|Knight in sleeveless armor: Country-singer Chris Knight bemoans the state of country music today.|
| Chris Knight |
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He also admitted to not being a fan of today’s country-music radio, which has very little in common with the Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, and Randy Travis fare he listened to growing up. “If you’re a listener of country radio today, there’s nothing to identify with unless you like going to bars and line dancing, or riding around in your pontoon boat drinking beer on a Saturday,” he said. “There’s just not any depth or any characters. Like if you listen to a Johnny Cash, you could always find something to identify with.”
A year later, not so long after his latest DIY effort, Enough Rope — an album no label would get behind — his feelings don’t seem to have changed. “There are some good songs `out there`,” he says, chuckling when asked if the genre has worsened, “but, for the most part, it’s not something I can listen to. I don’t identify with the people they’re singing about.”
Knight’s songs, often grim, often dark, are guitar-fueled odes to murder, mayhem, and the death of the rural American dream. They tackle reality in a way Merle would approve of, even if his candor makes Merle look uplifting in comparison. “There’s a tavern down the highway/I go to drink some beers/And wash down all I’m missing by hanging around here,” he sings on the title track. “Then I drive back to the trailer/I make up with my wife/I kiss my sleeping children/And I get on with my life.”
Knight grew up in and remains a resident of Slaughters, Kentucky, where the population ticker has yet to reach 300. He draws most of his inspiration from there, from a large family that’s been, as he says, “around a long, long time.” His lyrics are “just things I’ve learned, people I’ve known. I’m kin with some of them. I am some of them.” He never considered himself a very musical person, though he had a knack for writing imaginative stories. “When I started playing the guitar, I pretty much put the two together. I always did better thinking up stories and putting them to music.”
Knight earned a degree in agriculture from Bowling Green University, then worked in land reclamation as a mining consultant until he landed his first record contract. In the last decade, he’s released four albums, run through a few labels, and come to accept the fact that, despite some of the most consistently praised work of any country artist in the same period of time, he is currently unsigned because he doesn’t play the Nashville game very well.
“I had the chance to do all that kind of thing, and I chose to do it different,” he admits, pointing out, “I’m not a big-hit songwriter.
“I chose to record what I wanted, the way I wanted to record it,” he continues. “I really can’t complain or blame anyone. It’s just the way I did it.”
Still, the disconnect between critical praise and label interest can be frustrating. “Everybody loves it, but nobody wants to sign me,” he said of his work last November. Since then, he gave up on waiting for someone else to release Enough Rope and, discovering there’s a lot of satisfaction in working for yourself, decided to self-release the album. It’s not like he didn’t try, either; he set out to finally record a radio-friendly hit when he hit the studio.
“It wasn’t the only ambition, but it was an ambition,” he says. “I just thought it might help matters along a bit. But every time we cut something that we thought sounded like it might go on country radio, I didn’t like it.
“But that’s not the way I need to do this,” he concedes, his tone resigned. “It’s not really what I’m playing music for. But it would be nice to get a song that’s somewhat of a hit. It would help, give a bump to the career, sell a few more records, get a few more people to show up at the shows.”
Without a ready-made hit, Knight got only a little interest from labels this time around, but, ultimately, “no one really stepped up to the plate,” he says. Still, “it might be kind of good in a way. We put this record out, cut out the middle man. I kind of feed off things like that, as a matter of fact. If I know I made a good record and nobody wants to put it out, then I’m going to put it out. You might not like it, but you ain’t going to say it’s not good.
“The best thing I can do is write from the gut, write the best way I know how,” he concludes. “It’s not going to keep me from doing this if I ain’t got a commercial record deal.”