Talking Heads: Kevin Drew aka K.D.A.P.

Arcana has time with Kevin Drew, the Canadian musician best known as frontman for the band Broken Social Scene. This discussion, however, will focus on his new solo album Influences, recorded under the pseudonym K.D.A.P. (Kevin Drew A Picture). As we will find out, it was written in lockdown in England – more specifically in London and the Sussex village Slinfold.

Drew is an invigorating presence. “I guess you’re my first English interview!” he notes, “and you’re not far from the town where I was walking.” Today, however, he is in Toronto. “It’s a good town, but it’s expanding quickly. It’s not tun that well, with bad government and city planning. Things are starting to get on top of each other, but there is still is a great community and great restaurant scene. Art is secondary, but I think that’s how it is everywhere now. I always find it’s artists who fight for the ones that don’t have a voice. We have had such a situation here with encampments in the parks and the homeless, and there is no leadership of how to deal with that situation from our city council. A lot of people take it into their own hands to speak and fight for them, and it’s something that the city is trying to deal with right now.”

Listening to Influences is like seeing another side of Drew’s personality, a more intimate and private aspect. For its composition, he used a single app. “It happened through Endless”, he says, “and through being able to have the time that I did in your lovely country. One of the things that came to me was that I called it a ‘vessel’ record. I didn’t set out to do anything and instead of making anything with my piano or acoustic guitar I was injured for a year, and I was coming out of that. I had achieved what I wanted to musically, and rather than keep Broken Social Scene above water I thought ‘I’m just gonna disappear for a little bit’, as one should. I got into this app and realised I had a studio in my pocket. I started getting up early and walking through the woods, and I started figuring it out in ways it would work for me. I love the sounds and the accessibility, and then I love that it’s based on personal intuition and what you want to do. I sketched out all these things and when I came home I just took them to the studio. We started putting all this piano and acoustic guitar on, and I got my friend Evan Tighe to come in and drum. Charles Spearin came in and played bass lines I couldn’t play because I did them on my thumbs!”

Influences feels like a springtime album, with green shoots and positive energy. “The time of release is interesting, because it’s a year ago that I really started getting into it”, he says. “I think with everything you do, or I do, is about trying to create that spring atmosphere, that idea of growth. It’s also about opening something new, and walking through all this shit to get to the glory and the light, all the things that we all strive for as we keep continuing and creating.”

There is an abundance of melodic ideas on the album, with a patchwork approach to knit them together. “I’m a melody junkie!” he confesses, “and the aspect of being able to tell this tale was strong. You have to understand I haven’t done anything really on my own in seven years. I’ve had quite the life, quite the turnaround, and I’ve lost some people too, people that I love, which always makes you reflect. I’ve said before that I didn’t write this record, those who left me wrote this record. All the friends I’ve had in my life wrote this record, all my partners who have come and gone with this record. The records that I have listened to throughout my life wrote this record. We’re neurologically always consuming, whether we think we are or not. Our subconscious is running at full speed most of the time. Original thought is not something prominent in today’s day and age, and a lot of the times when it is, it just has to revolve around greed. I do still believe that what you are influenced by helps you build your identity and helps you find the melody that you love, and that you raised yourself on.”

In his twenties, Drew listened to a lot of music by Brian Eno, along with the early output of Warp Records. What was his listening before then? “My first record I bought was Supertramp, while my brother bought Blondie’s Parallel Lines The first records we received as gifts were Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. The first cassette I ever got was Men At Work, Business As Usual, my brother was Loverboy, the one with Workin’ For The Weekend on it (Get Lucky). Within that I was very fortunate. My brother got into the whole 1960s and 1970s music scene, while my parents were 1950s and 1960s all the way. It was everything from Linda Ronstadt and Chuck Berry to the Bee Gees and The Beatles, with James Brown and Nina Simone. I then cut my teeth getting into Prince, New Order, Jesus and Mary Chain and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. I always cited My Bloody Valentine as a game changer for me, then Dinosaur Jr and Jeff Buckley came in. Then it was Tortoise, Touch ‘n’ Go, Warp, Ninja Tune. Music was phenomenal in that time, unbelievable! It was innovative, and though it was coming through influences of jazz and DJs and samples and rap, and even rock, it was unreal. We used to walk out of record stores with stacks of CDs! We would go into Rotate This in Toronto.”

