The Knocks Talk New Music, Touring with Justin Bieber, and Bringing the HEAT

The Knocks Talk New Music, Touring with Justin Bieber, and Bringing the HEAT

The electronic duo opens up about their plans for next year alongside the premiere of a new remix of their latest single, exclusively on V.

The electronic duo opens up about their plans for next year alongside the premiere of a new remix of their latest single, exclusively on V.

Text: Jake Viswanath

The Knocks have had a big year. The genre-shifting, versatile electronic duo, comprised of Ben “BRoc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson, started off strong by releasing their full-length debut 55 in March. The album shows off The Knocks’ chameleon-like prowess, switching between shimmery disco bass lines to melancholy tropical synths to rap-influenced odes as seamlessly as Rihanna jumps across genres. The diverse myriad of collaborators on the album, including Wyclef Jean, Carly Rae Jepsen, and WALK THE MOON, only solidifies them as one of the most multifaceted acts in electronic music. Below, we premiere a Manila Killa remix of the fiery track.

After playing summer festivals and supporting Justin Bieber in Europe, The Knocks are gearing up for an even busier 2017. The boys just announced a headlining tour set for February (full dates at the end of this article), with an EP set to drop in January following "HEAT." We talked with the duo about the tour, their new direction, and of course, the election.

Hi Ben, hi James. How are you guys doing? 

BEN RUTTNER Good! We're just hanging out before a show. We're in Poland right now.

You're on tour with Justin Bieber now in Europe, right? 

BR Yeah, we're almost done. We have a couple weeks left. We've been on the road for over two months now.

How has that experience been? 

JAMES PATTERSON Pretty fun and pretty surreal. Playing stages this big, we've never done that. It's been a great learning experience.

BR Yeah, it's definitely something we've never done before.

You're going on a headlining tour in February. How does that feel? 

BR We love our headlining tours. Opening for anyone is fun because you get a lot of new fans and all that. We've really only done one headlining tour on our own before, and it was a real dope experience so we're really excited to do it again on a bigger scale. After having this experience of playing these shows out here, I think we're just really warmed up and ready to go. We're also going to be playing a bunch of new music which will be fun.

Could you describe the sound and direction of that music? 

BR We're doing a new EP that's coming out right before the tour, which revolves around the new single, "HEAT," which just came out. It's definitely a different sound for us. It's a little bit more downtempo, maybe a little more beat-driven and less straight four-on-the-floor dance songs. It doesn't necessarily mean that's where our direction is going completely but we like to play around with things. It's fun to be able to do an EP, experiment, and go in a different direction for a second and call it a little body of work versus an album where it's a little stressful having to worry about doing 15 or whatever songs that all fit together. This is fun just to do something a little different for us and see how people react to it. Already the reaction to the new single has been so good, so I'm excited for people to hear the rest of the songs.

What is a typical Knocks show is like? What do you aim to do on stage? 

JP It depends on the situation. When we're opening for people, we're really trying to bring as much energy as possible and just bring them in. At our headlining show, we want everyone to leave feeling satisfied with the show that they came to see. They paid to come see us so we wanna put on a good show and make them happy. It's harder to do that when you're opening. At festivals, it's sort of similar. It's a mix of the two because there's a lot of new fans that come just walking by the stage that may not know you. You're trying to put on a good show for those who know you and pick up the new ones at the same time.

You started remixing for other artists, and now you've gotten to a level where you completely create your own music and sound. How does that feel?

JP Obviously, when you're doing your own music, you have a little more freedom to experiment. We used remixing to get our production chops up. Doing remixes all the time forces you to use new techniques and software, and then we would use what we learned to make our own music too. It's all for the sake of knowledge, learning, and getting better at what we do.

You have collaborated with a wide variety of artists, from Wyclef Jean to X Ambassadors to Carly Rae Jepsen. How do these collaborations usually come about? Do you approach them, do they approach you, or is it different every time? 

BR  It's pretty different. Some of our best ones are done pretty naturally. Sam from X Ambassadors is a friend from New York that we've known just from the scene here, he went to my college. Powers from our song "Classic," they were friends from New York. Most of them are natural like that. Carly Rae was a fluke because we did a bootleg remix of her song, and they reached out about making an official collaboration. We did a shot in the dark and just sent her this song ("Love Me Like That"), we were like, "Hey, we think you'd sound good on this," and she loved it. Since then we've actually become friends and we've been working together more. They've all been these very organic relationships, there hasn't been many incidents where the A&R at the label reaches out or just getting shit sent to us. It's really just been us figuring out in our own ways besides a couple things, like Cam'ron and the rap features that's basically done due to our label reaching out, or Alex Newell was an Atlantic artist that they suggested we use, and we tried it and loved him. Other than that, we're friends with all of them which makes it a much more fulfilling experience when you have a song that's doing really well. You're playing a song with someone on stage who's your homie, not just someone you put on the track because it's a "good look." It's a lot more satisfying.

