Kentucky Knife Fight | To the Fans

prof KKF_sm“You can be the best bass player in the world, but if I want to kill you as a person, I don’t really care what you can do with your instrument.”



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photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jason Holler from Kentucky Knife Fight about the band’s third full-length studio album release, Hush Hush. Just a few nights prior, they had their release party, a sold out event in St. Louis at Off Broadway, and it was a smashing affair! Pretty Little Empire started the night off just right: melodic rock with angelic vocals and perfect harmonies. The second act, The Ladybirds, had traveled from Louisville, and proudly announced that they commonly traded shows with Kentucky Knife Fight in each other’s cities. They were utterly amazing. Their front woman, Sarah Teeple, had big hair and the confident stage presence of Dolly Parton. It was ’50s, it was now, and it rocked. The musicianship was bar none, and each song was more intense and fabulous than its predecessor, with quick changes and incredible lyrics.

Then it happened. There began a symphonic backing track and the band appeared. Kentucky Knife Fight. Dressed to impress. Humble and confident. They started off with the first track from their new album, “Paper Flowers Three,” which set the mood for the show, and continued through the album’s track listing, also adding a few old favorites like “Wild Irish Rose,” “Herschel Walker,” and “Got My Heaven.” It was the first time I had seen so many people piled in this place without it being an extremely popular national act—and the crowd eating up every note. Buying merch, drinking, and dancing. The striking changes in the songs created crowd participation and lots of cheers.

The whole time, I found myself wondering how they had gone about writing all of these tunes, which constantly surprised you and were musically brilliant. Jason’s unique voice and incredible lyrics are always amazing, but it was clear that this album particularly highlights the entire spectrum of his vocal ability. You could tell he was having a blast up there. All of them, actually. Smiles abound! The icing on the cake was the fact that they brought a façade of musicians who had played various instruments and vocals on the album. The vocal harmonies and horns added a larger-than-life effect to the show.

When I asked how it felt to play to a sold-out crowd, Jason humbly responded, “It felt great! It was very humbling, and I was wishing there was some way that I could vocalize in a very sincere manner that I really appreciated everybody coming beyond “I appreciated everybody coming,” that I could sit down with someone, with all 400 people down, and tell them how much I appreciate them.” We talked a while and there were lots of laughs, and great conversation. Jason is a truly awesome person and I’d like to share with you what we discussed.

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photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

I’ve read that you typically write lyrics and the band writes the music. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the process.

It just depends on the song. Sometimes I may come up with a vocal melody for a song and bring it to the table and start working off that, while other times music comes first and I’m just plugging what I already have written down into the music that the guys are coming up with.

Some of your songs have some pretty wicked changes, and all of the clapping stuff that you do. Who would you say is most responsible for that kind of stuff? Or does it just happen?

Our guitarist Curt comes from a jazz background, and he’s very interested in music evolving and unpredictable things happening in songs. I think he pushes for a lot of that, and all of the other guys are pretty instrumental on the whole editing of songs and writing of songs and whatnot.

As a lyricist, where do you draw your inspiration?

With this most recent album, Hush Hush, inspiration was drawn from my own upbringing and also just living in St. Louis. This new album’s a lot about crime and when I was a teenager—a lot of the people I surrounded myself with were criminals.

Oh! Fun times.

And most of them are in prison now or dead. So, there’s that, and living in St. Louis, you’re constantly reminded about crime and violence. To be perfectly honest, it’s always been something I’ve been really fascinated with; even as a really young kid, I was always interested in crime stories. My grandmother had purchased a book called The Encyclopedia of American Crime that she gave me when I was a kid and I just really dove into it. I was a fairly dark and morbid kid. In my teenage years, things got a little crazy, but as I ended up in this band and we were working on developing our sound, and I was kind of listening to different musicians, I started to lean toward sort of rootsy, Americana-type stuff, and there’s a certain tradition of murder ballads, a certain tradition of stories being told. Anything from standard/traditional songs to people like Springsteen and whatnot”

What is the song “Bad Blood” about?

“Bad Blood” is a story of this guy who—he’s kind of this composite of people I grew up with, friends of mine I grew up with. Also relatives, like an uncle of mine. There’s a line about the Tick Tock Inn—there’s actually a motel not too far from my hometown called the Tick Tock Motel; I always thought it was a pretty seedy name for a hotel. A lot of the album is like this push and pull between rural and urban, and living in St. Louis and thinking about growing up in my hometown, and thinking about my hometown and thinking about the people I grew up with, the particular character who is drug addict and selfish and who is very much just kind of operating in his own way…refuses to make it to the funeral of possibly his father or something like that. That story ties in to a lot of the album, just a lot of reoccurring scenes and reoccurring characters and whatnot.

So you guys are living in St. Louis now?

Yeah, we live in South City. I’ve been in South City since 2008, and I think the rest of the guys have been in the city since like 2006-2007 time frame.

Now, are you guys from Edwardsville?

Actually, none of us are from Edwardsville. We all met up in Edwardsville at school there. I grew up in Quincy, Ill. Our bass player also grew up in Quincy, our drummer grew up in Springfield, and our guitarist Nate grew up in Centralia. Our guitarist Curt is the only Missourian in the bunch; he grew up in Perryville.

I seem to remember hearing that you recorded your first album; is that correct?

Our very first EP was recorded by a friend of mine in a living room in Edwardsville. After that, we recorded a live EP at a bar, and then our next two albums, The Wolf Crept the Children Slept and We’re All Nameless Here, were recorded at Firebrand Studios in St. Louis.

The first time I saw you guys was in about 2006, during the Wolf Crept era. I’m curious to know a little about your journey since then. I came to see you about a year or so later during We’re All Nameless Here at Blueberry Hill and seemed to notice a major change.

The main difference between when you saw us the first time and now is that we have a new member: Curt signed on pretty much as we were mixing our second album. So we changed guitarists and consequently our sound has changed a bit slightly. We had a different, another personality in the band, another opinion. And we’re older now. It’s kind of hard to write about the same shit I was writing about now that I’m almost 30, you know? And when there hasn’t been any growth and there hasn’t been any change, then there’s a problem. Some people can do that, like AC/DC, but I’m not somebody who writes like that .

Tell me what you love about the new album. Anything.

I feel very proud of it, and it just seems very now. Very grown up. I guess that’s what I like about it. It’s just current. It sounds pretty sometimes. When I’m not singing, it sounds really pretty.

What is one thing you would say is super important when it comes to keeping a band together? Staying together as a solid team.

There are a lot of things that contribute to that. First, setting yourself up with a group of people that you don’t want to kill is a help. You can be the best bass player in the world, but if I want to kill you as a person, I don’t really care what you can do with your instrument. So getting a group of people together that are friends, and that have things in common beyond just wanting to play this certain style of music, is a good thing. Beyond that, you run into stuff like not letting your feelings get hurt when somebody doesn’t like your musical idea—understanding that there’s a disconnect between those two things, or at least that there needs to be a difference between those two things like, between I don’t like that guitar part and your mother’s a whore. There’s a big difference between those two things, and if you can understand that, you’ll be fine. | Justin Thompson

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