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INTERVIEW: THE KNOCKS AT ILLFEST





INTERVIEW: THE KNOCKS AT ILLFEST

 Fresh off a nearly three year hiatus from performing in front of audiences, the Knocks arrived in Austin to perform as a funk/dance outlier in an otherwise EDM-dominated lineup at Illfest. The duo comprising the Knocks, Ben ‘B-roc’ Ruttner and James ‘JPatt’ Patterson, were comfortably sipping tequila out of red cups in their backstage camper trying to break into their old pre-show ritual when we sat down with them for a post-pandemic breakdown. The New York based master collaborators spoke on their much-delayed upcoming album, Nu Disco’s resurgence, their Indie-Pop beginnings and why the Knocks might be considered the ‘Nas of Disco’.

 Interview by Lee Ackerley

 

 

It’s good to have you back in Austin!  You came here a lot for SXSW, what do you like doing here?

 

JPatt:

I don't know. I don't think we really have a routine. We just come and kick it, honestly.

B-Roc:

Yeah. Austin, for us, used to be SXSW always, for years.

So a lot of barbecue.

JPatt:

Yeah.

B-Roc:

Yeah. And that's very cliche I feel, but that was the thing, but we miss Southwest.

JPatt:

Seeing the homies.

B-Roc:

Yeah. Now we've got some homies down here. It feels like a lot of people have moved here from places like LA, and New York, and stuff. So we have a lot of transplant friends here.

 B-Roc:

But this is our first festival since COVID, and even before COVID, we hadn't played a festival

 JPatt:

I don't think we've ever played a festival here.

 B-Roc:

In Austin? I don't know. Yeah, other than SXSW

 JPatt:

Other than SXSW.

 

I was going to say, have you guys forgot how to play live? It's been a minute.

 

 B-Roc:

We were just talking about that. It's like our first time on a festival stage. It's been so long.

 JPatt:

We're not going to be playing live though. We're just DJing.

 B-Roc:

Yeah. We're just DJing.

 

So you've had a few DJ sets to tune up, but the tour's this spring.

 

B-Roc:

Yeah.

 JPatt:

Yeah.


Awesome. Is there anybody here that you'd look around that you'd like to see? I know it's not your typical group.

 

B-Roc:

I saw Phantogram was on there, which I really like Phantogram. Besides that, it's a lot of bass music, which is not totally our thing, more heavy stuff. So hopefully we'll stick out a little bit by playing a little bit more funky and groovy stuff. It should be fun. But yeah, we're just excited to just play a festival again. It's been a while.

 JPatt:

Yeah. It just feels good to be back.

 B-Roc:

We were just saying, "We were nervous coming over here and it's like our first time. It's been so long." But then once you're back in the trailer, you've got some tequila, the old feeling comes back.

 JPatt:

Speaking of tequila...

 

You guys mentioned that, at one point, you wanted to be like the Neptunes, and mainly produce artists. If you had remained on that track, who do you think you'd be producing, or who would you want to produce today?

 

B-Roc:

That's a good question.

 JPatt:

Someone that isn't out today. Probably some new artists that were...

 B-Roc:

I don't know. That's a good question. The cool thing is that we started off wanting to do that, be more producers in the room with artists. And then we got sick of that game, because getting into it, it's a lot of following the rules of "All right, we got this thing. We want it to sound like Britney Spears meets fucking whoever/whatever."

 JPatt:

It's a lot of call sheets.

 B-Roc:

And it's a lot of pitching stuff and getting let down, so that kind of turned us to "Let's just make our own shit." And the goal always was, "Let's make our own shit until those people that want pop songs and stuff come to us for the sound that they know from The Knocks," which has finally now been happening, which is cool. We did that Purple Disco song. We got a song with Kungs coming out that we did for him. So a lot of these other electronic artists are coming to us, whether it's a collab, or just helping them with records and more pop stuff. We did the Carly Rae Jepsen song.

 JPatt:

It's a long road.

 B-Roc:

Yeah, but it's now that people... They come to us for us, and not try to get... You and 1000 other producers are going to pitch this song.

 JPatt:

It's a long game, but it's worth it, because now people probably are like, "Oh, we want a song that sounds like that Knocks thing."

 B-Roc:

Yeah. So it worked out for the best for sure, but now we're definitely trying to get back into doing more of that, now that we're getting older, and not trying to tour as much, and just trying to be in the studio more.

 

Are there any unknown artists you discovered during pandemic?

