A few weeks ago, I came upon an old album that took me back in time. This was an album that was a raft on the rough seas of life, Polarity by Knave. My first love is pure rock and Knave was a band that was a solid favorite, mainly because the lyrical content and massive breakdowns appealed to my younger self. The distinctive voice of Christopher Steenkamp was the stuff of rock dreams. On discovering the album, I wished that I could have seen them live, because this was something that I was never able to do. But considering Knave disappeared from the public eye five years ago, this was a pipe dream.
Talk about good karma, though, because a few days later it was announced that later this month, Knave would be playing a gig organized by Brochella, together with one of South Africa’s pinnacle acts, The Narrow. While it isn’t certain whether this is a one-off event or something with a future, to say I am looking forward to this show is an understatement. Taking advantage of the PureGrainAudio connection, I took the opportunity to connect with my old favorite and get a scoop on what is really happening. I do so with stars in my eyes, but let’s just forget objective journalism for a second while we bask in the moment.
It’s been five years since we heard from Knave. What has inspired this comeback? Jean-Yves Martin: Wow, when thinking about it, five years is a long time. There have been many occasions over the years when any one of us would go out and bump into old friends and fans, and the topic of Knave comes up and a potential reunion. I happened to bump into an old mate of ours, Mike Pocock (who now runs the Brochella events) earlier in the year and we discussed Knave and how awesome it would be to see us live again. It wasn’t until my birthday, where my girlfriend dragged me out to Rumours for some drinks that I again bumped into Mike and he told me about a show he wanted to put on. He mentioned The Narrow and I was sold. I mailed the band the following day and the general consensus was “fuck yes”.
Christopher Steenkamp: We thought it was the right time to do a reunion. When Knave isn’t your full-time job, then life can get pretty busy and I think we have all had ample time to work through our stuff.
How about some classic Knave to get us going? Here’s the music video for “Hollow Chamber.”
The band members playing in the upcoming gig at Rumours consist of the main lineup (although not the original one). Was there ever a doubt that this wouldn’t happen, maybe that one person wouldn’t come to the party? Martin: I would actually consider this lineup the original lineup. Jay Pienaar was our original drummer before Mike, but that was around 2004, 2005 before we released Polarity. So, the four of us are the original Knave. Louis, our bassist took a bit of convincing to do the show, as he is a very busy man with his band, The Drift, as well as his gaming projects, “Jengo” and the ever-so-kiff, “Boet Fighter.” Lou’s FOMO and sense of nostalgia got the better of him and Knave is whole again. We did have a fifth member for a while. Some may remember Matthew Engelbrecht (ex-Chromium ) played guitar for Knave for a little over a year. We’d have loved for him to play the show with us, but no one can find the dude.
Steenkamp: This is the original lineup: Matt was the fifth member that unfortunately never got to contribute to any of our albums. He was a great live performer but has gone AWOL. If he was reachable, he probably would be playing the show. I guess it’s poetic in a circular reference that it will be the four of us again because that is the lineup that reached local success.
What were some of the conversations like between you? Steenkamp: Jean called us, told us Mike from Brochella wants us to jam, we were like, “let’s meet for beers and coffee.” Louis, our bassist, has so many other commitments that it took some convincing, but he caved. All in all, we wanted to do this, it was the right time.
What can we expect from Knave in the future or are you going to disappoint us and tell us this is a one-off thing? Martin: Haha! As of this very moment, it’s a one-off show. Mikey is immigrating to the UK a few weeks after the show. He actually delayed his move just to play this one final hurrah.
Steenkamp: I see disappointment in your future. The sad thing is, Mikey our drummer is immigrating to the UK. He’s got a great girl there, that’s hard to pass up…. But he may fly out once in a while to do a surprise show. Only problem is, it’s a lot of work to get “gig fit.” I think it would be cool if we dropped a track from time-to-time if the band is willing and not too busy. You never know what the future has in store.
Ready for something more recent? Here's the music video for “All For You” from With Wings
If this is a longer-term project, what are you most looking forward to? Martin: I, personally, had some ideas and music I’d have loved to record with the guys. We wrote a song called “Brothers in arms” which I feel is one of our strongest and most meaningful songs, especially considering its context. I hope we get to lay it down one day. We just need to track Matt down now….
Steenkamp: Always looking forward to getting in a room with the fellas. They are skilled musicians and fun to be around. I guess all good things must come to an end but let’s see what the future holds...
Before you began working on your third album, With Wings, the band lost two members. In an interview at that time, you are honest about the internal issues you faced as a band, calling the band dynamic “cancerous”. How have you each worked through this? Steenkamp: I think life has a way of working things out. We were overworked and we played too many of the same shows. That stuff takes its toll, no one was really motivated, it’s great to remove those pressures and just jam for the sake of jamming.
How was the reception of With Wings at the time? Steenkamp: I think I was still wounded from the departure of Jean and Louis, and I had my own personal battles that I had to get through. When we got new members we had great things lined up, With Wings got a great reception and positive reviews however we didn’t push the album enough. It definitely had legs to go places but we just didn’t back it. The new members didn’t have a chance to back it either because I had to call it quits for a while. They ended up creating another band entirely.
