An Interview With cEvin Key

On the heels of his latest solo release, Resonance, I had the opportunity to talk (well, virtually) with legendary brapmaster cEvin Key. Beyond his roots in Skinny Puppy and his involvement with numerous musical projects from the 80s onward- including Download, Cyberaktif, Doubting Thomas, and Tear Garden- his solo career began in the mid-90s in conjunction with the founding of label/collective Subconcious Communications. Resonance is his fifth solo album, at a point in time when he’s been busier than ever despite the world screeching to a halt last year when the pandemic first struck. Please enjoy this amazing discussion of music, history, and of course, a little bit about cats. You can pre-order Resonance on cEvin Key’s Bandcamp page. There are a variety of really cool packages available, from shirts to vinyl and more. And be sure to check out cEvin Key’s Patreon for more exclusive content, including Skinny Puppy history, art, videos, and recorded brap sessions.

1. Before we get to the music I want to ask about some of your visual aesthetics for your music videos, album art, and shirt/hat designs like what you’ve posted on your Patreon on occasion. In particular I really like some of the psychedelic influences and your collaborations with Mishka. How did that come about? Who are your other favorite visual artists?

On my Patreon I’m making most of the videos myself, I’ve also shown works created by Mark Nugent. Most of the videos I make are from old TV tapes and collage videos one used to make back in the home VCR days and a lot of random footage Dwayne Goettel and I collected for tape voices and sound effects. Back in the day before copyright you could freely use stuff from television without worry. These tapes are all 30+ years old, so it’s been fun to go back and create stuff from these. I would have never thought I’d be doing this. The shirts are mostly designed for Subcon/Mishka by Simon Paul. He’s had our visuals under control for the label I think coming on 20 years. So I trust him to suggest what he likes. We also work with Allen Jaeger on the sleeve paintings or photo collage work which he is brilliant at. Again he has done quite a few sleeves for us. Live when we tour we have the legendary Tim Hill, which does live projections and that really stemmed from the old SP days.

2. Tell us about your collaboration with Edward Ka-Spell, obviously you go way back from Tear Garden. What was it like working with him again?

Lately I’ve been lucky enough to be able to establish a pretty close working relationship between us. We made the Brown Acid Caveat album in 2016-2017 and its always a treat. Probably my favorite person to work with on the planet for how fluid and creative he is. I started as a mega fan of the first several albums and then was lucky enough to meet him and do his live sound in 1986. We made Center Bullet around the same time, and cemented a majical friendship that has been going ever since. I’m not even sure how many albums we’ve made but I think it’s about nine! Never gets old for me.. though we do grow older, our musical souls seem to remain ageless. <3

3. What’s the story behind the name(s) of the [new] album [Resonance]…how do you feel now that some time has passed since you first announced it and the dust has settled a little? I’m aware of some of the history behind Stanley Park but can you tell us more? 

 I was really surprised to learn the actual history of Stanley Park what I thought to be very late in age. I asked others if they knew about the story of xwayxway and noone knew. We grew up there, spent our lives in it, but yet in school never uttered a word about the history of a 3,000-year old village that existed right at our footsteps, rubbed out by colonialization, its history vanished. I guess you can say I felt something from the forest and its character my whole life, but it wasn’t until I heard the story that I could then place the historical context with the sadness of society and the truth being the park sits on unceded land that had a long a vibrant history, These things are important to learn and respect.  I wanted to show my respects, but soon learned this wasn’t my story to tell, but to raise the voices of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam Peoples . I’m hoping this will raise awareness to indigenous rights and proper Canadian history.

4. How did your collaboration with IAM:X come about? “Anger Is An Acid” is definitely one of my favorites and the vocals are perfect. Do you think you’d work with Chris on an EP or full album? (That would be cool!)

We met about 6 years ago and I think we hit it off when I spun a copy of Japan Quiet Life on our first meet up. Since then we shared mostly a lot of spiritual and inspirational chats. Didn’t set out to make a project but I suppose it was natural to feel that when i wrote the music for “Anger is an Acid” that is was kind of in Chris’s key, so I sent it to him on a whim and it was well over a year later he asked me for the stems ( again ) and then maybe another 6 months and then one day he just surprised me with it. There was no pressure or discussion about it, so it was a musical crossroads that came at a great time. Chris added some nice goodies that made the song more classic. When I heard the vocal I was floored and goosebumps galore. We did a second song on the album in a more experimental way, I know Chris tracked his voice in the desert so it was a bit different. Also Dark Trail was made first. I just love Chris and Janine as some of our closest friends , so to be able to also make angelic sounds together has been a very special feeling. It’s funny that both Chris and Edward share the same birthday! So perhaps it’s astrological!

5. I’ve asked this same question to a lot of the elders of our scene (of which you are one…I don’t make the rules, haha!)…how much of your old school gear do you continue to use today? You seem to be really invested in preserving the old Skinny Puppy material and digging into the archives. And obviously the technology has changed. What gear do you still use in the studio and what’s new?

