For reasons I still don’t totally understand, I was compelled to listen to Reproduction entirely on the power of that image. The album, which is Knife In The Water’s first release in nearly 15 years, matches its exquisite, lonesome warmth.
I caught up with KITW frontman Aaron Blount to talk about the band’s long hiatus, being a “sad band” from Central Texas, and suffering, beauty, and songwriting.
Tell me the origin story of Knife In The Water.
We started playing music as a trio of Bill McCullough, Laura Krause, and myself.
We were really inspired by the idea of genre busting. Central Texas from Austin to San Antonio is a unique melting pot. The toughest punks in Austin would go see Merle Haggard or Santiago Jimenez and they would cry, but they would also see Poison 13. The guys who roped cattle and raised pigs down here were doing LSD as early as LSD was available, and before that they did peyote.
Social segregation seemed to creep in and privilege divided people as the area evolved into a Silicon Valley type tech zone. Electronic vs. hardcore or Britpop vs. garage rock or whatever. Imaginary walls came up. As stupid as it sounds now, it really did seem like a duty for us to find common ground between the cultural divide of Dolly Parton and Stereolab.
So with that background we kind of inadvertently found our identity. So many people have come and gone through this band over the years. The songs are still an incidental excuse for any number of people to be in a room together. The current band is Vince Delgado, Matthew Strmiska, Jana Horn, and Shelley McCann.
One of the most immediately intriguing things about your newest album, Reproduction, is that it’s the first for you in nearly 15 years. Why now, and why this record?
We went through a series of setbacks around 2005 that left us in a fight against nature to keep the band going. Our support system came to a cyclical end. The pressure was absurd and the changes in Austin were evident; we felt like outsiders in our own town. In reality we never ended the band or fully abandoned playing together, we just made it private.
Making a new record was not a simple thing to do, but it felt like it was time. In the end, we just did the same thing we did at the beginning of the band. The drummer of Spoon, Jim Eno, was very generous with his incredible studio, Public Hi Fi. The engineer there, Matt Gerhard, was working with us and he saw that we’re eccentric as far as recording goes, so he offered to help us scrap together a working studio in my house. Jack Lawrence (Dead Weather, Greenhornes, Raconteurs) flew down from Nashville and patiently pushed us through recording vocals. It takes a community to get this done. We could not have made it without them.
I love the album art. Can you talk about that choice?
The image is a photo of Darlie Routier, a woman from Dallas who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of her two young sons. She’s still on Death Row today. I put the image through an iPhone app and it left her face looking ghostly and skull-like. Her hair and dress are so billowy and excessive, but she’s beautiful. It glows like an old painting. I don’t speculate upon her guilt – many people believe she’s innocent and received an unfair trial – but I don’t support in the death penalty for anyone. I don’t think a healthy society throws its prisoners into a volcano.
On being a “sad band”:
I accept that we are not for everybody. You get it or you don’t, and if you’ve shared some of the experiences I’ve been through, you might get it more readily, and you might also understand that black humor is just humor in waiting.
I dislike it when people say our music is bleak or despairing, and maybe that’s because I’m fairly disconnected from American culture at large. To me, jokes in songs have to be somewhat cloaked; a song won’t live very long if the jokes want too much attention. Why can’t a song about mental illness have humor? If we can’t mine humor from pain, where are we gonna get it?
It would be a lie to offer simple solutions in a song; there are no simple solutions. If you keep believing in what seems like a simple solution as a teenager, you’re not going to survive adulthood very intact.
Tell me about your songwriting process, and how it’s changed over your musical career.
What I think songs come from for me is a desire to harness our interior nature in some way. The same reason we name hurricanes, or turn clouds into animals. We need to sing and give words to the complexity of our emotional mind, because these things change and they blow away, and we have to tell people what we saw. We have to leave a record of where we found clarity, disorder, or escape. There is no emotion too dark for a song, and we know we have a need to sing about unsaid things.
We also want to be tricked. It’s just human nature. We want to believe that these things can be made simple and orderly by a song, yet we know that they can’t. I’m more aware of that now.
What’s the most important lyric you wrote on this album?
I don’t think any of it is important, but there is a message throughout, which is: I’m human. I’m moving through common suffering and turning it into something beautiful and useful, and no one can stop me. I hope people get something out of it.
Buy Reproduction here. Tour dates here. My favorite track from Reproduction, Sweet Gene, is featured on April’s edition of Hully Tapes, a monthly cassette compilation to benefit the ACLU. You can buy it on Bandcamp 🙂