Friday, October 02, 2009

Interview with Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, Menomena)

Did anyone follow Pitchfork’s “Best Tracks of the Decade” thing a few weeks back? Do you want to hate music now? What was “All My Friends” doing at number 2? I mean, it’s a cool song, but the second best song of the decade? What a bizarre list.

Immature Pitchfork bashing aside, one of my favorite bands’ tracks ended up way back at #442. “Wet and Rusting” by Menomena. The wonderful little voice you hear singing on that track is a Portland man named Brent Knopf.

I asked Brent if he feels honored to be a part of the list. “I find the most gratification in just creating music, so I’m not too concerned with “honors,” per se, although I’m grateful to people who spread the word about my music.”

Brent’s music seems to spread itself around naturally. Ramona Falls is the name of his latest project, and the first album under that moniker, Intuit, is out now on Barsuk Records. This music is for Menomena fans who enjoy the more melodic and pop-friendly sides of the band. Fans of Arcade Fire will definitely dig Brent’s multi-instrumental indie rock, too. It’s full of synth-heavy, rhythm-happy, quirky-introspective loveliness. The album was sort of a community project of Portland musicians. “I’ve lived in Portland my whole life,” Brent explains, “and I’m amazed by the number of incredible musicians here. The Ramona Falls project was a great excuse for me to call up lots of musicians that I admire and ask them each for 3 hours of time.” Just a few of the contributors to Intuit include members of Mirah, The Helio Sequence, Talkdemonic as well as some of Knopf’s Menomena brethren.

Portland people might even recognize the project name as one of Oregon’s most stunning waterfalls. Intuit is a community album in every sense, and you can feel the love when you put it on. “I didn’t want it to sound like a “solo-album,” I wanted it sound like an “album.” So, I reached out to viola, trombone, and upright-bass players (among others). Tons of folks sing on the record, including a small New York church choir. It was fun to take these new instruments and voices and distill them into an album that I hope feels cohesive.”

The album is certainly a collaborative effort, but the songs all come directly from Brent Knopf. Where do his hoards of creativity come from? “I piece the ideas together like a jigsaw puzzle. …Oh yeah, I also eat a ridiculous quantity of chocolate, so maybe that’s my secret.” Whatever he does, the result is always a massive juxtaposition of avant-garde sensibilities and simplistic melodies.

Creatively and spiritually, Brent has an astute ability when it comes to relaying a visceral idea through song. “I was taught Christian stories as a child, and my comfort with incorporating religious imagery (mud/ash in eyes, crown of thorns, holy water, etc) in lyrics reflects my particular upbringing.” But he doesn’t take his religious influences lightly either, he includes them in his art. “One of the trickiest aspects of talking about spirituality is definitions. We often assume (wrongly) that people agree on what words like “religious” or “spiritual” mean. So, I’ll instantiate a temporary definition of the word “spiritual” and define it more as 'questions and paradoxes that inspire wonder and compassion.' In this way, music-making is quite spiritual : a song is often a place where I try to grapple with questions or paradoxes I can’t easily resolve.”

Brent isn’t the only mastermind of Menomena to release a solo album recently. Danny Seim (Menomena’s drummer and Ramona Falls’ touring bassist) gave us Lackthereof last year. "I’d like to see all the projects (Ramona Falls, Menomena, Lackthereof) positively reinforce each other,” Brent hopes. But Brent reassured me that another Menomena album is well on the way, “I think the Ramona Falls and Lackthereof records reflect that the recording of the next Menomena album is taking longer than we expected. But we’re working on it.” No rush, Brent. There’s still more to take in from this project. Ramona Falls’ Intuit is an album that demands replay.

** originally published by Burnside Writers Collective, where an additional interview can be found on Intuit's cover artist Theo Ellsworth **

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