I luckily still have most of the old SP gear. I keep it going. Not as often as I’d like I must say. There really [isn’t] anything as fun as getting the old setup working and it always sounds so unique, so I’d say the gear ages well. I’m not one to go out and get too much new gear, though I do have quite an arsenal that has grown over the years. I actually don’t have a typical approach to music, with a certain “setup”.  It always changes in some manner, though the consistent thing is I like to use some sort of small external boxes to start an idea. May it be an odd drum machine, or a Pro-One synth, Arp 2600, or something from the Eurorack modular or Serge, something always is the impetus for a track. Quite often I’ll jam with my buddy Dre and then go back after a few weeks and see what’s been made, and then start carving. Typically an idea I’m attracted to may have some sorts of musical accidents that attract my ear. So I’m drawn to unusual things. What’s new?  Hmmm well I’m on the fence about new right now but I’d love a Quantum!

6. I was told I should stick to the music for most of my questions, but we met at the Cold Waves showcase in LA and took a picture together, and I showed you a picture of one of my cats because I know you’re a cat man too. Please tell us about your cats. Do you think you’ll make another album for them soon? My cats were asking about it and I wanted to know as well.

LOL, well yeah. Once a Catman always a Catman. My cats now are Fisherman a Javanese flame point boy, and Tiger Lily, an Oriental Shorthair Tortie, who are both a few feet away from me now and looking for a a lap. Well, Fish just came and got the lap. Man what could I do without them? Probably nothing. They keep me well kept, and their smile each day is inspiring. There is no doubt they love music. The more dancey style the better, which is funny. I really enjoyed making Music For Cats, and so one day I’ll have to do another, maybe after a Music For Dogs!

7. When I was halfway through typing these questions up, the press release for “Tomahawk”  popped up in my email. It has a little bit of a Download vibe to it. I saw that you worked with Traz Damji on it, who is a sound designer and one half of The Humble Brothers. Have you guys worked together or crossed paths before? I’m assuming since you both worked with Ken Marshall that you must have. 

Yes , as a matter of fact my favorite song I ever worked on was with Traz, called “I Love to Ride the Shinkansen” for BananaSloth! Also, Traz has been responsible for some classic collaborations on Skinny Puppy since reformation, “Politikill” most notably. He has definitely a unique style so working with him on “Tomahawk” was a complete blast. Again another song I call a favorite after working with him. We definitely plan on more in the future. Such a great collaborator. He also worked on Scaremeister, and Tear Garden, most notably Made in China Pt 2!

8. I also wanted to comment on your collaboration with Otto Von Schirach. I’m not familiar but I looked him up and see that he does a lot of IDM and breakcore and goes back to the old Miami house scene, right? I definitely hear it on this track yet it also feels like something you’ve delved into before with Download. There seems to be some genre crossover on this album that I think makes for a really cool experience. I know we already talked gear a bit but stylistically, where do you think the electronic music world is headed…what are some of your favorite newer artists and, I guess, trends?

Met Otto when we toured together with him as an opener, and I just linked with him right away. Fantastic guy, so fun to work with. Yes he comes from more the old Miami Bass breakcore scene. we did a few shows with Venetian Snares and Baseck back in the day, was so fun. We’ve worked together before a bit but I think “Third Eye” is probably the most in depth track we made in the studio here in LA. That was the nice thing is it comes from a couple years back when we could actually work in the same room with people. Miss those days. Most of the track is a live jam, which is what makes working that way so fun. I think it’s cool to have an album that goes [in] so many different directions, but [to] still kind of be in sync with each other mentally. It’s like an excursion through the world which is different everywhere, so the album is a bit of a musical journey

9. This is another question I’ve posed to everyone I’ve interviewed this year. How did the pandemic affect your workflow and life in general for you…do you feel like it made it harder to put this album together? 

It just made me slow down, take more time and not put a deadline on it like I had done. That really allowed me to spend the time to get into each track more and see where they could go. At one point I thought, wow I’m glad I have all these songs to work on versus just starting when the pandemic started. I think raw inspiration comes from a collision of two minds that can socialize in some manner. Just making music in satellite situations isn’t the most fun, but a good combo of both methods makes for a new medium. Especially when everything juts more or less slowed down. You could feel the earth kind of take a breather. Some people weren’t feeling it. As I said, I was glad I had something going. Now that it’s all done, I feel a bit of, “Okay, taking a break.” But I hope this darn thing can end soon honestly.

10. You have a Patreon and you’re really active on it, sharing lots of interviews, videos, footage and demos that haven’t been seen or heard…I think it’s a really cool and generous way to connect with your fans. I signed up because you told me about it and then I told a bunch of other people and I’m hoping THEY signed up too. What do you think of platforms like Patreon and Bandcamp? It seems like it’s a really good thing for artists whether they’re new to the game or more experienced/seasoned. What has your experience been like?

Honestly it’s been awesome. Connecting with a crew of like minded people in a creative way has been quite mindblowing. I’ve done 6 or so remixes with members of the Patreon contributing parts. This has been a classic way to meet people, and honestly I’ve met a few that I continued to collab with even on the album. So in some ways it was the same as a old school club where we get to know each other and then start jamming with some. So inspiring. Also going through the many old songs and making a video each week has kept me massively active and creative. The chats each week have become a way to “get out” and speak with people, many of which have immensely inspired me at some point, and then I get re-inspired by the chat. Been so cool for inspiration I think. Quite a few have written to say it helped them to get creative again and break a “block”. Plus there is nothing like people supporting a scene. It is a place that exists, and there are members, so you get to know the names. Probably the most inspiring thing for me in years. <3 Patreon crew.