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
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.