Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interview: Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls & Menomena)


Prior to Menomena’s weekend stint in Chicago, I had the pleasure of getting to know 1/3 of the band, Brent Knopf. I sat down on a video chat with him and we discussed the onset of Menomena’s next LP, his influences, and of course, Ramona Falls, his side project which has an album, Intuit releasing on August 18 on Barsuk . We sat on Brent’s porch, on a sunny 70º day in Oregon, I could almost feel it through my laptop monitor.

 DrawingfromMusic: I know its been a while, but you graduated from Dartmouth. Did you study music? How did living on the East coast influence your music making process?

Brent Knopf: Originally I was pursuing a degree in computer programming. I thought that was the “responsible thing in life” to do not thinking that making music was a realistic career goal (laughing) As school progressed, I was getting some really strong feedback from some professors. This vote of confidence encouraged me to switch majors to Theatre/Modified music. This switch allowed me a number of independent classes. With this freedom, I was able to study electro-acoustics, Max/MSP, and cycling 74. It was during these classes that I developed a mini version of the DLR (Digital Looping Recorder).

DFM:Was music something you always knew you wanted to do?  Who were some of your favorite musicians growing up?

 BK: In the quiet moments I think I did in some capacity, like it was something that was always a thought in my head. Growing up, I had a bit of a different onset in my introductions to music. I couldn’t listen to anything that was explicit. So early influences were my mom (whose a musician) and stylistically, Weird Al Yankovich. In middle school, I started listening to a lot of new age and instrumental music. By the time I hit eight grade though, I was moving onto Depeche Mode  then of course, Smashing Pumpkins and PJ Harvey in high school.

DFM: Ramona Falls, I understand was a favorite childhood hiking trail, is there anymore significance that deemed it worthy enough for a band name?

BK: I think Ramona Falls has always been this enchanted place, it was somewhere that in my mind was were I could create this magical space for myself( DFM: Similar to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude) (Laughing) I’d never heard of it like that but yeah..I am  a fan of ambiguity and contradiction so the name was perfect and it ties in with the album title. I just didn’t want it to be a “clever” name.

DFM: Is the material for Intuit, overflow from previous sessions with Menomena, or is your creative approach completely different from what you make with them?

BK: Yes, there are some songs that are direct results of DLR sessions that other band mates vetoed as Menomena tracks. (we basically got off subject and spoke more about his eager to get back into the studio with the rest of Menomena)

 DFM: Which brings up the dreaded question, what sort of subject matter do you like to address or sing about in your music? (something I learned wasn’t too dreaded for Brent..I always flashback to art school critiques when I hear the question.)

BK: Not really dreaded, I’d say mostly I like to write about puzzles and things that confuse me. Water seems to be a reoccurring theme. I like the idea of being on both sides of a dynamic i.e perpetrator and the recipient.

DFM: Do you let current news related issues affect your creative/writing process with your music? 

BK:Unfortunately Im addicted to reading the newspaper so I’m always aware of whats going on, but I do try to keep my music on more of a personal plain. You aren’t going to hear some Anti-Iraq war song out of me. I’m not one of those musicians who have a delusion of grandeur that I’m bigger than world issue. Sadly, we all can’t be Bono, he has no illusion, he is just grand,(laughing) it’s true though, he’s amazing who doesn’t want to be Bono right? (Now typing, this may be more funny in context, but I promise it had us both laughing  with watery eyes)

DFM: What are some of the bands you’re listening to right now? Any tour mates or other shows you’re excited to see this summer?

BK: There aren’t really any shows that I’m dying to see. I had the recent pleasure of bearing witness to the Dark Was The Night show @ Radio City Music Hall it was pure heaven. I am listening a lot to Bon Iver and The Homosexuals  an English band from 1979, along with a French composer, Erik Satie.

DFM: What do you feel are the biggest differences between Ramona Falls and Menomena?

BK: {pause} I think without the involvement of the other two, its more of like Bent’s world. I’m always over thinking things, and the music kind of stays on the surreal plain

DFM: Not sure, if this is a repeat question but I’ve always read a lot of Menomena’s music lyrically to be very introspective…conceptually, do you think that is a constant in your approach to whatever music you make?

BK: Yes it definitely is always present, aside from any outside projects, the music for both Menomena/Ramona Falls pertains to whatever I’m grappling with in my mind, anything puzzling or strange. The music is almost always in some sort of social dynamic, or confusion with other people.

DFM: Since the notoriety and success that has come with Friend and Foe, how do think Menomena has evolved? What are some of these growths that we should expect to hear in this new album?

BK: I think mostly a lot of what both Danny and I investigated in our personal projects will probably be continued a bit in this new record. There will probably be more working with music on the computer. Apparently Danny has been getting into Reggae, so probably some Reggae beats.

DFM: In returning to the studio this summer, do you guys have a clear idea of a track listing…or does it basically start out with each of you bringing your own “deck of cards” to the table and then determine the direction of the album from there?

BK:No and Yes, there is one rough track that we’ve been playing live but for the most part we wont really know whats gonna happen until we get in the studio.

DFM: Im excited for this weekend, two shows…do you guys hold a special place in your hearts for Chicago? How come at this point, we’re your only stop?

BK: Yes we do, we are trying to not play too many places so we can really focus our time in the studio. But this opportunity in Chicago seemed too fun not to pass up. We love playing the Empty Bottle. (During Monday’s show Danny eluded to the start of their madness took place there 5 years prior)

DFM: This weekend will be the first time Im getting to see you guys live, what sort of work goes into a live show in order to emulate that same sort of musical quilt result that we hear in the albums?

BK: We try to recreate live what the DLR does in the studio. We want to keep the songs’ authenticity, so we distill the music into capability. The result is usually higher tempo and of course more distilled

DFM: Finally, aside from music, what would you say is a personal outlet for you?

BK: Chocolate, of course. I have an endless curiosity my brain is addicted to knowledge so I’m constantly trying to feed it. Lately I have been going to TED, a site all about meta ideas. I enjoy being outdoors as well.


Brent was kind enough to answer any follow up questions, since our time talking was so brief. Thanks Brent. After hearing the two tracks available online, I cannot wait to hear the rest of his solo venture. Ramona Falls, Intuit again drops on August 18 with Barsuk. Check out links below to get excited as well.

Ramona Falls | Facebook

Ramona Falls / Barsuk Records


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