When I ask the flamboyant and unpredictable duo Knower what the two of them are up to these days, I get an answer as marvelously counterintuitive as their sound:
“Yeah, we’re just sitting at home, working on some music,” Louis Cole tells me.
“We’re really losing our minds,” Genevieve Artadi says.
If you’ve heard any of Knower’s music, you can imagine how losing one's mind can be a possible side effect.
On the band's new album, Life, produced and distributed independently on Knower's Bandcamp page, the music skips from the Skrillex-sized, new-disco-meets-dubstep beat of “The Government Knows” (whose chorus includes “The government knows when you masturbate”) to the serene, neo-soul pop of the very next track, “All Time.” Most of Life makes similar genre and mood jumps from song to song, and individual songs often contain mashups of different themes and sounds.
“James Brown is like my Bible,” Cole says when asked what inspires him. “I used to play through his bass and guitar parts when I was 11. I was obsessed. But when we started Knower, we had no idea what we wanted to sound like at first. Genevieve just called me and was like, ‘Hey Louis, do you want to add some stuff to some songs that I wrote?’”
Artadi, whose parents were musicians when she was growing up, says she listened to a lot of pop radio in her formative years. “I got really into Michael and Janet Jackson, and I really got into Natalie Cole,” she says, “then Massive Attack, Portishead, Prodigy.” She recalls that Cole initially misread her musical intent. “Louis thought that I wanted the stuff I asked him to work on to be boring sounds, and I was like, ‘Man, this is wussy.’ And he was like, ‘I thought that’s what you wanted?’ And I was like, ‘Hell no!’
“Then we just made a storm in the studio, and that just became our aesthetic.”
That aesthetic is apparent in a series of self-produced videos posted on the band’s YouTube page starting in 2010, in which the duo covers pop songs such as Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Michael Jackson’s “PYT.” Using a combination of live instrumentation and digital samplers and controllers, the duo was able to maintain the pop structure of these songs while totally remixing them in a hyper-cognizant, cyberpunk kind of way. Knower’s unusual sound even got Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson’s legendary producer for Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, interested.
“We did play in Quincy Jones’ living room once,” Cole says. “It was crazy. We did some Michael Jackson covers. He was our only audience. When we told him we’d do some alien covers of Michael Jackson songs, he told us, ‘We’re all aliens.'”
Other than Jones’ living room, Knower have played at pretty much any venue that will have them. “When it’s just the the two of us, we bring a projector and it’s this insane light show and visuals,” Cole says. “It’s really 3-D — there’s like exploding pizza and stuff.”
One unlikely spot that the band considers home is bluewhale, in Little Tokyo, one of the few clubs in Los Angeles that caters to and actively fosters the jazz scene in Los Angeles.
“They’re good to us,” Artadi says. “They let us do whatever we want there.”
“It is such a weird fit, but we sort of embrace how weird it is,” Cole adds. “A lot of our friends are there, but I don’t know if we fit into a scene right now.”
“Yeah, we’re kind of on the outskirts of a couple of scenes,” Artadi says.
Both Artadi and Cole studied jazz in college and are trained musicians. Artadi had to “transcribe Clifford Brown solos” in college, and Cole cites Miles Davis, Tony Williams and Gil Evans as big influences.
This Tuesday at bluewhale, Knower will perform as a more traditional jazz act, with a saxophone player and a bassist. Cole will be on drums and Artadi will handle the vocals.
With the Tuesday lineup, they'll play the same songs as they typically do, Cole says, but “the arrangements are a little more open.
“When jazz started out, it was heavy dance music,” he continues. “And so I guess with us doing dance music with melodies and stuff, it’s kind of a throwback to what jazz started as.”
Knower will be performing with the band Hildegard on Tuesday, June 14, at bluewhale, 123 Astronaut E.S. Onizuka St., downtown.