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Jon McKiel Is Just Trying to Find a Connection on New Album 'Memorial Ten Count'

McKiel is one of the few people brave enough to say he doesn't own a smartphone.

Photo by Andrea Thorne
Jon McKiel's latest album Memorial Ten Count is named after the custom of ringing the bell 10 times before a boxing match to honour a fallen fighter. It's a tip of the cap to his father, a boxing enthusiast who passed away a couple years ago, after the release of McKiel's last record. "He's thematically on the record a fair bit," McKiel says. "Maybe a little cryptic, but it was an influence for sure." Memorial Ten Count was recorded live in "the nether regions of Nova Scotia," with members of Joyfultalk and Cousins rounding out a stacked band, and it sounds just as heavy as its title would imply. It's packed with tense, vertigo-inducing aggression ("Conduit"), soft, left-field psychedelia ("Jewel In The Sun"), and a delicate finale in the gorgeous, arcane "Memory Cook." McKiel's inimitable writing runs through it all, addressing human connection, struggle, and the dynamics of power, all of which he addressed over the phone from the sunny side of his home in Sackville, New Brunswick. Memorial Ten Count isn't out until March 10, but we've got the exclusive stream here so you can get your fix early. Listen below and read our interview with McKiel:


Noisey: What song on the album do you connect most with your father?
Jon McKiel: Probably "Brothers." It's pretty specifically about him, especially the first verse. The second verse is pretty specifically about my grandma. She's kind of his foil, almost, and kinda was in real life too, I think. The narrative of the song is about family, completely, pretty obviously.

It feels a bit like, besides the family connections, there's a sentiment in the song that maybe the answer to a lot of this digital age anxiety is to slow down and chill out and recalibrate what's important. How do you make sure you're not falling prey to the bullshit stressors of everyday 2017 life?
It's definitely tough. I have kids, and I think it's almost like an antidote, but it's also a reason to worry even more. The kids are so hilarious and innocent, they don't know what the fuck is going on. They're so inherently amazing and rad, so you're like, "yeah, it's completely an antidote to reading a really depressing Facebook thread or feed." But at the same time it's like, "shit. This is their reality, too, they just don't know it yet.

And it's eventually going to affect them.
Of course. That's what I mean. They don't understand yet, but they're gonna have to deal with the same shit. It's so crazy that people have to still even march for women's rights. I have two little girls, and it's like, "what the fuck is going on?" How long does it take to figure it out?


A lot of the record seems to deal with connection and how that's changed for the last generation, not necessarily for the better. Do you think there's a problem with how human beings connect with each other now?
For sure. I don't have a smartphone. I take one on the road with me when we travel. Because I'm not a habitual user, I don't usually take it out. I'm not judging people who use their phones, by the way—I gotta preface this. But sometimes you'll look around the room and every single person in the room is looking down. It's insane. But I think that's definitely a recurring theme on the record. That and power. I think the obvious answer is that [connecting happens] less so in person, but I don't even know if that's true. That song "Impossible Gif" is probably what you're referring to, which is kind of more like, it's hard to exist in this world right now without being caught up in that other world. It's easy to get sucked in and spend too much not quality time there. It's also an amazing gift, it's insane what you can do.

The album's also pretty restless, even on the more chilled out tunes. Do you think there's a central struggle or fight that runs through it?
I think that there's a lot to do with power on the record, and how we navigate those relationships, whether it's with the police or your boss or your family. Or just that you only get so much time on Earth, and you have to work for someone for 40 hours a week and they give you money but they kind of own your time on Earth, which is so fucked. It's so insane. This is your time on Earth. At least get paid a lot of money if that's what you're gonna do with your time on Earth. That's a bit of a struggle. We're just kind of living below the poverty line and making music together and using shitty gear and laughing at how absurd the political climate is, and just trying to have a good time.


It makes living in a giant city and struggling to pay your bills all the time not really sound like the happy way to do things.
There's a tradeoff. I live in Sackville for probably economic reasons. We couldn't afford to buy a house in Halifax. I lived in Halifax for years. But we could afford to buy one here, because it's a funny place to live or whatever. It's actually better, because you're closer to Montreal, and as long as you can get out, it's fine.

What's the story behind "Conduit?"
It's about police brutality and, again, about power. There's that lyric: "everything is electric but there's no power." The police have no real power. It's all just fictitious, like all that fake money or whatever. So the cops, they don't have any more power over you than they have over the lightning, which is basically the sentiment of the song. Or, if you're gonna police me, police me in a system of love and compassion instead of with brutality.

Is there a bit of a commentary on religion in "Memory Cook?"
Absolutely, for sure. My parents were kind of religious growing up. The context is like, having grown up with a pretty outdated system of both knowledge and discipline in any household where people believe in some weird shit. "I have not known the kindest touch from my own family blood." I never really thought about it, but it's like saying, "yeah, this world is not ending anytime soon, and if what you said is true, then I guess I'm gonna be alive forever," which doesn't make sense to me whatsoever. It's just like, "you believe in something really strange and absurd that I can never understand."

And how those ideas can force a disconnect between even the closest people.
Yeah, you could say that for sure. I think it's weird to have kids now and remember like, my parents used to smoke in the car. Like, what the hell? You can go to jail for that right now. I think a lot about that kind of stuff these days. My mom will have my kids and let them watch like, six hours of TV, and I'm like, "mom, remember how you used to smoke in the car when we were little? You didn't know that was bad. No one said not to do that, but it was really bad and now you know, right?" And she'll say, "yeah yeah yeah, I know, I would never do that with your kids." And I'm like, "yeah, but you'd let them watch TV, and lots of studies are coming out saying that's really not good." She doesn't actually let them watch six hours of TV, but I'm always fighting with her to turn the goddamn television off at her house.

Matt Williams should turn his own goddamn television off. Follow him on Twitter.