I can't believe we lasted so long without a bass," declares Tyler Breuer, the Knew's guitarist, recalling the early days of the band when the low end wasn't much of a consideration. "What were we thinking?"
Evidently, they weren't. And that's actually been the secret to the band's success so far. For the Knew (rounded out by drummer Patrick Bowden, bassist Tim Rynders and singer/guitarist Jacob Hansen), it's all been a bunch of happy accidents: the slot at Monolith last year; the CMJ showcase; a song placed on national television promos — all of it.
Take the Monolith gig, for example. While one show doesn't typically make or break a band, for the Knew, one show at the Larimer Lounge — a free show, mind you, on a Monday night, opening for Fake Problems — ultimately led to a choice gig at Red Rocks, which then led to an invitation to showcase at CMJ in New York alongside the country's top emerging indie-rock acts.
Fresh off a West Coast tour, the Knew were offered an slot opening for the Florida punkers. Since they liked the band, the Knew accepted the gig even though no one was getting paid. The payoff invariably came, however, when Matt Fecher, co-founder of Monolith, was deejaying that night and invited the guys to perform at his annual festival. Naturally, the band jumped at the chance and gained some memories that will last a lifetime.
"I could have played on that stage for hours," Hansen dreamily recalls. "At the time, there was no possible way to absorb it enough; everything happened so quick, but it's nice that we have those memories. If Monolith is not around next year, that's a bum deal for Denver bands, because I'll always remember that show."
The experience was just as memorable from a fan's perspective, Rynders insists. "I think it's the best festival I've ever been to," he enthuses. "They know and care more about music than most festival organizers. As far as bringing in bands that are going places, nobody does it better."
Red Rocks was the Knew's first experience playing in front of a festival crowd, but it would not be their last. On the heels of performing at Monolith, the outfit received an invitation to showcase at the CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival in New York.
Woven amid national acts like Portugal. The Man, Deer Tick and Teenage Bottle Rocket, the Knew played three CMJ shows, including one at a pirate-themed bar in SoHo called Wicked Willy's. The Knew was well received, which surprised the skeptical out-of-towners.
"Nobody was a dick," Breuer recalls. "I think I assumed people would be assholes, but everybody was super nice!"
"That," adds Hansen, "was basically five days of partying with some occasional naps."
Pretty impressive for a group of guys who met in college and whose past bands boasted cringe-worthy handles such as the South Park-inspired Faith +1 and Mariachi Pro Volleyball. From the sounds of it, Bowden's band, which played what Breuer describes as "fart punk," was the most compelling of the bunch. Breuer and Hansen counted themselves as fans and frequently watched Bowden perform. It wasn't long before the two recruited Bowden and started a band of their own.
It's rare for a band to decide on a name and then suffer through no amalgamations, but that's exactly what happened with the Knew, a moniker they chose from day one and kept. Given the other names that litter their past, it's not hard to see why. But while the name has remained the same, the lineup has fluctuated.
After a move to Denver from Boulder, the Knew began playing shows as a three-piece blues outfit with no bass player. Eventually, when Breuer relocated to Costa Rica, Bowden and Hansen kept the band going as a two-piece. When Breuer returned from Central America, he rejoined the fold, but the group still played and recorded without a low end. And that's when Rynders came into the picture, courtesy of an introduction by a mutual friend.
"We were never really looking for a bass player," Breuer confesses, "We just thought Tim was a major dude, and it just so happened he played bass. It's been a four-piece ever since."
The group released Holladay in 2007, and with the lineup solidified, they issued Boom Bust in 2008. A song from the former, a track called "Salvazar," ended up being used in a promo for Breaking Bad, the breakout AMC series starring Bryan Cranston as a terminally ill science teacher turned meth kingpin — unbeknownst to the band.
Early one morning, Bowden received a phone call from one of his friends, who didn't leave a message. Alarmed that something might be wrong, Bowden called him back expecting bad news. "He said he was awake watching Rocky II on AMC," Bowden recalls, "and swore he heard our song in a commercial."
It was no dream. Two years earlier, the band sent every song they recorded to a company called Rumblefish, which licenses music. Bandmembers never heard anything back and essentially forgot about it – until they were tipped off by Bowden's buddy.
"For the band, it was pretty cool just to say that it was used, period," Bowden notes. "But there's a big difference between that ad airing on a cable channel advertising a show hosted by that station and, say, Phoenix's song on that GM commercial. That thing is everywhere and really made that band explode."
Indeed. But it's unlikely that Phoenix nabbed that placement without some concentrated effort. For their part, the men of the Knew have put more focus on making music than n making contacts. In that aspect, they're still in the process of growing, a lot like Denver, the place they now call home. After the trip to New York, the guys developed a newfound love for their home town. "It made us appreciate some of the stuff that goes on around town," says Breuer, "that we maybe used to bitch about."
"It's cool to be a part of a place that is in this life cycle of Denver," adds Hansen of their time in the Big Apple. "It made me appreciate how Denver is still growing. Denver is still trying to figure out what it's all about, and it's fun to be around while that happens."
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The same could be said for the Knew, which has progressed considerably since its last two releases, as heard on its forthcoming debut full-length, Pulpería. Recorded by Nick Sullivan of Peña and the dearly departed American Relay, Pulpería (a Spanish term for grocery store, inspired by Breuer's time in Santiago, Chile, where he spent his formative years) features buzzy guitars forcibly down-strummed in commanding four-four time as Hansen washes over them with his falsetto. It builds and pulsates on rockers like "City Town" and then takes unexpectedly chilling and expansive turns as Breuer opens up the echo effect on tunes such as "Neck Breaker."
For his part, Sullivan does a great job of stepping up the recording quality without sacrificing the raw, unassuming grit of the band. Armed with a brand-new album, the Knew is heading to South by Southwest next month. True to form, though, the act is heading to the Lone Star State with no real expectations, just going out there to see what happens.
"We just figured it was time to go down there and see what it was all about," says Hansen. "I'm pretty fucking sick of winter, anyway."