Saturday, March 6, 2010

Aidan Knight – a stabbing, Versicolour, cereal, and starting a label

(For North by East West.)

What just happened? I was in 7-11 across the street from Sugar [night club] where Said the Whale just played to a sold out, packed out house. And I was buying a 500ml carton of chocolate milk. While we were in line, one of the 7-11 employees ran beside us, literally ran beside us, and took off his belt and made a make shift tourniquet out of his belt and probably really helped out a guy who got stabbed. And then there was blood…

Aidan Knight, a singer-songwriter (in air quotes) from Victoria, BC joined me for an interview after opening for a sold-out set by Vancouver favourites Said the Whale and Hannah Georgas on a cold January night at a bus bench, with both of us reeling from a violent attack in downtown Victoria. The affable, tall Knight describes his music as indie rock mixed with pop, classical and country, “like a big gumbo of music.”

B: You’ve been described before as a sad Jack Johnson. Is that right? [laughs]

A: I guess I should clarify that it’s only because I play an acoustic guitar sometimes. And I put that jokingly, sarcastically in a bio, that people describe me as “sad” and “like Jack Johnson,” because someone who was really drunk once told me, “your music is like… it’s so sad!” And honestly, there’s this one guy at this other show who was like, “hey man, did you open Tegan & Sara’s show at Rifflandia?” And I said yeah. He was like “so great man, so great. You totally remind me of John Mayer.”

B: That’s a different one…

A: … And I get that people think that because I happen to have an acoustic guitar, and that I sing with it… I think it’s cool that people want to come and talk to me and tell me how much they enjoyed the set, and if that’s what their musical comparison is, then that’s what they like and they also like me, then I think that’s okay. At the same time, I have taken that off my bio officially, because that’s all I ever get quoted. Literally, the back of the Rifflandia program was one paragraph: ‘Aidan Knight: he’s from Victoria BC and his music is described as “sad” and “like Jack Johnson.”’ Period. So … if you’re asking what my music sounds in 5 words, I would not say—

B: “Sad and like Jack Johnson.”

Knight has played in several bands since he was a teenager, including Black Tie Social when he was 17, Counting Heartbeats, Toco & Jorge, Maurice, Lotus Child and Vegan Holocaust. He’s supported such mainstay Canadian acts as Julie Doiron, Patrick Watson, Tegan and Sara, Dan Mangan and Said the Whale.

On his latest album, Versicolour, he collaborates with Julia Wakal of Victoria’s gypsy band Bučan Bučan, Toronto’s The O’Darling and teams up with producer Jon Anderson. The name “Versicolour” is inspired by the name of a freckle-like skin condition that he had as a youth (tinea versicolor), which captured the sense of embarrassment and shyness which he can feel in sharing his music.

B: On Versicolour, was there a sound you were trying to achieve?

A: When I went in and first recorded, I wanted it to be very ‘70s-meets-Broken Social Scene. The O’Darling came and we were pretty much 10 people. In the beginning, I had an idea in mind of what I wanted certain tones and sounds to sound like. I just had no idea what the songs were going to be like when it was all finished. And then by the end of it, it just came together in the most unaffected kind of way. All the choices that I made in the beginning, and the choices I made later all compounded on top of those things and were what I would do, or what the O’Darling would do, or what Jon Anderson, the producer—he also played on it—so, there was just a great collaboration.

B: Would you say that other than Broken Social Scene, that the sound was influenced by anybody?

A: Yeah; Julie Doiron—I really like Désormais, it’s one of my favourite albums. My music has a lot more parts to it, like that album is very stripped down and basic, but the kind of spirit of what the guitars sound like, some of the time I was trying to cop her style. Also, I got to see Chet a lot… who are a Victoria institution. I remember going to see them a lot and really like the way that Ryan plays guitar, and the way he sang. I listen to a lot of specifically of Canadian music, and it’d be hard for me to go through and name everything. But yes, definitely Julie Doiron and Chet and Broken Social Scene. And Wilco is a huge influence for me but I think they’d just be in everything that I do, so I won’t even mention that.

One of the stand out tracks in Versicolour is the soulful, spiritual-esque closer “Jasper.” Upon hearing it for the first time, I thought it was a cover because it just sounds classic.  
You can grab a free mp3 of "Jasper" here.

B: Is “Jasper” about the place?

A: It’s about the Athabasca River. I was touring with Maurice at the time and it was the hottest day. And we stopped at this lake and we got out and all these people… hundreds and hundreds of feet out. And it was just up to their knees, and you could go all the way out. And the lyric “oh and I was frightened/when you put your face in/the mouth of the canyon” was about JP just like, diving into the water backwards and laying under the water and the water wasn’t even tall enough to fully cover him. It was inspired by that day; it was so crazy and coincidental that we ended up there that I thought to honour it with a song. And I was feeling a little bit twangy that day, and that’s the song that came out!

