Music Interview: Knucklehead

By Kate Foote

Remembering yourself a decade ago is usually embarrassing. Let’s face it, the ‘Rachel’ haircut, Pauly Shore’s heyday and a beverage with gelatinous balls suspended in it are all things better forgotten. However, glossing over this era would also mean neglecting Green Day’s Dookie, Pulp Fiction, and a time when Saturday morning cartoons were actually worth getting up for. Time has a way of sorting the good from the bad. Boasting a 10 year history, Knucklehead has nothing to be embarrassed about with regards to their position in the local punk scene. With the release of The New Black List on Oct. 25, Knucklehead is poised to make their mark on the Calgary scene an indelible one.

“We were working on [The New Black List] for a little over a year,” says bassist Matt Young of their 10th release. “We’re really happy with it.”

Referring to the neo-conservative attitudes in politics today, The New Black List delivers more of the socio-political punk that their fans have come to expect. As with their previous releases, time has allowed Knucklehead to evolve as musicians, pumping out a more refined and mature sound this time around. Much to the boys’ dismay, the attitude of the Calgary punk community has also changed along with them. While not necessarily conservative in the political sense, the band feels kids today are becoming more narrow-minded.

“There is a lack of diversity,” bemoans drummer Eric Jablonski. “Kids get into hardcore, and decide they’ll only go to hardcore shows.”

“We try to mix it up,” adds Young. “We’d always try to get like, a rockabilly band to play with us.”

Despite the pigeon-holing plaguing Calgary’s all-ages scene, our fair city has much to offer. While other bands tend to migrate to bigger cities in pursuit of their big break after receiving recognition on a local scale, Knucklehead appreciates the sense of community Calgary provides.

“It doesn’t feel like we’re just a band in a city,” explains Jablonski. “It feels like we’re a band, and this is our city.”

Knucklehead’s straightforward affinity for their hometown keeps kids coming to see them year after year. Unfortunately for them, Calgary has yet to see its scene explode into international acclaim á la Montreal or Vancouver. Hailing from what many perceive as a cultural wasteland poses its share of difficulty when attempting to break into other markets.

“If Knucklehead was based out of San Francisco, we’d be a lot bigger than we are based out of Calgary,” laments Young.

This is a common complaint among Canadian bands; there is little room to make a name for themselves in the unending tide of American imports.

“It seems like unless you’re fucking Hedley or Simple Plan, nobody really hears your songs,” elucidates Young. “Sure, Alexisonfire is popular, but for the most part, you just can’t compete.”

In response to this issue, Canada has attempted to protect its cultural industries from American domination by way of grants and subsidies for artists, but the system is not without its shortcomings. The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records judges look for the current flavour of the week, rather than the most deserving band. Thus, instead of assisting smaller bands in obtaining financial backing, Canada’s FACTOR system merely props up bands already achieving mainstream popularity. While Nickelback’s new video and Bif Naked’s latest album received FACTOR support, Knucklehead is left unassisted.

“[FACTOR] is all a joke,” decries a frustrated Young. “We’ve tried to apply, but that stuff is all bullshit. I think Eric needs to get a girlfriend or a boyfriend who works for FACTOR, and then we’ll get the grant.”

Scoffing at becoming another generic Nickelback-esque rock band to gain FACTOR support, Knucklehead instead take the old-fashioned route. With a rich history in Calgary’s punk community and a die-hard following, they are prepared to flourish without the benefit of governmental support. Hopefully it won’t be another 10 years before audiences take notice.

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