The brainchild of composer and guitarist Andrew McKenna Lee, The Knells were born on an 8-hour solo hiking expedition in Joshua Tree National Park in May 2010. Alone in the desert with an iPod, and “driven by the desire to break free from the strictures encountered in the classical music scene… Lee took his extra-curricular admiration for U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball and Talking Heads’ Remain In Light to fashion a discursive and darkly gothic musical project of startling originality.” (PROG Magazine). A love of choral music — forged while singing Igor Stravinsky’s Mass while in college — combined with admiration for ‘60s pop vocal groups and boredom with the typical “rock band fronted by a lead singer” archetype led Lee to imagine a group that could reflect the dynamic, formal, and harmonic intricacies of classical music with the rhythmic energy and expressive vitality of rock. In describing this unique convergence of styles and approaches, the New York Times writes, “The classical training and female harmonies can make the Knells similar to Dirty Projectors, but this band looks toward Europe and tone poems rather than Africa and pop. Instead of hooks there are sustained dramatic arcs, meticulous and serpentine.”
Released in November 2013 on New Amsterdam Records, The Knells’ eponymous debut album met with considerable praise from both mainstream and progressive rock press, and was cited as one of the year’s most notable releases in The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Daily Beast, Textura, PROG Magazine, and several others. Time Out New York declared, “Finally, an album that Gentle Giant and Sufjan Stevens fans can agree to love… the Knells… mixes its myriad impulses and resources in glorious manner, with three angelic voices floating in harmony over a string-adorned backbeat.” Textura described it as “one of the most original releases of 2013… boldly collapsing whatever boundaries are said to exist between prog, rock, and classical genres.”
Members of The Knells — Nina Berman, soprano; Charlotte Mundy, mezzo; Blythe Gaissert, alto; Paul Orbell, guitar; Andrew McKenna Lee, guitar; Jude Traxler, percussion and electronics, Jeff Gretz, drums, and Joseph Higgins, bass — encompass a unique and wide-ranging breadth of musical experience. Individually active as performers, composers, and studio musicians, their individual careers have taken them from beer-soaked underground jazz and rock clubs to solo performances at Carnegie Hall, engagements with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera, and to titanic rock festivals such as South by Southwest (SXSW) and the Hopscotch Music Festival. Since their inception, the band has performed together at several of New York City’s most prominent venues, including (le) Poisson Rouge, The Cutting Room, Roulette, SubCulture, and National Sawdust, among others.
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