According to a recent press release: “Based in the small, dusty junction town of Creedmoor, Texas (population 202) the creative duo Known as Alien Knife Fight craft their sound at all hours in their big, old 1930’s era house/home studio, situated on 3.6 acres that they call Big Bottom Farm.” The Texas based duo recently released a 5-track EP Some Girls and have also announced dates for their upcoming West Coast tour. We were able to pin down bassist /vocalist Monique Ortiz and her partner in crime multi-instrumentalist Michael Howard for 10 Quick Ones to discuss the new release and much more…
1. Tell us a little about your latest release. What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through? Are there any hidden nuggets the band put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?
Mike: No nuggets on this one. At home we record everything so it’s easy to forget we’re recording and there’s a lot of weird stuff, like dogs barking in the background. But on these songs we went into a studio with a producer, so it was a very no-horsing-around approach.
Monique: Nuggets for sure, but not the kind I’d care to point out. We went into the studio at a very stressful time. Two of our dogs were killed only days before (ran off in a violent storm and got hit), and we were on the verge of losing our house, so there was a very nervous, and tense energy to the whole thing that made the whole session feel really forced and difficult for me. It really affected my performance on those tracks pretty adversely; a lot of little mistakes that I just couldn’t afford to go back and fix (the disadvantage of being on-the-clock, in someone else’s studio when you’re self-financing the project and have very little money). That being said, many of my favourite records by artists I love and admire aren’t perfect, so I’m trying not to be too self-critical.
2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?
Mike: I knew early on I wanted to play music. I got my first drum set when I was 5, a guitar at 8. But I knew when I was 7. I would watch my neighbour practice with his band. They turned me on to the Beatles and that really hooked me. Joined my first band my second year of Jr. high school and started my own band that same year while also playing drums in the jazz band and orchestra. I played in cover bands a bit but my first year out of High school I joined a really great metal band that wrote their own songs and the first time I played with them my chest caught fire! An actual burning beneath my sternum! I had always wanted to perform but that was THE moment that literally burned it into my heart!
Monique: It was Duran Duran. Literally. The first band I latched onto when I was a little kid was Kiss, but when I saw “Rio” and “Planet Earth” for the first time, I knew, immediately, that I needed to get a bass guitar. I had taken guitar lessons up to that point and just kind of knew that guitar wasn’t the right fit for me. I recognized early on that when I listened to music the thing that would most often stick in my head, or that I’d mostly likely sing out loud, was the bass line, the pulse, NOT the melody or guitar chords. I played drums for a spell, when I was little, and like Mike, it was the Beatles who inspired me there, but when my father bought me my first bass, I knew at the moment that I’d be a lifer. I think John Taylor is probably one of the best bassists in pop music, hands down. It’s not about playing complicated lines, and displaying Jaco-technique. It’s about playing bass lines that make a person want to get down, and move. Duran Duran, and John Taylor then lead me to THEIR influences: Chic, Japan (Mick Karn is a big hero of mine), Roxy Music. I also played along to a lot of Talk Talk , The Fixx… so much great bass playing came out of the 80’s. Much of it vastly underrated.
3. Who would be your main five musical influences?
Mike: The Beatles, Rush, Black Sabbath, Mr. Bungle and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Monique: As far as bass goes: Mick Karn, John Taylor, Mark Sandman, Warren Ellis, Josh Homme (not all of my bass influences are bassists) My vocal influences: David Sylvian, Nina Simone, Robert Plant, Mark E Smith, Alain Johannes.
4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be?
Mike: Josh Homme.
Monique: I second that, although I would be equally thrilled to collaborate with Alain Johannes.
5. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before?
Mike: I could name all sorts of bands we may sound like but really it’s Rock. I think that covers the most ground. I don’t want to be in a genre, I want to end up creating one and then let others come up with a name for it. It’s like a nick name, you can’t give yourself a nickname, you earn one.
