CEX – interview by gordon downs
For several years now, Rjyan Kidwell has been making music under the stage name of CEX. Part MC, part indie rock prankster. His previous two albums, “Tall Dark and Handcuffed” and “Being Ridden” straddled the fence between lap-top hip-hop and subliminal indie rock. And that’s seems to be what’s keeping listeners and audiences intrigued and entertained. His ability to be both a credible and comedic rhyme slayer and effable indie rocker are endearing in that, not many people are trying to rock the indie rock rap these days, and CEX seems to be filling that void all too successfully. His latest album however, is a slight departure from his other records. Taking a fairly serious stance on his music this time around, his party jams and anthems are absent on “Maryland Mansions,” replaced by introspective songs about his career, life after “Being Ridden” and the generalness of being the artist many simply know as CEX. I had a chance to catch up with Kidwell, while staying at his grandmother’s house before he embarked on yet another tour of Europe and the states.
What’s up Rjyan? What happened, I thought you were still living out in Frisco?
Naw, I’m back on the east coast.
How’ve you been since the Postal Service tour?
Wow! That was a long time ago. A lot’s happened I guess. I actually think I may be coming out to San Diego in awhile, maybe in a few months or so. I have some good friends that live out there. They have a website that’s making them a lot of money, and they live in some kind of fancy condominium complex that only rents to people under twenty-five? And their neighbors are sorority girls who have a garage that’s carpeted that they were going to rent to one of their sisters, but she was like, a druggie and flaked, so they’re trying to say, “Hey, you should let our friend stay in you garage for awhile!” So, we’re trying massage the stitch and see if I can live in a sorority girl’s garage in San Diego and never wear a shirt for the duration of 2004. If I can swing it I’m definitely going to jump on it!
Sorority girls tend to seem kind of uptight around certain non-campus-alpha-beta-type crowds, but when it comes down to sex, they seem to be forerunners in experimentation and variety sometimes.
Yeah, and also I think a lot of times sorority girls are really, really deep. I don’t know though? A little while ago my friend was in town and we took mushrooms with his little sister, who’s like a freshman in college, and she’s not a sorority girl, but she’s definitely like a high maintenance girl. She’s definitely one those girls where, if you broke it down on paper, all the boyfriends she’s ever had all wore cologne. Anyways, we were all tripping at the mall, and I bonded real hard with her, and I had this amazing revelation about how; I think there’s a lot of sorority girls who have real huge problems with depression, but they’re real tough about it.
So how’s it being back in Baltimore?
Yeah, I’m living in my grandmother’s apartment, which is where I wrote “Being Ridden,” and now I’m back again.
Your latest album “Maryland Mansions” is a brilliant fucking album. It’s only nine songs though, which is kinda sparse for a record. Do you consider this an EP?
I think it’s an album, because to me, it’s a complete thought. These are all songs about one thing, and if I were to wait around and put more songs on it, they’d be about something else. And like, eight songs about the one thing and then two songs about, kind of irrelevant something else, to me would be less than an album. So, I’d rather put less songs and more focus. I think Jade Tree sells it as a mini LP. It’s listed as an album, but priced slightly less than an album and slightly more than an EP.
So what kind of concept is behind this complete thought of yours?
It originally actually started as a concept record when I first moved to Oakland, and I sat down and I started writing tunes. The original idea was, I wrote a list ten songs and each one had a name like “Take Pills,” “Stop Eating,” “Drive Off a Mountain.” There was a bunch more songs that got axed. So it’s not a concept record in the way it came out, but it is all about the exact same thing. Every song is about my life post “Being Ridden,” leaving Baltimore. The first song is about the actual drive away from Baltimore, and then being in Oakland. We might have talked about this before, but “Being Ridden” was sorta bout the collapse of friendships I had in Baltimore, and sort of this doubt about my relationships with people here and my career choices, and what was going to happen with my life. Then all of a sudden I was on a six-week tour with Numbers. So, as soon as I got home, two or three days later I was in my parents station wagon with all the things I could fit in it driving west to go live in Oakland.
I heard a rumor this was supposed to be a Marylin Manson covers album?
(laughing) Nope! No covers , but there was definitely some inspiration.
Why’d you decide to leave Temporary Residence & Tiger Beat 6 for the emo-heavy Jade Tree?
The album was done last March, and it was supposed to come out on Tiger Beat 6, but I wanted to go mix it at Tiny Telephone in Frisco, because I wanted to make it sound really good. I had written and recorded everything but I figured taking it to a studio would make it a little more possible that it would find it’s way onto college radio. So the record wasn’t ready to come out right away, it was supposed to be a six song EP on Tiger Beat, but I felt Tiger Beat had too much on their plate already and it would be too difficult for them to really treat that record as important as I wanted them to. Jade Tree was just really into the album and they wanted to put it out. This was actually the first album where I laid out all the art myself. Ya know, I was thinking about somewhere, I guess my website or in the liner notes of the next record, if anyone gets the tattoo I have on my right shoulder, then they’ll win every CEX record. For the rest of my career I will send them a free copy!