Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Our Interview With Kentucky Knife Fight: "We have not been in a knife fight but let me assure you we would not back down from one."

Kentucky Knife Fight has been boozing and brawling its way through the music scenes of Edwardsville, Illinois and now St. Louis for quite some time, but they've reached an artistic high point with their new album Hush Hush, which you should stream via Bandcamp and then join critics in tossing around phrases like "cinematic in scope" and "a touch of the auteur."

Kentucky Knife Fight has rolled through LFK in the past but you'll need to trek to the Record Bar in KC this time around when they open for Murder By Death on September 14 (just a week after they take LouFest by storm alongside big names like Wilco and The National and Alabama Shakes).  We were pleased to have a long chat with the boys about rowdy shows, fine art and film, the mysteries of The National, and whether or not Wilco has become a boring "dad rock" band.   Check out their website, give them a "like" on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @KentuckyKnife.

Let's brawl!

Chip:  First off, Kentucky Knife Fight is a GREAT fucking band name.  Tell us the origin story.  Why Kentucky?  Is Kentucky especially known for its knife fights, because Kansas has had some pretty sweet ones right here in Lawrence at the old Moon Bar.  Also, have you fellows ever been in a knife-fight or are you all talk??

 James Baker: The name comes from my uncle. My uncle and his lady, who shall remain nameless for legal reasons, got into a drunken knife fight after an argument escalated. They both live in Kentucky. As you can imagine, they are no longer together. And, no, we have not been in a knife fight, but let me assure you we would not back down from one!

Richard:  I love your bio statement that your sound might be found on a “jukebox at the end of the universe between The Stooges and Tom Waits.”  Why are those two artists in particular essential to your style and subject matter?  Also, what might be some other touchstones outside the music world, maybe in terms of art or films?

Jason Holler:  The Stooges are essential for their raw energy and unrefined vocals. Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan are essential for their attention to lyricism and storytelling. We try to fall somewhere in between. 

As far as artistic influences: the St. Louis-centric photographs of Bob Reuter and the Tulsa-centric photographs of Larry Clark. Both artists own the world of the gritty black-and-white photo. Though I can't get behind all of Clark's work, I do think "Tulsa" is a masterpiece. I strongly suggest your readers check out both. When it came time to pick album artwork there were two images by St. Louis photographer, Nate Burrell, that I couldn't live without. One we used on the cover and the other on the inside of the album. Both photos illustrate the quiet interior moments of the album in ways I felt no other photos could.  

Pics:  A Reuter photo, Clark's Tulsa, and Nate Burrell's Hush Hush album cover:

As far as film is concerned, for this album, I was inspired by Peter Bogdanovich's "Paper Moon" and Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies, and Videotape". One movie focuses on crime while the other focuses on perverse sexual behavior, which are the two defining themes of our album. Both movies are classics not to be missed. 

Film still from Paper Moon

Paper Moon Stills

Chip:  I dig how the new album opens with the gentle and pretty “Paper Flowers Three” before launching into the fast and furious “Bad Blood."  I like to play that one LOUD and it makes me want to punch people!  Are you fellows drifting into some new, more artsy, ground with this album, particularly in those three “Paper Flowers” songs, and why do you begin with #3?  Because artsiness confuses me (and also sometime makes me want to punch). 

Nate Jones:  We wanted to set the mood for the entire album in the first track.  Some songs throughout the LP are loud rockers, and some aren't, but they all have a dark undercurrent that begins in the first few seconds with the alarm-like stabs of the Mellotron that signal the song (played to wonderful effect by producer and fellow musician David Vandervelde).  That instrument is known for its eerie discordance, and it helped to serve as a foundation for Jason's lyrics.  This tale of a couple waking up and trying in vain to start their broken down Bonneville glides along on piano and guitar before the lines "Judge not for we know not what we do" is repeated over a banjo melody and the revitalized Mellotron  that seemingly envelopes the listener. The story of the couple, much like that Mellotron, materializes towards the end of its telling.

"Paper Flowers part 1-3" (or "3-1") almost takes a Tarantino-esque approach as it deals specifically with the two criminals, telling the details in reverse order of the perpetration of their crime and planning of their escape, but there are vague allusions to the fate of the couple, as well as their past  in "Gunsmoke" and people in their family's past in songs like "Father".  "Father" deals with a narrator telling the story (possibly to one of the Paper Flower criminals when they were a kid) of a man he knew who helped carry out the breaking of a levee and flooding of a town, and is highly based on James Scott, who was convicted of causing a massive flood of west Quincy, MO.  The image of a flood is a recurring one, alluded to in the chorus of "Misshapen Love'  Everything is tied together and it all becomes clearer by the time the album ends, but the listener is still left in a world with little hope for the existence of any good in the hearts of man after these tales of murder and malicious intent have been spun. 

Chip:  Damn!  Now I'm bummed out.

Richard:  There are some really odd and memorable lyrics on the new album.  I especially love the repeated phrase “like some day-trading hedonist” toward the end of the title track “Hush Hush,” for example.    Do you have a particular favorite lyric or image on the new album?

