North Bay multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Daniel McKenzie has been making his own brand of musical mechanisms for 20 years.
His long-running musical tenure began in post-rock band The Rum Diary, locally known as the “Cotati Sound Machine,” with bandmates Schuyler Feekes, Jon Fee and Joe Ryckebosch. These days, McKenzie stays busy with his two-person project Built For the Sea, collaborating with vocalist and songwriting partner Lia Rose.
“In the last six years I’ve been working heavily on that project,” McKenzie says. “The band got signed to a label, we started getting publishing contracts with movies and television, so I stuck with that. Then in between, I would write, and of course I have 40 different songs on my computer that are totally unfinished.”
When he’s not working on Built For the Sea, McKenzie’s writing is directed towards his solo project Identical Homes, which has largely been on a backburner since 2014’s release A. Hydrophilia.
Now living in Fairfax, McKenzie is using the free time from the ongoing shelter-in-place to return to his solo output. Earlier this month, Identical Homes unveiled its first record in six years, Language Lessons.
“I work half from home anyways, and now that I’ve bought a house and have my own studio in the house, I didn’t really want to leave that much anyways,” he says. “I think it’s been good to set aside personal time to work on music, and I know my friends are in that zone too; they’ve been very active with music.”
The new seven-track instrumental album is a collage of darkly ambient electronic beats mixed with post-rock rhythms provided by live instruments that coalesce into shoegaze soundscapes that emotionally reflect the stormy days we are living in without the need for lyrics.
“I think the biggest freedom is of course doing anything I want,” McKenzie says. “I try to put no limits on it, the only criteria is that I listen to it and am engaged.”
Written, performed and mixed by McKenzie in his home studio, dubbed The Black Lodge, Language Lessons is quite a collaborative effort for a solo album. The record features McKenzie’s musical friends Jake Krohn, Demetrius Antuna, Eric Kuhn, Jon Fee, Cory Grey and Matthew Solberg pitching in on drums, guitar, organ or bass, and adding to the electronic foundations that McKenzie creates on the computer.
“A lot of the songs were headed one direction, and then when I asked my friends to collaborate, the songs totally took another direction,” McKenzie says. “I think that might be the case for every song on here, and that’s a nice surprise for me because it makes the album more listenable to me when I return to it. It takes turns I would not have expected.”
Still, McKenzie notes that he’s the final judge of the music. To that effect, the seven tracks on Language Lessons average over six minutes each, and McKenzie embraces the extended space and time that the songs take up. “In every band I’ve ever been in, everybody says, ‘that intro is too long, you’ve got to cut that part down,’” McKenzie says. “So that is just me being able to express how I want to make music.”