Name: Richard Knox
Occupation: Musician, Artist, Label owner
Current Release: Ceremony in the Stillness on Gizeh
Musical Recommendations: On constant rotation for me right now is Kathryn Joseph's new record on Rock Action called 'From When I Wake the Want Is'. Another recent discovery is Slow Mass and their album from last year called 'On Watch'.
If you enjoyed this interview with Richard Knox of A-Sun Amissa, visit his personal website (which is also home to his other projects) for a plethora of insightful information, videos, music and more.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was in my late-teens when I really fell properly in love with music. In school I had grown interested in music, at that time Brit-Pop was exploding and some school friends were getting into that which I naturally followed. I started to get into playing bass around that time. In those days I was reading NME and they had an issue with Godspeed You Black Emperor on the cover and (not sure if it was the same issue) did a cover CD with the likes of Mogwai, Arab Strap, Royal Trux and a bunch of other bands. I remember listening to that CD and going HOLY FUCK! - everything fell into place and made sense. I instantly fell in love with those bands and went off to find more. That definitely started the journey and was the turning point I can pinpoint most.
Off the back of that the ATP festival was just launching and I went to the first Mogwai edition ... seeing record stalls there and starting to look further than the bands launched my interest in labels and that side of things. I was slowly piecing the puzzle together. Working at HMV really helped a lot as I could just listen to everything or order copies into the shop, read liner notes, talk to suppliers and distributors on the phone or the reps that used to come in.
During this time I was starting to get the itch to make some music and formed Glissando as an outlet for that. Music had taken over my life at this point so it felt like a very natural thing to pursue. Still doing it 20 years later, so that's not too bad!
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I'm self-taught in every single thing I do. My approach has always been if I want to do something or learn something I'll just go and do it and figure it out for myself, in my own way and my own time. As a consequence I approach everything in quite an experimental way, trial and error for the most part. If I hear something that I find interesting and don't understand I'll immerse myself in that thing for a while and try to figure it out. How is that sound made? How does that piece of music move? – it's not a matter of copying anything but storing up knowledge somewhere in the brain which finds its way out somewhere down the line when you need it. I definitely suffer sometimes for a lack of traditional music theory though, especially when it comes to problem solving when you are trying to write a song.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Self-sufficiency is a massive part of what I do and I figured out pretty early on that having your own place to record and save on studio costs was important. So I've just spent the years slowly building up gear and recording everything myself in my home studio. I wouldn't say too much has changed other than you slowly improve in all aspects of writing and recording and that remains the goal – to make the next album better than the previous one.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I started out with a 4 track in my living room and just collected gear as I've gone along. I've never had much money so as a consequence you have to make do a lot of the time and get creative with the tools you have. As I've moved around over the years I've always tried to find enough space to have at least a very small set up and keep making music. We moved out of Manchester a few years ago to the edge of the countryside to be able to afford to buy a house and do all the work from there so I'm fortunate enough to have a studio, label office and printing room all in the same place. Financially it's the only way to survive as I don't have any overheads. In terms of the studio I have now – it's still pretty basic. I use logic for recording with very little outboard, a ton of guitar pedals, some synths, a few guitars, microphones and amps. Really nothing special at all but it totally works as I know the gear well and I really don't need anything too fancy to make the music I want to make. If I had a ton of money I have a list of things I'd love to get though!
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
It's important to find the balance that works for you. The world we live in now means you have a million options on the table for one thing at any one time and it can get bewildering. For me it's about doing justice to the idea and using whatever means possible to realise it. It's better to have some parameters and limitations to work within and try and get the best out of the ideas and the gear and the budget you have. I think all of those things are intrinsically linked together and they are difficult to separate. It also depends what constitutes technology – a microphone, a guitar pedal? I'm not sure you can pull it all apart so easily.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
The guitar is always the main tool and the starting point. I've had the same main guitar for 10 years now and the ideas start there using different tunings and different pedals to start coaxing the initial fragments out. For a new record I'll spend 3 or 4 months just playing and recording what comes out – kind of like a note book, just throwing all the ideas into a session in logic without thinking to much about it. If I feel like there are some good threads in there I'll take them into a new session and start arranging pieces together and adding in midi drums, strings etc to see where the thing wants to go. It's nice to test out all these ideas in demo form to see if they work without wasting anyone else's time. I can build a really good structure of what the piece will be and then decide on bringing other musicians in.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
As far as A-Sun Amissa goes, collaboration has been a crucial part of the project over the years. The process varies a little. Sometimes it's a case of writing a part myself and getting someone else to play it better, sometimes I have a very rough idea of what needs to happen and someone comes to mind who could enhance the idea and occasionally I'll just ask people to do whatever they like based on the fact that I trust them or feel like their style or vibe will more than likely fit.
I meet people all the time on tour or at shows who I would like to work with and a lot of the time just bank the idea for later down the line without even discussing it with them. At one point a little spark will go off and then I can pursue it from there. File sharing has changed things quite dramatically of course and it never ceases to please me that I can work with people over the world at the click of a few buttons. This project isn't really a band as such so there is very little jamming to be had and songs don't get 'road tested' before they are recorded. I finish the record first and then work out how on earth we are supposed to play it live – getting 75 individual stems of music down to something that two or three of us can play is quite the challenge.