Ashes of ‘The Phoenix’: CKY’s Matt Deis Talks About the New Album and Growth as a Three-Piece (INTERVIEW)

A few years ago, word broke about a strife between the rock band CKY and it felt like they may never create music again. Seven years after their last studio album, Carver City, CKY has returned, re-formed with a vengeance and featuring guitarist Chad Ginsburg taking over front man duties on their latest record, The Phoenix. Bassist Matt Deis recently spoke with us to discuss the changes of the band now serving as a three-piece, taking over back-up vocal responsibilities in the live shows, and the unique experience of becoming a member of your favorite band.

I’ve had [The Phoenix] for a couple weeks and I’ve listened a bunch of times and I love it. As a listener of CKY for 15 years, it sounds like CKY, but it also kind of doesn’t. It’s a new sound. How would you describe the evolution of the band’s sound? 

It’s obvious now that we’re doing this as a three-piece. We’re writing it more in a way that makes sense as a three-piece instead of going into the studio with a mash of ideas and trying to layer and build and make something so textured. We wanted to write it so that it made sense coming out of a guitar amp, a bass amp and a drummer. You could go to a show and go, “wow, these songs really translate live” instead of, “wow, it sounds weak compared to the album.” We definitely tried to write with that in mind.

I’ve always thought of CKY as a band that’s driven by guitar riffs and this album is different in that there’s a lot of groove based stuff. The song that stands out to me the most is “Unknown Enemy,” which is something that could have never existed with the previous iteration of the band. Can you talk about the groove based stuff and how songs like that come about and how the rhythm section gets a chance to do a lot on this record?

Even though he’s a guitar player, Chad [Ginsburg] is someone who loves bass and is really good at playing bass. When we started demoing these things, we really tried to find a way to stretch out the bass and drum grooves a little bit more, just cause that’s what we’re into. He has a lot of soul and funk influences, and I do as well. It seems like that was something that was not explored that much in the previous version of the band. It was fun for us as bass and drum nerds to start having a little more fun with that and writing music that people could groove their heads to and maybe even dance to. That song definitely stands out for me as well. That bridge of the song definitely has something that was written with that in mind.

When it came to writing the album as a three-piece and having Chad step in as lead, was there any pressure to make sure that the album fit into the sound that CKY has established or were you trying to drop those preconceived notions and just write? 

Even if we tried to stray from it, it’s still going to kind of sound like it just cause, especially Jess and Chad, were used to it for so long. It’s kind of hard to drop that in general but we know how to get that sound. There were amps on this album that were used on Volume 1. Not only were we trying to make it sound like CKY, it really sounds like CKY. We used the same gear as previous albums. We tried to keep that intact while experimenting with more stuff. There’s more synth heavy and groove heavy stuff there, but there’s really no taking the sound out.

There’s been videos that have come out from the UK tour that you just finished and it seems like a lot of the songs have been retooled. Part of that has been you stepping in and doing vocal harmonies and taking more of that role live. Can you talk about re-working those live versions and also being able to start singing back up?

At first, when the idea was brought up, I was about to shit my pants. I went to college for music, I did chamber vocals and choir. I understand singing and the idea of harmonies. But this tour is the first time I’ve sang into a microphone with a rock band. It’s something very foreign to me but when we started doing the practices for it and I would hear harmonies…For “Flesh Into Gear” we wrote a 3 part harmony in the chorus and I don’t want to hear the song done any other way now. It just makes sense. It was trial by fire and we had to get it done quick, but I’m loving it. I’m loving getting to progress and get better.

From day one of the tour to the last day of the tour, I could tell I was getting stronger with it. It’s certainly an aspect of the band that I don’t think was explored that much live before. We had Uncle Matt “Shitbird” there helping us out on keys for that tour. Between the vocal harmonies and live synth, we really wanted to make it sound as fat as we could. I think one misconception people have is “they’re a three-piece now, they should probably get a second guitar,” but we wanted to build the sound as much as we could without going that route of just adding a second guitar. Let’s use real layers. Let’s use voice. Let’s use keys. Let’s use piano sounds. Let’s use string sounds. We really wanted to bring it over the top.

