This week the Concert Closet catches up with Bent Knee, a band I was recently introduced to and reviewed back in March. Bent Knee recently released their third album, "Say So" and have been touring of sorts to promote it.
While I sadly admit my recent attempts to catch the band live were unsuccessful, I was able to get an interview with them. Bent Knee is truly a unique act, and one you do not want to miss...so trust me; the Concert Closet will soon dock in a town where these artists are performing their magic. In the meantime...cue up the first song from "Say So" and enjoy. It is a cranial piece called "Black Tar Water," designed to get you thinking. The vocals cut through you like a thousand shards of crystal...while they pierce and may draw blood--there is so much more pleasure than pain. The music builds to a crescendo and ebbs back...keeping you on the edge of a seat you are simply unable to remain in. So let the interview begin...
Courtney Swain: I think the biggest separation between the last two albums and "Say So" is we wrote and produced it in a much shorter time frame. In terms of music and content, it's less bombastic or cathartic than "Shiny Eyed Babies." That doesn't mean it is less emotionally charged; I think there is more dimension and maturity to the expression.
CCA: Your sound runs through many genres...traveling deep into the pores of prog, art, indie, alternative, and avant-garde rock. How did the sound of Bent Knee evolve?
Ben Levin: Bent Knee started as an electronic trip hop project in which Courtney and I would file share to write. We made some nice songs this way, but they were kind of vapid and colorless in terms of arrangement. Our sound started to get interesting when Vince (sound design/synth) decided to record a live arrangement of one of the electronic tunes. Vince was really into Nine Inch Nails' production style at the time, which took our trip hop sound in a more aggressive and broken direction. We then started playing live a lot, and after a few line-up changes, we solidified the addition of Chris (violin), Jessica (bass), and Gavin (drums). Chris brought a warm and thoroughly layered ambiance to our sound--a counterpoint to the incumbent harshness. I think he sort of tipped us into "Radiohead Land" a bit. Jessica and Gavin have a really special punch-in-the-gut rhythm section going on.They don't write traditional rock parts very often and I think we were all a little conservative when it comes to the use of crash cymbals in our arrangements. After our line-up was finalized, we grew closer and closer as a unit and started becoming influenced by each other's influences. Since those influences are pretty diverse, we continue to evolve.
CCA: Was there any connection between band members before meeting at Berklee?
Ben Levin: I met Vince in 2005 at the Berklee summer program; that is before we were enrolled at the school...but I guess it is still meeting at Berklee.
CCA: Bent Knee seems to have a connection with the listener that some bands only dream of. How do you stay in touch on a personal level with fans and do you feel it is important--or even
possible--as both Bent Knee and your audience grow?
Courtney Swain: I pack and ship all the physical orders that get placed on our Bandcamp page, and I think I've written five or six hundred personal notes to go with every order. It took time to do that, but it really mattered to me to connect with the people who cared enough to spend their hard earned money on our music. In anticipation of the amount of orders we'll get with "Say So," only this week I pared it back to a postcard with a printed message. But I am still writing in the person's name at the top of the card so it addresses them. Touring and working in a band can be really tough; a lot of us are often worried about money or scheduling non-band work around the band's needs. We're incredibly grateful for the support we get from our fans, because it has carried us through tough times. We try to be vocal about that and share it whenever we can. We don't put up any fronts when we meet people or when we're interviewed, and we are open to sharing our stories and vulnerabilities. As the band becomes bigger this may become more difficult, but we'll keep trying because we really care about this connection!
Time to tap into that connection and discover why anticipation for "Say So" was so high. "Hands Up" is another incredibly deep song; there is so much going on with an absolute minimum of structure...absolutely transcending...Courtney's vocals once again perforate with laser-like precision, and the keyboards are so entwined with the strings and guitar...much like trying to pick the fruit out of a smoothie after the blender has had its way...and the drums simply keep it all on a level us mere mortals can barely fathom...
CCA: How did the band come to be known as Bent Knee?
Vince Welch: The name "Bent Knee" has a very specific meaning and origin...but it's a secret so I can't tell you.
CCA: If you were able to perform live with anyone--living or dead--who would you choose to be on stage with?
Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth: I'd love to see bent Knee perform a set with Peter Gabriel. I think the sonic textures we use would mesh well with what he uses. Another fun possibility would be to have Bent Knee play background music for Mark Twain during one of his speaking engagements when he was alive.
CCA: What influences your writing; how do the songs evolve into what we hear as the final cut?
Vince Welch: The writing process is typically this:
*One or two band members develop some raw material on their own
*They bring the material in and the band digests it through our convoluted arranging process
*The arrangement is after some time deemed worthy of playing live
*It's further tweaked and continues to evolve as we play it out more. Occasionally after playing a song out for a while we'll decide it's not working and refine it more in rehearsal; but not usually
CCA: Any plans to expand the current tour?
Chris Baum: Yes! We will be hitting North America again in August and September after we return from Europe. Keep an eye on our website for announcements and details.
CCA (subliminally): Please play in the Boston area again...please play in the Boston area again...please play in the Boston area again...
CCA: What can fans look forward to from a live performance?
Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth: Six sweaty people who are happy to be performing and trying their honest to goodness best to not mess up the tunes and wanting nothing more than to play this music they made and worked really hard on. We'll bop our heads and make hard rock faces while we sing and drum and strum at varying speeds for as long as we are allowed to.
CCA: Any tracks on the album that touch a personal nerve?
Jessica Kion: Definitely. A few tracks are fictional stories, but some explore real relationships in our lives, as well as experiences dealing with mental illness and the strain it puts on family.
CCA: What more does the world need to know about Bent Knee?
Chris Baum: Come see us live, and all will be revealed.
And that fellow progheads, is Bent Knee...more than just a prog band. Six people working and playing together, bringing music to life unlike any other. The prog garden is enriched greatly by bands such as this. Revisit that emotional rush you experienced the first time you realized music was so much more than radio static...
I chose a clip I believe brings a lot of what Bent Knee is to the forefront; a song called "Leak Water." From the moment the song opens the door...you just know--you feel--something is excitedly different here. Courtney's vocals don't haunt so much as they grab you from the inside and begin to slowly and deliberately flip you inside out. The guitar work is borderline genius as it creeps in...around the vocals, stalking past the drums...and those drums! The canvas is streaked with the brightest brights and underscored with the darkest hues...madness and mayhem neatly tied with a bow.
Bent Knee is an exhilarating breath of fresh air...so breathe deep fellow progheads! The prog garden has been expanding as of late, and Bent Knee is a band I sincerely expect to enjoy a bright and prosperous future in the prog garden...their style and approach are a jolt to a genre already breaking the levee with an abundance of marvelous prog.
So the search for all things prog continues as the summer sun begins her annual pilgrimage across the sweltering sky...let us hope that journey lasts as long as the one the Concert Closet has undertaken...until next week...