Chicago Punks Knuckle Puck Share Their Love of Blink-182 and Canadian Exchange Rates
Knuckle Puck's Kevin Maida explains why 'Take Off Your Pants' is a great album and the power of pop-punk.
Photo courtesy of Ashley Osborn
Montreal is a notorious stop for touring bands. You can get there and either play to a room full of dead space or the show will be sold out. You can get your van broken into and have all your personal belongings stolen, or you end up having a great time at a strip club post-performance. The ebb and flow of karmic waves happened to bless Chicago’s Knuckle Puck and the Alternative Press World Tour with a sonically tubular ride on a frigid Wednesday evening in early February, no less. The tour is a continuation for headliners, New York outfit State Champs and the UK's Neck Deep boys who were joined in Montreal by Knuckle Puck and Toronto-based band Like Pacific. Together, the four bands are on tour for seven weeks and will hit many of the continent’s largest metropolises with a heavy fist of pop-punk. “It’s super relatable. It’s the same reason why I gravitated towards it when I was eleven or twelve and I started listening to Blink-182 for the first time,” Kevin Maida, guitarist of Knuckle Puck says about the genre’s attraction. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from Wales, doesn’t matter if you’re from Montreal, it doesn’t matter if you’re from Chicago, it’s just something universal that people can relate to.”
Drawing inspiration from their city and its musical fruits, Maida says they started the band when they were in high school because of a lack of pop punk in their immediate vicinity, as well as idolizing some of the successful groups and artists that came out of Chicago years prior. “You look at bigger bands like Alkaline Trio and Fall Out Boy and stuff like that and then you figure out ‘oh damn, they’re a Chicago band? That’s crazy!’” He says, “By having those bands as subtle role models it gives you a definition of reality, like ‘ok not all bands I like just come from the West Coast or the East Coast, it does happen here, it is possible to be in a band’".
Photo courtesy of Colin Jacques
For the past five years, Knuckle Puck has been fermenting their brand of pop-punk, before finally releasing their full-length debut, Copacetic in July, last year. “We wanted to impress ourselves. We didn’t want to be bored or feel like we were bound by any genre restrictions,” Maida says. “We just thought: What do we not do currently? We had a list and we went for it,” he says. “It really helped the writing process and made everything interesting because we knew we had a bunch of these new elements that we wanted to throw into the mix.” With an apparent penchant for eloquence, one of those things was the vocabulary: “It’s like when you’re in grade school and you’re reading in class and your teacher tells you ‘if you don’t know the word look it up.’ We’re not trying to make it confusing, we would like for people who listen to our band to really delve deeper and figure out what we’re actually trying to say.”
As kids piled into the Club Soda theater room, Knuckle Puck kicked their tour off strong with a well-rounded, charismatic performance. Only their second time ever playing in the Quebecois city the attendance was exceptional and because of the Canadian dollar being so weak they could afford to live a life of luxury while raising merch prices by just a little. “I was rich for two days, now I’m back to normalcy,” laughs Maida.
Noisey: How’s the tour going so far?
Kevin Maida: Great, honestly. On the third day now, we just pulled up to Cleveland about a half hour ago and it’s been awesome, it’s been a really cool tour so far.
What’s it like for you guys playing in Canada with our dollar being absolutely in the gutter?
[Laughs] I actually didn’t know that until some of our friends in Seaway—they’re a band from Toronto—they kept saying the whole time, “you guys are rich!” I guess that was cool.
What do you think about Canada in general?
I love Canada. I think it’s sick, honestly. The only annoying thing is crossing the border. But otherwise, I think Canada’s awesome.
Have you guys toured a lot here before?
We played Montreal once that was about a year and a half ago, so [Feb 10] was only our second time playing Montreal and it was great, honestly, especially going up from the first time we played. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a strong show for us [laughs]. It was definitely a large improvement so that was awesome, and then [Feb. 11] in Toronto was our fifth or sixth time. And even since the first show we played in Toronto, which was actually with Neck Deep in 2014, that was a really strong show for us. We were like “wow I can’t believe people technically in another country like our band.” So that was really cool.
Nice, we’ll keep you coming back. You guys have been posting a lot of fan art submissions, can you tell me about that?
