Detroit, Michigan’s Child Bite has been blending the elements of rock, punk, and metal since 2005. Shifting tempos, disjointed melodies, and deranged lyrics are the common thread running through their sound, whether or not it leans closer toward punk or metal in your opinion. Child Bite makes the point that punk and metal shouldn’t be considered mutually exclusive. Anyone aware of the history of these genres knows this to be true, but Child Bite is a band your punk or metalhead friends will certainly embrace.
Last month, the band released their 5th full-length album, Blow Off The Omens, on Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records. Recorded by Steve Albini (Nirvana, PJ Harvey, The Jesus Lizard) and mixed by Collin Dupuis (Tomahawk, The Black Keys, St. Vincent), the band follows up 2016’s Negative Noise with an album that retains the bands eccentric qualities, but packages it up in a sinewy, frenzied collection of songs that are among the most focused and deliberate of their career. If you’re unfamiliar with the band, Omens is a great place to start.
We caught up with Child Bite vocalist Shawn Knight to learn more about the writing and recording of the album, lyrical themes, and the cover art. Check out our review of Blow Off The Omens to learn more about this weird, powerful, and pissed-off release.
Negative Noise came out in 2016 and there’s been lots of touring since that release. When did the band start writing for this new album?
Shawn Knight: We were so busy touring that we didn’t even get around to writing any new material until basically one year ago. It was late December last year. We were like, “Man, we just need to settle down. Let’s take the winter off and just write a record.” So, that’s what we did. The bulk of that writing happened early this year, January, February, March, and then we went into record it in April. We definitely fast tracked this one a lot more. Let’s start writing this record and record it and mix it, and do all the art, and have it out before the end of the year.
Why did you decide to record it with Steve Albini?
Shawn Knight: We record our records and EP’s, and other things, with so many different, various engineers and different studios. We’re a fan of that stuff. To us it’s just like another one of the experiences of being in a band. So, we kind of like to slut around a little bit with that, because it feels like it’s collecting more experiences.
We like to spread the love when it comes to engineers and studios, and Albini’s been on our list the whole time. We’re all fans of his work. Of all the engineers of his level, I would say he is the most accessible. He’s somebody that if you want to go record your band with him, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. If you decide to do it, plunk down the money and go on over. So he’s down, which is really cool that he’s such a pretty down to earth, accessible engineer.
On Negative Noise, Phil Anselmo produced, and not to be presumptuous, but I assume that Phil and Steve Albini have very different styles or different approaches in the process of recording an album.
Shawn Knight: No, they are different. Phil’s got a barn, which is his studio, and he has a live-in recording engineer, affectionately known as “Big Fella.” So, pretty much any morning he can wake up, and if the mood strikes to lay down some tracks, he just rings up Big Fella and is like, “Hey, let’s fire up the studio. See you there at noon.” So, that’s pretty rad, and we were lucky enough to be able to go down there and have him share that experience with us.
But, as far as you were saying differences, even just schedule-wise, down at Phil’s place, he’s got the luxury…and also the southern, and especially the New Orleans vibe of being pretty laid back. They’re known for that kind of sludgy music down there and the laid back vibe, and that definitely translates to recording at Phil’s place.
We were there for maybe three weeks and we would start working around noon, and we’d wrap up work, I don’t know, five, six, seven o’clock at night. We were kind of taking our time with it, which was a luxury for us, and so luxurious it actually kind of almost drove us a little stir crazy. And a big difference is when we’re recording on our own at a different studio, we get in and out as fast as possible, especially when it’s on our dime, like we can only afford three days, we’re going to make the most of those three days.
That’s the way it went down at Steve’s place. We would record maybe ten or eleven in the morning and go until ten, eleven, or so at night. Just bam, bam, bam. Throwing down all the basic live bass, drum, and guitar tracks all at the same time. Whereas at Phil’s place it was very much doing it the way Down or Pantera would do it, where you’re taking your time with it, “putting the microscope on it,” which I think the Pantera guys used to use that term.
