Every once and while, there's an artist that operates "under the radar" - a rather tired notion, I know - where the majority of an artist's journey goes unknown by the masses, making things all that sweeter for those privy. I'd say it's a safe assumption that Aidan Knight is such an artist for many, but not for lack of trying. One of the most unflagging and insightful guys working in music today, the Vancouver Island native took a moment during his tour in Italy to speak with Transverso Media about his most recent effort, Each Other, the politics of recording, and Ennio Morriconne.
TRANSVERSO: How’s the tour going?
AIDAN KNIGHT: It's been going great so far. We’ve been having pretty good luck – no flat tires, nothing too crazy so far – so knock on wood it continues.
How does it feel to have Each Other out in the world for a few months now? Cathartic?
Yeah! It feels great to put anything out, but especially something that takes a long time to make. It’s hard to convey all of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes when making a record, if that makes sense, but it feels like... I don’t want to use “cathartic” because it kind of sounds like a fancy word. [Laughs]
Right, sorry about that!
[Laughs] No! I just try and dumb it down when I talk about these things. But yeah, it's kind of like there’s a bunch stuff that no one really sees but I think the end result was really great. And I’m glad that its out now, because there’s a lot of stuff that happened in between the recording process to the release date that kind of was like “I don’t know what’s going to happen here.” So it’s nice to make it definitive that its out now.
I saw that you did run into a number of obstacles during the recording process for Each Other. Did that come to influence the album at all?
Most of the sort of struggles came after the recording process. Around the time that we were doing the vocals and the mixing and stuff is when some things started coming together. Our bass player was starting to have his hearing issues and eventually our drummer just had to go back to school. So we pretty much lost two of the five people who were instrumental in sort or putting the record together, but it didn’t really affect the songs that you hear. I think it just mostly affected my sort of - how to put it eloquently - just my thoughts on how to keep going, you know, whatever the future was going to look like. And that seems really dramatic for me to say that now, but at the time it really felt like, “Oh, maybe I just kind of hang up the towel here." We had already spent the time and already spent the money on recording it so we would have needed a bunch more money to produce the songs and release the record and all, so maybe we cut out losses? Then something just kind of turned around – and I wish I could really put a finger on what that was – but I think it was sort of the support of the people who I work with, and my family and friends, and the people I was sharing the record with, and they were saying like “No there’s actually some really good stuff on here!” [Laughs] Surprise, surprise.
That’s great, I’m sure that support was an awesome thing to have.
Yeah, well that’s sort of the frustrating thing about working on music – is not having the perspective to see what’s good or bad anymore – you’re just seeing this stuff go off the rails or wondering whether or not there’s still enough good stuff on the rails to sort keep the stuff moving along. So it felt like that for a very small chunk of time – I don’t know – a month or two? And then it just kind of, eventually I just snapped out of it and realized that it was something worth releasing at the very least and at the very best, that there was actually good stuff on there. And now with being able to actually step back and listen to it, and to be able to play it now every night – I’m just really enjoying the songs. So I feel very fortunate that there are people in my life who can sort of direct me away from my bad decisions.
How has it been performing it live? It sounds like that’s changed your view even further?
Yeah! Yeah it has. I think that it’s a really great live. Again, I don’t want to be too… sometimes I feel like I’m being too over the top saying, "It’s a great live record!” But by the nature of us, all five of us: Colin, Dave, Julia, Olivier, and myself all playing these songs really together in a room and more or less making that the sort of basis of the recording. Now that we’ve taken those recordings and put them up on stage, the translation is better than anything else I have ever worked on before, because everything else I’ve ever done has really been a studio record. Like multi-track recording, where you go in and you record the drums and the bass and the guitars, and this was more. Everyone was kind of feeding off of each other, and so its easier to do that on stage, but also, I just think the songs are some of the strongest stuff we’ve worked on so far. So yeah, I’m really liking it so far. That being said, we’ve only played it really for Europeans, not a whole lot of North Americans yet. So we’ll see what North America says about it.
