Interview with Eitan Kenner of Kenner
I must say, dear readers…this was a very interesting interview to conduct. After researching and learning about Kenner…I came out of it all with my questions in hand, but also left with two stunning impressions of how this band operated. The first…after watching numerous videos in their catalog…was that this band has an extreme sense of humor. The second impression came from just how WELL that humor was pulled off…which led me to believe that there was also an incredibly serious side of this band as well somewhere in the mix.
And truthfully…for one of the first times in my interview experience, I genuinely felt like I had NO CLUE as to WHAT would come back through this interview with Eitan, the founder of the collaboration now known as Kenner. It could have gone either way I figured…my rambling interview-style has often brought out many a sad story just from my curiosity leading me to ask everything that’s on my mind…
So…surprised by the answers? You bet – this time I truly was. While I think most of me was expecting more comedic answers than there are…it was still a very realistic possibility that, with all the effort and hard-work that Kenner puts into their music that the interview could have come out completely serious.
Thankfully…much like the music they create, we’ve not only got a great range of emotions through these answers but also some incredible explanations as to the reasons WHY these emotions exist within their tunes. It was an incredible pleasure to talk with Eitan – I’ve been looking forward to sharing what he has to say about music with you all. There is an incredible drive and excitement within this band that is truly contagious…you know, in the good-contagious way…
Anyhow…I won’t keep you waiting any longer! Enjoy!
SBS: Huge thank you for your time Kenner! I’ve checked out your music & videos and I am absolutely loving the approach you’re taking to busting into the music scene. For those out there that don’t know about Kenner yet – give us some insight into what defines the music and into what defines the PEOPLE that make it! That’s RIGHT Kenner – right off the bat, I’m looking for your souls! Tell us everything we need to know!
Kenner: Aiiight, aiiight! Here’s what Kenner is about: We care about good music, and we care about people. We want to make people move and dance when listening to our music. We want to have a melody stuck in their heads, and we want to make them feel. Our music can be described as “Electronic-Prog-Jazz-Pop-sdfgisduhf”. Did you also throw up when you read that? I know I did. 🙂 A few words just put everything you think you know about music into boxes…so we try to do exactly the opposite of that – with a few notes.
Alright we’re off to a bad start!! That sounded very pretentious. 😛
We are just good, honest people, trying to make good, honest music.
Also, these are our names. Eitan Kenner – keys, Wayne Tucker – Trumpet, Mike Bono – Guitar, Yoni Marianer – Bass, Jordan Rose – Drums. Eitan is the one answering the questions today.
SBS: Eitan – after reading about the history in this band, it’s clear that it started as YOUR thing. But that’s not the case anymore is it? You’re five members strong now, and it looks (at least through videos!) as if you’re having the time of your life! What I want to know…is what changed…for you specifically. Something must have flipped a switch in there that allowed you to open up and work with other people on a permanent basis…was it easy for you to let go of complete control and allow the rest of the band to contribute? Again…from what I can see, it looks like it all came together extremely naturally…did you get lucky in finding these people or was there a method to the madness?
Kenner: Doing Kenner as my own thing was a way for me to explore myself and start having music out there that I can fully stand behind and feel like it represents who I am. Growing up, I had a very clear Idea of wanting to become a jazz pianist. It was at college when I wasn’t afraid anymore to say that I’m not into jazz, but into all music. I like music because it’s good, not because of what genre it is or what it’s trying to represent.
Kenner as a Youtube-based project was a tool for myself to try and create something original. I didn’t know what it was going to be yet but I knew that I had a lot of music in me that needed to come out. I think that after a few of those videos I was able to understand more clearly what I wanted to create. It then became easier to know what kind of musicians should be the ones to join in for a full band.
I’ve known everyone for a few years now and we’ve played together many times in different settings before forming the band. One day I was tired of not having a band and pretty much a few days later we had our first rehearsal. After playing Kenner stuff for the first time, there was a HUGE click and it was so clear that it was the perfect timing to switch into band mode. There’s something very different in working as a band than producing a song alone and working with each musician separately. I think it was our second rehearsal when we all just couldn’t resist smiling and laughing every time we stopped playing. There was so much love in the air. As far as being in control – working with a band is definitely a blessing for me. I tend to be an awful perfectionist. Being able to get immediate response from other musicians who I truly admire is amazing. It helps me to get out of my own head and see how the music feels for other people.
