Jim Knable BTD Artist Interview
Written by Matt Zin on January 30, 2021
Welcome Jim Knable of Jim Knable and the Randy Bandits!
I am so looking forward to interviewing you and learning about your music. But first, can you let everyone know where you are from?
I was born in Tucson, Arizona, moved to LA when I was 2 but didn’t like the smog, so I took my parents to Sacramento where I lived until I went to college.
I know you have some other band members that make up the Randy Bandit; Russ Kaplan,
Chris Q. Murphy, Jay Buchanan, Sunny Knable, and Regina Bain but who is Randy?
Randy is a friend from high school and a singer I barely knew once in New York. It also sounds good with “Bandits.” That said, I wrote a song called “Talking to Randy” that Spiff Wiegand, who missed being in town to record this album, used to sing for our concerts.
How did you come up with the band name?
I don’t actually remember, but prior to our first gig as Jim Knable & The Randy Bandits I had a gig with Russ Kaplan and another founding Bandit Stephen Aleman (pronounced Alemán) where we called ourselves The Tree Frogs.
I also see there is a Sunny Knable, relations to you?
He is my younger brother, but he usually sports more facial hair than me and definitely has more technical skill as a musician. He even has his doctorate in music composition. He has been kind enough to play drums for the Bandits since 2006, though he got to play some accordion, organ, and plays the piano for “Mourning Dove” on this album. We have written two operas together so far, one for kids called The Magic Fish and the other for adults about Chernobyl.
I was reading that some of your band members went on to do other life things but you kept the name living. Is that how your new album “Blue Reunion” came about, with your band getting back together?
It’s actually a little backwards from that. I knew I wanted to record an album, scraped the money together to do it from generous friends, and then felt like I had better make something really good, which meant I had to get the Bandits involved. The title came about when I realized what we had made together, which is a reunion.
How would you best describe this album?
I started and ended 2020 listening to a lot of intellectual outlaw country music, so that’s a pretty good way to describe it, I think. I hope it’s something that Guy Clark might have liked, that Steve Earle might hear someday, and maybe My Darling Clementine might do a cover album of.
What does the “blue” mean?
Kind of Blue, Blue Valentine, “Blue Suede Shoes”– it’s a great album color. Our previous albums were Redbeard, Green Man, and Golden Arrow, so I wanted a color that made sense here. At first I thought about calling it Reunion Blues, but the album graphic designer Josh Burnett convinced me I should call it Blue Reunion instead.
I see this album has nine great songs on it. Which one would you say is your favorite, who wrote it and what is it about?
I wrote and have written almost all the songs for The Randy Bandits. There was one song I co-wrote on Redbeard called “What You Believe” with Russ Kaplan and Chris Q. Murphy and Spiff had an instrumental on that album that was his, too. Anyway, if I were forced to pick a favorite from this new album, it might be “Never Any Right Age” because that song was a breakthrough for me into a different era of my writing, and one where I pick up the kid at the end (a.k.a. Acknowledge that I am a father as well as an artist, and sometimes one before the other)
Was it easy to come up with nine songs? Did you have more that you wanted to add?
I have SO many songs. The tricky part was figuring out which songs went together and then what songs would sound good with this combination of Bandits. The truth is this album is like a sampler platter of the last ten years of my songwriting, minus more specialized songs I’ve done like the songs for the Unorthodox Podcast for my stint there as “The Jewbadour.” The first two songs on the album (“(I’m Not a) Bad Guy” and “Don’t Get Lost”) are from the last days of the regularly performing Randy Bandits of the Golden Arrow era, circa 2010. “Never Any Right Age” I wrote a couple years into being a parent, in 2012, when I was getting Bandits of various eras together to play for one-off gigs at venues and events. “Lifetime Ago” comes from the 2014 epoch when I was working mainly with my brother on accordion and a smaller, more acoustic band. “Won’t Drag Me Down,” “Judas Tree,” and “Citadel” are songs I played most recently with a trio of Jay Buchanan on bass and Sunny on keyboards with Regina sitting in to sing “Won’t Drag” with me–itself a song I’ve had since about 2009 or so and have pulled out in various incarnations. “Everything Is Not All Right” I wrote while sitting on the subway in 2017 and have played live a lot in whatever incarnation I’m in, including as a solo act. “Mourning Dove” is the most recently written and definitely a product of getting involved with an inspiring NYC collective of songwriters who support each other called Big City Folk. So now picture that each of these eras I’ve mentioned contains at least an album’s worth of material in and of itself. But I wasn’t able to record those albums for financial reasons. And for this album, I knew I only had the budget for 9-10 songs. So I had to make hard choices and boil it down to these, both because I think they’re representative and some of my strongest songs of the decade and/or because they made the most sense to put together on this collection with this band. You’d better believe I have another album raring to go right now. If someone gave me the money to go into another studio, I’d scramble the right Bandits and record a slightly rockier album of brutalist love songs–at least that’s how I think of it currently. Pale fire, submarines, communication breakdowns, etc. It’s all about finding the money to do it and I’m off and running.
