In a quiet back alley, parallel to East Hasting Street, in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood sits an unassuming garage. If not for the staggered lineup of custom motorcycles – each adorned with a variety of distinctive stainless-steel sissy bars, patinated seat pans, and curving handlebars – you would be hard pressed to know that one of Vancouver’s most exciting welders and fabricators operates here.
After a few drinks at the neighbourhood watering hole, The Heatley, New Moon sat down for an informal chat with Keenan Domerecki of Keenzo Metal Fabrication, and his dog, Delilah. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To start broadly, how would you describe what you do? What do you produce and what do you value in that work?
To simplify, I do metal fabrication: it just so happens I do things on bikes. What pays the bills now is bikes, but my realm and history is industrial metal fabrication. So, if you're coming to me – you have metal problems. I am your metal problem solver.
That's to say, you don't pay me to make you a sissy bar. You pay me to figure out your sissy bar. I don't wanna make a product that's only good for this season or next season and may have a problem down the line when you're taking it on and off. I won't do anything that is half-assed.
I wanna make products that will never come back to me. If I never hear from a client after, I've done my job properly. And if I hear from them again, it's hopefully because they want another thing or their friend wants something. That's the goal.
The real challenge is to make things twice, but never to make anything twice—if that makes sense. Like I'm making my double-kink sissy bar over and over again. That's the product, but how it attaches to the bike is never the same—all these brackets and how to make them with ease of use in mind.
There are all these things literally hidden under the seat. You’ll never touch them, but you know those things are there. That's the intrinsic quality—the things you don't see. I spend so much time on brackets and things that people don't really care about. Nobody cares about brackets. Nobody cares about how things are attached to other things, but that's where I spend the bulk of my time.
Form is cool, but that part of design, to me, is almost a luxury. The nitty gritty is all the stuff you don't see, and all the things most people don't value as much. People value what they can see. So, trying to convince people of the value of things they don't see—that's always the tricky part. I think most people have no problem paying premiums for things once they're justified and understood.
What are you passionate about at this moment? Is there a specific project or process that really gets you stoked?
A good example is the raffle tank I'm doing now. It's a take on an old school beaded tank. So, there’s three dimensions, but it isn't filled with Bondo, it’s filled with stainless steel and bronze filler all on a mild steel tank. That's three different metals together that everyone tells you should not be a thing. If I can make that to a fine finish, then we're winning.
Patinas are another thing. Patinas are very overlooked right now within the motorcycle world. Everybody just assumes that you should paint. Patina just takes more effort. It can be done. You can patina stainless steel, and make things look like a nice, fine finish. It just takes that little bit more time.
So, bronze on stainless, on black, mild steel patina. That's my jam right now. That's what I'm trying to figure out—how to make that economical and what comes out of my shop. That's what differentiates me from everybody else.
So, digging a bit further into your influences, are there any artistic or cultural movements that bleed into your approach to style or design?
I like art nouveau. I like art deco lines. I try to stay in those realms. Humans are drawn to patterns. Art nouveau is very good at organic lines, but they're consistent—they're repetitive.
Mid-century modern, too. Those lines are really good. Simple, clean, functional – everything should always have an ease of functionality. If I can't make the thing and have an easy time operating it, the client will have an even worse time dealing with it. If I can't get this on and off of said project easily, and I have the tools, how is my client going to fare?
I need to have the forethought that they have half the tools. If I'm lucky, they’ll have half. So, how do they take this on and off and not curse my name? Hex heads. Allen keys. Why am I using two different ones? Why wouldn't you just design it in a way where you use one wrench?
If I figure out the bullshit now while we're comfortable, then when you're out in the middle of nowhere and "bad thing" happens, you'll be glad I put it on with, you know, one hex key.
What attracted you to metal fabrication in the first place?
It’s because I'm a dumb-dumb. If you care about your work, you can fuck up a lot, fix it, and nobody will know. Metal is malleable. It's permanent, but it's malleable. If you can wrap your brain around how steel is just like Play-Doh, you can do a lot with it, and you can fib a lot of things.
Other than the attraction of the material, what inspired you to pick up a torch for the first time?
I was in high school, and I liked those shows—what was it—Monster Garage and stuff like that. I was in shop class. I was just like, sparks are cool. I want to chop cars. I want to make a thing. Modify it and put it together. I wanna do that. I had a shitty shop teacher that didn't like me, but still, I had that interest.
When I got out of high school, I knew I wasn't going to college. I saved up, and I went to trade school. I was like, I can weld. I got a steady hand. It doesn't take that much "you know"—you can enter it being a pretty good dumb-dumb.
I'm not gonna glorify it. You got a steady hand? Can you use a hot glue gun? Are you willing to use a hot glue gun for 12 hours a day, be sweaty and gross, and get paid? Because what are your options? If you're like me, your options are to work at McDonald's or pick up the glue gun. You do a trade. You do something that's not desirable.
At the time, those kinds of trades weren't glorified on Instagram and stuff. Welding, when I got into it, it was still a dirty trade. Nobody was really getting known. If you did sculpture stuff, you were a weirdo. If you did make money doing sculpture in metal work, then that was a whole other realm to be in. I lived in Ontario. What am I gonna do?
I barely passed high school, but I knew I was good with my hands. I knew I could do that kind of stuff. I'm good at problem solving, but that's not really something when you're coming out of high school. No teacher looks at you and tells you, here's some career options. You get told to figure yourself out.
As far as the origin story goes, where did the name Keenzo come from?
That started before all of this, when I was doing downhill skateboarding. Keenzo originally started as Greenzo. People called me Greenzo because everything I had was lime green. I fucking love lime green. My truck was lime green. My leathers were lime green. I only skated gear that was lime green. Everything had some sort of lime green. And then I also liked the Muppets. Gonzo, you know how weird he is.
When I started doing what I'm doing now, I didn't want to use my name. I wanted to separate myself, but not so much so that you didn’t know who I was. I like the connection, but I don't want to keep it so corporate—kind of tie the two together: Keenzo.
Speaking as a solo operator, what is different about your experience doing metal fabrication for yourself versus doing metal fabrication for someone else’s shop?
Keenzo is just time I put into things—care I put into things. Just putting that extra ten minutes into something. It's always worth it to put in that time, because my name is attached to everything. When you work for somebody, time is money and when you put too much time into something, you get yelled at, because they didn't quote for you doing extra.
The time is what people care about and what I care about. That ten minutes is what I always want to do, because that’s when you create something cool. If you don't care about that ten minutes, you just put kind of generic things out into the world.
When you potentially waste time, that’s when the cool shit happens, because it doesn't happen right away. You either have to fuck it up twice or three times and remake it or you have to sit and think about what you want to do, multiple times in your head. You hope that the first time you prototype it, you nail it. That's all I want to do. I like that.
Is it economical? Fuck no. Does it make me happy and allow me to sleep well at night? Right now, does it make me not homeless? Yes, and right now that's all that's really important. It's very simple. I try to live a simple fucking life.