Do you think you’ll continue the “off the floor” recording as opposed to studio?
I think I’m going to do a blend of things. It's nice to kind of know what works in both approaches. There’s a lot of records that I love that were made in a short amount of time – live off the floor. But I have a real love for great studio recordings – I mean like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of the best studio records that I can think of. And in Canada, Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot Their People, is an amazing record. So those are two good indie-rock examples of great studio recordings. But I don’t know, there are also these two other little bands called The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. You know, there’s a power to both of them, and I’d like to investigate and sort of explore melding the two. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I already have the desire to do some more recording, but I don’t have any time this year, because we’re busy with touring right now, which is great.
There’s a lot of great minute detail throughout the record, “Funeral Singers” in particular. What was the process in creating that track?
Yeah, that was one that we had the idea for that song off the last record in 2012 called Small Reveal. It was one of the songs, or a song idea that we had, that we tried to develop, and it just didn’t pan out. So we kind of kept it and kept working on it at sound checks, rehearsals, and jams. And when it came time for this record, it was probably the first or second song that we knew that we were going to do for the recording. And it was like, again, it was hard to explain when you can’t see the behind the scenes of how the songs came together, but that song changed so much from the original idea and was rewritten many times. Eventually when it came time to record it, we spent the first two days of recording time getting set up and just working on that song. And that was maybe the hardest two days of the whole recording process where Marcus Paquin (The National, Local Natives, Stars), the producer of the record and I just sort of got together on the second day and were talking together and saying “What’s going on here? It seems like there’s a lot of tension going on between the control room and the tracking room.” I was just like “I just don’t think the song is turning out the way I thought it would turn out. I don’t know it just doesn’t seem right.” So there was this moment where it really felt tense, almost to the point that we were going to walk away [laughs] in a similar kind of way to the two months after we had finished recording.
It was like, "Okay, we’ve already flown all the way out here, we’ve booked all the studio time. Maybe we can just cancel it and get some of the money back and revisit it in two months when we have a little bit of a better idea.” But Marcus, he’s just got incredibly great ears, and he has all the best attributes of someone whose sympathetic and can compromise but also has a vision for what he thought things could and should sort of sound like. So he just said “Look, its your record. You have to be happy with it. I have this idea and I think its going to work, and I think what’s going to make this sound really great is if you guys all get into the studio and all record together at the same time.” And I was just kind of taken aback at that, I didn’t think we were making this live recording going in. I thought we were going to put on a click track and the drums were going record, the bass was going to record, I was going to record my guitar part, and we were going to tweak out on some stuff. He just had this other idea and we hadn’t talked about our sort of approach to the recording. So for “Funeral Singers,” it was like two days banging our heads against the wall and on the third day we just got it all recorded in this one, maybe two-hour session. And then from there we just added a couple of overdub and background sounds, but for the most part that song is just the right off the floor. It was just really captured really well, which really made the detail. And the clarity that you hear in the song is actually us realizing what was going on, really getting behind it, really playing together, and Marcus and Niles at the studio really just nailing it on the recording.
As far as the overall structure of the record, was that mostly your final decision? Or did Marcus have some influence as well?
I think for the most part, I came up with the track order. I just sort of had a general idea. I kind of have this bizarre process of listening to the recordings in a bunch of different orders. What I like to do is either walk really late at night out on Vancouver Island which is where I was when we finished up the recording - it's definitely not a big city at all, it's more rural in parts - but there’s an urban center. So you can walk through a lot of different landscapes and I like to sort of walk, run, and drive with the record on and sort of see how it makes you feel in motion. For this record, it was mostly driving – I think it’s a really great 34 minutes of music- if you’re driving somewhere it has a great sort of wave that happens to it where it builds and comes back down, and goes up and down in the right places, and it sort of takes you - again, there are some words I really hate to use – but it sort of takes you on this emotional kind of crest. I think that’s really important in a record, that it directs you, or at least that’s my intention, and I know not everyone is going to listen to all eight songs in order, or maybe they come up with their own sort of playlist of stuff, or maybe they only listen to three or four. But I think if you really listen to it, particularly if you’re listening to it… well, I don’t think you can drive with a record player, but if you could, side A side B is another thing that I think a lot about. So side A ends with “What Light Never Goes Dim,” and then side B ends with “Black Dream.” So its two very different sort of feeling sides, but I like it.
