing Euro modules with my partner in Subconscious Communications. We have currently been working on a new module called Brap SY1 – it’s a radical remake of the old school Pearl Syncussion, a unit I’ve used throughout my career. It’s taken a lot longer than we expected getting the final steps on this one, but we finally have it now and hope to send this into production right away. That definitely excites me. Anyone who has tried the proto gets a smile. It’s that smile that makes me happy.
Having three cats myself, would you tell us about your cats? As your first solo album in ’98 was dedicated to them and featured some recordings of them (and I understand they also appeared on Download’s III Steps Forward), how big of a role do they play in your thought process when writing/recording?
Photography courtesy of cEvin Key and Artoffact Records