Keenan Mittag-Degala and Patrick Rendel have been hard at work. However, right now they have just discovered the new Mrs. Pacman feature on Google Maps, giggling like a couple of teenagers out past curfew.
The two comprise half of Victoria, Canada’s eclectic rock four-piece Jons, on drums and guitar and vocals, respectively. It’s difficult to nail down semantics in terms of genre, as the band appears versed in several styles, never fully adhering to a singular definitive sonic category. The term salad rock (in which there is a little bit of everything, mixed together to form a cohesive whole) comes to mind. Catchy instrumental pop hooks, warm acoustic guitar tones, jazz-y chords, a dash of experimental rock, psychedelic effects, and the unpretentious, intimate production of bedroom recordings all comprise the magnetizing work of Jons.
After releasing a collection of early songs and demos, Com Shred I (2013), followed by Serfs of Today (2014), the band put out At Work on Several Things (2016) last November on tape. As one can imagine, the album deals thematically with labor–creatively, industrially, and emotionally–presenting an overview of a life in motion.
I recently caught up with the pair over Skype to discuss the record and mark the vinyl release of At Work on Several Things.
Congrats on releasing At Work on Several Things on Field Mates. That label is located in France, how did you link up with them?
Rendel: They just emailed us!
Mittag-Degala: We were very excited!
Your previous releases were on tape, so you’ve already put out physical media. Especially in the digital age where cassettes are more akin to CDs because they’re portable, what is important to you about releasing on vinyl?
Rendel: Vinyl is a more permanent format. I mean, it doesn’t really matter but it’s kind of cool to think a record lasts way longer than a cassette tape. They don’t degrade in the same way so it’s cool to think of your music physically lasting a lot longer.
Mittag-Degala: I think for all of us vinyl is a sort of rejection of the total, what’s the word? Fleeting. . .
For me, it’s the tendency to not pay complete attention, because with digital you can skip around and it feeds the consumerist urge to just have more and more and more.
Mittag-Degala: Exactly. I can watch things on YouTube all the way through but in terms of songs I’ll just jump to random shit digitally. Vinyl allows you to experience an album.
Have either of you picked up any records you’re really crazy about lately?
Rendel: I haven’t really bought records in a long time.
Mittag-Degala: I definitely have. They are expensive.
They are! But then sometimes you get a break. Your album Com Shred I is available for free on BandCamp. You threw us a bone there.
Rendel: Yeah, that is free. It’s pretty demo-y songs. I’m not sure if files should cost money.
Yeah, you can rip anything from YouTube, so what’s the point?
Rendel: It was kind of pointless for us to charge for our other albums online. It makes sense for a tape, to pay for a record. Paying for files is such a weird thing.
Mittag-Degala: I’m not sure if I’m so hard set on if files should cost money, but I will say it is funny if you can’t find a download for an album and you resort to downloading the mp3 from YouTube or something and it’s not a great quality.
It’s kind of like tape where it’s a little less precise, but adds to the atmosphere. Well, I guess it depends on what you’re downloading.
Mittag-Degala: Tape degradation is definitely a different game than digital. But yeah that would be funny if—oh, I guess that is in certain pockets of music.
Rendel: If you like to download a lot of music, you have to accept you’ll get some funny sounding stuff sometimes. But at the same time we’re listening to a tape right now and it’s making some crazy noises. Like whistling and squealing.
When you started tracking to tape did you have someone that helped you out or did you learn by trial and error?
Mittag-Degala: Out of the four of us, I definitely am the least tape savvy, but I try to piggyback on their skills and have been trying to learn it.
Rendel: Logan and I recorded in GarageBand mainly. Logan’s brother and his friends recorded on cassette tape and that was crazy and kind of weird. Then Logan got a really sketchy 4-track that barely worked and we started using that. David was the first to get a proper one.
Mittag-Degala: Was that a Tascam?
Rendel: No it was a Fostex
Rendel: Dave was the first one of us to do it properly, which is funny because then he was also the guy who got a Tascam 388 reel to reel, which largely contributed to the sound of the last record. That in itself is trippy to me because it’s this form of technology that’s weird to be using now. It comes with some troubles and obstacles in terms of being able to actually record properly with it, functionally. But I guess that is part of the reason why it has an appeal, it’s like working on a car or something. It’s a labor of love. Logan and I started dabbling in it, but Dave really dove headfirst.
