It's been a slightly different year in the life of Oxford's post-punkers the Young Knives. After year after year of touring or being encamped in the studio since they first burst onto the scene back in 2006 with a trio of Top 40 singles, in recent months the band have done the odd live gig but have mainly been holed up in their home studio self-recording ‘Sick Octave’, their fourth album proper.

They have been one of Kickstarter's more high profile users. On one level it's surreal to think that the Mercury nominated three-piece have had to go down the self-funding route but on another level it made perfect sense for them, allowing them, quite literally, to make a record on their terms. They seem vindicated in their decision. They're chuffed to bits with the way ‘Sick Octave’ has turned out, and the critics seem to agree as the album has been picking up some very positive reviews.

When I caught up with front man/guitarist Henry Dartnall, a couple of days before their album hit the racks and they took the album out on an extensive UK tour, he was in a very excited mood.


PB: Good morning, Henry.

HD: Hi, er, sorry, I've just being doing a big spread sheet, and literally, just as you phoned, I was pressing send. It had all the details of the pledgers from our Kickstarter project in. You have to manage this big raft of people that you owe stuff to. And of course it's all coming out the week we start the tour, and I don't want to let all these people down that gave us all this money back in May. That would be the rudest thing to have to say, "Sorry, your albums are all late and it's down to our administrative skills," which are probably not as strong as a distributor.

PB: I've just received my promo copy and had a couple of listens.

HD: It's not instant. You need at least seventeen and a half listens. I'm really starting to get into it now.

PB: On first listening it's very different from the first three albums.

HD: Some people say it sounds really different, and some people say it sounds like a Young Knives' record.

I think a lot of people have a perception of Young Knives from the singles. We did have some [successful] singles in 2006, 2007 and 2008. but really we're not a singles band. They're not my favourite songs. Singles tend to wear thin because they are much more poppy than perhaps the album tracks. but they don't necessarily have the depth. It's like when I hear the first two bars of ‘She's Attracted To’ I think, "Oh fucking hell, here we go again." It's quite difficult to keep doing because it's the past. But I think our albums are a bit deeper than the singles. They are more varied. They're not necessarily easy listening.

Some people think ‘Sick Octave’ is different, and I think it is different. It was an exercise in doing things very differently, like the start of a new experiment. This was a reaction, in the beginning, to the last record we did. We did two records on a major label which we had quite a lot of creative freedom with, and then we got ourselves into a situation where we going through a distributor, and they were funding the label so we could do it on our own imprint which is great. But basically we had a manager that wanted to A and R us like a major label band which meant he persuaded us to spend way too much money making a record, going to L.A. and stuff like that and coming out with a very slick record which really wasn't what we meant to do.

PB: I think ‘Ornaments from the Silver Arcade’ is still a very good album.

HD: Yeah, I think the songs are good but they are much better live. The performances were all fine, but when the stuff started to get mixed I realised it was going to be really slick. I wasn't even there. We weren't in control of it which was really strange. It was mixed very big and poppy. It just leaves a very strange taste in your mouth because someone else had got involved. They tried to make it sound so they can sell 400,000 copies of it and get us on the main stage at Reading and Leeds. And all that was not how we were supposed to be approaching making the record. So we took it into our own hands this time and said, "Let's do it how we want to do it and hope there will still be an audience for us". We have a bit of a laddy fan base who still think we're like the Kaiser Chiefs. Hopefully we'll shake some of that. It's difficult to change people's perceptions, but it's definitely a bit of an experiment to try and do that.

PB: Rest assured, Kaiser Chiefs is not an influence that came to mind with ‘Sick Octave’.

HD: That was the same era that we became prevalent so we get lumped in with it a bit. I don't hate any music particularly. People refer to Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, Futureheads and all the bands that came out at that time and people say we are like that, but I think we should be more experimental than that. I wanted to move away for all that as far as possible, in one record.

PB: Personally I would say that you've definitely achieved that. When I heard the first song ‘Owls of Athens’, the two bands that sprung to mind were Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Cabaret Voltaire.

HD: My wife got Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Cabaret Voltaire? Ah, right, yeah, nice. I'm quite a big fan of them. I guess some of the things that informed it were Suicide and Big Black. We could have got the drummer to play on it, but that's not what this song needed. I wanted it to be like a [Roland] TR909 drum machine going thud thud thud and up in your face. That's how we approached this record. "Do we want Ollie to play drums on this? Or are we going to programme some drums. and he does all the percussion and stuff. He can still sing, round the stage” [Laughs].

