Los Angeles has always been the mecca for up and coming bands of all genres – a place where dreams are both achieved and broken. One such band gaining a good deal of attention is Intercept, whose sweeping indie melodies are sure to please music fans from all walks of life. Their latest album Symphony For Someone Else is a dazzling collection of introspective tunes complete with soaring, wildly infectious melodies. Formed by frontman Christian Knudsen in 2004, even Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson has nothing but praise for the Intercept collective. Here is a recent interview we conducted with Christian to learn more about their magical rock and roll symphonies…
Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Intercept, and how long the band has been together.
Hi, Ken – this is Christian Knudsen, lead singer from Intercept. We’ve been a band for a little over 5 years now, I think, but I kind of lose track. We’ve all been working together on various projects together for a long time. But 5 years and counting seems to be a fairly long lifespan for a rock band!
What do you think of the local Los Angeles music scene and how does Intercept fit into the scheme of things?
There are so many ways to connect with fans in this city – you can go play the Sunset Strip or around it and there are certain fans that won’t miss it because there’s just this big-city, big-night vibe. Then you’ve got places that are more dialed down – you can focus in on Silverlake where you’re going to get a totally different, and maybe “edgier” vibe because the bands are consistently more raw and honest. There’s also tons of places that are completely off the radar that you start to discover as you live here longer and get involved with more shows – basements in China Town where people are playing old Atari games and a band is playing in the corner, or house parties or abandoned warehouse shows… it’s non-stop. There’s always a place to play, there’s always a place to listen. Intercept tries to exist in each of these areas and keep our fans guessing where the next show will be, what the next event will be like.
Is there a story or concept behind the CD title “Symphony For Somebody Else?”
My brother, Jeff, and I, (Jeff is in the lead guitarist in the band) grew up in a house where classical music was a big thing. I was always frustrated by how some of these amazing works would be set up before listening. The guy on the radio or at the concert would explain, (and I’m making this up, but there are lots of stories like this): “This is one of Bach’s less inspired, and least known works. Bach was dirt poor at the time he was commissioned by the King of Portugal to write a full symphonic work, but the King refused to let Bach include any elements of his German heritage in the music. He took the job and this was the result.”
So you’ve got this big piece of work – a whole symphony – that someone has identified you as being one of the best in the world to write it, and it’s going to live on and on… but you don’t get to use most of the elements that got you picked for the job. It’s a huge constraint on creativity, don’t you think? Anyway, this was a concept I was really struggling with when we started working with a producer. Almost any songwriter that has really gone through this process will know the feeling I was having – you feel pretty close to your work, and then someone comes in and says entire sections will be removed. By the end I was worried I’d have a Frankenstein-version of my songs that people would say, “Huh, that doesn’t sound like Christian.”
That’s not how it turned out at all – Erik Ron really helped open up my songwriting and the finished result is a lot more driving and fun to listen to, I think. But I left the title for the album because anyone can relate to that concept.
How does this album compare and/or differ to your previous effort, “Magnolia Road?”
Magnolia Road was a lot of fun for us to write and record, but it also lacked a certain direction…. There’s a ballad, then a rock song, then a ballad, then a techno-inspired musical interlude… we were just having fun experimenting and there’s some great stuff on there. But we really wanted to have an album that was more clearly defined as a rock album. “Symphony” is still dynamic and interesting, but it’s tighter and more effective from start to finish.
Where did you get the ideas for some of your lyrics?
I co-wrote the album with Erik Ron. A lot of his involvement wasn’t always as overt as writing the words to an entire chorus, but more along the lines of making suggestions for subject matter, keeping the song on a narrative track, or maybe finding a better melody line.
A lot of this music didn’t even have lyrics when we went to the studio, so we were able to have some control over what we wanted to talk about. One of his main goals – which I agreed with –was that not every song on this album has to be a love song; not every song on this album needs to be a break-up song, either. We don’t even have to do 10 tracks about relationships at all – let’s talk about fighting gangs single handedly! We never went that far, but the point was we didn’t want the album to get too bogged down in a single lyrical concept. That way it can connect with more people who aren’t necessarily deeply in love or deeply heartbroken, but maybe just want to hear a good rock album while they party.
Please pick two songs from the new album and tell me what inspired you to write the lyrics?
So Say Whatever is a great song to me – it’s physically harder to play that it might sound, it’s all over the neck of the guitar, and it’s got interesting time changes and movement. The lyrics are about fighting with a significant other. The element of the relationship that I was focusing on was that the couple is really strong – it’s just a fight. The singer got kicked out of the house or sent to sleep on the couch or something, but there’s a feeling that both people involved know that in the morning it was just a fight and they’ll make up.
