Memorial Ten Count: The Hard Love Behind Jon McKiel’s New Album
Jon McKiel is no stranger to the music scene on the East Coast – the Amherst-born, Sackville-based rocker has been churning out a steady stream of scuzzy, meticulous garage rock for over a decade and has made show-stopping appearances at festivals like SappyFest, Kazoo! Fest, POP Montreal, and Lawnya Vawnya. On Friday, McKiel launched the much-buzzed Memorial Ten Count via Headless Owl Records and You’ve Changed Records, a soundtrack of tough-love tracks that explore complex themes of familial ties and living in an unstable modern world.
Memorial Ten Count has been in production since the release of McKiel’s slick and concise 2014 self-titled EP, and its tour with Aaron Mangle (Cousins), Sean Dicey and Jay Crocker (both of JOYFULTALK). The quartet have been playing and restructuring material from the new record, and brought that kinetic energy into recording at The Prism Ship in Crocker’s home of Crousetown, NS.
“For the past three years, barring a few one-off shows, I’ve just been playing with those guys,” says McKiel. “I brought the songs in, and we played them all together. We would rehearse them for a while and then we would turn the tape machine on.”
McKiel’s focus was to recreate the organic sound that you would experience from a live set and translate it into a recording that maintains that raw appeal. The entire record was recorded live off-the-floor by Crocker using an Otari MX-5050 tape recorder. Despite the pressure of a live recording and some of the improvised components of putting the songs to tape, McKiel states that the final vision of Memorial Ten Count was a collaborative effort with all those involved behind the scenes.
“There’s no way in hell it would have sounded like what it was without those individuals” says McKiel. “I’m so fortunate to be able to play with those guys. They are such a good group of people, and talented too.”
“Lyrically, we would come up with the stuff and do takes. Jay and I would play, and he would say “try something else” and then within an hour I would rewrite it. It came together pretty fast and there’s a lot on there. That was part of the reason for putting the typography on the record. I’ve never put out a record before where I included the lyrics.”
Indeed, one of glowing strengths of the record is its deeply intricate lyricism, where McKiel weaves through concerns of family drama, anxiety in the digital age, and confronting the unjust systems of power that flow through our newsfeeds each day.
“I think that there is a bunch of songs on the record that deal with topics of power, but at the time I was observing a very strange political climate,” says McKiel.
“This record was recorded over a year ago and it was before all of the latest news [of 2017], but everything still existed. Just seeing stories everywhere of people getting abused in so many ways from the top-down. It came from a place of frustration.”
This vision feels most unified in the song “Conduit,” released as a lead-up to the record. “Peace sign to America / System of love / Everyone is a witness / To the white lightning above” coos McKiel over a heavy guitar riff that throttles and accelerates a politically-loaded song about the dangers and injustices of police brutality. If the political can seep into music much like the inverse, then McKiel demonstrates a necessity for allyship and banding together to dismantle those forces above us to build a better world, whatever that may entail.
“I feel like there are a bunch of different characters on the record that come out,” says McKiel.
““Boss” is about power and your time on Earth and how some people can own that. We put actual monetary value on our time on Earth, which is a very strange concept. It’s about doubting that structure.”
““High Five (Living a Lie)” is that gross dude singing that song – the systemic higher-ups that are always the source of the problem. It’s not exactly like acting, but you play a character in some ways for each song. I wouldn’t say I’m a natural or a boastful person at all.”
While the content is dark, the outlook for the future is not necessarily bleak. On album standout “Brothers,” McKiel reflects on family drama not as a marker on his life, but as a shaper to whom he has become. Paired with the cinematic music video shot by Colin Medley of McKiel’s past home of Amherst, Nova Scotia and the marshes of Tantramar, the idyllic portrait finds beauty in a familiar sight for anyone who has spent any time of their life on the East Coast.
Grey skies, looming windmills, closed-up shopfronts and empty spaces paint each scene with grace. The environment is rugged and gruff, but the people who occupy it have never given up hope.
“All the nice parts of downtown have been abandoned, but they’re still so beautiful,” says McKiel about the shooting of “Brothers” while visiting Amherst with Medley in January.
“Colin came to Stereophonic and took a bunch of press photos of us and we had this idea that we could catch some footage for the video, but we didn’t know if we would really get anything. Colin really loved that strip of highway where you are first coming into Amherst with the windmills, and there is a bunch of older buildings and an abandoned hotel.”
McKiel returns to his familial lineage when asked about the title of the record, specifically to his relationship with his father.
“My dad was very into boxing and he was a bareknuckle boxer for a while in Montreal, and so [a] Memorial Ten Count is a tribute to a dead fighter. He passed away a few years ago, not since I released anything, so in some ways it’s a little nod to him. In terms of the subject matter outside of the family drama, it lined up nicely with that sentiment and tribute – like a punch-drunk fighter.”