Frontman Eric Knight of Hollywood rock quartet Disciples of Babylon meets up with us at Happy Days Cafe in Sherman Oaks to discuss their album The Rise and Fall of Babylon, the importance of music education, and not accepting that ‘rock music is dead.’
Disciples of Babylon is comprised of:
Eric Knight – Lead Vocals & Rhythm Guitar
Ramon Blanco – Lead Guitar
Gui Bodi – Bass Guitar & Backing Vocals
Chris Toeller – Drums
Your latest release, The Rise and Fall of Babylon has been very well received by the critics. How has riding the highs of the press train been for you and the band?
Eric: It’s been great! I mean, you always work hard as a band. You spend your life putting these songs together, wanting to put out a record that is hopefully received well. We’ve been getting a pretty positive reaction, and it confirms all the hard work that we’ve done. Not that we take everything a critic says literally, but it feels good when people are recognizing the record for what it is. We’re really proud of it. We went crazy on this record, and put everything and the kitchen sink into it. Now we’re starting to get the response we want, so we’re very happy.
And how long was the recording and the songwriting process in order to get everything together?
Eric: Well, actually the recording process was the quickest I think we’ve ever done. *laughs* I think in the history of our band. It lasted about a week, or actually, three days of recording. We did everything with the vocals in like five days, so the record was from beginning to end was done in one week. Which is insane! We were very prepared for it as a band. We rehearsed a lot, did a lot of pre-production in the studio with our producer Andres Torres. We came in and broke down the songs, and he made the necessary changes to we were doing. The great thing was that we were prepared for it. As far as the writing process was, that was something that that was a bit longer. For instance, with me and my guitar player Ramon, we will usually will meet up, get a couple of acoustic guitars, and start exchanging ideas. We figure, “Ok, this is the one that we’re gonna work on for today.” Then we start writing and building. Then, Gui our bass player will come in, and Chris our drummer comes in after. What’s cool is that we’re starting to write more collaboratively with everybody in the band, which is really nice, because it brings extra dimensions to what’s happening in the songwriting. So yeah, the songwriting process is a bit longer now, and of course, we’re our own worst critics. When we start listening to the song as it’s taking shape, we’ll be like, “Ok, we gotta do this.” We keep editing ourselves because we have such a high standard of what we want our songs to be like. That’s why we’re really hard on ourselves. But that’s how the collaborative process and the creating process typically works for us. We’ll get together, then we’ll start building.
What was your favorite song to write and record? And these can be separate songs for recording or for writing.
Eric: I love them all, they’re all my babies, I’m biased. *laughs* I think the one that was the coolest, because it was the last song that I wrote, was “Idiosyncrasies.” I was literally writing that while we were in the studio. We got in there, I still hadn’t finished the lyrics, so I was like, “I literally have like three or four days to get this finished!” I had a basic framework of what it was. The whole idea of the song was writing it from the standpoint of the craziness of who I am. And just so you know, we’re all idiosyncratic in our own ways. It turned out to be the coolest one because it was so spontaneous. When I went in there to go sing, none of the band knew what to expect as far as what I was going to sing, or what I was going to sound like. But I went in there, I did it within a couple of takes, and everybody was just blown away with it. It was really cool!
So you blind-sided them! *laughs*
Eric: *laughs* I mean, they kind of had an idea. But yeah, it was a bit of a last minute thing. I knew it was going to be cool, but it was just the pressure. I tend to work better under pressure as opposed to with a lot of time on my hands. I was like the guy who was cramming for the test the night before just going, “Oh my god, I gotta do this!” It would always work out to my advantage though. In this case, it was one of those cases where it was just magical. We went in there, I literally sang it on one or two takes, and what you hear on the record is what I did in those first couple of takes.
So cool! And recording wise, how would you say the process was different than that of your EP, Welcome to Babylon?
