A unique story, told in the band's own words.
Knifes have just released their debut EP 'Proof Of Concept', a culmination of years of work and fine tuning.
The band started off the back of guitarist Ben Young deciding to write songs of his own after getting a taste for the playing two shows as lead guitarist for Linkin Park when Brad Delson, who he was teching for, was sick. He then teamed up with fellow LP crew member Warren Johnson, who now plays drums, to bring his vision to life. The duo later went on to tech for Fall Out Boy, where they were joined in their rock and roll odsyssey by Pete Wentz' long time bass tech Brian Diaz on, well, bass.
After plenty of jam sessions, brain storms and detail changes at any moment of downtime they had, 'Proof Of Concept' shows off a trio of musicians playing with no boundaries or concerns. It's a rare example of music made with no plan or pretence. Just three friends making whatever art comes to mind.
We jumped on a call with the band to discuss inspirations, influences and ideas for the future...
How does it feel to have this project finally out in the world?
Says Ben: “It feels good. We didn’t want to tell people to listen to us before we had anything to say.”
Says Brian: “Before we didn’t really have the time to do anything. Now the whole world is on pause right now, so we have been able to focus on this rather than doing other things. It seems as though all of this has happened so fast but everything was in place. We had recordings that we had already done and then it just seemed right to make things move along now that we have the time to do it.”
So is this band something you have always wanted to do? Has there always been that niggle to put something together that was yours?
Says Warren: “I think that exists within everybody who picks up an instrument before they decide to do what we do. Whether you’re singing into a hairbrush or playing guitar with a tennis racket, it’s there. We didn’t get into what we do career wise because we wanted to be sleeping on a tour bus or hanging out in airports all the time. It’s because you like playing music and facilitating music happening constantly.”
Ben: “I agree with Warren, but also Warren was already a really good drummer and had the ability in him. Diaz had also been in some other bands. For me, I got into working with bands because I couldn’t do it. I’m no good at this guitar or any of these things, so this is the next best thing. But then after I had played some shows for Linkin Park, that’s when I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this’. If I can play these songs in front of all of these people, then maybe I can actually write my own songs. After Warren and me started jamming and wrote something he said to me, ‘Dude, I’ve got that chorus stuck in my head’. That’s when I was like, ‘What?!? Something I wrote is stuck in your head?’ That’s where we kept pushing forwards.”
Brian: “That’s an interesting feeling as well. As Ben said I’ve played in a couple of bands and toured years ago before I started working for bands. Working with other people and playing their music and helping them perform their music, there’s always the sticking point where you go, ‘Damn, I could actually do this’. There’s a few musicians that I’m totally blown away by, but for the most part it’s just dudes like us who happen to hit it off. The thing was that the music industry changed so much around me as I was thinking this, and it’s definitely different to how things were when I first started playing back in 2003/2004.”
You’ve all seen from a very unique perspective how the industry and changed and adapted over the years. It’s not just having the time to plan it all out, it’s actually knowing how things work in 2020 compared to the past…
Ben: “I’m very much a sponge for whatever is around me. So from having these 15 years of touring with bands who write huge choruses and have these huge hit songs, part of that sunk into my brain. For example a lot of the songs that I was writing when I was working for Linkin Park, they didn’t sound like Linkin park songs but I knew that there was some Linkin Park things that I was doing. You’re around it so much and hear these songs so much that they just sink into you. They become a part of your songwriting muscle.”
At those shows that you guys did actually play with the bands that you were working for, what did you actually feel? What are your memories of being stood on those stages?
Ben: “When you’re in the moment and it’s happening, it’s all about the baby steps to get you there to help it all make sense. But then when it’s all done and you take that step back, that’s when you say, ‘Hold on, I was just the lead guitarist for Linkin Park in front of 50,000 people’ or ‘I just played a bunch of shows as the lead guitar player for Fall Out Boy in Europe’. Those are the things that make you realise that doing these things is insane. Logically though, you had to make it to that point. You didn’t just wake up one day and you were dropped in there.”
Warren: “I was mostly overwhelmed by the people. In some of those venues, the people just don’t seem to stop. There are heads that go back as far as is possible.”
Ben: “The other thing is that a lot of these musicians have 15 years worth of muscle memory and there just letting me jump on stage and do this. They don’t actually know that I’m not going to train wreck their show right now. For me it’s about concentrating on the different parts of the songs and remembering what comes next and not freak out on stage too much. There were moments of, ‘Cool look what I’m doing’ but then also lots of ‘Don’t mess up’.”
So when it came to actually working on your own songs, what was the first track that really started to come to life? How did that song then build into the collection of songs you now have?