Monique: I never like being put in the position of having to describe what I do. It never feels right. I fall back on how I’ve heard others describe us, and even then I feel like I’m being disingenuous somehow. It’s hard to be objective about one’s art. I kind of liked it when I fist saw a fan hash tag us as “gothic blues” and “slidepunk”, although I don’t think of us as gothic, blues, or punk. One fan posted about us, describing us as “Morphine meets Queens Of The Stone Age”. That simplifies things quite a bit, but it’s a comparison I’ve heard a few times, and I’ll accept that.
6. What’s the best thing about being a musician?
Mike: Performing a great set to a large crowd on a great sound system and not making to many mistakes whilst doing so! When you finish painting a picture, it’s done. When you perform a song, it comes back to life every time you play it and it’s never quite the same. And seeing the reaction in people’s eyes, the reciprocating energy that is shared, there is nothing else like it.
Monique: I think Mike pretty much nailed it. I might add, that I’ve been dealing with depression for most of my life, and I believe music has been key to my survival.
7. When the band are all hanging out together, who cooks; who gets the drinks in; and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?
Mike: We’re a couple and a duo and we love to cook together while we have some wine or a decent beer, maybe a nice cocktail. We don’t do sing-alongs.
Monique: Yes, cooking is just one of many things Mike and I do together that prove we really are a good team. We make all our meals from scratch, usually get a good bottle of wine or a 6-pack, eat together, and get back to music when the food settles. All under one roof.
8. If you weren’t a musician, what would be your dream job?
Mike: I’d be a machinist, an inventor or I’d restore old cars. Producing would be fun too. I love recording and tinkering with a good song or working with a great band.
Monique: Hard to say. I have several strong interests outside of music: I worked as a veterinary technician for many years, and have always been deeply involved in animal welfare. I’d likely go back to some kind of animal rescue / rehabilitation work, or I’d be in forensics or archaeology. When I was in college I filled up my last credit requirements with criminology courses and new I had something there. For most of my adult life I’ve had a strong interest in nuclear physics and the cold war.
9. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over”?
Mike: Absolutely! I dedicated most of my musical career to one band. That was a big mistake. I passed on some opportunities to play with other folks, “all for the glory of the empire” that ultimately led to nothing. Play with as many people as your time will allow. Grow, learn how to work with other musicans. I play drums in AKF but my main instrument is Bass and I play guitar too, and I’ve recently picked up the Baritone sax. And for a while there I was getting pretty good at the fiddle! Learn or relearn to read music! And always try to play with people who are better than you.
Monique: Sage advice indeed. My big misstep was when I was playing in A.K.A.C.O.D. with Dana Colley of Morphine, and Larry Dersch: In 2012 (about 3 years after we had run out of steam for a variety of reasons) I was contacted by a festival promoter in Slovakia, who wanted to bring us over to perform at 2013 Pohoda and a couple other festivals. I had absolutely zero experience in handling the logistics of such things. I’m not the best communicator, especially in text/email format, and I think I really rubbed those people the wrong way with all my questions, and lack of consideration about some things. I was very unprofessional and I think it led to them not inviting us back, even though we did well and got a fantastic response while we were there. I was put in a position to do what managers typically handle and I blew it.
10. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?
Mike: Holy crap! That’s a tough one. I think of records like Pet Sounds and Sgt. Peppers, the ground that they broke on those two recordings and the list could be a mile long… But since your giving me one record, sonically, Metallica, the Black Album, was astonishing, their sound was so dial in. Drums, with that black beauty just killing it with every hit, guitars and bass not stepping on each others territory. The ominous lurching behind the beat heaviness. Every song was like a fist full of Texas slow cooked brisket, no sauce! Mercyful Fate, Don’t Break The Oath scared the shit out me, but with the exception of one song, The Black Album is a perfect record. It made me take a good hard look at how records were made. And remember, don’t put it out there if you don’t want to play it for the rest of you life.
Monique: I don’t know about that. Knowing how intense the recording experience can be, I think I’d be terrified to be present during the making of my favourites. Off the top of my head: Grinderman 2, Songs For The Deaf by Queens Of The Stone Age, Spirit Of Eden by Talk Talk, Red by King Crimson, End Of The Road by Tenebrous Liar, Isao Tomita’s version of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition”. Those are all records that take me on a journey every time I listen to them through head phones, while laying on the floor.
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