I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Ben and James of the Knocks, before wrapping up their Route 55 tour with a sold out show in LA. They have been releasing music since 2008, sharing dazzling pop and funk infused dance tracks with several EPs and singles.
Experiencing trial and error with their former label and the music industry, they shared with me how important it was for The Knocks to stay true to its sound. Now, March brings the debut of their first full‐length album. Featuring noteworthy collaborations such as Cam’ron, Wyclef Jean, Carly Rae Jepsen and more, this new‐york duo is ready to deliver the funk.
Check out our conversation below:
WHO ARE THE KNOCKS? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SOUND?
James: Probably a fusion of lots of different sounds, that’s the hardest question to answer!
Ben: Genreless, I guess the glue for our music is we try to keep it funky. Somewhat, more groovy than funky. Just soulful and fun. We wouldn’t call it EDM, we try and stay away from that.
We were actually telling our manager, can you tell press not to call us an EDM duo? It is electronic and dance music, but EDM has this whole other stigma to it now. We just try and stay away from that. At the end of the day, I just call it Pop. We also try to bring nostalgia into our music.
WHEN DID YOU MEET?
Ben: I was at the New School. I actually had a studio at my school. We met through mutual friends. I applied to some really hard music school and didn’t get in, so my second choice was a liberal arts school.
James: I was just dropping out, I was studying Marketing.
DID YOU HAVE ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS BEFORE THE KNOCKS?
James: Just pretty much producing for different people, not really any projects.
Ben: We were just trying to hustle and be producers. The main goal was to get rappers at the time. You just wanted rappers on your stuff. Even if their not paying for them, you just get your beats featured on their mixtape and get the bragging rights.
YOU ALSO TRIED WORKING OUT HERE IN LA, BUT IT JUST WASN’T A GOOD FIT?
Ben: Yeah, we signed a publishing deal and were sent out here to do a bunch of writing sessions. It’s something we do now, and tend to do a lot better, since we’re older and have been around a lot longer. We were young then, we didn’t know anything about that world, and were kind of just sent out here. You get put on these weird first dates, where it’s like a blind date and you’re supposed to be creative with someone.
James: Also, it just wasn’t very enjoyable.
Ben: We didn’t really get put in the room with the best people either. We were new, and we didn’t have anything to back us up. It’s very different in New York. We were used to working in the studio from noon till like 6 in the morning, having the best time doing our own stuff. People here treat it like it’s your day job.
EARLIEST INFLUENCES AS MUSICIANS?
James: Definitely like Gospel for sure, since I went to church and my family was very religious. Earth, Wind, & Fire, Maurice White, Temptations, that kind of stuff.
Ben: I grew up on a lot more classic rock. My parents were big hippies! On my own, I’d listen to a lot of punk rock, then Beastie Boys was the first thing that crossed me over from punk rock into hip‐hop. They were like a punk rock band turned rappers.
I was also really into DJ based music. I actually drummed for a little bit, that got me into making beats, then DJing, hip‐hop scratch stuff. I was into a lot of UK acts, DJ Shadow, Fatboy Slim, a lot of producer based music. A lot of that influence is in our music, like Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim. For example the song “Time” really emanates that.
WHERE DOES THE NAME THE KNOCKS COME FROM?
James: We just always had neighbors knocking on the walls, when we lived together for awhile. We were making beats in each of our own rooms, and the neighbors would knock on walls to get us to quiet down. When we did our first project together, we thought, “well what should we call ourselves?”
Ben: It was very natural. We figured like some band from the 70s or something would’ve been called the Knocks. So we copyrighted that shit fast!
FAVORITE PLACE TO PLAY AT SO FAR ON THE ROUTE 55 TOUR?
Ben: The New York show probably, Wyclef was there. James: I was on Wyclef’s shoulders in New York!
Ben: Or the Seattle show, one of the best shows of the tour hands down. I don’t think it can get beat. I don’t know what it was, but they had an incredible energy. The second we got out there people were on shoulders and crowd‐surfing.
BIG FAN OF ALL THE SINGLES YOU’VE RELEASED SO FAR AHEAD OF THE ALBUM! THERE’S A PARTICULAR SONG WHERE YOU REFERENCE THAT MOST GIRLS “DON’T KNOW WHO THE KNOCKS IS”?
Ben: Matt came up with that! I love that line. It’s funny, we’ve always been this act where people know our songs but not us particularly.
James: I remember at our show in San Diego some guy said, “Hey man, I always knew the Knocks’ songs but not who they were.”
Ben: At first we thought that was kind of cool, oh we should just be these guys in the background. But now as we’re putting out more original music, we want to be recognized.
James: Also, I mean I still don’t necessarily want to be recognized. But when you’re performing, and out there taking pictures and doing press, it’s a little bit inevitable.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE NEW ALBUM? HOW HAS YOUR SOUND PROGRESSED FROM YOUR PREVIOUS EPS?
