At 24 years of age, Davy Knowles is one of the top young stars on the blues rock scene. In 2009, he released his second album, Coming Up For Air; and this past May he saw the release of a live album called Live From Melbourne. Davy has been busy working on a new studio album and we had the chance to speak with him about it.
You’ve recently been in the studio working on a new album, what can you tell us about it?
I’m very excited about it. It’s probably a little bit different from what I’ve done in the past. It’s been very much rooted in roots music, but it’s more on songs and less on guitar playing, which has been really quite exciting and different, and I think the next step for me.
You mentioned you want to focus on the songs. Can you talk about that more and the differences on this album?
I’ve never been one to play absolutely straight blues, or never one to record it on an album. I just figure if you want to hear that you should go listen to Freddie King because he can do it a lot better than I will ever dream to. I’ve always been interested with the folk side of things. I’m a huge Fairport Convention fan, a huge Bert Jansch, Renbourn, Pentagle fan, and love the English folk, and I’ve really been getting into the Americana as well; American folk with Woody Guthrie and all sorts of people of that ilk. There’s definitely changes of that, but I think there always has been a little bit, but it might be a little bit more prominent on this.
What kind of gear are you using on this album?
It’s merely all PRS stuff so far. I mean I’m just so vehemently in love with their products, all their guitars. Pedal wise, I’ve been playing quite filthy really I mean through an old cheap driver and a nice delay pedal. That’s about it really and I’ve been using PRS, just fantastic stuff.
If you could have one person make a guest appearance on an album of yours, who would it be?
That’s a good good question, probably Sonny Landreth or Warren Haynes, someone like that or Mark Knopfler. He’s one of my all-time heroes. I would probably fall over backwards if I met him, let alone get him on an album.
You put out a live album in May. When the day comes to record a live album, do you feel any added pressure to deliver?
You know the nice thing about this live album is that we didn’t record it with a mind to release it. The facility was there and we used it, why not? And when we went back and listened to it months later we really liked it. We felt it was really good, so that pressure really wasn’t felt on the night because we didn’t realize we were gonna release it. I think that was quite a nice way of doing it.
One of the cool gigs you got to do this summer was the Hendrix Experience. How was that?
What a dream! It’s one of those moments where you’re on stage and say, “Why am I here? This is amazing!” Oh my gosh, I can’t quite explain that. It was really wonderful.
What was the best part of that experience?
Having Billy Cox right there was just incredible. The amount of times I watched him as a kid on VHS, I had the Woodstock, Band of Gypsys, all of that stuff on video. I used to watch that religiously as a kid. To see that and then to know the kind of musical heritage that man has, and then to look around behind me there’s Chris Layton from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band on drums smiling back. It was amazing and then to play with Robert Randolph as well. As a kid I went to see Clapton in Belfast and Robert Randolph was opening up, and so to be on the same stage was one of those weird pinch me moments that you have every now and then, but that was quite an extreme one.
Over the past few years you have toured a lot. What are the best and worst things about touring on the road?
The best thing is it’s just everything to me. I adore touring. I can’t imagine my life without touring. It’s just the most incredible, liberating feeling really. I think the other foot side of that is a lot of people you know, they’ll ask what you do and say “You’ll get a real job one day,” or something like that. This is mentally hard work and tiring, and you just never catch up on sleep, and it’s a lot of hard work. I don’t think people realize that, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
You just released a new song called “Reach Higher,” which has a bit of a celtic sound and was recorded for the Commonwealth Youth Games back in your homeland, the Isle of Man. How did that come about and what was the process like in recording the song?
It came through the Arts Council on the Isle of Man who approached my manager and said, “You know we’d love Davy to do this,” kind of commission a song, so it came through that and I had never written my numbers in that kind of way you know? You have a specific thing to write about; it’s always quite difficult, so I never did it before. I really thought it was a great opportunity to try something new and I called up a really good friend of mine, Christine Collister, who is a Manx as well and just an astounding singer, songwriter, acoustic guitar player. So we kind of worked on it a little bit together honing it. I came up with the rough idea and she helped me pick through it. The recording process (…) I did a lot of it at home. I’ve got a little setup at home I could record my ideas and record some lovely guitar parts (…) Then I sent it across to the Isle of Man where there are some fantastic musicians. I was quite hellbent on making sure they were all Manx kind of musicians for the most part, that was quite important. It was all kind of done over the internet really, it was quite exciting. It’s amazing when technology can do something like that.
There have been a lot of great releases in music this year, do you have a favorite album from 2011?
From 2011, you know what so far it’s quite an obscure thing. There’s an Australian band, or it might be New Zealand, no it’s Australian. There’s a girl guesting on it who’s from New Zealand. It’s a band called Gotye, and it’s almost like Peter Gabriel inspired retro pop in a way, but I’m obsessed with it. I can’t stop listening to it. I think a great song is a great song no matter what genre it says on iTunes; that’s the exciting part of it.
Interview by Pete Francis