I’m super lucky that everyone in the band is fully committed and excited about being a part of the creation.
SBS: My first introduction to your music not only left me watching a great video & listening to a wicked song – but all of a sudden, if I wanted to…at any moment from this point on in my life I could jump up off the couch and make a kick-ass hummus. Ha! I mean…who expects THAT in a video? But truly…the video & song for “How To Make Hummus In 6 Steps,” is incredibly shot and overall through the music, humor and actual knowledge, you’ve walked right into a real-slick triple play here! I know you guys put a lot of work into your videos – so tell me about making this one! It’s not every day we’re going to hear the backstory on a song based on Hummus!
Kenner: The idea came to mind after a few months of living in NYC. I was gonna go on a visit to my hometown of Tel Aviv, Israel and knew that there was so much about that place that I wanted to express through music. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to deliver and which musicians I wanted in it, and started with a very basic musical Idea. While I had a pretty good Idea of what the music would sound like eventually, I had nothing tangible until a few months after filming it. When filming it I just knew that tempo and the kind of energy I wanted for the song. I think a lot about energy when it comes to writing and performing music. I was very lucky that my good friend and amazing videographer Efrat Kariv agreed to join forces.
We spent about a week shooting, ended up of course not shooting all the ideas we had and eventually not using all of them. The music writing and producing came later when I was back in NYC. The hardest part was editing the video and making sure everything made sense together. I was editing the music and video pretty much simultaneously. The rough cut was ready around the time we started mixing the song.
It ended up being the biggest project I have ever worked on and the most time I’ve ever spent on anything in my entire life… but DANG it! – it was worth it.
SBS: The combination of humor & music has been tested throughout the decades in different ways, genres & styles. Today’s internet culture…absolutely needs humor to be able to score big points on the hit-counters…and the evidence of your musical approach is certainly paying off with large, undeniable numbers! I like to think it’s for a couple reasons…maybe you do too lol…but for certain the music & the amazing video – but also the comedic aspect as well. Do you think it is tougher to achieve musical ‘credibility’ out there amongst your peers by making songs of a less-than-serious nature? Why or why not? Or does that ever even matter at all?
Kenner: Humor is a great way to reach out to people, it is definitely an ice-breaker and everybody likes it. Coming from a jazz background (where even though jazz originally wasn’t like that at all, today people are very boxed into what jazz is “supposed” to sound like) – it has been easier to get people’s attention and credibility because of the humor, I think. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t bother listening to more than 5 seconds of an electronic track but because of the humor, people are definitely willing to give it a chance.
SBS: And the humor continues! Next thing I stumble across is a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe!” Kenner! You could have chosen any one of a million songs out there…and the opportunity to cover songs recording-wise comes up only every so often…how did you decide that this was the song of all songs out there to take on and make a version of that’s all your own?
Kenner: I’ll never forget hearing the original song for the first time in my friend’s car. The song is very simple but there was still something about its energy that I really liked. I could get into specific musical reasons but instead I’d just say that it simply made me happy. That same night I started messing around with the idea of covering it.
Today it seems like a natural choice but back then, coming from pretty “strict” jazz education, it seemed pretty weird to a lot of friends – especially since I didn’t really have any of my own music released then (I had a few jazz tunes and videos). I thought that it would be a great opportunity to integrate some humor into serious music, thus attract people into checking out my music. I had played with that idea in my head for a little while until the final encouragement came from a friend of mine in Toronto who has been forever one of my biggest inspirations and motivators in life. He basically just said – DO IT! Originally I planned to release a piano cover of that song and a week later release a whole different video (now on Youtube under the title Prelude).
