No Knife
By Brian Brophy
Despite the “just taking a break” connotation of the word, usually when a band announces it’s going on “hiatus,” it’s a pretty good sign that you will never hear from that band again. It generally breaks up and evaporates in a sleepy haze that keeps the band’s biggest fans huffing on the fleeting hopes of a reunion. For San Diego band No Knife, however, a commitment to tour Japan and a producer that wouldn’t take no for an answer kept it from slipping off into oblivion after a self-imposed hiatus.

Formed in 1993, No Knife has developed a sound over four albums that combines infectious melodicism with the angular guitars of post-punk. Its latest offering, Riot For Romance, is a record that showcases a band that has truly found its voice. From the driving and atmospheric “Flechette” to the dynamic guitar lines of “Brush Off” to the layered instrumentation of “The Red Bedroom”, the album takes the strengths of the band’s previous releases and melds them with a musical maturity to create songs that breathe life into the post-punk sound.

The album’s release was obviously anticipated - which came as somewhat of a surprise to the band - as the initial release of 10,000 copies sold almost instantly and a tour with superstars Jimmy Eat World (a band that No Knife has shared the stage with in the past under very different circumstances) has thrust them into a comfortable spotlight. I caught up with guitarist/vocalist Mitch Wilson and bassist Brian Dejean at the Warfield in San Francisco, still buzzing from a strong performance opening for Jimmy Eat World.

First thing, why has it taken three years since the last album?
Mitch: We write really slowly.
Brian: Mitch broke up the band.
MW: I did not.
BD: Yeah he did.
MW: We did a couple tours and everything like that, but we did kind of break up for awhile or went on hiatus. We never made it official. We never said, “Hey, were breaking up!” or anything like that. We stopped practicing. Everyone had to focus on other aspects of their lives that they’d been neglecting for years.
BD: Every band goes through it. To have any longevity, every band has to kind of step away from it at some point and we reached that point. We reached the point where we were getting stale. We were doing album, tour-tour-tour, album. Tour-tour-tour, album. We put out an album every two years. We’d usually record it in the month of February. It usually came out at the same time. It got to be so tedious and everything started to be affected by that. The tours were good. There were good things about it, but it was just getting tired.

Was it your intention to take a hiatus?
BD: It just kind of happened I think. Everyone just kind of realized that there were other things we had to do. This band isn’t about making money, but unfortunately you need to make money to live in San Diego. [Drummer] Chris [Prescott] got married a while ago and he needed to support that and I was getting married and your priorities start changing a little bit. You have to reshuffle what’s going on. It’s not that we blew it off, but it kind of…
MW: We were getting into a large, large tax debt there.
BD: Yeah. There was a lot of weird business stuff going on and it just got stupid. The music was the last thing it was about at one point. It was just, what are we doing?
MW: We figured we would stop before we started putting out crap. I hate it when bands do that.

So what was the impetus that got you guys back together? I heard it was that your producer, Greg Wales, just wanted to record.
BD: Yeah, it was all about Greg man, seriously.
MW: Greg and Japan. We had done a split CDEP with this band Nine Days Wonder from Tokyo and we kind of set up a tour as everything was falling apart. We took several months off and we had already set up this tour, so we figured we should just go through with it as kind of a last hurrah thing. We went over there and it kind of put a spark under us again. Japan is completely different. You can go across the States like 40,000 times and you’re only going to hit a few cities where it’s great. Not necessarily big cities, there are little pockets like Sioux City, you know these pockets where you can tell that people really care about music, but for the most part it just seemed like people didn’t really give a shit here. We went over there and it was such a fucking alive thing. It was regarded as something worthwhile.
BD: It reminded us of what was fun about it: when people like what you’re doing and you just play, you tour, you make friends and have a great time.
MW: And you hear other great bands. So yeah, we did come back after Japan. That was the big question then. People were like, “We heard you broke up.” We were like, “Where the hell did you hear that?” We didn’t even tell anybody.
BD: That was a good sign. We got to see that there was an interest in the band. We’re doing something that people like and we like doing what we’re doing so we didn’t want to just abandon it and give it up. MW: Greg called us in December and said, “I’m gonna be in town. I have six days to record. I’ll bring my computer; let’s do a record.” We said, “Well, we kind of broke up.” And he said, “Well, I don’t care. That’s even better because that way we’ll just be making a record for us, just to see what we can do.” We went into it with that spirit. We tried things we normally wouldn’t have tried, just as far as songwriting and parameters. It was the best process of writing and recording that I’ve ever experienced.

I know that a couple of songs were recorded before you went in, like “Flechette”, but when you went into record were you writing songs right then?
BD: Yeah, we knew Greg was going to be in town in three weeks, we tried to do what we could do before he got there. With our schedules, it was like maybe we could practice twice a week and just get together and be creative on top of life. I think we pulled it out pretty well actually and we’re pretty happy with what we did.
MW: We had some other stuff that we didn’t get to finish that was better that just needs vocals or stuff like that. Then we had some other stuff that was just, whoo, nope.

