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The Young Knives

The Young Knives’ hysterical fusion of all your favourite post-punk records (yes, yours) has marked them out as possibly the best band in Oxford at the moment. Fronted by brothers Henry and the enigmatically-named House of Lords, and claiming to love Frank Black ‘cos he’s ‘fat man rock like us’, The Young Knives possess a sense of occasion that transcends any accusations of quirkiness and leaves you in no doubt that you’re seeing something special.

Henry Dartnall – Guitar and vocals
The House of Lords – Bass and vocals
Skewie – Drums and Vocals

Location: North Oxfordshire now – originally Ashby de-la-Zouch
Formed: Sometime during our teens

What do you think you sound like, and how different is that from what other people have said or written about you?

Henry: People throw loads of ‘they sound likes’ at us. It’s great because it means people are trying to get a handle on what it is we sound like, and the easiest way to do it is to make comparisons. We get the ‘Art Punk label quite a bit and we love that sound, but we aspire towards great songwriters and inventive bands like The Soft Boys, Robert Wyatt and Elvis Costello, more than a particular genre.

Skewie: We sound like nothing else, man.

What great new bands are there in Oxford, or that you’ve played with, that you’d urge the curious music fan to check out?

Skewie: Check out Lightning Bolt: it’s too good to describe.

Henry: I am very bad at keeping up with new music and I tend to let other people recommend things. Having a crappy and inconvenient day job and trying to be in a band takes so much time that I never see gigs unless I’m playing them, really. Having said that, I do like Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies. I like Twinkie from Derby (their drummer is from Wolves of Greece, who I really like too). Oh, and Hot Snakes are the bees knees.

Do you feel much affiliation with any community with regards to the music you make?

House: Care in the Community.

Henry: No. It’s strange – we are a bit like hermits. I don’t get bored of my own company or the company of the rest of the band, so if we have free time we tend to play or write or just drink beer together and listen to CDs round our house. There isn’t really one scene any more though, is there? We can’t really say ‘oh, we are nu punk or a Guerrilla group’, or whatever NME makes up next. That shit makes me really depressed and more convinced that we don’t need any of that kind of thing. However, I was sad not to have appeared in the NME cool list.

Where did you get your band name from? Do you like it?

House: A book. No band likes their name.

Which is your favourite of your own tracks and why?

Skewie: I really like the way that ‘Kramer V. Kramer’ sounds, but it is a bastard to play. There is this military snare thing going on all the way through which makes the lactic acid build up in my arms.

Henry: If I have to pick one, it’s ‘Tremblings of Trails’. We’ve just been reworking some of our recent songs in the studio and ‘Tremblings of Trails’ is just nice to play and has some good words, a nice theme and is really, really simple.

How important are lyrics to your songs, and from where do you tend to come up with lyrical content?

Henry: They are the words. I normally think them up. They tend to refer to situations based in both fact and fiction.

There’s a certain new wave flavour to quite a lot of your stuff – what do you make of the current clutch of bands achieving mainstream success by digging through the vaults of early 80s guitar music?

Henry: It is generally accepted to be a bad thing, the whole retrospective, that is. I think it’s useful and natural to hear bits of old things in new songs. It gives you a point of reference to understand them; that’s how it works in my brain, anyway. If I’m right, you could take all the best bits of production from the history of music and apply them to your songs, and you would have a commercial success on your hands. But you have to be subtle: some bands only have about three points of reference and you can sit there and say ‘that bit is the Stone Roses, that’s like Wings’, and so on. You can only fool so many people for so long with that trick. So you need to have a broader spectrum of references to be a good band and have a long and prosperous career – that’s my theory anyway.

House: I think it was the great Flava Flav that said ‘everything’s got Flava’. He was right: everything does have flavour

What would you be willing to give up/sacrifice for success in your band? Are you DIY purists or major label aspirationists?

Henry: Is that two questions in one? Success – well, if you mean get to the point where I get to be a full time musician, I would sacrifice anything material and inanimate (inanimate being ‘not alive’, not ‘not moving’ – I would def fo give up my wind-up toy collection). If you mean success as in making a shed load of money or being famous, I wouldn’t sacrifice a lot – maybe a liver or something, but I wouldn’t want to give up my home comforts. I know however that the House of Lords would like to be on I’m A Celebrity…. As for the label question, I’m a bit of both. I love doing home recordings and selling the result on our website – but we are a bit disorganised. Indie labels can be really crap too, as we have found out. Some indie labels have got rosters of hundreds of acts so you just gather dust on their shelves. In conclusion it’s the extremes of both for me: I either want us to be as big as Yes or just do our own albums on our website – all that mediocrity in between is of no interest.

House: I would be willing to sacrifice anyone.

What does your family think of your music?

Henry: House’s parents and mine don’t like popular music, or the fact that we are trying to give up our perfectly good day jobs with pensions in the pursuit of rock stardom. To be honest, I would be the same with my kids if I knew where they were.

House: My Uncle Bill likes it. My Mum Betsy says some of the melodies sound like Benjamin Britten. My grandfather Jack doesn’t own a CD plate. The same goes for Great Uncle Kenneth and Great Aunt Noel. My cousins Matthew, Patrick and Charlie like to sing along to any of the songs with swearing in them though Matthew says he doesn’t like music but prefers sports like his dad. Uncle Rodney and Aunty Joan have never spoken to me about the subject though I do know that their daughters (our cousins) Jane and Kate own a copy between them. As for my Grandmother Muriel, I’m not sure what she would think, although she was always a great fan of Shakin’ Stevens.

Skewie: My Mum and Dad are very loyal and love everything I do.

Does the fact that two of you are brothers affect the way you write and perform in any way?

Henry : Yes, we tend to drool and limp, but it also has an effect on the way we write and perform (hilarious use of the word ‘affect’). I’m not sure if it is because we are brothers, because we work well with Olly too and he is a good mate. We find a lot of the same things funny or interesting and at the same time… oh I don’t know, how am I supposed to tell whether it makes a difference or not?

House: Yes it does.

You’ve been asked to contribute to a charity covers album. Which song(s) would you most likely cover?

Henry: I’m not a great fan of charity – I mean that in the sense of ‘charitable organisations’ rather than the virtue – obviously that’s pretty OK.

House: Something with very serious subject matter that really hits the point home. Like ‘Ebony and Ivory’ if it was a race charity, or ‘The Littlest Hobo’ if the money was going to the PDSA.

What’s your favourite bit of band kit? If diskant could buy one thing for your band for Christmas, what would it be?

Henry: My Mesa Boogie Mark II amp. I’d like some nice tube compressors for home recording or a big Gibson hollow body guitar with a Bigsby Whammy bar.

House: Skewie loves cowbells and china symbols. I think if we had lots of money, we would employ pretty dancing girls in big flowing chiffon dresses to swoop about at the back on the stage.

Skewie: I love my palm tree like drum sticks. They shower everything in sawdust.

What are the last couple of albums you bought and are they any good?

House – I bought an album by Colloseum and also an album by the Saints. The Saints one is OK and sounds a bit like the Hives. The Colloseum one is shit. I only bought it because it was in my recommendations on Amazon.

Skewie: I bought a Patti Smith anthology but I’m rarely in the mood to listen to it.

Website: www.theyoungknives.com

Records we can buy:
…Are Dead (2002, Shifty Disco)
‘Split EP’ (2004, Hanging Out With The Cool Kids)