New York, NY- Over the years Blurred Culture has seen a lot of bands. When we go out to shows we have no expectations. So when a band comes a long like Bent Knee to say we are really fucking excited is an not an oversell. I was standing at the show with my jaw dropped in awe of the music coming from the stage. I had to look around to make sure I wasn’t in a dream, and sure enough, everyone in that room was feeling the same thing. Courtney Swains vocals emanate emotions and it will swim into your psyche, as does every other component that goes into their live show. The way Bent Knee comes together on stage is truly something special after the live show the band left us with goosebumps. Their new album Land Animal is out and it is a must check out.
Bent Knee is Ben Levin (guitar), Chris Baum (violin), Courtney Swain (vocals, keys), Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth (drums), Jessica Kion (bass), and Vince Welch (production, sound design).
Blurred Culture met up with Bent Knee before their show and this is what they had to say.
BC: What is your first musical memory?
COURTNEY: My first musical memory is being in kindergarten and we were having this music class and the teacher, who have been teaching was leaving and I liked her and I wanted to continue playing piano more seriously.
JESSICA: I think my first musical memory was watching my mom and her sisters sing Christmas songs together in harmony and thinking was really beautiful and crazy, like how people could sing together on different notes and sounds really awesome and wanting to join them but also being way too scared because they were really intimidating women.
GAVIN: My first musical memory is oddly enough when my family lived in an apartment, when I was very young. I had a video tape, it was Peter Gabriel POV, it was a concert from his 1988 world tour and I used to dance around to it and mimic the moves that Peter was doing on stage while he would sing. And my parents had this white puffy vest, that was reminiscent from the 80s because it was the early 90s, that I remember wearing because it looked like Peter Gabriel’s white coat that he wore in that thing and mimicking all the stage moves. And also being attracted to the sound of drums in that and that’s where I started playing drums, was from that concert film.
CHRIS: I started playing violin when I was 4. I got one for my 4th birthday was a tiny [30 second] size instrument, it was very small. So I got one for my birthday in June and in October was my first concert on Halloween. And I studied Suzuki violin method and we had a concert called Spooky Suzuki. The first thing I remembered about playing the violin was, I went as Peter Pan to my first concert and it came time for me to go up and perform and I was terrified and my mom plays piano and she had always been there when I was practicing to help me out, because 4 year olds really can’t do anything. And I stood up there and just—if you play the violin there is this position called rest position, where you tuck your instrument under your shoulder and you wait to play to keep it safe and I wouldn’t take my instrument out of rest position until my mom came up and sat down on the floor next to me and then I played my song. That’s probably twinkle, twinkle or something as Peter Pan.
BEN: I’m a Jew and when I was growing up I was around all the Jew stuff and there’s lots of songs that go like, nananana……. You can look it up, but we used to sing these every Friday night and then on the holidays and I went to Jewish elementary school and we’d sing them every day. So lots of songs and minor keys, straight from Eastern Europe, straight from the heartland and the Babushkas.
VINCE: And it’s funny I actually had forgotten about this memory until this question. So it’s kind of a repressed memory. It’s interesting because my first musical memory is largely negative one, because—well it’s not bad negative, but I used to live with my parents in this town home and we had a TV in the living room but we also had a pipe organ in the living room, because my dad is an organist. So basically the pipe organ was this thing that has prevented me from watching TV and so I’ll always be glad when my dad stopped playing it and I’d be upset when he started playing it because then I couldn’t watch TV.
BC: So how did you get the bug to actually do music?
VINCE: May be I’m a [masochist]. It’s like relationship with the person. Sometimes you’ll meet someone and you get off to a rocky start but then you get to know them better and you come to appreciate them.
BC: You guys have a serious music, well it seems to be a little bit of a darker side but you have such a fun chemistry. When you guys write your music, where is that come from, what inspires you guys to go a little bit deeper and—
GAVIN: This is actually something that I’ve been thinking about and also I’m a huge David Lynch fan and I’ve been watching a lot of interviews with him lately and he’s always asked—all of his films and TV shows are this incredibly dark exploitation of things but he is a chipper guy and I think that allowing yourself space to dive into these kinds of feelings or ideas which—a lot of the stuff in the music stems from very real things that have happened. But giving ourselves a space to work through them and give them a voice and extrapolate on them and stuff and kind of clears it out for the rest of our day.
CHRIS: It’s funny, if you meet a very heavy dark demented metal band. I would bet you serious money that they are very sweet and soft spoken and quiet and funny in their day to day and I think there is a direct co-relation between that, if you just have the ability to get out—everyone has dark stuff, it doesn’t really matter who you are or what you do but finding a way to release that in whatever way is you deem suited for your life. It just allows you to be more healthy, happy person.