He narrows things down slightly. “My favourite bands are stuff like Dirty Three, Do Make Say Think. I love Stars Of The Lid, people like Julianna Barwick. I can just get lost in Jon Hopkins, and I’m a child of Four Tet and Caribou, I adore them. I always started in the instrumental world, and it’s nice to feel like I’ve come full circle. There is also something interesting about how you put out records these days and it’s all focused on your social media which I was never really, I didn’t keep up with that. It didn’t kind of work for me but I’m really trying things. You can’t force that shit, so you realise you’re just making records for your friends again.”

What took him to Slinfold to make the record? “Love, always. Love takes me everywhere. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? It gives you so much opportunity and I’m such a believer in people, and I believe in, moment to moment as well. I just happened to be lucky enough to meet someone that helped me at a time where we were really good for each other and each other’s lives. I went down and hung with her and her family for a few months. I adore the English countryside, and I know that in about 10-15 years, if I’m still alive, I’m going to live there. I have those ghosts in my blood, it’s my heritage and I always feel at home. Last summer, with everything that was happening with the pandemic and the unknown, we all didn’t have an understanding of what was happening and what was going to happen. That’s a scary place for everyone to be feeling at once. Yeah. So it’s a case of finding your heroes and staying close to them.”

Did the pandemic inspire more intense composition? “I think one of the things that really made me attract myself to Endless was the aspect that the application is right here and it is allowing for another way to express. It’s not limited. We have a lot of issues with art in today’s day and age, but imagine if you could get this into schools and prisons and get this in their hands so people can communicate what this is here, inside of them. I remember when those apps came out with the cameras and all the photographers were shooting things like Super 8! I shot a video like that in Mexico City with a wonderful director Katina Medina Mora, and she used real Super 8. A year later, this thing comes out! It’s still about the individual, and what you bring and express to yourself with these things. I wanted to make it a point to talk about this app. I don’t have any stock in it, I was not getting paid by them, and that doesn’t matter to me. I’m not selling anything here, I’m telling you there’s another way for musicians or art programmes, trying to get kids to express themselves. Funding is getting cut all over the world, you know?”

The resultant music from the app is not lacking in emotion, and ties in with Drew’s earlier comments about loss and inspiration from friends. “Everything’s emotional – everything”, he says pointedly, “and political, and personal. I say this all the time. It’s an emotion, and a lot of people don’t want to deal with that. With social media, LinkedIn changed the dopamine game – it is totally different now. It rfeflects differently on who we are as people. I’m in my mid-40s, and happy to be here – and I don’t really give a fuck much anymore. When I do, I feel a bit embarrassed on a level of personal spiritual growth. But we are in this together, and I’m still finding stuff that gets me excited. Kudos to those who are still out there fighting, using melody as their sword. I just want to be on that train, and I believe that soundtracks are important for all of us. Yeah. You need a soundtrack to be your support system, while going through these times!”

For Drew, then, music is as fundamental as breathing. “I’ve always said to people to choose a mantra. I’ve been down, I’ve lost a decade of just trying to figure out and couldn’t quite get it. I’ve had great times, and bad times, and I was a great person and I wasn’t a great person, but in the grounding of moving on with your life, I’m also realising that so much of the struggle is the reflection of what we’ve been taught neurologically. I’m learning how much we’ve governed ourselves into a box, and how we judge our own selves and others if we’re not following the protocol of that box. The divide that we live in right now, it’s winning.”

“Wait a second”, he says. “I’m pretty sure John Carpenter did a movie based on what’s happening right now! Did we not read that? Nobody wins with a divide – each side ends up being a bully!” His tone lightens. “So, Influences – my instrumental record. My reaction to it all.”