I noticed that! It seems that side B kind of has a more disparate tint to it, and in particular going from “St. Christina” straight into “You Are Not Here.” I assume that was done intentionally? Would you be willing to elaborate on how those two songs became connected?
It became intentional, but at first it was not. [Laughs] “St. Christina” was actually a longer piece of a song that sort of devolved into a lot of noise and static, and sort of turned into this more soundscape-y thing, but we just could not figure out how to make that piece of audio and how to make it work. At that time, Colin and Dave had sort of stepped away, and I felt like the conflict for me was that I didn’t want to make more audio without the input of those two guys. So “St. Christina” just somehow ended up being harmonically – in terms of the chord structure – just worked really well, and just had a little bit of noise that perfectly segues into “You Are Not Here.” Its one of those great things that I just love about making creative stuff – you can plan, and plan, and plan, and plan but sometimes the unintentional, the accidental work so much better than anything you would have thought. So those two songs are a great example of that happening.
There seems to be a personal aspect to your lyrical approach – almost a verbalization of an internal dialogue. Do you ever wonder how those would be interpreted once they’re let out into the world?
I’d say that’s a pretty good insight… kind of freaky for someone that’s never met me. [Laughs] Here’s what I will say – I don’t have a lot to say on lyrics – I think of myself as on any day being and extrovert or an introvert, but I hope that I’m becoming a better performer. Through touring and playing music, but the thing that I like the most about music is having nothing expected, nothing in front of me, starting with nothing, and there being really no pressure or ego, or anything in the way. And then stepping back when something has been created, looking at it and seeing myself and the stories and people and things that are in my life. But I don’t think about them in the process of making them so much. So I think that when you hear it when talking to journalists and other musicians, and people who are asking me about my music, they say they kind of come across as confessional, and I think like “Yeah, of course.” I don’t know what else there is to write about. And even if I mask them, and I’ve tried writing from other perspectives, but I think there’s always something that sort of leaks out from your own history that has to go into the stories. So yeah, I’ve been saying a little bit more often that I don’t keep a journal, but the journal that I do keep just happens to be a very public one. And that’s the songs, and they get released out into the world, and people get to hear my little stories and little songs, and I’m becoming okay with it. I didn’t love the aspect of releasing music at first, but its hard not to get caught up in the echo? Or something on the other side – having people come up to you and be like “Your songs meant something to me,” that’s a great feeling. I don’t mind that at all. It’s still embarrassing to have people read so deeply into your lyrics, but I get it as well. I do listen to other people’s music and it means something to me. It’s a great thing.
How does the record compare to your previous releases: Small Reveal and Versicolour?
I think there is a line that goes through all of the records. I mean you could just say that’s just myself, my sort of lyrical perspective. But I think Each Other is to me in some ways the first record, and the other ones were developments, like a learning stage. I still think there’s lots of value in them, but I think of this record being one of the first ones where I’m not so concerned, I’m not so precious. To me this is sort of my letting go record, where I sort of just really play with my friends in the bands, and make music together, and not have to be so fingers in everything. I was listening to this podcast with Albert Hammond Jr. from The Strokes, and he was saying his most recent record, he was also feeling if he didn’t hold everything, the whole thing would become fucking awful. And I was just like, man, I felt the same way, and now I don’t feel that way so much. It was like now I don’t have to micromanage every little thing. This is kind of a glimpse into my history, I wasn’t able to let people come in on the thing, but now I think if you let people do the thing that they do really well and can let them feel good about it, then I think the result has to be better. It actually sounds and comes across as more complete and more human, and better over all if you just let people do things where they’re really excited about it, and they have more free reign to do interesting, unexpected stuff. So that’s the biggest change between the records.