Eric: The first one, Welcome to Babylon, we were still not even a complete band. It was just the three of us – Me, Gui, and Ramon, which is the core of the band. Initially I wanted the band to be a three piece band, but the guys said, “Well, we should kind of get a drummer to be a part of this band. We don’t want to hire somebody for all the shows.” And I said, “Yeah, you’re probably right.” We went in with our producer, which is the same guy who produced the new record Andres, and we had no expectations. And Andres, he’s an amazing drummer so that’s him playing on the first record. I would say that the difference between that first one and this one is that it’s more of a cohesive thing with a full band unit. After we had the songs kind of in their structure, we would present them in the band, and then we’d start working them out in the room before we start recording. Everybody was in every part of the process. Chris would say, “Why don’t we try this.” When you’re writing, you have all of these iterations. Me as a lyricist, I write my first draft, and I’m like, “This is crap!” You just keep editing yourself, and keep editing yourself until what you’ve got is good or at least what you want to express. That’s what it was. It was more of a band unity type of thing for this new record, which is the way it should be. Especially when you’re dealing with four different types of people, you want it to be this cohesive thing, and you want it to feel like everybody has their part in putting it into the process.
Would you say that’s kind of how you guys chose the final songs to go on the record?
Eric: Definitely. We had a bunch of songs that we had prepared, and what had happened was our producer had become so high in demand before the record was going to be recorded. He produced and wrote, “Despacito,” which was like the biggest song on the face of the planet from last year. So he had a small time window, and we only had that one week that we could be in the studio to record. He came in a week or two before we were going to go in, sat in the room with us, like he did with the first EP, listened to all of the songs, and then he made his changes. There were some songs that we played for him that he was like, “No, let’s not worry about that one.” We decided, based on him, that these seven songs would be the songs that went on the record. We felt like less was more for this one. Instead of putting in ten or twelve songs with a few that were fillers, we wanted all the songs to be potential singles. And it shows, because the reviews that we’ve been getting have been recognizing the songwritership. It kind of worked out for the better. We were very pressed for time, and that’s why we were very well prepared by the time we got in. We were able to make these changes, and then re-learn the songs that he made us change. He rearranged them so much that they completely changed from what they originally were, so it was like, “Oh my god!” You get so used to hearing a song that you’ve already figured out on your own, and now you have to re-learn everything. It was an interesting process, but again, it was what I like. I like to be in those high pressure situations. *laughs*
*laughs* So crazy! But clearly it worked out for the best. So you had mentioned that you decided to go with seven songs instead of the normal ten or twelve. Would you say that’s kind of how the music industry is now? To catch someone’s attention via ear, it needs to be, like you said, “less is more?”
Eric: Yeah, I think we’ve gone back. Everything in the music industry is circular. We’re almost back to the time of the 50s and the 60s, where it was all singles based. The Beatles would be putting out a new single every few months, and their success was based on singles not on complete pieces of work. It wasn’t until the late 60s and 70s where you had these complete pieces of work. But I feel like it’s gone back to that kind of singles format of the past. We’re seeing a lot of bands that we look up to starting to address their music in smaller, bite sized things as opposed to one piece of work. They release one song, do a big push on it, then three to six months later they come up with another song. I’m still a fan of the big piece of complete work, because I feel like it’s a painting that you’re putting together. But I do love the fact that consistent single releases keep you in people’s mind, which is the hardest thing to do now. People are not buying records, they’re downloading tracks, actually, not even downloading, they’re just streaming now. Everybody’s streaming off of Spotify, Pandora, the Google Play store, or something similar to that.
Guilty! *laughs* Would you say that the popularity of music streaming affects how artists become successful?
Eric: I definitely think it’s a double edged sword, because bands like us, or art in general, are not making money off of sales. It’s become more of a thing where if you’re a new artist, you have to have the component of a touring artist. That’s the only way for bands or artists to make their money now, by trying to sustain a living through touring. I think it’s a great thing, it’s just a matter of how to utilize that streaming platform because this is the way people are consuming music now.
As a band that is recognized internationally, how would you describe experiences such as fan engagement, touring, exposure, etc. to be different than that of the L.A. music scene?
