Great Escape 2018 Interview: Knightstown (Part 2)

By on Friday, 15th June 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Missed part 1 of this interview with Michael Aston, aka Knightstown? No worries, catch up through here.

A part of Michael Aston’s Knightstown project that can be polarising to some is his choice of using falsetto. Those familiar with and that are fans of James Blake, Jamie Woon and Wild Beasts won’t have any problem with this, but I wondered why there seems to be this tidal wave of male falsetto voices all of a sudden and how hard it can be to sing in such a higher, unnatural register for men. Aston explains there’s a mechanical method to the madness. “It can be [hard]. Actually, sometimes there’s a weird range, and there’s more than one segment to that range of the falsetto. My chest voice is up to C natural, middle C. And then there’s like a set of about six tones from there, which is the first part of the falsetto, which is my most comfortable range. It’s easier to control than the chest voice. Then when you get past G, it gets hard again, it’s gets more erratic. It’s sandwiched in between. There’s this sweet spot. You’re also needing to transition between three different registers, it can be quite challenging if you’re doing scaling.” That’s probably more than you need to know if you’ve never been a music student, but I eat all this geeky sort of music knowledge up.

Going back to his work with his cousin Tom, it turns out Aston wasn’t immediately keen on James Blake. He can look back at his time in the studio as a different kind of education, so that now he can look at Blake’s work rather intellectually. “I knew when we were making the album that my cousin Tom was a James Blake fanatic. It’s been interesting to see how long it took him (Blake) to gain currency. Mercury Prize, working with Kendrick Lamar, that kind of stuff. Personally, James Blake has been a real slow burner for me, I started out thinking, ‘this is too weird, even for me’. But I think it’s the latest album, ‘The Colour of Anything’, the more I listen to it, the more I think, ‘oh gosh, this guy knows what he’s doing’. This guy is always doing something new and doesn’t sell out at all.

“He always does something interesting. The textures of his songs are so transparent, you can pick out the different elements. You can focus on the beauty he’s created in the lines. It’s like going back to the rock counterpoint. My appreciation for him has increased exponentially, and now I’m at the point where I think he’s just an incredible musician. He’s definitely a touchstone, or a comparison for the route we were going down. At the same time, we wanted to be a bit more melodic and accessible. Melody and harmony are the two most important things to me.”

I ask Aston if he’s had a big ‘a-ha!’ moment while writing as Knightstown. “Yes, that was when I got the first draft back for a song [to be] on the album, called ‘Catcher’. That was the first time where my vision of it, when I gave all the material over to Tom, he came back [with the draft] and I remembering listening to it and going, ‘Oh! He’s on to something here. This is it!’ I’ve remained fond of that song.” He also lets me in on his favourite chord in another of his favourite songs he’s written, ‘Eyes Open Wide’, probably because it’s got layered strings, it’s almost Bjork-like…D major seventh plus nine chord in first inversion…” What’s that? That’s the sound of that bit of knowledge whizzing over my head. “Different chords give different feels.”

Much like his contemporary Chris ‘C’ Duncan who I interviewed in Washington late last year, Aston has a neverending desire to continue his artistic vision. “It’s hard to know exactly what this compulsion to write, to offer people an alternative music experience, is. You want to inject hope. I’m always interested in the artistic sweet spot between self-restraint and emotion…It’s about wanting to lift people’s spirits and find what moves them.”

There’s a lot of new music from Knightstown in the works, which is exciting: Aston tells me to expect two EPs and the debut album soon. He’s also proud of the most recent development of signing a production music contract with EMI, which has led to his first proper collaboration with live bandmate Hodson, as well as two fellow Brightonian producers, on what Aston describes as “ambient dance sort of stuff, it’s really good.” Their EP ‘Electronic Projections’, out on EMI Production Music in conjunction with FatCat, is described on the EMI Production Music as “Cool and captivating downtempo electronic offerings from the FatCat Records roster”. Intriguing. On top of radio play on BBC Radio 1 and 6 Music and Amazing Radio and garnering press with Clash Magazine and DIY, Aston feels good about how things have started for Knightstown “from having been signed from a demo”. Indeed.

The Knightstown EP ‘Keep’ is out now on FatCat Records. Many thanks to Michael for letting me pick his brain on various musical things and answering my questions about his solo project. All the best!

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