Ben: I think it’s been a really natural progression. The turning point for us was when we made Classic. We we’re going through a bunch of shit at the time, we were on a label who just didn’t really get us, and it wasn’t going well. We made this whole album (Endisco) and they weren’t really about it. It was a very difficult situation we were forced into. Then the label folded. We thought, “should we release this independently?” Then Classic came, and that was the game changer. Definitely a magic moment. We put out that single with Atlantic and it started doing really well. The team there was awesome.
Classic set a new bar for us, we wanted to make more songs that fit that format more than our older stuff. The album still feels like us, but it’s much bigger, more universal, much better produced.
James: I think at this point, we’ve really found our sound. With our other label, they signed us on the intent of developing us. We were at the end of the blogging era, with our song “Dancing with the DJ”.
We were number one on Hype Machine, so they just wanted to sign us and turn us into something else.
That album we did with our older label felt like a compromise, some of the songs were more festival drop kind of songs. It’s hard to find your sound as an artist, when you have someone constantly telling you what they think you should be.
Ben: We made a conscious decision to stick to our guns, stick to our sound, and hopefully the times will change with us.
IT’S ALSO REALLY INTERESTING HOW A LOT OF YOUR MUSIC RESONATES WITH NEW YORK.
Ben: A big influence for the album is New York. There’s a lot of different vibes on the album, which is similar to the music scene there. When you go out to a club in New York, there’s this big kind of DJing called “open format”. For example, you’ll go and hear a Strokes song mixed into a Drake song, mixed into a Jackson 5 track.
It’s how I came up DJing 5 nights a week in New York, you have to learn how to mix all these different genres. I think of our album almost as an open format, ode to that nightlife. All these different worlds and genres are in this album, which sort of represents the energy of New York.
WHICH COLLABORATION FROM THE ALBUM ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
James: I have to say Cam’ron, he’s just a New York legend. I grew up listening to him.
Ben: Same with the Wyclef song, he’s one of my favorite artists of all time. That’s what is really great about the record. It has two legends in urban music, but also New Age artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and X Ambassadors. It all still fits cohesively.
COULD YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LIVE SET UP? WHAT’S GOING ON ON STAGE? WHO’S ON VOCALS?
James: We’ve got some instruments, background stuff running through Ableton, I’m on vocals. It’s almost like a hybrid live DJ set. We try and keep integrity in the music by doing both DJing and instrumentals.
BEN, YOU ALSO ESTABLISHED HEAVYROC RECORDS! WHAT ARTISTS ARE CURRENTLY INVOLVED WITH THAT?
Ben: HeavyRoc is just kind of our whole studio and crew down in New York, a label is something I’ve always sort of been involved in. It’s been a lot to handle as well though. It’s difficult to run a full‐service label since we’re so involved with The Knocks.
We put out this artist Alex Winston a while ago, we did the first St. Lucia release, and a Viceroy single as well. Our newest artist is Sofi Tukker. Their latest single is blowing up internationally, they are number 2 in Italy right now! The song’s in Portuguese, so it hasn’t really caught on in the US yet.
In terms of the label, we just find music we like, or our friends, and we put it out. We usually are involved with an EP or single, then let them go and sign on to a major label.
WHAT DO THE KNOCKS DO WHEN THEY’RE NOT DOING MUSIC?
James: Haha thinking about music!
Ben: We always have the worst answers for this! I watch a lot of movies, hang out with friends, and I’ve been getting into photography lately.
FAVORITE ALBUM OF 2015?
James: I really like the Tame Impala album, obviously the Drake mixtape.
Ben: The Jamie XX album for sure.
MOST UNDERRATED ALBUM OF 2015?
James: I’d say Tame Impala, a lot of cool people liked it, but it didn’t get a lot of love from like big associates. Also, Walk the Moon album.
Ben: Hm, I’d say the Carly Rae Jepsen album. I think it’s starting to get a little more claim now.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING MUSICIANS OR PRODUCERS?
Ben: Don’t chase trends, make your own path.
James: Quit you day job, like actually quit! If you want to really do music, you should go for it and dedicate your time to it.
ANY ARTISTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON?
Ben: Sofi Tukker, also Cardiknox who are on tour with us. James: I’ve really been getting into this artist Nao.
A big thanks to The Knocks as well as their team for making this interview possible. I highly recommend seeing them live if you ever have the chance. Make sure to preorder their album, 55, out March 4th on iTunes. All social media links for The Knocks are below!
iTunes Pre‐Order: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/55/id1073325719?app=itunes Twitter:https://twitter.com/theknocksInstagram:https://www.instagram.com/the_knocks/?hl=en