So, two different things. For us, in the end, I don’t think the result was too terribly different. When you listen to the record, it’s not like one of them you’re like, “Oh, man. These guys sound way tighter on this album than the other,” or more lively, or enthused, or whatever. In the end, it feels similar as far as our performances, at least to me. In general, I think we’ll do more of the three day in and out, bam, bam, bam, not too much time to think about it thing.
At the end of the day, I feel more like a punk band than a metal band. We do kind of ride the line between the genres, but when it comes to some stuff, we’re a little more down and dirty, and just kind of vibe based, versus ultra precision based.
That’s one of the things that I’ve always appreciated about Albini’s recordings, it sounds more like the band performing live. Did the band record live, all three together, and then you put down your vocals after?
Shawn Knight: That’s exactly what we did and we rehearsed the hell out of that record, knowing that we were going in with only three days to track. We did manage to fit in a few Midwest tour dates where we tested out the material live, which just forced us to be extra tight. It’s one thing to have your songs written and you can go into the studio and you can get through it. It’s another thing to be on stage, people watching you play a song for the first time ever. You got to really know it.
We did that as preparation, and we went to this drummer on the record, buddy named Shane (Hochstettler). He’s a studio engineer. He’s got his own studio out in Milwaukee. We even went through the process of recording the whole record before we went and recorded the whole record. All the takes you hear on there of the live drum, bass, and the rhythm guitar are the first or second take. Cranked it all in the first half a day, pretty much. Then it was just a matter of throwing down vocals on top, throwing down guitar overdubs, and any other fun stuff we wanted to do.
That’s another difference, kind of goes back to the previous question, too. With Albini we were recording to tape, to a two-inch reel of tape, whereas at Phil’s place we were doing it all digital. We could sit there and record a hundred takes of it, as much as we want, as much as the hard drive will take, and then go through and take which pieces you like or listen to all of them, find the best one.
This one, when you have a certain amount of tape, just the tape itself costs a couple hundred bucks. So, it’s not like, “oh, we’ll just buy an extra one” and throw down extra takes. We are committing to these things. We’ll record it, we’ll come on up to the control room, listen to it, look at each other, give the thumbs up, and move on.
How would you describe the lyrical themes on this album?
Shawn Knight: I guess if you’re going to be writing lyrics for angry music, it’s not going to be talking about smelling the roses or falling in love or anything like that. It’s going to be things that upset me, and there’s never a lack of things to be upset about in this world. For me, it’s a lot of social commentary. It’s just things that, either commenting on things that I think are messed up in general, in society, or the way people are in particular nowadays. But, also a lot of personal stuff. Just like personal demons and things that I just grapple dealing with.
In a way, it’s kind of complicated, just like people. You’re talking about what you see that’s messed up out there, so that means maybe you would do it differently or whatever, or wouldn’t lump yourself up in with “them.” On this record, I’m talking a lot about what’s messed up about me. I’m not perfect. Who am I to judge all these people? But, for what it’s worth, this is the way I see these things, for better or worse. This is my point of view. I’m not giving any answers. I’m not telling anybody how to do things, but maybe if you see things just as messed up as the way I see them, maybe there’s solace in knowing you’re not alone.
I do put myself through the ringer and put a lot into it and kind of torment myself over it a bit. But, I try and write in an interesting way that can have layered meanings, can be interpreted, even subject matter wise, sometimes can be taken to mean one thing or another. So, that way it can resonate with people in a different way.
You did the artwork for the album cover, as you’ve done other Child Bite albums. How does the album art reflect those lyrical themes?
Shawn Knight: That’s a great question. I do all of our artwork. It’s a lot of work, but in a way, I think in the end it’s pretty cool because for anybody checking it out, it’s very much a unifying statement – the whole record. From the music to the words to the visual, it’s all coming from this small group of people, which I think that’s pretty cool when you can pull that off. For me, with this record…I guess for a lot of our records, I’m trying to represent lyrical themes as well as the sound of the music, which is a little more of an abstract idea.