B: It’s definitely almost a spiritual.

A: Yeah. I also feel like I hear that sometimes. The lyrics are a little bit baptismal, and I know that the whole bathed in the water and stuff like that, that it’s a very classic religious allegory.

Knight definitely has been inspired by Christian allegory and experience in the church as a kid and youth. In his track “Alter Boys,” he drew from his experiences as one and credits years in the church choir with the hymnal quality to his music and his appreciation for harmony and choral classics such as “Once in Royal David’s City.”

A: Talking about influences, I listen to a lot of David Bazan because I love him as a lyrics writer. He’s the lead singer of Pedro the Lion. He’s very influential to me as a lyricist because he has very sardonic wit about how disenfranchised with God he is. I feel like it’s very edgy and raw and personal. And although I don’t want to write in that style, the things that he says have really captured my lyrical imagination. I love the way that he pieces together songs. I don’t want to steal all of his things, but in terms of adding those religious allusions in my lyrics, I just find that there are things that hint toward that.

You can grab a copy of Versicolour in stores by March 9, which will be under the label Adventure Boys Club. A digitally copy is available as of March 2. If you’re a vinyl person, you can pre-order it at

B: Tell us about your plans of starting a new label with a mysterious co-conspirator.

A: Tyler, from Said The Whale, and I are the adventure boys of The Adventure Boys Club. Which is our high-fidelity recording society. [laughs] It’s very elite. Right now we’re just setting the whole thing up. Releasing Versicolour is the only thing we’re doing right now. So hopefully it turns into more things with more bands we want to support. It’ll probably be a great British Columbian label.

B: Kind of like, what Arts & Crafts is like for Toronto?

A: I’m going to go on record and say that if it ever did become the Arts & Crafts of Vancouver or wherever, if it turned out to be the Arts & Crafts of the Georgia Strait, I’m sure that Tyler and I will be very happy about it. Things are looking good.

B: Who would you love to sign?

A: We Are The City. For sure. Even before they won the Peak Performance Project and got the money, they’re just fantastic and great friends. They’re young and have so much music and career and touring ahead of them. And my friends The O’Darling, I would love to give them a label home where we can just pay them money to live and create great music. Right now it’s pretty low key, a little independent label. Incredible friends and incredible musicians.

Aidan Knight had just concluded a tour with Vancouver’s Dan Mangan through BC and Alberta. He is currently on tour with We Are the City, going all the way to Montreal, Canadian Music Week in Toronto, and then heading home. Below are some upcoming tour dates:

Mar 6 - Montreal, QC @ The Green Room w/ We Are The City
Mar 8 - Sherbrooke, QC @ L’Antiquarius w/ We Are The City
Mar 9 - Ottawa, ON @ The Observatory w/ We Are The City
Mar 10 - Toronto, ON @ Global Village
Mar 13 - Toronto, ON @ Criminal Records (Free Instore Show) w/ Dan Mangan & Hollerado
Mar 24 - Calgary, AB @ The Gateway (SAIT) w/ We Are The City
Mar 25 - Lethbridge, AB @ Henotic w/ We Are The City
Mar 27 - Edmonton, AB @ Haven Social Club w/ We Are The City

B: And our last question, which is completely non-music related, and since you’re holding chocolate milk, what’s with the obsession with cereal?

A: I think my cereal thing is just out of nerves of not knowing what to talk about. I’m not really an expert on anything, but if I had to be an expert on something, it would probably be cereal since I’ve eaten so many varieties, looked at so many different nutritional information panels on the boxes. Right now my thing is trying to eat more local food. So I’ve been really supporting Nature’s Path cereal, which is all over. Their main office is in Richmond BC, and their production facilities are all over there. The amount of distance for shipping is much less than Kelloggs, or Post, or General Mills.

B: It’s totally within the 100 mile diet.

A: Exactly! I’m trying to support them, and I’m trying to support local dairies. So companies like Avalon, Island Farms, stuff from the Comox Valley. If I can make just one simple change like that, if everyone could make a simple change to just eat one variety of food locally, it would be supporting our local industry and the idea of food security if there’s ever a problem.

How fitting that Said the Whale also had one of their songs featured in an ad for orange juice. Watching the two of them play is like having a complete nutritious breakfast! If you’re interested in checking Aidan Knight out further, his various websites/social networking things are below: (vinyl and stream full album)
** Note, if you buy the vinyl, you’ll instantly get a digital version of the album.