Louis du Pisani was one of the members to leave. He went on to perform in The Drift which did well locally. For those that might not have been producing music in a band, how have they scratched the music itch? Martin: I have not scratched that music itch whatsoever. I suffered a huge personal loss and it, unfortunately, was indirectly linked to music and the band. I had to step away from it due to the pain associated with it. I did somewhat satisfy my creative outlets by diving into cinematography, photography and such. But it has never quite been the release that music gave me.
Steenkamp: He’s a busy fellow, he does well for himself, much like the rest of the guys actually. I have been quietly building my private studio and working on my skills as an engineer/producer. I’ve also been working on a project called Blue Lit Sky with some fine musicians, we put out a promo just to see what the interest would be and people loved it, we still have five tracks that we want to launch officially and start promoting the band more.
The album Cognition dropped back in 2009. Check it out on SoundCloud.
When you look back on your experiences as a band, what are some of the moments that stand out? Martin: Playing live shows. An audience feeding off of the band and the band feeding off of the audience. It's something indescribable. Playing shows at the Doors, Woodstock...Oppikoppi Opening for big internationals. There are too many to name. Being in a band, especially a semi-successful one is an awesome experience. You get to see the country and meet really great people and musicians.
Steenkamp: The festivals, the TV performances, the fans, the tours, the interviews, the studio albums. There’s so much, and twelve years can just fly by. I have too many great memories.
What were some of the harder lessons you learned? Steenkamp: You get really amazing organizers, managers, sound engineers, producers, people in the industry, but then, unfortunately, you get the flip side of that which can really drain the life out of a band. The industry is small, and I still believe that if Knave had to put in the same work that we did in another country, we would have done better than what we did here locally. It is what it is and I’m happy with the way things turned out.
You started the band when you were very young, and for a rock band then, seemed to rocket into a mini-stardom. I clearly remember that Knave became part of the elite rock bands at the time. How do you think this affected you as people, including your perceptions of yourselves? Martin: This is a great question. I feel it gave me a sense of purpose. Always the introvert, being a part of Knave and having people be receptive to what we were creating, really pulled me out of the cocoon I'd put around myself.
Steenkamp: It’s a lot of pressure, especially when you are juggling marriage, kids, a day job and other commitments. I guess you don’t change as an individual but people’s outlooks of you change, they believe things about you that are exaggerated. People like to talk. Mostly it’s good stuff.
Some could say that much has changed musically and in the industry since 2013, but others would say that nothing has changed at all. What do you think is most true and why? Martin: It’s a bit of both. The hunger for musicians to speak their message has never gone away. The platforms, however, have changed a lot. Online streaming has provided a place to share music, but it’s also incredibly oversaturated. So music ironically gets lost in the noise. To compound this, there is nowhere left to perform live anymore. When we were in our hay day, we had venues to play at for days. Now, off the top of my head, I can think of Rumours Rock City and Sundowners. How is an artist meant to connect with an audience anymore?
Steenkamp: A lot has changed. Knave and some other bands were responsible for creating the mini-festival vibe and the scene at that time. We also persevered through other emo, metal, rock scenes at that time. When we disappeared, along with our counterparts, the scene dwindled, venues closed down, but bands will always find a way to get their music out there, so new venues pop up and bands use an online presence to get their names out there. There is a lot more exposure to international bands.
Ready for your diagnosis? Here’s the band’s debut music video for “Diagnosis”.
There has been a positive reception regarding the announcement that you will play again. What do you remember as being the thing your fans most enjoyed about Knave? Martin: The reception has been so great. I feel what our fans most enjoyed about us was that we didn’t try to fit in with whatever was popular at the time. When we started, the emo scene was coming in. We played alongside all of the emo bands and the hair and the eye shadow…. Then again, for the screamo scene with more hair and makeup…. Then the post-hardcore and metalcore bands all had us on their lineup. We’ve consistently been Knave and played the music we wanted to play.
Personally, I have loved Knave most for the depth and honesty of the lyrics. It was a band that was a friend through many of my troubles. But people grow up. Do you still believe what you wrote then? How would the themes change today? Steenkamp: It’s great to hear that. As much as that was the high point in my life, it was also probably one of the lowest points in my life. I totally believe in the words I wrote, mostly because they represented situations and a way to rise above the trouble in our lives. I guess I was just a bit angrier back then and chose Knave as the medium to release it, following in the footsteps of the artists that were friends to me too. These days I’m more relaxed, I’ve tried to work through my issues. I went on a spiritual journey that gave me so much clarity about who I am. Lyrically, I will always find ways to sing about the tough stuff in an uplifting way.
You’re playing at Rumours with The Narrow, another of the elite South African rock bands. We are grateful that now and then we get to watch them play. What are some of the bands you miss from the past? Martin:Underbelly, 16Stitch, Pestroy, Chromium, Inersha, Marlowe, Your Name In Neon, We the Sage, Undertone, Plum.
Steenkamp:Pestroy, 4am, 16 Stitch, Wickhead, Inersha, Chromium, long story short, there are so many; some names I have forgotten. I miss those times.
If you could put yourself on stage with five bands or musicians from anywhere in South Africa, which would they be? Martin:The Narrow, Pestroy, Chromium, 16 Stitch, Wickhead... That would be such a rad show.
Steenkamp: So much has changed, I’m just not in the scene anymore, I can’t actually say. There are great bands, I have seen quite a few but I can’t remember their names, I just know there is a lot of talent in this country and I would jam with all of the bands if I could.