By Andrew Ellis, Editor-in-Chief
The life of a songwriter isn’t for the weak. You write song after song with hopes that the next one you write will be the one that connects with someone.
It’s a battle Bob Knight knows all too well ever since strumming his first chords and singing his first songs in 1970s Huntington Beach, CA. His record player filled his room with the songs of James Taylor, the Eagles, and Jackson Browne. These were the artists he started learning as he first picked up a guitar. Whatever he was able to figure out, he’d play. But one artist was a little more challenging when came to learning learning the chords.
“With an artist like James Taylor, there were no easy songs,” Knight says. “So, I was forced to learn his characteristic finger-picking playing style in order to execute his songs.”
Finding His Path
With Jackson Browne he found his approach to songwriting: connecting to others. He wanted to write songs that others could relate to.
“When I heard Jackson Browne, that was the feeling I had,” he says. “I thought that was exactly what great songwriting was about – touching something in peoples’ souls by being relatable.”
He started writing his first original, “Denicia,” thanks to a special person in his life at the time – his best friend’s girlfriend. He remembers it vividly.
“It had a descending minor motif, and a somewhat Latin feel,” he says. “Would I play or sing it for anyone today? Not a snowball’s chance.”
As much time as he put into the guitar and songwriting, it was the mandolin gave him his start as a live performer. And he got to do it at the foot of the Huntington Beach pier alongside his best friend Jim.
“That was my entree into being a multi-instrumentalist and playing in front of a diverse audience,” he says, adding that there was always good mix of tourists, surfers, business professionals.
For Knight, it’s been journey of ups and downs ever since. And it doesn’t help that the music industry is always changing, no matter what side you’re on. And he’s lived through it all from when the only option was the radio or vinyl to now where everything is available with a Wi-Fi connection. It’s a shift that has left many independent artists wondering if an entire album is even worth it anymore.
Searching for That Perfect Sound
He’s seen the industry technology change, too. These days with Pro Tools and other digital recording platforms it’s not unheard of for DIY musicians to record in their home rather than in a big expensive studio. It’s something Knight was an early adopter of, but it was no secret that using a professional facility would be the best route for a great sounding record.
“I had better-than-hobbyist-level equipment, but the music did not always translate into great-sounding results,” he says.
His last EP, 2015, was actually done entirely in his home studio. He played practically all the instruments, but this time around he wanted to get the professional treatment for his songs. So he looked to Owen Sartori and Davide Raso at F5 Soundhouse.
“I met the two of them a couple of years ago,” he says. “And, as I walked out the door I’m sure I said something along the lines of, ‘Well, if I ever need production, I know where to go.’”
Music for the People…and Some Industry Attention
The new album, What Are You Waiting For?, covers his songwriting life from his start in the 1970s to now. The title and its respective song are a phrase he’s heard from his wife many times. She’s been a core source of inspiration and support through the entire process. And while he hopes the album has songs people connect with, the album serves a more practical purpose as well.
“I need demos to get to Nashville and other areas in an attempt to get these songs cut by artists with bigger names than me,” he says.
He’s written countless songs since he started out. So why would reach back into his catalog to re-record some of his really early stuff? The answer is rather simple: he wants to give them the kind of love he feels they deserve.
“I thought they deserved to be heard with professional treatment, with real instruments, other players, top-notch microphones, etc,” he says.
Sartori and Raso also brought two pairs of fresh ears Knight’s material. It allowed new life to be pumped into his songs as they brought new ideas to the table and helped fully realize the songs. There many new ideas they wanted to explore that the release date was actually pushed back. And Knight couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
“A lot of magic happened on this record, including the discovery that, when Owen (Sartori) and I played acoustic guitars together, we ‘killed,’” he says. “I can’t say enough good things about these guys and their respective talents.”
Polished and Authentic
This project his most polished-sounding record to date. And while in the mainstream music world that usually hints of an artist ‘selling out,’ that’s not case at all here. Knight says it results in a fresh sounding album that has a large acoustic foundation.
“The songs, as always, reflect stories from either my life, the lives of those around me, or imagined characters,” he says. “It’s not really country or country-rock. I think of it as folk-rock and country-pop.”
The album was supposed to be released back in the spring, but songs kept being added and other styles were being explored. With the record now released there’s one song he’s looking forward to everyone’s feedback on.
“It’s called ‘A Life of Its Own,’ and although it’s not a ‘hit,’ it’s very special to me,” he says. “The story is real, it’s fatalistic, and again, Owen and I stuck gold playing acoustic guitars together on it.”
A Journey With No End
Knight doesn’t recall that moment of ‘making it.’ The lifestyle of a songwriter is one of those where it’s about the journey itself, which is sometimes the only guarantee in an ever-changing industry. He knows the old path of an independent artist being signed to a major label and having them help you develop is a rare thing. Independent musicians have to think about more than just the music they make.
“To get your music out there, you have to have an entrepreneurial spirit, must be willing to take rejection,” he says. “And understand that things like merchandise might bring in as much money as will selling your music.”
He also knows he has to keep writing songs, too. Gone are the days of only finishing a song if it’s hit-worthy. He’s going to continue honing his craft as he waits for that call from someone saying, “Hey, I want to cut your song.”
“Even on a local level, I would love to have my tunes covered,” he says. “That would be an honor.”