With humble beginnings in the early days of the movement toward writing more blatant spiritual lyrics, he moved in his later years into writing songs that dealt with the more wretched and human side of faith in God.
Most of you have heard and probably even memorized some of his songs, in spite of the fact that he committed adultery and murdered the husband of the woman he was lusting after. I am referring to the Bible’s psalmist, David.
Maybe it is no coincidence that Mike Knott’s next project with Metro One records is called The Life of David.” According to Mike, "The man after God’s own heart would have no place in today’s Christian Music."
Although Mike Knott has never killed anyone or been unfaithful to his wife, he has been essentially black-listed in much of the Christian music industry. Bands will not tour with him, promoters will not book his shows and almost every Christian music festival in the U. S. and overseas will not even ring him up about playing a set. Granted, Mike Knott has been known to push the envelope on numerous occasions, and his secular incarnation, Aunt Betty’s, did nothing to smooth his on the edge image with the critics. There are many opinions about why Mike finds himself in the bulls-eye so often, still, there is a side to Mike that not many know. He is a father and a husband who wakes up every morning assuming the same responsibilities as every other father and husband.
Over a double café-mocha at the famous Rock ‘N’ Java Café in Newport Beach, California I spoke with Mike Knott about the past, the present and the future.
Giles - There is a rumor going around that, in the early days with the Lifesavers, you once played a Catholic school and managed to get a bunch of the nuns to dance around with you.
Knott - That is an urban rumor. Although, there are nuns who dance. We even had one Catholic priest who used to come to all of our shows, even after we got kicked out of Calvary Chapels and had to play clubs and stuff.
Giles - So, what is coming up for you next?
Knott - Right now I am doing a solo thing and I have had a couple of gigs at the Viper Room. There about 12 labels that are interested in a secular deal. We play the Doll Hut and the Opium Den in a few weeks and I hope to have negotiations started with most of those labels in a few months.
Giles - Is this all new material?
Knott - Actually, it is a mixture of Aunt Betty’s songs, Strip Cycle songs, and Rocket and a Bomb songs, too. The stuff I am doing (now) is more singer/songwriter oriented and I have gotten some great responses from it.
Giles - Who is playing with you?
Knott - It is Andy Prickett, Eric Campuzano, and Ed Benrock on drums who played with Fold(zandura) and Starflyer(59) My brother-in-law is playing the Rhodes and the organ.
Giles - If you get signed, do they sign you or do they sign the band?
Knott - They would sign me and then I would work something out with the guys depending on who can tour and who can not, who wants to be on the record and who does not. I do not know if Andy can tour but he can tour and play and produce so well that I definitely want him on the project as much as possible. If he can tour great, if not, I will look around and find someone who can go on tour. I do not want to leave Andy out if it is possible.
Giles - What is up with Dogfish Jones?
Knott - I did that record for Platinum Entertainment and then they fired everybody and now they have called me and said they have lost the artwork but they will put it out as soon as they can find it.
Giles - Almost sounds like what happened with the Fluid record where it was lost for a few years before it ended up with a home.
Knott - Right. But, you know I am really proud of the Dogfish record and I can not wait to have that one come out some day soon.
Giles - Did your father help you out on Dogfish?
Knott - Yeah, he wrote a couple of songs on that. I love the album and I think it is up there with the best of what I have done. It is a rock opera like Grape Prophet and Fluid. It is my third like that and I am proud of it. It took me six months to work on that project, even though some magazines have reported that I did it in three weeks. Gene Eugene helped me out with that immensely. He owns the Green Room and he allows me to come in there when there is down time and let me record demos or what have you. He is the only reason why I am still alive and doing music right now because of his studio and his willingness to let me use it whenever I need to.
Giles - What about the new Aunt Betty’s CD that is for sale on the Internet?
Knott - We put together some DAT and even cassette demos I had of unheard Betty’s songs, and threw it together. We used some original photos left over from the Aunt Betty’s first record and recorded one new song for the project. Some of the new Aunt Betty’s demos for the Browbeats record, on KMG, were done with Terry Taylor, Scott Silletta, Jason Martin, Gene (Eugene), Ted Cookerly, and some other guys singing the lyrics. I am so proud of that Browbeats record.
Giles - The original Brow Beat record is still one of my all-time favorites.
Knott - Yeah, the original was cool because all of the artists wrote their own songs. On the new one, I wanted to do it a little different so I wrote all of the music myself. I was a little worried, but it turned out really, really good. The next project I am working on is for Metro One Records and it is called The Life of David.
Giles - Is this one an LSU, Lifesavers or Mike Knott record?
