Silent Uproar: So, what to do you hope to accomplish with this album that you weren't able to accomplish with New Sacred Cow?
Kenna: World domination.
Kenna: What am I trying to accomplish with this album that I didn't accomplish? Well, I thought that I didn't accomplish what I set out to accomplish last week... The only thing that I felt like didn't happen with the last one that I hope happens with this one is that more people get it.
SU: Did the trouble you had with defining the market for your music or judging the reception of your music, as described in that chapter in Blink, did that impact your approach at all to this album?
Kenna: I think maybe in the beginning it was the mindset of trying to find a way to be more commercial. But naturally, you worry about your career because it's something you want to do and you want to support yourself doing. You want to be able to be out there living it. A lot of people would, automatically in their brains, be like, "Just go out there, just go do it."
They don't realize the ramifications of that. There's a lot of mitigating factors. In my case, I make my own music. Me and Chad do all the music ourselves and write all the stuff ourselves, so there's a real cost of putting together a band and putting together a tour. It's a really difficult process, making the sonnets that I create. And to some degree there's a real debacle and a lot of practice that go into it.
Now I forgot the question... [laughs]
It's something about Blink, you said, Blink.
SU: Yeah, I feel like you've always had a bit of an issue with trying to define your market. Who is the target audience for your music? Also, has that resulted in any changes in the way you approached making the album?
Kenna: Right. First of all, I should say yeah. Starting the album, there was some mindset of trying to figure out a way to make things a little more commercial in the mindset, because you have fear. And people don't realize all the cost that goes into creating something and you're worried about your career.
So, you start to think like, "Man, what do I need to do, how do I do this and still maintain myself, who I am and how do I... Is there something I'm missing?" And you know, going all the way through the album I wasn't able to do that. I wasn't able to think like that anymore, because it just isn't my DNA. I just make music that I make.
It's a cross-genre and it's unclassifiable. I've dared people to describe it to their friends all the time and it's hard for them to do. And it's not like I'm sitting down going, "I'm going to make this hard for you to do." It's just who I am. I just make this music. I don't sit in the studio and say, "OK, now, I want to be difficult and indescribable and unidentified."
I don't do that. I just make the music. It comes out and I play it for my friends and they go, "What is that?" And I'm like, "Well, it's a little of this and it's a little of that and it's a little of this." So, I mean, in the beginning I think I did and in the very end I just realized it's not possible for me to be that kind of person who is looking for a way out.
SU: I think when I stumbled upon to your music back with New Sacred Cow, it was kind of through like a college music station or something.
In retrospect that seems kind of weird because your music isn't really the typical music that a station would play. I guess there are a couple singles from New Sacred Cow that kind of stand out, but what do you think it is about your music that appeals to such a wide audience?
Kenna: It's the fact that I'm such a juxtaposition of different genres as a person or different social classes and cultures. I mean, I'm an Ethiopian kid who was born in a third world country, who grew up a little bit in the city of Cincinnati, who also lived in a one bedroom apartment at a university and also lived in the suburbs of Virginia.
Kenna: I've got a lot of things going on, and my music represents all those worlds. So I listened to R&B, Michael Jackson, Jackson Five, Michael Jackson's Thriller, all that stuff when I was a younger. In passing, my uncle would play it for me, but then when I moved into the suburbs I was listening to U2, and Motley Crue, and R.E.M and Depeche Mode.
So you throw those two worlds together and then you throw the cultures – my history as an Ethiopian and also American culture – all together into one thing, you've got a hodge podge, and you end up having me. [laughter]
SU: Well, to your credit I think the other part of it too is being able to combine all those things and pull it off. It's being able to do it and make it sound good enough that people are able to enjoy it.
Kenna: What's been true of every sonic element that I choose to use is being true to them in each song. I won't have on one song the same influence that I have on another song.
Kenna: Sometimes I'll really wish I had done it like so-and-so and I'll start drawing from that. Same kind of inspiration that the Beatles took when they listened to Ted Collins and created Sgt. Pepper's. I may listen to U2 and hope one day that I can have the same kind of passion that Bono has.
I may listen to The Police and wish that I had the same kind of histrionics the guitarist has on that and the bass has on that part of a Red Hot Chili Peppers record. I may draw from early Genesis or The Beatles, and Paul McCartney on bass. I may play the piano. I want to play the piano like Paul McCartney or dream that I'm Ric Ocasek in The Cars.
Kenna: Simultaneously, I'll throw all these things together like if they all did it together, if they were all in this superband and each person played at different times. I end up dreaming those things up and in a lot of ways it ends up just being me.
It's my version of it. It's my life, my passion, and my writing. It's who I am as a person pushing up against all the things that I respect and love to listen to as well as love to play.
Kenna: I don't know how to describe it to you. It just happens.
SU: I think you just did.
Kenna: [laughs] Somehow, some way I explained something, I don't know that it was just something I read somewhere.
SU: You seemed to, both with this record and the last record, have had a lot of trouble kind of getting it out there, with moving around with labels. Have you ever thought about just trying to get it out directly or having Star Trak release it directly as opposed to trying to work with a bigger label?
