Interview: Peter Kernel

Sarah Tembeckjian

Mixing bluntly punk vocals with experimental instrumentation, Swiss-Canadian duo Peter Kernel have come up with a refreshingly unique and energetic brand of art-pop that very nearly defies classification. Their most recent LP, Thrill Addict, certainly lives up to its name by frantically bouncing around between aggressive, playful, and contemplative atmospheres, and manages to do so without a single track feeling out of place.

We recently caught up with Aris Bassetti, one half of the group (absent Barbara Lehnhoff), via email. He filled us in on Peter Kernel's roots, their take on the creative process, and the perils of writing music with a significant other.

ThrdCoast: What are your respective musical backgrounds?

Aris Bassetti: Musically we grew up very differently. I hated music until 1991. Till then i only listened to dialect comedies on the national radio and when the music started I turned off the radio. Then I discovered the song “Gypsy Woman” by Crystal Waters, and I thought that maybe music wasn’t so bad after all. Luckily just a few days later I discovered Nirvana, and I took off and perhaps I even went a bit too far - by the age of 19 I only listened to experimental noise projects like Merzbow, KK Null, Ruins, Masonna… and considered other music null. Barbara grew up in the middle of nothing in Canada, and on the local radio station they didn’t play any electronic or dance or techno music, only rock and roll. It was natural for her to become a "punk rocker" teenager. Then throughout the years she discovered other alternative rock bands. When we met I was still listening to a lot of noise stuff and she really enjoyed it. When we started playing together we evolved our listenings and now we love a lot of different kinds of music. Lately we listen to a lot of meditation and classical music.

TC: What’s it like working together? What’s your process from start to finish?

AB: Working together with your partner is the best and the worst thing ever. By “working” I mean spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week doing the same things together all the time. It’s great when everything goes well and we’re happy and motivated, but it gets really hard and dangerous when things start going badly because there’s no one waiting at home to reassure you - we’re sad and angry and the same time. And often we have to fight for everything we do, decide, and create - but this is our power, because after these fights we’re left with something we both love and we’re both ready to defend.

TC: Your music is quite theatrical and attention-grabbing. Is this something you strive for during the writing and recording process?

AB: I think that it’s something coming from our Italian roots mixed with our cinematic skills. We love when music narrates something, even without the voices. And at the same time it’s something unconscious. We write the music we write first off to exorcise our fears, anxiety, or anything that disturbs our existence, and probably a lot of people live the same emotional states. That’s why our music receives attention. Maybe it’s liberating.

TC: How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?

AB: I would say that it’s passionate but simple music done by two people that are working hard to live an exciting life. Taking risks and making mistakes.

TC: What are some of your major influences, together and separately?

AB: It’s impossible to separate what we are since we’re together all the time. Really, all the time. The influences are many, but mostly don’t come from music. We’re very influenced by our lives, our relationship, our friends and families, things we saw, we tried… all those things that touched us in one way or another. We’re like sponges.

TC: What do you want audiences to take away from your most recent album? What should we be listening out for?

AB: We would love to know that our music can be part of people’s important moments. Imagine how great it is to know that your music is the soundtrack to a kiss, a victory, a night out, a vacation, a workout or a dance.