Karl Knuttel’s name – or, at the very least, his distinctive voice – might be familiar to those who have been paying attention to Irish music over the past ten years. After taking a break, Knuttel is back under a new guise: Bear Worship.
His first release under this new name – Shimmerings – is gorgeous, floaty pop that sparkles and glitches every bit as much as its name suggests. For now, that’s just a taste of what’s to come, but if the Bear Worship record is anywhere near as gloriously light and summery as Shimmerings then we’re in for a real treat. We had a chat with Knuttel to find out more about Bear Worship, and see just what we can expect from future releases.
Your previous projects include Pinky and then Ivan St John – can you tell us a bit about them?
Well, Pinky and Ivan St John were more or less the same thing, one sort of evolved into the other. I guess the way I look at those years is as a sort of learning experience. I was lucky to support a bunch of fantastic acts like The Walkmen and Rodriguez, play some great places at home and abroad (midnight at the Body and Soul stage in EP is a persistently magical memory), and meet some really amazing people.
But, like a comedian telling the same joke for 8 years, it got boring and uninspiring for me. It's weird because it was right around the same time I was getting the 7 year itch that we started getting more media recognition, label interest, and more into the public consciousness. Many don't realise but being in a band is a hell of a slog, usually for a whole load of years before anything happens (if anything happens at all). You gotta really believe in what you're plugging to ride that out (at least you did then – stuff is much more immediate now being able to utilise all t'internet has to offer) and I suppose what I'd written in my early twenties felt kinda irrelevant and inauthentic to my mid-late twenties self which resulted in me becoming severely disillusioned. But I learned a hell of a lot through that project.
What was the impetus behind Bear Worship and how do you feel it differs from your previous output?
Bear Worship is more of a reflection of where I am now. I grew up making electronic music on this old tracker called Med Soundstudio. Mostly sort of house and then later slower electronica. I even had a track on an old Café Del Mar mix CD back in the day. I recently got really into synthesizers, particularly old Yamahas and Rolands (CS-15, CS-50, SK-20, JX3P for any of the synth nerds), so that's a big part of the Bear Worship sound.
But I think the real groove of a track comes from the drums and bass – I mean, that's the backbone, right? So pretty much all of the rhythm sections on the Bear Worship tracks is acoustic drums, and most have electric bass. So there's this really cool interplay between the precision of electronics and the 'human-ness' of drums and bass. There's loads of subtle and not so subtle guitar too. A touchstone for the vocals is sort of Beach Boys meets Grizzly Bear.
Lyrically I'm exploring the type of stuff that occupies my mind; trying to find where I fit in the world, overcoming long held beliefs and dubious mindsets, the types of relationships and connections that really have meaning for me now, looking at the power of nostalgia, the point of creating art at all... that kind of stuff. I dunno.
I feel that Bear Worship is a much truer representation of who I am as a person and as an 'artist' than anything else I've ever done. There's a sort of a feeling of completing the circle where my electronic past is coming together with what I learned from my previous projects.
Is 'Shimmerings' a good indicator as to what the rest of the album will sound like?
I suppose you could look at Shimmerings as a statement of intent. It has all the features of what makes Bear Worship Bear Worship, I think. But it's funny. Behind all the 'production' and arrangement there's still a cool, memorable song. I was thinking about different ways to present the stuff live as I'm kind of all on my own now, and one way was to strip everything back and just play acoustically with a drum machine. My girlfriend and I tried it out and Shimmerings sounds just like something from Inside Llewyn Davis – real folky with nice harmonies. But I doubt it'll ever come out in that form!
A big reason why Shimmerings sounds so good, and believe me the rest of the record sounds amazing too, is through working with Stephen Shannon. He has his own project 'Strands' and he's recorded quite a few notable folks like Adrian Crowley and David Turpin. He's so great to work with and was really passionate about the project. He has an electronic past so it was cool to throw around ideas, not to mention he's a fantastic engineer and the drum sound he got on everything is out of this world. It was kind of a relaxed project – it took place just over a year – so there's a really cool progression of sound. I'd do a lot at home over a few months, then I'd ring him up and bring it in and Stephen'd record drums and mix it and add touches of sonic filler here and there. I think a lot of people are gonna get a lot out of the record.
Your voice was once described as sounding like a "sad panther in a smoking jacket", what are your thoughts on that particular comparison?
Ha. That's a Late David Turpin quote if ever I've heard one. David's meticulously exacting in everything he does, so, much as I am unable to objectively assess my own vocal qualities, I'd be inclined to agree with him!
Actually, I hate my own voice, as many singers do, so I'm very flattered that David is continuously keen on using me in his fantastic creations.
What were you listening to when you were making this record?
This whole recording project took place over a year or so so I obviously covered a lot of listening ground in that time. Huge influences are Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter, St Vincent, Animal Collective, Beach House, Todd Terje, Richard Swift, Caribou, Arcade Fire, Youth Lagoon, and Tame Impala.
But I remember I got into a period of listening to nothing but 80s movie scores like Maniac, John Carpenter movies, Scarface, Dawn of the Dead, Bladerunner, stuff like that. Then I got really into IDM. Jon Hopkins is an influence on a lot of my stuff. I went through this period of listening obsessively to the Beach Boys' ‘Smile Sessions’ – a friend gave me the boxset and it's just captivating; all the outtakes, what could have been, Brian Wilson's attention to detail. It sounds so fresh today which says a lot.
Then I got big into Father John Misty – I had his record on repeat in my car for a couple of months, he's like some sort of 70s Randy Newman/John Lennon/James Taylor hybrid. And there's so many amazing SoundCloud mixes put up by folks that contain so much ear candy too – there's this amazing Peter Serafinowicz one that he did for the Solid Steel Radio show for the release of the Boards of Canada Tomorrow's Harvest record. It's so diverse and vibey, very electronic.
I mean, there's so much amazing music available out there now, it's kind of what simultaneously excites me and bums me out the most. How can a contemporary artist possibly push through. I'm constantly discovering 'new' music from 10, 20, 30 years ago and there's so much high quality new music released over the last few years (we must be at some sort of new golden age?). It's crazy!
Do you have any gigs or releases coming up?
Hopefully a couple of gigs in September or so. Actually, I'm kind of on my own at the moment – I played basically everything myself on this record bar drums and a bit of bass (which was played by the inimitable Liam Marley of Windings and Ivan St John) so anyone looking to play a few gigs, hit me up! Serious, I'd love to hear from you. Release-wise... you'll have to wait and see. There's definitely much more to come.
Is there anything else you'd like us to know about Bear Worship?
I'm sure I've bored both y'all enough already. But please do listen to Shimmerings on Soundcloud, add me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter. There's loads of good stuff to come. I really hope all you guys like what I'm making. I'm really excited about it and can't wait for you to hear more.