We are not what you would call a psychedelic band, and even half the band doesn’t even do any psychedelics. But, we gravitate towards that kind of visual aesthetic and I think there is something about our music that can be kind of mind-melty kind of stuff. It would probably be a bad trip, listening to Child Bite, but a trip nonetheless. It might be a psychedelic nightmare. We’ve been kind of going in that direction for a while, art-wise. Bright colors, which are not super common, at least not in the metal world so much. Maybe a little bit more in the punk hardcore side. But, as far as aggressive music, angry dudes yelling, there’s not a lot of bright orange and pink and yada, yada all over the place.
That’s just another way of us putting our own thumbprint on things and making ourselves stand out and have this unique voice, even visually to try and match what we think is unique audio. But, tying into lyrics, I was really happy with this one, and I feel like it connects the most to the lyrics. This is the first time that we’ve had a record that we straight up used a song title for the album title. In the past, I think we kind of thought that may have been sort of a cop out or something like that, and this one, I think when we ended up writing the song “Blow Off the Omens,” it just felt like it really stood out to us. And we were like, this is going to be the finale of the record, even though each song has its own subject matter. This kind of connects to everything.
And lyrically it kind of references what we’re doing as being in a hardworking underground band where there’s so many signs along the way saying, “It’d be better if you stopped.” And we’re just saying fuck you to all of those and moving on, even in the face of reality pleading with you to settle down, get a regular job, and chill the hell out, whether it’s family, or your body telling you, or just whatever. There’s so much. Lyrically, having this big crazy weird skeleton guy, with this sort of hard to read expression on his face, giving you this huge shrug…I don’t know. The big shrug really felt like it could be the answer to so many questions about Child Bite and what we’re doing with our lives.
Shawn Knight: Aaron’s an old buddy of mine from probably about the past 20 years. I was doing a small record label at the time, back around 2000, 2001. I was doing a ridiculous project that I came up with that was relatively ambitious and admittedly more conceptual than anything else. I did a CD that was a tribute, a very tongue-in-cheek tribute, to the history of the Popes of the Vatican. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t have an answer.
It ended up mostly being noise artists that I was finding, because those were the people willing to do it. It was an open casting call and Aaron was one of the people I had do that, and he’s one of the only ones I really kind of forged a friendship. And then we did more stuff. I put out his band’s CD, and then ended up touring with him, playing music, and just a lot of music projects over the years and art projects. One of the very first Child Bite releases was a split EP with his band at the time (Stationary Odyssey). And this would’ve been early 2007. We collaborated on the artwork for it. They came up and did a Detroit release show with us. We collaborated on the poster, all that stuff. So, I’ve got a long history with Aaron. Just a really rad dude and rad artist and musician in his own right.
I had expressed interest in being involved in the Ministry book, in any capacity. I was like, “If you want me to write a quote about them, or do anything, I’d love to.” I think he was working on the cover art, and he just wasn’t happy with where it was going, and having known my art style, he threw it my way. And I’m very happy he did.
It’s a tough thing. They’re such an iconic band. Their artwork and some of the type associated with them is very iconic, and what I noticed just going through all the history of Ministry, aside from some of the very early stuff, most of it would either be scrawled, scratchy kind of type, like on Psalm 69, or would be big, heavy, bold, simple block letters, like Helvetica. That’s on tons of their stuff, too. Aaron suggested, “Oh, maybe you could do something where there’s different kinds of type overlapping and connecting…” It’s a very difficult thing to try and create a book cover that represents a band’s entire career.
But, with the typography, I really wanted it to represent them somehow. So, having that suggestion of overlapping different styles of type and then my observation of the scrawled type versus simple bold letters of type is how we came up with what we got. I think it turned out perfect, and it feels like Ministry of almost any era. It could’ve been swapped in anywhere and still felt like them. I’m very much grateful to him for that suggestion. There’s so many times you try to do something with art and you miss the mark or you get close, and this is one of those times where I feel like I actually kind of did it.