Knesset hail from Phoenix, Arizona. Like it or not, the place comes with an unshakable musical preconception. “People love to hate on Phoenix …But we’re back here now and we love it” writes bassist Eric on the bands newly acquired Tumblr, a blog in celebration of Phoenix in photos, links and essentially everything but the band’s music. Whether the birthplace of the band has had an influence on their sound or not is still up for debate, not least between members themselves. For any band it’s a question that demands a level of musical existentialism unlikely to provide clear answers. Knesset might have aspirations to join a scene of broody, internalized shoe-gazers that can be heard in their own sound, but are unable to deny a brilliant, sunny and more intrinsic edge that has ultimately set them apart.
The new album, Coming of Age, is a polished and eclectic effort, drifting in pace and style from tight and contemporary indie to loose, blissful rock. Serial Optimist caught up with bassist Eric Graf and vocalist Evan Fox to talk about the new record, Phoenix and the Israeli government. (Our interviews can get political, who knew?)
KNESSET’s first video is in production now and will be out soon. Until then, enjoy these three tracks off Coming of Age, they are beautiful, and you gotta know the sound of the band you’re reading an interview of right?
“Steady Hands” – Clickto listen
“Bitter Hearts” – Clickto listen
“San Francisco” – Clickto listen
Serial Optimist: It’s unlikely that your band name derives from Knesset, the legislative branch of the Israeli government. It does more understandably translate literally to ‘The Gathering’, is this a coincidence? Where does the name come from and what does it mean to you?
Eric Graf (Bassist): That is a coincidence. I’d actually start using that definition from now on when people ask us what the name means but it reminds me too much of the card game Magic. I think I’d rather have to explain some Israeli government stuff than reference Magic.
Evan Fox (Vocals): To clarify, our name is pronounced (KA-NESS-ET)
SO: Are you more comfortable in the studio or on-stage?
Eric: I much prefer being on stage. One of the best parts of being a musician is being on stage and ripping through a song you love to play in front of a bunch of people.
Evan: Opposite to Eric, I think I’d have to say being in the studio. For me, the studio is where I get to push my boundaries. It’s an endless spectrum of improvisation, creativity, and pulling out every trick you have in the book and expanding on it. On stage, I feel an expectation by the crowd to give them what they want versus what I want. It’s a happy medium I suppose. In the studio, there is no compromise.
SO: You hail from Phoenix, Arizona. So how well do you know it as a collection of venues? Do you think the place has bled into becoming a part of your sound?
Eric: I know Phoenix less for its venues or culture and more for the incredible ease of living and striking physical beauty. There’s a reason old people come here to chill out. It’s warm and relaxing. That’s not great for trying to establish your band or to make interesting things, but it’s fantastic for going swimming. All of us have lived in different places over the years, and I really think that any analogies or credit to the lifestyle or terrain of Arizona are, at best, coincidental or, at worst, forced.
Evan: It’s funny because, we’ve been told that our “sound” reminds them of Arizona. People coming here for the first time from other parts of the country or the world are welcomed by beautiful, epic scenery they’ve only imagined or pre-conceptualized. I’d like to think that’s what they’re hearing in our music. Personally, I take for granted the beauty this city has to offer. Eric on the other hand is an old soul. He can appreciate everyday life here, which can at times be far too slow for me.
SO: Are there any songs you like to play behind closed doors as a band? Any guilty pleasures?
Eric: The sort of ironic listening habits that seem to have popped up in our particular sub-culture have kind of marginalized the things that used to be “guilty pleasures,” like really schlocky pop music. But, outside of that, everyone who knows me knows that I have a lot “Paramore” and “Third Eye Blind” on my iPod and will take any chance to explain why those bands are just as worthy as whatever “cool” bands are being hyped this week.
Evan: Haha. I feel guilty about everything. I’d like to thank my Jewish Mother and Father for that.
SO: How do you stay fresh and inspired as a band?
Eric: It’s all about balance in life. Too much work, too much jamming, too much partying, too much anything kills the spark to create. Keeping things in moderation makes you want to play and write more than you do, so when you get in the studio or the practice space, you know what you want to work on. To me, that makes playing with each other feel fresh.
Evan: For the most part, I’m always thinking about something. Most of what’s going on in my head is just noise pollution but, when I can pull it together, it turns out. As long as the tape keeps playing upstairs, the game is on.
SO: Of the music that you’re listening to right now, what’s furthest sonically from your own sound?
Eric: Kid Cudi’s new album is on constant repeat and I’m trying to get the others to start listening to it. Fennesz’s “Endless Summer” is a soundtrack to my mornings. Anything with a guest verse by Drake is automatically on my brain. Those are artists we don’t sound like, right? There’s no Drake guest verse on our album that I’ve just been accidentally skipping over?
Evan: Hmmmm. This is a tough one. I put on Neurosis – “Times of Grace” the other day. One of the heaviest, and most epic records ever made in my humble opinion. I’m also really diggin’ on Active Child as of late.
No matter what I’m listening to at any given time, I feel like I’m always walking away with another notch on my “Creative Belt” so to speak.
SO: You’ve described yourself as indie meets shoegaze. Your life depends on it; pick one. I have a gun.
Eric: Whoa, you have a gun? Are you from Arizona, too? Those things are everywhere!
Evan: I think there is a right answer to this. What’s cool right now?
SO: Everyone has bad days; do you have to be in the right place to write a big satisfying chorus? How do you get the emotional dynamics of a record right? Can you fake it?
Eric: Faking it is definitely an option until you get your rhythm back. You have to be persistent. Writer’s block or feeling like you lost your mojo are just feelings you have to reach past. It helps to have people around you that you trust telling you what’s good and what isn’t.
Evan: Writing a solid chorus to any song is probably the hardest job I’ll ever have in my life. I have a library of unfinished material because the chorus hasn’t quite come to me yet. Or if it has, I know I can make it better. It has to be just right. You definitely CAN’T fake it, that’s for sure. I’m hoping they’ll come out with a pill soon that we can all take to help us write better choruses.
SO: What was the strangest moment whilst recording Coming of Age?
Evan: Sleeping on the floor, under an organ for about 2 months at Mitch’s house takes the cake for me. For the most part, it was the two of us experimenting with various instruments for our songs to add depth and character. Mitch and I are dangerously perfectionistic, so we never left the house.
Eric: Hell, I actually was a guest contributor! I guess I won the contributor lottery and that’s how I got an actual spot in the band. I would’ve preferred a giant check and a visit from Ed McMahon.
Evan: Michael Bell has been a long time friend of mine from playing in other bands and being part of the music scene here in Phoenix. I’ve toured with Mike on several different occasions either tour managing for his bands or just hanging out to see the country. He is a musical force to be reckoned with and we knew we needed him to be a part of it in some way. He helped with the production and percussion on the record. He also played drums on ‘Steady Hands’, ‘San Francisco’, and ‘Mother.’
SO: Is it unnerving to release a record out into the world? At what point were you happy to call it ‘finished’.
Eric: Finishing a record is always unnerving, because that’s the point where you can no longer tweak things or say “I’ll fix that later.” There is a certain relief in knowing it’s over, but it’s hard to finally say you’re really done.
Evan: There will always be things on Coming of Age that in hindsight, I would have changed. I think all artists have to come to a place of solitude with their creations. The hardest part isn’t making the record; it’s letting it go.
SO Note: The new record Coming of Age, is out now. Go grab a digital copy over at the bands site now!