Chase Jackson is a dear friend of us here at Silence in Architecture, but he’s also the brains and balls behind one of our favorite local musical institutions, performing under the moniker Death Knelly. Seriously, if you haven’t heard him yet, quit slagging off and visit his MySpace or download one of the tracks at the end of this interview. Wait…slag off for just a few minutes longer and read this. Chase talks about woman-eating tigers, homosexual-hating State Representatives, and PJ Harvey. Quite a bit about PJ Harvey, actually. But I certainly can’t blame him for that.
SiA: It seems that, in a relatively short period of time, Death Knelly went from seeming like a just-for-fun (if still really interesting) diversion to something much more substantial. What were your intentions starting out and how was that altered by the response the music received?
Chase: My friend Brock came up to Durant last spring break and he has been recording music and posting it under the name Brock Rabbitt on MySpace for a couple years and I had always wanted to start a music page on MySpace, but didn’t have the technological prowess or know how. Brock and I had always talked about collaborating musically, so one day during that break he brought over his laptop and we improvised about 6 songs in 15 minutes and called it “The Concept EP: A Very Brief Engagement”. It was a completely free form, child-like/ish experiment that was just for shits and giggles, but after that encounter with Brock he showed me how easy it was to record a song on my computer and upload it to MySpace. He lives in Allen, Texas, which makes it hard for us to collaborate, so I decided to continue with the project solo and the songs became more thought-out but stayed just as rough. Once I started to take the idea of actually writing songs more seriously, people started to take me more seriously. After I uploaded the song “Child ‘O’ God” and “Don’t Shoot Out the Light”, I think people went “Oh, maybe he isn’t just fucking around”, which isn’t to say I have any idea what I’m doing, because I don’t. I think that’s what makes it fun for me and hopefully others.
SiA: Explain to our readers where the name “Death Knelly” came from.
Chase: The name Death Knelly originated during spring break of ’08. It was not too long after the media got a hold of a recording of Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern’s rant where she claimed that homosexuality was a bigger threat to America than Terrorism. I was really pissed off about the whole thing. I was telling Brock that she referred to homosexuality as “…the death knell of this country”, to which he replied, “Does that make us death knellies?” and I started laughing really hard and it was like that moment in “Boogie Nights” when Eddy tells Jack Horner his idea for the name Dirk Diggler and it flashes up in neon lights and then becomes obscured by fire. I was like, “That’s it! That will be the name of the band.”
SiA: Do you think Sally Kern is a fan of your music?
Chase: If she is, I’m doing something wrong.
SiA: On your MySpace page you cite John Waters, David Lynch, and Pedro Almodovar as your favorite filmmakers. How do you think their work has influenced you, both as an individual and as a musician? All three directors seem to share a rare gift for being able to find a human core within the most absurd aspects of life, and when I listen to your music I feel that there is a similar emotional center within your music.
Chase: I think all these directors have influenced me in different ways. David Lynch’s films achieve balance without being symmetrical, which is something I also aspire to do with my own life and work. I love Pedro Almodovar because his films teach us that compassion, humility, and a sense of humor will help us overcome all the shit that life dishes out. John Waters’ movies celebrate the freaks and make us laugh at our own perversions, which is something we should all do more often.
SiA: You currently attend Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma. Have you lived in Oklahoma your whole life? I know that for me, growing up in rural Oklahoma was a somewhat surreal experience at times, as there is a sense of cultural detachment from the rest of the world. What are your feelings about living in what many people would consider a culturally backwards area of the country?
Chase: I was born in Ponca City, Oklahoma and moved to Durant when I was 4 and I have lived here ever since. It didn’t really occur to me how different I was from other kids, until I moved to Durant and started attending school. It didn’t help that I was a total child of television, MTV in particular, at an age when most kids were limited to one hour of Nickelodeon a day. I got involved with Theatre and Dance, which made it a lot easier to deal with my surroundings. Once I finally came out of the closet in High School it was even harder not to feel an overwhelming sense of alienation. I got my ass beat a couple of times, went through a hardcore drug phase, and all the other shit that comes along with that. I eventually learned that cowering down and giving into a shitty situation would be unrewarding, so I got my shit together, graduated high school, took a year off, developed an alcohol problem and decided I’d better go to college where alcoholism is encouraged. But seriously, I think if I didn’t have such a supportive family and group of friends I would be a bigger mess than I already am. I also think no matter how small a town you live in, good music will find you if you are willing to listen. If you read enough and search for things that interest you. You just have to have your antennas out and ready. If I had all the technological capabilities in high school that I have now, I would have probably downloaded music all day and never left my house. That’s probably why it’s taking me so long to graduate college.
