DBMK won over a lot of new fans’ hearts with their new album ‘Collapse’, released in 2016. Ours included. We’ve connected with the band via social media and in late 2016 had an amazing conversation with frontman Kyle Knudsen about creativity, DBMK’s fans, and handling creative droughts.
(All images by Taylore Moore)
Kel Burch: I love what seems like a considerable about of introspection that goes into your writing. Is that correct? Would you say that you’re a deep thinker?
Kyle Knudsen: I would absolutely say I’m a thinker. It’s not really something I do on purpose, however people close to me will tell you that from a young age I’ve been prone to zone out like crazy. Usually while eating or something like that. And it’s pretty much only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. There’s a lot of tabs open in my head.
KB: Where do you find your inspiration for writing otherwise? Or does it find you?
KK: I think I draw a lot of my inspiration for my writing from things that people say. I was a poet before I was a songwriter and much of what I wrote about was conversation. For instance, in “Always On”, the main textual theme is literally dialogue that a friend from high school and I had. He often told me that my personality was “always on” in full eccentric force, and the rest of the song is me explaining why I feel a need to be the way that I am.
KB: So “Denim Blue” is kind of your name as a creator? I read that it came from a recurring dream, where Babe Ruth referred to you as that. I love that! Do you feel that your recurring dreams shift when you have taken something or learned something from them?
KK: I won’t say that I’ve completely abandoned the whole idea of “Denim Blue,” but I will say that I’m more comfortable now that it’s not really in the name anymore haha. Anyways, I’ve had reoccurring dreams my whole life. I still have dreams that I can recall explaining to my mother as a little boy. The Babe Ruth one was one of the more mild ones and only a year ago or so did I get it out of my head. I think dreams are important to recount and take note of, they’ve certainly offered a lot of perspective to me and I think my subconscious is really trying to drive a point home when I have these dreams. I’ve been reading up on a lot of what Freud had to say about dreams in the subconscious mind and the transformation of the human center to the brain. It’s a trip let me tell you. I recently moved to Boston, Massachusetts and I’ve been having the craziest, darkest reoccurring dreams of my life haha. Kinda spooky, but in some ways they’ve helped me identify feelings and where to place them throughout my days following.
KB: ‘DBMK’ originally began with the connection of yourself and Miclain Keith. Is that still the state of things or has it evolved? I know you are a group of four now and Miclain is working on other projects. Is that right? I guess, put simply, my question is: Who is in DBMK as a band and what do they do?
KK: Ahh yes haha. The actual definition is probably something that is only now confidently secured, and in a really great place. This lifestyle is hard. It requires a lot of focus and compromise, and so it’s not always for everyone. Miclain and myself have parted ways for the time being, but I look forward to making and recording more music with him in the future. He’s an amazing musician and I think we make a good creative team. So, now DBMK is a four piece band with myself doing the writing and arranging, but there’s still plenty of room in this music for Jacob, Josh, and Colton to be creative and add their own ideas into the atmosphere we create at our live shows.
KB: “Patient (N.)” is one of the most still and delicate songs I’ve ever heard. How do you hold the space for something like that to be created?
KK: “Patient (N.)” was the last song we recorded for Collapse and it was the fastest thing we had ever done. We recorded it in like…two takes and there was no debate or anything like that of how it should sound. Dry vocals with vintage electric piano. The fanciest thing we did was double the pre-chorus vocals and hard pan them to achieve a super stereo kind of thing. It was a tough session to get through for me. I see now that it functions as a sort of hymn, not necessarily to a higher power, but rather to another person. Asking to grant personal peace.
KB: I wasn’t surprised to read that you have classical training in music. Collapse felt a lot to me like artistry using music as the means of expression (your own paintbrush on the canvas of an album). There’s something special about it.
KK: Well thank you very much! My classical training certainly has come in handy in writing and arranging, but to be honest a lot of the way I record and compose is in fact through experimentation, so that sometimes means picking up an instrument or piece of equipment that I’ve never used before and just seeing what happens. I got my hands on some real life vintage synthesizers and keyboards while writing Collapse, so that’s where a lot of the nostalgic lyrical format and sound design comes from. To a certain degree, being confident in your abilities leaves room to be more creative and honest. However, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be entirely comfortable with music, and I really hope that I never will be. That feeling of being outside of my realm and comfort zone is what pushes me to become a better writer, musician, and performer.
KB: The shows you did recently seemed really special in connecting you with fans. How were those shows for you?
KK: Oh gosh. Those shows were amazing. Our keyboardist, Jacob, unfortunately was unable to play with us because of prior commitments so he and myself added keys parts into backing tracks and I began to tug at my collar and sweat nervously. The tracks and Ableton rig were finalized at 4AM before I flew into Tampa that morning, but my sheer adrenaline was enough to get me through the flight and familiarize myself with a software that I had barely touched before now. This music is so incredibly keyboard driven, so you can imagine the pressure of relying on tracks and metronomes to run perfectly smoothly as if Jacob were there playing and controlling the sounds live. So that first show was one of the most hectic things I have yet to deal with. After load in and sound check I’m sitting backstage listening through tracks one last time before our set and I discover even more issues that I had overlooked in my exhaustion. I fix the alignment and sampling issues and the set goes on without a hitch; there’s jumping, yelling, and I destroy a floor tom. Another day at the office.
KB: It must feel really good to have such a passionate fanbase in the Kult rooting for your success. What’s that like?
