Interview: Michael Knight

Jason Houston: How long have you been a professional musician?

Michael Knight: Well, the first full CD I put out was in 1994 so maybe that would be 13 years. But, I was also in a bar band before that called Ricochet - I was in my late teens playing with guys older than me, that was in 1986. I don't know, when does one turn from a practicing musician to a professional musician?

Jason Houston: Who were the bands/musicians who had the greatest influence on you?

Michael Knight: I remember when I was young, probably 8 or 9, my older brother played the song "Black Sabbath" for me. I think he was trying to scare me. The lights were out in the room, just a candle was lit, and I listened and just stared at the album cover, it had a witch in front of an old abandoned abbey. It was kind of scary, but also thrilling. Black Sabbath is a big one for me. Every rhythm I do is part Tony Iommi. Then there was Kiss, who actually made me want to buy a guitar and start playing. As far as guitarists and solo playing, Randy Rhoads, Michael Schenker, and later on
Joe Satriani made me push myself a little further, or inspired me to

Jason Houston: How old were you when you first started playing guitar? Did you take lessons, or would you consider yourself to be self taught?

Michael Knight: I started playing at about 9 or 10 years old. My brother (same brother) brought me to get my first guitar. I didn't take lessons for a while but then at 13 years old, I cut lawns to make money and got a few lessons - probably about 4 or 5 sessions. Years later I took a couple more lessons but only to confirm that I had things right. I wouldn't consider myself self-taught because I always had tons of music books. And I didn't start out with "Mel Bay" books and that "Mary had a Little Lamb" stuff. I started out with the Baroque Guitarist. I wanted to know everything I could and as fast as possible.

Jason Houston: Have you ever had any interest in teaching others how to play the guitar?

Michael Knight: Yeah, I actually do give guitar lessons from time to time. I'm not teaching anyone right now because I don't keep up with the advertising and stuff about it. But, when anyone asks I set up lessons and they are usually quite satisfied and learn very fast from me.

Jason Houston: What do you remember most about buying your very first guitar?

Michael Knight: I remember it felt like a lot of money and I was nervous because I never saw that much money being spent on one thing before. It was like $200.00. It was a knock off of a Gibson Explorer. The place was in Hempstead, NY - I think the name of the place was Gracie's, or something like that. I remember there were a bunch of cool cats in there, black guys, white guys, all hanging around playing blues licks - I was trying out the
guitar and they started showing me things. Hey kid, try this. They would show me and I would try it and probably it sounded like crap. Just as they were turning away I held down a note and took my pick and started hammering it onto a higher note really fast and then moving it around. They all turned back around with their mouths open. This was before Van Halen so nobody ever heard that kind of stuff before. It was the only thing I knew how to do.

Jason Houston: What do you remember most about your very, first professional gig?

Michael Knight: That we sucked and I kept stepping on my guitar cord and unplugging my guitar.

Jason Houston: Tell me a little bit about your new "Electric Horrorland" CD. How did
you come up with the concept for the CD?

Michael Knight: "Electric Horrorland" is actually two different concepts. As far as mood and atmosphere - the compositional style of the songs - I was taking cues from video games and turning visual feelings into music. For example - how do I feel when I play this game? I would play riffs that expressed those feelings caused by the images I saw on screen.

As far as the solo playing goes, I wanted to have no pre-thought on what I was going to play. I wanted to just wing it, no repeated melody lines or main themes, no verse and chorus repetitions, none of the tried and tested formulas for instrumental songs. I just plugged in and let it rip, creating things on the spot.

Jason Houston: How did you know when you had enough tunes for a CD?

Michael Knight: I don't really think about it. I always do CDs/albums with a concept in mind. When that concept is fully realized I stop writing and recording.

Jason Houston: Being that "Electric Horrorland" is an all-instrumental guitar album, I was
curious if there's a certain freedom to just wail away, shred on the guitar when recording as opposed to if you were making music with vocals and had to worry if the music went with the lyrics?

Michael Knight: Oh yeah, especially with this CD. It was improv; it was total freedom. It was also a bit more difficult to come up with tons of new stuff for each song and not repeat the same chops you played two songs before that. On most instrumental songs you have a main theme or melody that repeats three or four times like the verses and vocals of a song. Then you do a
lead solo spot (or two) in the middle of the song and do a few variations and fills in the main parts of the songs. This CD was not like that at all; this was a wide open canvas that I wanted to splatter with color and not use the same color twice. When all the rhythm parts, drums, bass and stuff were done and I was heading to the studio to do solo parts, I got a little nervous. i was like, holy crap I'm going in to record and got nothing. It was the way I wanted to do the CD but on the first day I suddenly had the jitters. It took me a while to settle down, I think that day, all I recorded was the break parts in "Twisted Metal".

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Jason Houston: What are some of your favorite songs off of "Electric Horrorland"?

Michael Knight: "Twisted Metal", definitely! It is just so ferocious. Also it was the first song I completed on this recording and I knew I would make it through this little experimental style CD. It gave me a good feeling. "Carnivore" came out just perfect to me; it's short and sweet and just keeps driving like the Energizer bunny! Also I think it has the best guitar tone for my solos
of all the songs.