What would you say has been the hardest thing to do in music since COVID-19 hit?
Playing live, no doubt. That’s why so many artists released at least one album this year. I actually released two. Blue Reunion was planned. Songs of Suffrage, part of The Voting Writes Project, fell into my lap in August and I just knocked it out as best as I could with my home equipment and a lot more recording and engineering help from Jay Buchanan and friends like Mel Johnston of The Foxy Johnstons. 9 completely new songs written around the topic of voting rights. Blue Reunion is more of a full band album and might sound more polished because we happened to record it all together in the studio in February and early March of 2020, JUST before we all had to go our separate isolated ways for the pandemic. Now is the time when normally we would be playing live to support its release. But, of course, other than the occasional live stream concert (with fewer of us playing together for safety’s sake), we can’t.
Could you tell our listeners in ten words or less what your music sounds like?
Emotionally available, occasionally witty with melodic purpose and accessible chords.
I see you have been recording music from at least 2003, with the EP The Woman or the Blues. What is that EP about?
Well, that line actually comes from a song I re-recorded for Golden Arrow (2009) called “Throw Me Your Questions.” The full verse goes: “It’s a bad year for the bottle and a banner year for booze./When you try to mix your models they will try to make you choose,/ between the good, the bad, the happy-sad, the woman or the blues;/ I only ask you that you try to take them all in.” That EP was actually one that I have chosen so far not to release digitally because we were still figuring out our sound and personnel, but the five songs on there were (and still are) concert staples. Only one of them—“Bad Dream, New Year”—doesn’t show up on any other Bandits studio or live recording, and that’s just happenstance. I still love that song.
What are some of your other albums you have out there? Could you tell us a little about them?
We released our first full album Redbeard in 2006, but we had started recording that 14-song whale in 2004. It was a labor of love, but also just a labor. The songs on it are all over the genre map, which I am very into, but I know it confused some critics. The fans (Fandits) of our shows completely got it because that’s what we did in concert, veering from rock to bluegrass to klezmer to soul ballad and back again. Golden Arrow (2009) is more crystallized in terms of country-rock genre, still with a diversity of instruments (two horn section songs included!). But I think that album sounds like what you would expect a band called The Randy Bandits to sound like. There was also a more melancholy folk album called Green Man that was a companion piece to a play I wrote (I’m also a published/produced playwright). It was my private pet project between the other two albums. We never properly released it because we never properly finished it. I released what I could of it in 2018 because I’m proud of the songs and performances. Someday it would be great to salvage that for a proper release, maybe in conjunction with more subdued songs that I’ve written since. So many albums to make! If you want to go back to my real roots, my first solo album from 2000 Miles is very much still out there, and I’m not embarrassed by at least half of it. I still sing “I’m Not Charles Bukowski” and “Colossus of Roads” has felt very relevant lately from that one.
What does a day in the life of Jim Knable look like when you are not playing or recording music?
Wake up, remember where I am. Usually my 10-year-old son is already awake, so he and I do something. Coffee, breakfast, dayjob stuff now combined with helping our kids do remote school in this day and age, juggling of dayjob stuff/artistic stuff/other paying project stuff all mixed up, various errands or spontaneous adventures. It feels like half the time we’re not at home but off visiting a relative (safely) or taking some other family trip (hence having to remember where I am when I wake up). Who am I kidding, there is no “day in the life.” Every day is a winding road. Somebody sang that.
Who were your musical influences?
Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, Paul Simon, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones– you know, the usual, at first. Then I discovered Nick Cave. This year it’s been all about the authentic Nashville stuff I already mentioned. I got to visit some friends in Nashville in January of 2020– played at an open mic songwriter night, went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, etc– which is what jumpstarted this new kick. I actually was supposed to play a gig in Nashville in May for the first time. But then there was COVID.
Any interesting projects coming up that you can share with us?
I’ve got a few ideas brewing. Itching to record another album or three, as mentioned. Itching to play live again when possible. Just generally itchy!
Where can our listeners buy your music?
I would LOVE for you to explore most of my catalog with the band on BandCamp as it’s a great place to connect with you directly. https://jimknableandtherandybandits.bandcamp.com/ But also I’m on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, YouTube, and all other places where you stream or download music under Jim Knable, The Randy Bandits, and Jim Knable & The Randy Bandits. http://jimknable.com is my website.
One last thing before we close, is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview that I did not ask yet?
Just to thank you for letting me set the record straight and for your support!