April 3, 2012

The Synesthetic Daniel Knox

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The Sun interviews singer-songwriter Daniel Knox and previews his upcoming Castaways show.

“Synesthesia: a neurological phenomenon during which one sensory experience, by means of one pathway, triggers an involuntary experience in another sensory pathway.”

Daniel Knox has a knack for making sight and sound a package deal.

His voice pencils a screen with black and white. Disdain saturates the flickering quality of the screenshot of a man in a ballroom crooning fervently to his piano. Lament and melancholy have been assigned a place in the color spectrum: the blacks and whites of piano keys that could not release the dark treasures of their viscerals before have now been emancipated by the touch of a man.

Only a synesthete could bring vengeance so dulcetly to view. Can something haunt you to life?

I’d like to make a case for Knox’s featured single “Ghostsong,” off his recently released album Evryman for Himself. The track seems to echo its own raw pain without needing the assistance of concrete walls housing this organ for sentiment.

No coaxing or cajoling. No semantics. Evryman for Himself is not begging to be deeply examined to come to some inspiring, naive conclusion. It does not provide some ad hoc argument for the need for optimism. It is brazen and forward in its starkly nude display of vengeance and other uncomfortable emotions — admittedly an acquired taste, or wanting for a few listens, but never wanting for candor.

Though “Ghostsong” does a fantastic job of shadowing one’s thoughts for days after hearing it, some of the album’s other songs have more of a vaudevillian, satirical feel to them, like “I Make Enemies,” which reminds us “everybody’s got a little shit to throw.” Or consider “The Debt Collector,” a song that cannot be described as anything but sinister in its engagement with a sick upbeat tempo as it tells of a begrudged curmudgeon who always collects what he is due.

The album closes with “Armageddonsong:” three minutes and 38 seconds of laughter and mockery of the tragedy in routine and quotidian life — a cynical, yet cheerful 1920s-inspired ode to the miseries and mediocrities that make life a daily Armageddon. “Ghostsong” and “Armageddonsong” are Knox’s personal favorites, as they reflect different techniques in his music and if having the desired effect, “(hold) hands across the other songs” in the album.

“What I would hope … is [the songs] would be able to give justification to some of the more unpleasant things in life … discomfort, disgust,” Knox told The Sun.

Milan Kundera commented on the detriment of being constantly seen by another; once we know we are being watched, our actions lose their sincerity.

Knox unknowingly plays tribute to Kundera in more ways than one. In addition to pirouetting in the heaviness of emotions deemed “ugly” by the ubiquitous “They,” Knox seems, ironically, naively lost when keeping the audience in mind.

In fact, he is quite the self-proclaimed introvert.

“I don’t really think of my audience until I am sitting in front of them, which is kind of a daunting thing sometimes … but [music] is not a conversation to me until that happens.”

Daniel Knox’s private introspection (barring the music the public is privileged with) is rivaled only by his synesthesia. He sees music in film.

Knox grew up in Springfield, IL, making films in his backyard (which he assures us he took very seriously) with his friends. He later studied film after moving to Chicago.

“I’m not really a people person … cooperative nature is off-putting to me,” he said.

Knox taught himself to play the piano by sneaking into the ballrooms of various Chicago hotels — I think it’s safe to say he did a bang up job.

“I still felt like I was making and writing films as I was writing songs. I still think of it visually … there’s never some kind of experience I have with someone that becomes a song. It’s: you hear a short phrase and write it down and somewhere down the road it helps you imagine something and that part that has to do with you is more of an afterthought.”

The delicious paradox of Daniel Knox lies in his effortless and demure dexterity when it comes to delivering bitch-slapping truths. He seems an anomaly perfectly content sitting unnoticed in the corner, simply transcribing mental frescoes into pigments of sounds that stain the ear with morsels of truth. He bellows ugly realities that have lingered expectantly, waiting for someone to recognize them in their grotesque pertinence and austere humanity. He is not concerned with impressing others, but impresses nonetheless.

Catch Daniel Knox as he makes his debut at Castaways, Thursday, April 5.

Original Author: Sam Martinez