Ben: “For me, I just love guitar riffs. So when I’m writing I’ll just say, ‘What’s a cool riff?’ If I don’t have a cool instrumental thing first, then the song will bore me. I know other bands will write lyrically first but that just doesn’t make sense for us. So when I have a cool riff, I then bring it to Warren who is going to play some cool drum parts and we flesh it out from there.”
Warren: “In the beginning, these songs were just voice memos with, ‘What time signature is this?’ added onto the end.”
Ben: “For the first two of three years when it was just Warren and me, we obviously didn’t have a bass player. I was trying to write a bunch of those parts too. It was when he had six songs or so, that was when we both started working for Fall Out Boy. We had known Diaz for years at this point as well and we just said, ‘Dude, you live in LA and we’re on the same touring schedule. You’re in our band now’. We knew he was a good bass player to begin with, but we simply didn’t give him the option.”
Brian: “Those voice memos, which were just room recordings of Ben and Warren, were what I ended up actually learning the songs off of. I needed to actually play the songs but I needed to feel and hear everything that was going on. ‘Standard Issue Frustration’ was one of the first songs they sent me because it was in such an odd time signature and that’s when I thought, ‘Shit I have to learn how to count to be able to do this’. It’s not like when you’re playing a Fall Out Boy song or anything.”
Ben: “The funny part is that Warren is such a fantastic drummer and went to school for it, and then there’s me who is doing it all by feel. I’ve got to the point where I’ve stopped trying to tell him what time signature all of this is in and just getting him to listen to what I play and seeing if it makes sense.”
Once again, making music like that is very old school and raw. It’s another way that shows you just want to make music that sounds good and exciting, which is the main reason why anyone started playing in the first place…
Ben: “Exactly. I would be sending voice notes of riffs that I was just making with my mouth. I was just walking down the street one day, the riff for ‘Standard Issue Frustration’ popped into my head and I just got my phone out and made that sound. That’s how it started. But then I can bring a riff to Warren and he interprets it, I can then start hearing it completely differently. It becomes better because of that connection. That’s how we know it works.”
Brian: “The thing is that I’ve played with hundreds and hundreds of people over the years, and with so many of them you just don’t click. You can play together and show someone your idea and they say it’s cool but you simply never do it again because that click wasn’t there. I don’t know if it’s from being around each other all the time and speaking the same musical language, but it just works. We have that personal and that musical language. It’s much easier then to get into a rehearsal and a recording space and do it. It’s super easy to communicate that when other times it’s so difficult to communicate the most simple of things.”
Ben: “There are so many bands in the world, and there are the ones which work where you know that the pieces all just fell together at the same time. There are so many times that the one piece doesn’t fit and things just don’t turn into what they wanted it to be.”
So what did you want this EP in particular to feel like? What was the intention in terms of the aesthetic?
Ben: “Part of it isn’t consciously thought out, but I think that this batch of songs was the earliest batch that we had written. There were a few other songs that when you started compiling didn’t feel like they would fit. I think that we were just trying to skew things that little bit heavier, not that we’re a heavy band. There is an aggressive tone to what we have been writing, and for this EP we wanted to show off that a little bit more rather than showcase some of our more punk tracks. These songs just seemed to fit together in a way that felt right. On the backburner, we have two other EPs worth of songs recorded and ready to go.”
Brian: “Sometimes we will go from one thing to another just while we are rehearsing and it’s such a change. We go from something that’s so heavy and driving into something lighter and it feels like you’re in two different bands at the same time.”
You’re basically just getting whatever sound and style you want out and letting the passion for writing override everything else…
Ben: “Exactly, we’re just making the sound that we want to make. We can sound like Helmet on one song and blink-182 on another.”
Brian: “It’s pretty much a product of all of the bands that we are constantly surrounding ourselves with. You hear something enough, and whether or not you admit it it’s in your subconscious. I hear ‘Sugar, We’re Going Down’ in my sleep.”
It’s not just musically that these bands rub off on you, but also professionally…
Warren: "You get to pick and choose what you pick up along the way as well. What might work for Seal probably won’t work for Slipknot. It’s all depending on what’s going on."
So what does this project look like as you look forwards into the future?
Ben: "In the short term, if we can play a dive bar and 50 people show up then that’s great. But watching the reaction to ‘The Comedown’ coming out has been very much like, ‘Okay’. If you can put something out and you’re happy with it, that’s one thing. But then there’s a vindication when other people like it. They’re not just listening on Spotify, they’re actually following our band on socials so we know that they are listening and saying, ‘Tell me when there’s more coming’. I think we are definitely setting ourselves up for people to grow into our band and like us."
Brian: “Because no one can play shows right now, it’s kind of levelling the playing field for us to get a bit of a leg up. Honestly when things open up a bit more again, we will be able to play before any of the bands we work for get to play. Realistically we aren’t going to be playing in arenas of theatres. I think we will be able to play before we’re actually working again.”
Ben: “We will be ready to play at a moment's notice.”