By: Chris Clark
Life isn't all about money, pretty girls, dancing and Crown. However, if you're Toronto's electro duo MSTRKRFT, this is where it starts. These aforementioned, self-described "interests," as stated on the group's more-than-colorful MySpace page, highlight some of the comic wonderment and visceral excitement that are Jesse F. Keeler (aka JFK) and his music-making partner in crime, Al-P (aka Alex Puodziukas). Together, they bring their dark underworld sound above ground via some of the hardest hitting electronic music this side of the Atlantic and watch out: they've come back for more.
Today (March 17), MSTRKRFT release their second studio LP, Fist of God, a punk-funk dance party anthology of club bangers, electro rock and high-profile guest appearances from the likes of Ghostface Killah, E-40 and even a selection from new school crooner, John Legend. Possessing more overall depth and substance than their acclaimed 2006 debut, The Looks, this new collection of seething sweat-soakers and panty droppers further fuels the fire burning brightly from north of the border.
Jesse Keeler and I spent an hour delving deeply into the decadence of being MSTRKRFT - a sold-out club packing existence full of heavy beats, hot girls and plenty of Crown Royal. But, it's not all sex, drugs and rock n' roll for the Toronto duo. There's a genre bending new album and the massive world tour to support it with new fans to make and new places to conquer.
IT ALL BEGAN NORTH OF THE BORDER
MSTRKRFT are two close friends who were originally playing music in two different bands - Keeler playing bass in Toronto's Death From Above 1979 and Al-P in the electro-pop outfit Girlsareshort - that came together naturally during the making of You're a Woman, I'm a Machine, Death From Above 1979's album that Al-P was brought in to help produce. Keeler already had his chops deep into the electro world, producing choice remixes for Wolfmother and Bloc Party that gave subtle glimpses into the endless possibilities of his production. From here, MSTRKRFT was born and out went the other bands to make way for the new purveyors of Canadian dance music. It was 2006 and the twosome's connection was readily apparent as they released their debut that summer, an album of inspired duality pitting rock music versus electronics.
JamBase: How did the roots of MSTRKRFT form?
Jesse Keeler: We met in the hardcore noise punk rock scene from the early '90s. That comes across in our work ethic, but at this point I like such a broad spectrum of music. This morning I was listening to Dub Fire and Metallica. I'm sorry I'm rambling, what was your original question again?
JamBase: No worries. So, it all really began with that Toronto scene and has burgeoned into something really special between you two. How has your personal relationship evolved alongside your professional one over the last decade?
Jesse Keeler: Now, we hang out a lot. We see each other every day in some form or another. [We have] known each other for, fuck, probably almost a dozen years. We're still here. We are kind of like brothers. It's heavy.
WE BRING YOU A FIST OF GOD
Now don't get confused, even though Keeler and Al-P are what most would call electronic music producers, they are still musicians at the core. Playing guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, as well as using computer programs and other technological gadgetry, they do it all. They are metal heads but also rap aficionados, multi-cultural and multi-faceted men of music. Nowhere is this more noticeable than on the new album, Fist of God, a heavily distorted, sweatbox foray that features several huge club bangers and a few slivers of sonic sexiness that will leave the masses sweating.
JamBase: Let's talk about Fist of God. The sophomore album jinx is a real thing for many acts. How is this album a departure from The Looks but also a collection that will keep old fans happy while bringing new ones in?
Jesse Keeler: It's just something that's evolved. We started making this record the month we submitted the last record to the record label. It's influenced [and informed by] our remix work. It's hard because we have a pretty broad skill set - I guess that's what you'd call it. It's tough to apply how we want to do things. We write everything and then mix it all at once.
A lot of your fans will be expecting a barrage of chest-thumping beats. How do you think they'll receive it?
The whole album isn't club tracks. We've probably been playing half the record out for the last four months at least, so they should know somewhat what to expect. We've got a pretty awesome fan base. Now that we've been around for long enough, we weed out the initial people who heard that they should be there, that it was the cool thing to do.
But again, how do you think they'll take to the new tracks?
It's hard making a second album because you change so much over that time. People expect something similar and it's hard because you're a different person than you were for the first one.
Our whole model is just to try new stuff.
Are you happy with the finished product?
When we finished the last record we weren't really happy with it. I can't tell yet if I'm happy with the new record.
It's understandable. As a critic, I like the new album because it's enough like the first album but also enough of a departure to bring in new fans, too.
We don't want to just keep doing the same stuff. It's really unsatisfying to us when we feel like we're falling into a pattern. It's like, should we always be doing whatever we want? I think so. I recognize as an artist you want to keep doing different stuff.
On the new album you enlist the help of some guest vocalists and instrumentation. Could you ever take that concept to the road and have a MSTRKRFT backing band?
The hard part is we'd need so many people. The whole guest vocalist thing was an experience. It's a real pain and we couldn't really do all that live.
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