 

B-Roc:

I discovered one, yeah. A girl named Juliana Madrid. She's actually a Texas local. She's from Dallas and she's 20 years old. Insanely talented singer/songwriter chick. So total different vibe, but that kept me very busy.

 JPatt:

I didn't discover anyone.

 B-Roc:

We actually met her in Dallas at a show. She came to a Knocks show, was dragged by her friends and ended up... Found her on Instagram and kept in touch, and now signing a record deal and everything. So it's cool.

 

Awesome. I know you're into jazz fusion. You mentioned you're getting into Tavares during pandemic. Have you geeked out...

 

B-Roc:

You've done your research.

 JPatt:

I think the Tavares version of More Than A Woman's better than the Bee Gee's version.

 

That’s a hot take. So you guys recorded the new album two years ago and you've had two years to just pick at it and go through it. How's that process been different?

 

B-Roc:

It's been nice. It gives you more time to sit on stuff. Usually it would be like, "We got the single out. We got to finish the album and get it done." So you just commit, which is also something to be said about that, but being able to really live with something, not listen to it for three months and then open it back up and be like, "This is great for me, and change this."

 JPatt:

And we got a chance to add new songs.

 B-Roc:

Yeah, last minute we added a couple. I don't know. It kind of makes us want to spend that much time on every album.

 JPatt:

You realize guys like Nas take like seven years to put out an album.

 B-Roc:

Because we're basically Nas.

 JPatt:

Because we're Nas. We're the Nas of disco.

I don't know. Did you guys read that book? Meet Me in the Bathroom? It's all about-

 

B-Roc:

I did, yeah.

 JPatt:

Yeah.

 

If you guys had that group in New York, what groups or artists... I know Neon Gold would be heavily involved.

 

B-Roc:

Totally, yeah.

 

But who would be the interviews in your book?

 

B-Roc:

Oh, that's a good question. We came in at the very tail end of that scene. I remember going to parties and seeing the Interpol guys and shit. But our scene was probably more the Neon Gold scene.

 JPatt:

The Americans.

 B-Roc:

It was a lot of the indie pop stuff, like Ellie Goulding.

 JPatt:

Yeah, Ellie Goulding.

 B-Roc:

Marina and the Diamonds.

 JPatt:

Neon Indian.

 B-Roc:

Yeah, that kind of whole... It was the bloghouse days.

 JPatt:

Or French Horn Rebellion.

 B-Roc:

Bag Raiders.

 JPatt:

Those are still going.

 

They're still going. I read that you're doing a Cannons collab and a Cold War Kids collab.

 

B-Roc:

Yeah.

 

Any other artists that are popping up on the album?

 

B-Roc:

Donna Missal. I don't know if you know her. She's awesome. She's on the next single. Who else we got in there? Another song with Powers, who was on our big song, Classic. And then Tee. That song already came out. I'm trying to think who else? We did a song with a guy from Coin, the band.

 JPatt:

This is our first record without a rap [crosstalk 00:06:18] rap feature.

 B-Roc:

Yeah, we always have a rapper.

 JPatt:

We usually had Method Man, and Cam'ron, and Wyclef.

 B-Roc:

We went back to our roots of more indie dance stuff. We feel like a lot of people right now, between Dua Lipa basically making a new disco album, and Doja Cat, all these people doing disco pop. It's like, "Wait. We've been doing this for 10 years."

 JPatt:

A lot of people are like, "Did you produce the new Dua song?" And we're just-

 B-Roc:

When that Dua song came out, I got so many text messages. So we're like, "Let's go back and do some of this, because this is our bread and butter." And I feel like for a while, we were almost too early on it. People weren't ready for it, and now it's top 40. So now it's like, "Fuck. Now if we put this album out, people are going to think we're chasing."

 JPatt:

It's good that our fans have been fans of us their whole lives, so they're going to know.

 B-Roc:

They're going to know that we're not jumping on the bandwagon.

 JPatt:

They'll educate the rest of the people.

 B-Roc:

But it feels like our first album, in the sense that there's a lot more features and there's a lot of alternative features, which is cool.

 

Nu disco's had waves throughout the years. Would you say there's another renaissance now? Because you mentioned Dua Lipa kind of brought it back with Future Nostalgia.

 

B-Roc:

Yeah, I think that bloggy era is kind of coming back in general. Everything happens I feel like in 10 years, in cycles. But not only just the blog, not the disco stuff even. I think disco's influence and stuff is just always going to be around. It just never goes away.

