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March 29, 2007
Since their inception in 1998, the Portland, Oregon-based trio 31Knots has recorded and released three EPs - The Rehearsal Dinner (2002, on 54'- 40' or Fight), The Curse of The Longest Day (2005, Polyvinyl Records), and Polemics (2006, Polyvinyl) - and four full-length albums - A Word is Also A Picture of A Word (2002, 54'-40' or Fight), It Was High Time to Escape (2003, 54'-40' or Fight), Talk Like Blood (2005, Polyvinyl), and this year's The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere (Polyvinyl).

Over the course of their prolific lifespan the group has benefited from its releationships with an artist-friendly record label and a dedicated fan base, but things aren't necessarily always all that rosy. Some music pundits are blinded by the way 31Knots has been described in the past; a few thick words like "proggy," "mathy," and "hard edge" automatically leading some to assume that the group is probably "unlistenable."

However, those who have dug a bit deeper and listened to more than a 20-second stream of 31Knots know that the group's most defining elements are layered vocal harmonies, developed song structures, and cutting yet poppy melodies. Any one of those elements by itself is often enough to develop the meat of an average band's sound, but when coalesced together as they are in 31Knots they flesh out a sound that is unique, full of hooks, and exciting. On musical merit alone the trio - comprised of Joe Haege and Jays Pellicci and Winebrenner - have legs to stand on, their unconventional structures sturdy enough to imagine 31Knots giving it a go as an instrumental outfit. But of course they're not content to rest on their laurels; as music so advanced should be, the ideas coming from the brains behind the strings and sticks aim to challenge the conventional listener, both lyrically and instrumentally.

31Knots has been on tour since March 1st in support of The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere, a trek that will continue through the last days of May and include, along with a double crossing of the United States, performances in eight European nations. Busy as the band is, LAS senior staff writer Josh Zanger managed to pin down guitarist/singer/brainbank Joe Haege long enough to pose a few questions about his band's prolific outfit, his goal as a musician, and Beethoven.


---

LAS: Each record that 31Knots releases seems to be consistent but different and improving in its own way. How did you keep everything fresh and moving in a positive direction for The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere?

Joe Haege: I think the biggest rule of thumb for this record was to "fuck subtlety." We had alluded to things before but it was always a little more in the straight rock context. I have been writing on piano for some time now and I think I've just gravitated more towards it as an instrument that moves me. That was a huge factor in keeping it fresh.

We all love a ton of music that has nothing to do with rock, but we also love the directness of it. So to combine those two mindsets and to keep working on how and where they intersect has made a huge creative difference.


Crafty innovation peeks through in the new album with samples from Archie Shepp and Beethoven and horn instrumentation. How did you decide to use these sounds?

I've actually been using samples like this for a while. On It Was High Time To Escape I used a Shostakovich sample for "No Sound" [the fourth track on High Time] as well as some more obscure 20th century composers. I love classical music; it is my first love. After high school it was a gateway drug that led me into the life of being a musical junkie. I heard the Russian composer Scriabin in my dorm room and I started weeping. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it moved me more than anything I had ever heard before. I also used to blast Chopin piano sonatas on my Walkman and ride my bike all around town. Then I moved to Eugene, where I had no friends and I tried to mimic classical guitar as much as I could.

Oh, and Joe Pass, the jazz guitarist. Those were/are my heroes: true pioneers of music. I think being able to incorporate some of their sounds into our music is also symptomatic of my love for hip-hop. So many of the hip-hop pioneers [referenced] their heroes of funk and R&B by sampling them. I guess I try to do that but in my own way.


In the current album's liner notes you are credited with the duties of piano, guitar, samples, vocals/lyrics. How does this multi-instrumentalist approach work in the writing process? What is that creative process like for the band when making new albums?

Part of it is my own obsession. I constantly have ideas for recording techniques or arrangement ideas, but only till getting into computer-based recording have I really been able to integrate it with any noticeable success. It's really fucking hard when you have no money, ever-growing debt, and are forced to work a lot to pay for everything. Then, to top it all off you go on tour and lose lots of money. It forces me to stay really focused because I never want to get lazy about the music we're putting out.

That said, I have also learned to channel the endless little ideas in my head somewhere other than writing long, drawn-out songs. It's exciting to have more palettes and timbres open to me now than I did five years ago. I also now have the wisdom of age not to "overdo it" every two seconds.