Knott - It is a Mike Knott record but it is not like a solo record. Rocketfish is what the band is called and it is more like a jungle, exotica--it is kind of a different direction for me. That is why I am having so much trouble finishing it. It is kind of strange in its approach and is not a "song by song" record. I just started with this early surf music beat and jungle drum kind of stuff. It actually sounds pretty good without any vocals on it so I am trying to see where I want to sing and how to put it all together.
Giles - Has anyone ever mentioned to you that you are probably one of the most hard-working and prolific artists in Christian music?
Knott - If someone gives me a chance, I will do it. I really appreciate all the labels that are so willing to give me that chance. My family makes a little money on it, I love doing it--I am able to do it--and I welcome the work.
Giles - Back to the old Lifesavers days. Do you have any favorite memories?
Knott - Well, I do not know which ones I haven t told yet. Let me think .It was strange back then. There were not many Christian bands, but there was almost like a revival and we could get anywhere from 800 to 3,000 people to any given gig. That alone was amazing. We would do altar calls and see hundreds of kids come forward. The band members would all be praying for them. It was just an amazing time that I have not witnessed since then. There are so many stories, but that was the amazing thing for me, that we were able to be part of that in Southern California.
Giles - It is such a different scene now. I have interviewed several artists about the future of Christian alternative music, if there is one. Grunge was supposed to save the rock world and then it died pretty quick, and now electronica is supposed to be the future of rock music. I wonder if you would agree that rock music in general is stagnant.
Knott - I think that people like trends, but they are eventually going to get into songs and singers that touch them and move them spiritually rather than just something that "rocks.” I hope that the 80's metal bands never come back, ever.
What still works is pop. Like that song--what was it? From Nirvana.
Giles - "Smells like Teen Spirit"?
Knott Yeah. That song is a total pop song, no matter what you call it. That whole album is a great pop album. Whatever you want to call that type of music, it is pop to me and I think that music like that will be around forever. No matter if it is mixed with a hip-hop thing or grunge or whatever. I do not even mind that people are mixing the electronic thing in with it all because it is better than everyone trying to sound like Led Zeppelin which I love, but I mean there is only one and everyone should do their own thing. The Industry needs to concentrate on building an artist and developing songs and a career instead of the "next big thing.”
Giles - It used to be that way in the ‘seventies where a record label would invest in an artist like Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones or whatever and give them a year to record the first half of their records. The commitment to developing artists back then is evidenced by the fact that artists like Dylan and Aerosmith and the Stones are all still making music today. Nowadays, only U2 can get away with that.
Knott - I do not think bands nowadays will be around in twenty years like bands back then. I think the industry is going to change and it is going to change for the better. I believe that they will start to concentrate on the artists and it is only going to be a good thing. The electronica thing, I knew that was never gonna happen. I love that music and the people who do it. I even put out stuff like that, when I had my own label, like Ronnie Martin and Deitiphobia. But at the same time, there is not a music style that is going to take over the world other than good songs. I would rather have good songs than some new style that does not really say anything.
Giles - I hope you are right. What about the rumors I hear about someone re-releasing Grape Prophet and Screaming Brittle Siren? Is that really going to happen?
Knott - Well, I sold those because I needed some cash. I do not know what they are doing with them. I think that the company that bought them has had some internal conflicts so who knows? I would actually like to buy them back.
Giles - I know it is all in high demand. What about Idle Loevell?
Knott - Well, some other people own the rights to that one, so we have to get permission from them first. But, Idle Loevell was a band I was in right after I left Lifesavers early on that was drone, gothic dance stuff. We put out an EP and then the original Lifesavers broke up and I started the Lifesavers up again after they broke up. That EP was so rare, we only put out a few of them. There are maybe a hundred of them in the world.
Giles; There seems to be a difference in the way you write songs now compared to the way you used to write songs. In the early days, your songs were more scriptural-based and aimed straight at the Christian market. Now, your songs are more about everyday life and the human side of things. Have you consciously changed the way you write?
Knott - When you have done something then you move on to something else. That is the way I look at it.
I have written strictly Christian records and I even want to write a total praise record again, but you can not do a hundred of them. With all the records I try to do, (Laughs), you have got to keep people guessing.
Giles - You have done a great job at keeping people guessing.
