Shop Talk v.3 with Channing Minnema: Knotties, New Years’, next steps
This week I sit down with Channing Minnema of The Knotties to talk about their upcoming New Year’s Eve show at The Aquarium, upcoming shows in Minneapolis, and recording their sophomore album in 2020.
12/22/19 4:34pm King House Buffet, Downtown Fargo
It’s the Sunday evening of a very long weekend, beginning with a show by Diane and Emy Miller at the HoDo. Channing was a featured guest at that show. The energy that night was fantastic and Diane, Channing, and I headed to open mic at Dempsey’s and then to the shop for an all-night jam session that would be indicative of the following four days. In short, there is an exhaustion at the table in this moment that only comes from chasing something—music or demons—relentlessly your entire life.
Channing: (Ogling another customer’s plate with great admiration.) That guy knows how to make a plate.
Nik: I mean you’re not wrong at all. That guy made a nice looking plate.
Channing: Good color.
Nik: The variety. It looked like there was some veg and stuff on there. That guy has it together. The height. The stacking.
Channing: And the way he was able to swing it around with ease (mimicking the graceful movement).
Nik: Like a waiter, not like a nervous 8-year-old at their first Bonanza.
Channing: I do it the way I brush my teeth. Same routine each time.Nik: You always get the exact same thing?
Channing: Yep. Same with Subway.
Nik: Routine is important in life sometimes.
Channing: Sometimes. IBS really makes that fishy. Really fishy.
Nik: (laughing uncontrollably) I feel like…(laughing) that sho—I feel like that should be the slogan for IBS awareness. ”It gets fishy.”
Channing: “It gets fishy when you break up a routine.” They have fresh donuts coming out now. Are you sure you don’t want anything? I’m bringing you a powdered donut. (Leaves and returns) These pot stickers are like my favorite food.
Nik: Ya those are great. They just explode in your mouth with greasy wonder.
Channing: nomnmomm (mouth full) Have at it.
Nik: This is what it’s like to eat at a buffet with a rock star. You released the first Knotties album in 2019 to great acclaim. Have you been working on album number two? What’s the plan? Have you begun recording? Writing?
Channing: We’re meeting with Ken Valdez on 1/11 in Minneapolis to talk about it. He reached out to us after the first album and wanted to produce the second and of course I was like, “Ya, please!”
Nik: Will you record down there?
Channing: Ya, if all goes well in his studio. We’re getting the tunes down right now. Finishing touches. We’re not going to spend a year recording this one ‘cause I hate recording.
Nik: Do it all in a week?
Channing: (Eyes widening) A weekend! Friday to Sunday.
Nik: That makes sense. Go hard. Play the tunes down. If you can’t play the parts by the time you’re in the studio you’re wasting money. I mean there are some great long recordings like Blow by Blow, buuuut…
Channing: Midnight Friday to midnight Sunday.Nik: And you’re gigging the material, playing it live, so it’s getting worked out and road tested before going into the studio.
Channing: We learn by playing live. We are a live band.
Nik: That’s certainly the energy. You can’t fake that energy. And even on record you guys have a very “live rock show” sound. Classic. Not classic rock, but you know.
Channing: Ya, if I’m not into it I can’t get excited for the show. I gotta be feeling it. They gotta be feeling it. It takes two to tango.
Nik: Is it hard if that feedback loop gets interrupted? Do you have tough shows?
Channing: Ya if I have a shitty show for myself it’s not worth it. People might still love it but I don’t care. I need to love it. That might rub someone the wrong way when I say stuff like that, like it’s selfish. But I can be selfish with this. This is my art.
Nik: It’s not selfish to say that you have to be into it to have fun on stage. It’s self-aware.
Channing: It’s my thing. I’m not going to be happy unless it’s done right. I’m not playing someone else’s stuff up there. It’s not covers.
Nik: What’s the weirdest cover you’ve ever done?
Channing: “Mother” by Danzig
Nik: Really? I feel like you’d actually sound great on that.
Channing: We did. That’s when I was like 15. Any Def Leppard, Motley Crue.
Nik: Love some Crue. Tell me about the New Year’s Eve show at the Aquarium coming up.
Channing: It’s Human Element and The Knotties. Cold Sweat will be doing some stuff with us. It should be dope. We’ll be doing a lot of stuff from the new album. We’re actually debuting three new songs. I take a bunch of Hendrix influence into writing this record. And the first heavy bands I got into. Tool of course. Chilis, Rage, Audioslave. Big time. We’ll play some heavier stuff for New Year’s.