We really approached it that it didn't really matter. None of us are amazing arty instrumentalists. It was, "Let's forget that I play guitar, he plays bass and he play drums. Let's make some songs in the studio at our house and mess around with them, and if it doesn't work at least we've given it a go.” So I'm quite happy for someone not to like the whole album because we've tried some stuff. We're not recording engineers, but we have an idea for a song so we record it and see how it comes out because things just happen organically. Perhaps it doesn't come out like you expect it to, but you've just got to try it. I think that that was the most important thing about doing the record. We could have just stopped and thought, "Yeah, we've done enough stuff as the Young Knives." Or "We've got nothing to lose. Let's just make it as crazy as possible."

I saw an interview with Yan from Foals and he said, "We're looking forward to get involved in other projects because we feel like there is some really crazy stuff that we want to do that perhaps Foals' fans wouldn't like." And I thought, "Eh? Just do it!"

That means that you don't feel free in your current set up to do the music you want to do. They're still doing music they like so it's not as if they're doing music for someone else. I didn't see why we shouldn't be completely free to do whatever we want. People employ us for our taste, if you know what I mean? People look to us for our taste, so let's do what our taste is. I like Throbbing Gristle, I like Suicide. I like This Heat. They're some of my favourite bands because they are bonkers. Even things like M.I.A. Things that I think are clever and interesting, but I don't necessarily like all of it. I love a couple of those M.I.A. tracks because it sounds mental. They are genre defying and that was what we were trying to do.

There have been a few reviews where people have given us an okay mark because at the end of it they say, "It's not indie. It's not electro." They can't quite work out what it is, and in their eyes that's a bad thing.

PB: I saw that review.

HD: That review read like, "I don't get this. I couldn't work out what the genre of music is." In my mind that's brilliant.

PB: On your Soundcloud site you've gone for "Industrial indie".

HD: I've just changed it actually and I've gone for "Arty noodlings." I liked the idea because I don't like the word indie very much. It's just bigger than its connotations.

PB: With indie, for example, the likes of Oasis and Kaiser Chiefs spring to mind.

HD: Exactly. There's a lot of indie like Kodaline and the 1975 which, to me, is pure manufactured pop in a way. It's like someone has said to the 1975, "If you write a song called 'Chocolate', you'll get loads of adverts and you'll make loads of money out of it. So whatever the song is about just call it 'Chocolate'."

That goes on and I don't really think that is indie. I don't really hate their music. It's like that new band Hiem. That is supposedly indie music. It's chart-bothering, and it's designed for mass consumption. It's very very slick is what I think I mean. It's not what I thought Young Knives should be doing, so we just had to forget about getting a load of radio play and making a load of money out of it and just go for it.

Hopefully it will pay off and it will do well around the world. I'm not too bothered about the UK because we've got our fans and we'll hopefully pick up some more and lose a few, so it will even itself out. I am writing it to people because I want it to entertain, so I'm not saying I don't care. I figured if we write something authentic and we record something authentic then that will have a knock on effect and people will get it. I listened to the last album, and it doesn't feel authentic in the philosophical/artistic sense. That sounds pretty pretentious, but I can't really think of a better way of putting it. The last record doesn't sound like we mean it. The demos did, but the final recording didn't sound like we really mean it.

PB: A lot of people said the same about the Arctic Monkeys’ first LP and the demos for that.

HD: There's something to be said for both. I heard the Stone Roses' demos on some old vinyl bootleg and he's [Ian Brown] just going for it vocally. It's quite shouted. It's quite big. I look at a lot of bands in the States and I see a freer theme, probably because it's a bigger country. The percentage of the population that knows you may well be the same, but that's a lot more people so you can travel around doing shows. So I'm just looking outside the UK a bit more, because we've done a lot of UK-centric stuff. We've done the States and Europe a bit, but we've never spent long periods of time trying to make a record work.

If you are on a major label, they just put it out and we don't really have any contact with who does it and who promotes it and all that kind of stuff. But this time we're kind of running our own label, so we know everybody in every country that's going to be putting the record out. And we're paying for them to promote it directly, so we are in constant contact with them. We're going to go over there and there's going to be TV and radio. In Europe the fans are a little less fickle. We're very centred on the new over here. I saw a BBC advert the other day that said "Supporting New Music," and I thought, “Well, that's not entirely true.”

