Memphis Grindcore Collective Knoll on Physical Media, New Material & Performing at Roadburn

Memphis, TN’s Knoll is a new band whose recently-released debut album Interstice, is a full-blown grindcore-infused slammer. The LP mixes sharp blasts of death metal with furious grind segments and occasional ambient drops sewing together a sound with experimental edges. Their riffs have a twinge of relatable boogie sealed in the heavy parts. Most of the songs are in the three-minute arena.

Knoll went all out with a full-length LP release with gatefold sleeve, 180-gram vinyl and excellent artwork. This move paid off; the album is making rounds way outside of Memphis. Decibel caught up with Knoll drummer James Eubanks in the wake of their first pressing of Interstice selling out and before their upcoming appearance at this weekend’s Roadburn Redux

Tell us a little about the formation of the band.
James Eubanks: The band officially formed in early 2017 with a few core members, though much of our first couple of years was spent refining musicianship and figuring out exactly what we wanted to do musically. Drew and Ryan came along during this time and catalyzed the writing process for Interstice. After Interstice was pressed, a majority of us moved up to Nashville where we found Jack to play drums for us. The full-length features me, our vocalist, on drums.

The dark, death metal guitar riffs and low vocals really stand out in the short run time of the songs. What were you all listening to when you started playing? Was death metal much of an influence?
We’re all over the place and always have been, honestly. Death metal and grindcore have continuously been a common ground for us but there are certainly influences of doom, black metal, noise, and more progressive sounding metal. We take influence from the more avant-garde side of things but we also love our share of more forward death metal and most genres of music in general. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard to Imperial Triumphant are among some of the collective favorites.

There are also some nice ambient segments, especially with the songs not getting over the three-minute mark often. It makes the album come across like a whole project rather than a repertoire of songs. What was your approach to song order?
That was definitely the intent. We wanted to create a cohesive string of sound that not only accomplished our conceptual notions but was continuously engaging. There was no concrete approach to the song order – all of them fell into place at their own accord as we felt what needed to be written to further the record.

The arrangements of your songs also showcase a wide soundscape in a short run-time. You do a lot with ambient breaks and catchy rhythms. Plus the sort of death and grind back and forth. Tell me about how you arrange your riffs into songs.
There’s a balancing effort for sure. We’re always writing to serve a greater vision we have for a song and its relation to the album as a whole. Some parts require a lot of thought, even if it’s only a couple seconds long, and some are improvised. The riffs themselves tend to only occur once or twice per song and it is uncommon that they repeat in the exact same way; however, there are usually some underlying motifs that we connect them with in every song. We try to create something that is intense yet possible to remember, always keeping the overall atmosphere of the record in mind.

You’ve got a really natural sound out of the drums at high speed. What was your approach to recording drums?
I was pretty particular about the drum parts and sound – I did a lot of endurance work prior to the recording to ensure that I’d be able to consistently play fast and loud. We used a 24-inch kick and large toms which add a challenge on faster portions just due to the amount of air that you have to move, so I was playing full leg the majority of the time. I’m also hitting with the shoulder of my stick on almost all of the ride blasts which makes it all the more exhausting. No triggers, ever.

You recorded with Andy Nelson from Weekend Nachos and mixed the album with Kurt Ballou from Converge? How did that come about?
We’ve always wanted to work with Kurt. Half of us are audio engineers and he’s been a massive inspiration on that front as well as with Converge and the overwhelmingly influential catalogue of bands that he’s worked with. We just hit him up over email one day and he was super into it. As for Andy, we’ve always loved Weekend Nachos but I never knew that he was an engineer until Drew brought up the idea of recording with him to me. He’s worked on some serious masterpieces, such as .meth’s debut LP and The Blind Hole by Dead In The Dirt. I’d been into these records for some time but as soon as I found out he was behind their sound I immediately wanted to record with him.

Was that a fun experience, or did traveling add any stress to the situation?
Chicago was awesome — though we mixed remotely as Kurt had his studio closed for the pandemic. We always knew that we wanted to travel for the record and the proposition of recording with Andy just fell into our laps. He’s got a beautiful space and is incredibly conducive to any sort of recording process. We were up there for nine days recording anyway, so a sixteen-hour roundtrip drive didn’t matter to us much. Andy is hilarious and really pleasant to work with, so it was hard to be stressed beyond just pushing ourselves.

The artwork is great. Who drew/arranged the cover? It looks like there’s a sort of infinity theme with the steps? What’s the significance of the rest of the picture?
That’s Ethan McCarthy from Primitive Man/Vermin Womb! He does art under HELL SIMULATION and is again just another phenomenally talented and kind dude that we got the privilege to work with. We forwarded him the lyrics and concepts and he went wild with it — the infinistair and door carry significance toward the incomplete natures of toil and thought. The picture itself is a collage of horrid stuff, scattered and disjointed, much akin to the record itself.

Inside the gatefold there’s an interesting geometric drawing as well. Is that a different artist?
It is! That’s Noah Guffin, he played drums for us in our infantile days and does a bunch of graphic design now. The design is a simplified geometric rendition of the A0 cymatic, which was a way for us to push notions of the overarching power of sound itself and is the founding and conclusive frequency of the record.

It’s great stuff. Did it occur to you to go with cheaper format than pressing an LP?
I dunno! The LP has always been the end goal and just makes sense for us to do. We’re all into physical media — I would print our music to wax if it made any sense. We pressed this ourselves so finances were definitely a concern, but having a large physical copy of the art is unbeatable.

What’s the Memphis metal scene like for you? Are there a lot of bands playing like you guys these days? It’s particularly hard to notice over the last year, but take that question however you like. Maybe Memphis is an influence somehow?
We love the Memphis scene. Half of us are in Nashville now but we’re making trips down there regularly and everyone is so supportive. It’s hard to stay in the loop without shows but our carry at Goner Record in Memphis sold out in a day, which is just crazy. We’re forever grateful to our hometown. We are definitely the only deathgrind band I’m aware of in that city but if you like us, you’ll like Autolith, BREAKING/ENTERING, and Grave Lurker. Brandon and Reserving Dirtnaps are also a key hardcore band and I personally credit Brandon with just about every experience I’ve had in Memphis. On a final note, we’ve got something up our sleeve later this year geared specifically for our hometown friends. Look out for that.

Are you guys working on new material in this age of COVID?
Always. We have two 7-inch releases lined up for this year, one of which is currently being pressed. We’re working on a second LP to come out next year and gathering loose plans for releases beyond that. There’s nothing better to do now than write.

Any future touring or recording plans?
We have a streamed set at Roadburn that we’re honored to be a part of — that’s something to look forward to. We’re recording again later this year and plan to hit the road as hard as possible whenever possible. Hopefully, that’ll happen this fall, but time will tell. Europe is definitely on the map for us next year.

And you guys have Roadburn coming up. How did your slot with Roadburn come about?
[Through] Becky Laverty, also works with Prosthetic Records, who were the first label to reach out to us about Interstice. Their U.S. A&R, Steve [Joh], has done nothing but help us out and show us the ropes towards a release. Becky, who is just the kindest person and is always pushing us, hit us up a month before Roadburn takes place and asked if we wanted to be a part of it. I’d always dreamed about playing this festival overseas and could not say no regardless of how hard it’d be to crank out a video in a short time frame. We just got done recording our live set and DIY engineered the whole thing — it sounds insane and I can’t wait for it to air.