Was there pressure? Did you know that you were going to come out with an album or were you just recording without that in mind?
MW: It turned into, “Hey, this is actually gonna see the light of day.” Everything kind of happened and it came together. Time Bomb [No Knife’s old label] had called and said, “Hey, you guys don’t have to do another record with us if you don’ want.” And we were like, “Fine, we weren’t going to do another record anyway.” So we parted amicably with them. Then a Czech label called Day After Records contacted us via e-mail saying that they wanted to do an EP with us right after we talked to Greg. And we said, “We’re interested in doing a record, can you put it out full-length?” And he was like, “That’d be great!” He let us know that it wasn’t going to get very good distribution stateside, so we went to the guys at Better Looking Records and they wanted to put it out. It was really easy, there were no contracts or anything.

When you first started out you wrote most of the songs, Mitch. How has that changed and how did this last process affect the way you write songs?
MW: Yeah, this record and the last record we all wrote a lot of the songs. Somebody would have a riff. We started practicing in a little tiny bedroom and we’d come in and tape it on a 4-track and see what came out. Some were old ideas that we had, some were fresh ideas that we had.
BD: I think that Mitch had some definite ideas though, and it was good. You need to have that initial idea and then you can fill in that idea. Okay, this is what we’re going for and now just figure stuff out yourself. It worked really good. It was definitely way different than we’d ever experienced.

Has your guys’ taste in music changed since the last time you recorded?
BD: Absolutely. Jesus, every month. You’re always listening and you do a lot of homework and research and you just read and find obscure shit, and I know Mitch is the same way. I think that’s really what music is all about, just trying to understand everything and not to be closed minded to a certain genre. As a musician that can only help you.
MW: I think you can tell the difference between the first two records and the last two records. I always thought I was a music fan, but I’ve been discovering that I didn’t know shit about music. I’m on the path of discovery now. I’m at the record store every weekend trying to find new things. I was always very smug about like, “Oh, I love this, and I love this.” A couple of years ago I started DJing, just started to find the essence of what makes a certain song great.
BD: This influenced them, they influenced that. You’re just like, “Holy shit, they doing this back then?”
MW: Yeah, you listen to the Jesus Lizard then you listen to the Birthday Party and Suicide before them. You just go, “Oh, that’s where they got that and that.” Then Tones on Tail back to Suicide, Soft Cell. It gets really exciting.

There’s such a wide variety of bands from San Diego, like Hot Snakes, Kill Me Tomorrow, Black Heart Procession, The Dropscience. How has being involved in that scene affected you guys?
MW: We’ve been on tour so much for the past six years. We know a lot of the people in the bands and we know a lot of the bands from playing with them once or twice, but I think we missed out on a time period where the music scene in San Diego kind of took a shit and then kind of reinvented itself with a different cast of characters. It’s cool watching everything develop and happen with that whole Tristeza and Go Go Go Airheart and then you’ve got the Three Mile Pilot split branch in Pinback and Black Heart Procession.
BD: With Three Mile Pilot and Pinback, we respect those guys and I think they kind of respect us because we’re in it for the long haul. And it’s not that they necessarily like your music, they just like what you’re doing because they know it’s real. That’s a good thing. It’s not like everyone’s holding hands. Was it ever like that? Was it ever just like raging every night?
MW: Yeah, it was. It was, then it stopped. San Diego, outside of bands, outside of the people actually playing music is kind of apathetic and has been for years. It seems like they’re trying and there’s a resurgence and it’s getting really interesting. There were years though where people were just dead to it.
BD: Pop punk killed San Diego.
MW: Yeah it did. It really did.

These have been your first really big shows [with Jimmy Eat World], how has that been?
MW: It’s a hoot. There’s no other way to put it. It’s a hoot.
BD: It’s easy. We’re excited. We love that Jimmy decided to call us, the timing couldn’t have been better. We’re just having a good time. We’re getting good sound. We’re playing some amazing clubs, places that we’ve never played before.
MW: I was super nervous just about shear numbers [of people]. I don’t even attend shows like this. I don’t really like them. I don’t care who it is. Even if… I don’t know, Ronald McDonald came and did a special appearance; well I wouldn’t go to that anyway, but even if it was somebody good I wouldn’t go.
BD: I haven’t been to a big ass show in a long time. I go to small shows. These shows are like concerts and there’s a ton of young people, like really young people.
MW: Eight-year-olds with glow sticks.

Do you think about the fact that you’re playing for a lot of people who have no idea who you are?
MW: It can be difficult, but we spent so many years touring where there would be like three or four people at shows.
BD: And, I mean [vocalist/guitarist] Ryan [Ferguson] has parents who are like, “Well, what are you doing with your life?” And with this tour they can see that shit’s happening.

 

 

 


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