Interview by Roxanne Blanford
Okay, for all those uninformed souls out there who were sleeping off the â€˜90s like some bad hangover and missed the boat when Knacker first hit the indie rock scene (as well as for those who missed this reviewerâ€™s stellar Knacker critiques and Ontario â€˜zine interview), Pete Marino and Dean Marino (yeah, theyâ€™re brothers) will now bring you up to date on this hook-heavy, noise-infused, melodic and compellingly enjoyable pop-rock Canadian band. Theyâ€™ll even discuss the brand-spanking new release, picture | show - a release with a sound so modern, itâ€™s retro; with a sound so retro, itâ€™s positively ahead of its time.
But first, some brief history on the rise of Knacker. And if you already know most of this, just think of it as a refresher course. There will be a quiz later.
Knacker the band originated in a suburb of Ontario â€“ Oakville, to be preciseâ€“ in the late 1990s. Pete and Dean Marino (late of a local quintet by the name of Atomic) put on the Knacker moniker and they, along with other former Atomic members, recorded a self-titled six-song demo debut. That disc, KNACKER, was produced by Rob Sanzo (RadioBlaster), promoted at live gigs and sold at Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto (holding a spot on its Top Ten Sellers List for many weeks).
Between a steady stream of showcase and festival performances (Vans Warped Tour, CMJ Music Marathon, Pop Montreal Festival, CMW, NXNE), and being featured on Edge 102 radioâ€™s New Rock Search, Knacker independently released the full-length SNAPSHOT in 2002 under the tutelage of Krisjan Leslie (The Weekend, Zuckerbaby). The disc was critically acclaimed for its originality and lively spirit. It innovatively combined the arena rock ethic of the 70s with bold, forward-looking indie rock dynamics (think Cheap Trick meets Sloan meets Weezer).
Songs were licensed out to television and motion picture soundtracks, while the album charted nationally in Exclaim! and found itself in the Top-30 of more than ten Canadian campus radio stations.
Now, two years later, Knacker unveils the all-new picture | show, and looks ahead with a sideways glance back.
Inasmuch as the two of you are blood brothers, it could be argued that Knacker was founded in the womb and nurtured in the playpen. But, exactly when and how did your musical screwing around turn into a bona fide stab at becoming a real flesh â€˜n blood performing and recording band?
PETE: All of us (weâ€™re a [true] four-piece band now) were in bands that we thought were the â€œnext big thing.â€? Jefrey With 1 F Nedza (guitar) and Chris Edelman(drums) played in a band that had success opening for international artists, and Dean and I had bands that got us on the Ontario radar. But we really got serious and started to think more long term after the release of â€˜Snapshotâ€™. That was the first time we really committed a whole albumâ€™s worth of material to tape. We had a great deal of success with that album in the sense that we got radio play and pretty much every track made it into either a TV show or onto a film soundtrack. We became more motivated as we started to place a number of unreleased tracks on TV shows. Most of those new tracks are on our sophomore album â€œpicture | show.â€?
How does KNACKER, in its current evolutionary state, differ from previous incarnations?
DEAN: Aside from the fact that we are a four piece collective now, and have been for quite some time, this band has become a much more fluent and experienced live act. Weâ€™ve reached a level of confidence where our four personalities interact, and I think our audience really enjoys that. Also, we have become much more efficient in the studio. Everyone plays an important and unique roll in this band, both in studio and on stage, and that helps facilitate everything we do.
Describe the "early days", if you will, when Knacker was playing those initial local showcases, performing live for the first time, and getting the industry to actually take notice. What was that like, especially thinking back to yourselves as a nascent, green, wet-behind-the-ears band, just out there having fun?
DEAN: True, back then we were just having fun. It was music for musicâ€™s sake. We had no real adult pressures. In that way, the early days were no different for us than for a lot of other bands out there. The only difference is that weâ€™ve stuck to it. A lot has changed now. Though itâ€™s still business as usual, weâ€™re doing a lot more of it now. We still have a lot of fun, but itâ€™s a career now, and we take it more seriously. I guess we measure our success differently these days. Still, I couldnâ€™t imagine doing anything else.
PETE: We paid our dues as a band and worked hard to get to where we are. Everything is a stepping-stone. Playing festivals was a big step for us and at the time, one of my goals. It was amazing playing in front of thousands of people and right next to some of our idols. But we have learned that you have to constantly elevate in order to succeed. The same goes for media, radio. Weâ€™ve learned you have to grow in this industry and grow we have. Weâ€™ve probably had more success getting our music on TV then a lot of international bands have. And it was all achieved by breaking one door down at a time.
Speaking of breaking down doorsâ€¦youâ€™ve broken into the Big Time of sorts, havenâ€™t you? This year, youâ€™ve acquired the services of Paul Tuchscherer and AMP (Artist Management & Promotion) to essentially, steer the band. How did that come about and howâ€™s it going?
DEAN: We put some bait out there and were talking to a few agencies when Paul approached us. We decided to go with Paul because he seemed more down-to-earth and could devote more time to us than the average manager. Heâ€™s a great guy and is not afraid to twist arms for us, plus he listens very seriously to our input. In fact, Jef and Paul co-manage Knacker. Now, we can focus more on being a band and less on balancing books or booking shows and interviews â€“ which is good.