Eric: It’s weird, because here in L.A. it’s such a jaded town in a lot of ways, which I don’t particularly like. You have different sections of people going to see a band that’s on a four or five band bill, and then they’ll come in after they’re done smoking their cigarettes from outside the Viper Room when the band they went there to see goes on stage. Instead of it being more of a community thing, it’s much more divided, which sucks. I think you’ve got to come out and support all of the bands, and we pride ourselves on getting cool up-and-coming talent that we think people will be blown away by when planning our shows. I think internationally, people still revere artists and music. They worship rock bands by still purchasing all of their products, they’re fully committed to the band. Here in L.A., it’s the mecca of seeing bands. You can go see a band every night for the rest of your life, and never run out of bands to go see. But I think local bands should be more unified, and the music fans should be supportive as opposed to, “Ok, I’m going to see my friend’s band at 10 o’clock, and then I’m out of here.” That sucks. I want people to come out to see and experience multiple bands.
Which is funny, because L.A. is the heart of the music industry. Everything is here.
Eric: It is! I mean, between here, Nashville, and New York, there are a lot of people here are so creative. Everybody is a creative person. There’s a writer like you, a singer like me, a painter, an actor, whatever you do. There’s somewhat of an ego that’s involved for you to be doing this. There’s lot of good people that I’ve met here in my life that I consider really close friends, but, there’s a lot about that me, me, me, and not about the community.
Would you say that there is an unofficial competition between the rock bands, or any artist within the L.A. music scene?
Eric: We’ve never experienced that. I think the scene is so fragmented that there is not even a scene anymore. In the 80s and 90s there was more of a unified thing. I know for me personally, that we’re not in competition with anybody. We’re just here to try to do the best music that we can and give the best show that we can. We’re definitely trying to do things on a different level. Maybe there’s a competition and I’m not aware of it. But it might be because we don’t play here as much. We try to make our shows a very big event while playing here in our hometown.
Is performing here in L.A., your hometown, a lot different than other places that you’ve toured?
Eric: Yeah, because there’s a lot more of this, “Oh I’m gonna go see these guys but I’m not gonna check these guys out.” Which leads to my whole thing about there being an ego to this whole thing. It’s like, “I’m gonna go see this hip trendy band, and screw these other guys,” you know? Which sucks! You gotta go out and support everybody if you’re a real fan of music. I go out and I try to support all the bands that are on the bill. I think it’s different when you travel outside of here, because people don’t get it as much as we do here. We’re so…
Eric: Definitely oversaturated, but I think people take it for granted when living here. You’re always hearing people say, “God, I wish I lived in LA, I’d be out in concerts every night!” That’s why I think people from the UK really appreciate it a lot because there’s this whole renaissance that’s going on there with rock, hard rock, and metal. People just love the music. It’s never died over there, it’s always stayed consistent. The same with Japan, it’s huge over there too.
I think there’s always going to be those pockets of, “Rock music never dies,” “Pop-Punk never dies,” “Emo never dies,” that kind of thing. There’s always going to be those groups of people. There’s always some different kind of rock that you can turn to at that particular time.
Eric: Yeah, everybody keeps saying that rock is dead, and it’s not. It’s huge! You have all of these festivals like Carolina Rebellion and Aftershock, with hundreds and thousands of people showing up to these festivals every year. There’s selling out all the days. Somebody wrote a piece on this, I think it was in Billboard, talking about the new wave of rock. I mean, there’s no new wave, it never died. *laughs* But again, everything in the music industry is circular. Rock has been on the other end of the pendulum for a long time now. You have a band like Guns ‘N Roses, which is arguably the biggest rock band in the world, and they’ve come back to do this massive tour for the past two years. That’s been a big push in rock community, because we need bands like that to come out. I don’t think it’s ever died, it’s just not in the popular consensus right now. We don’t have MTV like it was back in the day. But I think it’ll come back to prevalence with so many great new rock bands that are out now. Just think, there’s another band like a Guns ‘N Roses that’s being formed with some kids that we probably don’t even know about. It’s gonna be reintroduced in a way that will just blow people’s minds and have them go, “Oh my God! This is what I loved about rock!” That’s why you see huge bands like that selling out at every stadium they play.
