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Photograph by Joshua Black Wilkins
The only area rock band booked onto this year’s LouFest lineup, Kentucky Knife Fight, kicks off the proceedings on Saturday, September 7, with a noon slot. It’s a nice high-profile gig—one much deserved by a group that’s consistently built upon its successes. The band struck out on the road this summer, assertively widening its regional base, with shows in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and of course, Kentucky.
And yes, the Kentucky conversation is one the group’s had countless times.
“In Louisville, we do well,” says vocalist and songwriter Jason Holler. “We’ve played in Louisville for a long time. And we’ve played Lexington the most. It’s always been a pretty positive response there. People always ask about our name, why it’s not ‘Missouri Knife Fight.’ Well, because it just doesn’t sound as good.”
Holler shares his group with guitarists Curt Brewer and Nate Jones and a rhythm section of drummer James Baker and bassist Jason Koenig. The five-piece is enjoying a new round of growth following the release of its latest album, Hush Hush, in March. That effort led to a variety of interesting opportunities, starting with a sold-out release show at Off Broadway in March.
“The album was recorded by David Beeman in St. Louis, at his studio Native Sound,” Holler says. “We remixed it with Kit Hamon, also of Old Lights, and David Vandervelde, who’s done work with Wilco in the past. It’s our most focused, cohesive album to date. I just personally feel like I’ve finally started to find my place as a writer in a rock ’n’ roll band, that I’ve found the voice to write about what I’d like to write about. I don’t want to say it’s a concept album, but there are a couple of characters that appear throughout the album as well. The album as a whole has a darker, moody kind of feel, really intense at moments, quiet and subtle in other areas. Lyrically, I was put in a great place; the guys did an incredible job in creating perfect soundscapes.”
The band created a video for the track “Love the Lonely,” which was shot in a marathon, single-day session by local First Punch Film Production. The result, Holler feels, captured the “dark, noirish, and moody” feel the group wanted, with Holler cast as a cabdriver, ferrying various St. Louis characters through a loving (or lovelorn) night. The song was subsequently used for the entire opening-credit sequence of the film 23 Minutes to Sunrise, directed by St. Louisan Jay Kanzler and starring Eric Roberts.
“I have a pretty vague sense of pride,” Holler says, “but I feel pretty good about that video.”
While playing in Kalamazoo, Mich., the group also attracted the attention of documentarian Monty Dobson, who is creating a show for PBS called America: From the Ground Up. The show will feature music previously recorded by the band, as well as bits created specifically for the show.
The process of crafting songs for the production has opened up the group’s notions of what’s next, what’s possible. There could be more scoring in the future, more work creating tracks for other media. That’s not to suggest, though, that the band has lost its desire to hit the road, or to take the right gigs in St. Louis, where it hopes to remain a steady presence, even if it’s perhaps playing less frequently than in days past.
This month’s LouFest gig is one way for the band to play locally, but at a new level. Holler says the appearance came about after “we were approached by BMI, which is sponsoring a LouFest stage. They actually approached us, and we’re really honored to be the only St. Louis band to be playing. The rapper Tef Poe is also performing, but we’re the only local band, per se, this year. It’s flattering and a real treat.
“I’m excited to see what will happen,” he continues. “There are a lot of serious heavy hitters on the bill, and that’s a good thing. More than anything, really, it’s just nice to see that kind of bill in St. Louis.”
Now Hear This
Acoustic-based pop has been increasingly present on the radio in the past few years. Not that the members of Mt. Thelonious (mtthelonious.com) are aping the sounds of currently popular groups, but their approach to writing clever, evocative songs with only three instruments and voice is hitting at a potentially good time. The band’s full-length self-titled debut features the strong playing of guitarist Ian Lubar, violinist Alyssa Avery, and bassist Mark Wallace, who bring together influences from jazz to bluegrass. And it’s all brought to life by the solid production of local superstar Adam Long. There’s big promise here.
Part of a welcome trend of locally produced EPs, The Defeated County’s self-titled debut features the songs of Langen Neubacher, who’s now surrounded by a seven-member band, featuring instrumentation like pedal steel and mandolin, with a talented second vocalist in Irene Allen. Clocking in with five songs (plus a bonus hidden track), the short album brings the group’s subdued, American-tinged songwriting to life, packaged under the auspices of new local label Extension Chord Records.
Tower Groove Records (towergrooverecords.com) has released some interesting double dips on its Singles Club series to date, but the split 7-inch of Ransom Note’s “1,2,3” and Née’s “Take Take Take” might be the most varied one yet. On one side, you’ve got the smooth, modern soul of Ransom Note, an all-star group of veteran rockers; on the other, the clean, shiny, unapologetic pop of Née, fronted by songwriter and vocalist Kristin Dennis. Featuring a cool pair of cover images by painter Dana Smith, the record is another fun addition to the growing Tower Groove catalog.