Consider collecting all of your favourite songs; those intense moments, both good and bad; moments of realization; pooling them together in a sound machine and then extracting the fragmented yet linked essences of these now timeless pieces of nostalgia now in symphonic form. This is Ten Kens.
We met up with Dan Workman, one half, of the Ten Kens duo, at a flat iron café in Roncesvalles. Weeks after Ten Ken’s first physical album release called Namesake, Dan looks relaxed. This is the 8-year-old band’s third album. Described as masculine, post-metal and psychedelic, it is a new sound that is difficult to define. It’s familiar yet foreign, comforting yet disturbing, it’s eclectic yet new, and its experimental yet refined.
Take a listen and explore as Dan’s layered vocals, and Brett Paulin’s sound engineering send you on a clear, crisp sound journey.
It’s Ten Ken’s approach to their music and expression that makes this band an artist of new.
Music has always been an obsession for Dan. It’s always been about finding, collecting and sharing the new release and the new sound. “Have you heard Andy Stott’s Luxury Problem”, Dan asks?
Ask him about his iPhone and you will find his playlists meticulously selected. There are no musical skeletons in the closet to be found….unless you count Duran Duran, which we don’t.
There is the documentary collection. Again it not just about watching, it’s about having ready accessibility to these important sources of inspiration. Favourites include Bill Cunningham New York (2010), Hype (1996), Ladies and Gentlemen, Leonard Cohen (1965), Pump Up the Volume: The History of House Music (2001), Rock My Religion (9184) and the Cry of Jazz (1959),
Wllnttz: Throughout your music there are many references to life and death and little bit of the in between. What of the future?
Ten Kens: Many of the songs come from past memories and experiences. Some of them are dark. There is a lot of nostalgia and the now. The future is not something we really consider.
Digital music has drastically changed how we listen to and acquire music. It’s much easier to get your hands on ‘harder’ find songs and international music. Listeners can cherry-pick their selection easily.
On the other hand there are more bands, more music, and more competition. And, on top of that we now have the instancy of social media to critique and cut through the thick.
Dan paused and then spoke. “I think back to the days when a venue would present a line-up of bands. People didn’t know the bands. It was the venue’s reputation that attracted audiences. People expected that they would leave at the end of the night having heard something new and good. It was something to tell their friends about.
Now the band plays a larger role as the audience driver. People ask who is playing. If they haven’t heard of them they look the band up on the internet. They check out the songs they have on iTunes and then make the decision.”
Wllnttz: The way music is made has changed a lot from the time you started producing to today. Has technology been your friend or foe? What are your thoughts on adaptation?
Ten Kens: On the music side we use technology to create sounds and layers. There are some tracks where we layered 8 tracks of my vocals. We can create music that otherwise a two-person band can’t do. It’s very much a part of our music now. It does make live performances a bit challenging and experimental. We often bring in other musicians. We know how we perform live performances now will change in the future.
Among the repertoire of social media Ten Kens can be found on Twitter, MySpace, Instagram, and Facebook. It’s a lot of work to maintain. Dan tells us it comes down to adaptation. These outlets weren’t around when we started, but this is where people expect to find you. “We were on the old MySpace, now we are the new MySpace. This will change again someday. Adaptation is necessary.”
Wllnttz: Who inspires you now?
Dan Workman: The Pixies, The Flaming Lips, and Sonic Youth.
Wllnttz: And Duran Duran?
Dan Workman: smiles
Wllnttz: Are there any bands that you would like to play with?
Ten Kens: Do they have to be current?
Wllnttz: Not at all.
Ten Kens: There are so many….Sonic Youth comes to mind.
When asked about the band’s name, Ten Kens, Dan reveals it’s a name that they don’t much like. Reviews are often favourable for the music, but throw a dis at the name. At the time it was chosen, they had the music ready to go, but no name. They had run through list after list and still nothing. While at a party there was an inebriated woman throwing insults at each of the guests one by one. Finally it was Dan’s turn. She tried to get a reaction out of Dan by blurting out, “I bet you played with Ten Kens [as in Barbie Ken dolls] when you were a child.” Dan shrugged looked at Brett and asked him what he thought and that was it… for better or for worse. In retrospect, the forthcoming irony of a heavily masculine band is not lost.
We were told that Dan and Brett are working on another project …, which would not fall under the Ten Kens name. Keep it on the DL.
Wllnttz: We met through visual art channels. It was right around the time you were putting your first album together. Where did the leap from graphic design to music happen?
Dan Workman: Brett and I just started doing it one day. We thought maybe it was just going to be a phase. At some point we realized it was a part of our every day life.
Wllnttz: We know you are also a visual artist. Tell us about the album covers.
Dan Workman: The current Namesake album cover was designed by my friend, (insert name). The album cover for Ten Kens is an old photo from one of my Mom’s old photo albums. Cameron Tomsett did the cover for Posterity.
Wllnttz: You’ve done some of your own videos as well.
Dan Workman: Have you watched Gently Used?
Wllnttz: Yes. I watched it twice. It was mesmerizing.
Dan Workman: Did you figure out that I used a porno movie?
Wllnttz: I thought so. The rhythms, and the belly button and hairs… The name of the song and the content of the video… it is a very kind way to consider relationships these days.
Dan Workman: That was the whole idea. The original video was very harsh. I took that and made it poetic and beautiful.
Wllnttz: Last question. Street art, love it, hate it, or indifferent?
Street art is something Dan very much takes note of when he wanders the city. He particularly likes finding the small more discrete additions that most people would normally miss.
Keep watching for Ten Kens and Free Art Friday Toronto.