Known for their crystal clear and melodic take on Progressive Rock, Dutch outfit Knight Area have just unleashed their fourth and slightly heavier album Nine Paths. With a concept based round the nine sections of The Tarot, the newly found aggression intertwines with the band's stunning, intricate arrangements forming a beautifully fragile brutality. Most importantly Nine Paths is a simply fantastic album. Sea of Tranquility staff writer Steven Reid caught up with one of the band's guitar duo Mark Vermeule to discover what fate the cards have in store for Knight Area.
SoT: Hi Mark and thanks for taking the time to answer some question.
Mark: Thank you for this interview Steven.
SoT: If we could Mark, I'd like to start with a little bit about the history of Knight Area. I believe that the debut album under the Knight Area banner was more of a solo effort from Gerben Klazinga. How did the actual band come into being?
Mark: That's right Steven. Gerben asked a lot of his friends to record his songs, and that became the first album The Sun Also Rises. After that album was released on The Laser's Edge label, he got some good feedback on it, and decided to start a band to promote the album. Gerben already knew singer Mark Smit and bassist Gijs Koopman - who participated on the album as well as drummer Pieter van Hoorn who he knew from another band he used to play in. Gijs knew Rinie Huigen – our other guitarist at the time - from Cliffhanger and myself from a project with the guys from Cliffhanger. And, of course, Gerben's brother Joop joined adding flute and recorder to the band's sound.
SoT: How would you describe the band's musical journey from debut album The Sun Also Rises to your excellent new album Nine Paths?
Mark: At first, we started as a 7 man band, and with this band we recorded the second album Under A New Sign. This was still very much Gerben's album, but there was a band behind it. At one point, both Joop and Rinie decided to leave and the rest of us decided not to look for replacements, instead continuing as a 5 man band. That line-up recorded Realm of Shadows. At that time, the influence of the other band members in the creative process became stronger. Our most recent release Nine Paths is again somewhat different, in that two of the songs were composed by other band members. Next to that, teaming up with Neil Kernon and Alan Douches for mixing and mastering also had a great impact on the way we sound. So the musical journey is that we´re so much more a team than at the beginning, and every album we try to improve ourselves in some aspect.
SoT: Personally I think that without compromising the signature Knight Area sound; Nine Paths introduces a heavier aspect to your music. Was this a conscious decision to move into a different musical area for the band?
Mark: I think this is a reflection of what I mentioned earlier. The influence of the rest of the band became bigger. Gerben and Gijs have their roots in progressive rock bands from the 70s like Genesis, Rush, Camel and Yes. Mark is more of a rock singer. Pieter also listens to and plays a lot of metal. And I really enjoy progressive rock/metal and nu metal. So you're now hearing more of every band member in this album, and still it's Knight Area because Gerben is the driving force behind the compositions.
SoT: Your previous albums have had a wonderfully strong retro prog feel. Do you think that Nine Paths offers a slightly more contemporary edge than your previous albums?
Mark: Yes Steven, I think that would be a good way of describing the album's sound.
SoT: That said, your music always has had and still does have an amazing amount of melody and accessibility to it. How hard is it to balance those aspects with the intricate arrangements and instrumentation?
Mark: Well, you know, this is what we do. Every time Gerben - or someone else - comes up with a new song, we work it out using the musical knowledge we have from our own instruments. For instance, I like to have some heavy power chords, but also bluesy and metal type of guitar solos. On the other hand, Gijs has a distinctive style and sound using the Rickenbacker and the Moog Taurus pedals. When we all blend our own approaches to music, the result becomes Knight Area.
SoT: As you mentioned Mark, on previous Knight Area albums Gerben has written nearly all of the music, however this time singer Mark Smit wrote "Angel's Call" and bassist Gijs Koopman wrote "The River". What has this brought to the band and will we see more of this in the future?
