At a time when it feels like the weight of the world is slowly crushing us, bone-by-bone, Knot’s self-titled debut offers an appealing compromise. “Maybe something bad will happen,” singer and guitarist Jonah Furman shrugs, “or maybe something good will happen.” This casually insightful lyric from “The World” is one of the record’s many cool, rational assessments, and an essential reminder that — global pandemic aside — no one really has anything fully figured out. Not now, not ever.
This type of mundane, life-affirming wisdom will come as no surprise to fans of Krill, of which I am, most definitely, one. After three fiercely beloved full-lengths, the cult-famous rock band broke up in 2015. I wrote one of my first major music features about them, then wept openly at their final show (to this day, people still remind me of both those things). Life came somewhat full circle when Knot — comprising all three Krill members, plus Joe DeManuelle-Hall — debuted at my band Patio’s album release in 2019. I’ve known Furman, Aaron Ratoff, and Ian Becker for some time, but while much of Knot sounds intimate and familiar, this new endeavor is just that — wholly, refreshingly new.
For starters, there are a lot of guitars in Knot — DeManuelle-Hall plays one of three, adding exhilarating depth and space to a previously tightly wound trio. Thematically, Knot breaks free from the dark, bitter anxieties that permeate your post-college years, settling into a natural, comfortable groove. When Furman sings of the “quivering foam” and “sand dunes” of the beach on “Foam,” it’s impossible not to feel the salty breeze yourself, becoming lost in powerful, rhythmic guitar waves.
It’s fitting that “Foam” finds its narrator staring out at the horizon, because even more so than any Krill album, Knot inspires both inner and outer reflection. When I spoke with the band via video chat earlier this summer, our conversation confirmed a lot of what I’d been feeling about the record — that it’s a product of growth, change, and mature realizations about what gives life purpose.
“We’re trying to look outward,” Furman says of this brave new era. Below, read our chat on shifting priorities, touring (or lack thereof) in your 20s vs. your 30s, and finding hope in a (sometimes) hopeless world.
Loren DiBlasi: Most bands break up because they hate each other, but to my knowledge, that wasn’t the case with Krill. How did you decide to come together and start playing music again?
Aaron Ratoff: It was all very casual and haphazard. We played one show with Julian [Fader, of Ava Luna]…
Jonah Furman: It’s on YouTube as “The Jonah Furman Band.” Then I think we discussed a new band name for about 18 months.
Loren: Right, because you played the Patio release as “Obstacle.”
Joe DeManuelle-Hall: That [situation, in which another band named Obstacle forced them to change their name] was a complication out of our control. I think we would have landed on that name, though, if we had been able to.
Jonah: I haven’t heard anything else from those people…
Aaron: What do you expect? We caved to their every demand.
Jonah: They could at least say hello. But even now, after we put out the first song [as Knot], people were instantly like, “Oh, there are 12 bands with the name Knot on Spotify.”
Aaron: I saw that too, but I feel like we looked into it?
Jonah: There are so many Knot Bandcamps, too. A few years ago, I heard that pharmaceutical companies had literally patented every word. Like, every formation of letters. So this is like that.
Ian Becker: Is that true?
Jonah: I don’t know.
Loren: Now that you’re Knot, how has your perspective changed? Has there been any intention to do things differently than you did them with Krill?
Ian: I think so. At least for me, I feel no pressure. Before, I was very concerned about how much we should tour, and we were touring as much as possible… We were trying to take the band seriously, and making room for it in our lives took effort. Now, I feel like [Knot] is and will be something that doesn’t get in the way of other things. It’s not going to be prioritized over other big life commitments, which is kind of nice.
Jonah: I think with Krill, we felt like we were building something that was creating its own universe, and we were trying to make it internally coherent to itself. When we would write stuff, we would ask ourselves, “does this go in the direction of this project?” It had its own space, and we could add to it as we saw fit.
Knot, so far, has felt calmer. We’re not too anxious about figuring out what it is, or how to define it.
Loren: Back when we were in our 20s, we talked about how Krill could sometimes be a roadblock to other paths in life, like jobs, and family, and personal relationships. Now, several years later, do you think you’ve found more balance?
[Extremely long, thoughtful pause.]
Aaron: [Knot] isn’t as much of a priority. I mean, just going back to the recording of this album. The reason we recorded when we did was just to document where the band was when Jonah was moving away from New York. Then once we recorded, we realized the songs could stand as a cohesive album. But part of that process was Jonah leaving to do work stuff… we didn’t say, “Oh, my god, he’s destroying the band!” It was just like, this is what’s happening now.
Loren: Do you feel like that approach is better or worse? Or maybe easier?
[Even longer, more thoughtful pause.]
Loren: I ask because, when we started Patio, we all had established careers. Quitting our jobs and devoting our lives to the band full-time was never going to be part of the equation. Obviously, now that the pandemic has changed the world, I’m thankful for that.
