ketamines

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Being a music junkie in the middle of nowhere, I spend a lot of time standing by my mailbox, waiting for the latest record I ordered.  This 7", the “Line By Line” single by Ketamines, was totally worth it.  It’s just about the catchiest song I’ve heard all year.  Yes, you heard right, the lead singer is going “dee dee doo doo, do do dee do."  Because that’s the thing about Garage Rock: Music doesn’t have to be very cerebral when it’s this much fun.

Further Listening: Ketamines’ debut LP, Spaced Out, comes out in early March.  I’ve already pre-ordered my copy, so it looks like I’ll be standing by my mailbox some more.

  • Listen
Play

Ketamines - Spaced Jam (in studio, live)

Also because I’m a dork, here’s us playing for an upcoming blog that I will post more about when it’s actually going to run. 

Basically it’s a three and a half minute long excuse for me to be a wanker. Still fun.

Please listen with your ears.

Ketamines + Felix Morel + C.m. Ruiz = The Surreal Lightness of Being Strange

Ketamines: All the Colours of Your Heart | Eleven Eleven | So Hot | Stay Awake [2013/14] — Paul Lawton seems to be living out a daydream he might’ve had as a teenager. He’s been playing in bands for two decades, he runs a rad record label called Mammoth Cave Recording Co., and he’s become known for chucking well-spoken rocks at the machine that makes popular music. (When Lawton’s not moonlighting, his day gig is crafting words for a Toronto-based environmental firm, and he taught media and digital culture at the University of Lethbridge before moving east.) Lawton’s latest recording project with his longtime band Ketamines — a collectors’ series of four 7” releases whose standalone covers form one larger, truly magnificent collage image — is evidence that he’s also diving even deeper into his own past.

“As a kid, I was really obsessed with Wacky Packages,” explains Lawton. “If you never had Wacky Packages, you’d collect certain cards and put them together on the floor and make a bigger picture. And I was kinda OCD about it as a kid, and I would just hustle any way I could to try to raise money to buy more Wacky Packages, because otherwise I would have an incomplete picture. But at that point there were no card shops, no Internet, so you had to just keep buying packs in order to complete the collage. So this is an idea that I’ve wanted to do for years.”

Lawton had considered producing a “cassingles club” a few years ago with another band called Myelin Sheaths, in which a run of cassette releases would assemble into one crazy-ass puzzled-together image created by his go-to cover artist (more on that creative partnership a little later). But while this four-part Ketamines release (for the sake of brevity: 4x7”) had been stewing on Lawton’s back burner for some time, it also turned into an opportunity to find new and similarly childhood-bound collaborators.

Ketamines drummer Jesse Locke immediately suggested Felix Morel when Lawton asked him about artists to consider for the 4x7” project. “I’ve been a fan of Felix’s stuff for years,” says Locke. “Felix did a cassette for this label Los Discos Enfantasmes — like, gatefold sleeve, 70s prog-rock-style art, with wizards and magic. And his own band, Panopticon Eyelids, has always had crazy art work as well — just B-movie, horror, sci-fi, kinda schlocky, with a million different images combined. I thought it’d be a perfect fit for the band and for the series, especially because it was a collect-em-all kind of thing.”

They let Morel run with the concept with only the unheard Ketamines recordings in hand. “We gave him complete carte blanche,” says Locke. “We just sent him the songs, and he was like ‘Okay, just give me a bit of time, I’ll need to listen to these and dream something up.’ When he gets an idea he works really fast, but his conceptual stage is kind of what takes a while. So it took about a month, but then he latched on to these 80s Halloween costume catalogues for the art. It’s all bizarre fake versions of Batman, Star Wars, The Lone Ranger, Elvira — but it’s like off-market Elvira and Batman. As you can see, there’s a father and son Batman in one of the sleeves. It’s this weird Halloween-80s-sci-fi-horror kinda concept.”

Morel collected and loved Wacky Packages (and other stuff like Garbage Pail Kids cards) as a kid too. He also liked the idea of adding to the Ketamines’ cryptic collage aesthetic with the 4x7” project, and he “liked the songs and thought I could do them justice.” So he tapped into his pop-cultural memory bank as well.

“I visualized a fake promo campaign based on the collectible movie cards from my childhood, the ones that came with a big slab of pink bubblegum,” explains Morel. “I remember in the 80s collecting the E.T. cards and trading in the schoolyard to complete the black-and-white puzzle that was on the back of the cards. So I made up a movie in my mind called ‘Chaos Planet Rebel Forces,’ which is visually inspired by the movie Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, aka Turkish Star Wars. The movie is an amazing mix-and-match of actual Star Wars scenes mixed with the budget Turkish version — total budget-pop-art-collage style. I had just found this amazing costume catalog with really cool photos and it was the perfect opportunity to use them in a collage. Space ninjas and UFOs versus amphibian aliens battleships! Collect all four!

