Interview: Michael Knight

Dan McAvinchey: Michael, what were some of the things that influenced your musical tastes and led to your interest in the guitar?

Michael Knight: Well, this might sound strange, but here goes! When I was young I was a big fan of Godzilla movies. The music in these early movies was big, repetitious, plodding and powerful -- much like what Heavy Metal became many years later. I think this had a great influence on me. Years later, when I bought my first Kiss album, Kiss Alive!, it hit me! This was the likely path of interest. Some inner part of me thrives on chaos and destruction. The explosive stage show and powerful repetitious rhythms of Kiss were the parts I connected with.

There were other influences though. My older brother used to listen to a lot of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Steppenwolf. I remember the first time I heard the song "Black Sabbath"; it actually made me scared and excited at the same time. The atmosphere of the music, the story line, Ozzy's voice -- it just threw me over the edge. I remember seeing Deep Purple on "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert". I said to myself, "This is so cool!"

Dan McAvinchey: What guitars and other equipment are you currently using to get your sound?

Michael Knight: My main guitar is a 1980 Charvel/Jackson. I also use a 1972 Gibson Les Paul Custom and a 1978 Ibanez Destroyer. I had Kahler tremolos installed on both the Charvel and the Ibanez. All my guitars have rosewood fingerboards; I can't play on the maple ones. With the rosewood fingerboards I feel "as one with the wood".

My amp setup varies from time to time but I mostly use Marshall 100-watt heads and 4x12 cabinets with Celestion speakers. I like a real dry, crunchy and chunky rhythm sound with good response to muting. Marshalls are the only amps I've found so far that are reliable and give me that 'sound'. I use a Rockman XP100 head as a preamp and effects unit. It has a MIDI floor pedal that enables me to set parameters and instantly switch from clean to various levels of distortion, change volume levels, and add reverb. It works really well and changes settings without the slightest glitch, click, or dropout. The only drawback is the delay, which is only slapback.

Dan McAvinchey: How about floor pedals or other effects?

Michael Knight: I have an old Memory Man analog delay which I like to use and a Cry-Baby Wah-Wah. Usually when I'm performing it's just guitar, amp and reverb, with delay and sometimes wah-wah for leads.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you hoping to achieve musically?

Michael Knight: That is a tough question. I make music more out of personal necessity. My mind creates twenty-four hours a day and music is just one of the many outlets for my feelings and thoughts. A lot of people were expecting a guitar shred album when I released "Dreamscapes". Many were surprised to find out that's not what I'm about at all! Although I do cut loose at times, most of my guitar work is slower, long-form melodies like in "White Wolf" and "Killer Klowns". The music is really heavy and then there's this melody line riding for a long time before it resolves. I think it just creates a mood and expresses a feeling without a word being uttered. In this way I feel my music is closer to art than most music.

Many people use music to take them back to a place they've been before or to relive a feeling they have experienced in their life. I use music to take me to a place I've never been before; to see, feel and express things in a personal vision -- surrealist music.

Dan McAvinchey: What are your most recently completed projects and what are you currently working on?

Michael Knight: "Dreamscapes" is my most recently completed project available to the public. However, I have recently completed a DAT of soundtrack music for indie film makers. The songs are more or less ambient mood pieces, often dark in nature for horror films. They will be in quite a few indie releases -- "Evil Streets" by Terry Wickham and "Psycho Sisters" by director Pete Jacelone. I'll probably work on actual scoring for both these pictures as they near completion.

My other main project is the "GUITAR-2001" magazine. It's a full size magazine with 20-40 pages each issue. I wanted to provide a forum for less mainstream music and musical projects that are out of the ordinary. I also wanted to create a magazine where instrumental releases are welcome. Our current issue features Vinnie Moore, Helloween, Dave Celantano, Iron Maiden, Phantom Blue, and a lot more. The current issue is free; we're only asking readers to send one dollar ($1) for postage and handling.

I'm also working on my new album, a guitar lesson video, and a book of short stories (mostly horror-fiction and sci-fi horror).

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Dan McAvinchey: How do you compose your music?

