By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 2005
o say that it's been a long time coming for the sophomore album from The Knitters may be somewhat of an understatement. The Knitters debuted with "Poor Little Critters on the Road," and that came out on 1985 on the respected LA label, Slash.
Now, two decades later, the quintet of John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Dave Alvin, D.J. Bonebrake and Johnny Ray Bartel are back, perhaps a little grayer, but on top of their game with "The Modern Sounds of the Knitters" on Rounder.
Doe, Cervenka and Bonebrake all staked out a much higher profile career as members of Los Angeles punk band X. Alvin also became a member as well as forming The Blasters and now enjoys a long established solo career.
The Knitters was most definitely considered a side project from their regular night jobs both 20 years ago and now.
What caused The Knitters to be so nice to their fans so many years later?"Well we never thought we were going to make another record," says Doe in a phone interview from Minneapolis.
Doe tries a different approach in explaining the obvious.
"Because we were working on so many different singles from the last record," Doe tries. "There were about 10. We had those multiple tours in Japan and playing for the troops in Kosovo."
Funny, but no songs charted.
Perhaps in a bit more serious vein, Doe, who sings lead along with Exene, says, "We finally got around to it. I felt if we had to deal with it, it would be now."
"There was just too much (going on)," says Doe, who himself has enjoyed a solo career for years. "Every three or four years, X'd do a tour of the west coast. We would get a couple of songs (written for The Knitters. Then,) we had a studio that Dave worked in, and it all came together."
"In many ways, it was a very influential record, not that we knew it at the time we were making it," says Alvin of the debut in a phone interview from Birmingham, Ala.
In fact, Bloodshot Records put out a tribute album to the first Knitters disc comprised mainly of bands from the Chicago-based label in 1999.
Alvin spends most of his time on his own solo career, which has gone well for years, but he also finds The Knitters appealing.
"It's nice not having all the burden on my shoulders," Alvin says. "On the other hand, I'm starting to miss my burden now. I miss the band, my songs."
"Some people go on vacation and they go to Hawaii, and they go surfing. My ideal of vacation is I can just go play guitar."
Doe tends to echo some of Alvin's sentiments about the solo career versus band idea.
"It's not much contrast to my solo stuff. The difference is I'm not the boss, and I get to be just another part of a really talented group. Being the boss is great, but not always. I wish someone else would take care of it. This a lot more fun, sort of fooling around, fucking off kind of fun, making mistakes and having mistakes be part of the show and joking around and humor, a higher level of humor."
Alvin says the opportunity to record was also social in nature since it brought him together with longstanding friends of yesteryear to update their work.
"It's kind of nice," says Alvin of the second go-round of The Knitters. "The nature of my life is I don't get to see a lot of old friends. When I did the duet with the Lobos on (my) last album, in the old days, I saw those guys every day, and now I rarely see them. It's a nice way of staying in touch with old friends."
"I'm sure there are people who would like to see this become a full time thing. And we'll do it again, but to me, my sole drive is my solo career. I've been a solo act, and I've been with certain members of (my backing band) Guilty Men longer than I've in a band with anybody. My first love is my band. Those are my guys."
After all this time, did Doe really think The Knitters would reform?
"No, I actually didn't think we would. I was positive we'd talk about it and not really do it...It was always such a secondary priority. It was such not a priority, so I was surprised when it actually (happened). And then it took actually no time at all, three or four days. We had two different sessions of two days, and then it took about a week to mix."
That was in about May 2004 in between various projects. "I think Dave had just finished recording his solo record, and I was about to do mine," says Doe. "It was somewhere around that time period. We knew we'd be in town to follow through with it."
The Knitters did not step into the studio for the sophomore effort with any sort of agenda.
"The goal was to actually do it after 20 years," says Doe. "I think most records have a process where you have a skeleton, which could be four or five songs, and then you start filling it in. Some of the songs that come later are better than the ones (you started with). I think with this one (that was true with) 'Born to Be Wild,' 'Give Me Flowers' and maybe 'Rank Stranger' and we never did a proper version of 'Skin Deep Town.'"