We find it really hard to get anything past people because they are looking for new bands. The ‘NME’ review we've just had [8/10] is the best one we've ever had, but then you turn over the page and Tinie Tempah has got a really big review and it scored 6. I couldn't really give a monkey's about the size of review,but they don't give the biggest review to the best scores. It's about the artists that they think will sell the most magazines.

PB: I think they tend to just think about new bands per say so they can then say, "Oh, look we broke this band."

HD: I think we're all guilty of that slightly. We're all part of the same society, and we all tend to do that a bit. I tend to look for new stuff, and forget there's a whole load of old stuff that I've not listened to yet. There are always things that I've missed. That's why we're looking at Europe a bit more seriously because they still go and watch say Tindersticks and put 2,000 people in a room that will go back and see them. I'm not too surprised on our attitude here as a lot of bands don't progress very much. We do have a lot of people in bands that stick with similar things, and who stay in their ruts and seem be quite happy with that.

PB: No one will be able to level that claim at Young Knives given the new
LP. Did you make a conscious decision to move away from the old sound or was it more organic because you were recording it so differently?

HD: Yeah, we were doing what we wanted to do before. What happens is you go into a recording studio and you set everything up, guitar amp, bass amp, drums, and they say, "Right, let's play the songs through." And already there's an assumption that you want to do it that way.

There are a few songs on the LP that we did do that way, but the ones we did record live we didn't do to a click – ‘We Could Be Blood’, ‘Bed Warmer’, ‘All Tied Up’ and ‘Green Island Red Raw’ - those four we did at a studio of a mate of ours, which actually was Steve Winwood's studio, because he was a bit bored. Which was great as it was quite posh, and we didn't pay very much for it. So we went and did that, and it was the first time we'd done tracks that weren't to a click, and we just played and played and played until it was right.

The rest we just built them using the fact that we've got this technology so we can do that. And we can say, "What we want to hear is a realty horrific keyboard sound." We thought, "How should we approach this?" with every song. What do we want this to be? Right, we want it to be gnarly and synthy and we'll try and use guitars as a melodic instrument. So let's put a simple beat down and we can change that drum sound later.” So that's what we did.

PB: And you've also got the time to do that.

HD: Yeah, but we tried not to spend too much time as the danger is that you never finish it. We were a bit frightened starting really. We thought we were doing something wrong as we thought how can we do this for the price of a cheap second-hand recording desk and some software when last time it more than £60,000. The difference of how much it cost is the difference between three grand and 60 grand. Maybe it was more £6,000, so 10%.

PB: I think the other mistake bands make in the studio is not to record anything they can't do live.

HD: Well, we did the exact opposite. We did quite often think, "How the Christ are we going to do this live?" but I've heard people who I'm inspired by like Bowie say, "Well, we didn't really think about how we were going to play it. We'll work it out later." And it has taken us a lot longer to work it out and we have had to buy a massive swanky keyboard to get all our sounds in. But you do a version live. Even now a lot of the embellishments and sound-scapey stuff you do on the record is because the record has to sound good at low volume. It has to sound good in the background. Live has got the benefit of volume and is a lot more stripped back and simpler sounding, so I knew that we could do it. We collaged these songs together so you just chop bits out. There are bits when I think, "Jesus, that bit is pretty noisy". Did it need it all? Well, that's what we did. Let's not over-analyse it. If it sounds fun, it sounds fun.

PB: There are quite a lot of layers and there isn't that immediate melody that hits you straight between the eyes. You have to listen to it and get underneath the songs a bit.

HD: That's my favourite type of music. That stuff sticks with me longer. We've got that song ‘We Could Be Blood’ which is very simple and I'm very proud of because it's two minutes fifty. but it's still us being weird and it's kind of Motown and like a single but you can't hear verse chorus verse chorus. It just kind of goes along, and it builds and drops and has all those bits in.

PB: Are you looking forward to getting back on the road with ‘Sick Octave’?

HD: Yeah, we did the preview set on Saturday in Oxford and we had lots of things to set up and it was a bit of a big one, but it all worked and we didn't screw it up.

PB: Did you do the two sets thing?