When people say this ‘new wave of rock,’ do you think it’s because everybody is so overexposed to these dance-y pop and hip-hop influenced singles?
Eric: I think it’s a number of things. I think it’s what’s being marketed. Like now, hip hop has become the new rock. Those guys are the new rockstars, because that’s just what’s in right now. There isn’t a rock band that’s really ‘dangerous.’ When Guns ‘N Roses came out, that band was the epitome of what rock n’ roll represented. You did not want to fuck those guys. You did not know if those guys were going to kill you, or what the hell was gonna go on. That first album was just so incredibly mind blowing. Everybody said that record was incredible regardless of what type of rock music they listened to. You talk to any of the big bands, like Slayer or any of these guys in extreme music, and they will go back and say, “That fucking Guns ‘N Roses record! When that first record came out it was the best thing ever!” That album is what truly epitomized what hard rock was, ‘dangerous.’ I don’t feel like there’s a lot of that danger nowadays. That’s why I feel like there is this big band that’s brewing. In a year or two they might explode, and everyone will just be, “Oh my god, that’s what this is about!”
That’s a real rock band!
Eric: Yes! There’s a whole new audience of kids that have just been born into this hip-hop and pop world, and they hear about these rock bands. You watch these videos of these kids listening to Metallica songs, and they’re like, “What the hell is this?” They’re freaking out because they’re not being exposed to it. What’s happening is you have the rock audience that’s kind of aging out. They’re getting older, because it’s an older audience.
Oh God! Don’t say that!
Eric: *laugh* It’s true though! But there’s a new group that is bringing their kids to the shows, so it’s keeping it alive that way. Those shows are still some of the most successful. You look at all of these rock festivals that are happening this year, there’s about six or seven huge ones. Those things have already all sold out. There’s still an audience for it here in America and around the world. I just think it’s not being marketed as much because it’s just not part of popular culture right now. I think it will be a part of popular culture again soon, and it’s gonna be a band that just rips the freakin doors down. You have amazing bands right now like Bring Me The Horizon, but for whatever reason they’re just not being exposed to the masses.
It’s so funny that you say that. There was one time on Alt 98.7 or KROQ, and they were playing one of the new Sleeping with Sirens songs. They were like, “This new band called Sleeping with Sirens!” And I was like, “Wow, I’m old! If they think they’re new!” The same thing happened with All Time Low, and I’ve been a fan of them since they started back in 2006.
Eric: And that’s where a lot of bands who are truly great that will last come into play. You hear them announced on the radio, and, like you said, say “Yeah! Well, they’re not a new band, I’ve been following them forever. But how exciting for them!” To everybody else, they’re a new band, and it’s cool, because they’re finally getting recognized in a bigger arena of people.
It’s almost like a ray of hope for a lot of other bands that have been around for awhile.
Eric: I think that’s what we’re trying to do with our music. We’re trying to write the best songs they can possibly be while being super engaged with our audience. Our efforts are definitely paying off, because we see people saying beautiful things and how much they love and support us.
Now kind of going in a different yet relevant direction, you had met your band members at an alumni party for the music school that you went to. Do you think that music education programs are important if you really want to understand the ins and outs of the industry? Even to just make relationships with other musicians like how you did with forming a band?
Eric: Definitely! My band is a project close to my heart, but I’m on the business side of the industry as well. I have a management company that I run. I definitely think music education is a huge thing, which is something that is unfortunately lacking now in schools. I’m a real big advocate of educating musicians and making sure that they take care of their business side as well as their performing side. You keep hearing stories about bands that get screwed over because they sign these horrible contracts, even to this very day. When I was going to the school I was a part of the business program, a couple of the guys in the band were going for their respective instruments. I think that all of those things really help in becoming a better artist. It opens your canvas to your painting. I think in our case, it’s played a huge part in our career so far.
