July 24, 2012

Interview: Bloody Knives

There's something completely, unmistakably urgent about the music of Bloody Knives. Every track from the Austin, TX noise-pop trio seems to radiate with immediate chaos and confusion. Imagine a nightmare where you're running without end from some great, unknown thing. And in the stupor of dream, you're also floating above the scene, assuring yourself it's not happening at all. Like a submarine rapidly filling with torrents of water while the crew lie blissed out and unaware, Bloody Knives make beautiful, spacious melodies over torrential walls of 8-bit electronics and noise. And, excluding the bass, they do it with without a single guitar.

The band, consisting of Preston Maddox (bass/vocals/programming), Jake McCown (drums/programming), and recent addition Jim Moon (sample manipulation), just released a new album, Blood, in May on what is slowly becoming one of the best outlets for new shoegaze and dreampop, Saint Marie Records. The record has attracted good reviews (even Spin gave it the nod in their very particular way) and I was lucky enough to recently talk to Preston of the band about the new record, about why Austin's local music scene needs more respect from it's own city, and other things. Read on.

How did Bloody Knives start? I understand some of you were in a shoegaze band called The Joy Bus prior to this group's formation?

Bloody Knives started as a two piece with Jake and myself after Joy Bus broke up. Joy Bus broke up after our second tour. The band had lived together, so there was a period of time where we had to find new places to live, new place to rehearse/record. I wanted to play live as soon as we could so I started writing the songs that became the Bloody Knives EP. Jake got back in town, we found a place to practice and record. Our first show was in San Antonio and we scared off the audience, who were these hippy kids having a really nice bouncy shroom trip. We sent them on the wrong direction and out the door. It was a proper first show for us.

Is there a significance behind the name Bloody Knives?

Horror movies, ghosts, stabbing deaths in my neighborhood, violence, lust, greed, envy. I wanted to have a band that was all of those things.

The name came to me when I was driving around one night. I thought "nobody would name their band this" and I couldn't find anyone that had. When Jake and everybody else I told the name to didn't like it I knew it was the right name.

What ideas about making music and running a band did you take from that project to this one, if any?

We learned how to tour in Joy Bus. Our first tour was a real test. It took 3 solid months to book. We were out for three weeks, playing almost every night. Our only band-friends at the time (Me You Us Them, Brian Nothing) were on the east coast, so we figured if we took 1/2 the US from Austin to NYC and back we could at least find some places that would let us play and make 3 weeks out of it. We met some great bands on that tour, some of which we still play shows with today.

One of the biggest mistakes I see young bands make is trying to choose their audience. Your audience chooses you, not the other way around. It is important to keep that in mind.

Aside from that, when that band was done that was really it for me, I was ready to move on. I had always wanted to be able to incorporate electronics into punk music and the technology finally existed for me to do that. Previous to that band Jake and I had been playing much more experimental non-rock music and it was good to have a band to get us back playing punk rock like we started out. 


You guys make a really specific type of music that I hesitate to call shoegaze, kind of a mix of deafening fuzz and piercing synth lines that actually might need it's own genre name to describe. Spin Magazine's recent (140 character) review of your new record "Blood" referred to you as "Boo Radleys plus angst, Atari Teenage Riot minus Teutonic anger." How would you describe your sound to the uninitiated?

We are a punk rock band with noises instead of guitars and singing instead of screaming.


What pedals and synths go into making this? Would you describe yourselves as gear heads?


I'm an anti-gearhead. I worked at a guitar store and I lost most of my respect for good gear.  While I appreciate good gear, it seems like only untalented people rely on it.  I like using crappy gear nobody likes anymore. Its more of a challenge to use the forgotten nostalgia of another generation to create new nostalgia. 

I play shitty basses live because I tear them up so often. I play a PV Cirrus bass on the record. Its the best bass I have ever played, my favorite at least. I use Boss pedals because they don't break but I'm a huge fan of Electro Harmonix pedals. On this record I used a Big Muff and a Space Echo.