Kenna: Yeah. I mean, like I said before, there was a real reason why I made the decision to be with a major label. It is because of the support system that goes around putting out all of their ads. It's unique of mind and it means to help. As much as I'd like to be able do it on my own, I'm not working with small producers and I'm not working with small touring...
SU: Right, right.
Kenna: Man, it's a lot of work, so I think it's that particularly that keeps me work hard for a home that will respect and allow me to do my very best work.
SU: Right. Well, since the original announcement of the album's release – I think we heard originally that it was going to be called what it is called now, and then at one point we heard that it was just going to be called Face. Then, it was back to the full title. Was that just rumors going around or had you thought about changing it at one point?
Kenna: No no, it's always been Make Sure They See My Face, and then it was just Face for short. Nobody wants to say "Make Sure They See My Face" every single time.
SU: Right. [laughs]
Kenna: I shortened it to Face, because that's easier to say.
SU: So, what is the significance of the title or the meaning of the title to you? I think I read that it was based on something that Pharrell Williams had been saying, but is there a kind of deeper meaning to that?
Kenna: Yeah, I mean, Pharrell had said all that, but it ended up being a search for identity. Make Sure They See My Face begs the question, what face is that? Having to find your self and having to put yourself in a box, and trying to figure out what box do you think you belong in before realizing that you don't belong in any box and that no one should try and define you.
I think you are always under construction and you are always going to be changing and definitely never fitting anywhere, but that's all right.
I have a picture of my face on the box. And "Say Goodbye to Love" which is a single and, in fact, "Feel Like I'm Nowhere" also touched on that.
SU: I guess what's so interesting to me about it is that there's that side of it and then, on the opposite side, there's the fact that you've always seemed to have separated the image of yourself from the music.
To some bands or musicians, it's kind of the one and the same. They sell the image as much as they do the music, and you seemed to have been very careful, whether consciously or unconsciously, about keeping the two separate.
SU: Is that something...
Kenna: I mean, it's very conscious.
SU: Is that something you're doing to make the music stand on its own, because you want it to be seen for what it is?
Kenna: Yes, I mean, I want it to be heard for what it is and then I want to be seen for who I am. They may be one and the same, but they are also very separate. I mean, I think there is more to me than my music, and there is more to my music than me. In order to do that, the only way to show that is to separate the two and only allow them to do this together when they're being performed.
SU: I heard the title of the new album and that's the first thing I thought about whenever I heard it. The fact that from listening to the old album, going through any kind of promotion or press that came out around it. I never had any concept of what you personally looked like or what the band looked like, until I saw you play live.
Even with the new album, in the promotion of it, it's still very much a separation. You are representing the music, but it's not heavy on imagery of you, which is still interesting.
Kenna: [laughs] I just feel like there's a long road ahead, because if I gave you everything, and I told you everything and I explained everything, then what would you want to know about me later. Why would you want to be a part of my journey. We're in a world where everything is so "give it to me now, give it to me now, give it to me now."
Patience. Let's all have patience. I don't even know who I am yet. Give me some time to figure it out. And by the way, you want to roll with me, like as I figure it out? Do you want to go with me on this journey? Come on let's go. I promise to make music as I do it.
The more I shove it down your throat today, the bigger chance I'm going to not be who you thought I was tomorrow, and I don't want that to happen. If you are not with me then you have a chance to not have all the right information. I don't know if that made sense.
SU: What I'm taking away from what you're saying is that there's a level of complexity there that you kind of have to discover as you go as a listener – that I have to discover as I go. That's very interesting to me. That keeps me interested.
As a music fan, I don't want something that's easily consumed right away and then it's gone. I enjoy having to spend a little bit more time with something and figure it out as it goes. So to me, at least anyway, that's a refreshing point of view.
Kenna: I mean, look, it's not that I haven't made music that can put on for the first time and go, "Oh that's pretty cool."
Kenna: I try for that. I really want that, because I want to be able listen to that and think that's really cool. I don't want to make music that's so insecure and avant-garde that it just throws everybody off. I don't even know if that really came from Kenna or from some psychedelic trip he took after doing random drugs. I don't want that. I don't do drugs.
So, I want to make music that you can love immediately, but that has several layers like this onion and you kind of just have to work your way through the layers to learn everything that's important about the music that you're listening to.
I want you to go, "say goodbye to love, feel like I'm nowhere." That's great, that's cool.
But, did you know that that meant leaving all the things you really loved behind and being comfortable in your dysfunctional world, where you have no place to belong? And being worried that the fact you're going to be leave it up to fate? And even though your mind's twisted up you got to go on and on, you got to keep going?
I mean, there's a level of depth to everything that is on this album. There's a level of journey to everything on this album. It's not necessarily my journey alone. It's left open to your journey. It's left open to anyone's journey. So, if you listen to the record, and you pay attention to what my spirit is saying to yours, you may find that it is the same spirit.
In the same language. That is what I am trying to create. I want to do this for a long time and I want to make music forever. So, there is more to me than my music and there's more to my music than me. Thank you.
SU: Well, that was such a good quote that I think I'll leave it at that.
Kenna: Glad you admit it.