Dave Knudsen – Teach your children? Well…
The third album from Dave Knudsen leads off with the subtle sounds of birds chirping and dogs barking, and then Knudsen’s voice, which sounds a lot like Steve Forbert — that is, if Forbert could sing. He makes J.J. Cale seem frantic and the Cowboy Junkies seem like dance music. The Weeping City is a beautifully spare, extremely low-key album, mostly recorded one long afternoon with Mike Stinson on drums; Kip Boardman, Joshua Grange and producer/Borondo Records head Charlie McGovern added their bits after.
Knudsen’s first two albums were primarily heard by family and close friends. This one is getting more attention because it’s good, and because some of his friends — notably Stinson, a pretty fair songwriter in his own right — have growing reputations.
They play well together, Knudsen’s friends. For example, on “The High”, the shuffle provided by Stinson, along with some beautifully understated electric guitar from Grange, simply add to the resignation of the chorus: “I can’t live without the high.” There is no moralizing, no desperation, no judgment, just a simple statement of fact. The whole album is like that — various vignettes of life in the city.
Still, it’s probably not quite what the parents of his third-grade students would expect of their teacher. It’s just the latest in a succession of odd jobs that have been flexible enough to feed his true passion: travel.
Born in Hawaii of an Evangelical Lutheran minister father, Knudsen chose the ukulele as his first instrument. He played trombone through high school in Iowa and North Dakota before the family settled in Los Angeles when he was 17. He attended college in Minnesota, where he picked up the acoustic guitar and began writing songs. “I found it was easier to play and sing with an acoustic guitar,” he says. “It’s also easier to attract women with a guitar than it is a trombone.”
He spent a semester studying romantic poetry at Oxford and spent his weekends traveling across Europe and playing music. After college, he bought a used pickup and traveled the west coast; he worked with mental patients in Oregon, and fell off a cliff at Yellowstone. He ended up in New Orleans tending bar before driving off to Homer, Alaska, to work in a fish factory while living in a tent.
Next stop, northern California, where he drove a truck for a couple years. That provided the money to make his first record in downtown Los Angeles under the band name Red Meadows. He moved to the Venice Beach area and started teaching, largely because the job offers four months of vacation each year.
“I have been to about 50 countries on six continents with an acoustic guitar — pick a destination and just go,” Knudsen says. “I would record ambient noises and indigenous music with a minidisc recorder or a mini-cassette recorder. My favorite memories include dancing and jamming with the Masai Mara tribesmen in Kenya, trying to recreate the greatest hits of Air Supply for a group of Indians in Venezuela (that for some reason knew all of their songs), and playing for a train car full of Chinese people en route from Beijing to Xian.”
Back home in Los Angeles, Knudsen began recording his own music, mostly with a live and organic approach. McGovern mastered four of Knudsen’s home demos, liked what he heard, and proposed making a real record. The Weeping City was recorded in McGovern and Stinson’s home, an old farmhouse in an apricot orchard in North Hollywood, during one of the wettest periods in the city’s history. That helped provide the rain which kicks off the title track.
“I originally wanted to call this record Ready In My Time,” he says. “I believe all art should have an initiation period of sorts. You need time to be able to have experiences that are worth singing about. While I don’t write songs that are real autobiographical, my songs all have come out of real experiences.”