SiA: I know that you’re in the Theater Arts program…what are your future aspirations with that? I haven’t had the opportunity to see you in any plays, but from what I hear you are a pretty talented actor.
Chase: I love acting and performing, but lately I’ve been more interested in what I can do with music, especially in terms of performance. I’ve always been drawn to musicians that have a certain amount of theatricality or a performance art sensibility to them, like David Bowie, PJ Harvey, Diamanda Galas etc. The thing that’s so inhibiting with theatre is that after working on a show for a certain amount of time it can start to become stale and predictable, whereas with live music you have the ability to tweak things nightly and keep it fresh. I’d like to be able to act and do music, but who knows.
SiA: Last year I organized the first Happyland Music Festival and you were kind enough to play a set for us. This also happened to be your first live performance. Everyone I talked to afterward seemed to really enjoy Death Knelly. You are planning on performing again at this year’s festival, but I was wondering where you stand on booking more shows?
Chase: When I graduate in May and finish my Summer job, I plan to start focusing on Death Knelly more. I love performing live, especially in that context. I’m used to being on stage performing someone else’s work, but when you are playing your own music live in front of people, some whom have never heard your stuff before, you realize you don’t have anyone else to depend on and you have to steer the ship. It’s like a feeling of extreme vulnerability and complete exhilaration.
SiA: Death Knelly has, up to this point, really been a solo project, but do you have any plans of expanding into a full band?
Chase: I would love that! It would make things so much easier. Besides, I’m a big fan of collaboration. Sometimes it can feel like I’m playing a game of ping-pong by myself.
SiA: You have a demo CD out now, which is quite excellent. Are you currently working on any new material?
Chase: Well, the demo CD is kind of on hiatus right now, since my computer crashed. I’m going to try and extract all my music from the hard drive, so hopefully I’ll be back in business soon. Things have kind of slowed to a halt at the moment, since graduation is coming up. I’ve been playing around more on the electric guitar these days. All the songs on the “Ruff Demoz” CD were recorded on a Fender acoustic that is missing the bottom e string. I’m trying to do new things, because I grow bored easily. I’d like for Death Knelly to be a little more electronic and have some beats, but I haven’t learned how to do any of that shit yet.
SiA: How does the process of creating a song usually happen for you?
Chase: I usually come up with the music on guitar first, then I walk around with that in my head until something inspires me lyrically. Lyrics are always the most difficult part for me. I am overly critical of my lyrics. The best thing is when they just come to you. “White Tigers” was that way. I had watched this documentary on HBO called “Cat Dancers” about this man who trained wild cats to do tricks with his wife, kind of like Siegfried & Roy and one day he decides to get a white tiger for their act, even after his wife warns him it will be a terrible idea. Eventually, his wife and male lover are killed by the white tiger. After I watched it I was puzzled by how this beautiful animal could be so savage and predatory. And then I started thinking about how people are sometimes magnetically drawn to something that they know will be harmful to them in the long run, but the allure of it overshadows all logical thinking. I sat down and came up with the riff and the lyrics pretty much wrote themselves. It probably took me 5 minutes to write and record that song.
SiA: One lyric of yours that I really love is: “Went to bed drunk in the back of a Lexus/I woke up to a continental breakfast/in a discount motel in Austin, Texas” (from “Don’t Shoot Out the Lights”). It manages to contain a lot of concrete information in a short amount of space, and it’s filled with both humor and sadness. What’s your biggest lyrical inspiration?