PETE: Managing a band is a hard task. We work as a democracy but kept having too many stalemates so we decided to bring in a tie breaking 5th vote. Having Paul gives us an extra voice promoting the band and removes some of the stress from Chris and Jef, who exclusively handled all those things before. Paul's also a really good guy and itâ€™s nice to have someone outside of the band to rant to.
Discuss the music scene in Ontario as you perceive it, and how that bodes for Knacker going forward.
PETE: Ontario, and more specifically Toronto, is a strong music market. Itâ€™s easy to fall under the radar. Thatâ€™s why weâ€™ve had to work hard to get noticed. The competition is huge and weâ€™ve made a name for ourselves.
DEAN: Living in Toronto itâ€™s hard to walk down Queen St. without hearing people talk about their band or seeing a thousand posters for shows featuring local acts. It seems everyone and their brother has a band and many of them are really good and innovative. Itâ€™s a vibrant scene and the challenge is cutting through and making it to the next level. I feel confident that weâ€™ll go forward because weâ€™re always finding ways to raise the bar or up the ante. At the same time, itâ€™s good that there are so many bands out there because we like to get out there and find new people, meet other bands and spread our goodwill (not to mention the music).
Hmmâ€¦No, letâ€™s DO mention the MUSIC.
Knackerâ€™s 2004, all new release, picture | show, is an exciting, full-on outpouring of happy creativity and freewheeling artistry. It all sounds too easy, almost too natural. Yet, in every note sung and every chord strung, there exist palpable strains of maturing musicianship.
What makes picture | show even more amazing (and truly, worth listening to!) is the fact that although it took only about two to three months to complete, the discâ€™s concept and content changed so much during the making, Knacker scrapped about 3 full albumsâ€™ worth of material before deciding on the final product. Additionally, a faulty hard drive within their own studio rig resulted in a loss of almost all of the initial recordings. On the up side, the hard drive disaster compelled the band to return to Chemical Sound studios for recording, thereby imbuing the disc with a sense of urgency (when youâ€™re in someone elseâ€™s studio, with the meter ticking away, you tend to waste less time) and with a greater focus.
Among some of the standouts on this flawless disc is the lyrically reflective â€œPerfect Mileâ€?, about which Dean says, â€œThis song relates a story a friend of mine told me about what it's like working in Hollywood with all those Hollywood types. Everybodyâ€™s nice to everybody else on the surface, and try to project happiness, but in reality most people are either really bitter or hurting insideâ€?). Thereâ€™s â€œAmnesiaâ€? (powerfully biting, sharp, and honestly sarcastic, with edgy emotions right there on the surface). This is a typical Knacker arrangement displaying the bandâ€™s finesse for energetic harmonies and vibrant chord structures. Then, thereâ€™s â€œIn The Pictureâ€?.
DEAN: I like the fuzz guitar sounds in the intro of â€œIn the Pictureâ€? (donâ€™t they sound synth-like? I was totally listening to the Car's first record while writing that song! I think Rick Ocasek really knows how to write a good solid pop tune.) I also love Chrisâ€™ drum performance on that track. â€œAmnesiaâ€? has a fragile-yet-confident feel to it. Itâ€™s just really human, just one of those â€œIâ€™m pissed off and Iâ€™m not going to take your shit anymoreâ€? type relationship songs with a real sing-along quality to it.
PETE: I like â€œTiredâ€? and â€œShoegazer Dazeâ€?. â€œTiredâ€?, because lyrically itâ€™s an emotional song for me, and musically it brings me back to my lo-fi indie rock roots. â€œShoegazer Dazeâ€?, because itâ€™s just an amazing song with a lot of texture. Every time I listen to it, I hear a new sound I never noticed before.
And, last, but certainly not least, is picture | showâ€™s hidden track: A brilliant cover of a Neil Young composition, done up in a dreamy and unique, yet familiar, style.
DEAN: Jef got the idea to cover it and had [specific ideas] on how he wanted it to sound. His best friend was getting married and it would be a gift to the newlyweds, for their first dance. We spent a happy day noodling over that song in the studio. I remember hearing it over the PA at the wedding. It sent shivers up my spine, and at that moment I realized we had to include it on the record.
(You gotta get the picture | show disc to find out what this one is! Itâ€™s a true gem,!
Go to- http://knacker.net/)
Needless to say, itâ€™s been an intriguing journey for this up and coming band. When this reviewer first interviewed Knacker after the release of their debut EP, both Dean and Pete mused about becoming Rock Stars and playing music as a career. Funny, not much has changed since then, except, perhaps, the way time changes all things.
PETE: When you first start a band youâ€™re mostly trying to impress girls and come across as a being cool. You donâ€™t take into account all the little things that have to come together in order to be a real success. As time moves on and if you decide that you want to make music a career, you quickly realize that it involves a lot of hard work and structure. I think we all will agree that sometimes when you look back it seemed like we had more fun. Now thereâ€™s always so much work involved. But once you hit the stage, hit that first chord, all the fun comes back. Itâ€™s all worth it!