 JPatt:

Disco is like funk. It's never going to-

 B-Roc:

Yeah, it's very broad. But I do think that whole electroclash vibe is coming back. I don't know if you heard that band, Wet Leg.

 JPatt:

A lot of faster-

 B-Roc:

Where it's almost like Peaches or some shit, where it's kind of talky-singy, and punky "yeah, yeah, yeahs" kind of thing, which I love and I'm excited for that. It's like dance rock, which I'm really into, and our Cold War Kids song reminds me of that. It kind of sounds like a Rapture song or something. That was band was a huge one in New York for us.

 JPatt:

Which is still bloghouse. It's not bloghouse. It's blog-era.

 B-Roc:

Yeah. It was just that era of stuff that didn't play on the radio, but was still big, and you had to know about it to know about it.

 

When you guys first started out, you were playing in a band for a guy named Samuel.

 

B-Roc:

Oh, wow. You went deep.


Whatever happened to Samuel? Didnt he help the Knocks get started.

 

B-Roc:

He's in Mexico.

 JPatt:

He's in Guatemala.

 B-Roc:

Guatemala, sorry. Yeah. He was actually staying at my house a couple months ago.

 JPatt:

Just chilling. Same old fucking Sam.

 B-Roc:

Yeah, he doesn't make music anymore, but he's actually a tattoo artist and visual artist.

 JPatt:

Same old fucking Sam.

 B-Roc:

One of the oldest, and we owe a lot to him.

 JPatt:

Yeah, he's the man.

 B-Roc:

Finding him inspired us to lean into the pop music stuff and get better as producers, so it kind of broke up stuff. And it was our first time dealing with a major label. I was his manager when I was like 19 years old. We got him signed to Columbia Records. We had no idea what we were fucking doing. We went to LA and we're like, "We made it!" And then he got dropped. So it was a great learning experience, the whole thing. It kind of prepared us for our career I think. Not to belittle his, but…


Absolutely. Is there anything about touring that you guys absolutely hate that you're not looking forward to?

 

B-Roc:

I love that question. I could go on for a day.

 JPatt:

Well, there's touring and then there’s touring.

 B-Roc:

I have a dog now, so it's harder. I got a pandemic dog.

 JPatt:

I don't really love being away from home for that long. I don't.

 B-Roc:

We did a three-month-long tour with Justin Bieber.

 JPatt:

I hated it by the end. I was just so sad.

 B-Roc:

It was so long. We were in Europe on a bus for three months.

 JPatt:

It was a long time to be gone.

 B-Roc:

Yeah. But I think home sickness is the worst part. Or the downtime, honestly. It feels like you kill so much time.

 JPatt:

You're not really doing anything.

 B-Roc:

Just sitting around waiting to play a two-hour-long show.

 JPatt:

Then you get to these cities and everyone's like, "Oh, my god. You're so well-traveled." And I'm really not. I've seen every green room in America, but not I've not seen anything else.

 B-Roc:

Yeah, I just sit up my phone all day long, and I watch a lot of TV. So for the last tour, we tried to be a little more productive and I was definitely making way more music on the road, which was the first time doing that. And some good shit came out of it actually, probably. But yeah, the downtime is tough.

 

So you're not writing on the road ever?

 

B-Roc:

Not really. Like I said, the last tour I think was the first time. We started the All About You beat there, which is our Foster The People song. And then I made so much shit that's just sitting on my hard drive. It almost feels like you want to do it to be productive, but it's hard to get in the zone when you're in the back of a bus, freezing, and you have the headphones on, and you're-

 JPatt:

Or you just don't do it. I had my stuff with me here. I was like, "We're going to have a whole day basically before we were going to the fest." I slept all day. I haven't done anything.

 B-Roc: Yeah, a lot of sleeping. You're tired and hungover.

 

And so, how you brought collaborators in for this last album, you just rented a house in LA.

 

B-Roc:

That's how we started, yeah.

 

And it was just, "Drop by if you can make it," or how did you reach out to them or bring them into it?

 

B-Roc:

It was just all over.

 JPatt:

All over. Some homies that we just know from being around, and other people, we'd reach out to their manager.

 B-Roc:

But that was our first time doing it.

 JPatt:

That was our first time doing it like that, though.

 B-Roc:

Yeah. We always would have a studio we'd have to go to and meet them. And it feels weird because it's like, "We've got to break for lunch." When they come to you and you're like in this house, it feels-

 JPatt:

You're kind of just living.

