DATE OF INTERVIEW:
13th June 2017
With their fourth album, 'Land Animal', sonic iconoclasts Bent Knee have crafted a piece of art that is as innovative and fresh in its profound emotional depths and boundless creativity, as it is accessible and entertaining through its compositional astuteness. Painting their musical canvas from a stylistically wide palette, genre is secondary to the songwriting, with each track its own refreshingly reified entity. It's a rare accomplishment in a day and age where safe and stagnant mimicry and lazy pastiche is all too commonplace. Metal Discovery chatted to Vince Welch from the Boston, Massachusetts sextet, ahead of the album's release, to find out more about the band's innovatory proclivities; his production/sound design role within the band; and just what kind of music he believes hippos would be into...
METAL DISCOVERY: First off, I have to say congrats on the new album. A flawless 10/10 from me. Incredible stuff, I thought.
VINCE: Yeah, thank you for the review, that was really nice.
(Vince Welch on his penchant for fresh innovation in music)
"...when I’m listening to music...what gets me excited more than anything is when I hear something and it’s something I’ve never heard before, and you have that sort of feeling where I didn’t even know that was a possibility..."
Bent Knee - promo shot, 2017
Photograph copyright © 2017 Chris Anderson
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Talking of the review, I wrote that I think you’ve struck a perfect balance “between innovation, accessibility, cognitively stirring discourse, emotional engagement and sheer, unmitigated entertainment.” Is that a fair summary of what you believe you’ve achieved with ‘Land Animal’?
VINCE: I’d say that’s a very generous summary! That’s certainly a very good description of what I think we’re trying to do every time we make an album. You know, almost any time anyone makes an album, you’re trying to get that balance between entertainment and art where, basically, it’s captivating on the first listen, but there are all sorts of details and you can listen to it ten times and still discover new things.
MD: Definitely, yeah, the best kind of album. If I had to summarise the music in just one word, it would be “refreshing”. Did you set out of make an album that was refreshing?
VINCE: Yeah, really, for all of us, trying to do new things with something, we value a lot. I know, for me, when I’m listening to music like that, what gets me excited more than anything is when I hear something and it’s something I’ve never heard before, and you have that sort of feeling where I didn’t even know that was a possibility; I didn’t know that you can do that. That’s such an exciting feeling so, yeah, definitely, I think we’re always looking to try to do that.
MD: I think part of that as well, is that I think your music actually transcends genre. It sounds like you’re working within your own self-styled space, and it never comes across as different for the sake of being different. Do you see it that way, too? Almost like genre is secondary to the actual songwriting.
VINCE: Yeah, definitely. The whole idea of genre, that’s kind of one of my pet peeves in music, is when people try to too rigidly stay within certain stylistic boundaries. I think that can be a real creative bottleneck. Sometimes, people can use limits to do really cool stuff but, at the same time, if you’re obsessed with, you know, “we’re making a rock album or a metal album”… the drummer has to play this role, and the guitar has to play this role. You can definitely, as soon as you let go of those preconceptions about what it should be that comes from genre, I think that gives you a lot of freedom.
I like, a lot, what you said about not being different for the sake of being different, because that’s something we really work hard at. You know, a lot of times when we’re writing or recording, someone will come up with a kind of off-the-wall idea, and it’s interesting, but we have a standard where: “Okay, that’s cool, but is it making the song better? Is it going to lead to a better listening experience for the listener, or are we just doing something for our own sake?” So, yeah, that’s something we really pay a lot of attention to.
MD: I also think your music brings back sincerity and meaning to the word progressive, as you’re actually progressing something through your compositions… genuinely, rather than generically, progressive, I would say. Despite being signed to Inside Out now, will you try to distance yourselves from any kind of progressive branding, because of the delimiting and regressive connotations all too often associated with many so-called progressive bands?
VINCE: Yeah, I definitely know what you mean. Historically, the progressive rock term has been used in a number of ways. If you look at bands like Queen or Pink Floyd, they get labelled that, sometimes, because they are really pushing things forward in an interesting way. But I definitely know what you mean about a lot of what’s called progressive these days; it feels like it’s stuck in the past and perhaps emulating something from the 70s. And the whole prog thing is really interesting because we’ve certainly never set out to be a prog band. I don’t really think any of us… maybe I’m putting words in everyone’s mouth, but I don’t consider us to actually be a prog band. I think if you tell someone a band is prog, the first thing people think is that you sound like Rush or Dream Theater or something…
VINCE: I think we don’t really sound like either of those bands at all. The community’s great and I do definitely appreciate the fans in that community who’ve embraced that, because they’re really passionate. You know, when they like an artist, they like them hardcore; buying every bit of merch and really diving in deep into the music. That part is great, but I guess I hear other prog bands and, often, I don’t quite get it but, you know… I’m not really complaining about it.
MD: I think the biggest fallacy is when people regard prog as a genre because to have a genre of progressive is a paradox. And what you’re doing is progressive as a mindset, rather than sticking to any kind of rules.
VINCE: Yeah, what’s interesting about that is that you can have musical progression in any genre. Where a lot of the really cutting edge stuff is happening these days is in hip hop. There seems to be almost like this animosity towards hip hop in the prog community… kind of like a closed-mindedness towards it. So, yeah, it’s just kind of interesting they’re missing where there’s actual pushing the boundaries; where actual innovation is happening.
MD: How did the Inside Out deal come about, and have you noticed a lot more buzz now, ahead of the album’s release?
VINCE: To answer the first part, yeah, it was kind of a long saga. We talked to Inside Out a little bit, before the previous album came out, ‘Say So’, and they just weren’t quite interested then. I mean, they were a little interested, but not enough for us to actually end up working together. We just kind of kept working at it and they were one of the labels we talked to when we were seeing who could put out this album. I mean, they really liked the demos for this album… we worked a lot harder on the demos, this time, trying to actually make them to get the songs across to some degree, rather than a really crummy, hastily done thing.
Interestingly enough, it seemed what they really liked and found most intriguing about us, was the tour we’d just done with Dillinger Escape Plan. It was interesting because Dillinger is very sort of outside the kind of music Inside Out really has anything to do with, but I think that’s what kind of made them interested enough. I think they saw us as more… you know, like you were saying about the prog bands who very traditionally follow that mould of 70s’ prog, and I think they saw us as a way to bring in a little more diverse and a little more young audience.
The second part of that question – it’s definitely given us a bit more buzz. I mean, we’re in a coffee shop in Toledo, half way on our drive between Chicago and Pennsylvania, and we’re all doing interviews within this three hour period. So, just the amount of press and interviews we’ve been doing, pre-release, is way more than the previous album. So, yeah, it’s definitely been helpful for that.
MD: Have you seen any irony in the fact you’re now on a label called Inside Out, but with a song called ‘Insides In’ on the album?
VINCE: [Laughs] Yeah, I thought that was kind of funny!
MD: There’s some kind of marketing opportunity in that, maybe!
VINCE: Yeah, we were joking about that because that song was written and named before we even started considering labels. It’s just a kind of funny coincidence. But, yeah, we’ve definitely been making jokes about how we should, maybe, you know, pitch them that demo!