It's July 7 and Olly Knights is traipsing around London by foot, carrying me via cell and pushing his newborn baby girl by buggy. On any other day, this would be a lovely jaunt for us all, except that only hours before, four simultaneous bombs just ripped through the better part of three London subway trains and a double-decker bus, killing 56 people.
Pictures are flickering across the screens of televisions on both sides of the Atlantic, and while the atmosphere is chaotic and somber, Knights continues his stroll. He is either brave or stupid.
Knights-who is one half of the British duo Turin Brakes (the other is Gale Paridjanian)-has reason to be brave. Simultaneously promoting a brand new album, Jackinabox, and raising a brand new daughter takes some courage. In fact, despite the events of the day, Knights' jocular banter matches the tambourine-slapping, good-time feeling of Jackinabox. He emits no gruff testosterone posturing. There's no art for politics' sake. There's no "fuck George Bush" barb. His lighthearted and blithe conversation is an expression of his political consternation.
The bombings "make me think I should stay well away from politics, actually. We're not a political band," he says. "We definitely don't have a "George Bush song' and I'm glad. We're going to leave him well enough alone."
His instincts may be correct. Turin Brakes' successful beginnings had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with Knights' inimitable voice, the duo's rapport and the band's soaring compositions. After an auspicious first year-they released The Optimist to worldwide acclaim in 2001 and received a nomination for the coveted Mercury Music Prize alongside such artists as Radiohead, Gorillaz and PJ Harvey-the elementary-school pals faced rougher waters.
"We didn't know anything about anything," Knights explains. "We just assumed that you put out an album, the press goes crazy about it and you get nominated for a Mercury. Right? That must be the way it works. Then everything kind of went to hell."
On Sept. 10, 2001, in the wake of The Optimist, Knights and Paridjanian tried to bring a full band along for their first U.S. tour. In the Sept. 11 frenzy, there was little reason to attempt the trip. The second time around, the U.S. government pulled Paridjanian's visa because he was born in Iran. ("Gale just sends alarm bells ringing-he really just looks like a terrorist," laughs Knights.)
Knights is more optimistic about this, their fourth effort at touring the U.S., because of the solid foundation of Turin Brakes' new album.
They elected to produce Jackinabox themselves, toying with their box of musical tricks in a private Brixton studio until things sounded right. The duo wrote bits and pieces and casually melded them together, unceremoniously tweaking songs during freewheeling jam sessions. The result is a buoyant mix of hot-blooded strumming and sultry choruses that, to Knights, feels like the reward of taking risks.
"We feel like we've been slightly bound and gagged as far as America is concerned, partly because of budgets and partly because we've had terrible trouble actually getting into the country because of Gale," Knights says. "Every time we try to come, some sort of colossal act of terrorism seems to stop us. With this new album, though, I know it's the right time to tour. I don't think anything can stop us this time.
"And if they do, you'll get your "George Bush song.'"Turin Brakes plays the Casbah on Aug. 5. www.turinbrakes.com.