Mark: This is something I really like. I consider every member of the band to be a good musician and it's refreshing to start from a different angle. It ensures that the next album will not sound like a copy of the previous one and I do think that we will work this way more often.
SoT: You worked with renowned producer Neal Kernon on this album. What were the skills that attracted you to his work and how much did you enjoy collaborating with him?
Mark: I really love what he did to our music. We're a band that records a lot of layers of guitars and keyboards, and it's not easy to have a clear mix. He managed to make us sound powerful and still you can hear every small track we recorded. Working with him was really cool, he's the kind of guy that only needs a few words and then delivers. We had to work with him via email, because he's in the US and we're in The Netherlands, so I was a little worried upfront as to how that would work out. But it turned out great!
SoT: The arrangements on Nine Paths are stunning. How long do you guys spend on this side of the music, or are the songs pretty much set to go when they reach the studio?
Mark: The structure of most of the songs is pretty much finished when we start to work on them. But, of course, when one of the band members starts playing a certain part differently, then that's immediately picked up by the rest of the band. When I start recording power chords, I really listen to the rhythmic structure of the drums, and when I'm working out the solos, I start from the vocal lines.
SoT: Delain singer Charlotte Wessels adds a fantastic vocal to the song "Please Come Home", how did you guys get her involved with the album?
Mark: Before we started on this record, we discussed as a band, and also with Ken Golden from our record company, the things that we could do differently for this album and one thing we came up with was to work with a guest musician. We had a small list of people we wanted to ask, and Ken knows Charlotte and introduced us. It helps that she lives close by. After some really positive phone and email conversations with Charlotte we decided to work together.
SoT: I believe Charlotte also contributed lyrics to the song as well, how interesting was it to hear what someone else had come up with for Knight Area's music?
Mark: Actually Steven, that's something we do on every record. Jankees Braam, who is our sound engineer on live shows, always contribute to the lyrics for one song. Which is something we do for the same line of reasoning as for the compositions: it's good and refreshing to start from a different angle.
SoT: So what are the Nine Paths referred to in the album's title and how do they relate to the songs?
Mark: The album consists of nine songs, and each song has its own theme, although the main theme is the Tarot. The Tarot cards are grouped to each of the nine categories [Mastery, Insight, Joy, Transformation, Peace, Relationship, The Seeker, The Universe, and The Sage]. For every category there's a theme that is represented in a song and its lyrics.
SoT: The album artwork is also superb; it links with the album "concept" extremely well, but is a stunning image in its own rite. Who designed this artwork for the band and considering how well it links with the album "concept", how involved were the band with the imagery?
Mark: That honour goes to Dennis Sibeijn from Damn Engine. He's a fantastic artist. We gave him some background info on the lyrics and the songs and he just went from there. There was practically no involvement from our side. It's very pleasant to work with such talented and professional people.
SoT: The Netherlands isn't exactly renowned for its Progressive Rock. How hard has it been to get the band's name "out there"?
Mark: I'd like to disagree Steven! [laughs] Considering we're such a small country, I think that we're not doing that bad with acts like Focus, Kayak, Ayreon and so on - but still, I see your point. It's a tough business and a lot of bands start and then get disappointed and then quit. Knight Area has existed for over seven years now, because the five of us just enjoy making this type of music. Next to perseverance, we can't rule out the 'luck' factor; sometimes you need some luck and you need to know the right people. It also helps that our label [Laser's Edge] is known and respected for progressive rock bands.
SoT: I've never had the pleasure of seeing a Knight Area gig. Do you have any touring plans to support the new album?
Mark: This year, we're playing in The Netherlands and Germany although we are working on some gigs and festivals in 2012. We hope to see you all there!
SoT: Well thanks for taking the time to answer some questions Mark, is there anything else you'd like to add?
Mark: Thanks a lot to you Steven and Sea of Tranquility for this interview. I hope everyone enjoys the album as much as we do!
(Click here to read our reviews of Nine Paths)