Our latest Q&A is with TJ Strohmer of Knifeplay out of Philadelphia, who recently released “Pearlty”. “Pearlty” is a 10-song album that will transport you; the songs are dreamy, hypnotic, and remind us how much talent is out there. Check out the album and interview below!
First, thanks for agreeing to do this interview with us. I came across “no funeral” a while back and have been following you all since, so it’s great to get in contact What’s your story? How did you get into making music?
Thank you for having me Andrew. I appreciate you all listening to and posting our music. As far as I can remember…music has been an important part of my life. I realize now that even as a child I had a strong need to express myself through writing and song. I think maybe the environment I was presented with was not fully conducive to nurturing that need. I played punk music through high school, but never considered it more than just something to do. It still is nothing more really. But it so happened that over the past few years I have been fortunate enough to have some great friends and mentor figures in my life who encouraged my creativity. I started to share music I was working on with friends (which would be the No Funeral record) and I was pleasantly surprised that some were interested in forming a band.
Who were some of the bands that influenced you back then? What about today?
I think that anyone listening to us can probably determine for themselves what bands have influenced us. And if they don’t have a point of reference then that probably only enhances their enjoyment of what we’re doing.
You have been busy – 3 releases in 3 years. How do you think Knifeplay and its sound has changed over time?
It’s really like 3 releases in 1.5 years (august ’17-March ’19)… but most of the music we’ve released has been finished for some time before. The biggest thing that has changed is that, on the first 2 eps, all instruments and writing were done by me alone. But now, the entire band has their creative stamp on what we’re doing. My bandmates are all geniuses and their contributions are invaluable. Together, we are able to push the songs as far as they can go. I think that will be illuminated even further on our next record which is pretty well underway. Like any project that is ongoing, as you go on the work is more thought out, more time spent on the songwriting, lyrics, everything. I feel like I can see more clearly from further away.
What was it like working with Smoking Room for “no funeral”? They’ve put out some really great stuff.
Smoking Room is an amazing label. Sam has been a great help to us as an independent band in terms of getting attention and getting on certain shows that we would not have had the opportunity to be on, and other stuff. Bigger labels tend to ignore small artists because we aren’t going to make them any money at this stage. Smoking Room helps to bring up people who they feel “have tracks” and who might not be able to have their music released physically through other means. It has been great to get connected with Sam, Heaven’s Blade, Justus Proffit, and others through Smoking Room. I appreciate the family mentality, the music “business” world (even at the lowest level) can be very cold.
I love how the new album mixes sounds together – for example, the addition of the glitchy drums on “Lover” right before everything else comes back in is so nice. It instantly reminded me of the work Cameron has done with Loadcard. I saw that you two produced the record together – could you tell us more the creative process of making the album?
Thank you! For that particular moment, I had the drums written already and sampled. But Cameron added the weird tape(?) noise that happens at that part (I don’t remember exactly what he did there). Cameron recorded the drums for the record, but the rest of it I had already recorded. We produced it together. Cameron’s knowledge of production is leagues beyond mine, and we were able to find the sound we wanted for the album by working together. We basically sat next to each other in his room and just went back and forth for hours on every second of every song. With him at the helm and me struggling to articulate the sound I was imaging; my demos helped a little.
Before making this record, and still now somewhat, I was intimidated by the idea of working in a studio with someone else. I felt (or imagined from nowhere) judgement and pretension from the music world in which has always seemed like a secret being kept from me. But I have known Cam for years and always admired his work, both as a producer and musician. So, when he reached out about working together it seemed like a great opportunity. He made me feel really comfortable and plus he has Halo and Xbox live in his room where we were working so I could do that while he was doing the boring parts.
I’m currently living in Iowa, and I was really surprised to come across a song that referenced us in the title – especially by a band not in Iowa. “Iowa Swarm” became my anthem to help get me through last winter. Can you say more about how that song came to be?
I honestly don’t really remember writing or recording that song very well. I have never been to Iowa and I didn’t realize when I “wrote” the title that Iowa Swarm was actually college(?) football(?) thing for y’all out there. I feel like the song has feelings of bleakness, boredom and nostalgia, but also anxiety, that I imagine being present the Midwest (especially in winter). So, when a certain repeated lyric in the song accidentally sounded like “Iowa Swarm” (I’ll leave it to you to decipher, probably easily now) it just all came together on a couple levels, it was lucky. Plus, that one noisey part of the song reminds me of a swarm of bees.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about your albums is the cover art you attach to it, especially on “no funeral” and “pearlty.” Do those pictures have personal stories behind them?
Thanks very much. The No Funeral cover I either found in a book at my old job (thrift store) or on the ground in the woods…I can’t remember. I just loved it as far as the colors and also just the attitude. The other covers are photos I’ve taken myself and I just feel like they are an extension of the themes and feelings going on throughout the records.
You’re based out of a city that gets a lot of praise regarding the indie/DIY arts scene. I always see such stacked lineups pop up on Facebook. What are some of your favorite shows you’ve seen there?
Fortunately, almost every band comes through Philly, most of my favorite shows have not been “diy” shows, those being: Xiu Xiu, Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, Mark Kozelek.
Locally, I will never forget seeing Blue Smiley at everybody hits. Their sound was so full and moving on this particular night I felt like it was pushing me around. They finished the set with an unreleased song that had a beautiful intoxicating melody, and a cover of Brian Eno’s “here come the warm jets”.
Are there any other projects you are currently involved in?
Been playing bass for the Euphoria Again live band. Check out Johnny’s stuff here: https://euphoriaagain.bandcamp.com/
Are there any bands you want to give a shout-out to? Who should we be listening to?
Yung Sham, no friends