Morel also borrowed from other Ketamines records by incorporating black-and-white wavy swirls. While it’s unlike any other Ketamines cover, Morel’s 4x7” collage manages to hit a similar note composed by both darkness and lightness, an intermingling of sinister and playful forces. He attributes this to the collage being inspired by Turkish Star Wars and other exploitation science fiction flicks. “They always have very basic, very defined good and bad characters” says Morel. “At one point I had a set of little kid witches but I lost the evil one so I couldn’t have the good-evil balance I had with all the other characters. So I filed the good witch away and forgot about that idea.”

Morel admits that his contribution doesn’t have anything to do with the lyrics or the band. “I usually choose the imagery based on a gut feeling I get listening to the music and for some reason the Ketamines inspired that collage.” The idea grabbed him by the belly after he discovered a seemingly picked-over costume catalogue on top of a trash can in Montréal’s Mile End district on his walk home one day.

The serendipitous find became Morel’s catalyst for building a single composition made of four separate ones. “I did the whole thing on scale, 14 inches by 14 inches. I knew from the start I had to find a big central image around which I would collage different scenes from this fake mental movie in the four corners. That way I could ‘easily’ divide them in four in the middle to have the 7” covers. I didn’t know what the central image would be until I found this costume catalog in the trash. Inside I found these huge 13-inches-high pictures of women dressed as medieval princesses and I just had to add gold jewelery, half-alien faces and weapons on top of them to make them look like outer space princesses. I easily found all the rival warriors and magicians and contrasting colours, all in the same catalog. I tell you, this find really pushed the project forward big time! The fact that there was the basic B-movie sci-fi theme of good and evil planets and civilizations made the process of dividing the collage in four parts easier.”

Beyond his obviously fabulous imagination, it was Morel’s “zero digital” process — meticulously hand-cutting and -assembling his collages with scissors, glue and tape — that had heavy appeal for both Lawton and Locke. “He sent it to us fully completed and we thought it was amazing,” says Locke. “Between Tumblr and the cassette world there are a lot of people doing the collage thing nowadays and mashing a bunch of different elements together. But Felix does it in such a good way.” [Scroll down for a short Q&A about Morel’s creative process.]

As if developing a four-way cover art project wasn’t tricky enough, another important aspect of the series is that it’s being distributed through flourishing outposts of the country’s garage rock community. Four Canadian labels are releasing individual Ketamines’ 4x7” records: Toronto’s Pleasence Records, Saskatoon’s Leaning Trees Records, Mississauga, Ontario’s Hosehead Records and Vancouver’s Mint Records.

Locke says the project was largely driven by Lawton’s massive passion for limited-edition releases made for collectors — “or for grippers, is the terminology that we like to use.”

Had Lawton also been holding carte blanche, the 4x7” set might be much tougher to grip. “My original idea got vetoed by James, who I write songs with,” explains Lawton. “I wanted the first one to be 500 copies, the second one would be 400, the third would be 300 and the last one would be 100. So it’d be almost impossible to complete the whole thing. James is really big on having the music be available to everyone — he doesn’t buy into the same collector neurosis that I do.”

For those of you that do share Lawton’s neurosis, the last 7” in the series, Stay Awake, drops on February 18, 2014. Three hundred copies of each 7” were pressed.

Lawton remembers a younger version of himself hunting for records almost solely on the strength and strangeness of their covers, specifically at a store called Records on Wheels in Winnipeg in the 90s. And while the Ketamines 4x7” series certainly taps into that particular nostalgia, Lawton’s actually aiming to hit an even deeper nerve.

“Everybody’s whole day is in front of a computer now,” says Lawton. “And you see images all day long, to the point where I think we’ve become desensitized to images as a beautiful thing. And then when you get one of these things and you hold it in your hand, there’s something to the evocative power of an object that takes over.”

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Ketamines: You Can’t Serve Two Masters [September 2013] — Paul Lawton first started getting Carlos Ruiz to create cover art for his records about five years ago, during an unexpected shift in his already prolific stretch as a music-maker.

