If nothing else, punk rock sure vomited up a wide spread of untutored oddballs. While they came from different countries, genres and ideologies these individuals were all fired up by punk's ideal of passion over proficiency. Mike Knott is one such devout oddball. Knott came from Orange County, California, home to late seventies, early-eighties bands like the Adolescents, Social Distortion and the Vandals who devised a wild-eyed yet melodic brand of punk rock. But the O.C. also begat the Altar Boys, Undercover and, Knott's first band, the Lifesavors who comprised the punk sect of Christian rock.
(Mike Knot and LSU at Cornerstone in 1993)Christian rock, touched on in our gospel-punk series, is a troublesome genre; as with indie rock, the adjective is ideological and the noun is mostly wishful thinking. Christian rock* didn’t even solidify as a genre till the seventies, an ugly era for solidifying anything. So therefore, until quite recently, Christian rock existed with this hilarious multi-year delay from the popular culture. Watching these church-sponsored bands (usually with mustaches) gamely pursuing long moribund trends could sometimes feel like watching the Special Olympics (NTTAWWT).
However, for those with ears to hear, the Christian Rock Industry has hid a few of those idiosyncratic oddballs, like Michael Knott, beneath its bushels of dreck. Knott's career trajectory over the last thirty-years has been, to put it mildly, erratic. Whether it was the power-pop-punk Lifesavors (full post here), the folk-rock/new wave Lifesavers (sic), the darker goth-punk of L.S.U. (Lifesavers Underground), the Dylan/Waits-esque solo acoustic work or the screeching rock of the Aunt Bettys the man's never sat still.
Knott just has a restless confluence of influences. He's indebted to the raw power of Iggy Pop, the mannerisms of David Bowie, the gutter-beat writing of Lou Reed and Jim Carroll as well as the brute simplicity of the Ramones. Of course Knott has probably long kept the NME for his bathroom reading since traces of the Psychedelic Furs, the Cure, Sister of Mercy, the Smiths and many more English bands mark his development. Whatever influences he's under, with the consistency of his dry singing and sharp song-writing, it all comes out sounding like Knott.
(That's Knott in his Dylan Rolling Thunder mode belting out his story of cannibalism, "Kitty" which appears on many of his albums including this one. Just for shiggles, here's pop-punks the Connie Dungs with their lo-fi cover of the song.)
Following the harrowing, metallic abyss that was the Lifesavers Underground's Shaded Pain, Knott started his own label, Blonde Vinyl. Thus began a late eighties through mid-nineties onslaught of releases. Mike played the wounded, fucked-up troubadour to the hilt during this era (issues with alcohol surfaced in articles of the time), which only intensified with a million dollar publishing deal following another of his bands, The Aunt Bettys, signing to Elektra Records in 1995.
The Aunt Bettys 1996 debut was not their triumph. The band, with Andrew Carter on guitar, Brian Doidge on bass, and Chuck Cummings on drums, decided to re-do some of Knott's best compositions in a bleeding-in-the-red style that does the material no favours, almost ruining his unforgettable "Rocket and a Bomb". Blame the band being signed at the the dead-end of the grunge-era. The album is almost a clearing of the field in ready for the much stronger follow-up. All weakness aside, the album does include the witty, catchy attack on the Rolling Stones, "Skinny Bones Jones" and, for proof that it does not suffer from a not the lack of intensity, check out Knott's ballistic performance on the Velvets meets Stooges, "Jesus".
Download Aunt Bettys S/T CD
The disappointment with the debut, allowed the Aunt Bettys to record a sparkling second album (Ford Supersonic) when absolutely no one was listening. It hearkens back to a more Ramones power-pop vibe but never ditching those sleazier proto-punk flourishes (it's lyrically fixated on bad drugs and good cars) Knott so loves. This one is the keeper and one of the most consistent records the man ever made.
Download Ford Supersonic CD
Knott had a troubled aughts (I witnessed a so-drunk-I-gotta-sit show in 2003),resulting in an enforced slow-down after a big Christian music label took a risk on his brilliant but unsuccessful Life of David. (Somewhere in there he auditioned for Velvet Revolver too, which is another scary story). However, Mike now has moved the party over to My Space, where he needs more than one site to contain his new music and entertain the Knottheads. As well there's a new L.S.U. album with some original members making its way down the pike. Finally, while many of his CD's are out-of-print (go to Fix it In the Mix to hear them) you can still go and buy some music - Knott's one long-surviving oddball that deserves to be heard.* If you want thine eyes to be opened to the f-ing jaw-dropping array of “Jesus Music” then proceed at your own risk to these two web sites or this, this, this or this.
Thanks to the Pendragon for providing the S/T rip.