The 6 musicians of Bent Knee have come together to create a sound that is part rock band, part chamber ensemble, part new-music machine. Since 2009, their ever-evolving music has taken over the hearts of fans across the globe. Lucky for us, they’ve agreed to share some thoughts about their music, their process, and their work for the Ecstatic Music Festival.
Get your tickets for Bent Knee & Mantra Percussion at the 2018 Ecstatic Music Festival today!
Thu, Mar 29, 7:30 pm, Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Music Center
Ecstatic Music Festival: I’d love to know a little bit about how the band was formed. I know you’ve been performing together since 2009 (nearly 10 years!) but how did you all find each other?
Bent Knee: We all met in school at Berklee in Boston, which is, if nothing else, a wonderful melting pot of musicians. This environment leads to many collaborations with players from a wide range of backgrounds and influences. In creative situations, you learn fairly quickly who you gel with (it’s a lot like dating in that regard), so once we started playing together we just didn’t bother to stop. Nine years, four records, and a thousand shows later, well, here we are.
Ecstatic Music Festival: Nine years together is no small feat. In that time, how have you changed or grown as an ensemble?
Bent Knee: We’ve learned to trust and listen to each other a bit more. Any collaborative effort between a group of artists with strong opinions and conflicting aesthetics can be excruciatingly difficult to navigate. The ego is a finicky beast to tame. Nonetheless, we stumbled upon the realization that our music reveals itself in its preeminent form through the democratic process early on, and now that we’ve established a body of work we’re all quite proud of, our confidence in each other’s ideas has grown exponentially.
EMF: You speak about collaboration within the group. What about other groups or soloists, is collaboration – like what you’re embarking on here for the Ecstatic Music Festival – new to you?
Bent Knee: Working with outside musicians is nothing new for our studio work, and individually, we’ve all written extensively for other players, but what’s new for this particular project is writing collaboratively on manuscript paper. Notation is something that occasionally happens out of necessity when we’re writing material for Bent Knee, but never in a fully scored out manner. Our process is more trial-and-error, trying things out together in a practice room. Trading Sibelius files and marking up parts while trying to maintain a sense of democracy has been a learning experience, for sure.
EMF: It sounds like this experience has been a fun new experience for you all. What first interested you most in the opportunity to perform at the Ecstatic Music Festival?
Bent Knee: Our performance at EMF will be the New York premiere of Paper Earth, our new composition for Bent Knee and percussion ensemble, commissioned in part by the festival. When Judd Greenstein, Ecstatic's curator and artistic director, contacted us about the possibility of writing a new piece for the band and a chamber ensemble, we were beside ourselves. The Deerhoof/Marcos Balter/Dal Niente collaboration, which Judd put together, was one of our favorite albums of 2016. We jumped on the opportunity to stretch ourselves as musicians and composers, and after nearly nine months of work, we’re thrilled with the result and can’t wait for audiences to hear it for the first time.
EMF: Now that you’ve gotten the chance to “stretch” yourselves, are there any other styles, or artists in particular, you're eager to explore and work with in the future?
Bent Knee: The list is long. At present, we’re particularly inspired by the current landscape of hip-hop. The burning-of-the-playbook mentality is pushing all kinds of artistic boundaries and changing the face of popular music at a rapid pace. We’d love to collaborate with any number of artists making statements inside of the genre.
Also, after writing for the percussion ensemble, it’d be great to continue working with - and writing for - instrumentations we’re unfamiliar with. Learning to orchestrate for percussion by essentially being thrown into the fire has pushed us musically and intellectually, resulting in creative epiphanies we would never have come to otherwise.
EMF: I’m sure your fans will agree, your creative epiphanies haven’t let down yet! You do have an amazing fan base, and have been touring all over the world. What is up next for you in 2018? Any new projects on the horizon?
Bent Knee: After EMF, we’ll be producing a concert film for Paper Earth, working on our fifth studio album, and preparing for a massive summer tour in the US, which will be announced very soon. There’s also a lot of world we have yet to visit, and we’re hoping to make a few more trips overseas as soon as we can. We owe it to our fans in faraway places who have been clamoring for us to come play for them.
EMF: For those fans out there who love to get an inside look, are there any fun stories or anecdotes which can give a little insight into the family inside the band?
Bent Knee: It’s hard to know where to start with this one, so I’ll lead with what’s most current. We’re on tour in Europe at the moment (I’m writing this on a train from Amsterdam to Frankfurt), and our voyage from Boston to The Netherlands turned into quite an adventure. After landing in London to catch a transfer to Amsterdam, we learned that our connecting flight was canceled due to a winter storm, and there wasn’t another available for at least another day. On top of that, train tickets from the UK to Holland were completely sold out. We needed to be in Zoetermeer for a performance the following afternoon and couldn’t just hang out in London waiting for another flight, so we wound up taking a total of four local trains over 100 kilometers to Harwich in order to catch a very choppy overnight ferry to the Netherlands. On another train to the actual venue (and this is after about thirty-six hours of travel), hauling tons of gear and merch, an elderly Dutch woman stood up, made this extraordinarily pained face at Ben (our guitarist) muttered “you STINK!” at him, and got off at the next stop. The perfect ending to that crazy saga, really. The show was great, by the way, and luckily, it’s hard for an audience to smell us from the stage.
EMF: WOW! Sounds like quite an adventure. Finally, can you tell our festival fans what to look forward to most about your concert coming up on March 29th? What’s going to make it stand apart from the rest?
Bent Knee: More than anything, we’re a musical machine that’s built for live performance. All of our music is written specifically for the stage long before it’s brought into the studio. Venues are our playground, our laboratory, our sanctuary. Performing is a cathartic, transcendent experience for us, and it’s our hope that this feeling is shared by our audience as well. Live music is the quickest path to human connection and pure emotion that we can think of, and if we’re doing our job correctly, our show is no exception. On top of that, we’re adding seven additional percussionists to the mix for the NYC premiere of a brand-new work commissioned by Ecstatic. How could you refuse?