I do see the appeal in visiting new places all the time and making organic connections with people who love your music. But for me, it’s super freeing to not put any pressure on the band to be my main thing in life.
Ian: It’s something we’ve never tried to do. I’m curious to know, did you feel like that was easy for you? Because I don’t know what that’s like. Is tour still fun? Then you have to go right back to work…
Loren: It’s just the way it is. I feel like I’ve maintained balance, although there is still some level of personal sacrifice for all of us — seeing less of family and friends, using up vacation time for shows, having less down time on weekends. There’s a lot of scheduling and planning involved, but we’ve made it work. I have no regrets.
Jonah: I think my version of this differs from reality, but you know Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour? People have said that he’s been on tour since like, 1980, but he denies it. If he’s asked about it in interviews, he gets kind of offended.
I think there’s something to be said for having a life that you can reflect on beyond your artistic work. Like, at what point does Bob Dylan touch a reality that he can then reflect back to the people who listen to his music? Is he making art about things that matter to them, or has he been living on a tour bus for the last 40 years?
That’s not really the choice we face, but there is a dynamic of — and I don’t think in Krill we knew this — what would it be like to make music that isn’t insanely urgent? Without asking, “What’s the next tour? What’s the next album?”
Aaron: For me, in Krill there was an element of what it was like to be pursuing the band. Growing our audience had value. It’s cool that we had the opportunity to do that stuff, like playing DIY shows. It felt like the people who liked Krill had a connection to the band because of the way we did that. But I also feel like we already did that. That’s not what we’re going to do now.
Loren: Now, we’re in an even weirder spot. What will the DIY landscape look like after COVID? Will there even be venues? I hope so, but no one knows what’s going to happen.
Jonah: Krill was trying to be in conversation with a subculture. You know, like, Our Band Could Be Your Life-type bands. We haven’t talked about this as a group, but I don’t know if that’s the same thing we’re trying to be right now… both artistically and aesthetically.
A lot of Krill was about the scene we were in. This band is not in a scene.
Loren: Joe, what has it been like for you to join this new era of such an established and beloved thing? Do you feel any pressure in being the new guy?
Joe: It didn’t feel like that as [the band] was in formation. It really did happen accidentally. Jonah and I met because I was interviewing him for a job.
Jonah: I didn’t get it.
Joe: Then he and I played music together, we stopped doing it for a while, and then we just happened to do it again with Aaron. My role in [Knot] was mostly being pushy to make sure it was happening with people who were, understandably, reticent about diving back into something that they had this big history with. I got to be the person that was just like, “This is fun! We should keep doing this!”
It is a very weird experience to be playing these songs in front of people, some of whom are like, fanatical [about Krill]. That’s cool. There is a bit of imposter syndrome that goes along with it for me, because I think it’s unearned, individually.
There are a lot of people viewing [Knot] through the lens of something that I wasn’t there for. That makes it a little bit different. But it’s been really cool. I haven’t felt like I’ve joined an existing band.
Loren: The record includes raw, noticeable themes of love, family, nature, history — all very relatable to people entering their 30s. Jonah, in the press release you are quoted as saying that this album is about whether or not to have kids. I can’t tell if that’s a joke or not.
Jonah: I don’t know if that’s a joke, either.
Joe: [to Jonah] When we first started, you said kind of offhand to me, “Krill was about figuring out what to do after college and finding a post-college identity, and this band is going to be about whether or not to have a kid.”
Jonah: Part of that is a joke about this being a hobby. I mean, this is dad rock in the most real sense of like, your dad going out with his buddies, drinking three beers, and playing in a garage. That feels structurally more like what we’re doing — Aaron is vibing really hard with that.
Aaron: [vibing] I hear you.
Jonah: But obviously, like many of the stupid things I say, I can find something meaningful in it months later. There’s something there. It’s less about me, and more about asking, “What’s my role in the world?”
We’re trying to look outward. Moving from Krill to whatever this is — at least, how I conceptualize it — is that we’re trying to point elsewhere.
Loren: One line that really struck me was, “I don’t want another world, I want this one,” from “The World.” Krill touched upon some pretty dark moments, but there was also a sense of hope for what comes after. Right now, while almost every aspect of life is so uncertain, what would you say to someone who’s feeling really hopeless?
Jonah: Maybe another way to say it is, “What would I have told myself eight years ago when I was in Krill?” Or something…
Loren: That’s a much better question than what I asked, so let’s go with that.
Jonah: This seems really basic, but I would say just commit yourself to doing something about the way the world is. This is the division between activists and regular people. Activists are like, “I must do something about this.” Most people feel bad about something, and make the very rational assessment that they can’t fix it, which is mostly true… but right now, we’re seeing a lot of people saying, “The problems that I see in the world are my problem, and I’m going to have to figure out how to fix it.” There aren’t enough people who say, “This is extremely fucked up, and I’m going to try to make it less fucked up.”
Knot is out today via Exploding In Sound Records.
(Photo Credit: right, Hrissaj Babay)