HD: Yeah, we did the full album first. I was a bit worried about that as I know it's a bit of an ask. I've seen Shakin' Stevens and thought, "Oh, just play the hits". And he won't. It's not that we won't - we will - but it just felt like this worked. We wanted to make a stage show. It's not ‘Tommy’, as it's not that much of a concept, but it does all hang together in a weird sort of way.

There's other video stuff going on in between. It's a very "on a budget" audio visual experience. We've tried a bit of everything. We didn't just want to rock up and just do a gig and do the songs and leave. The way we've done it is quite structured. Even the bits in between. But it's much more of a performance. It's much less of us standing around and chatting.

There's still an element of that. I've found with that element if it's good it's good and if it's bad it's crap. There's always an element of "Oh, this audience aren't doing it for me." You make a joke and nobody says anything. And then you go on to the next song and you feel awful because the audience are just stood there, and you think "Is there anyone here?" One of those nights. You know, Sunday night in Macclesfield. So if we structured it so there is no lull, because I've often felt lulls in gigs and I want to get that whole movement going through. Then people are attentive for the whole thing because they don't know what is going to happen next. They can tell stuff is going to happen. It's not the most over-the-top stage show, but there is stuff happening. So, yeah, that's the idea.

PB: Just a question about Kickstarter. You've gone down the fan funding route. It's had its knockers. How have you found it and would you go down this route again in the future?

HD: I didn't particularly want to do it though we embraced and made it what it was, but at the same time we tried to keep it pretty low key. We knew we needed about ten grand, although that was actually a bit of an under-estimate when it comes down to it because I'd not fully factored into it how much it actually costs to make records. If you want to put out 5,000 CDs, it's bloody expensive. They charge you a hell of a lot. We still had to go to some people and say, "Could you lend us some more money please?" So for the Kickstarter money we just got a mixer really and a little bit of kit. That's all we made out of it because it's amazing just how much stuff costs.

PB: Did anyone take you up on the more exotic offerings like the "Young Knives Wedding set" or the "Make a video with the band" option?
Henry: I'm glad no one did with respect to the Wedding Band gig as, afterwards, I thought that would be a pain in the arse. Someone asked if we could do it for less and I thought. "Nah". Two people took the "Make a video with the band" option, and that was good. It was a bit of a punt but it was fun so we did that. That was the most exotic, and we thought it would be good to get some other people in the video apart from our stupid faces.

We did it for the ‘Maureen’ video. It kind of covered the costs of making the video. I say that, but it probably cost us the same again. It was like splitting it with some fans but the nice thing was they had a really good day. When they turned up .it was a really memorable day for them. So it did work. With things like that, people are only going to go for it if they really want to do it. and if they really want to do it then it's going to be really enjoyable.

So as much as we can, we'd like to self-fund stuff. As we are effectively the record label we are hoping to make some money and that will fund the next record. But we may do Kickstarter again. I didn't hate it because we made it about the music. If we were putting out an album that didn't excite me as much, I'd find it difficult though. Because we were going "We're going to do something nuts here and we're going to surprise people."

I felt quite positive about asking people to get involved with it. I have seen some terrible ones. When we were watching some of the things people did for Pledge. I just thought that's just not cool. I don't want my band [doing things] like that. It's not the future for emerging bands. No way could you afford to do it properly. You won't get thousands of people backing you when no one knows who you are. You still have to make your name by being great and getting out there.

I don't know how because I don't know why any record label would sign any band these days anyway. Why would anyone sign anybody to make records when no one buys records anymore? That's why our music is getting so homogenised. I sound like a grumpy old man when I say that, but I really think we are going through a time when creativity is being squeezed because there's not any money in it. And that's because of big business' need to make a shitload of money to keep all their employees on the books.

So they can't afford to take risks. So the only way you can take risks is if you can get yourself away from all that. And all the risks are on your shoulders which is basically what we did.

But we had to go into it with the confidence that we were going to pull it all off. Looking back on it all, I don't know how we quite did it.

PB: I think you did pull it all off.

HD: Just getting it all done and physically making it. We started without being able to see how that was going to end. We knew we wanted a mixer, but we didn't know who was going to mix it. We had to get someone in to do that, and we didn't know if they were going to be good or that cheap or if they were going to mess it all up.

PB: Then there's the mastering.