Michael Knight: Often I compose in the middle of the night, alone. Sometimes I'll wake up with an idea and run to my guitar. I often hear music in my dreams and try to capture it to the best of my ability. That's where much of the "Dreamscapes" work originated. Other times things just come to me, and if I'm not near a guitar I'll just try to chart it out in my head or even hum into a tape recorder. I must look stupid in a public place, humming and mimicking drum beats into a microphone!

The strangest thing is that most of my music isn't created with my guitar in my hands, the way I imagine most guitarists do it. For me, it's more like trying to capture what my mind created and shifting it to guitar much later. Sometimes I'll have different song parts just swirling in my head for weeks and all of a sudden they'll just fall into place like pieces of a puzzle.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you record at home as well or rent time at a commercial facility?

Michael Knight: Most of the time I record at a commercial studio or at one of the music colleges and schools in the area. Believe it or not, I don't even own a 4-track recorder!

Dan McAvinchey: What went into the decision to form your own record label and release an independent record?

Michael Knight: I've seen many a band and musician pursue the record company dream like it was the Holy Grail. Some bands would sacrifice their identities over and over, yet still be one step behind. I call them chameleons. They will turn from pop-metal hair bands to Guns'n'Roses-type street rockers to grunge/alternative to rap-rock quicker than they'll change underwear. Someone at a record company told me they laugh at bands like that. That said, here are the main reasons I do what I do:

  • I couldn't care less about current trends, so I just make music that is close to me. This is not to say I'm not influenced by outside forces, but I don't purposely try to change my sound because it would be the 'in' thing, simply to attract record company attention.
  • I decided to stop knocking on closed doors and go straight to the people with my music. They will either embrace it or let me die a happy death.
  • I want to learn by doing.
Dan McAvinchey: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician?

Michael Knight: The advantages are easy:

  • Total control over your musical ideas; you decide what you are going to play and how you are going to play it.
  • Total control over how your release will be marketed and promoted. You personally know that you are being promoted because you are doing it.
  • Ability to gain experience in all facets of the music business.

The disadvantages are great and many, of course:

  • Little to non-existent radio airplay.
  • Trying to get press in a major music magazine is like slamming your head against a brick wall.
  • Marketing a release is super expensive; advertising rates for even local or regional entertainment papers is astronomical.
  • You have to do everything yourself -- wear every hat. It is very time consuming and often frustrating.
  • The projects you want to complete are often delayed repeatedly or postponed due to financial difficulties or time restrictions.
  • Being semi-famous and totally broke is fun, but not the ideal situation.
  • Ozzy won't return my phone calls!
Dan McAvinchey: Care to share any marketing or promotion tips for musicians about to release their first independent record?

Michael Knight: I think the man thing I'd like to point out is the difference between marketing and promotion. Promotion is the means of making others aware of your product. This includes getting reviews, sending out press kits and press releases, contacting record stores and distributors, etc. Marketing, on the other hand, is what actually generates sales.

I've sold thousands of copies of the "Dreamscapes" CD. You have to realize that 95% of all my sales come from traditional print advertising. Reviews don't sell your product. Marketing and advertising do! I'm amazed at the amounts of money bands and artists put into the recording and manufacturing of their product and then have no idea on how to sell it. Selling to your friends doesn't count. Marketing and promotion go hand in hand; you need to do both. I decided to go with a black and white CD cover so I could free up more money for marketing. I realized that the most excellent 3-D, scratch-and-sniff, pop-up CD cover would do no good if the product was going to sit in my basement. Most distributors won't even consider your product unless you show them a specific marketing plan.

Also, start marketing first and distributors will call you! No use knocking on closed doors. Make a plan and stick with it. It might take a few months before sales start to kick in but don't quit after one ad. Continuous advertising, in the right places, will build momentum and increase sales and even attendance at your live shows.

I'd be glad to help anyone with advice or tips on setting up a marketing plan for their release.

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Michael Knight is a composer and guitar player from Floral Park, NY, who has released an independent, all-instrumental CD, "Dreamscapes", on his own label -- Knight Music Productions. A unique guitarist influenced by 50's monster movies, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Kiss, Knight weaves his own maddening musical tapestry over the nine tracks comprising "Dreamscapes".

Dan McAvinchey talked with Knight about the guitarist's musical adventures, the advantages of being independent, and his ongoing and future projects.