During the work on “Call me Maybe” it became this huge project with a whole video concept – working on it took about 4 months, and I released the prelude video a few months after. You never know with these things, you think that it’s gonna be easy but it ends up taking forever. I really had to teach myself how to produce the music/shoot and edit the video/do effects and everything. I was so lucky that so many people have believed in the project and put a lot of effort into it to make it succeed. My main co-producer of the video and the concept was my good friend and fellow Berklee Alumni, vocalist Taylor Ann Win. She helped write the script and shoot the video without any prior experience. She is just THAT talented so it worked.
As you can see I just love working with girls. It really brings a whole new perspective to everything. Damn I just realized that there aren’t any girls in the band 🙁
SBS: But again – there’s no doubt that it’s a killer video to watch as well. Someone over there in the Kenner camp has some real skill when it comes to editing and filming…like the kind of skills that come along with truly loving your craft kinda love… Let’s try and toss a bit of help out there to those that are just making their first videos Kenner! Show some love to us all and tell us the top three things you consider and plan out the most when putting together a killer video.
Kenner: Like I mentioned earlier, the videos are a way to expose people to the music, so my main concern is to grab people’s attention from the very beginning. Nowadays when everyone has a short attention span, it is very important to get people hooked within the first 10 seconds. I’ve gotten many responses from different people about the hummus video, saying that they normally don’t watch music vids for more than a minute but they couldn’t get their eyes off of the screen.
It’s very important for me that the plot would make sense. Even though usually there are too many details anyway and you can’t really get it after watching once, and even though there has been a lot of nonsense in my videos, things still have to be connected and result from each other. Just like in music.
I spent a ridiculous amount of time making sure that things look good aesthetically. I’m by no means an expert video editor but I do believe that everything is possible and if you want to make it happen, you’ll find a way. I can spend days on days just working on one little title, what font/size it is etc. my motto is “if I want other people to enjoy it, I HAVE to enjoy it myself.” So I just re-watch and re-listen to everything a million times and make sure I still enjoy it. It takes away from the magic of hearing and seeing the vid for the first time, and that’s why I make sure that I show it to new people every once in a while, watch their reaction and ask for their opinions.
SBS: You’ve now begun performing around the NYC area…what has it been like to see these songs transform into a live setting? With there being such a heavy visual element to the videos – I’m curious about how it all comes together on a live stage…did you plan for visual elements in the live performance as well? What are the people going to see when they see a live Kenner show?
Kenner: It’s been challenging but an absolute great experience to play everything in a live setting. We definitely think about performing with a huge screen in the background, but for now – since we’ve started small, we just try to deliver everything through the music. When people come to our show they are expected to see us go crazy on stage. We play hard, dance hard – it’s like a party, but it can be a sad party at some moments too. 🙂 We just aren’t afraid to transform what the music makes us feel into what we look like on stage. There are definitely a lot of smiles and laughs.
SBS: I know you mentioned briefly to me beforehand that there are new songs coming out this month…sorry if I didn’t throw out a ‘spoiler-alert’ before that! But it’s clearly no secret that there’s a dedication and commitment that runs deep in this band…is this all leading towards a full-length album? Any details you can give us?
Kenner: There is going to be a full-length album eventually, but for now we’re trying to focus on expanding our audience by putting together more shows and more videos. There are new live-in-the-studio videos coming up, videos from shows, and some more creative videos along the lines of the good old hummus video.
SBS: It also seems to me…that it would take nearly war & famine to bring the spirits of Kenner down… I’m judging of course only by what I’ve seen and heard so far…so tell us, on a musical & lyrical level – does it ever find a darker element? Is there any room for heavier-subjects and darker-concepts within the scope of Kenner’s sound?
Kenner: War hasn’t taken it down in the past (a war is happening back home as we speak). Famine – probably will but we’ve been lucky so far 🙂 Yes, there is a darker element to Kenner. I try to bring to the table all scopes of life and put them into the music. Humor and fun are a huge part of my life but so are anxiety and depression and a million other things. – I didn’t want to make people get hooked on our music by depressing them, but now when our body of work is expanding and we’re doing live shows, there’s definitely a bit of everything in it.
