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Interview: The Knocks on their new album, 'New York Narcotic'.

Interview: The Knocks on their new album, 'New York Narcotic'.

Made up of Ben Ruttner (B-Roc) and James Patterson (JPatt), The Knocks are not only celebrating their 10 year anniversary as a duo this year, but also released their new album ‘New York Narcotic’ - which includes collaborations with Foster The People, Sofi Tukker, and Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss (on album highlight and closer, ‘Fung Wah Bus’).

We caught up with The Knocks to discuss about their new album ‘New York Narcotic’, being signed to Neon Gold Records, and more...

We’ve always tried to separate ourselves from other producer duos in the way that we are a little bit more live - in our live shows, we’re not just up there with Ableton controllers, not less DJ, but more a fusion of organic elements...

COUP DE MAIN: You guys played Neon Gold’s tenth birthday party recently! What was that like?
THE KNOCKS - JAMES PATTERSON: It was fun. Our fans were there in droves and we had a big stage party which was great. We were the last act of the night so people were pretty ready to dance from being there all day. We played some new stuff and it all went pretty well, the feedback was great.
THE KNOCKS - BEN RUTTNER: It was our first time ever playing some of the new songs off the album which was really fun, and it was fun to do it in our hometown.

CDM: How was Marina And The Diamonds’ set? We are so excited for her new music.
BEN: She was great. We hadn’t seen her in a long time, she hasn’t performed in a couple of years. She played a few new songs, they sounded really good, and she had a few dancers on stage too, it was really epic.

CDM: You have a connection to New Zealand because Broods played the party too!
BEN: Yeah! That was our first time meeting them, they were really nice. I’ve liked a couple of their songs - I haven’t known that much about them until a little more recently, but I really enjoy that new single ‘Peach’ that they put out with Neon Gold. They were really fun to watch live.

CDM: You’ve been working with Neon Gold for a long time now releasing music, but you briefly had an experience signed to Interscope. Does Neon Gold just feel like the right ‘fit’ compared to the other label experiences you’ve had over the years?
JAMES: Yeah, more so because they’re friends of ours and it’s better to work with friends than not friends. Also, Derek [Davies] has a great mind for music, and they’re all really down to earth, chill people. It’s a business, but it’s more like a family.
BEN: It’s kind of a full circle thing. Our first release we ever did was with Neon Gold, but it was a single, we never signed a full record deal. Then we went to Interscope which wasn’t really the right fit, the timing wasn’t right, and then we ended up going back to Neon Gold through Atlantic. It felt like everything kind of aligned in the right way.

CDM: Your new album’s title track ‘New York Narcotic’, for me, kind of sounds exactly like the best kind of The Knocks song - it has a really catchy beat, and a killer bass line, and just gets stuck in your head. How do you go about the songwriting process?
BEN: It hasn’t really changed, and I don’t think it’s ever really been a formula. It’s always really different. We’re big on collaboration and we love to work with different writers and producers. I think we’re really good at taking things from other people we’re working with and applying it to our own sound and making it fit with us, versus just getting a record producer and it sounds like that producer’s song, or sounds like this writer’s song. It always feels like us. I agree with you, I think ‘New York Narcotic’ is one of the ones that really, to me, is one of the more original sounding ones, and so different. It really gets what we’re across, it’s got a funky edge but it’s got a deeper meaning, and it’s got the party, the hip-hop influences, and it ticks a lot of boxes.

CDM: Is that why you wanted to name the album after it?
JAMES: We came up with the name for the album early on, and then that song became the title track just because of how it came out.
BEN: It was actually the second song that we wrote called ‘New York Narcotic’ - we had another song that we’d been working on that we didn’t finish, but we didn’t think it was the one. We were like, ‘Let’s try one more time,’ and that was one of the last songs on the album - the title song, this version of the title track.

CDM: Why was it so important for you guys to truly make the album your own i.e. having James singing/rapping on every song?
JAMES: It was a natural progression from our last album. We’ve always tried to separate ourselves from other producer duos in the way that we are a little bit more live - in our live shows, we’re not just up there with Ableton controllers, not less DJ, but more a fusion of organic elements, just because we're both from organic styles of music, rock and funk, stuff like that. I’ve had the ability to sing and rap so we were like, ‘We might as well just do that, since we can.’ It just felt like a natural progression and we were saying that we wanted this album to be more us anyway, so what better way to be more us than to do everything yourself in that way?

CDM: What made you want to open the album with ‘2008’?
BEN: We made that beat, and it just felt like an intro to me, it felt like this real classic, hip-hop-py thing. We wanted to make a song that felt like an intro, and it had something about it. 2008 was when we started The Knocks so it was summing up what the album is about to be, it gets you ready, it’s like a surge of energy right out of the gate which I really like.

