The Knocks Talk Their Debut Album, Staying True To New York & Madonna: Idolator Interview
We at Idolator are big fans of The Knocks, who hail from right in our backyard — New York City! Their soulful take on classic dance music (“Dancing With Myself,” “Collect My Love,” etc.) provide a fresh injection in what is happening in the current music scene. The NYC duo are now gearing up for their debut album, simply titled 55.
During our trip at 2015’s SXSW, we caught up with members Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson about their forthcoming debut album, thoughts on the new dance wave and game-changing artists like Madonna and Kanye West. Read on to see what they had to say in our fun conversation below!
First off, I love your “Dancing With Myself” song! What was that recording process like?
B-ROC: That song actually came about because our friend Mike Del Rio, who has been working with us on our record, he had the demo of it — which was totally different and rough. He played it for us and we freaked out. We ended up writing it fairly quickly; it came pretty natural. I was actually going through a break-up, so I used that as inspiration. There’s some sad moments that I drew from there. It’s the first time we wrote a song that I feel has sad tones to it, even though it has an uplifting message to it. All our music is pretty much party music, but this one is a little more moody. It’s cool because it’s setting the tone for our record — it’s not all party jams. There’s a lot more soulful stuff to it.
JPATT: We started doing this when we were like 24-25 [years old] as The Knocks when we really liked to party. But as you grow up, you deal with more shit and that comes across in what you make for your art. It’s a little more serious, but we’re not totally going emo here! [laughs]
I know you are gearing up for your 55 album, is there a release date?
BR: Not yet, but it’s looking like it will be in the summer time. Maybe around July.
So what can we expect from the album?
BR: It’s full of songs, there not just tracks. Our older singles were a lot more dance-based, and everything [on the record] is definitely groovy. But it’s slowed down a little bit, there are no huge bangers. We’ve got some great artist features on there, and we’re excited! We’ve been together for about five years and we’ve never put out a record, so this will be our first statement and I think it will let people understand what we’re all about.
JP: I think it’s a combination of everything we are influenced by. I feel like it took us a while to find our stride. We try to be different, but being different is hit or miss. But with this album, I think we’ve figured it out. This album showcases what we loved listening to growing up: hip-hop, funk, more classic stuff. But we make it sound fresh, and I hope everyone thinks the same.
I wanted to know our thoughts on the new wave of dance music. You have Kygo, Snakehips, Gorgon City, etc. Do you like what’s happening right now?
BR: Dance music is in an exciting but also weird place, because a lot of these genres are blowing up overnight, getting over-saturated with artists and then disappearing. But I think it’s now coming back to the soul and groove side, which is what we like to do. Next year is going to be interesting because a lot of stuff is going to cross over and become more funky and organic because people are going to get sick of all the synths.
JP: I’m in the same boat. I feel like dance music right is weird because house music started in Chicago, Detroit and New York. So it’s weird for it to have gone to Europe and have it blown up over there. It’s like with hip-hop culture. It was huge here for about 20-30 years, and people were all about being super hard with the baggy jeans and that kind of thing. But now, you see [rappers like] Young Thug who rocks skinny jeans. It’s like everything is coming full circle. Like back in the day if you brought up house music, people thought of gay clubs. But now people aren’t afraid to dance and not be so hard.
BR: I’m also over all the sub-genres, like deep house, tropical house. Like people are trying to trademark these slangs.
JP: Yea, it’s just dance music! I mean it’s cool that people are embracing it. Look at Disclosure, that was huge for the progression of dance music. People are now moving to the groove and it’s not all about mean mugging in the club waiting to throw down.
You guys are from New York City, as am I. Do you think dance music from the East Coast differs sonically compared to the West Coast?
BR: Totally! There’s not much dance music coming out of New York in general. I think some of the best stuff has come from the city, but a lot of the big DJs are moving to LA. My opinion is that people get there and they start to sound the same. I think being in New York gives you an edge because it’s not so over-saturated. In LA, you can work with all of the best writers — but all the best guys are working with all the other best guys! So they’re all ending up sounding alike and the producers are losing their edge. They all see the shining lights and want to become Calvin Harris. That’s why we just want to stick around in New York, because there’s not really a lot of guys here. There is still a great underground scene for house music, but I think it’s just going to stay underground. But we’re trying to gave this big success that some of the LA guys or the UK guys have, but just stick to home. I mean there’s A-Trak, but he moved to LA too! [laughs]
JP: New York is just fucking real for me — not that LA or the UK isn’t — but you go through a New York winter and you get sad. I’m one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet and I try to stay on my happy shit, and we are lucky enough to travel. But with this winter, we were home for most of it and it was fucking tough! By the end of it I was like, “I’m a little sad.” But you use that as inspiration and you put it in your music. I feel like a lot of people can’t or won’t deal with that, and they run to LA because it’s sunny every day. I feel like everyone over there is chasing a similar dream where they want to be the next Max Martin or Dr. Luke — not that we don’t want to be like that — but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The way we’re doing it is trying to stay true to what we know and not compromise what we really want to put forth. New York forever, man!
Have you guys listened to Madonna’s new album? She’s reverting back to house music on the record.
BR: That’s where she came from. When she was doing Vogue music when it was vogueing was so underground. With that whole house scene, she was on that shit way ahead of everyone else. She was in New York though, and went to the gay clubs and made it big. But I have mixed feeling about Madonna because I love her, but that last record [MDNA] was pretty bad.
I like to think it doesn’t exist!
BR: Yea, we won’t talk about it! [laughs]
What are your thoughts on Rebel Heart, James?
JP: I haven’t heard it yet, but I’ve read articles about it so I’m aware of it. I definitely want to give it a listen because I’m always interested in new music. I give Madonna credit for constantly reinventing herself. I feel like as an artist, you have to be able to do that. Same with Kanye West. As a fan of him, I want to hear old Kanye all the time. But as a creator, I respect the fact that he’s able to come at music with some new shit every time. I don’t know what Kanye is going through, but he’s able to tell me what he’s going through with his music. Like with the Yeezus album, he’s frustrated. The first lyric is immediately “Yeezy season approaching, fuck whatever y’all been hearing!” It’s like, “Okay, Kanye’s pissed off!” It’s good, because that means he is a real artist in that sense. So it goes back to Madonna. We’ll see whether or not I’ll like the new music, but at least she’s trying to be relevant and recreate the vibe so that it fits into current culture.
So this is a fun question to end with — if you can go back in time to a musical era, what would you choose. I would go to the ’70s psychedelic era to see Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
BR: Yea, I would do! I watched that Jimi Hendrix documentary, and that made me want to be there. That whole vibe, I think, was music’s best moment. Like when rockstars were rockstars.
JP: I would definitely want to go back to a time before the Internet. I appreciate the Internet because it levels the playing field for everyone who is trying to do this [music], but at the same time there is something to be said of the mystique of not knowing the artist. Like you’d only see them at their shows.
BR: I don’t want to watch a rockstar who I’m a fan of eating breakfast. Like, “here’s my kale!” No one cares!
JP: Like you look at their Instagram and it’s them waking up in the morning. For me, it’s a good thing to hide behind your art and not have everyone know everything about you. It makes people more judgmental that way. Back then, if you liked someone you loved them. Like Michael Jackson was a good, or even someone like Stevie Wonder. Nowadays it’s like, “Oh Young Thug is at Starbucks right now!” You feel a little too attached!
The Knocks’ forthcoming So Classic EP will be released on April 7th via Big Beat Records and Warner Music, and can be pre-ordered on iTunes here.
Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.