words by Erin Wolf
Brent Knopf, frontman of Ramona Falls [Barsuk Records] (and former member of Menomena) creates such headphones-perfect compositions, their dazzling qualities occasionally get lost outside the ‘phones — looping and growing piano lines amid a growing blaze of instrumentation create intimate and expansive worlds that can be confining or tough to jump into, but once one does, it doesn’t take long to be find gratification from those parts that make the whole. In Prophet, Knopf’s second album as Ramona Falls, the intricacy of instrumentation and the imaginative environment the album swoops in and out of is a direct result of Knopf’s self-proclaimed meticulousness and perfectionism. We caught up with him right before making a visit to Milwaukee with Ramona Falls, touring alongside the Helio Sequence.
Where has this current tour taken you so far — any good stories re: cities, people…meals?
We’ve played shows in Boise, Salt Lake City, Fort Collins, Wichita, Denton, and Austin so far. For our performance as a duo in Boise at the Halloween show, Lauren and I dressed up as The White Stripes, and botched some of their hits between songs. Our pre-show meal at a “Mexican” restaurant featured salsa, sour cream, and beans atop a baked potato, which seemed a fitting fusion given our Idaho surroundings.
Are there any challenges when writing with the piano? You do wonders with loops, but do you ever struggle with the initial bare-bones composition of writing new lines and that specific sound a piano is confined to?
As a songwriter, I try to accept my musical identity / quirks / intuition while not falling into old habits and comfort zones. So, it can be tricky balance. The most common pitfall I stumble into is to overplay and over-complicate (because I bore easily). I’ve never felt confined by the specific sound of a piano, though. I can hear the song underneath the instrument, and can imagine it being voiced in alternative ways.
Is there a conscious effort to separate things, sound-wise, with Ramona Falls from your past work in Menomena? Comparisons are probably an inevitable evil…
I’m not calculating in that way. I just try to co-create the best music I can with the resources I have, and hope that it resonates with people’s bodies and minds. I’m grateful for my tenure with Menomena, and know that the music of Ramona Falls will have its own distinct identity, simply because a different group of people are creating/playing the music.
Prophet is pretty epic in scope — where do you think you will go next, since your first Ramona Falls release Intuit was a bit more intimate (even though it involved even more contributors)? Bigger and bigger in sound, or are you not even envisioning anything right now?
It’s hard to imagine working harder on an album than I did on Prophet. If anything, I’m thinking of being less meticulous and perfectionistic. And I’m considering approaching songwriting from an angle where the words form earlier in the process (as opposed to last). The prospect of working on a new album is thrilling to me already.
The CD cover/booklet for Prophet is pretty involved — what’s the back-story on it?
The intricate packaging resulted from several months of collaboration with one of my closest friends, Nicholas Mahon. He designed the images, and I focused on the moving parts and mechanisms involved. The CD can be spun in place to divine messages from the beyond. And, once the CD is removed, the paper becomes a shape-shifter, reshuffling and inverting the art in strange ways. I’ve always had a passion for unusual artwork, and I’m grateful to Barsuk Records for investing in Prophet’s ambitious design. My philosophy is to try to create something that would thrill and fascinate me, if I were to stumble upon it randomly
Ramona Falls opens for the Helio Sequence [Sub Pop Records] at Shank Hall this Friday, November 9th. 8 p.m. 21+