An interview with Montreal’s Karneef

Karneef Montreal

I met Karneef in the window-light of a café in Parc Ex. He’s tall and lanky with a head full of wild reddish blonde hair. This guy fills the room with an energy which draws one in, not the frenetic type that sometimes gets in the way. Right away, it became apparent to me that Karneef is mad articulate and that asking him straight questions in a formal way would be a waste of time. Instead, I opened up a triptych: where have you been, where are you now, and where are you going?

“I’m from the Ottawa River Valley originally. I grew up on a horse farm, my father was a breeder,” he said. But it wasn’t all aster flowers and manure. Karneef spoke about his father’s interest in telephonics and how that early introduction to telephony opened him up to technology and music.

“I could actually tell which numbers were being dialed by hearing the tones,” he said. “I could hear tonal relationships and identify them.”

Even though Karneef is brilliant, his path as an artist hasn’t been a frozen rope; he’s faced his share of ups and downs.

“I applied to the electro-acoustics program at ConU and was rejected,” he said.

After studying for a year or so, he reapplied and was granted a conditional acceptance. He moved to Montreal with a friend who was also accepted to the program.

“Having someone there in the program with me was very motivating,” he said. “I like having my back to the wall.”

After Concordia, Karn didn’t jump slipshod into his own project. He wanted to be ready.

“It was 8 years before I started this solo project,” he said. He added offhandedly with a smirk that “everyone’s doing it these days.”

We got around to talking about what drives Karneef’s creativity—it’s this almost mystical observance of the world around him.

“I have this kindred connection with the rhythmic world,” he said. “I can’t ignore time— it’s everywhere from the pacing of people’s voices to the cars passing on the street.”

I couldn’t help but see his ability to spot these rhythmic sympathies as an offshoot or evolution of the same gift he discovered while listening into a phone receiver as a child. If you want to sample Karn’s penchant for rhythm, check this clip of him messing around on the drums:

And he doesn’t even play in his current band.

His current album Love Between Us—a soul/funk/rock/electro tour de force—was released this past November. I asked him about the process.

“I actually had to be diligent and rigorous,” he said. “I had to be disciplined.”

And then another sly aside: “I wonder if I can do it again.”

Later, he answered his own question with a faux serious “Yes.”

He told me that he’s got a slew of new tracks he feels have the potential to make an even stronger release in future.

All in all, it was a really fresh afternoon talking with an artist who has the rare ability to think deeply about his craft and articulate it in a way that doesn’t lull one into a coma. I’ll be at his show on Valentine’s Day dressed up to the nines. I’ll paint you a portrait of the show next week. Until then, I’ll try to stay in tune with the time all around me.

One.

Karneef performs Friday, February 14 at Cabaret Playhouse. Tickets cost $5 before 11 p.m. and $7 after. See the Facebook event page for more info.

Photo by Jesse Anger.

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