Thursday, June 23, 2011

Men We Admire: Mackenzie Kristjón

I've known Mac for the better part of 20 years. Always inspired, sometimes a little out there (don't believe what he says about his age), Mac keeps me thinking cutting edge when my own work seems to drag me down. Mac is the lead singer and songwriter with the band This Mad Desire, and I was fortunate to be able to draw on his talents to cover some scenes in a short horror film I scored last year. The songs were a perfect fit.

Photo: Patricia Yosida de Oliveira
Name: Mackenzie Kristjón
Age: 29 Forever/18 Again... I usually say that I came down from the mountain about a hundred years ago on my way to the sea but we lost track of time at some point and so here I be.
Occupation: Singer/songwriter at This Mad Desire
Stats: I once won a special trophy for the best new record released on the same day as the Backstreet Boys. I've also won awards for publishing and songwriting but...
Favourite instruments: '67 Strat. Also the black Les Paul that someone stole!!
Sports: Soccer, hockey, anything in the water.

How did you get started on your current career path?
As Lady Gaga says, "Baby I was born this way." My first paid job was playing the piano for a bat mitzvah. Not so long after, I took a job working for a trucking company washing trucks, unloading trailers, and so on. The owner pulled me aside one time and said, "You are absolutely terrible at this job! I'm not going to fire you though. One day you're going to be playing piano in Italy or somewhere and you'll need to have a good story about working here!" Funny guy!  I worked there for almost a year more. 
When I was very young, like maybe 3, I first encountered KISS on TV and magazines and was absolutely mesmerized. Eventually, my mother told me I would have to learn how to read if I was to enjoy these pulpy pleasures. I'm sure that I could read within about 15 seconds. Lord knows I needed to know such important information as what Ace Frehley looks for in a female fan and so on. I already knew this would be integral to my future pursuits. What if I were to have groupies like Ace? What would I do? etc. Very deep philosophical ponderings for a young mind.
Around the same time, everyone started to notice that my hands don't quite work. I have specialists across this entire galaxy trying to name my affliction. One guy wanted to slice part of my brain to see if this would help. On the downside, it could also leave me completely paralyzed. I politely declined. The basic idea is that if I will the muscles in one hand to move, the other hand moves as well. To a limited degree, I can independently control my hands but most people notice I always have one hand twitching! The doctor laughed as he said to my mother, "Oh well. I guess he'll never play the piano!" I kid you not: I was in lessons the next day.
We always had keyboards laying around the house and I always liked them. Luckily no one ever told me not to smash away at pianos. One day I even broke a low G string. For those who are not aware, it's not easy to snap piano strings in general and really not easy to snap bass strings. When this string snapped, it shook the whole house. I was convinced I had destroyed the entire piano. EVERY string was being slapped by these flailing ends of this broken string as it was also cracking against the piano's casing. I've never heard anything so loud in my life!
Did you have any mentors who helped steer you on this path?
I've had some excellent music teachers and especially my piano teacher. Marilyn Wong was so fierce she made my sister cry! She never broke me though. It seems to me that there was one time when I caught her smiling. World wars were averted in that one instant. Other than her, just the usual good teachers, interesting players and collaborators and so on. All the various musicians I've played with always teach me something. Music is such an interesting way of sharing. 
My co-producer on the "Deathstyle::Celebration (Life is too short. Live it!)" record was Andrew McPherson who I also worked with on the "Karma Repair::Sweetness Machines" release. Working with him was a real pleasure as he has a completely different style of working and very different musical sensibilities. One session I remember vividly we had Beate Schwirtlich playing drums in a living room, I was in a kitchen with an amplifier in the basement of this house. Upstairs by the control room was Barzin playing vibraphones. My idea was that we were going to record this track "Dance Me Down" LIVE. For the engineers out there, you will appreciate that this meant that the sound of the raucous drums would "bleed" into the vibraphone tracks. Engineers HATE this sort of thing as it makes editing very difficult. Andrew was not just opposed to what I was insisting upon but very concerned that this was wasting time. 
Don't you know that in the end, it turned out to be one of the more interesting tracks? In fact, Phil Demetro who mastered the record at Lacquer Channel Mastering said it was his favourite cut.
How has your work contributed to a) your development as a person and/or b) the lives of others?