We really like to see what people think of our band visually. It’s really cool to see different illustrative representations of our band. It’s also for if we see something we genuinely like we’ll put out on a hoodie or a t-shirt or something like that. In general, it’s cool seeing just how talented a lot of people can really be and to use our music or lyrics as a general inspiration format.
Photo courtesy of Colin Jacques
Getting the fans involved! So this tour is pretty sweet because it brings pop-punk bands from all over the world to one place; you guys and State Champs from the US, Like Pacific in Canada and Neck Deep of course from the UK. What is it that people over the world like about pop punk? What’s so attractive about it?
It’s super relatable. It’s the same reason why I gravitated towards it when I was eleven or twelve and I started listening to Blink-182 for the first time. When you first get into it, it’s this super raw format of music because a lot of kids aren’t subjected to that type of music before and so that draws them in. Then they start delving a little deeper and start reading the lyrics and they’re like “oh wow, someone took some lyrics about my life and put it in a song I really like,” the combination of those two things definitely help. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Wales, doesn’t matter if you’re from Montreal, it doesn’t matter if you’re from Chicago, it’s just something universal that people can relate to.
That’s excellent. How do you guys continue to write original, interesting material, within the genre’s limitations?
When we first started writing for our [debut] that we put out last year we wanted to impress ourselves. We didn’t want to be bored or feel like we were bound by any genre restrictions. If anything, it was something for ourselves, let's make songs that we really like and take risks that we want to take as far as writing music. It really did start like that, we started a dialogue really early before even writing the album and we talked about what we wanted to do, stuff we haven’t done before in the past and what new stuff we really wanted to try out for the future. We didn’t really think like “oh this band already does this” or “this band doesn’t do that so let’s do this,” we just thought: What do we not do currently? We had a list and we went for it. I’m really happy we started a dialogue like that because it really helped the writing process and made everything interesting because we knew we had a bunch of these new elements that we wanted to throw into the mix.
Can you remember, what was the first piece of music that really made you fall in love with music?
That made you think, this is something I want to be a part of and I’d like to do forever. At my eleventh birthday party my friend got me a CD of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and pretty much ever since then I was like, “what is this music!” I knew who Blink-182 was because when I was even a littler kid I heard “All The Small Things” on the radio but that was it, then someone gave me their album and I was just like “holy smokes” it blew my hair back man, and I was just like wow I have to find out more of whatever this is and just keep up with it and ever since then and I’m 23 now
It’s pretty apparent that the vocabulary on the album is choice, with words like ‘copacetic’ and ‘contrite’ is there any sort of literary inspiration to the lyrics? Authors or other lyricists?
[laughs] I can’t speak for the bulk of the album because I only wrote lyrics to one song, “Ponder.” I know Joe and Nick wanted to up their game I guess you could say in the vocabulary section. It’s like when you’re in grade school and you’re reading in class and your teacher tells you “if you don’t know the word look it up.” We’re not trying to make it confusing, we would like for people who listen to our band to really delve deeper and figure out what we’re actually trying to say and what were actually trying to convey because when you’re writing lyrics you can get pretty bland pretty fast without even trying to, that was also another reasoning for trying to make things sound more fresh.
Copacetic was your first full-length but you had put out a number of EPs before that. What is the most important part of writing an album?
You have to make sure that everything is cohesive and everything fits together. I remember we were working on one song and it was a good song but it didn’t fit. We put some variation on Copacetic to the point where someone could be like “this song is completely different from that one,” but everything still finds a way to fit with each other. I guess I would just say that make sure everything is cohesive which is scary at first because we had never had to think of that while writing songs before. But this time, it was a cool challenge that we had to get used to.
So what was the music scene like for you guys growing up in the South Suburbs of Chicago?
When we first started going to shows, and when we were in high school and we all first met each other, the reason we started jamming with each other is because we didn’t hear the music coming from our area that we wanted to hear, so that’s why we started Knuckle Puck. Growing up it wasn’t bad by any means, one of the cooler things was figuring out not just what the bands were in your local scene but you look at bigger bands like Alkaline Trio and Fall Out Boy and stuff like that and then you figure out “oh damn, they’re a Chicago band? That’s crazy!” By having those bands as subtle role models it gives you a definition of reality, like “ok not all bands I like just come from the West Coast or the East Coast, it does happen here, it is possible to be in a band.”
Griffin J. Elliot is a writer based in Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter.