Interview: No Knife

(this interview originally appeared in issue #33 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2003).


– interview by tom maxwell

If you had to pick one band who you thought would make it really, really big, who would it be? Personally, I’ve seen Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Blink (182), Jawbreaker, 311, Thrice, Sunny Day Real Estate, Death Cab for Cutie, Pedro the Lion and so many other great bands make it pretty fucking big and been well poised to see it happen. There is not a doubt in my mind that No Knife belongs on this list, but I can guarantee you that when this band hits the jackpot it will be on their terms and their own music. There will be no sell-out debacles here like in Blink 182’s or so many other band’s cases. No Knife’s Southern California roots and their heavy supporters who are actually often fellow musicians will prove their influence and significance. It’s crazy to think that bands such as Jimmy Eat World have cited No Knife as an inspiration and major influence. My love for No Knife is rooted in their sound, often danceable beats and rhythms, and lyrical ingenuity.

Words with Mitch Wilson, the lead singer of No Knife.

So you guys have been at it now for quite some time. Is this the strongest your following has ever been?
Mitch: Yeah, we’ve been playing for almost ten years now, and we’ve always been kind of low key as far as self-promotion. It seems to be going well lately; more people have been coming out to the shows.

Being as No Knife epitomizes the DIY attitude, how does it feel to make some waves based on your music and not how deep your pockets are (for marketing and such)?
It feels great. It is a long, slow process that requires a lot of hard work but it is rewarding too. We just love making and playing music. Through the years we’ve seen many examples of the bullshit aspect of the business that surrounds music and it’s something we just work around. We’ve tried to surround ourselves with people who put on shows or put out records or promote bands because they love music too, and they love what they do.

What era of music do you think plays the largest role of No Knife’s sound in terms of what you write and your inspiration?
I’d say the eighties to early nineties. Three huge influences early on were Pitchfork, Pixies, and The Cure. Inspiration comes from all eras, though, like one song will be a bad rip off of Erik Satie (a composer from the late 1800s), or we’ll use a Steel Pulse (70s-80s) call and response vocal style for something, or a chord change from an Edith Piaf (30s) tune. These are things that just show up when we write songs.

(As a response as if a rebuttal to your answer) Right, it seems like you could argue a number of time periods and types of music as influences of No Knife…
Yes, and not necessarily in ways you’d think. We’ve had some people liken us to DC bands of the late eighties, for example, and that may be true, but in a roundabout way. Their influences were filtered through bands like Pitchfork and aMiniature who we watched and listened to a lot growing up in San Diego. We try to find our own sound and style. Listening to fifteen bands that sound alike isn’t very interesting when there are so many bands out there that try to create something unique, so we make sure to draw from everything. Except Bluegrass.


“Riot For Romance” is definitely your most mature and musically challenging album to date. How would you say the band has changed from the early days? Has this been a fairly natural process or only through pain or challenges?
We’ve learned a lot about writing together and we’ve been through some crazy things together as well. I think we’ve learned to trust our instincts more and to try things that are out of character for this band, but I think we’ve learned how to detect a shit chorus or whatever and let it go instead of trying to make it fit somehow. This record was my favorite recording session ever and I think the guys would agree. We did it on a budget of nothing, and we had to do it around work schedules and the holidays, etc. It was hectic, desperate, and great fun. Time was a rare and precious thing to be stretched and manipulated. Greg (Wales, the Aussie producer) and I would take the train to the studio and work on vocals and sleep under the mixing console and smoke and drink too much and work everything up to a sort of frenzied pitch and then, like magic, things would just start flowing- ideas, lyrics… Songs. We wanted to make something that was vibrant and had movement to it.

I really think Riot For Romance” is filled with the moodiest tunes I’ve heard in a while. From the title track “Riot For Romance” to “The Red Bedroom” or “Swinging Lovers” (three phenomenal tracks) the listener is bombarded with so much to think about (lyrically and musically). What fuels this angst and how the hell do you keep things so interesting?
I’m not sure. All three of the songs you’ve mentioned were examples of writing words right before recording them. “The Red Bedroom” was recorded last year for a split CD with a great band from Tokyo called Nine Days Wonder but it was done in the same way. It is a harrowing process but I like the way it turns out better than the premeditatedlet-me-tell-you-a-story thing. We always go in for imagery more than a linear storyline. It seems to work better for me, at least. I always loved Robert Smith’s lyrics, especially on the “Pornography” album, just the way he conjured images in my mind’s eye and sort of provoked an emotional response without resorting to that sort of whiny boo hoo shit.

Shit, I listened to the album like five times the first day I heard it just trying to digest it. This was a complete album if I’ve ever heard one…
Thanks. I think it is more of a grow on you sort of affair, and not something for short attention spans. Of the four albums we’ve done, I feel that it has come the closest to what we set out to achieve. This collection of songs is closest to my heart.

I know that the band is not a full time gig, how far away are you from making the band your, I dare say, job or maybe livelihood, yeah that’s better?
We’ve learned to stop thinking on those terms because it was taking all the excitement out of making music. If it ever gets to a point where it becomes our livelihood then so much the better, as long as it occurs naturally and we don’t have to write for any reason other than to be creative and explore new directions in music. The music business can really turn you into a big asshole if you let it, and I’d like to remain in sort of an assholeless land.

No Knife at the Casbah in San Diego, CA

How do the fans in Japan compare to America? Is it easier to sell records there?I
In Japan they really get into all facets of music. I noticed a complete lack of sneering derision and ironic detachment. People like what they like and no one is the worse for it. I don’t know about selling records, but buying them is much easier there. They have some amazing record stores there, sort of like Amoeba but all over Tokyo especially. I spend the rent in their record stores…I have no will power.

I hate to ask, but what sparked the move to Better Looking (besides the fact that they are a pretty handsome bunch)?
Time Bomb, our old label, was sort of calling it a day and focusing on their management side. We had gone on hiatus to focus on the home lives we had been neglecting by touring solidly for the last several years. Brian got married, Chris and his wife bought a house, Ryan went back to school, and I went back to work. Several months later we were presented with an opportunity to record with Greg again because he was coming to the U.S. and a Czech label called Day After contacted us about putting something out over there. We knew Paul and Dave from Better Looking Records and we admire and respect their label and their love of all things music so we asked if they would do the licensing for the States. They agreed and have worked really hard on getting the record out there.

I know it usually takes you guys a few years to put out new albums, but what have you got in the works right now?
Well, this summer we are planning some West Coast dates with Nine Days Wonder and we are excited about that. They have never been to America so we will have to show them a good time.We also have a few songs that didn’t get done for the record so we hope to get them finished and ready for release. We even did a Siouxsie and the Banshees cover song a while back that needs one more guitar and the vocals. We will hopefully be scoring some or all of our friends’ film, and we’re finishing up a video that we shot for “The Red Bedroom” that hopefully will be done by late June/early July.

Well, thanks a lot, and people can check you out sporadically in and around San Diego?
Yes, we’ll be doing a few shows over the summer in San Diego and Los Angeles. Also, our website is getting a makeover soon, and our address is so go there to hear live stuff, see photos from the recent tour with Cursive and to get news and show dates. People can go to see No Knife related interviews and to buy the new Jealous Sound record, too! Thanks, see ya.