Roach motels and Bill Bruford: Welcome to Bent Knee's crazy world
Boston-based sextet Bent Knee may not have set out to be strictly prog, but the Berklee College alumni have a fan in Bill Bruford and make an adventurous and unusual potion of sounds - whether
The six members of Bent Knee can attest that rock’n’roll isn’t all glamour. During a self-financed tour last year, the Boston-based band spent the night in a “punk house” in Mansfield, Ohio. The squat, whose punk-lifestyle tenants spent little money on rent and even less on shampoo, made a ’roach motel seem like the Ritz Carlton.
“The first thing we saw was this guy straddling another dude on the couch and giving him a tattoo – a stick and poke tattoo,” recalls guitarist and vocalist Ben Levin, sitting today in a Boston café next to bandmates Chris Baum (violin, vocals), Jessica Kion (bass, vocals), Courtney Swain (lead vocals, keyboards), Vince Welch (production, sound design), and Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth (drums). The musicians, all in their twenties, take turns telling the story, which has become firmly established in band lore.
Levin: “[The tattoo artist] turns to Gavin and says, ‘Just so you know, I don’t know where my needles went.’”
Wallace-Ailsworth: “I walk in, and he says, ‘Have you ever heard of Hepatitis C?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Good, you’re getting it tonight.’”
Levin: “There were bugs on the ground. In the kitchen there was a flytrap covered in flies.”
Welch: “It was directly over the sink.”
Swain: “If you leaned in to do the dishes…”
Levin: “I hadn’t seen it, and I leaned in to wash my hands and flies got into my hair.”
Welch: “There was no light in the bathroom. You had to use a phone for a flashlight.”
The musicians have paid their dues, and then some, since forming Bent Knee at the Berklee College of Music in 2009. But they’re laughing, not complaining. After playing hundreds of shows across the US, Cuneiform Records signed the group to release their third album, Say So. A European booking agency reached out to sign Bent Knee because of their growing press profile. Indeed, The Boston Globe recently hailed the band’s progressive sound as a bid for the big time.
The effusive group of musicians gathered around the café table aren’t complacent about their future prospects. They’re still striving to get to the point where they can make the band a full-time career – let alone afford to stay in a comfortable hotel. (“I consistently refer to Bent Knee as a startup, minus the venture capital,” says Baum.) The band cheerfully offer candid insights into the personal chemistry and musical chemistry that has taken them this far.