Knott - Thanks. But there is a spiritual influence in everything I do. Sometimes it is stronger and sometimes the focus may not be on the event or whatever, but it is there. I like to write sing-a-long songs where everyone can hum along. Then sometimes, I try to write let-me-let-you-try-to-identify-what-is-in-your-life-with-what-is-in-my-life type songs. There are so many different aspects to songwriting and I enjoy all of them. I enjoy the poppy stuff that makes people feel good and I enjoy the songs that make people think. The ones that make them feel shocked because after they get passed being shocked at me, they are shocked at themselves for feeling the same way I feel sometimes.
I enjoy real stories about people’s lives. I think there is nothing more interesting than a real story. With make-believe, you can make up a story and flower it up or turn it around, or whatever, but real life, you cannot deny the truth. It seems I can put more into a song when it is something I have seen or watched or heard or experienced.
Giles - You mentioned the "shock factor.” Do you sometimes write things to purposefully shock people?
Knott - No, it is more that I get into what I am feeling about something and then I realize that this might be shocking to somebody.
Giles; But when that happens, you would not change it to, say,---
Knott - Oh, I do change stuff a lot. I do not try to bum people out. Sometimes I do not change it. It is just songwriting, it is just a song. Nobody is going to live or die because of a song I hope.
Giles - It is almost like you have gotten away with more than any other artist has. You have pushed the envelope in the Christian Industry with lyrics and artwork where the average person would not have dared. Your fans seem to not care about any of that. they will buy your records no matter what you do.
Knott - I think that the fans that buy my records know my heart. That is the key to whole situation. I am not trying to "push the envelope" or strike out at anything. I am just writing songs. These people know my heart they know I love them. Love abounds above all things in my music.
Giles - When the Grace Shaker album came out I know you got a lot of flak about that.
Knott - On Grace Shaker? Oh, the song "Double"?
Giles - Yeah, I always saw that record as being sort of a rock opera like Grape Prophet. At the beginning of the CD you have a guy who is drunk in a bar but he is searching and by the end of the record he is crying out for God’s mercy.
Knott - Why do people judge my stuff that way? I do not know why they do that. Maybe I am being foolish, but I do not really understand why there is a problem. I think that if you look at the music you can see Christ and you can see a real person struggling, and winning and failing and that is really what life is. If someone wants to have a candy-coated Christian bookstore, and they just want to sell Jesus candy, that is not helping anybody at all. If anything, it is giving them cavities.
Giles - I think that the way you write is comparable to David’s writing in the Psalms where sometimes David has issues he does not resolve. Like Psalm 88, and 22. When you try to write a Christian song based on those Psalms, you are booted out of the average Christian bookstore.
Knott - Yeah, a man after God’s own heart is not welcome in the Christian industry (laughs). I think that the fault belongs to American Christianity--it is cultural. Everyone runs away from drinking and smoking experiencing and living life and they end up being extremely disturbed and they lose all their faith and have no hope in the end. I guess it is the culture we are in.
Giles - You seem to have this notorious personality Whevever the name Mike Knott comes up and there is going to be a debate and a controversy.
Knott - And you know what? I do not get that. I have done nothing to allow that and it has just followed me since the day I stepped onstage with the Lifesavers at a Calvary Chapel and we got banned because I danced around. Now, of course, you can do that, but I would rather be a poster child for Christian music, honestly, than be the "notorious" Mike Knott.
Giles - You have been called the "Only mysterious figure in Christian Music.” Do you agree with that?
Knott - I would only agree with that (for the sake) of my ego. But it is not cool that there are bands that will not play with me and there are certain festivals that just will never invite me to play because of things like that. I do not like it because that affects my family and it affects my integrity. I would rather just be "Mike Knott the Christian artist" and not some mysterious dark figure.
Giles - If you could do anything in the world, and you knew you would not fail, what would you do?
Knott - I would lead everybody to Christ. I would be Billy Graham, I really would. Of course, there is no such thing as never failing, but if there were such a thing as that, I would obviously lead people to Christ.
Giles - Let me ask you about your painting. Do you still do any of that beyond the record covers?
Knott - I used to paint and sell stuff. Now I am just doing covers for Browbeats and Life of David and not for anything besides my own projects.
Giles - Thanks for spending time with me Mike, I appreciate it.
A simple history of Mike Knott’s bands is impossible because his three entities, Livesaver, LSU, and Aunt Bettys, have operated at the same time. It's hard to say how long each "group" was in existence, but here is the musical record:
1992 Screaming Brittle Siren
1994-Rocket and a Bomb
1982-Swing, "You and Me" b/w "The One" 7" Single
1986-A Kiss of Life
LSU (Life Savers Underground)
1989-Wakin' Up The Dead
1991-This is the Healing
1993-Cash in Chaos/World Tour
1995-Bring It Down Now (best of)