Are you planning on having the synth and keys as a permanent fixture of the live show?

I would like to. I think it would sound dumb now without it. Something like the bridge to “Flesh Into Gear.” While that’s a pretty cool guitar riff that is happening underneath it, that’s really a keyboard solo. To play it without a keyboard just sounds weird to me now. I certainly would like to be something that’s a permanent fixture one way or another.

Obviously one of the major themes of The Phoenix, at least lyrically, the album title and the circumstances of the band is rising up out of tumultuous times. There was a time period in 2009-2010 where you had left the band as well and are now back into the fold. What is the meaning of The Phoenix not just about the band as a whole, but to you personally as well?

At its most literal face value, it’s an excellent analogy for the band. We burned out and had to find a way to rise from our own ashes. It’s the most beautiful way to put it, if you think of the phoenix. For me, I had left in 2009 or 2010 and I was not involved with music for many years between that time. I never stopped being friends with Chad and Jess. They were always a part of my life and I knew that music was what I was good at and what I wanted to do, but I had to work on stuff as well. My health was really shitty for a while. I had a fucked up back. I had all sorts of dumb shit to deal between family life and I had no time for the band anymore. I really had to get my shit together as well. Each one of us had circumstances we had to get over first before we could even make the band happen. I think they would say the same thing. The band collapsed under its own weight because of individual personal problems within the band. It was a rebirth of the band but it was also a lot self-improvement and self-discovery for each individual member.

Prior to joining the band, you were in the band All That Remains and you were a huge CKY fan and you had the rare experience of getting to be a member of a band that you really loved. Is that still something that you think about? 

It was pretty surreal. I was a 20-year-old kid. At that time, All That Remains had put out an album, This Darkened Heart and had some regional success. We had a video on MTV2. We had the small makings of a little bit of success. But I thought at the time that there’s a ceiling to this kind of band. If you’re playing metal, you’re only going to get so big. I also had more varied influences from that and as a kid with varied influences, I was into CKY. That was the go-to band for people who didn’t like just one style of music. It really fit a lot of different tastes for a lot of people. I always liked them. I was driving across the country in a shitty van with All That Remains and it was my turn to drive so I got to play DJ and I’d be listening to CKY on those overnight drives. I never imagined that the next year I’d be in LA learning all 50 songs and being like “well, we leave for tour in a week, let’s get this done.” It was never lost on me. It never stopped being cool. I’m certainly used to it and feel as though I’m part of the band now, so I’m not as geeked out in that way, but I understand that my experience is something that very few people have and I never took it for granted. It’s never stopped being cool.

CKY has always had great involvement with their fans. You guys hang out with fans for hours after shows. You specifically had AOL Instant Messenger chat rooms with fans, you guys had the Ask CKY feature on the old website. Now that you guys are back, you’ve really embraced social media channels with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Discuss the importance of the involvement with the fans and also how you’ve started to implement social media in keeping that connection?

None of us think we’re too cool for this. As lucky as we are to be playing music, we understand that this could be taken away in a heartbeat. We’re all fans ourselves of other bands and I’m sure you’ve gone to concerts and you go outside and think “it’d be cool to get my hat signed” and the band is nowhere to be found. We’re just trying, in some small fashion, to pay it back. Without fans, there is no us. We’re not bigger than that in any way. When I left in 2009, maybe Instagram, maybe some Facebook was around but now it’s everywhere. I can, in real time, get on YouTube and look up clips of songs as I’m playing a show. It’s unbelievable how instantaneous all of this is. It’s kind of adapt or die so we all have the CKY accounts on our phones and the Snapchat profile to log into. We never want to stop doing it. It’s a great way to talk to the fans and without fans there’s not us. If they want to talk to us and interact, we’re doing it.

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