The Alabama native and Athens transplant discusses his new EP, creative detours and the music that shaped his music style. The Red & Black talked with Rhyal Knight in lieu of "In Quotations" release on Nov. 10, working with Athens music producer David Barbe and more.
The Red & Black: How did you initially get into music?
Rhyal Knight: I grew up playing sports, and I kind of got hurt a lot, and I was like, “Man, I’m tired of getting hurt,” so I started playing guitar when I was probably like nine years old. About middle school is when I really kind of got into wanting to be in bands. I actually got in this little band and they were like, “We need a bass player.” I was like, “Well, I don’t have a bass.” I knew as far as the structure of a bass goes. It’s pretty similar to as far as notes go on the neck [to an acoustic guitar].
So I started playing bass and then really got into acoustic guitar for a while, kind of did the folky thing for a good bit. In college, I really got into keys ---I started playing piano and started teaching myself in eighth grade and gradually started to use it more. I really started to getting into it when I got into college, so I predominantly wanted to play keys. I played in a psych rock group throughout most of college; it kind of fed off of the acoustic folky stuff --- they mesh together.
I ended up kind of not making music for awhile, at least in pursuance of playing shows or doing anything like that. I got really into beat making and more of like drum machines and different instruments and stuff like that, kind of mixing analog and digital.
It all kind of just started when I would go home after school in middle school and high school --- that’s all I did, I would just go to my room and write songs and play music.
R&B: Was there any music from where you grew up in Northern Alabama that influenced you while you were there?
RK: Oh yeah, absolutely. The whole Muscle Shoals thing, no one really talked about it when we were growing up. They had a movie come out and kind of resurge that kind of thing. At the same time there was a really big movement in Florence [Alabama]: There were venues starting to pop up, there were more bands starting to play. This was when I was moving back to Florence --- I lived in Birmingham for one year.
The scene was definitely fueled by the whole Muscle Shoals resurgence thing, but still there was a very progressive attitude in Florence for a minute, and that was definitely influential as far as getting me redirected back on art when I was kind of distracted for a year.
R&B: After you weren’t involved with a band for a while, what was that whole process like getting back into music?
RK: I came to a point where I kind of lost hope I guess. I was just burned out on it, and I stopped playing music altogether. I definitely felt really discouraged for a while. I didn’t plan on doing this again, I wasn’t planning on playing shows.
I got back to “This is my art,” and I’ve always made this because this an outlet for me to express myself when it was kind of hard for me to express myself otherwise. I got back to the appreciation for that, and was just like, “Man, this is my art, it doesn’t matter what I do with it, that’s what’s for me.”
I met up with some of my friends in New Madrid, they came through and played a show down in Mobile and they stayed with me. I gave them my EP and they listened to it during the rest of their tour there, and they were like, “Dude, you need to get back into music and get back to playing --- you should move to Athens.” I was like, “Shit, that’s a great idea, let me think about it.” So I worked all summer to save my money and came up here.
There was definitely a moment down there I felt really defeated just kind of like, “I don’t want do to do this anymore!” It ends up leading me to a place creatively that wouldn’t have been the case I don’t think if those things didn’t happened to me. So I’m very appreciative of that grief.
R&B: You were using some older synthesizers on your new EP; What sounds do you explore and what are you trying to do in the future and for an album even?
RK: I was supposed to start recording on Tuesday with Chase Park [Transduction], but I pushed it back actually to the beginning of the year just because the engineer mostly --- New Madrid is going on tour is what’s going on and Ben (from New Madrid) was going to be the engineer.
I’ve really gotten into the drum machine thing; I bought a couple of older Electro-Harmonix drum machines and they sound really cool. Definitely synths, keys — one of my main things I want to keep is the element of rock ‘n’ roll because I love playing rock ‘n’ roll.
I’m still gonna have some fuzzy, ripped guitars, bass — really centered around the drums and the bass moreso. Songwriting on top of that, but as far as the structure I’m taking more of a step in the R&B direction in that aspect. There’s touches of R&B in this little EP, but this is more of an extreme step. I was buying into it -- didn’t realize I was, but I was like, “Oh, crap.”
R&B: You said you’re working with Chase Park a little bit, and David Barbe is the guy who runs it; How has that interaction gone with him and Athens people in general and coming to Athens?
RK: David Barbe’s a really cool guy; Me and him kind of immediately hit it off personality-wise. He’s a fun guy, but he’s also very serious when it comes down to it, when he’s behind the board and shit’s going on, he’s just like a different person. When he walks out, he’s really relaxed.
It’s just inspiring to see somebody like him that’s been doing it for so long and seeing the staple he is here and how he’s kind of helped feed stuff out of here and be kind of always a part of what’s going on.
Being in a place like Athens just around people who are focused on being creative and supporting art, you know, there’s outlets for it. When I got here I was just like, “Man, it feels really good.” I just like the overall vibe of it. I would just say the town in general is very inspiring; it’s a cool place.
R&B: I saw your cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You”; as far as that goes, who do you like R&B-wise or do you see anything new going on in R&B? On the album “Blonde” by Frank Ocean, it incorporates a lot more acoustic guitar and drum machine --- What’s going on with the genre?
RK: That’s definitely one of the more influential records that pushed me in this direction because at the time, I was a Frank Ocean fan for the first two albums --- I actually didn’t listen to “Blonde” at first. I was like, “I’m going to listen to it when the time comes,” but It was the production aspect of that record that made me like, “You know what? I’m thinking that I should go this unconventional way of making music,” because that’s really to me what that record was. This is a record that changed my whole freakin’ world, dude. This is one of my favorite records of all time now.
A lot of older jazz [is influential] --- I’m a really big John Coltrane fan. I know that’s kind of R&B, but in a sense it kind of is I guess. Anything off the east coast, the roots, stuff like that. Loose R&B, but mostly the “Blonde” album just for the productive mindset because that’s kind of the endgame for me: I don’t just want to be an artist --- I would like to be a producer and be involved in several aspects of it. But definitely, [“Blonde”] did, I’d say that’s what influenced me in this direction.
[Blonde’s] really obscure in parts but in the right way. It’s kind of one of those records for me that every time I would listen to it, I kept catching more, and I liked it better and better and better and better.
I think your best records are kind of takes time to get into, it’s not like the pop thing where it’s immediately something’s that catch or easy to listen to, which is not saying there’s anything wrong with that because I’m all about trying to be catchy because I’ve just always kind of gone for that.