Pain told through unrelenting production? Poster Boy’s latest album is jaw-dropping. We sat down with the artist to break down what makes name of the dead so phenomenal.
There’s nothing more powerful than personal agonies explored through unexpected genres. On their latest LP, Poster Boy does just that, reconciling a lifetime of pain within a grunge-laden frame.
Bursting with distortion and fuzz, the Toronto-based artist doesn’t do what is expected. Rather, they slowly crank the amp up to a level where the latter tracks could do some serious damage to your ears. It’s a jarring but it’s also the most perfect way that the artist could have told their story. Fresh off the release, we caught up with Poster Boy to break down their process, gear, and the symbol that is name of the dead.
HAPPY: Hey, how’s it going? Congratulations on the LP! How does it feel to have it finally released?
KENTON: Hi, thank you! It feels a little anticlimactic with no real way to play release shows the same way I used to, but I’m thankful to be able to publish music online to a network that has supported my live performances for years. But yeah, overall it feels great to put this record out! I’m looking forward to talking about some themes on this album!
HAPPY: We know it’s such a personal release for you, could you walk us through name of the dead’ What does it mean to you?
KENTON: Totally! It’s my second LP as an excursion from my usual noise, which most people could expect from PosterBoy. For me, personally, this album means letting go of a lot of hurt feelings. It is also an expression of letting go of a lot of anger I had towards people who aren’t in my life anymore. A lot of it is about identity as well. There are also heavy mental health themes on this one. Although I cover a lot of ground, the main purpose of titling my album name of the dead was a way for me to reference the experience of killing or parting with an identity.
This is a process that many trans people experience after transitioning. For lack of a better word, some of us lead “double lives” for some time. For example; having a queer group of friends as a chosen family who you can dress comfortably with and be your own self around, versus dressing more like our assigned gender when around blood relatives or old friends. Some of us punks prefer to leave behind our previous identity completely.
HAPPY: I’ve always found so interesting is that you’ve framed this LP through a really acidic, grungy sonic. What inspired this direction?
KENTON: Aw, I’m happy to hear that it sparks your interest! I think the thing that inspired the heavy grunge direction is my general obsession with distortion and also my love for putting drum machines on their slowest possible setting hehe, so this time I wanted to try to make an album without piano ballads breaking up the flow and release an even sludgier record than my last one.
HAPPY: You’re well known for your work as a multimedia and noise artist in Toronto. Were there any particular technical or stylistic elements that you chose to pursue in this release?
KENTON: For sure! A large part of the technical and stylistic elements that I chose to pursue were largely influenced by my gear and, with this project, I prefer to mostly record live using my vintage soundboard. All of the drums are from a guitar pedal, while all of the guitar is played live on my trusty Les Paul Clone from Japan. I feed that line through a broken Marshall amp gain and back through the board. Aside from a few dubs with my multi-fx, most of the vocals were just straight-up dry with gain on the soundboard. There are only overdubs on the first couple songs on the record and everything else is all analogue recorded in one go! I also decided to have the album get louder and louder throughout until the most maxed-out song at the end plays. FYI, if you don’t turn it down at some point, it might actually damage your hearing!
HAPPY: What’s the catalyst for choosing a stylistic direction for you?
KENTON: Ah the catalyst, such a great word! It always reminds me of the green goblin and their catalyst transformation. I’m hoping my transition is a little less dramatic and I’m not planning on transforming into a villain. Okay, I can answer the question now haha. As for the stylistic catalyst, it is largely influenced by whatever gear I have available at the time that I am not bored of yet!
Most of the stuff in the studio was acquired through trade, donation, or my friends giving me a really sick deal on their old gear. With the stuff I put out under my given name, I try to keep it as pop-rock as possible with a very straightforward recording process. I’ve been really hype on distorted guitar lately and I have so much fun playing silly riffs that I wanted to make a whole album of mostly guitar songs. Also, I am very lucky that the soundboard I have is so old that it predates digital clipping! That means I can crank it up and up and it just has a nice gain distortion and won’t clip out the same way that most new gear does. I just record straight from my board into my sound card in very low latency with my favourite tracker Renoise, which has great live equalization!
HAPPY: What got you into working with sound?
KENTON: Oh I have to go way back for this one, it happened very fast while I was in school for design. I was very into the Toronto electronic music scene and realized I was capable of making noise with software on the one piece of gear that I had: a desktop computer. I started in Ableton until my brother recommended I use Renoise. The rest is history! I dropped out of college ten years ago due to my obsession with making noise. I didn’t want to make dance music like I listened to, I wanted to make something weirder. For me, there isn’t much point in making music unless I feel like I’m doing something that hasn’t been done before.
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HAPPY: Paint us a picture of your studio space. What do you love about it?
KENTON: I used to love all of the hand-painted and spray-painted murals. A few weeks ago, the owners of my building sold the place and everything was painted over. By some miracle, I get to stay in my home and I have been trying to look at it as a great new start for me. So instead of putting more stuff on the walls, I’ve opted for pretty coloured lighting instead. I love that it’s small and I can run everything through my headphones to avoid further noise complaints. If I could paint it in a picture, I would use the colours sky blue and pink.
HAPPY: What gear is essential for your daily workflow?
KENTON: Definitely the aforementioned analogue stereo mixer. It’s an AudioPro from the ’80s and it allows me to get very distorted while retaining depth. Also, I love my Kaoss Pad and Kaosscilator! My shows wouldn’t be the same without all this stuff. I also swear by hardware multi-fx pedals! I used to use a DigiTech RP155 but now I use a Zoom G2.1N. I highly recommend multi-fx pedals for their versatility and capacity to save multiple settings!
HAPPY: How do you know when a work is finished? Is it ever hard for you to step back from a project?
KENTON: I think I know it’s finished when I can’t stand to listen to it anymore lol. I find it nearly impossible to a step back from a project. My work flows best when I have a clear direction and I limit the time I listen over and over to a song. Sometimes I “just know” when a fresh track is done, while other times I cannot imagine ever working on a particular song again.
HAPPY: So, name of the dead marks a brand new chapter in your life. What’s on the horizon for you?
KENTON: Yeah it totally does! On the horizon for me? That’s a tough one but generally speaking, I’m gonna keep hanging tight and releasing albums until I don’t have anything left in me, and frankly, I always have some reason to make noise. I have a few more Poster Boy records in the bank and I am not going anywhere, so you can get to know me.
HAPPY: Cheers for the chat and thank you for releasing such a beautiful body of work.
KENTON: Aw thank you so much and thank you for the interview! It’s a privilege and I’m very thankful for this experience. All the best to you and thanks again!
Grab your copy of name of the dead by Poster Boy here.