Planetary Group took some time to get to know David Knudson…
Planetary Group: Tell us about your latest release. How did you come to create it?
David: My new record, The Only Thing You Have to Change is Everything, came out on May 13th. As you can tell, the title is inspired by huge changes I’ve made in my life, mainly about getting sober.
After being on the road for so long, it was impossible to come home and not drink. And it was negatively affecting my family and my own health. So I decided to stop. All of a sudden things got better: I was creative, I found a new energy and spark that I wanted to put into my music.
And so it was a really big time of exploration for me; there was a lot of learning, new recording techniques I’d never recorded before. I’d never been interested in engineering anything music-wise, but realizing the power and the tools that you can set up in your home studio was really eye-opening for me. It allowed me to have a creative outlet during all the COVID madness, and also to just be able to collaborate with friends from far away.
We started recording at a studio up the road. Sam Bell (the producer) and I started tracking up there and we realized: we don’t need this huge studio, we can just do this in my basement. So we built a studio and recorded almost everything here.
Then mid-pandemic, Sam moved back to the UK to go to school in Portsmouth. But we continued working on the record over Skype and just sharing audio files and sessions on Dropbox. And that was a really awesome way to collaborate – he’s like eight or nine hours ahead, so he’d wake up, work on something for the day, send me some notes… I would’ve just been getting up, and then I would do my part. And then when he was ready to work the next day, he’d have my stuff ready to critique or produce, or maybe he had come up with something else too. So it was a really cool way to do it.
This record also features a bunch of guest vocalists, which I’m super happy about. We started the record thinking it was going to be instrumental only, and then we asked Roger from Bayonne to contribute to a song. Once we heard his vocals, that kind of blew me away and I realized, oh my gosh, these songs can be elevated and taken to the next level if we add vocalists to more of them.
So we reached out to Julia from The Coathangers and she was happy to jump on board. Jake from Minus the Bear also sings on a song – it was awesome to connect creatively with him again. And then Sam sings on four songs and he did a fantastic job, cause he’s always got melodies going through his head and lyrical ideas.
Sam and I kept talking about earworms and getting the songs and the melody stuck in people’s heads. You know, you can do that with guitar lines, you can do that with instrumentation, but really what gets stuck in people’s minds is the human lyrical or melodic content. And so I think adding the guest vocalists to the majority of the tracks really helped to take the songs to the next level.
PG: Share a bit about your musical journey, from when you first started making music until now.
David: My musical journey really began probably when I first heard Metallica, when I saw a video on MTV back in like ‘89. And I thought oh man, this is so cool. At the time I was playing trombone in our school band and I was like, this trombone is not nearly as cool as those guitars! So I picked up the guitar back then.
Then at the same time, I also got cut from all the baseball teams I was trying to play on. And I was like, well, this isn’t working out for me, trombone or baseball, so maybe I’ll just try and play guitar. From that point, I just played along to a ton of different records, and just kind of learned that way… took a few lessons here or there, but nothing too serious.
And then in high school, I started a band called Botch with a bunch of friends – we started out as this little tiny band that didn’t know what we were doing, and by the end, we were touring Europe and the States, and releasing a bunch of records that flatteringly people still listen to today.
After Botch, I started a band called Minus the Bear. We, again, kept touring relentlessly, put out five or six albums and a bunch of singles and EPs, played festivals, did late night TV and did all that stuff… That was quite a wild journey. And it was just super rewarding and fun to play music with all my friends, whether it was in Botch or in Minus the Bear.
PG: Let’s talk about the music that you love. Pick one album for each category below & tell us a bit about it!
- An album you grew up listening to:
David: I think my dad took me and my sister to a Tower Records in Tacoma, and I got the Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ cassette. I mean that record was enormous, right? There were so many hits on the radio and on MTV and whatnot, but, as a guitar player, when I heard the Beat It guitar solo, where Eddie Van Hale is just going bananas, I was like, what is this music?
We grew up with a little record player down in the basement and a lot of seven inches, 45s, some old Beatles LPs and stuff like that. As a kid, I would sit down there and pretend I was a DJ, put on songs from records and try to do little voiceover things; I’d have segues from one song to the next while I put the needle down or took the needle off.
It was really fun as a kid to have all those records in our collection and to just be able to gather influences, have fun with music and pretend it was my own.
- An album that inspires you as an artist (I’m sure there are many, but pick one of your choosing):
David: DJ Shadows’ Endtroducing… There’s just so many layers and unique sounds and textures, that I find something new that I appreciate every time I listen to it.
Music that’s kinda like an onion is my favorite kind of music. Certainly there’s room for a pop hit or something that you listen to repeatedly for like two days in a row and get tired of it. But those records that are kind of like onions that you peel back the layers and they reveal something new each time you listen are really my favorite.
Whether it’s a drum sound or a sample or a bass part or some sort of rhythmic shift that I hadn’t noticed before, DJ Shadows’ Endtroducing… when I put that on, there’s always a moment that I appreciate that I didn’t – it’s not that I didn’t appreciate it before, but it jumps out. It’s fun to listen to records like that.
What’s next up for you?
David: What’s up next is just continuing to write. I had such a great time collaborating with all the different vocalists and with Sam as a producer, so I’ve already started writing material for what will be the second record of mine. And I’ll probably focus on that, but summer’s around the corner, so we’ll be doing some trips around Seattle and Washington and all that good stuff.
I don’t really have any plans to tour this record. After being on the road for 20-plus years with Minus the Bear and Botch, it’s been nice to find a creative outlet that doesn’t involve traveling from city to city every day, and the grind that that entails. So I’ll be happy writing in the studio and coming up with new music.