Pop Goes the Formula

The Knit Separates have audiences asking: What was that?

Songs started with riffs and chords and harmonies, only to devolve into noisy improvisations. When Honea wasn't falling off the stage, he was singing with his back to the audience. Then he was striking a messiah pose and singing about "the cup of Christ" and an "eater of wounds." Donaldson laughed and shook his head, then scowled. Chasse spent as much time dropping finger cymbals onto his drums as playing them. Smith tried not to be noticed. When songs ended, very few people clapped, mainly because there was still music playing -- Honea and Chasse held tape players up to their microphones, playing the Lettermen and other old vocal groups. The show ended with an audible, "What was that?"

"It's supposed to be confrontational," Donaldson explains. "You're not supposed to think, "Oh, this band, they're good.' For me to play chords over and over is no fun -- to me the best parts of songs are the flubbed notes, the atonal guitar over something pretty."

"I think of the Knit Separates as a punk band," Honea says. "Those weepy chords are just so sad and convoluted. We think of [British Sarah Records mopers] Brighter as Motörhead. There's just so much pathos to them."

Of course, not everyone gets it. When the band played on the radio recently, a listener called to ask, "Why are you wasting my time with this crap?" And on the Knit Separates' one and only tour -- a two-week sojourn through Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands -- people who'd talked excitedly with them before the show were long gone afterward. In Aachen, one audience member was even more blunt. "I don't think I like this," he told them. "It's very depressing."

Still, sometimes it works. In Essen the band performed at a Socialist Labor Union municipal center. The audience consisted of five people -- one skinhead, one hipster, and three hardcore punks throwing beer and insults.

"We're getting fucked up," Donaldson remembers. "I'm playing the chords to this Durutti Column song "Party.' Jason's singing in German ... "This is a party/ How'd I get here?' He ends up knocking over Loren's DAT player and breaking it and I break this cymbal stand. It was like the Knit Separates go wild. It was ridiculous. But at the end of it, this German skinhead kid comes up to us and says, "This is the best show I've ever seen! You think you're going to see some band and then you get this!'

"It's supposed to sound good sounding bad, but sometimes it just sounds bad," Donaldson says with a laugh. "But then other people will look at it and go, "Those guys were fucked up,' and it affects them. They'll take something home with them, like the way [Jason] looks or how a song just seemed to disintegrate."

"I think of the Birthday Party," Honea says. "The first time I heard that band, they made me really self-conscious. That's the kind of energy they stirred up. And that's what I think our music does too. People think it's stupid and lame, and get embarrassed about it. I think that's kind of cool."

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