Compared with a multitude of indie luminaries, Ten Kens' debut LP was one of 2008's forgotten gems. So, in the middle of a recent UK tour, Billy Hamilton cornered vocalist Dan Workman to find out who this Toronto ensemble really are
2008 was quite a year for Toronto ensemble Ten Kens. Cherry-picked by the trend-inciting FatCat Records, the quartet’s gorgeous, genre-defying debut LP was met by a barrage of superlatives and compared favourably with indie luminaries Arcade Fire, Liars and Black Mountain. So during the band’s inaugural UK tour, The Skinny caught up with laconically worded vocalist Dan Workman for a quick chat about the group’s past, present and future...
How are you enjoying your first trip to the UK?
We're enjoying it so much we don't want to leave. The UK crowds, surprisingly, aren't that different from Canadian crowds, you have to win them over the same way. Everyone comes out to be entertained, and entertain you must. They do like it loud however, abnormally loud. But that's just fine with us.
True, we’re all about the decibels. So how did you guys get together?
Dean [Tzenos – guitar] and I met in art school. We started jamming together, with various musicians in the mix, all the while writing songs. Once we had enough material put together, we broke away and hid out in a townhouse for a year, writing and recording. At the end of that year we had an album...but no band. We rounded up Lee [Stringle – bass], another friend from art school, then held auditions for drummers, which is how we found Ryan [Roantree – drums]. And that was that.
Writing your debut LP in a townhouse sounds a little intense. How much of an impact did that have on the sound?
That situation made the record what it is. Dean and I went completely insane; we lived and breathed the project the whole time we were there. We never went outside. It was a labour of love and madness. It couldn't have happened any other way.
Considering the claustrophobic environment, did you expect to produce a record as wide in scope?
We just wanted to make a cool record, pure and simple. Once we started recording we didn't know what to expect, but we definitely knew what we wanted. All it took was working with the right people and a tremendous amount of patience.
You’ve been compared with a lot of influential bands, but are your role models really that predictable?
I think so. Throw some early nineties bands in there such as Pixies and Sonic Youth, and you've more or less got the bulk of our influences for this record covered. Those comparisons put us in some pretty amazing company, it's definitely flattering.
Are you happy with the reviews you’ve received thus far?
Yeah, we're really happy; most have been super positive. I'd like to say we don't pay attention to the press, but we do. We're so new, even bad press is exciting to us.
Talking of which, do you think the music press is still as influential as it once was?
We don't think you writers are a dying breed, we actually think it's scary how much power you all have. Our good press has already helped us tremendously; I imagine bad press could harm us just as easily.
Considering there's only four of you in the band, the moniker’s a little misleading. What’s the meaning behind it?
Ha, sorry, sworn to secrecy on that one. But by all means, feel free to invent your own, we've heard some very interesting theories.
Okay, if you’re sure. I have a ‘wacky’ Ken Dodd theory. Perhaps not, eh? So, finally, can we expect the next record to be your giant pop opus then?
Um, no. Our next record will be darker, louder and bigger...maybe.
Refined by Ten Kens is available via the Fat Cat Records channel on tentracks.co.uk alongside contributions by the likes of David Karsten Daniels, Vetiver, Max Richter and The Twilight Sad.