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The Young Knives

Over the past couple of years, The Young Knives have made the transition that so many bands strive for: developing from a highly-regarded local band to a national, and increasingly international prospect, they seem to be leaping from success to success with no sign of letting up. At the forefront of a half-invented wave of peculiarly British quirky guitar bands, as much as they are representative of a shift in independent music to something equally post-punk influenced and modern, they’ve signed to Transgressive Records, recorded an album with Andy Gill, and are as I write over in Texas to kick off an American tour by doing the SXSW thing along with a host of other British hopefuls including Foals and Lords. I was interested to find out how – if at all – the success they’ve experienced has changed them as a band, and where they’re looking to go after Voices Of Animals & Men, their third album so far. I caught up with frontman Henry Dartnall by e-mail just before they jetted off to the States.

Did you ever think that The Young Knives would reach the level of success and recognition that you have so far?

Not really, because we knew that there was a massive element of luck, a bit like a lottery. It hasn’t, at the same time, been really surprising, because it has been such a gradual process. So it has sort of snuck up on us. Success these days tends to imply making shedloads of money and being a “celebrity” anyway, which is something we are not so bothered with compared to the recognition.

What would you say is the secret to developing from a local band to being a nationally-relevant band? Is it hard work, a good manager, good PR people or is it just luck?

Unfortunately, it is about having people pushing your name, as well as doing loads of live stuff (and being mega, of course). There must be quite a lot of luck involved, and very often it’s about working with the right people (management, label, booking agent), but you never really know they are right until you have started with them. Well, it was that way with us anyway – we took a leap of faith. We didn’t really have a lot to lose though, and we also didn’t have very high expectations for the band. We just thought we may be able to get some more gigs if we had some help. Then we ralised that the chap helping us was thinking along the lines of us being a proper band on MTV and all that shit. He seemed pretty confident from the start that we could do that, which we all thought was probably a bit much, but we thought it can’t do any harm.

You’ve done lots of interesting/strange things over the past year or so – appeared on Jools Holland’s TV show, played in Ibiza, hosted a Radio 1 show – do these opportunities present themselves, or do you seek them out?

There is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff going on and sometimes even we don’t know whether they asked us or our management folks asked them. The people who manage us (Scruffy Bird) have got three main bits (management, press and TV/radio) but there is only three people there. It’s not like some massive corporate machine. They do all our schmoozing and all the stuff that we can’t stomach that just naturally goes with the music industry. Then we just rock up and do our shit.

I think the Radio 1 think came about because Zane Lowe thought we would be good at presenting, rather than our radio person begging them to let us do it. As it turned out, we were hillarious.

It’s hard to deny that you’re now doing Pretty Well as a band – selling records, playing big gigs and getting a lot of press. Are there downsides to this, what many people would consider a pretty nice situation to find yourself in?

What do you think? Who wants to hear that it’s great fun being in a band? The downsides are spending too much time with the same men, being poor and having to deal with budgets.

Have you had to relinquish control over any aspects of what you do, in order to further your musical career?

Yes, the boring bits that we never wanted to do anyway. But not artistically. I mean, we once had three B-sides mixed without us being there just because we absolutely had to, but they sounded pretty good. I suppose we haven’t had time to make any hand-painted T-shirts recently [the band used to produce their own shirts individually], but still that’s because we just do music all the time.

Are The Young Knives from Oxford, or Ashby-de-la-Zouch? The jury seems to be out…

Ashby was the place we were brought up, although really me and Tom are from a village called Belton. Oxford is our home now, so we are from Oxford. Who cares really, we are all free spirits, wanderers in time and space, dude.

For a while the band was being heralded as spearheads of some kind of spurious ‘odd, tweeded gent’ movement, along with other acts like Guillemots. How does it feel being put on the spot as a fashion icon of sorts?

Wrong, and very much misplaced. I mean, what the…

Are the band still based in Oxfordshire? Do you keep up with the music scene in Oxford?

Yes, we still live in Oxfordshire. I rarely go to see stuff in Oxford but I always read Nightshift [Oxford’s local music magazine] and always look up new stuff on myspace. Tom and Ollie go to gigs a bit more because they live in town.

Are you looking forward to touring America? What are you hoping that you get out of it?

If we ever get there… I think Tom appears on some registers and his visa was questioned. It should be all fine though. It’s exciting to be getting messaged from US fans already. We have no idea really how we will go down with most Americans but we are hoping some of them will get it.

What are the plans for The Young Knives from now on?

We have written a load of new songs, maybe the whole next album. We hope to be in the studio again in May/June. We will be playing a load of festivals, including Glastonbury, the idea of which is making us moist. New single in June time, we hope, and then new album start of 2008 maybe. We wanted to do one a year but that may be a bit to quick for some record company stooges. The new album is a bit more space/prog/folk but in pop form. We have tried to be a bit different for the next album and we will work with a different producer so it has a different feel. So the keyword there is “different”.

The Young Knives

Read diskant’s 2004 Talentspotter article on The Young Knives here.