Having recently finished a tour with Jimmy Eat World, San Diego rockers No Knife continue to enjoy the most successful period in their nine-year career, and they owe it all to a producer who wouldn't take no for an answer.
Frustrated by finances and tired from touring, the band was on permanent hiatus when Greg Wales phoned last winter about making an album. "We told him, 'Well, we're kind of broken up,' " singer/guitarist Mitch Wilson recalled. "And he was just, 'I don't care. We're doing a record.' "
Wales had grown close to the band while working on No Knife's third album, Fire in the City of Automatons (1999), and was able to coax the guys into recording some songs just for their own enjoyment. From there the snowball started rolling, and soon label deals were in place for Europe and the United States.
The punchy Riot for Romance! was released in September and has steadily climbed the college airplay charts, recently even cracking into commercial radio — a remarkable feat, considering that the group's past albums, mostly overlooked, were issued by music behemoth BMG, and their new disc is on tiny upstart Better Looking Records.
The band credits some of its momentum to a change in the musical climate, including emo's emergence from the underground. Though not often branded with the dreaded tag, No Knife's angular guitars, pop hooks and complex arrangements have always gone over well with the sweaters-and-Converse set. Scene icons Terrin Durfey (Boilermaker), Arabella Harrison (Jejune) and Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World) have all lent backing vocals to past No Knife records, and the band has shared bills with groups like Get Up Kids, At the Drive-In and Sunny Day Real Estate (see "No Knife Choose Sunny Day Over Sunshine").
"It's funny, because we'll open up a Rolling Stone or whatever magazine and we'll see all these pictures in a line of all these bands that we know and that we've toured with in the past," said the band's other singer/guitarist, Ryan Ferguson. "And it's just like, whoa, that's so crazy that we know all these people [who are blowing up]."
Fitting then, that emo's first platinum act should play a key role in introducing No Knife to bigger audiences. Jimmy Eat World frontman Adkins knows the value of an endorsement and was happy to pass along the favor by taking No Knife on the road. Long before Adkins' band ruled the radio, Blink-182 would often go out of their way to tell people about his group.
"I've talked to people who decided they would check us out because they read a mention of us in a Blink-182 interview," Adkins said. "It's cool. No Knife is an excellent band. ... Anything we can do to help."
But no matter how far No Knife are able to ride this wave, another major-label deal isn't desired, as they've had to tell the reps who've been checking out their shows lately. Part of what made making Riot for Romance! so fun, Wilson explained, was working on a shoestring budget and putting songs together in his apartment. (You don't have to worry about noise complaints, he pointed out, when your neighbors are in a band called Run for Your F---ing Life.)
"Everything we did, we did it guerilla style," said Wilson, who even coaxed backing vocals from his boss as well as the bartender down the block. "It's all for the love of it on this record. I think that's why I like it so much. When I listen to it, it's almost like it's not us — it's like something that just came through us. I know that's sappy and f---in' corny, but it's true."
Determined to strike while the iron is hot, the band is gearing up to shoot a video for "The Red Bedroom," a quintessentially No Knife number with a deep, wandering bassline, steely guitars, vocal interplay and cryptic, dreamlike lyrics. Wilson said he envisions a treatment thematically similar to director Wong Kar-Wai's 2000 romance "In the Mood for Love."
More touring is also in the works for the group, whose lineup is rounded out by bassist Brian Desjean and drummer Chris Prescott. West Coast shows with Japan's Eastern Youth are planned for December. No Knife's second tour of Japan will follow in January, and an East Coast trek with Omaha, Nebraska's Cursive is being lined up for March.