KK: We are always searching for ways to get the crowd involved in the show; to make them feel like they’re just as much a part of it as we are, because in this music that’s very true most, if not all, of the time. If you think about it, the first night really shouldn’t have done well. A show in downtown St. Petersburg on a school night in the middle of exam season. But these people believe in this music and the show nearly sold out. That’s what made these nights special.
We became one system, moving in mechanical synchronization. We are queer and transgender, we are Muslim, we are Black, we’re from every walk of life you could fit into a dimly lit rock club. But suddenly there exists this beautiful world where every part of human existence is celebrated and no one has to feel unaccepted or dissociated. That’s what makes these shows special. Our fans are some of the most spectacular people I have ever met. I know every band says that and stuff, but our biggest break was solely because of the Kult.
We played every show that came our way and played every show like it was the first night of a sold out arena tour, no matter how small and cigarette drenched the club or bar was. People got into that and started to connect with what we had to say. Next thing we knew, we got nearly 300 fan votes to open up a massive radio festival, with the likes of The Neighbourhood, Walk The Moon, and twenty one pilots. We played on the biggest platform of our career and spent the day with our heroes, learning and making contacts. And it was all because of the Kult.
Sometimes I think that they believe in DBMK more than I do, and that is the most rewarding feeling in the world. They promote our shows at school and come singing every word and they’re all best friends with each other. And that is what it’s all about. In an industry as fickle and dark as this, I think I can speak for the whole band when I say the Kult is what makes it all worth it for us.
KB: You gave an inspirational speech on stage, relating to ‘Fight On’. Could you tell us more about that?
KK: Well, the whole idea came to me during the flight from Boston to Florida, the day of the show. I had been throwing out and toying with the phrase “Fight on” on social media here and there on posts and things, but I really wanted to actualize it in way that could get people involved in the show. Our live show is notorious for having spoken word, but I didn’t have time to prepare anything beforehand so I figured I could just improvise. In the perfect storm of traveling, setting up a rehearsal before load in, and trying to get tracks ready before our set (on that software that I was completely unfamiliar with), one of the tabs open in my head was scheming the Fight On sequence. I just told Josh to sparsely play the chords from “Twin Machines”, and we went for it. I think it’s something that will be a part of us for a long time now.
KB: In seeing you on stage I can’t help but see you in a role as ‘conductor’, being the energetic glue that keeps it all together as well as having really strong visions and ideas as to the sound you’re all creating. Is that how it feels?
KK: I kind of like that title, “Conductor,” has a nice sound to it, haha! Like I said before, I write the music and arrange the parts but there’s so much room for personal player touch. The boys are amazing musicians and love to have fun with the songs and add or change things up, even on a show to show basis. So in other words, maybe sometimes I do feel like a little bit of a conductor of sorts, but I think that most of what we do is very much a group effort. We all lead and energize each other during a set. Sometimes it’s as subtle as eye contact and a nod, but mostly we just yell at each other in between or during loud intros of songs. In the middle of the set and right before the encore is usually when that happens the most. I’ll hit a trap airhorn sample that I have in my sample pad kit (for no better reason than why not?) and turn to Colton with a “You good?!” or Josh will bump shoulders with me and hit all of his open guitar strings just to make noise and smile.
KB: Here’s an ‘out there’ kind of question for you: If MUSIC to you was a creature or a person, what would they be like?
KK: If music was a creature or person…hmm. Of those two situations music is definitely a creature. They’re not the best looking all the time, too. This past year this creature gets up early and spends a lot of time coordinating outfits and trying to make themselves look the best they can. Music itself mostly listens to Travis Scott and Mahler (The Symphony No. 5, the Rondo), and is very loud and clumsy. They have lots of friends and they are all incredibly well off but you never can tell what it is they do for a living. Music is thousands of years older than their friends but appears the same age.
KB: Are there any music videos for songs on Collapse in the works?
KK: I’m not allowed to say too much, but I will tell you that there are a handful of screenplays I’ve made copies of lately.
[EDIT: Since this interview, we’ve all got to enjoy the music video for “Pills”!]
KB: When you’re not working musically what do you get up to?
KK: I’ve recently gotten into over-hauling electric guitars, basically refinishing, upgrading hardware and electrical parts, and I actually just finished my first project. I’m not exceptionally amazing at it yet, but I’m learning a lot and It’s a really rewarding and therapeutic hobby. Plus this guitar looks sick and sounds even better.
Agh gosh, I spend so much time with music, it’s hard to say I do anything else haha! But I’m a huge film buff, it’s my other passion besides music, so I watch a lot of movies. I’m a massive Wes Anderson fan. I try to put as much time and precision into my writing as he puts into his films. Otherwise, I read. A lot. I just started a translation of Neitzsche, but with all the stuff we have planned I haven’t had any time to read it. Woah. That’s probably the most pretentious thing I’ve ever said. Frick.
KB: What do you do in between creative projects, I know personally, I feel unsettled when I’m not creating!
KK: I get grumpy. It’s a real problem. We didn’t play many shows in Fall and it was hard on me. The album is out and so now my creative outlets were limited for a time so I get super restless and tense. When I get bad like that I work up the courage to go and work out. I know, shocking, I’m sure. But I really do! It’s nothing like playing a show or recording or filming, but it relieves some tension I guess. I really have to put my mind to something else to distract me, or I’ll get stir crazy during creative droughts. I was offered a lot of production and composition opportunities lately, on top of everything else we have in the work for the new year, so I’ll have plenty to keep me busy creatively for the time being. I’m excited to see where these things take DBMK and my grumpy self.
Thanks Kyle, for taking the time to share with us a bit more about DBMK and yourself! You can check out DBMK’s music on Spotify.
[Originally posted on Strife Magazine.]