Building the Fort: The Life of an Emerging Artist

Knox discuss piracy, Electro-Dream Cabin and how technology’s changing listeners’ eclecticism

Knox: The Musical

Everybody understands the definition of a ‘torrent’; everybody also understands the legalities of using them to acquire multimedia. The idea of downloading entire discographies at no expense other than a small portion of hard-drive space and, depending on your internet connection, a few minutes of your time is appealing, and one that many people choose to employ again and again. But that’s just the beginning. Soundcloud, Spotify, Dropbox, Noisetrade, YouTube, Facebook and even old grandpa himself, Myspace, are all platforms for artists to bring their noise to masses… and for the masses to enjoy with little to no expense.

Take Nic and Eliza Coolidge, American brother-sister duo, better known by their collective title Knox, and their dreamy, electro-acoustic vibe: most of the above methods of sharing are used by the band, and with good reason. “We are so thankful our music has been able to reach as far as it has, and a large part of that is thanks to web services such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp.” In fact, when making contact with Knox’s press agent, their latest EP – Here – was previewed to me through Soundcloud, and offered for download using Dropbox. “In order to be heard, you have to be available” the two observe, noting further how “in order to be available, you must be as virtually active as possible”.

It seems relevant at this stage to ask their thoughts on the more ominous end of the murky, grey area that is file-sharing. Although observing the fact that “many people use torrent downloaders as a previewing mechanism” – the two liken the system to “a modern day, virtual trading post” – they’re wary of the effects it can have on their careers as musicians.

“Digital copies of music can remove the corporeal component that is valued in ownership, but these seemingly non-bodies have less to no impact on the conscience of the pirate.”

The duo elected to release To Rush, Roar and Murmur, their first EP, for free on Facebook and Bandcamp, as is often the case with new artists in an attempt to get their work heard by a wider audience. The idea was simple: “we wanted to exchange our music for our fans’ promotive efforts”. After using this strategy on their first release, the band’s latest offering, Here, took a more conventional commercial approach. Making acute observations on consumer’s buying habits, the two reply to one of my questions with a penetrating summation of the average listener’s thought process since the rise of the internet: “If they are interested, they want to purchase immediately. If that isn’t acquirable by wallet or by obscurity’s sake then the object of desire remains elusive and interest in its attainment is forgotten.”

“Our sound? Think of a subway station full of commuters, someone playing guitar alone in their room after 1am and a drumming army of elves”

Knox is an interesting choice of name. “’Knox’ is our mother’s maiden name, originating from Scotland”, I’m informed, further strengthening the family dynamic the band have so solidly moulded. Unsurprisingly, though, sharing an ongoing project with a sibling does have its strains. Although mentioning how there are often “telepathic moments where one of us will introduce a phrase or beat and the other will finish it” and their respect for each other’s production styles, it’s inevitable that creative ‘issues’ can occur. There is a protocol in place to deal with these instances, though: “we put the track down for a while or drop it entirely. We want the music we release to represent us as a band as well as individuals.” Perhaps if more artists understood this, we’d be spared some of the classics. Planet Pit, anyone?

When asked how their sound could be described, the siblings’ reply was much more descriptive and poetic than I was expecting. “A good friend of ours once coined our sound as ‘Electro-Dream Cabin’, which encapsulates the three realms of musical consciousness: public, private and imaginary/hallucinatory” they explain, before expanding further: “Our sound resides in the membrane between these different musical ecosystems. Simultaneously think of a subway station full of waiting commuters, someone playing guitar alone in their room after 1am and a drumming army of elves”. Living next to a ‘budding’ guitar enthusiast in my halls of residence, I find the second of those concepts not quite as hard to imagine as the third.

With such colourful descriptions of their music, it would only be fair to ask where the inspiration comes from to produce pieces that fit this particular brand of sound. “Music is an ubiquitous phenomenon. All we try to do is remain receptive and open to it all.”

Having agreed mutually that inspiration can be taken from almost anywhere (or anything) in the world, Knox give a flavour of just how wide the scope of their ear to musical inspiration really is. As many artists have found, musical stimulation can often be unearthed in the outside world; writing can come from personal experiences and emotions, but also from concrete happenings in every day life. “Anything from the infrasonic rumblings of an approaching subway train, to the percussive amalgam of a supermarket bustle, to the crickets’ chirp in a dense wood, to your mom washing dishes in the sink is musical material.”

Rough inspiration and sound is only one side of the coin, of course. Knox’s writing process begins in a mechanical, systematic fashion, as they explain how they “begin with an improvisation or field recording”, and “obsessively record ourselves, resulting in a sizable bank of sounds, textures and song fragments”. At this point, all that exists is a “pool of parts” – a collection of noise awaiting editing into something progressive. The next stages are very much a refinery of their raw materials: “we have our own private idiosyncratic methods to production, so a large amount of the preambular stages of composition are spent alone in the studio. We’ll bounce the track back and forth between one another until we feel that we’ve moulded it into a Knox fashion.”

Listening to the result of this creativity process, namely the recent Here EP, their vivid descriptions begin to make sense: a common theme throughout is a definite feeling of being late into the evening, with muffled groans not dissimilar to a railway noise in the distance forcing through.

Atop this, Eliza’s vocals whisper and whine their way around smooth, rippling bass, offering as stripped-back a sound as you can think of. But whichever view Knox take on the internet distribution of their records, the point they left me with is difficult to find fault with: “Because of the digitalisation of music and its distribution, we can be as an eclectic listener as we have time for.”

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