 B-Roc:

Yeah, it feels a little bit more organic. And you can stay all night and you're just working, and wake up in the morning, still working on the song. And it was cool. It was a really good vibe. And it was really fun because we had a couple sessions that we were really looking forward to, which was the TEED session, where you love TEED and we really wanted that to go well. And the Muna session.

 And those were the first two days, and we fucking got both those songs that are now in our album out of those two days. It feels good when you have an idea in your head, how it's going to go, and it actually happens. A lot of times, you put this on the pedestal: "We're going to get with Muna. It's going to like this." And then you don't fucking get it. So it felt good when you're actually in the room with the artist and it works out.

 

Do you think recording in LA influenced the album?

 

B-Roc:

We actually record a lot in LA. It's just so many people out there. I don't know if it influences it.

 JPatt:

I don't personally love LA.

 B-Roc:

I think the only thing that influences is having the house.

 JPatt:

Just having the house.


So your album,New York Narcotic, was recorded in LA?

 

B-Roc:

Yeah, a lot of it actually. That's the irony of that. But now I have a house Upstate, so we're going to be recording a lot more up there, which is nice. So we can kind of do the same process, but do it in New York.


How was working with Sofi Tukker?

B-Roc:

They're in Austin right now.

 

Yeah. So you guys didn't get down to Brazil for the “Brazilian Soul” music video?

 

B-Roc:

No. You heard that story. You read out. Yeah, that was awful. We were at the airport with our bags.

 JPatt:

It was a visa situation.

 B-Roc:

So that was a manager fuck up.

 JPatt:

It was a visa thing. No one told us we needed like six visas.

 B-Roc:

Nobody told us we needed a fucking travel visa. So they were down there, and we were on our way and then couldn't.

 JPatt:

We ended up shooting our part in a Brazilian restaurant.

 B-Roc:

So we shot it at a Brazilian restaurant.

 B-Roc:

Yeah. They're old friends. We go way back. They're actually coming to the after party tonight.

 

Cannons is a band that just had one of their first national tours. Now they have their headlining tour scheduled. How did you link up with them?

 

B-Roc:

That song was completely remote, the pandemic song. So we had the beat and the song started, and we had been trying to work with them because they're so in our vein, cool disco stuff, and that song was all over the radio and I couldn't not hear it. The big one. It was a really easy process. They're super nice. She's a sweetheart and just killed it. Trying to play some more shows with them, because it feels like a good fit.

 

And then last question is just about your side projects, they both came out of pandemic, if you want to talk a little bit them.

 

B-Roc:

Yeah, mine's Holiday87, and it's a lofi electronic thing, a lot of samples. I was really influenced by people like Avalanches and Cowboy Slim, and more that real heavy, sample-based stuff. And I really love really borderline-emo, emotional stuff. So this was like my escape.

And JPatt was doing his thing with his songs. When we were working alone, I'd come and bring some super emo song, and he'd come and bring some really housey things. And we'd be like, "Neither these work for The Knocks." The Knocks thing, we really wanted to hone in on "We're going to make this indie-disco stuff. This is the sound."

 JPatt:

We have a sound now.

 B-Roc:

We used to try to make it fit.

 JPatt:

We started off as just "Oh, whatever sounds good."

 B-Roc:

Anything we make is a Knocks song. And then we learned the hard way that that doesn't always... You've got to kind of stick to your thing. So this is a great way. We started our own label and we're able to just get that release of "I want to go make some weird fucking six-minute-long downbeat song."

 JPatt:

My shit's James Patterson.

 B-Roc:

And he can make his heavy bangers that are a little bit more... Not as funk.

 JPatt:

It's a little more heavy than the Knocks, but it's just more DJ music. I guess a good reference would be Moody Men or Frankie Knuckles, those kinds of guys. It's not grow house. It's not tech house.

 JPatt:

There's real instruments in it, but it's feels more classic house.

 B-Roc:

Yeah. It's just nice. It really feels good to have a place for that stuff to live now.

JPatt:

Yeah.

 

What's the new label called?

 

JPatt:

Blacklight.


Awesome. Well, thanks so much for your time, guys. I'm looking forward to the show.

 

B-Roc:

Thank you, man. Great questions. It was nice to talk to someone who read up on things. It's like, "How did you get your name?"

 

Photo Credit: Grace Dupuy

Published: February 23, 2022 |

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