And then there's Shadow Creeper. When the solos start, there is no semblance of anything that has to do with scales or music theory. It's just any combination of notes that will form a completed
phrase. Then just to break up the insanity of it all, in the mid-section solo, I played the most in-the-pocket, pop style, major scale solo I could muster. You know, in the long run, probably nobody notices these kind of things. But for me, it's fun to come up with these zany contrasts and combinations.

Jason Houston: How did you come to title the CD "Electric Horrorland"?

Michael Knight: When I first started to record the CD it was the 35th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix releasing "Electric Ladyland". Jimi was into the ladies, I am into horror. It was sort of an homage. I usually title the CD before I even start recording. I'll get the cover art in the early stages of recording, it keeps me focused and solidifies the concept for me.

Jason Houston: To me your playing sounds like a cross between Steve Vai and Marty Freidman. I was curious if you've ever had the opportunity to
audition for any major bands? Or at least been offered to join a major act? I ask this simply because your playing just blows me away and I'm just amazed that you're not a bigger star than you are!

Michael Knight: Wow, thanks for the comparison. I never auditioned for any bands. I'm not really that connected with all the big shots of the "industry" , so I don't hear about the auditions and all that. There's probably not a whole lot of people I'd like to work with, maybe Tim "Ripper" Owens, or Udo Dirkschneider.

Jason Houston: Have any labels expressed an interest in releasing your music on their label? Or would you rather continue to release your own music so that you have complete control over your own music and the way it is presented?

Michael Knight: When I released my first CD, "Dreamscapes", I did a pretty big East coast club tour for it. This was 1996-97. I gave away tons of CDs and I was in every music paper I could get my face in. I got a lot of letters during that time from big labels and management companies. They just kind of
wanted to see where I was at in my career. Nothing ever came from any of it. I spent a whole lot of money pushing the CD and doing shows, but I was doing everything. I got burnt out and needed a break. My next CD wasn't until 2002.

Now I'm almost better off on my own. I'm on I-tunes, Napster, Payplay and all these digital download sites. I'm not very commercial as far as appealing to a large audience and I like to do what I want. I like the freedom. I like to record 8 minute instrumental tunes if I want ("White Wolf"), or have no melody lines in the songs ("Electric Horrorland"). What label would let me do that?

Jason Houston: Have you ever appeared on anyone else's album or would you have an interest in laying down guitar tracks on say a tribute CD or another
hard rock/metal bands CD?

Michael Knight: Yeah, I would do a guest solo spot on someone else's song or if someone needed a guitarist experienced in recording to do their CD, I would be down for that. For the most part I think tribute CDs suck, I'd rather hear the originals. I had guest guitarists come in for my "Mechanica Diablo" CD for one song - Jack Starr, Rob Balducci, Steve Booke, and Carl Roa. They
each did a solo, one after another, in a song called "Pandemonium In The Mausoleum". It was a great experience and the song sounds wicked!

Jason Houston: Would you have any interest in producing or writing for other bands/musicians?

Michael Knight: Yeah, I have a lot of experience recording, writing, arranging, and composing. I'm up for all of that. I started producing a band some years ago but they broke up before the CD was finished. They were like a mini version of Guns 'N' Roses with the singer bad mouthing the band and all. It was awful.

Jason Houston: Any plans to tour to support "Electric Horrorland"?

Michael Knight: Not without outside support or sponsorship. I learned my lesson from '96. It's a lot of work and it winds up costing you a lot of money if you go it alone. But I'm not even pursuing that. Besides, Frankie (drums) lives in South Jersey and Paul (Bass) lives in North Carolina. In fact, Paul doesn't even play music anymore, he sort of just did this recording with me as a favor. I'd have to set up a whole new band.

Jason Houston: Are you involved with any other bands/projects that you'd like to plug?

Michael Knight: I am in the classic metal (or power metal) band, Skulgrinder. Our CD is out called "Island Of Lost Souls". Check it out on myspace; we are kind of on a long hiatus right now while I work on my solo CD. The singer Brian and drummer Kato are in a cover band together. The CD is also up on I-Tunes and other digital download sites.

Jason Houston: What does the future hold for Michael Knight and "Electric Horrorland"?

Michael Knight: I have a good amount of songs for a new Skulgrinder CD. I thought it would be easier with a band with vocals, to push and sell it. It wasn't any easier. I'm still selling more instrumental CDs than Skulgrinder CDs. I have to decide what I want to do. I'm still doing promotion for "Electric Horrorland", it will take me about a year or so. I'll see where I stand then.

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At Rock Zone Productions we like to shine the light on talented, up-and-coming musicians. If you miss the days of hot shot guitar players, or the days of the Guitar Gods, then check out Michael Knight, a hot shot guitar player that plays like he's on fire! Michael Knight sounds like a cross between Marty Friedman and Steve Vai but somehow he also has a style that's all his own.

Don't just take our word for it, let your ears be the judge after you listen to his latest instrumental guitar album, "Electric Horrorland".