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Stick To What You Know: Songwriter only tells stories he can believe

Songwriter only tells stories he can believe by Jocelyn Murphy | September 19, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
On the cover: Singer-songwriter Chris Knight is known for his uncompromising Americana-fueled, backwoods-grown merger of folk, country and rock. He performs Sept. 30 at The Majestic in Fort Smith. (Courtesy Photo)

During a recent conversation with down-to-earth, uncompromising Americana singer-songwriter Chris Knight, it's not so much a question that arises as it is a straightforward observation that there don't seem to be too many happy endings in his songwriting. It's not in his nature, Knight confirms, to write about a lottery winner and then everyone living happily ever after.

"I think it's just surviving, and, you know, toughness. Mental toughness -- whichever way they're going," he says of his disinclination for setting his characters in a fantasy.

It's a no-frills philosophy borne of his Kentucky roots -- growing up in the woods six miles outside of two small towns before later working the mines as a reclamation inspector and consultant. The native of Slaughters, Ky. -- population 238 -- is "a storyteller in the best traditions of Mellencamp and Springsteen," says USA Today, and only sings the types of stories that he himself could believe.

That said, somewhere along the way, Knight got a reputation for only writing tales where "somebody kills somebody," he says in his website's bio.

"I guess if I gotta kill somebody in a song, that's what I'll do," he admits. But, "it just depends on the song. If I think I can get out of a song without killing somebody, I do it. But really, that's kind of the thinking that I had when people died in my songs: it's like, it has to happen."

In more than two decades of recording his own music and following his passion as a songwriter, Knight reckons he's told just about every story there is to tell. And he's certainly told the story we're all living through now.

"March 16, [2020], I think was a Monday, and I was just getting home from Austin, Texas. I did my last show on the 15th and I stopped at a Walmart to get something, and a guy and his wife was walking down through there, and he looked at me and he said, 'You'd think a country singer would write a song about this stuff.' And I told him, I said, 'I've already written this song five or six times,'" Knight recalls. "And I told another guy, there ain't nothing about this mess that makes me want to write a song about it. Because I figure that I've written enough of that stuff to get my point across."

So, for the moment, Knight will continue touring on his 2019 record, "Almost Daylight," which was his first release in more than seven years. The record dropped in October before the pandemic hit, but even now, its timeless stories of loneliness, pushing through heartache, restlessness and wistfulness delve more into matters of the heart than murders. It might be just what some people need to help them through this time, but Knight admits he could also see it going the other way.

"I think people's had enough; that's what I think," he says of whether he foresees pulling from the past 18 months for writing inspiration. "It's like everybody's been beat down long enough. I'm even getting in the middle of songs when I'm on stage now and I'm thinking, 'Man, I wish I had something else to sing.' That's just my [perception], but it may not be the reality. They may still want to hear it as much as they ever did."

It's made for an ironic turn that Knight is back on the road touring an album for which he was determined not to write any acoustic songs. He "wanted it all to sound edgy and raw, but to feel big at the same time," he shares in the press release for "Almost Daylight." But with continued safety restrictions and lower audience numbers, it hasn't made sense monetarily to bring the full band out for most of his recent dates. Luckily, this run -- which includes a Sept. 30 stop in Fort Smith -- has the full band back together.

"People're always telling me they've never been to a show, never heard of me before, but somebody told them about me so they thought they'd come and check it out. That's been going on for a long time -- it started with audiences of about 10 people when I first started way back there and then it just built up," Knight says of the ways fans have found him over the years.

Looking ahead, Knight plans to just keep on keeping on. His brutal honesty and Americana-fueled, backwoods-grown merger of folk, country and rock has never suited everybody, but it suits the fans who find him, and that's enough.

"John Prine, he just did what he did. Tom Petty did what he did," Knight says of one of his songwriting influences. "Nothing he ever did was like, 'Oh that's completely different. I don't like it.' That thought never crossed my mind. Just stick to what you know."

Chris Knight isn’t much of a talker during shows unless the audience of an acoustic set seems particularly inclined to listen. But he’ll usually let his songs do the storytelling.

“I ain’t got really any new stories. I come up with a lot of stuff off the top of my head, sometimes, when it’s a good listening crowd, but I don’t go out of my way. If it feels natural, I do it. Otherwise I don’t see the point,” he shares. “But I’m not a great entertainer, either. I don’t yell and get the crowd all revved up, sh** like that; point at people in the audience and sh**. It just ain’t what I do, and I’m fine with that. [I’m not] wearing a fake smile around. People with fake smiles look pretty sorry, anyway.”

(Courtesy Photo)
Chris Knight isn’t much of a talker during shows unless the audience of an acoustic set seems particularly inclined to listen. But he’ll usually let his songs do the storytelling. “I ain’t got really any new stories. I come up with a lot of stuff off the top of my head, sometimes, when it’s a good listening crowd, but I don’t go out of my way. If it feels natural, I do it. Otherwise I don’t see the point,” he shares. “But I’m not a great entertainer, either. I don’t yell and get the crowd all revved up, sh** like that; point at people in the audience and sh**. It just ain’t what I do, and I’m fine with that. [I’m not] wearing a fake smile around. People with fake smiles look pretty sorry, anyway.” (Courtesy Photo)
Chris Knight isn’t much of a talker during shows unless the audience of an acoustic set seems particularly inclined to listen. But he’ll usually let his songs do the storytelling.

“I ain’t got really any new stories. I come up with a lot of stuff off the top of my head, sometimes, when it’s a good listening crowd, but I don’t go out of my way. If it feels natural, I do it. Otherwise I don’t see the point,” he shares. “But I’m not a great entertainer, either. I don’t yell and get the crowd all revved up, sh** like that; point at people in the audience and sh**. It just ain’t what I do, and I’m fine with that. [I’m not] wearing a fake smile around. People with fake smiles look pretty sorry, anyway.”

(Courtesy Photo)
Chris Knight isn’t much of a talker during shows unless the audience of an acoustic set seems particularly inclined to listen. But he’ll usually let his songs do the storytelling. “I ain’t got really any new stories. I come up with a lot of stuff off the top of my head, sometimes, when it’s a good listening crowd, but I don’t go out of my way. If it feels natural, I do it. Otherwise I don’t see the point,” he shares. “But I’m not a great entertainer, either. I don’t yell and get the crowd all revved up, sh** like that; point at people in the audience and sh**. It just ain’t what I do, and I’m fine with that. [I’m not] wearing a fake smile around. People with fake smiles look pretty sorry, anyway.” (Courtesy Photo)
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FAQ

Chris Knight

With The Wilder Blue

WHEN — 7 p.m. Sept. 30

WHERE — The Majestic, 817 Garrison Ave. in Fort Smith

COST — $20-$25

INFO — 551-2424, majesticfortsmith.com, chrisknight.net

Print Headline: Stick To What You Know

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