“I was in all these other bands that were touring, and Myelin Sheaths was kind of my fun side project with these two girls who really were just learning to play instruments, and I was just learning how to play drums, and we had this other guy who was kind of just starting too,” explains Lawton. “I was in quote-unquote ‘good bands,’ and then I had this band that was kind of on the side where we would just make really shitty demos and put them out on the Internet, on MySpace. We got picked up by HoZac, a label out of Chicago, one of the biggest American garage labels going right now. That was in 2010, and it kind of spring-boarded us into record labels wanting to all of a sudden put out our records. I started playing in bands in 1995, so 15 years of touring and playing and everything before anybody took us seriously.”

Ruiz (aka C.m.) was really into the Myelin Sheaths’ HoZac 7”, Do the Mental Twist, and he and Lawton connected through mutual friends in Vancouver’s garage-punk scene. Evidently Ruiz knew he was really going to like the band’s follow-up record too. “He just gave us the cover for our second single, which was out on a German garage label called Bachelor,” says Lawton. “It was called Stackticon, which was named after a promotional Burger King-Transformers tie-in. It was this idea of a burger as a transformer that we wrote a song about. I think that single is the best thing that band did.”

Ruiz remembers hanging out with Myelin Sheaths at the Smmr Bmmr festival and just really enjoying their company. Lawton really liked Ruiz’s process — using photocopied distortion rather than Photoshopping, cutting and pasting everything by hand. The materials that went into the first cover Ruiz made for Lawton [above] give a nice snapshot of his style. “The girl in the center is from a picture of all these teens at a indoor pool in the 50s and to her right was a young boy laughing, so that’s why she looks so happy — I imagine he told her a joke or is flirting with her or something,” says Ruiz. “The bottom half is of a lake covered in lily pads printed on green paper instead of white, and the top is just Xerox noise. I hand-cut the lettering and the back is right out of my sketchbook, of the girl who is my model of all my Fungi Girl pieces — when she was like 17 or something. I don’t really remember what Paul and I working together that first time was like, but I imagine it was good for us to work together so much since.”

The result was most definitely good for Lawton. “I absolutely loved that,” he says. “To this day, I think it’s the standard I hold that guy to.”

Ruiz’s disquieting female figures became a signature on Lawton’s records in 2010 (and they’ve anchored the Ketamines brand ever since). He made the cover for a release with another of Lawton’s music projects, the Radians’ Iran 7” [above], in early summer. Then another trippy lady became the emblem on the Myelin Sheaths’ full-length record, Get On Your Nerves, released that October.

“It’s a woman who he photocopied to obscurity and then drew weird squiggles all over her,” explains Lawton. “In the first version she was just standing tall on the thing and he didn’t like that, so he clipped the bottom half and then repeated it on the top, to kind of give the illusion of it coming down like a filmstrip. We used that image for T-shirts and everything. Everything we’ve done with Carlos kind of begets itself to other merch things because they’re distinctive and unique, and simple enough to transfer.”

Ruiz says the cover of the Myelin Sheaths full-length is probably still his favourite collaboration with Lawton. “I was in Copenhagen and wandering around alone thinking that I needed to get this cover done for Paul,” recalls Ruiz. “So I was going down weird little streets until I found this place with the crappiest Xerox machines and the guy only spoke German and I made the basis for this cover there. For some reason the Xerox machine kept printing track lines all over the images. For reference on how crappy the Xerox machine was, I also made this…”

Myelin Sheaths disbanded about a month after Get On Your Nerves dropped. Lawton says the split “was really disappointing,” but that it allowed him an opportunity to shift gears. “I’d been doing Ketamines with James Leroy since the late 90s, we had changed the name from James Leroy around 2010,” he recalls. “We were just making records in our garage and James has a lot of health issues so we didn’t ever really push it, but every year we’d make a new record and just never give it to anybody, so we had this stockpile from the last 13 years that was just sitting there. After I saw the writing on the wall that Myelin Sheaths was done, I really started pushing this Ketamines project.”

Lawton enlisted Ruiz to make two covers [above — the official release, plus another version for a limited release] for the Ketamines’ HoZac 7”, which came out in September 2011. The image’s lightness with a dark side — evil eyes without pupils, but surrounded by colours and bubbles — also began to reveal how deeply their sensibilities overlapped.

“For a long time, we would describe Ketamines as bubble-gum-psych-pop, and I think Carlos’ artistic vision is very psychedelic but still poppy, too,” explains Lawton. “Even the way that he free-hands everything, there’s a levity to his design — if you’re working with a designer who’s doing everything in Photoshop, for example, I find there’s a sterility to it a lot of the time. There are no errors; everything is perfect. Nothing in Carlos’ work is symmetrical, nothing is even. And it’s kind of haphazard, but in a really beautiful way. It looks like a human being did this, and you can tell something about that person.