There is humour in Influences too, not least the track titles – one of which is Explosive Lip Balm. There is much room for this in humour. “The great thing too was that I wasn’t singing. My parents don’t like it, and a few friends said that they can’t listen but it’s cool, I get it. I didn’t want to sing. There was a massive uprising happening, as there still is, but I certainly had no place to step up to the mic and sing about it. I had a lot of emotion, as I always do, so it was really easy for me to just chuck this all into a record. The coolest part too was going back to the studio called the Bathhouse here in Ontatio, and a gentleman named Niles Spencer who I’ve been working with since 2019. We’d not seen each other in a couple of years, and it did have that feeling like, “You’re coming home kid!” It did take us a while to figure out how to put everything together inside Pro Tools, and then I had all the songs designed in my head so then we had to place these loops in different parts. It was a lot, but we took four or five days to organise it all and it was just wonderful. We worked on the ‘first thought, best thought’ principle.”

The dynamic was very different to his band. “With Broken Social Scene records they take a while, because there’s a committee, and I love it. What I adore more than anything is doing stuff quickly. It’s the most honest way to react to what is happening around you with sound.”

Drew moves on to recount an incident with a cyclist that had an effect on Influences, and its last track Almost Victory (Keep End Going) “I was at the canal in Islington, on the towpath. First of all, why are there bikes on that?! I got into the flow of it, and was working on a beat, and this cyclist brushed by me. It knocked the beat into a different time signature, and I heard it and thought it was pretty nice! If you hear that track there are different types of pitches going on, and if you listen there is a little bit of a shrug.” Is it an example of how mistakes can work in pop music? “They call it jazz!” He laughs. “We don’t say it was a mistake but you’d better do it twice, so you say to people that was what I was doing.”

His connection with the English countryside is worth exploring further, given the natural wonders on his doorstep in Canada. “I love the Canadian countryside”, he says, “but I think it’s the history for me over there with England. I feel the shadows, you see the children and the war, you know. Two world wars. I never met my grandfathers, and even just walking along the train tracks in England where a lot of the young boys would go and get on these trains and not come home, we would ride our bikes along paths all summer. There was a stillness that I like in the aspect of history. As I get older, I have started thinking about just the education of where I came from. I love the Canadian countryside, a lot, but I just didn’t have the opportunity the last few years to be out in the Canadian countryside and Toronto is a sticky city in the summer. It’s patios with sandals and condos, sun visors, a lot of dudes with tattoos, great bodies, and these really decked out bikes going really fast without a helmet, and an awesome haircut. It gets to you after a while. so I really was blessed that I was able to stay out there, sit in the trees and be with the best kind of people. I had the understanding that life wasn’t perfect, but it was a moment. I miss it, but I’m so grateful that I have had it, and will have it again.”

His creative process has been instinctive throughout. “You’re gathering information that is going to interpret itself in a way that’s either like emotional or just very practical. I didn’t have any desire to make an album, until suddenly, the album was being made through me. People said how it was an opportunity for your dead friends – and most of them are musicians – to come down and play. I’ve always looked at it that way because I have sat in studios and said, “Who’s playing that, where did that melody come from?” There’s a part of me that finds comfort in the idea that my friends are coming back and jamming, so in the Bathhouse I allowed that space.” That’s all just a state of mind.”

Kevin is typically mischievous with his beliefs in family life. “I don’t have children, so I don’t have to deal with the questions about monsters, but I’m the uncle so it’s like, “There could be a monster on the bed, let me go check! It always shocked me that there wasn’t actually any unicorns, not even in Greenland. When people tell me Santa Claus is fake I say the Santa Claus that isn’t real is the one down the mall. Yes, he’s not coming down the chimney with your Sony PlayStation V, but he’s a real dude!”

Interview by Ben Hogwood

Influences, Kevin Drew’s solo album as K.D.A.P., is available now on Arts & Crafts Productions. You can hear the music through the Bandcamp embed below:

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