Chase: I either like lyricists that don’t fully paint the picture and leave room for dissection or lyricists that are unflinchingly honest and get right to the point. I always liked Kim Deal and David Bowie because sometimes you feel like you need a decoder ring to interpret their lyrics. Then again, Leonard Cohen and PJ Harvey have this way of saying some of the most honest and soul-shattering shit you’ve ever heard. If I can find a medium between those two extremes, then I’ll be happy.
SiA: If you could collaborate with any musician who would you choose?
Chase: PJ Harvey. ‘Nuff Said.
SiA: Lo-fi music is currently back in style in a major way, and while I’m a huge fan of Sebadoh, Beat Happening, The Vaselines, and so on, a lot of this new wave of slacker rock seems like an extremely hollow affectation. Your music, while lo-fi, has a much more soulful charm to it, especially the vocals. I don’t want to read too much into anything, but I get the feeling this might be due to your female influences. Care to comment?
Chase: I think you may be on to something there. My cousin Lyndon said I sounded like Sade if she grew up to be PJ Harvey, which I took as the greatest complement ever. It’s true that I listen to more “female-heavy” music and I don’t know why that is. Not to say I don’t have musical influences that are male, but the X does outweigh the Y.
SiA: What kind of equipment do you use when you’re recording?
Chase: So far, I’ve used a program called Audacity for all my songs. It’s a program they also use at the SOSU radio station. I usually lay down the guitar with vocals and then after that I add back up vocals, weird droning and various other noises. I’m completely inexperienced with it and I pretty much work in a “trial & error” format. Some songs take 5 minutes and some take 5 hours. I’m interested in learning how to use other equipment and programs. That is, if I ever meet someone patient enough to show me how.
SiA: This is probably a silly question, but is there any kind of a music scene in Durant? About the only thing we get in Ada is fucking Red Dirt.
Chase: There is a small pond of people in Durant that work on music, but there isn’t really a scene. I know this guy named Ethan who has a couple of rad music projects (Cyber Panda, Dinosaur Eggs, and Wizards of Pterror) and my friend Corey Carpenter (Birdcoat, Static Ancestors, Roller Babies), who technically lives in Edmond now. Those two are crazy good. I wish they were in Death Knelly. If you two are reading this, the invitation is always open. Those are the only people I’m aware of. I wish there were more of a community, but alas, it just doesn’t appear to be so.
SiA: If you could have any kind of stage set-up, what would it look like?
Chase: I would have a four piece band, including myself. A drummer/vox, a keyboardist/guitarist/gadget-man/vox, and a bass/guitar player/vox and I would concentrate on vocals and occasionally play the guitar, while an enormous rainbow flag, with a huge skull and crossbones embroidered in the middle, wavers in the background… Yeah. Something like that.
SiA: What have you been into recently? Books? Movies? Music?
Chase: I was really blown away by “Synecdoche, New York“. It is such an ambitious mess that has been stuck in my brain ever since I first saw it and I can’t stop re-watching it. The song “Little Person” that plays at the end credits is so beautiful and tragic. Why wasn’t it nominated for Best Song at the Oscars? I can’t wait for Charlie Kaufman’s next film and I hope its darker and even more confusing. I don’t read as much as I should, so I don’t have any books to recommend. As for music, I have a huge crush on Perfume Genius. I don’t think he’s been signed, but I discovered his MySpace page earlier in the year and have been smitten ever since. He has this song called “Gay Angels” that sounds like a lost Twin Peaks-era Julee Cruise track. It’s fucking gorgeous. Go to his MySpace and check out his videos (and all the ridiculously stalker-ish comments I’ve left him). I still can’t stop listening to Grouper‘s “Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill” and Vivian Girls‘ self-titled album. I also really love the new Fever Ray album a lot. I know I’ve already praised PJ Harvey 400 times, but seriously. Her new album with John Parish, “A Woman A Man Walked By” is insanely wonderful. Especially the title track, where she gleefully growl/sings “Stick it up your fucking ass” before her and the band hop aboard a spooky train to a whimsical ghost town. It’s like I’m falling in love with her all over again.
SiA: Any parting wisdom to give our readers?
Chase: Celine Dion once said, “Some people they have everything, they have nothing. It’s wonderful.”, and I would have to agree with her.