The actual process of collaborating the ideas and integrating them into the songs was definitely different for this album. Over half of it was written with its basic form before the other guys [drummer Jay Pellicci and bassist Jay Winebrenner] even heard the songs. Both of them are so good, though, at listening to the identity of the song that it's usually quite easy. We will have a few squabbles about certain parts, whether or not to make them busy or simple, but it usually works out.

Jay W. definitely is an ever-present force with me even when I'm writing on my own. I know he hates boring music. He likes people that push the threshold and go for it. He thinks that middle-of-the-road rock is so played out and dead that it has become pointless. He's absolutely right, too. So, that is a huge catalyst for me when feeling out directions to go with certain melodies.


The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere is - by my count - 31Knots' seventh release in its relatively brief 10-year career. Seeing as though four of those have come in the last three years (Talk Like Blood, The Curse of the Longest Day, Polemics, and the new one), what is the reason and intent for this prolific approach?

It's probably me. I write a lot of songs. A lot. I already have 15 for our next record. It's the only pastime, aside from hanging out with my girlfriend and watching movies, that I even bother with. Nothing is as gratifying as escaping to that little place in my mind when I'm writing music. I lose track of time, I don't think about the bullshit stress in my life and I'm able to think about the world in a way that makes sense to me. I also love the challenge of finding ways to convey what I'm feeling. I'm just one of those people that needs to get all that crap out. Without it, I would easily be much more uptight and crazy than I already am.

There is also a pressure we have placed on ourselves because of Pellicci living in a different city. When he is in town or we're down there it really makes me want to make sure we part ways having achieved something.


What is your ultimate goal in making music?

Man, what an excellent question. I don't know anymore. Sure, when I was a late teenager I had the rock-and-roll-star dream. That is gone, though. I've realized how my take on writing music has little mass appeal, if any. I guess my main goal right now would be to be able to sustain ourselves when touring and come back with enough money to afford a basic quality of life: rent, bills, the occasional night out, money for a date with my girlfriend. We're not talking the extravagant life here. Simple shit, really.

However, that, in and of itself, has not been possible for us. We lose money almost every time we go on tour and our records have never broken even. It's really depressing and not easy to deal with. Sometimes it can be a constant battle to resist the temptation to throw in the towel. I think what keeps us/me from [quitting] is that we/I believe in the music we make. We know we're sincere and not full of shit. I know that I'm just another guy who is nothing special. If anything, I know I am fortunate to even have the opportunity to make music at all. My country isn't being bombed to hell or ravaged by some warring factions.

I want to keep making music as long as I can financially bear the expense. I know that sounds fucked up, but it's a reality in today's world. Music and culture have become very homogenized and downloading is all too easy. However, I'm a lucky motherfucker so I try to keep going for myself and for "art."


Is 31Knots your full-time job? What else keeps you busy? What are some things you like to do when you aren't working/performing?

No, 31Knots is not a full-time job. I wish it were, because with all I've seen and learned of others that have the opportunity to sustain themselves from their art I know I wouldn't take it for granted. So many fucking idiots are so ungrateful for it and just use it as some means to become gluttonous and as a vehicle to keep deluding themselves with their own narcissistic crap.

Me? I managed a bar for two years and have just bartended for the last eight. It's the trade I picked up that has allowed me to go on tour and still have a job. This time around, though, I'm coming back to nothing, which is a little scary. I know a lot of people in Portland so I'm not that worried. But I would be lying if I said I didn't want to get out of the bartending racket. It wears on my conscious now knowing that I poison people for a living. I feed addiction. It gets depressing.


In the past you had said you were happy about being involved with Polyvinyl. Does that still hold true? Why?

We and I are so glad to be with Polyvinyl. They are truly great people that are down to earth and genuine fans of music. When I think of all the labels I used to hit up and try and get us on I am so thankful that none of them worked out. Polyvinyl has been part of the glue that keeps us going. Every time we have a problem or a suggestion they are always willing to listen and help us find some way to improve the situation. I really can't say enough good things about them.

What are some upcoming developments for you and the band - Tours? Festivals? Nike contracts? Street namings?

I think Jay W. is going to have the "Air Winebrenner" line coming out soon. It'll be amazing. An actual shoe that is an exact replica of a gargoyle's head. Truly amazing. I think Shaq already pre-ordered a pair. Pellicci is going to become an aide to the U.N. Security Counsel in the fall. That's really gonna mess with touring. Me? I got this sweet job at a little mom and pop deli in Portland. It's called Subway. You probably haven't heard of it, but you will.

SEE ALSO: www.31knots.com
SEE ALSO: www.polyvinylrecords.com
SEE ALSO: www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com

--
Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.

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