Plus, if we talk about light vs. dark music for a sec in a very simplified way -happiness vs. sadness – I think that even in “happy” pieces like the Hummus song, there couldn’t be real happiness without some sadness to balance it out. Like, you know how you listen to something happy and then one really sad chord hits and it’s the saddest thing you’ve ever heard? That chord wouldn’t be as sad without the context. So I think Hummus and Call me Maybe are happy because of all bits of sadness in there.
SBS: What’s the most inspirational aspect of life that comes across through your music? What would you hope a person would feel when listening to the music of Kenner?
Kenner: I don’t think that we can all get the same exact feeling from music, whether it’s instrumental or has lyrics. So I can’t really answer the first question. I do hope though to make people get lost in the music – forget anything they think they know that has to do with “words” and “things”. I hope to just make them enjoy the present moment in their lives. That is – enjoy their lives.
Shiiiiet some new age mumbo jumbo, HUH!
SBS: Now…over time this project grew to the five pieces it now knows and loves…is it theoretically possible that this band could continue to grow and expand even further beyond five players or have you all found exactly what you’re looking for in each other?
Kenner: Even though each musician in the group is amazing in his own unique way, I do want to keep creating music with other musicians. I know for a fact that we are going to feature some vocalists in our shows on some songs. There are many other musicians who inspire us a lot and would be great to have featured on the album when it’s out.
SBS: How do you ensure that the musical-needs of each member of the band are represented in recordings and overall? Do all five of you need to be involved for it to now be an official ‘Kenner’ track? Is it unnecessary for every player to be involved in every single track or something that absolutely HAS to happen?
Kenner: I think that it’s very clear to all of us what the musical strengths of each musician are. Together we make sure that we make the music sound as good as we can, and so each musician contributes his own thing. With past compositions, we all listened together and suggested ideas as to how to create our own unique sound as a group and have each one shine. When I write music for the group now, I definitely know how I want each part to sound and who’s going to be playing it.
Knowing who’s going to be playing the music inspires me to write. I love to know who will be playing the music cuz it gives me a direction, and some limitations.
SBS: Kenner is clearly a well thought-out project and a driven-machine. Where might you hope that your musical career would take you?
Kenner: As a group, our goal is to be able to perform for as many people as we can. I can definitely see us performing some big music festivals in the future. We all love traveling and we love food, and I’m sure that our careers will take us there.
Individually, we each have different dreams – some of us want to have a Jazz career while others want to play with some big pop/rock stars as sidemen. Also, Mike and Wayne have their own groups. Ultimately I’m sure that working together, as Kenner will help all of us fulfill our dreams collectively and separately.
SBS: Gotta do it, gotta do it, gotta do it! Websites my friends! Where can the people find you most actively and what can they expect coming up on these pages in the next couple months? What news have ye and, yaaaaaaaar – where can it be found?
Kenner: Hahaha! I have been working on a website for Kenner this past month and it’ll be out very soon. For now, everyone’s welcome to find us on Facebook (Kenner – Music Page) that is where we have been updating recent news. Just to make a quick announcement, Yoni and I are going to have a mini-tour in Israel this coming Fall, we will be playing a few shows – doing Kenner’s music with a few local musicians as well as master-classes at some Israeli music schools. Also we are working on a million other things 🙁
SBS: Yaaaaaaaaaa! You made it! Thanks again so much for your time Eitan – completely appreciated and it’s been a riot learning all about what Kenner has been up to! I really dig the amount of skill coming out of this band in both audio & visuals – you’ve definitely got something here Kenner! You’ll have to keep us posted on how it’s all going for you in the future. For now – you have our ‘open-floor’ – a space for you to say anything at all that you’d like to anyone out there reading! Thank you so much Kenner – we’ll be watching & listening as you continue on your musical journey!
Kenner: It’s been a huge pleasure, Jer. Thank you so much. Anyone who’s reading this – we are all really nice people. If you want to hit us up and just say whatever, ask some questions, propose ideas for new projects that we could do – please don’t hesitate to contact any of us! We love you and we want to be your friends.