Nik: That’s something I wanted to talk about. You are billed as a “psych blues” band and that has some truth. You’re deeply rooted in blues and SRV and Jimi. But there are no 12 bar blues tunes on this set. It’s not a shuffle blues show. It’s so much more. The tunes are long-form rock anthems with all of this 90s influence from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam to Radiohead and John Frusciante. It’s just so much more epic than traditional blues. The songs really go somewhere.
Channing: I feel like I could write a whole album off one song. Like one song gets all these ideas going in my head.
Nik: Do you think that lends to writing a cohesive album?
Channing: In a way. It all stems from one song or artist when I’m spinning ideas out.Nik: What’s the song or starting point for this album then?
Channing: Audioslave self-titled and Queens of the Stone Age. “Songs for the Dead.” That’s where this came from for sure. Doom has always been a huge influence, too. All doom, any doom. It’s got groove.
Nik: It has to groove. It could be just one musician, but it has to groove.
Channing: If the crowd can nod to it, it’s good. I’ll be right back.
At this point Channing goes up for a third trip and returns with an entire plate of macaroons, some assorted desserts, a bowl of soft serve, and a 20oz glass of milk. He trips on the step up to the table sloshing the milk and nearly face-planting. In that split second, he manages to right himself. He’s made a loud stomp and the staff reacts with concern. But he has, in fact, saved it while spilling almost nothing. He shouts just that to her with an enthusiastic smile. This is really a metaphor for Channing’s entire life. He seems to move through life not necessarily with ease, but with resilience—and a certain adventurous, almost wreckless, enthusiasm. Musically or otherwise, he’s always on the precipice. But he always saves it.
Nik: That could have gone way worse but you managed to save the soft-serve and… Mountain Dew? Is that… Is that milk?
Nik: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody drink milk and eat ice cream at the same time. That’s disturbing.
Channing: I can’t share dairy products. Like a big glass of milk, but I’d share this soft-serve.
Nik: (with vegan disdain) Put some extra dairy on it.
Channing: That milk’s good. A whole thing of 2%. Ice cold.
Nik: Cold cold. I don’t remember what we were even talking about. The Knotties are playing in the cities coming up?
Channing: Palmer’s on the eleventh of January. That’s one of our favorite venues in the cities right now. Then the nineteenth we’re at the Pourhouse. We’re really trying to strictly book the cities right now. Saturate that market.
Nik: It’s a lot more market to saturate. More places to play. Playing Fargo twice in a month might be too much for door charge gigs. Can I mobilize a crowd for each one?
Channing: We did it for as long as we could. Now we’re here like three or four times a year and try to sell it out or have it be a big event like New Year’s Eve. Fuck, I’m full.
Nik: The soft-serve and macaroons really topped it off.
Channing: I feel like garbage. Absolute garbage.
Nik: That soft-serve looked good though.
Channing: It’s cold.
Nik: Don’t get a headache. Aside from the album, what do you want from 2020? What’s the goal for 2020?
Channing: That’s it really, album number two.Nik: Tour?
Channing: We have to.
Nik: Move to the cities?
Channing: The goal for 2020 is to only takes steps forward now in music.
Nik: No reason to go any other direction, my friend. The bus person is wearing a Friends sweatshirt, like the TV show.
Channing: Is she still staring at us?
From there, we walk up the street to top off at Dempsey’s for the last time before getting him out to his home in Elizabeth,MN. It is the most Sunday-feeling of Sundays. So much fun has been had. So much is over for the time being. He’s so full that he struggles to drink a beer but does so. We stop at my apartment and he briefly nods off in my bed. On the car ride, he’s asleep before we leave town and shocked an hour later to find himself in front of the old Elizabeth bank. Home at last.
I drive out again two days later for Christmas Eve dinner with Channing and his mom. We jam for 12 solid hours and on Christmas morning we begin recording a demo. We listen to Pearl Jam “Ten.” We play with the cat. A friend comes by with gifts: a flamethrower, a machete, three self-cooling bandanas in differing prints. He proceeds to start sharpening the machete on the grinder. Channing has wandered off on another task. At one point, he spends an hour telling me about finding what he thinks are human bones in his back yard and I tape it. The demo is over. I’m driving back to Fargo on Christmas night and all I can think is that this is Channing’s world. We’re all just living in it.