“There have been debates in the band whether we should start moving away from Carlos, and I’ve always resisted it because everything he gives me, my reactions are always the same. At first I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know about this,’ and then I’ll look at it more and I get more and more excited about it. And when I get them in the mail — I remember getting the Spaced Out LP in the mail, and having really hated it on the computer, but seeing it in that 12-inch vinyl format, it just comes to life in this really unique way.”

Lawton has learned to stay out of the way after he asks Ruiz to create something. “I’ve looked at his portfolio in the past and told him something I really like that he did. But then he kind of spaces out and does whatever he’s going to do anyway.” That said, Lawton finds Ruiz really easy to work with and appreciates the mystery of his process — “I feel like the more I tried to direct him, the worse it would be.”

There’s also an inherent trust and appreciation that comes from having mutual friends and momentum, as well as working with and admiring a similar subculture of musicians. “I like it because I’m not just trying to work with someone who doesn’t really care about me or my band, and is just taking it on as a job — Carlos really gets the music and what we’re doing,” says Lawton. “Our trajectories have also been very similar. We both have been doing stuff for a long time and then things started to catch on at roughly the same time.”

Through the small deluge of Ketamines record art, show posters and other merch items that Ruiz has adorned over the last few years, originality has remained a priority. When Ruiz set about developing cover art for the band’s 2013 LP, You Can’t Serve Two Masters, his main aim was to make sure it didn’t look like anything else he’d done for the band.

“I don’t think I actively tried to reflect too deep of a meaning into it, though I was listening to the songs as I often do to get the right vibe,” says Ruiz. “All I think I was really trying is to do was a face on a record cover, but have it be unrecognizable. That and maybe trying to show that it wasn’t recognizable even if she was looking in the mirror because she was so effed on drugs. Basically a drugged-out cutie.”

In retrospect, Ruiz’s favourite thing about this latest Ketamines cover girl comes from the textural detail surrounding her. “I like that even though I don’t really know how to use computers, I successfully scanned it well enough that it looks like scraps of paper hanging on the cover,” says Ruiz.

Lawton sees a stronger link with the spirit of these particular songs, both in the paper scraps and the drug-out cutie’s mug. “There’s a duality to it, which is in a way kind of sinister,” he says. “But the way that it’s all cut up and thrown about, it’s just like, there’s nothing serious about it. He definitely has that sense of playfulness. And especially in the way it says You Can’t Serve Two Masters, it’s just him free-handing with a sharpie. There’s no attention to font, it’s not overly designed, it’s just like, ‘I’m gonna cut this shit up and stick it back together and that’s what it is.’ I think it works with the title and the theme of the record, which is kind of the about the impossibility of living competing lives.”

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Qs & As with C.m. Ruiz

LPWTF  Where does your artistic vision or style come from?
CmR  “If you looked at some of my early work, I was drawing all of my posters. And a lot of them were based on illustration I saw what worked on gigposters, then it turned my illustrations into more of a 60s psychedelia sort of vibe. Then one day Brian Standeford asked if I would be interested in him doing an image and me doing the lettering for a poster since I was getting more into that element of posters. He taught me how to use the different settings for Xerox machines and what kind of output you could produce with subtle tricks. And then I started getting into Xerox-only design. I found a lot of inspiration in those old rock posters but also old punk fliers and tried to mix it with modern print design that I thought looked cool and worked well. I was doing two to five free posters a week when I was 18, 19 and 20, so I had a lot of practice.”

LPWTF  Why no Photoshop? What do you enjoy about how you work?
CmR  “I don’t have a computer and doing it by hand seems like more of a science to me. It’s tangible and I can make it do whatever I want rather than Filter>Sharpen>Sharpen Edges or something. It’s just easier to wrap my head around and at this point it’s becoming a dying art that I’m glad to still be actively doing.”

LPWTF  Given your affinity for imperfection, what feels as close to perfect as you get in your work?
CmR  “I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten anything perfect before. With my art though there are tons of instances where I really love the accidental scuzz marks and dirty fuzziness left by the Xerox machines or sharpie bleed-through. I have personal favorites but I do a lot of art for a lot of different clients, so there may be too many realms for me to choose just one.”