All of the melodies were played on a Micro Korg. I change the rules for what I am going to do for each record and that instrument set-up was the one.

Moving aside the aformentioned confusing Spin review, your new album "Blood" has been quite well received. Could you talk about how this record was written and recorded?

We did 30 demos for the record then cut it down to 9 songs. Some of the cut songs have made their way onto compilations (Whatever You Want, Broken, What You Need), others are just going to sit on the computer to eventually be erased, maybe an EP. Who knows.

The majority of the record are first takes when the songs were being written. I wanted to try and keep the rawness of the initial takes and clean it up in the final phases of the record.

We recorded everything in my home studio set up in my garage on a shitty Dell computer with Pro Tools LE8 on a Digi 002 Rack.

What non-musical things (books, films, other art) have recently inspired your work?

I have been uninterested in most art and books, other than in a passive general sense. There is so much information out there now, I've gotten to the point where I'm overloaded and can't take in anymore. Only fragments make their way into my brain.

I've been most uninterested in works where there is an initial concept that is being forced on me. Art with an agenda as opposed to art that is a re-creation of the world. I would rather be presented ideas than have them sold to me.

I'm always watching horror/sci-fi movies. Bad ones, good ones, whatever.

I try and understand vague things, like understanding a mood that is created, how it gets created and why people need that.  Intangible concepts and their manifestations in everyday life interest me most.

A few other notable "shoegaze" acts, including Ringo Deathstarr also hail from Austin. The city is well known for it's various music festivals so this might be a given, but do you guys see the city's music scene as being especially supportive to outlier genres such as shoegaze and noise pop?

I don't see Austin as being truly supportive of anything musical that is its own, other than maybe Alt Country/Nu Country and Blues.

There is a place for everything here, sure, but that doesn't mean there is an audience that gives a shit, or a media that cares to talk about it.

Austinites are spoiled by the huge festivals and large name acts that come through town.  There is so much quality entertainment here that the local scene just gets missed by those who do not take an active interest in it.

Most bands gain success in other cities through other means, and then become known in Austin. Ringo Deathstarr is a good example of that.

We have good shows here, and we also have shows that suck.  Overall we are better received in other parts of the country than we are in our own hometown.  Coming back home to Austin is always disappointing after a tour.

There are scenes I guess, where the same group of people in bands go see their other friends bands. Those that participate in that scene benefit from it.

I think we have one of the best local music scenes in the country, its a shame that people take it for granted sometimes. 

What sucks about playing music and being a touring band today that would change in a perfect world?

Money.

The average person does not have the kind of money they had 20-30 years ago. Its hard to support entertainment when you don't have the available cash to do so.  Its hard to go on tour without the money to do so either. Rich people don't really support punk rock, or music in general. Its the music of the people and has to be supported by that group or it goes away, or the quality suffers.

Its basic business really. Revenue goes down and costs go up. Its not sustainable. The end result is that bands that have good jobs, or parents with money rise to the top of the group and end up with the moneymaking opportunities.

Its not fair to put the burden on the audience. There is blame on to the artist too.  As soon as it became cool to not put on a show rock and roll went downhill fast.

Who are some of your favorite contemporaries in music these days?


What bands/people in music or otherwise do you wish to start beef with?

I don't want to call anybody out specifically, I hate them too much to mention their name in public.

Bands that try and change set times at the show to get the best slot because you "have to work early" or whatever.  Everybody sees through your bullshit.

Bands that sound like Vampire Weekend but give themselves a violent name.  So weak.

Bands that leave the show but then come back at the end of the night after not bringing anybody or staying to enjoy the other bands.

Shitty bands that jump on our touring shows without bringing anybody, then want to get paid at the end of the night.

Bands that ask for my touring connects because they are too lazy to do the work and find them for themselves.

Any shout outs?

Shout out to the Beerland fam in ATX. Shout out to all the fans. Shout out to SMR. Shout out to all the writers, photographers, booking agents and other people involved in the workings of the music business that have helped us along.

Stream: Bloody Knives - Blood

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