INTERVIEW: The Knocks are the kings of collaboration

The Knocks, B-Roc, Ben Ruttner, JPatt, James Patterson

The Knocks. Courtesy photo.

The Knocks may be among the most popular, sought-out production teams in the world. But in the universe of Justin Bieber, Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson are observers like everyone else. Bieber is such a fan that he invited the electronic duo to open for him on his world tour. This has exposed them to even larger audiences, but they have yet to meet the host.

“We don’t talk to him,” Patterson said at Outside Lands, where The Knocks performed last weekend. “You don’t get to see him, because he’s so famous he’s surrounded by bodyguards all the time. It’s really expansive. You don’t realize how big of a production it is until you’re there.”

Ruttner: “It’s like a circus.”
Patterson: “He literally employees 300 to 400 people.”
Ruttner: “It’s wild.”
Patterson: “It’s crazy.”

The weekend of Outside Lands, The Knocks announced they will continue touring with Bieber for several months in Europe. The entire experience has surprised the two because they weren’t sure the singer would even be a fan of their music. It shouldn’t have been surprising since musicians from all genres have jumped at the chance to contribute to their debut album, 55, recruit them for outside projects, and have songs remixed by them.

The album includes vocals by Fetty Wap, Carly Rae Jepsen, Cam’ron, Phoebe Ryan, Walk the Moon, Wyclef Jean, Matthew Koma, Magic Man, Alex Newell, POWERS, Justin Tranter and X Ambassadors.

Most of the collaborators were already friends with the duo, and according to Ruttner and Patterson, the projects came about naturally. The two took the opportunity to learn from all of them.

“Everyone from Carly Rae to POWERS, X Ambassadors; they’re all just people we know through circles. It always works out better that way,” Ruttner said. “Our biggest song is ‘Classic,’ [which] we do with our friend POWERS, [who] we’ve known literally for seven years in New York. They were in a whole other band. A pop punk band. Just to have a big song like that and be able to hit up your friend … it’s the best feeling.”

“Versus, if you have Taylor Swift feature on your song, you don’t even know her that well. It’s like you don’t really have that camaraderie where it’s like you gave birth to this cool thing together.”

The band did not completely avoid collaborations with musicians who were not previous friends though. Cam’ron raps over the album’s opening song, “New York City.” They were looking for a gritty voice to convey the feel of their hometown. So they had their label, Neon Gold, reach out to Cam’ron, and from that collaboration, they learned that, “Cam’ron will work for money,” Patterson said.

The New York that The Knocks know and love bleeds into their music. The album’s 15 tracks sparkle and pulsate with elements of soul, hip hop (and trip hop), dance, and even a bit of disco. As they accurately describe it, it’s the kind of music that one spends the night with after a late evening turns into early morning.

That idea manifests most clearly on “Classic,” a song that was originally released in 2014. In fact, 10 of the album’s 15 tracks were released prior to the album’s release. Prior to Neon Gold and Atlantic Records, the band had an aborted deal with a subsidiary of Interscope.

The fit was poor, and the label didn’t understand what The Knocks were trying to accomplish, Ruttner said. Luckily for the band, that label folded, freeing them up to look elsewhere.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Ruttner said. “They ended up investing all this money promoting us … and then they folded and we didn’t have to pay anybody back.”

During the lull that followed, they wrote most of the 55 songs, including “Classic.” For them, the song was a Eureka moment.

“‘Okay, this is the new direction. I think this is the vibe.’” Ruttner said. “That [original] album should have been out years ago, but it feels like it all happened for a reason.”

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