A little emo, a little indie and a little punk, No Knife piques your interest the first time you see them – by the second time, you’re hooked. Artsweek took a walk with bass player Brian Desjean and guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferguson to find out more about the band’s incredible live show and hypnotizing, melodic guitar riffs that have been baffling fans for years.
Artsweek: So what tours or shows do you have planned in the near future?
No Knife: We have a lot kinda going on at the moment. We have Japan – that’s a big thing. If we can find the time, we would like to go to Santa Barbara before Japan ‘cuz we need to make a little extra money, like maybe a weekend. But its gonna be in summer, so it might not be as good.
What do you think makes your stage show a step above the rest?
I don’t know. I think everyone is just kind of animated in their own way, and with the four of us it is just fun to look at. Every band has got a look to them or whatever, and they have their certain stage show. I mean you got a guy like Ryan in front, and he is wearing his hot sweater …
What makes a show special? You’ve played so many shows, so what makes a show really stand out from the rest?
Obviously when there’s a crowd or there’s people there. But especially when they’re singing along and little breaks in the song where you can actually hear people singing along – that’s awesome. And when people know your songs, and you go into the song that you’re going to play and everyone freaks out and is excited to hear that song. It’s a good feeling, you know. That’s what’s gonna be so fun with Japan is that we are so damn sick of all of our songs, and Japan is going to be so fun because it’s going to be brand new to everyone there.
Is Dim Mak doing your distribution in Japan?
Yeah, and in Europe.
How did that happen?
Santa Barbara, just playing the Pickle Patch. And [Steve Aoki’s] a nice guy, and he loves the band, and he felt we needed distro over there, and we just worked it out with him. And then Time Bomb was good enough to let us do that and everyone worked together. It was perfect.
So you’re still on Time Bomb?
Are you on anyone right now?
No. We are currently available, currently unemployed. It’s the economy, man. (laughs)
How does that work? Aren’t you working on an instrumental album and another album?
The instrumental album was just kind of an idea that we kinda threw around. But the way things are going right now we just want to get through the summer and then Greg, the guy who did our last record, is going to be back in town and we would like to record with him in late summer or fall. So as far as an instrumental album, I don’t see that happening. Right now we want to get new music out as a band.
What made you want to do the instrumental in the first place? Because it’s not something that everyone does?
Yeah, it’s something different. We have tons of instrumental songs. I’d say about 85 or 90 percent of our songs start out as just instrumental ideas. It takes us a month, a year, just to write vocals.
Who writes the lyrics?
Ryan and Mitch. They’re on that.
So where do the lyrics come from – personal experiences, people you know … ?
Yeah I’d say definitely personal experiences, people I know, and a little bit of nonsense thrown in the mix. I mean one of them came from when we were all getting drunk bowling one night, and I came home and wrote some words down.
“Lex Hit Reset.” The reset button, bowling. But it has some subliminal meanings so it’s like a connotation thing.
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for the next album?
It’s just gonna get crazier. I want to get far away from the last record and go to left field with it.
Totally new direction?
Uh, I wouldn’t say direction, but the progression. Just keep going ahead, you know.
What do you think of the progression of your albums? What have you noticed about them?
I think it’s almost kinda like a … a loosening. We get a little more experience. We do one record and we get more mature; we are getting older obviously. We have influences every day. You’re getting new things coming in your brain, and it just gets into your music – or our music, and we like to move forward as a band, progress, just make interesting music, any way possible. That’s a hard question.
Going back to your last album, what’s behind the title Fire in the City of Automatons?
Wasn’t that [Ryan’s] idea? No, that was Mitch’s. The toilet. The blue stuff in the toilet? He was on acid or something one night, he saw this toilet flushing, and he threw some bugs in there, and they were going down the toilet, and he just had this weird, Pillip K. Dick flash of science fiction. Mitch is fascinated with toilets and robots. It is really hard to explain.
You guys won The San Diego Music Award for “Best Punk Rock Band.” What did you think about that?
Their categories are limited and they don’t really … you know it is hard to fit us onto one peg or whatever, and they really like the band. Slam [magazine] is just very supportive of the band, and I think they just wanted to get us in somewhere. They couldn’t put it in “Country” or “Pop.” But that’s what we said when we actually accepted the award for punk band, “We found out we were a punk band tonight.”
Did you guys think you’d be together for as long as you have been?
Never saw this coming?
Not really, I mean, I don’t know. I never really thought about it really. It just kind of … I am amazed that it is already 2001. It feels good though. I’m proud of what we’ve got going on, and it feels like it’s paying off. Feels like we are veterans; people are appreciative. It feels good that way. It’s cool, I mean I know technology is moving – the whole digital age and whatnot – but it’s cool to jump on our site and see 20 new e-mails a day. There’s people literally writing from Scandinavia, Finland, South Africa – crazy places like that, and you’re like “Holy shit! Oh my god.” It all makes it worthwhile.
One last question. I’ve read multiple interviews, and when people ask you where you came up with the name No Knife, I’ve heard you say “Deerhunter,” AC/DC lyrics. … Do you just like to throw the interviewers off with some random explanation?
No, “Deerhunter” is a good one. I like “Deerhunter.” When I first met Mitch it was kind of his concept. I was told that it was a mime up in Seattle in the ’50s, and the mime died. The mime’s name was No Knife. That’s a new one. The other one I heard was we’re all big-time fans of Chinese food, so we don’t use silverware.
We’d like to play back up in Santa Barbara, but we don’t want to play the gym ‘cuz I don’t want to get blue tortillas thrown at us. My friends and I went to a Gaucho baseball game up there, and ironically they were playing Cal State Fullerton. There were probably 20 people there, and there was this guy who sat first row, directly behind home plate. He was called The Heckler. He was insane; this guy was ruthless. He just sat there and heckled people for nine innings straight.