HD: That's a dark art that, isn't it? We've paid four or five grand for mastering before. This time we paid £700 to a guy in Oxford and he's a complete genius. We got someone else to do it initially. We spent a fortune on it, and it sounded rubbish compared to what this guy had done because he'd done the EP for us. £700 is still a lot of money, but it's not four grand at one of these Metropolis-type places. We're in a different era where most people listen to it as an MP3.

PB: How have you coped with doing all the production and shipping of the album yourselves?

HD: I'm supposed to be doing it all this afternoon. I've got all the stuff and all the packing equipment. All I've got to do is write all the names and addresses on the envelopes and take it down to the Post Office.

PB: It sounds really glamorous when you start a record label off but it is all excel spread sheets and Jiffy bags, isn't it?

HD: Luckily for the distribution side for the shops they're doing that. But today we may be delivering it to someone else to do. Apparently it doesn't count towards the charts. Not that I'm bothered about the charts. They want to put it through the systems that means it may chart for you. You only need 2,500 to be in the Top 40. So it's 25% of the total to get it in the Top 40. I couldn't give less than a rat's [arse] about that. If they want to do it, however, it takes the work out of my hands so that's even better! So that was what that spread sheet I was sending over before you rang up was. But I do have the Jiffy bags and all the sleeves ready to go. The tee-shirts are in. The stickers came this morning. That was the last thing I was waiting for. There's a set of three vinyl stickers, and they finally came this morning.

PB: It's real cottage industry stuff. isn't it?

HD: Oh, yeah! The studio's got all the equipment piled up in the corner ready to go out on tour, and it's laid out like a postal room. So it's all going to kick off.

PB: There's something real about all that.

HD: Yeah, that's true. When you get it and it's got a hand-written address on it, that'll be me or Tom (Thomas “The House of Lords” Dartnall, bass-Ed) that's written it on there.

PB: Well, I'm certainly looking forward to the Sheffield gig.

HD: It's going to be good. I'm looking forward to that one. We tend to get a good crowd in Sheffield. It was one of the first few places that would put us on.

PB: House of Lords did his degree in Sheffield ,didn't he?

HD: Yeah, he did fine art at Sheffield Hallam University. I had my stag do in Sheffield. A big filthy student house party. I've had a lot of good times in Sheffield. A place close to my heart, although I'm definitely not from there or ever lived there. We used to do The Grapes. We did there a lot of times before anything happened. It was great, belting audience. Shocking load in mind. Always a good night, and if you could get somewhere to stay you knew you were going to have some fun. I remember the last time we played Sheffield, I ended up proper going for it on the scummy dance floor at the Washington. That was great. I met a load of my old mates. I don't normally go disco dancing, but it just happened!

PB: Thank you very much for your time Henry.

So fast forward a couple of weeks, and it's show time at the upstairs room at the O2 in Sheffield. Sadly Henry's optimism about Sheffield hasn't translated into ticket sales, and it's not a massive crowd. Which is a real shame given the effort the band has clearly gone to make this work. There are keyboards, pedals, DI boxes, leads and AV equipment all over the stage.
Like the true professionals they are, they don't let the sparse turnout colour their mood. Their 'stage adaptation' of the new album works a treat, and they pull it off with some aplomb.

Thomas Dartnall flits between his bank of synths and his bass guitar with consummate ease. Oliver Askew, the drummer, mixes up his conventional drumming with percussion on the drum-machine led tracks to good effect. Henry sings, chops at his guitar and taps on his many pedals on the stage.

Their live take on the album works well, and the new songs stand up well to live performance. Standout tracks are the beautifully haunting organ overtones of ‘We Could Be Blood’ and album closer ‘Maureen’. Then it's a whistle-stop tour of previous glories. ‘The Decision’, ‘Terra Firma’, ‘Vision in Rags’ and ‘Turntail’ are despatched with swift efficiency. There's also time for a two-song encore, and the opening bars of ‘She's Attracted To’ get the biggest cheer of the night before the song blends into ‘Storm Clouds".

Overall it's a very enjoyable gig, the only shame being that more people in the Steel City didn't see one of the UK's more innovative and entertaining bands. Hopefully, though, this was a one-off on their thirteen-date UK tour as they deserve much more than a hundred or so punters. They've been brave going it alone to bring us ‘Sick Octave’, and they deserve our support. As their first mini LP stated, the Young Knives are indeed dead. Long live Young Knives.













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