By Jess Goulart
Photo from Banned Books.
Everyone loves a little mischief, and Banned Books does not disappoint. Administering a healthy dose of havoc with eclectic sounds that will get your feet trippin’ and your head spinnin’, “super duo” Matthew Dermond (guitar) and Zane Kanevsky (vocals, drums) help keep things interesting in Philly. Their natural playfulness and humor manifests itself in delightful mayhem music – say that five times fast! The Flawless Demo EP, their last release, came out in May 2012 and offers gritty guitar, hard beats, and a noted transition from their more vocally-oriented 2010 release. Drawing inspiration from hip-hop, jazz, rock, and electronica, Banned Books spans genres with erratic rhythms that are subject to pops and lulls, pulling you into a happy chaos that may seem random, but is precisely designed by these master manipulators. Best of all, Dermond and Kanevsky are obviously having a damn good time, and they want you to as well. BTR caught up with Kanevsky to chat about their new/old sound, marching bands, and why playing Montreal rocks.
What are your backgrounds as musicians and what brought you guys together?
We met through high school marching band in 2001. Matt played the electric bass guitar and I was playing the four drums – well, actually we had five drums – and Matt taught me how to read music in that context. I took over his place when he left, and throughout the time I was in high school and he was in college we were in a few different bands together. Banned Books is our third band together and it’s just the two of us now. We’ve come a long way, been playing together for 11 years.
Have you always been listening to this kind of music? What are some of your major influences?
I grew up with really cool parents that listened to really great music and gave me a lot of awesome albums on tape and CD. When I was a kid I remember having (No Pussyfooting), Here Come The Warm Jets, Robert Fripp, The Velvet Underground, and Nico. Both my parents took me to a lot of really great concerts; I’ve seen David Bowie like 20 times with them! So I had a very musical upbringing even though they didn’t play music.
Your music is definitely expansive, you have almost a Fugazi sound in your overall production now.
Well it’s funny because Matt and my’s first band was almost entirely completely electronic, and now we’ve come around to really appreciating more of the organic, three-dimensional guitar tones and roomy, natural sounds.
There are a lot of jazz elements, where does that come from?
The original line up had a lot of jazz influence. Cameron Vance was a classically trained jazz drummer and he brought a lot more of that to the table when he was in the band. But as far as the space between sounds, I think more of that comes from listening to bands like Shellac, Deerhoof, and Dirty Projectors. Obviously all of those are very, very different, but they’re all rock bands that display an understanding of space both sonically and compositionally.
What brought about the vocals?
Vocals always sort of feel like an afterthought and then become a focal point, because vocals naturally take that role. But we’ve always have vocals and approached them in the same way – come up with everything except for the vocals and then in the end attach a lyrical idea to the sound at a later point.
What’s your writing process like?
It’s always pretty different. We’ll have a basic idea and expand on it, and it’s really a process of erasing things and rearranging things, moving things around. A lot of the sounds in our recordings are actually cut up and looped. The writing process and the recording process are almost the same, usually. I mean, not always, but I do think my favorite productions have come from the songs where the writing process and recording process are one and the same.
Actually, most of our songs are written in the context of practicing to play a show and wanting to have new material. It’s a similar process to cutting it up digitally when we write the music to begin with.
Flawless Demo album art.
And who comes up with the ideas?
Banned Books has always been the most democratic band I’ve ever been in. It’s totally 50/50 now that there’s only two of us, and even when there was three of us it was 33/33/33. Each person would come up with their own parts, or one person would write one song, someone else another, and then we’d all collaborate.
You guys have been touring quite often recently, how is that going?
Really fun, yeah, we just played Montreal and we hit Boston and New York on the way. We played Montreal, Windsor, Kalamazoo – which was probably one of our favorites. That was a really fun show because it was at a record store called Corner Record Shop.
What’s the best part about Montreal?
Montreal is one of the most interesting cities that we’ve gotten to go to because it’s so beautiful there and there’s a pretty hardcore music scene. Not like hardcore rock and roll (laughs), though I guess that too, but people are really into it and dedicated, which reminded me a lot of Philly. It’s cool to be in a different country that’s not too far away and see the same things as where you’re from but in a totally different setting. Oh, and there’s a lot of cool murals and street art that you can see just by walking around.
What inspired the video for “AEIOU”?
The video was entirely the brainchild of our friend Ross Brubeck, who lives in the city. He came out to one of our shows with a broken camera one time and he filmed us with it. It looked really cool – jumping in and out of focus because the lens was sort of screwy. It made for a really awesome live video even though obviously the sound wasn’t good. So he approached us with it afterwards and it was a sort of mutual interest thing from there.
What are you working on at this point and is it different from your past releases?
Right now we’re recording what we consider to be our first proper full-length album and we’re really excited about it. The closest we’ve come to that was about 30 minutes, and came out before we knew exactly what we wanted to be doing. It’s different, more on an aesthetic level than a musical level, especially as far as the vocals go. I tamed my vocals a bit and I feel a lot more confident as far as singing in a sort of subdued voice goes, instead of loud and aggressive. We now really want the guitar and drums to be the feature.
For drums and guitar, I think this music is some of the most brutal stuff. We actually recorded an entire album last year and we’re not doing anything with it.
It ended up with a more subdued sound overall that wasn’t really what we were going for – the heavy side of using guitar and drums is what really excites us and the stuff we recorded last year was more like groove. You always have to have groove, but I would rather hear mash, disgusting guitar feedback, that’s what we’re really all about. That’s the really important element – the really nasty guitar and the drums holding that up.
Sounds excellent, anything else you’d like to add?
We’ll be playing some unofficial showcases down at SXSW, so come see us! Oh! And to anyone who has ever wanted to play the guitar and the drums, we both fully support spending your entire life doing nothing but rock and roll.
Or check them out at one of these live dates:
January 24 – Boot & Saddle – Philadelphia, PA
February 4 – Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
February 13 – The Paper Box – Brooklyn, NY