The musicians making up Knot Feeder hail from a pedigree of heavy, technically proficient local bands that could in large part be deemed, among other things, album rock. While the future of the album format has become uncertain in recent years, the members are still committed to long-form song arrangement as they prepare to release of the band's first full-length, Light Flares.
"It's kind of weird to think that in this day and age the album might be dying," says Knot Feeder's Mike Banfield. "It was one of the things we talked about when we were recording," he adds, "an album view versus just a song view. And somebody's going to go on iTunes and think, 'I'll try this song,' but that doesn't necessarily give you the full picture."
Banfield, an electrician by trade, was a founding member of Don Caballero who chose to stay in Pittsburgh when the rest of the band traipsed toward Chicago -- and a falling-out -- in 1999. Knot Feeder is his first post-Don Cab effort, which began when he started playing on occasion with Rob Spagiare, and later, Andrew Grossmann, both of the early '00s band Tabula Rasa. Local promoter and sound engineer Sean Cho eventually hooked the trio up with bassist Andy Curl, whose previous band, Southpaw, was known for its complex extended jams.
Light Flares is our first portrait of the band, which has been playing live since 2006 with some regularity. (Spagiare took a job in Philadelphia shortly after they began playing out, limiting the number of shows.) It's a glimpse into a well-oiled relationship between musicians who, while keeping many of the elements of their heavy and math-oriented roots, are clearly also interested in branching out into realms of sonic weirdness hitherto untouched.
The band initially intended to simply capture the essence of its songs as played live, but that approach soon changed when they went into the studio with J. Robbins (Government Issue, Jawbox). "[Robbins] was mostly the engineer on the record, but he played a creative role, especially on some of the weirder stuff," Banfield says. "We actually started doing remixes -- we did about five, which will probably come out on an EP this year."
The result is a record with variance and flow. The howling guitars, odd time signatures and stutter beats one might expect from the band's personnel are definitely there in all their thumping glory -- but they're offset by tracks like "To the Ice," an impromptu percussive piece using found objects that Curl affectionately refers to as the "garbage gamelan."
The odd tracks play into the holistic idea of the album that concerns Knot Feeder as a band. "They add some breathing room," says Grossmann.
While mixing (and remixing), the band worked with dub concepts, splicing pieces of the recordings to create new sounds. While the majority of that extreme post-production work was reserved for the forthcoming remix EP, it does work its way onto Light Flares, most notably on the title track, a bassy studio creation with echoing drumbeats.
Let there be no doubt that Knot Feeder is a guitar-oriented band, though. Jokes abound about Grossmann's effects-pedal habit, the seriousness of which he clearly denies: "I don't have that many," he pleads.
"He's lying," Banfield interjects.
"Really just a line boost," Grossmann continues, "a couple delays, a couple Head Rushes ... a Big Muff, an octave pedal, a couple gains ..." This is a man who may soon need pedal boards for his pedal boards.
In any case, Knot Feeder clearly isn't oriented around vocals, and Light Flares might fool one into thinking the band's oeuvre is wholly instrumental. Not so; 10 tracks in, Spagiare's vocals make their first appearance. The ensemble sound doesn't highlight the vocals, it simply acknowledges their existence, no more or less important than the other instrumentation.
Curl, currently pursuing a degree in composition and performance at CCAC, has a specific view of what Knot Feeder is about: "There are a lot of changes, and not too many parts last more than 15 seconds, but I always try to keep in mind a narrative, so it's not just a collection of riffs. There are still movements, direction. It's still songwriting."
"When we all started to get comfortable playing with each other, that chemistry turned out to be really neat," says Banfield. "I think what's most exciting for me isn't what we've done but what we can do moving forward."
Knot Feeder CD release with Italian Ice, Broughton's Rules and Red Team Blue Team. 9 p.m. Sat., Jan. 24 (doors at 8 p.m.). The Smiling Moose, 1306 E. Carson St., South Side. $6. 412-431-4668 or www.smiling-moose.com