Hundred Times is totally different than that. I have known several people in my life – and I’m sure your readers know the type of people like this – who seemingly wake up in the morning and they can’t wait to make some horrible decisions, have them backfire, and then tell everyone about how hard their life is. Honestly, I compared someone I once worked with to a person standing in the middle of a fire, holding to buckets of water, and screaming, “Why won’t anyone help me? There’s fire! I’m going up in flames!” Use the water! So the song is like a nice letter to that person just saying, Look, I get it… you’re psycho. Leave me alone, please.
What could one expect from a live Intercept show?
We perform with a lot of energy and we take it seriously – people have made a decision to leave their house and spend money on us, so that’s their night, you know? We want to show we appreciate that. If you were to go to your first Intercept show tomorrow, you’d see a lot of people mouthing all the words because so many fans have been with us for years. But we also continue to grow and evolve our songwriting so they continue to want to come out and have fun. It gives the room a ton of energy every time – people aren’t just filing in to be blasted with sound, and just because they are our friends. All kinds of fans are coming because they like the old stuff, but they also know there’s going to be new stuff, plus the band loves hanging out with everyone after the show and it just becomes a party.
Peter Frampton and Howard Jones!?! What was it like opening for them and did you get to meet either of them?
I got to watch Howard Jones whole set from like 20 feet away from him, just right behind the side of the stage. Crazy talented guy – didn’t miss a note, had another guitarist with him and they did some amazing songs that sounded like they were being played on a polished studio album. The band did also get to meet Peter Frampton, but he wasn’t expecting it. Our manager unexpectedly walks us up to him and said, “These are the boys who opened the show!” He looked at me and said, “Congratulations” and walked away. He didn’t come off mean at all – I mean, what was he supposed to say? “Give me your record, I’ll give it to the label, and I’ll have you on tour opening for me at every show.” The whole thing made us laugh.
Who are some other bands you’ve opened for in the past and what was the experience like?
We get weird and fun opportunities all the time… for instance our bass player, Phil, once recognized Louis Johnson at a mall in Burbank. (Louis was one of the Brothers Johnson, and the bass player for Michael Jackson on Thriller and other albums… you know him best as the bass line to “Billie Jean”). Louis appreciated being recognized and he checked out our band – we were still pretty young as a band, this is maybe 4 years ago. But he loves it. He starts coming to our rehearsal space and teaching us to play Brother’s Johnson songs, and giving us tips. We take him out to a couple shows and he gets on stage with us and he plays the Billie Jean bass line for everyone and we play his songs… it was a lot of fun hanging out with him for few months.
We’ve also opened for bigger local bands here in L.A., and for the Gin Blossoms when they came through another big event down in Temecula. Back stage at any of these things you’ve got a bunch of guys standing around who are laid back, pleasant people , regardless of what level their career is at. There’s not a lot of reverence, just a lot of hanging out.
At this point, how necessary do you feel it is for an artist to find a record label to work with?
That’s a great question, because the honest answer is that I don’t know. To this day, the majority of people out there still associate a band ‘getting signed’ as the only mile-marker for whether a band is successful or not. First of all, that’s never been true – we know tons of bands who got signed and still don’t get heard or get any more press or help than they otherwise would have. But it’s even less true today when the internet makes it so easy to distribute your own music. Well, I shouldn’t say “EASY,” because it’s still a lot of work. But if you’re willing to sit down and do it, you can get to a lot of really important people that used to be impossible to access, except through the help of a major label.
In fact, we’ve seen the business shift so much that we were able to work on our new album directly with major labels while not being signed to them. We physically went and sat in the mastering studio at the Captiol Records building. We are digitally distributed through Universal. So I think it just depends on the artist – in some cases, signing will change your life, especially if you’re a solo artist from a smaller city. But if you’re in L.A. and willing to talk to people and follow through on opportunities, you actually have the unprecedented opportunity to navigate the changing music business on your own and still have a chance.
What is it you’d like a listener to remember the most after hearing “Symphony For Somebody Else” for the first time?
I always say: it’s a rock album! Play it for parties, play it for long drives and working in the garage, you know? Don’t over think it… it’s got a really good vibe and
Any final words of wisdom?
Nope – we just had a little celebration last night for the new album, and I’ve got to be honest: I’m not feeling very wise right now. I guess: Beware the Flaming Dr. Pepper.
The Intercept lineup consists of Christian Knudsen (Vocals and Rhythm guitar), Jeff Knudsen (lead guitar), Jason Weiner (drums), and Phil Romo (bass).
(Interview by Kenneth Morton)
Intercept on Myspace