I totally agree. I took two or three music classes even though I wasn’t a music major. All of my teachers were like, “Wait, you’re not a music major?” and I would say “Well, no. But I still want to be here to learn as much as I can.” *laughs*
Eric: And that is so awesome, because I think that it stimulates creativity, even if you don’t pursue it for the rest of your life. Just introducing it in a school type of environment allows people to do things that they might not normally do. I think there’s even studies about how music education has influenced how people go out to other career fields, and excel in what they do in those fields.
If you could create your own music school course list, what kind of classes would you include?
Eric: It would definitely be based off of music business courses, contracts and all that stuff, as well as the performing and musicianship part. Learn how to perform on stage, how to face an audience, and how to speak to a crowd. Learn music theory. And then take a class in whatever your instrument happens to be. I think it would be kind of like the school we went to where they were teaching you both sides of the industry. Both sides work hand in hand with each other, so if you’re really serious about pursuing this as a career for yourself…
You should know everything.
Eric: Exactly. I think you need to know your business, because if you don’t know your business and you get screwed, then that’s your fault. It’s nobody else’s fault if you let somebody take advantage of you. I have another project that I’m involved in with another partner, where we do interviews with the top people in the music industry, and it’s all about music education. From making bad decisions because they didn’t know any better to signing things that they shouldn’t have signed without an attorney, artists continue to get screwed over to this day. Just basic things that they could have saved themselves from. If the band ends up becoming very big, they have to untangle this mess that they’ve created because of the decisions that they did or didn’t make at the beginning. That was one of the things that we did as a band. One of the big things that I said was, “Whoever I put this together with, we have to get all of our business taken care of from the beginning, so everybody knows where they stand.” It’s not this thing where they find out five years later, “Oh, so and so is taking all the credits for the music, and the royalties, and I didn’t get paid anything.” We decided to split everything down the middle, we literally have contracts signed with all of us, partnership agreements, so there’s no question. I like to be super transparent, I don’t to want to be pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes and saying, “Surprise!” with them wondering what the hell happened. We took care of all that crap at the beginning.
Which is very important!
Eric: Extremely important! And the thing is, these are such great guys that I play with. They’re amazing human beings, which is rare to find four people that are collectively and mentally together. I wanted this to be something where we could just focus on the music, and play in front of people. I have been really lucky to be with these guys where everybody is on the same page. We’re out for the same goal – we just want to play, play, play, play, and take it to the next level. If all that success comes, fantastic, but my goal is more for us to make a comfortable living doing it. If not, we can still be some mid-level band that continues to grow. The ultimate goal is to be able to do what we love.
Isn’t that what we always want out of life, to do what brings us joy? If you could choose three artists to go on your own personal world tour, who would they be, and what would the tour be named?
Eric: I think as a band collectively, we would love to go on tour with Muse. We’re huge Muse fans. I think Foo Fighters would be another one, and…my god, who would be the other one? It would probably be a classic band that doesn’t exist anymore, like Led Zeppelin. Everyone and their mother would want to see that tour. *laughs* And the name of the tour, I don’t know! The End of the World Tour? *laughs*
Alright! And you had already mentioned a few personal influences, but what other artist and bands would say have influenced your band as a whole? Your music? Your songwriting?
Eric: When I approached Ramon initially about this project, it was because I saw a video of him on Facebook. We were acquaintances, but not really ‘friends.’ I just happened to be looking at my feed one day, and I saw a video of him performing. I was like, “Who the hell is this? This guy is incredible!” And it was at that moment, I’m real spontaneous about things, that I had the idea for the band. I wanted to put this band together for a long time, but it didn’t feel right. But when I saw his video, I was like, “Holy shit! This was ‘the guy!’ He looks good, and he plays incredibly!” I wanted everybody to look really good in the band, you know, because it’s an image thing as well. *laughs* I immediately wrote him on Facebook and said, “Hey man, I want to see if we can get together and talk about this idea for a project that I had.” What’s funny is when we discussed it, it was in a little coffee shop too. *laughs* And now you and I are having a conversation about how the band came to be in this little coffee shop.
