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Interview: The Knocks

The New York-based electronic music duo on their debut full-length album, Endisco

by Nara Shin in Culture on 26 June 2013

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The Knocks—Ben "B-Roc" Ruttner and James "JPatt" Patterson—are infiltrating the electronic music world with their distinct style of driving synths and disco grooves. Starting their music careers as producers by day and DJs by night, the duo began to develop a loyal following that clamored for the Knocks to produce their own music.

Since their first single release in 2010, the Knocks have toured with the likes of M.I.A., Ellie Goulding and DJ Shadow and have performed, as a duo, in venues that aren’t considered traditional for electronic music artists. In the last year, they were the first live act ever to perform inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, attended the White House Correspondent’s dinner as guests of NPR and performed at the National Geographic headquarters for their 125th anniversary. The Knocks possess an aura of down-to-earth approachability to electronic music—for them, their music is purely about having a good time.

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Despite their extensive work to date, the Knocks have not yet released a full-length LP. Much of their success stems from their ability to be self-sufficient, demonstrated by their own made-from-scratch recording studio and independent record label HeavyRoc Music. We met B-Roc, JPatt and David Perlick-Molinari (of dance-funk band French Horn Rebellion) during a mixing session for The Knocks' upcoming album at Perlick-Molinari's You Too Can Woo studio.

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How different is the new album from your previous EPs?

Ben "B-Roc" Ruttner: It has elements of that, and then elements of our new sound. I think overall it’s just a lot more mature. It’s just better produced.
James "JPatt" Patterson: It sounds better, quality-wise.
B: When we first put out that first EP, it was kind of rushed. We hadn’t figured out exactly what we were doing yet and now it feels like we know exactly what we want. This feels like our first real statement as "artistes," so to speak.

Who is collaborating on the album?

B: We have a track with Sneaky Sound System, Dragonette, a song with St. Lucia, Sam from the X Ambassadors, Adeline—she’s the lead singer of Escort—and this girl Rozzi Crane who is Adam Levine’s artist. JPatt is not singing as much as he used to.

What do you look for in a collaborator?

B: If you work with someone who does something pretty similar to you, the output is going to end up being something that's pretty similar to whatever you usually do. We like to work with people that work in completely different genres of music or production and are open to trying new things. We've learned a lot from collaborating with so many different kinds of musicians and artists. The best way to get better at music is just by making and listening to it a lot so we try to do as much of that as possible.

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What’s your process for composing a song like?

B: There is no process really. It’s the most asked question and we always have the worst answer. Sometimes I’ll have a sample or something and bring it in and start looping it up or sometimes JPatt will have a hook idea—I think the answer is that there is no process.
J: It’s really free-flowing. There's no set formula for any of this. You just have to be open to trying things even when they are outside of your comfort zone.
B: It always involves us in the studio. I guess we can say what the process isn’t. We’re never like, on the road and JPatt will pick up a guitar and say, "This will work." That never happens. Even when we start ideas on our laptops on the road they never end up being album songs.

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What was it like working with Chris Caswell last summer in Los Angeles?

J: We were in the studio with Chris for about six to eight hours a day. A typical session was him playing and recording as many random simple ideas as he could. The purpose was so that we could take his version of the ideas and rearrange them to make them our own versions. One of them is on the [upcoming] album. He's a great composer/arranger/player—definitely one of the best I've seen.
B: I feel like we could go back to visit a lot of the stuff that we did with him and then finish that up even for a second album or something. We literally left with like 15 weird ideas. We just had already figured out a lot of stuff that was already going to be on the album at that point. But he’s such a legend. If you open up the Daft Punk album, he’s like the third name on the composers' list.

And you guys are producing your album?

B: It’s just us and we have a little bit of co-production on a couple songs; it’s more co-writing than co-production. We produced everything though. The album is called Endisco.

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Since you're mixing the album, David, what do you think about the process? How can you translate electronic music into live music?

D: This is what I love about the process. It feels like it’s all in-step. You take one step, you go another and it feels like we’re walking, and then we’re going to run—and then we’re gonna freakin' dance. That’s been the trick these days: getting the sounds that you’re doing in the studio and then making it alive, instead of just doing a DJ set. We’re making these tracks—the ultimate blend of dance-party goodness and also having that spontaneity of what a band is. Not that DJs can’t be spontaneous, but there’s a certain groove that you can get into as a DJ over a long period of time vs the power you can get out of a song.

Tell us about the artwork.

B: It’s the same guy we worked for a couple of things, Stefan, from this band called Sound of Arrows, from Sweden. He did the Modern Hearts artwork, his artwork is fucking incredible.

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You guys interact differently with your fans than a lot of other artists, especially in your genre. Your presence on social media is always super-engaging. How would you describe your relationship with your fans?

J: Open. Transparency is the best way to approach fan relations so that they never feel like there's a gimmick. Being as real as possible is the key.
B: That's important. Sometimes you want to keep a little bit of mystery but I think people who take it too seriously—we’re also just not those kind of artists. And the whole thing of having fans to us is still such a new thing; it’s still so cool to me. We’re also just fans of music, so we like to just talk to people about it.

The Knocks’ debut full-length album Endisco is slated for release later this summer. For now, you can listen to their first single off the album via Soundcloud.

Images by Nara Shin

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