I’ve learned something very valuable in college, and that’s to hold basement parties dear to your heart.
There’s going to be a juncture in all of our lives where we can’t attend them anymore. So enjoy the grungy keg rooms, the mysterious ducks into a dark space with your closest friends, and the sloppy exits with a new friend.
The last basement party I went to brought me new friends in a less Biblical sense.
Finley Knight is the best new friend your ears can have. For all of us crazies dancing around, Finley Knight also did our bodies some good, too. We grooved with plastered-on smiles, stripping some layers so our sweaty bodies could keep moving with the music. My good friend P. Mac near died and rose to heaven when they played his requests for Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain.” The songs suited the band well, a band that’s sort of like the bastard child of all rock, funk, and jam genres. Finley Knight shows us that being genre-ambiguous is sometimes a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Finley Knight is a three-piece group made up of Bryce Axlerad and brothers Johnny and Connor Detjen. The band really started to take off last summer when Bryce moved to Chicago where the brothers live. Success seems to be a steady route for them, playing venues like the House of Blues in Chicago.
But they’re not too proud to play a free basement gig. It was one of the first stops on their tour this year, and this Brighton apartment is home to Megan, Johnny and Connor’s cousin. When the keg was kicked, we all stayed to hear them play their set out. In all reality, we didn’t want them to stop; they’re the type of musicians who bring the happiness out of a crowd.
I caught up with them a couple days after. They were two weeks into the tour, talking on Bryce’s cell phone from their 32-foot Winnebago RV. Connor described their tour bus as a home away from home: fairly comfortable and 100 percent sleep-able. Sometimes they’d pull up in a Wal-Mart parking lot and get a full night’s sleep when they can’t crash at a friend’s place.
From their first-tour feelings to their less-depressing-than-Radiohead sound, here’s what you should know about Finley Knight.
Courtney Allessio: How do you read the crowd when you’re playing a show?
Bryce Axlerad: Every show we have a tentative set list, but we really do play to the crowd, we try to feel out every song. If the crowd’s really into it, we’ll do a more upbeat song. A lot of times we go in without really knowing exactly what we’re going to play.
CA: So when you moved to Chicago, as far as record signing goes, how did that play out?
BA: … We’re unsigned. Basically with this whole tour we’re doing now, we don’t have management. It’s a big process, putting together everything – we’re doing it all ourselves. We’re not signed, but we really enjoy that. In doing this tour, we got so much freedom. We can play a show and then go visit friends – we really enjoy it.
CA: What brought you to Megan’s apartment in Brighton on this tour?
BA: That’s exactly the thing – that’s the freedom. Connor and Johnny have several cousins who go to school in Boston so we were like, we’ll definitely set up a show there so we can see them. I’m from Houston, Texas, and I’m setting up a bunch of shows there with my friends. It’s so great because we get to this opportunity to tour and see so many new places and so many new people. But at the same time, we get to go places where our friends are. People have been just so nice. We could not do this without the help of our friends. Every place we go we’ve had such hospitality. They’ve been so willing to help us out, gives us places to stay and shower.
Bryce hands the phone off to Connor.
CA: So you and your brother have been making music for a while?
Connor Detjen: We grew up taking piano lessons at age six. We started playing in bands together from basically 8th grade and onward through college and just have always been music together, the two of us.
CA: At what point do you look at this and consider yourselves a success?
CD: I think definitely we’d consider ourselves successful already, but there’s obviously always room for improvement. We’re always constantly trying to take it to the next level. The fact that we’ve decided to do this wholeheartedly and seriously as our career choice is already a success in our minds because we are able to do this first tour.
CA: Are there locations you booked because you wanted to visit the city?
CD: We booked a show in Nashville, just because we wanted to pass through there. It’s such a music town, it’s beautiful, and there’s great exposure there. A lot of the other places we booked because we knew there’d be a good fan base. We have a show at the University of Georgia in Athens, and we do not know many people there. But we set up a show with a band that’s well known locally. We’re really excited because I think music is well appreciated in Athens… There’s a lot of strategy that went into setting up the show.
CA: Is it exciting to get to travel the country and eat different food?
CD: Yeah, we’ve gone to some really cool restaurants. It’s not only the food but also seeing all of the country that we’ve been seeing. Some of these places we’ve never been to. We’ve been blogging about the trip about all the places we’ve been visiting. There’s a lot of funny stories, we literally write what we’re doing everyday.
And finally, the pass off to Johnny.
CA: I had trouble characterizing your music, how would you describe Finley Knight?
Johnny Detjen: If I had to only use three words, we’ve been saying alternative electronic jam? We are really trying to incorporate, what I think a lot of bands are doing right now, an electronic edge with the standard guitar, piano, bass, and drums. We’ve been doing that in a few different ways – having a loop going or this program Ableton Live that allows you to even out notes easily.
We’ve recently been really influenced by Ratatat. We love, love Radiohead, and we grew up on a lot the jam scene like Grateful Dead and Phish. Radiohead’s a little too mellow, or for a lack of a better word, depressing. We’re trying to be a little more upbeat. Radiohead does a good job of pulling sounds that people can’t place.
We want that x-factor, the edge with random stuff that isn’t necessarily an instrument someone would recognize. How else to describe it? I don’t even know. We want to be more electronic than we are. Some of the stuff we have right now is pretty straight alternative. I hate that word though - it’s so vague; I don’t even know what it stands for anymore.
CA: You did covers of Grateful Dead, where did the Kid Cudi come from the other night?
JD: Yeah, and some of those rap songs at the end. We were playing in Chicago a lot for a while, and I just hate when I go to a concert, and I see the same band and they play the same thing. So we were trying to reinvent ourselves. Because these mash-up songs with Girl Talk are so popular, we decided to our own mash-up and play it live. We chose 20 rap songs that were really popular when we were growing up like Jay-Z or some Biggie song. We just took 30 seconds of the most popular part of the song and strung it together…
One of the biggest insults I thought people would say about an artist is that their songs all sound the same. We’re not trying to change a certain genre. I think we have our sound within all these different songs although they don’t necessarily sound alike….
We’re never sitting around and trying to write a hit. It’s a step forward when we write a hit. We write what we really enjoy, which makes it really fun.
CA: Do you guys have a motto as a band?
JD: We make music. We love it. We want to share it.
Finley Knight put out an EP in October called Undivided Time, and they hope to record soon now that the tour is over.
Be sure to keep your eyes and ears out for updates with Finley Knight, they’re going places so hop on board with them now!