We here at The Journalix are big fans of Turin Brakes. We’re not going to introduce them to you as they’ve been around since the year 2000, but if you really don’t recognise the name I’m sure you’ll know their music. Lead singer Olly Knights originally formed the band with childhood friend Gale Paridjanian, and our Alix had the pleasure of talking to him about his inspirations, the pressure of playing Manchester and the band’s favourite Chinese restaurant in the city, amongst other things. They have a big tour in October (tickets still available)…
Alix: So how did you end up here?
Olly Knights: We (Gale and myself) got given guitars for Christmas when we were ten, the rest just kind of happened!
A: Have you always played?
OK: I’ve always played something, usually well enough to be able to sing over, that’s always been my main aim with instruments really, so I can accompany myself singing.
A: At what point did you gain confidence to write?
OK: I’d been making little attempts in a very natural way since I was a little kid, then in my teens I had that desire to make a mark so I got a little more serious, people didn’t hate it when they heard the results so I figured I was OK
[Ed: But he actually is “OK”. Olly Knights! Ahem…]
A: What was your big break?
OK: A friend (now Gale’s wife) playing our home made cassette recording in her car while driving to Brighton with another young man called Phil who just happened to randomly be starting his own little label called Anvil. He heard it, loved it and wanted to put it out as his first signing – it became The Door EP.
A: I understand you studied film – how did that help shape you as an artist?
OK: It was huge, art school and film kind of developed my brain in a particular way. I learned to take my ideas seriously and to become a completist. I think that’s the big thing about doing an art degree, you respect and value your own ideas and you learn to present them, it’s really the basic difference between being an artist or not, just that process.
A: Who were your inspirations growing up? Did your parents have a good record collection?
OK: My dad and sister both influenced me a lot and then Gale and I would kind of influence each other too. My parents’ stack of vinyl suddenly became like a treasure trove to me in my teens, before that it was just a bunch of grown up stuff but one day I listened to Stevie Wonder and BOOM!
A: Any kind of artist which still to this day puts a smile on your face and makes you want to write or perform?
OK: Joni Mitchell, I don’t think I will ever not discover new layers in her music. I’ve always found female songwriters inspirational, I think because my sister did too, so I saw them through her eyes at first, Joni, Janis Joplin, Kate Bush, Jane Siberry, the Cocteau Twins, they all kind of blew my mind when I was a slightly anxious kid.
A: Do you ever make reference to such inspirations in your music, either obviously or subconsciously? A personal tribute here or there?
OK: I do, I tried to get a chunk of Joni Lyrics cleared for a song on our second album called “Clear Blue Air” but her estate wouldn’t have it so I had to change them last minute.
OK: (continued) I’m sure I’ve subconsciously re worked a million different things, I just accept that I’m basically like a human TV and my aerial is always up. Where there’s a hit there’s a writ so I’ve done my very best to make sure we remain only moderately popular, I’m doing a great job I think (!)
A: How do you handle the pressure of work? Where or what is your special go-to, to either escape or rediscover your spark?
OK: Apart from brandy and beta-blockers? I learned Transcendental Meditation about five years ago and I really truly love it, it’s like opening a shaken up coke can and all the pressure just blows out twice a day, I was horrendous at letting go of pressure before that and desperately needed the help to be honest, it’s taught me to let life happen.
A: What are you listening to at the moment?
OK: Loving Leif Vollebekk at the moment and a bit of Mac Demarco…
“What can I say about Manchester? It rivals London for vibes and I wouldn’t give that up easily.”
A: What was the last good film you saw?
OK: I’m kind of with Ethan Hawke on this, to me it’s like the world of mainstream cinema just lost it with all the super hero phantasy stuff, it’s fine but what happened to the ambitious thoughtful stuff you could see at the cinema? Maybe I’m just getting old but I miss big clever films like Rain Man, The Truman Show, I think CGI has opened Pandora’s Box and it’s just too easy to have it all and cinema has lost its taste a little, of course there’s still good stuff out there but I’m too old and lazy to look that hard anymore haha. I’m going to see Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman tonight mind you so maybe that will give me hope, he’s proper…
A: Are you a gamer?
OK: I watch my kids play Fortnite and can’t work out what’s going on, does that count?
A: Not really, but moving on… Do you have an affinity towards Manchester? We’ve seen you play here plenty of times and you always bring that personal and intimate performance to the stage.
OK: Manchester used to be our bogey gig town, I think because it has such a rich musical culture we just put ourselves under silly pressure whenever we played and our nervous energy used to make our shows really chaotic. We broke the spell eventually and love it now. We used to head straight to a restaurant called Red Chilli but it’s closed down so we will be back on the hunt for foodertainment next time. What can I say about Manchester? It rivals London for vibes and I wouldn’t give that up easily.
A: Well the nervousness never came across to us gig-goers. Oh, and Red Chilli is still there but Buddha Express is just around the corner…
OK: Thanks for the info! We heard it closed due to being a health hazard, we bloody loved the food though!
A: Finally, I once noticed a thanks to Gary Barlow in your sleevenotes – how did that come about?
OK: We wrote a few songs with him for his band but to be honest we did the thank you cos it made us crack up laughing!
If you’ve never had the pleasure to have seen Turin Brakes live, get yourself down to one of their gigs pronto!