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The Northerner

In the studio with the Pernicious Knifs

Stuart MacKenzie

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Nestled in an ancient industrial area of Cincinnati, Ultrasuede Studios is just how any music fan would imagine a local recording hot spot. There are posters, stickers and flyers from famous rock ‘n’ roll heroes and local up-and-comers; inside the studio, an exciting band records for its big break.

This particular time, in the studio are the Pernicious Knifs, a band made up of veterans from Cincinnati’s music scene, including members from the Gazelles, Pearlene and Thee Shams. Behind the soundboard sits Cincinnati musical legend John Curley of the Afghan Whigs, an alternative rock band that enjoyed national critical success in the ’90s.

Greeted by lead guitarist and Northern Kentucky University freshman Jon Blackburn, I sit down in the studio with the Knifs and a 40-ounce of Weidemann to discuss the band, the album they are recording and the Bengal’s shot at the Super Bowl.

We find our way to a comfortable, vintage-looking couch with a view that looks into the recording room where Curley was skillfully manning the soundboard.

Blackburn causally tells me the band has been recording from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. for six straight days. So when I showed up Tuesday night at midnight, they had been in the studio for more than 42 hours. Surprisingly, the mood is relaxed and optimistic, probably due to the producers’ friendly, laidback leadership.

With all the rest of the major parts already locked in, the band is putting the finishing touches on their recordings.

“This song definitely needs some tambourine,” the lead singer of Pearlene, and the Knifs’ co-producer Rueben Glaser shouts out.

Bassist Jesse Ebaugh begins laying down some tambourine overdubs while the freshly recorded track blars over the monitors. The rest of the band, minus drummer Andy Jody, and I listen intently.

Little do I know that, throughout the night, a tambourine will be the most “traditional” rock ‘n’ roll instrument I will hear. I bear witness to a barrage of instruments that one would not expect from an energetic garage-y band like the Knifs. “We have guitars, bass, piano, 12-string guitar, violin, harmonica, harpsichord, accordion, drums and tambourine,” Blackburn says.

After Ebaugh finishes with the tambourine and moves onto the harpsichord, Blackburn does his best to describe the Knifs’ eclectic sound.

“I hate describing it,” he says. “We have rockers and we’ve got some poppy stuff. The rockers are kind of in the ’60s garage style, but it’s more than just that; they are based in that vein, but it’s different than Thee Shams and Greenhorne’s stuff.”

True to the vintage sound, the Knifs’ record most of their tracks on “tape.” Blackburn points to an ancient-looking machine huddled in the corner and says, “We recorded on reel-to-reel and then put it on a computer. We actually had to pay more because we had to rent tape for it, but we got a pretty good deal.”

The Knifs’ love for their songs and music in general is evident in the time I spend with them. Glaser and the band members, causally drinking beer or munching on spicy junk food, sporadically shout suggestions and affirmations during our conversation.

“Aww, he lost it at the end, just punch in at that part,” I hear as Ebaugh records on one of the Knifs’ otherwise finished tracks.

The band and I lounge in the control room, listening to Ebaugh’s performance and discussing the recording process.

Blackburn explains that he hopes the raw and honest sound the Knifs produce live will translate well to CD. “We did everything live,” he says. “All the basic instruments and Seth (the lead singer) even sang live.”

In fact, the Knifs did about half the songs in one take.

As the night wears on, Ebaugh attempts an accordion part, and I catch up with a member of both Thee Shams and the Knifs, Max Bender. He explains what it is like to record with his older brother Seth and the rest of the band.

“It seems like this experience has been a lot more open and visionary,” he says. “There’s a lot of freedom.”

Max Bender certainly felt the freedom as he was able to record not only guitar parts, but also harmonica, violin and backing vocals.

With 1 a.m. quickly approaching on the Knifs’ last night in the studio, Glaser and Ebaugh add a three-part harmony to Seth Bender’s intense vocals on the song “Mondojet.”

It may be the beer or the excitement of being in the studio, but everyone stops their conversations as they record the song. The music coming out of the monitors sounds eerily original and undeniably catchy. It is the last performance of the night, and it is definitely worth the wait.

I realize that despite their partying and lax attitude in the control room, the Knifs’ performances in the studio are focused, and surprisingly flawless. From what I can tell, the album is shaping up nicely.

Seth Bender speaks about the origins of the Knifs’ songs in between drinks of Molson and asides to Curley. He explains that the 11 tracks are a mix of new and old songs.

“It’s about half and half,” Seth Bender says. “Some of the songs I had before the band.”

The next step will be to mix the tracks and start shopping them around to record companies who will release them as an album.

As the band members say their goodbyes and with my 40-ouncer nearly empty, Blackburn explains another recording experience that helped fuel the band’s audible energy.

“We brought our shit here on Thursday, checked levels on Friday and actually started to record,” he said. “I didn’t think we would be recording, and I was really f—ed up; I was out of my mind on beer. I drank over a 12-pack that night. We only did a couple songs. Actually we kept one that we hit in one take, ‘Rubbish.’ It was the first one we did.”

One listen to a rough version the track and the results are anything but “rubbish.” In fact, the 11 recordings sound smart, crisp and refreshingly fun. As Ebaugh put it, “Brian Wilson ain’t got nothing on us.”

For an advance listen of the Knifs’ stint in Ultrasuede Studio, visit www.myspace.com/perniciousknifs.

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The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
In the studio with the Pernicious Knifs