LPWTF  Where and how do you like to hunt for collage materials?
CmR  “I can’t really find what I use in thrift stores, but sometimes antique shops will have cool old girly mags. A really reliable source is flea markets. When people just bring tons of old crap they want to get rid of, you can find some real gems in the piles of publications. One of the shops I go to in Seattle whenever I have some money is this place in Pioneer Square. You have to go under a guitar shop and then you get to this antique store with really low ceilings — and they have a lot of old Seattle memorabilia. But in this tiny back room they have a bunch of nudist magazines and WWII-era girly magazines. The room is separated by gay and straight magazines but there are a lot more hard cocks on the walls. It’s a pretty cool shop.”

LPWTF  Where do you go to create?
CmR  “Unfortunately I have to go to Kinkos sometimes because there are a few by my house, but in the last four years they’ve gotten super expensive and their machines are all digital so I try to avoid it. I used to go to this place called CK Graphics since they were .04 cents a copy and they had machines from the late 80’s and early 90’s — that was the perfect look. But they closed after the owner retired in January 2013, so now I like to go to a place called Rams Copy, which has those same machines for .06 cents a copy and it has computers so I can scan stuff and email it to people when it’s done. In a healthy sitting I will usually go there for about four hours and in that time do something like two posters, a record cover and often I’m working on some sort of other project like an illustration that I can finish alongside those other things.”

LPWTF  What’s on your cutting room floor?
CmR  “There’s always stuff that I do when I’m trying to warm up that just ends up in the rubbish bin. It’s always kinda crappy. If there is something but it’s not quite right, but the image is really great, I will kinda just bank it for awhile and some time in the future come back to it and see if now I know how to use it properly. That’s why even though I get rid of those drafts, I don’t toss out my magazines.”

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Qs & As with Felix Morel

LPWTF  Where does your artistic vision or style come from?
FM  “I don’t know if I have a ‘vision’ for my art but I know my aesthetic comes from my childhood, stuff I took for granted at the time but now realize are pretty cool and entrenched in me — pop culture stuff like airbrush art, early computer art, toy packaging, B-movie and science-fiction art and tropes, new age and visionary art. I mix these influences with more highbrow art and concepts such as pop art, surrealism and dada, punk and metal imagery, trance states, optical illusions.”

LPWTF  Why no Photoshop? What do you enjoy about how you work?
FM  “Well, I am not very good at the computer and Photoshop in particular, so I find it very funny when people tell me I make very good Photoshop collages. I actually take it as a compliment— mission accomplished! I like to keep it old-school: paper, scissors, glue, some paint and sharpie pen when I need to hide something. Bringing a computer in the collage process kinds of defeat the handmade optical illusions I want to achieve. It becomes too easy and loses some of its power. That’s why it can take me a while before I am done on a piece, because there is no random shit and no computer cheating.”

LPWTF  Given your affinity for imperfection, what feels as close to perfect as you get in your work?
FM  “My Bataille Solaire self-titled cassette cover [above] is 95 per cent perfect. It feels almost perfect because I was able to do it just the way I had envisioned it in my head. I wanted to do a really simple collage using only stock images but have it look like a new age occult paperback. The poison glass skull bottle on a mirror comes from a collectors’ encyclopedia book I have, I think, but pretty much the whole thing comes from 90s stock image catalogs. I wish I had put the right side aura face with red lighting bolt a bit more centered, but at the same time it’s the obvious move to do for me, placing the elements symmetrically for easy composition. So yeah, I am really proud of that Bataille Solaire collage — it’s really small too, like 2” by 5”. I am also very proud of Blood From The Tiger’s Womb, the collage I made for Bataille Solaire’s second tape, Documentaires [below]. That said, I usually work on a collage until I find it perfect so I could probably name a bunch I feel are perfect. I don’t do many collages either, so I don’t have a pile of mediocre ones I don’t show to people.”

LPWTF  Where and how do you like to hunt for collage materials?
FM  “I do a weekly round of various pawn shops and charity stores for useful books and magazines. I also have a pretty big archive of books, magazines, photocopies of patterns and colored paper to chose from, all indexed by subject for easy finding. I also pick up anything useful in the trash and recycling bins when I can. I did an insert for The Unireverse LP around a Vachon Christmas Log Cake packaging I found in the middle of the street.”


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All images by Felix Morel & C.M. Ruiz. Story by Eric Rumble. Track down Ketamines records via Bandcamp.

Postscript: I’m putting LPWTF on indefinite hiatus after this post. I haven’t been able to devote much time to it for most of the last couple of years, and I’m spending so much time on a computer at my day gig that I need to start finding excuses not to pour more of myself into a screen at home. So I’m gonna dig into my LPs instead of their hidden stories. For now, anyway. Many thanks for your eyeballs.