Wednesday, May 27, 2009
[INTERVIEW] Brent Knopf of Menomena/Ramona Falls
I recently had the great pleasure of talking with Brent Knopf of Menomena about his upcoming solo project, getting Menomena's music into Hummer ads, and his love for Bon Iver. Check it out:
Brent Knopf: Hey, thanks so much for the call.
Come on Chemicals: Thanks so much for talking with me. So, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I’ve been listening to the two tracks, so far, off the Ramona Falls record, and I’m really liking it.
CoC: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the whole process of recording the album, how it was done.
BK: Sure, let’s see, the intensive recording started in January, that’s when I got really serious about it, and I set out to record about 13 songs and I ended up finishing these 11 songs. I collaborated with a whole bunch of friends, and with each person, I would go over to their space, their home or church or practice room or whatever, and would record with them for about two and a half hours. So, I’d set up, and then for the first half, they would play along with whatever I had prepared, and then for the 2nd half of the time, I had pre-designed ideas that I was hoping to ask them to implement or interpret, or I’d have a beat in mind or a melody in mind. And so that was the collaborative part of it, but the rest of it was pretty much just me trying to conspire against my own procrastinating and perfectionist tendencies to try and make actual progress.
CoC: Did you record it on your own, with your own stuff, not in a studio?
BK: Yeah, it was really on a budget, so I did it on my own.
CoC: How much of the songs ended up being your ideas of what they should play, and how much was the players’ own ideas, that ended up being on the record?
BK: That’s a good question…I mean, the whole idea for asking people to come up with ideas is to try and create a space for happy accidents, and then to have those takes be amongst the takes to choose from when assembling composite tracks. So I’d say probably 20 percent was stuff that they had improvised, and 80 percent was stuff I knew I wanted, but they would often play off each other in ways I didn’t predict, so that was pretty cool. But for the most part I had a vision, I had a preconceived notion of what I wanted, but I also wanted to create a space for freedom, for some improvisation and some mistakes, because often in mistakes is where the best ideas are.
CoC: So were these songs things that you knew wouldn’t work with the band, or ones that you brought to them and they didn’t like? Why the solo project?
BK: Menomena has first dibs over what I write, and that’s of my choosing. So some of these songs I gave to them and there was no response to them, and so when it became clear that the Menomena record was going to take longer to record than we anticipated, I set about choosing a handful of songs that I was really interested in, that I decided to finish. So there were a few songs that the band had heard demos of, but didn’t really respond to, and so, that’s fine, you know, I don’t expect everything I write to be their cup of tea. And then there was a couple other songs that I kind of knew beforehand that they wouldn’t be interested in anyways.
CoC: Along those lines, is there a certain aspect to a song that makes it either a “Menomena song” or a “solo song”?
BK: There probably is some sort of subconscious mechanism where I kind of am secretly weighing what I perceive to be how they’ll react one way or another. Honestly I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason to it, I know that what makes a Menomena song is if all of us dive into a song. I think a lot of it is up to Danny (Seim) and Justin (Harris) and what they choose to dive into. So the fact that some of these songs were songs they didn’t choose to dive into, it just meant that since they’re not involved, its not Menomena. It’s a pretty fluid territory between stuff I write for Ramona Falls and stuff I write for Menomena. Its not like I put on a completely different writing aesthetic when I’m writing for Menomena. It’s pretty much straight from the heart, no matter what. I just try and write what interests me and I hope that it happens to resonates with them as well. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
CoC: Are you planning on playing shows with the Ramona Falls material?
BK: Yes, I’m hoping, it’s kind of short notice for our booking agent, but I’m really hoping to do some touring in August and September, and maybe beyond.
CoC: I just read the Pitchfork feature about the new Menomena album. Have you guys started pulling together stuff for it yet?
BK: Yeah, its an amorphous process, its hard to really put my finger on it and speak accurately, but, we’ve been working on it for the last couple years and I think that its agreed that the next few months will be the very focused time for us to work together.
CoC: Do you have any new toys that you’ve been playing with in the studio?
BK: (laughs) No, that would probably be a good idea. It never crosses my mind to buy new things. No, not that I know of, I know Justin was shopping for a triangle the other day, I think he was looking for an upside down one. (laughs) I haven’t made any big instrument purchases, I think we’re just dealing with what we have, if the need arises we can dive into other instruments.
CoC: What’s the next step you want the band to take, as far as certain things you still want to do?
BK: You mean besides having our music licensed in Hummer ads?
CoC: Of course, of course. (laughs)
BK: I think each of us has a different conception of what it means to be successful or living our dream or whatever. I already feel incredibly lucky, to me, the fact that I got fired from my day job and that I didn’t have to go get a new one makes me feel like the luckiest person on the planet, I already feel pretty happy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t . . . I’m sure we all have our set of goals and ambitions of what’s next, for me I’d love to see Menomena be more fully integrated in our writing and recording process. There’s all sorts of interpersonal things I’d love to see, but in terms of artistically, I think I’d like to see an album that is, you know, challenging for us to make and an album that means something to us and feels authentic. It’s a whole bunch of mushy mushy speak basically, but honestly that’s it, I mean, I love playing shows and it is really gratifying when someone comes up to me or us and lets us know that our music has meant something to them, but I wont be depressed if we don’t play the halftime Super Bowl show by 2012 or something. I get more gratification from making the albums and the process of writing and recording the music. Then I think we’re really lucky that we’re able to tour and to do this.
CoC: Speaking of touring are you guys excited to play Chicago this weekend?
BK: We are, yeah, absolutely. The Do Division Street Festival, right? And the Empty Bottle, that is one of our favorite, favorite clubs in Chicago. Yeah, it’s the last two shows on our calendar, its always a little nerve-wracking because we’re going to be using a lot of borrowed and rented gear and our setup is so sensitive on things being just right, so I’m a little nervous but I hope it will, I’m sure it will work out.
CoC: Favorite band of the moment?
BK: Current or past?
CoC: Let’s do current.
BK: Seeing Bon Iver live, a couple times, was definitely . . . it was really enchanting. I feel really lucky that I got to see Bon Iver live. And then I think the band The National is another one that I just adore. And then there’s a band here in Portland , his name's Matt Sheehy, I like his last record. Then there’s a band from like 1979 called the Homosexuals, from England, and that’s been my favorite record of the last couple years. It’s this strange art-punk music and its kind of been my favorite record of the last couple years. They only released obscure vinyl back then and it got compiled into a CD in 1984. I only found out about it a couple years ago, and ever since I’ve been really into it.
CoC: Well that’s all I’ve got, thanks so much for taking the time to talk.
BK: Well hey , thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate your curiosity.
Brent's solo album under the Ramona Falls moniker, Intuit, comes out August 18. Read more about it here, and listen to two of the tracks here.
As mentioned, Menomena is in Chicago this weekend:
Sunday May 31st -Do Division Street Fest (w/White Rabbits) - Chicago IL
Monday June 1 - The Empty Bottle - Chicago IL