It’s true what you said about it being a labor of love. It can be infuriating to figure out the low-tech stuff with all the digital now.
Rendel: Right. It’s funny, there’s a lot of random parts and things that can go wrong.
Mittag-Degala: Recording digitally is so much better.
So much easier! It’s a blast. But you definitely lose something.
Rendel: I do think now you can do almost all the same things.
Mittag-Degala: But you know what, I love tape.
Rendel: I love both.
Mittag-Degala: With tape, you have to really level with [your take]. With digital, you can just blow through different takes, trying to get the one that feels right, but with tape, you have to see eye to eye with it. If you fuck up, you have to rewind and you have to really be there. It ties back to the whole vinyl thing in terms of it forcing you to be more present than you necessarily have to be today with all the technology. You have to have it all figured out in your head when you put something on tape.
Since you mention having to plan before recording, I wanted to ask about the track “Everything Happens to You”– was that entirely planned?
Rendel: That was a riff that I had on a loop. Dave and I started playing it together and he made another guitar part for it. It started out as an idea to have this krautrock beat and we wanted to try making a big song.
Mittag-Degala: It was definitely more of an empty canvas than the other songs.
That song in particular stuck out to me as seeming more free-flowing and less premeditated.
Rendel: That was kind of the point and the whole fun of it. When everything is in its place, it feels good to go for it and have a lot of fun. It was by far the most fun song for me.
Mittag-Degala: We got our friend Adam to play saxophone. We were just throwing out ideas and had no idea we were going to get an instrument played by anyone else.
And because it’s self-released you can do that! Did Field Mates have anything to say about pressing a 9 minute song?
Rendel: We did have to shorten it. It ended up being like 6 minutes but that’s only because it wouldn’t fit. But that was really awesome to have anything we wanted on it.
The title track “At Work on Several Things” is sort of an instrumental as well. Were there ever lyrics to that?
Rendel: It’s a song of Dave’s, he wrote it for his grandma.
Mittag-Degala: Didn’t he say it was the first song he wrote on that guitar, that his grandma or grandpa gave him?
Rendel: Ooh maybe. Anyways, there were never any lyrics for that song.
Mittag-Degala: It was a guitar track. Then I was at Dave’s a couple years ago and he just said, “you wanna try drumming on this?” We actually ended up doing another version of that song, because we did that on a 4-track or something. We thought that we should re-record it on the reel to reel to match the quality of all the other songs, but when we did start doing that it didn’t have the same kind of charm as the original. So we just ended up using the original because there’s all that warping and stuff.
Lo-fi seems to grow out of this need for people to create without having fancy recording equipment or the years of experience, but at some point you have the ability to record better things. Do you think you’ll ever reach a point where you could make more technically sound recordings, even though it’s a stylistic element to not?
Rendel: I’m definitely interested in reaching higher and higher levels of quality. The more you do it, you get better at it. You have more opportunities to work with people who are better at it and opportunities to use nicer equipment that does make it sound traditionally better. Which is something we’re definitely interested in.
Mittag-Degala: This makes me think about using studios and studio time. I used to have this notion that you needed to get into a studio to make good music or music of high quality. I think in terms of lo-fi or DIY recording, it’s liberating. It’s the liberation of poor or not wealthy people who are artists and musicians, who are trying to have a heard voice and a genuine voice. For that reason, I think that it’s invaluable. It’s funny how there are these different streams—pop music which is the most immaculately produced, synthesized stuff (I actually love pop music), it’s really fascinating to see it run parallel to lo-fi music. Lo-fi music embraces a lot of qualities that pop music is completely in denial of, like human error, be it vocal pitchy-ness or rhythmic issues. There’s a lot of issues with some drumming moments in the record and I definitely don’t like hearing some of the songs for that reason. But it’s also kind of cool because you can’t listen to it in quite the same way that you would listen to pop music. It’s a different ballgame when things are slightly askew.
Rendel: I don’t want to limit ourselves by wanting to adhere to a sound that we’ve done before, as much as I like that, but I also want to have opportunities to try out different methods and go for different sounds. I really want to give them a try without compromising what we’re all about. The trick is trying to achieve the same charm you can get on funny little home recordings on a bigger scale.
At Work on Several Things is now available on Field Mates Records.
Article by Ally Mason