CDM: If you started in 2008 that means you also had your 10 year anniversary this year - congratulations!
BEN: Thank you! I didn’t even think of that. Yeah, we started putting out songs as The Knocks right when Neon Gold started doing their thing too.

CDM: At the end of ‘2008’ it ends with a spoken word part: “People often refer to the city being a drug… you just wanna be here forever, it’s that New York Narcotic.” What do you think it is about the city of New York that is so enthralling and addictive?
JAMES: It’s addictive, for sure. It’s just different from any other city that you’ll ever visit. If you’ve never been here and you come here, you immediately understand that there is no place like it. Not saying that any other city is better or worse, because Los Angeles is a great city… but I think people enjoy the accessibility. You can wake up at 4am and go to an open bodega and get a beer or a sandwich. There’s very few cities that I’ve been to that you can do that in. There’s a night-life scene, there’s always something going on, it’s the city that never sleeps. I grew up here, so for me it’s my culture, but for other people when they come here, it’s like, the lights are so bright and you never want to leave - it’s almost like a comedown when you leave, which is what ‘Fung Wah Bus’ is about. Whenever we leave the city it feels weird, then you come back and it’s like experiencing that high again. That’s just what we were trying to get across.

CDM: What is it about ‘Fung Wah Bus’ that makes you sometimes cry when listening to it? It’s quite an emotional end to the album.
BEN: <laughs> It’s that feeling of leaving New York. That song was written with Alexis [Krauss] from Sleigh Bells and she moved out of New York - she used to live in Brooklyn for a long time. I had a girlfriend in Boston when I first moved to New York and I used to have to ride that actual same bus back and forth - it’s very emotional. Travelling in general, being on planes, buses, listening to sad music makes people emotional, and I feel like that was the inspiration for that song. The idea of being in motion, whether you’re leaving someone or some place, just trying to capture that feeling. Everyone loves that feeling of listening to a sad song looking out a window.

CDM: What was it like going to Brazil to film the ‘Brazilian Soul’ music video with Sofi Tukker?
JAMES: We didn’t end up going to Brazil.
BEN: Funny story is that they were down in Brazil on tour and we were going to meet them. We got to the airport and our visas weren’t right - it sucked, we were really looking forward to it. So our part of that video was actually shot in a Brazilian bar in New York City, so I’m glad you couldn’t tell. <laughs>

CDM: You’ve announced a tour for early next year in support of the album - are you excited to bring some of the new songs to a live setting?
BEN: Yeah, I’m really excited. It’s going to be fun because it’s our first time going on tour with a band. We’re bringing three musicians to play with us which we have never done before, it’s always been a duo kind of thing. This music now is kind of a new chapter, and it feels like the electronic duo live show has gotten burnt out a bit in the past few years, a lot of these DJs are just making a ‘live show’ which is not very live, and we want to make it more of a musical performance and add another level of depth to it. So we’re bringing some of our favourite musicians, it’ll be like The Knocks and friends, which will be fun.

CDM: Is there a song on ‘New York Narcotic’ that you think best sums up where The Knocks are at this point in time?
BEN: I think the whole thing.
JAMES: Maybe not one song, it’s the body of work.
BEN: But again, I think I couldn’t be more happy with the title track. I think that sums up what we’re about, and what the album’s about, and the concept of the whole album. That doesn’t always happen, and I feel like it really came together.

CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
JAMES: I feel like a good song can come out and be a smash summer hit, a great song will be wedding songs and Bar Mitzvah songs 25 years later. If you ever want the club to go off, still, you play ‘I Want You Back’. That’s a great song.
BEN: We always say we’d like to make a wedding song and people laugh at us sometimes like, ‘Oh, wedding music is considered corny.’ But it’s not really, it’s that the best songs are used for the biggest celebrations. We love to DJ weddings, so the day we can start to play our own songs, that’d be great.

CDM: What’s at the top of The Knocks’ bucket list at the moment?
BEN: We’ve done so much recently! We played on TV which we were really trying to do for a long time. Me, personally, I think it’s probably to sell out a world tour, and there are a couple of festivals that are on my list - I’d love to play Coachella.
JAMES: Lollapallooza.
BEN: Another thing that I’d like to do - we’ve had a couple songs that have been our biggest songs, ‘Classic’, and ‘Ride Or Die’ with Foster The People, and one of my bucket list things is to have one of our songs that’s JPatt singing on as big as one of the ones with features. We love our features obviously, but that’s why we did this record, we want people to realise that we’re not just DJs producing songs with other features, that we can write our own records.

CDM: And if you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be?
BEN: That’s hard.
JAMES: A guitar centre, and take as many instruments as I can. I’d just have a stash of the most expensive equipment.
BEN: Mine would probably be to stay in my apartment for two weeks, and not have to leave.

The Knocks’ album ‘New York Narcotic’ is out now - click here to purchase.

Watch the ‘Brazilian Soul’ music video below…

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