It’s come full circle!
Eric: Yeah! I basically told him what my influences were, and that I loved all the different eras of rock. You think about the late 50s and 60s with The Beatles and bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, all of those really classic rock bands. Then going to the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and today. I told them my idea to take a piece of each of those different eras, and kind of make that part of the music. When we wrote these songs, we write from the perspective of “I want to hear the entire audience singing those songs back to us.” You go to a band like U2, the guys who go to their concerts is like a religious experience because they’re singing every word of every song. My idea was to write these songs that we would get a similar reaction to. And now what we’re trying to do is start creating the show around that aspect. We really want to create a big of spectacle of it. You don’t see too many bands doing that anymore apart from a band like Muse. They’re just an incredible band live who puts on these un-freaken-believable spectacles. That’s kind of the bar that we’re trying to reach. We want to have that really excellent sound that sounds just like the record.
Muse is one of the best band I’ve seen perform live. Apart from anthemic musicality and lyrics, what do you hope your audience will take away from your music?
Eric: A positive message that there is hope. Our album title, The Rise and Fall of Babylon is so bleak because it’s based on the whole concept of what’s happening in America, in our society, and around the world. It sounds like it would be a doom and gloom kind of album, but there’s always some positive message behind the songs. We want people to leave our shows with a positive and uplifted feeling. We want to inspire people to go follow their dreams. Even our tweets and things that we send out are very positive sounding messages. We’re not, “Oh my god, it’s the end of the world, we’re gonna die.” I believe that there’s hope in the end, that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Myself, I’m a personal seeker of light, so I want to go towards the light as opposed to away from it.
That’s a good thing about music, usually people tend to go for what they need, which might be, like you said, that light. And it’s international.
Eric: It definitely is, and that’s why I put music even above religion. I’ve always said, before I knew it was a quote from Jimi Hendrix, that “Music is my religion.” For me, it’s the only form of communication or anything that everyone around the world connects with. You can go to the farthest reaches of the world and there’s music that’s being made. Whether it’s something you would listen to or not, music is the thing that pulls people together. It doesn’t matter what religious background you’re based on, everybody can somehow connect to the music and go, “Wow, you like that? I like that, too! ” That to me is even bigger than politics, than anything, because everybody has a personal meaning behind the music that they listen to. We’ve had a lot of people that listen to our songs, that wanted to commit suicide. We had letters sent to us online from people that said, “I heard your song, and it changed the way that I felt.” There’s such a huge responsibility when you’re writing stuff because people are taking those words to heart. It’s a beautiful thing when somebody says “Your music inspired me to not do something to myself.” It’s amazing. To me, it’s the most healing art form on the face of the planet.
Definitely. And what one word do you think defines your band and your music?
Eric: I would say, ‘global.’ There’s certain bands or artists that have that global appeal. You have like Michael Jackson, who played in places that had never been played before in the world. He’s just so well known. You have bands like U2, who have a global sound and appeal to people from all over the planet. Muse is one of the more modern bands that have that universal kind of appeal, even though they’ve been around for 20 something years now. That’s what I think we’re trying to shoot for, to be the one band that everybody gravitates to, even if you’re interested in different genres of music. Whether we achieve it or not, is another thing, but that’s kind of the idea. So one word, global.
Eric: Exactly, global domination!
To end the interview off, what big plans should we be looking forward to from you guys?
Eric: There’s going to be a lot more videos that we’re going to be releasing for the new record. Then we’re just gonna be playing, writing, and touring. Just getting out there. It’s like we’re on a campaign trail for running for president or something. *laughs* We’re just trying to win fans everywhere we go. It’s incredible because the word is starting to get out. We’ve got a long way to go, but I feel like we’ve definitely set a really good foundation. We just need to continue runnng the course.
Cool! Well it was really awesome to have you sit down to me. Coming full circle, starting at a coffee shop, and ending…well, hopefully not ending at a coffee shop. *laughs*
Check out Disciples of Babylon on their Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify and Soundcloud!
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