Do you still have any dream collaborators after all the people you have worked with? 

BR I'd like to work with Kanye.

JP I would love to work with Calvin Harris and Bruno Mars. Bruno Mars is the man.

Give me an insight into your usual creative process. 

JP It's pretty different every time.

BR Sometimes I'll have an idea started, sometimes one of us will have a full track written and the other one will come in and add stuff at the end or we'll do it from scratch at the beginning. It's totally different. Especially now because we've been traveling so much and we're so busy, it's been even more all over the place because we don't have time to be in the studio all the time so it's a lot of us working on our laptops and passing ideas back and forth. Even though we're together all the time, we don't have studio time all the time. But we tend to usually make a track and then send it to a writer or an artist that we like. Ideally the best situation for us, and a couple of songs were made this way, is when we're in the room making the song from scratch. "Classic" was made that way, and a couple others on the album, but it can't always happen especially when you're trying to work with these artists who are big and we're all on different touring schedules.

How do you manage that? Are you ever able to get into the studio with artists or does scheduling prevent that and you have to always do it remotely? 

BR It's not often, but we are able to get in the studio with them at times. The Wyclef song we made in the room.

JP We would rather be in the room obviously but we can't always.

BR  That's why when we get the chance, we really try to knock that apart because we usually only have one day to try to get something dope. But at this point, I think we've gotten pretty good at knowing how to get the best thing out of someone with us in the room.

Have you done any collaboration that just ended up not being great fits? 

JP Not lately. If it didn't work, it didn't make the album.

BR There's definitely been sessions that we've done back in the day, we used to do a lot more writing for other people where it was artists that we just definitely couldn't vibe with. It's crazy to say this, but I think every time we get in the room with someone, it's really worked out well which is cool to say. For example, Walk the Moon who's on the song "Best for Last," he came and visited us for three days in the studio. We probably did four songs, and the first three were cool but we weren't too excited about them so it was a bummer. And then the very last day, we made the song that ended up being on the album, and it ended up coming out faster than all of the other ones, so that was cool.

You guys tweeted about how weird it was to be in Europe for the election. How did it feel experience the results coming in and waking up to that news from so far away? 

BR It was pretty crazy. Was it 5 in the morning here?

JP Yes. I was asleep so I woke up to it. Honestly, we live in our bubble in New York City with a bunch of progressives so everyone's freaking out. But we try to just keep doing our thing with our music. We don't get super political and we don't try to choose sides because we want our music to be for everyone and we don't want to be polarizing. For us, it was just like "damn," because we're artists and we're liberals. But the social repercussions for us is we just gotta keep doing what we do.

BR For me, it was interesting to see other people reacting, because we hang out and meet people out here after shows, go to bars and talk to people. It was interesting to see how the rest of the world was reacting to such a big thing. It was on every news channel at our hotel in Vienna and everyone at the bar was talking about it and it was just crazy to see how we can be so far away and still have it be so prevalent. Even though we felt really far and disconnected, it was still everywhere you looked.

Photo by Mats Bakken

See The Knocks on tour:

FRI          03-Feb-17            Vancouver, BC - Fortune Sound Club*

SAT        04-Feb-17            Seattle, WA - Neptune*

MON     06-Feb-17            Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom*

WED      08-Feb-17            San Luis Obispo, CA - The Graduate*

THU       09-Feb-17            San Francisco, CA - The Fillmore*

SAT        11-Feb-17            Los Angeles, CA - Henry Fonda Theatre*

SUN       12-Feb-17            Santa Barbara, CA - SoHo Music Club*

MON      13-Feb-17           Santa Cruz, CA - The Catalyst*

THU       02-Mar-17           Washington, DC - 9:30 Club**

SAT        04-Mar-17           Philadelphia, PA - The Foundry @ The Fillmore Philadelphia**

FRI          10-Mar-17           Urbana, IL - Canopy Club**

SAT        11-Mar-17           Chicago, IL - Concord Music Hall**

TUE        14-Mar-17           Lansing, MI - The Loft**

THU       16-Mar-17           Detroit, MI – Shelter**

FRI          17-Mar-17           Toronto, ON - Velvet Underground**

SAT        18-Mar-17           Montreal, QC - Belmont **

TUE        21-Mar-17           Portland, ME - Port City Music Hall**

WED      22-Mar-17           Syracuse, NY - Westcott Theater**

THU       23-Mar-17           Boston, MA - Royale Boston**

FRI          24-Mar-17           New Haven, CT - Toad's Place**

SAT        25-Mar-17           New York, NY - Terminal 5**

*support from Mark Johns & Skylar Spence

**support from Bipolar Sunshine & Gilligan Moss

Credits: Banner Image photography Dusty Kessler

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