Feb 2021 20

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)

It’s difficult to fathom the profound impact that Kevin Crompton – better known to the world as cEvin Key – has had on modern music. Celebrated as one of the founding members of legendary industrial act Skinny Puppy, he has created over the course of four decades a remarkably prolific and diverse body of work in numerous collaborative and solo projects; from the abrasively ambient textures of Download, the chilled out and intoxicating techno of PlatEAU, the terrifying soundtrack excursions of Scaremeister, or the psychedelic fever dream jamming of The Tear Garden. Key’s evolution has mirrored and perhaps in some ways helped to motivate that of electronic instrumentation, synthesis, rhythm, and sound design. With 2021 marking the man’s 60th birthday, he has at last released the highly anticipated and already widely acclaimed fifth album under his solo moniker, Resonance. With an impressive roster of collaborators and guest performers, the album finds Key addressing the tragic history of the 10,000 acre Stanley Park in his hometown of Vancouver, wherein the village of X̱wáýx̱way once stood – a history not taught in schools about the indigenous people whose stories and spirits remain. Prior to the release of Resonance, cEvin Key was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to speak with ReGen Magazine about the musical and thematic creation of this album, touching on several of his friendships and artistic partnerships, his latest technical experiments and endeavors, and a few words about his furry home companions.

 

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?

Key: Yes, doing much better now. It’s funny how we all mostly live through social media. I did have quite a serious facial surgery due to a Basal cell that had somehow grown under the skin. It was not a fun experience at all. It made me see things very differently when I had over 100 stitches on my face; I could easily scare young children. I found it easier to actually wear a handkerchief in front of my face, and believe it or not, I got less stares.
At one point I realized I had best focus on something other than music, and so I decided to take all the details my friend Paul Kaiju had mentioned to me about sculpting. I set out to make a sculpture named Basal to honor the time and have a cancer totem. Seeing that to fruition was actually one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done!

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?

Key: Usually when I write, I don’t predetermine anything – just let things go on their own to a place they seem to want to go. So, most of the time, I can hear or feel what would be the likely next step with songs. With Edward, I can almost hear his voice on a track. Sometimes though, I’ll send a track and it comes back different than I imagined, or he’ll be attracted to another song that is more challenging. With the songs for Resonance, I had a feeling he may like them, and indeed, he connected with both. I guess you can say that it is Tear Garden, in essence.

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?

Key: With Chris Corner, I’ve known him as a friend for six years and one day, I wrote the arrangement for ‘Anger Is an Acid’ and sent it his way because it seemed in his key. He held onto it for about a year or more and then just surprised me with it one day; quite a lovely surprise, as it’s one of the most amazing vocal performances I’ve heard in quite some time.
On ‘Dark Trail,’ the second song I made and sent Chris, he approached this one more primitively, and ended up making vocals out on a walk in the desert. It’s a bit more of an experimental approach, so we actually haven’t determined a writing style much like Edward and I have more so. I like the way that my collab with Chris was seemingly natural and without pressure or expectations, so it made it more fun than anything. That’s typically what leads to more.
Soriah, I feel a great talent from him, and really just tapped the surface. His ability is mysterious as I really don’t know where exactly to take it. He is a master at his craft. I definitely look forward to working more with all three of these guys, as well as the other musicians I’ve collaborated with on the album.

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?

Key: If you ask anyone who grew up in Vancouver, they will tell you that the history of X̱wáýx̱way was never taught or spoken about in our history classes. I found the story of X̱wáýx̱way to be incredible in that a village had sat in the area of a great 1,000 acre forest in the downtown of Vancouver for 3,000 years. When the area was colonized, of course many of these people died from smallpox, and the rest were taken away to other areas. This left the history to be unspoken. It was not until two years ago when I was reading about the true story that I realized that the things I had sensed and felt growing up in the park my whole life were finally coming clear. Stanley Park is still on unceded land that we just assume the history. Once you know, it changes everything about the way you see the forest and the stone piles you can find throughout the forest. I really most of all wanted to raise awareness to this history and have people begin the dialogue. So, I don’t mind raising the voices of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam Peoples to help their history to become part of our education. It’s not my story to tell, other than how I felt when I learned the truth. The name in their language is theirs.

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?

Key: It’s hard to guess how long it will be before people can see a real show again. That is a strange thing to consider. I feel like this year is again a write-off for most bands playing live. It feels like this next fall will be the period where people can see if the vaccines will have any significant effect. If it does, I can see the 2022 year being the first to see a return to live performances. With that happening, it may be that people will really appreciate the experience again, and that seems like an exciting period – I’ll look forward to that. In the meantime, I find that having an online ‘crew’ is really what is important these days. For me, that is the support I get from my Patreon crew. Who would have ever thought that a group of people could on their own keep a scene together with support, and I’ve found it absolutely inspiring to connect with remixes and having that small sense of community we used to have back in the day starting out. It really has been the most inspiring thing I’ve been a part of. Each week brings new challenges and that is something I look forward to.

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?

Key: (Laughter) Well, currently I have two cats that are always a few feet away or sitting on me. Fisherman is a Javanese Flame Point and he really is unique. His favorite thing to do is sit in the studio. He loves music and gets all excited when music is loud. His sister Tiger Lily is a Tortie Oriental shorthair that was raised by the same breeder. This kitty has never been told she can’t do anything, as she really believes anything is possible in her goals. I can sense this in them and try to bring out the personalities by speaking to them like people, treating them with utmost of respect, and I find that I’ve never had a closer friend than my cats. I do have a lovely dog as well named Connie Roberts that is equally as inspiring. She keeps me on my toes, is a great doorbell, and makes me run each day! Got to love that. ❤

 

cEvin Key/Subconscious Studios
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp (cEvin Key), Bandcamp (Subconscious Studios), YouTube
Artoffact Records
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Photography courtesy of cEvin Key and Artoffact Records

 

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