Jason:   Thanks. Oddly enough, that's my father's favorite line from the album as well. It's hard to pick my favorite. I'm pretty excited about a lot of them. For me, "Love the Lonely" has some interesting lines. The line "the morning whimpers / and crawls back in its tired skin / till night comes knocking / at your door once again." That line really has a lot of Charles Simic influence. He tends to give intangible nouns human characteristics, which I love. 

Chip:  Let’s talk about your audiences at the shows.  Has your demographic changed a lot over the years as you‘ve gotten more established?  For example, are you playing to mostly boring scenesters these days, or do the crowds tend to get a little rowdy and ready to brawl?  Want to regale us with a particularly memorable and seedy tale from one of your shows?

Curt Brewer:  When Kentucky Knife Fight played their first shows at the majestic Stagger Inn (Edwardsville, IL), I'm not sure our crowds would have been able to grow goatees. We were the band a lot of people saw on their 21st birthday or some person's first college-break-up-drink-it-all-away episode. I remember one Stagger Inn show vividly. We played to 150 kids in a room built for 80, someone was hanging from the ceiling fan mid-set, the men's restroom floor was soaked because a caveman ripped the sink out of the wall, and two of our band members walked out on a couple consummating in the motor oil-drenched gravel near our band van. That's one of the only Stagger shows I can remember... 

As we've grown up, so have the "intentions" of our new audience. The biggest change is that the venues we play now are concert venues. This brings people that were probably going crazy on Screwdrivers or Natty Light in their teens but no longer feel the need to go out drinking simply because they can't think of anything else to do. Now don't get us wrong: if our audience goes out to get drunk, they get! We just have the pleasure of playing music for those that came for that exact reason. We run into the occasional lunatic looking to go all Lou Bega on us (*don't ask...) but our audience is usually open-minded, avid listeners that give a fuck. We're quite lucky.

With that being said, people DO get really rowdy while we're playing. I blame the music. And Lou Bega.   

Richard:  Speaking of audiences, you’ll be rocking LouFest this year along with Wilco and a bunch of other big names.  Who are you most excited to see there?  And if you meet Jeff Tweedy could you maybe please mention our humble little blog and ask him to get in touch for an interview, because we are huge fucking Tweedy fans from way back and we get annoyed when silly people just write Wilco off as “dad-rock” these days.
Curt:  I've heard so many stories about The National, I kinda just want to have this from-a-safe-distance, totally legal voyeuristic experience. I want to see them get in a band fight over who left the Black Forest Ham under the passenger seat. I want to see them fill out a "Best Wishes" Hallmark cards to their departing roadies who are returning to college for Fall semester. I want to see Matt Berninger actually drink a bottle of wine on stage to chill out. They just seem so strangely and authentically mysterious. I have no idea.

The bigger bands, like the Alabama Shakes, Jim James, and Wilco will receive a lot of my attention. I've never had the opportunity to see them. Between Knife Fight gigs and playing music with other groups, I rarely have time to catch bigger acts. The Alabama Shakes seem to be really talented musicians. It'd be a trip to chat with them about their writing process. We'll send our drummer James to catch Wild Belle. He'll dig them. Fitz And the Tantrums will be fun to have a mid-day buzz to. 

We're excited to be one of two St. Louis groups on the entire bill and we will definitely catch our StL ally Tef Poe. In all seriousness, Tef is the real deal. He just signed with Universal and is an official performer for Amnesty International. Awesome St. Louisian.

 As for Wilco, they are totally not dad-rock. I have complete faith that if Tweedy ever did see any press that mentioned such a nondescript copout, he'd probably give none fucks. They will rule. We are not worthy.        

Chip:  It’s tough to get our lazy readers out of LFK and over to KC for a show, so leave us with a blurb that convinces them they absolutely must hit the Record Bar on Sept. 14 for your show with Murder By Death.   MBD has a long history of beloved Lawrence shows, so you’ve definitely got that working in your favor!  

Curt:   Dueling banjos? Yesterday's gimmick. Behold, the gimmick of the future: dueling guitars! Wait, what?! (*I'm being told that Thin Lizzy has had that on lockdown for the last 40 years). 
Kentucky Knife Fight is a blend of five musicians that come from very different backgrounds, especially with regard to our influences. We are continually discovering how to write new music with these five seemingly unrelated participants who are simultaneously experiencing and learning about the music that shaped each member's personal histories. You may have not heard us yet, but at one point you hadn't heard Mclusky. You had never heard PJ Harvey. You had never heard the Nat King Cole trio (ok, maybe everybody's heard them around the holidays). In no way are we saying that we are like any of these artists, but we hope that you may gladly say you heard your new favorite band at the Record Bar on Sept. 14. Our music is moody yet completely made for moving human bodies. There will not be a dry patch left on your skin from three hours of release with Kentucky Knife Fight and Murder by Death. 
Here's the gang, plus the video for "Love The Lonely" and the flyer for the Record Bar show.

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