Bent Knee’s Land Animal may best the most accessible art rock record of the 21st century… and that’s not a bad thing… The Boston band; known for their abrasive blending of baroque pop, metal, and avant-garde; is set to release their fourth LP on June 23rd, courtesy of InsideOutMusic/Sony. And, despite what you might think, considering their recent trek through the states supporting mathcore legends The Dillinger Escape Plan (including a stop at Union Transfer), it’s their most popularly palatable to-date. Bent Knee are currently on the road and will be bringing their latest sounds to Kung Fu Necktie this Tuesday, June 6th, and I recently got a chance to chat with vocalist/keyboardist Courtney Swain about the band’s past, present, and future.
Izzy Cihak: Not to start with a huge question, but the band has been around for nearly a decade now: What have been some of the personal highlights for you?
Courtney Swain: That’s a good question to start off with! For me, a lot of the highlights were when we “first” did something.
When we played Campbell Bay Music Festival off the coast of Vancouver in June 2014, we headlined the second night underneath the moon after a long day in the sun listening to amazing music. The crowd adored us, and it was the first time we performed for such a big audience that reflected the music back to us with an abundance of love and energy.
Another big moment was last summer, when we performed at Burg-Herzberg festival in Germany. It was our first show in Europe, and we probably performed for more people than we did in our first three years as a band combined. To travel across the ocean for the first time with the six of us and to be greeted with people singing along to your songs in the front row was really a humbling experience.
Most recently, The Dillinger Escape Plan tour we were on in October 2016 was a big highlight for me. That was our first time traveling with other bands that pour just as much of their heart and soul into their music and touring as we do. I was inspired to see what felt like the next level of what we were aspiring to be. I learned that there are a lot of nice people there, and there is plenty of room for people who work hard.
Izzy: Your sounds are quite an eclectic and hard-to-pin-down amalgam, so I’m curious what you’re all listening to most frequently at the moment. Any favorite albums to listen to in the van?
Courtney: Amalgam is a great way to put it; we are indeed a band with a really broad scope of influences. We don’t really listen to any one thing in the van; most of the time Ben (guitar) and Jess (bass) are in the front jamming away to their latest hits. The rest of us have headphones on, listening to our own jams. I can tell you what I’ve been listening to a lot: Abyss by Chelsea Wolfe, 22, A Million by Bon Iver, Run The Jewels 3 by Run The Jewels, Puberty 2 by Mitski, Semper Femina by Laura Marling, A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead, Meta by Car Bomb, Mezzanine by Massive Attack.
Izzy: Your fourth album, Land Animal, hits shelves towards the end of June. What can fans expect of the album?
Courtney: I think this is our best album yet. I would be worried if it weren’t, because that means we didn’t do a good job putting it together! [laughs]
The songs are more immediate, with catchiness and instant gratification. We experimented a lot with groove in this series of songs, more so than our last album, which explored song-form, timbre, and texture. There were a lot of quintuplets, phrases of five, and hemiolas that crept into the songs. That was partially an influence from Nik Bärtsch, an incredible Swiss composer, who explores overlapping patterns of music. We all met him last year, which was a very eye-opening and humbling experience.
Izzy: The album seems to have a lot of influences related to cultural theory, which is kind of my favorite thing (aside from Morrissey and cinema). Are there any theorists or artists that you find to be especially inspiring, or concepts that you think are especially important to consider at the present moment?
Courtney: I just had to Google cultural theory… but, I think I know what you’re talking about. A large part of that influence comes from Ben. He’s a very curious person, and he’s always reading up on the latest in science, technology, and sociology. Songs like “Hands Up” from the last album, and “Hole,” “Time Deer,” and “The Well” off Land Animal are commentary on our ever-changing and strained relationship with technology and our environment. Ben said his latest topic of interest has been universal minimum income.
Izzy: I really like your recent video for “Land Animal.” What do the visual elements of Bent Knee draw inspiration from?
Courtney: Thanks! We have been really lucky to know and work with wonderful visual artists. The “Land Animal” video was created by Greg Bowen of Human Being Productions based in Baltimore. Greg and Ben grew up together, and they were in their first band together 🙂 The lead actor in the video is Jessica’s brother’s partner, who also starred in our video for “Black Tar Water,” in which he delivered an incredible performance, too. In crafting our imagery, especially with music videos, we’ve learned to develop ideas from the wonderful resources we have access to. Our friends make it all possible, often times going the extra mile(s) and burning the midnight oil with us.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience when you play Kung Fu Necktie in the very near future?
Courtney: You can expect a really good show 🙂 Playing our music is one of the things we do best, and it’s one of our favorite things to do in our lives! We drive countless miles, worry about money, and work our asses off just to get in front of you and play our music, so we do it damn well.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for Bent Knee after these June dates wrap and your new album drops?
Courtney: No rest for the wicked! We’ll start writing new content, and we’ll be doing more shows later in the summer, starting mid-July or so. Tour dates are coming soon.