BC: What do you hope people take away from your music?
BEN: I just want people to like it like a basic—like these sounds and rhythms, I just want them to like it on the basic level and I want them to like the lyrics. I would hope everyone would take something very personal form it so that there wouldn’t be just one set message—aah this is what Ben means and everyone agrees but there be many ideas where songs are coming from or how it reflects some situations in their lives. So yeah, I just want them to really enjoy and give them something nice to wake up for in addition to all other nice things.
VINCE: I guess the biggest thing that I would like people to take away from our music I guess it’s just because it’s what attracts me like what I find most interesting thing in music is when you hear something that you didn’t even realize was a possibility. I think that’s definitely the most exciting thing for me when you hear something, like wow I didn’t even know that was an option in music. So yeah trying to do stuff like that is what I’m into.
BC: What’s you guys favorite song to play live?
GAVIN: For me it’s a tie between ‘terror bird’ and time dear.
GAVIN: They are the most fun on the drums I think. Terror Bird has this—there is a groove that I’m doing in the beginning that I like to play a lot and then I like to play the choruses a lot and I like the way that the song moves. And then Time Dear I essentially feel like I’m still learning that song. So I feel like every time I play it it’s still a little different and it’s still—it’s where I still have to go, what if I enter into this section this way, what if I approach this way, it’s still evolving in my hands, the drum part at least. And that’s why it’s very fun to be on stage and not just be muscle memory and role out mode.
BC: What’s your writing process like? Does everyone write their own parts or how does it all come together?
COURTNEY: So the way we write, someone brings in the demo, which is at various degree of completeness and then we’ll basically tear apart the parts that are inside that demo and put it back together. I think two things we really try to do consistently is, most of all the story of the song. So a lot of our songs are—they’re not necessarily all biographical but there is something going on in terms of the message and the flow of the song so musically we try to follow that. We try not to do things that are just for show that don’t really fit the song per se. So we’re really careful about that and a lot of our parts are really restrained musically or technically. It’s just more about us, as six of us as oppose to individuals. And I think that other thing we do is that we toured really hard over the last couple of years and in a lot of the varying degrees of song situations. So we’ve played in places where there is one speaker and we’re doing our own sound and there is four channels to a night like tonight where the sound guy really knows what he is doing and everybody is happy with the sound. But one thing that people have told us that one thing we try to do is that we sound good in any situation because basically we’re carving out spaces for everyone’s instruments to fit into our own mix. So no one really needs to really go and ride that instrument—now we’re listening to this person, now we’re listening to this person. Our arrangements by default have that you so you could hear what you need to hear in every moment. Those are the two big things we do in the writing.
BEN: [Live} is really the third step in the writing process. So when we bring something to completion enough where we feel like we can present it to an audience, we will and that will dictate how we proceed with finalizing the song. So most of our music is not [?] after the first time and then we’ll try things out and see how things are hitting and then go back into the rehearsal space and finish it up. And then once we record that will dictate—once we go through the mixing process and other things come to the surface, that dictates how we approach the song live again, so long cycle.
BC: What was the best day as a band?
BEN: Ben here. I think it’s still helpful if I say my name, it doesn’t hurt. Well, it’s hard to think of one day. I’ll just say, one really good day we had was we—
JESSICA: I think as a band we played at this festival in Canada, and it was really the first festival that we were asked to play, we didn’t apply for, and it seems too good to be true.
COURTNEY: It’s Canada and we’re sorry we can’t pay for your travel and I Googled it and I was like this must be a scam.
JESSICA: And they wanted us to headline and we didn’t know anyone and it was really confusing and turn out that we did know the people who ran—they just like came to our show and we didn’t like—yes so we ended up and it was mostly a folk festival and there was another couple of rock bands and DJs and stuff but the last night we played this biggest show we had ever played and the audience freaked out and it was the craziest experience to have all these people feeding back our energy, which was at its highest and it was unbelievable.
CHRIS: The reason why this day sticks out so much is I had spent the entire—it was an amazing festival and beautiful and we had a great time, but I had spent the entire day freaking out, because every act that got up on stage was like some acoustic folk band and we were exceptions for the most part, we did not belong there and to go on the headlining slot on the last day of the festival was really daunting because I expected everyone to just not know what to do with themselves. So to get up on stage and actually deliver and have a bunch of folk loving hippies fall in love with a band like Bent Knee was really special.
BEN: I guess it was the first time may be the only time I’ve ever been outside for 24 hours. I woke up outside, and I stayed outside till the end while I was still outside 24 hours.
BC: Awesome. Thank you guys so much. It’s been such a pleasure.
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