Local Indie Rockers These Knees Take a Big Step Forward with New EP

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click to enlarge Local Indie Rockers These Knees Take a Big Step Forward with New EP
Trish DiFranco
For more than a decade, singer Stephanie Trivison has been a familiar presence on the Cleveland music scene. With the release of Night Fires, the sophomore release from her band, These Knees, she’s finally starting to see years of hard work pay off. Its new EP represents the strongest batch of material that the group has released to date and a big step forward that reveals a tremendous amount of growth for Trivison as a songwriter and artist.

These Knees initially began in late 2010 as a solo venture for the talented singer/songwriter, who had written a batch of songs that didn’t feel right for randomstereo, her band at the time. Eventually, she broke away from the group and recorded those initial songs on her own using Garageband and began to perform solo, something she continued to do for about a year before realizing that she “really enjoyed and missed playing with other musicians.” She made a call to her former randomstereo bandmate, Rob Hassing, and asked him if he wanted to play a show with her under the These Knees banner.

The two continued to explore the collaboration and eventually hit the studio with a cast of additional players to record songs for what would become 2013's The Young and the Bright. It would still be a little while before the official band lineup would solidify. Bassist Bryan Robinson joined the group about two years ago and guitarist Jesse Scaggs, also a randomstereo alumnus, joined the These Knees clan last November after a stint with Bethesda. Things had come full circle and Trivison is happy about how things have evolved.

“They’re all there,” she laughs. “You know, I like what I like. I’ve been playing with Rob since we were 15. I mean, he’s been in every band that I’ve ever been in. So I’m pretty comfortable with both Rob and Jesse. And then Bryan joined, I want to say, about a year and a half or two years ago now. It will be a year of the four of us all together, this month. But you know, Jesse, Rob and I all played in randomstereo together, so we were very familiar. We had a practice last night and I was like, ‘Man, we’re really gelling!’ It just makes you feel good about it.”

Having released a one-off single, “Alive,” at the beginning of the year, the band turned its focus to working on an official follow-up to The Young and the Bright with producer Dave Piatek, who had worked with them initially on “Alive.” As Trivison shares, she had some pretty specific ideas on where she wanted to go with the next batch of songs, based on the reception of the previous album.

“We had some feedback from industry people that the last album was a little disjointed, you know, with the songs. We had a folk-rock song and a ‘60s rock song and a Paramore-type song,” she says. “We got feedback that was kind of like, ‘Hey, you should kind of define your sound, like hone in on what it is that you do best and then run with that.’ So I kind of had that in mind. I came in with seven or eight demos for Dave to hear. Two or three of them were written in one period and then the rest of them were written in a different period. And I think you may even be able to pick out which ones were written at different times. I just wanted to have an album that was me kind of defining what my sound is.”

She refers to the years she spent in “these various bands” trying to get to that elusive “ sweet spot.”

“And I’ve never really hit my sweet spot,” she explains. “I think I’ve gotten lucky and had some cool songs, but I feel like this is more than ever, my sweet spot, songwriting-wise. I think I’m at a place where I’m finally understanding how I write best and not shying away from it, you know? Because I have a tendency to want to write pop-sounding hooks and in the past, I kind of want to cover that, like in heavier guitars with randomstereo, you know, I would go, ‘How can I change this song so it doesn’t just sound like a pop song,’ and now I’m to the point where I’m like, ‘Well, if that’s what I write is pop songs, then I’m going to write pop/rock music. That’s what I do.’ I’m taking what I feel like I’m good at and running with it.”

The new material, including “I Want You,” the lead track from the EP, demonstrates how much These Knees have grown and progressed as a band, something that really flourishes thanks to Piatek’s production style that left plenty of room for the material on Night Fires to breathe. But Trivison can also see how her own growth and discipline helped to deliver better results as well.

“I think that Dave has a very specific idea of what he likes, sound-wise, and I think he heard something in the demos that I created. He would hear how it was as a finished product. But I do think that going into the songwriting of it, I was really trying to be a better songwriter with all of it. And sometimes, I think for me, that means maybe stripping down some of the ideas. Because I can go overboard. I can do 12-part harmonies, well, that’s not necessary for every song! [Laughs] So I think it was just a matter of honing in and deciding what’s necessary for the song to work. I came to Dave and the guys with the demos. Typically when I write, I’ll do all of the parts pretty close to finished and then I’ll pass it onto the guys to do their little embellishments. But it was the same when I gave the demos to Dave — they were pretty well formed and I had spent a lot of time trying to get them to a place where I felt like they would be good songs on their own regardless of the production value. But I think Dave has a certain style that comes through on the record — he’s almost like the fifth member, kind of.”

After the release of Night Fires, the band plans to do some regional touring and hopefully work on finding new ways to get additional exposure for its music.

“We’re going to go back to Chicago. We played Chicago this summer and it was a small venue, but it was close to selling out, which was great. We had a really great time there. Like, the people there were awesome,” she remembers. “They howled at us when we were done playing. I got it on video. That’s like a special moment for you, when people howl at you like wolves…. so we’ll probably go back to Chicago. I want to go to St. Louis…..we’re going to try to do more little weekend warrior travel stuff. And then ideally, I’d like to start pitching the songs from Night Fires to publishing companies for licensing opportunities and you know, try to get the word out that way. And not even just get the word out that way, but licensing is a good way to make money and to continue funding your band. So for even that reason alone, I think it would be good. I’m always looking for what the next goal is for me and for the band as a whole. I feel like we work pretty hard, so we’ll just make things come of it.”

Sometimes, that means singing songs in the shower. While some folks do that every morning, Trivison and her bandmates are taking the concept further, using the crowdfunding site Patreon to help power their Song in a Shower video series.

“I listen to a lot of music podcasts and they’ll introduce new ways of crowdfunding and kind of staying relevant. I also read Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking. You know, she famously had a two million dollar Kickstarter and she’s also on Patreon,” she says. “It just seemed like a really interesting way to get people, 1) engaged with you and 2) to force yourself to continually make content. With Kickstarter, you’re typically funding one album. With Patreon, you’re creating something weekly, daily, monthly, whatever it is, you’re constantly creating things and pushing it out to your subscribers. And then they’re paying you, either by video or by month. They’re choosing kind of what their subscription level is. So instead of being locked in and saying, ‘I need X amount of dollars to get Night Fires recorded,’ you’re saying, ‘You know what? This is a way for us to get ongoing funding while we’re still pushing out new, cool, content for you.’ I had recently moved to a house in University Heights and it had this giant shower and I was like ‘Well, we have to use this.’”

Watching the videos, it's clear that the band is having fun with their "bathroom humor," and they're continuing to think of new ways to have a good time with the idea.

"We interviewed Dave for the next episode that will be coming out — we interviewed him on the toilet," she says. "It's just silly, because we're kind of silly people. But I think it’s cool. I did a Beatles cover of ‘All My Loving,’ and it was one of the featured videos on Patreon and we’re like three videos into it, so it’s a cool way to meet new people, introduce people to what you’re doing and I think it’s been kind of neat for family members and people that are out of town that can’t come to see you all that often. They have access to see you perform, which is cool. And it helps us. I think we’re at like 120-some dollars a month, so it’s not a ton of money, but it helps us. I bought two direct boxes this month, you know? Every bit is helpful, I think.”

These Knees Record Release Show w/ Kid Runner / The Whiskey Hollow / Murderline, 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $10, grogshop.gs.
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