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Knots brings a mix of influences to its jazz roots

In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern’s “Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band each week.

Knots isn’t your grandparents’ jazz — if you can consider it jazz at all.

The duo’s mindset when it comes to music can be summed up in one statement: “Forget it. Do it all.”

“That’s the radio edit,” said percussionist Troy Kunkler of the motto.

The audiences at the duo’s shows are filled mainly with young people, Kunkler said.

He and keyboardist Caleb Miller draw influence from diverse genres, jazz and hardcore, which both influence their sound and mentality.

“We’ll play with metal bands, we’ll play with hard groups, and that’s really formed our sound a lot,” Miller said.

Kunkler added, “When we were really starting out, we played a lot of house shows in Athens, and that’s kind of the sound in those DIY houses,” also noting that the group’s sound has gotten more progressive and heavier over time.

The pair has given their music labels like “post-jazz” and “indie-jazz” on social media. In reality, Kunkler said trying to peg a genre is a challenge.

“It sucks trying to describe yourself,” he said. “We were calling ourselves ‘geometry jazz’ there for a while because people would say we sound like math rock.” Math rock is a sub-genre of rock characterized by complex rhythms and irregular time-signatures.

“It’s sound — words are something else. I’d rather just play and let the sound speak for itself, whatever that is,” Miller said. “It’s less about a genre and more about an energy.”

Miller and Kunkler met their freshman year at Ohio University when they lived down the hall from each other. They didn’t have much interaction until September 2013, when Knots was born. Consistent gigs started coming last March.

The duo’s name and titles of their work are just words that they liked the sound of.

They chose to stick to mainly incomplete phrases as titles for their first EP, “Doesn’t Do Anything Around the End,” which leaves the titles open for interpretation. 

“You can derive meaning from any old phrase, and that’s a theme of ours,” Kunkler said.

Because none of the tracks have lyrics, they are referred to as “tunes,” which is a “jazz thing,” said Miller, who got his start in piano at a young age.

“I started taking lessons in early elementary school, and I took lessons up until junior high and then I stopped because piano is lame when you’re 13 and it doesn’t get cool again until you’re like 17,” he said.

Kunkler started playing the drums in his high school band program, which led him to get a music degree from Ohio University. He now teaches drum lessons for a living.

Miller also participated in his high school’s marching band, playing saxophone, and he worked with marching bands as a part of his student teaching for his degree in instrumental music education, also from Ohio University.

“If we didn’t have marching band, we couldn’t have done a lot of the stuff that we do,” Miller said.

Miller now works for Ohio State’s dance program, accompanying technique classes for ballet and modern dance, and teaches piano lessons on the side in addition to his work with Knots.

The duo has the education system to thank for their jobs, and they also cite colleges for the re-emergence of jazz on the popular music scene.

“Mainly because university programs have picked up jazz so much in the last 20 years, that’s bred and pushed different jazz genres,” Miller said. “I think it is kind of a hip thing now, maybe Maybe.”

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