I don't know. That would be pretty pompous of me. As Neil Young sang, "Just singing a song won't change the world." Although.... there was that time one of my vocal lines saved the planet. Basically there had been a rip in the fabric of space and time and some very talented Japanese engineers were able to sew the whole universe back together using this one magical vocal line. It happened very quickly while most people were sleeping but luckily these tourists were right there taking pictures. I don't often mention that event. I think it makes me seem more humble and personable when I don't mention the cosmic forces that are literally at my command and a direct result of my supernatural songs.
If you had one piece of advice for someone just entering your field, what would it be?
Let the music do the talking. In general, I don't think people should give advice. Most people who do give others advice generally don't know what they are talking about. Believe in yourself and don't take no for an answer. That's general good advice. For musicians in particular, learn your instruments. Nothing is more punk rock than intelligence! Stay open-minded. Always have prizes galore. Learn how to fly up the corporate ladder at the speed of sight. Make friends with models and photographers. Wear sunglasses. Take acting classes. Read everything you can. Stay up late. Get up early. Learn every possible secret handshake. Meet as many people as you can. Stay open-minded. Play other people's songs. Play your own songs. Read poetry. Stay open-minded. 
Do you have a personal work philosophy?
Let the music do the talking? Like other very talented people, I've experienced the joy of temp-work and one day I was at an industrial bakery that supplies a major retailer's customers with delicious goodies, bagels, and so on. When they told me I was going to spend an entire day there, I had images in my head of happy bakers dressed in white with flour on their noses. I could not have been more wrong. This is heavy-duty assembly-line factory work. At one point over the roar of the machines, the lead hand said to me, "You've got a really great work ethic! Honestly, there are only 3 people in this whole place who work as hard as you. You should consider working here. It's a real pleasure to be working with you!!" I almost fell down laughing. So the answer is, "No."
What motivates or inspires you?
Passion and honesty. Meeting new people. And of course, money.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Stayin' Alive. Nothing else really matters.
What is the one thing you hope to achieve?
World Slavery. To become the Master of All Time, Space, and Dimension. For realz, one day I want to open the Mactory.. like Warhol's Factory... but MINE ALL MINE, baby. 
What is your super power?
I appear as a character in a Hamilton-based comic called "Mac Attack" (QPM Comics) which is rather significantly based on my persona that I adopt as the singer for This Mad Desire. In that book, I seem to have increased strength and agility plus I can transfer sonic power into pure energy transmissible through my guitar like a cannon. Perhaps other magical powers will reveal themselves as the story continues. I can't wait to find out!
Who's your hero?
Da King B. Steve Martin. Or perhaps Bill Murray. And then in the women department, I tip the hat to Maria Bamford. Many other female comedians refer to Maria as my girlfriend when they talk to me. My musical heros are the Beastie Boys and Bjork. Da Killer B's.
What are you reading (or watching) these days?
I'm always reading The Complete Sagas of Icelanders. I just read a number of Ann Coulter books because I thought I should see what all the fuss was about. I read Pigeon English, the David Rothenberg books Why Birds Sing and Thousand Mile Song. When I feel a strong need to get angry, I read the Camille Paglia books, and I would be lying if I did not confess to reading on a daily basis from Judith Martin's Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour. The books I read while traveling yesterday were A Brief History of The Vikings by Jonathan Clement, The Hedonism Handbook by Michael Flocker and Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends & Influence People
Thinking back to a time when you had to make a hard choice, how did you decide, and do you feel, in retrospect, that you made the right move?
Let's be honest. I'm not the leader of a major country or anything. It's difficult for me to imagine that I could really have a hard choice to make about anything. 
If you had it all to do over again, would you change anything?
What's next for you?
New record, new book, and a massive public art project. So huge I can't talk about it yet. It's going to be very, very interesting for the good people of Hamilton, Ontario.
What one piece of advice would you give to your own son (hypothetical or otherwise) in the hope of making him a better man?
Don't complain; never explain? Keep finding out that the more you find out, the less you will know. Your goal in life is to remember everything and know nothing. And look out for your sister. 


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