We’ve heard relatively little from the crowned king of East Coast indie sludge rock since Jon McKiel’s dark and dingy masterpiece, Tonka War Cloud, in 2011, but that definitely doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. Not only did he pack up and make the trek from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick, settling down in Sackville, but he also had a kid and started running a delicious food truck. All of this while chipping away at his newest effort, a self-titled EP put out on Headless Owl Records.

While you might think that a child to look after while also having all manner of delectable foodstuffs to sling would mean slowing down, however McKiel thinks that’s not really the case at all.

“I don’t think those changes have affected much about writing, recording or playing music – aside from the necessity to be more focused and efficient with time. In some ways, it’s probably helpful to know you only have a specific widow to work with, I like constraints like that.”

The self-titled EP was recorded with long-time Jay Crocker (Ghostkeeper) at his house in Crousetown, Nova Scotia, and was a bit of an off and on project.

“We would just start a song and finish it, so this happened six times over as many months. I had moved away at this point so getting there was tough. We’re just going to keep recording though. I’m heading back out soon. It’s a dream out there.”

As for working with Crocker, McKiel says it’s something that just happened very organically.

“I can’t think of another person I’d rather work with musically or otherwise,” he says.

“We used to clean a rich man’s house together. He’d get us to clean up before parties, paint, clean up the yard. We sang songs and got high and it was the best. I didn’t decide to work with him so much as I found myself in the fortunate position of being friends with him and his family. Also, he never says no in the studio, I mean he’d never say, ‘You can’t mic the drums like that,’ and that’s huge for me.

Laden with the masterful melodic hooks, dissonant guitar dirges and all manner of atmospheric oddities that you’d expect from the guy, there’s also a more upbeat, positive vibe going on here in comparison to his earlier stuff. While he doesn’t think it was a calculated move, McKiel says there’s definitely something about the process that lent itself well to the more upbeat nature.

“It’s not decidedly positive, but compared to Tonka, it feels more free and funny for sure,” he says.

“The recording process and creative input from Jay had a part in this, but the songs I brought him were definitely more upbeat. I played most of the instruments on the recordings this time around, but I don’t think I was doing it right before — I think I was scared back then. Maybe I wasn’t able to play freely within a rigid structure before; maybe I’m better at drums… or shittier. It’s hard to quantify the changes that happen, but there’s an understanding there that didn’t exist before. If you like, I’m old enough to know my body by now and I play music with my body… mostly.”

Before he gets back to work with Crocker in the fall to hammer away at an LP, McKiel’s heading out on a bunch of dates leading up to Sled Island, where he’ll play with a kind of who’s who of the East Coast.

“Construction and Destruction backing me up has been something I’ve thought of for a while, which now seems possible, and then throw in Aaron Mangle, Evan Matthews, and even Chris Dadge for Sled? It will be fun.”

You can see Jon McKiel perform at Wine-Ohs on Friday, June 20, and again at Haultain Park on Saturday, June 21.

By Nick Laugher

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