That sounds like a very liberating experience.
Oh it feels good, man, it feels good!
Who informs Aidan Knight’s style?
I mean, its kind of corny, but my parents have a pretty huge influence on me – they’re both musicians. They’re not professional musicians, but they both enjoyed music and I was sort of able to grow up in a really uninhibited house. I was able to really listen to any music that I wanted, and sort of learn any instrument. We never really had a lot of money, but that was never really a barrier for me. If I wanted to play drums, my dad would be like, “Alright, lets find you a drum kit,” and my mom would be the first person with sticks and say, “Okay, go for it.” So to have that kind of access, I mean, I could downplay that and say some famous musician, but I don’t think anyone’s been more influential on me than my family.
Dream bill of people you’d like to perform with?
Yeah. I like the idea of sort of more reclusive artists. Here’s the thing, there’s a bill of artists I would like to see perform, because I don’t deal that well with the pressure of playing with living legends or anything like that. But I’d love to get on stage and perform a couple songs and just watch like, I don’t know, Kate Bush, Tom Waits. I’d love to see Tom Waits and Run the Jewels play a show together. I think that they’d be really political, but then musically just super out on the fringes. I think that could be really awesome.
That’s about as good an answer as any that I’ve ever heard. So do you have a dream venue you would like to play at one day?
We’re getting to play a lot of them, to be honest. A lot of them are on this tour we’re doing right now with Half Moon Run. We got to play at Paradiso in Amsterdam, which is historic, and we’re playing at Roundhouse in London. Its got to be over 3,000 people. It’s a great venue in the capital city. On our last American tour we got to go to Lincoln Hall in Chicago. That venue was awesome. It wasn’t huge or anything but it was probably one of the best shows of our American tour last time. That one was really great. We’re doing a really small venue in the town that I grew up in Victoria called Lucky Bar. It’s just this little, like 200 person bar that I haven’t played at in six or seven years. That one just feels like a really fun venue to play at. I mean, I’d love to play at Carnegie Hall or somewhere like that. Here’s what I will say – I never would have thought that I would have gotten to play at places like Paradiso and Roundhouse and Lincoln Hall when I was first starting. When I was sixteen and had a little guitar and working on my first songs, so really, any venue that we go into that has an audience that’s ready and wants to see us play music feels like a huge accomplishment. I’m looking forward to just pursue that.
I saw that you’re a fan of Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Were you excited to see that he finally won an Oscar for best score this past year?
Yeah, [laughs] after what, like 60 years or something? Yeah, we were over here when that happened, so the Oscars were happening a little too late for us to stay up all night and watch it live. So I missed it live, but I watched a recap of all of it, and everyone was excited for Leo to win. I was most excited for Ennio to win, because you can feel however you want on award shows, but we should be recognizing people who are... I can actually say that he literally generated a genre of soundtrack music. He created a style that is maybe the most cinematic of music. This moving style of orchestral soundtrack music, so it seems insane that he wasn’t recognized when he was in sort of his prime, but I haven’t seen Hateful Eight to really comment on it, but I’m sure that its amazing, because he is a great composer and thinker of sound. So yeah, I’m totally excited.
Have you had a favorite meal so far on this tour? I understand you’re a pretty big fan of good food.
[Laughs] Yeah. We are about to go into France this week, so I guess I’ll tell you then. I mean, we just got into Italy, so we haven’t gotten a chance to really eat anything too crazy, but we’re in the region where like polenta and gorgonzola cheese [are from], so we’re in the area where there is a lot of good food. I’ll have to catch up with you after I’ve had what I’m going to eat in the next two weeks.