Call it neo-prog, math rock, or what have you, but chances are if you listen to (or if your band plays) this type of music, you're branded an intellectual. A discerning disdainer. A stick-up-the-ass snob. Joe Haege, singer and guitarist for 31Knots, gets this all the time, and believes that his band is misunderstood because of its style. "The biggest misconception about my band," says Haege, "is probably that we're overeducated and kind of intellectually pretentious. Especially in the past, when we moved around a lot less onstage--it's really easy to just assume a band is going through the intellectual motions of its 'intricate compositions.'"
Does standing still onstage make you an egghead? "It doesn't normally. It all depends on the music, but I guess because I was playing music 'like that' and standing still, I had people telling me I looked like I was self-centered and not interested in the crowd. That made me feel really bad. So I kind of finally just thought, 'Fuck it, I don't care. I'm going to jump around and treat it like the rock it is.'"
The new onstage enthusiasm is not forced, however. Turns out Haege was just shy, and maybe a little reserved due to rock audiences' current inability to accept a sound based in prog. "I have a complex of thinking that every time we play a show everyone is just watching us and not getting it, becoming bored out of their skulls, and wishing we'd play straight rock or something."
Writing songs may not be rocket science, but creating this type of music does require at least a modicum of skill and competence. I push Haege to find out who in the band has the biggest brain. "It would probably be Jay, our bass player, but you'd never know it," he explains. "Jay and I have come to the conclusion that intelligence and all that good junk can only get you so far, and with it you can only enjoy life to a certain degree. Jay takes much pleasure in the simple, little things in life, such as rock and roll. He's smarter than me, that's for sure."
Haege philosophizes a bit: "I think the downfall of new prog rock or math rock is that sometimes the artist doesn't consider putting true feeling into it. We'll write stuff that took some ability and was fun to do--but it ends up lacking a substance that gives it any real identity. I always have to go for something larger than the sum."
Not every music fan appreciates such intricacy and detail, I remind him. "I can't lie," he says. "It does bum me out if people don't get it. It used to happen a lot more, when we weren't as good and were trying to write songs that were long and had many parts--we just weren't as good at composition then. It was frustrating, but it forced me to get better. We learned to edit." Laughing, he admits, "We had some fucking long, drawn-out songs that didn't need to be that way."
I tell him that I often think audiences who stand at rapt attention while bands play songs that go on and on actually aren't paying attention to the music at all. "Exactly," exclaims Haege. "That's kind of how I feel about a lot of music that I see. People think it's great and they'll say they love such-and-such band, but if you're really a critical music listener--not that you have to be--but if you are, flow-through art just kind of wears on my patience after a while."