The experimental electronic artist discusses his classical education and our over-reliance on technology
“[‘Eyes Open Wide’] feels to me like a sonic rebellion against the days I have to spend glued to my phone or laptop,” explains Michael Aston, the man behind the moniker of experimental electronic outfit Knightstown. “I believe life is more fully experienced away from technology – in the present moment, in other people, in nature, in reality, in silence – away from screens and online profiles,” he details of his latest single.
“It all gets a bit Matrix-like for me sometimes. I’m pretty sure I read recently that our generation’s over-use of technology is linked to depression, sleep deprivation and anxiety. It certainly rings true for me. The longer I’m away from screens, the happier I become!”
Released via Fat Cat Records, ‘Eyes Open Wide’ is an emotive soundscape of understated percussion and ambient electronic whorls, imbuing the cyclical ritual of daily technological reliance with a sentiment both damning and bittersweet. “I suppose listening back the atmosphere is one of contrasts – a feeling of restlessness and disquiet in the verses giving way to the elevated chorus – I’ve described the chorus elsewhere as being like a gasping for air.”
Following in the wake of his debut single ‘Far Cry’, ‘Eyes Open Wide’ is the second reveal from Aston’s collaborative project with his cousin and producer Thomas Aston – and there is much more set for the near future. “There is an EP out early next year, and the debut album is out summer 2018. We’re hoping to be touring increasingly from early 2018 onwards,” Aston shares. “The main live focus over the next month though is preparing for the first proper Knightstown headline show at The Electrowerkz in London, 21st November. In preparing for the event we’ve so far been guided by lighting design legend Bryan Leitch. He’s worked with seemingly all the megastars of the past few decades – so it’s a huge honour to have had his involvement in the early days of this project!”
Knightstown headline The Electrowerkz in London on 21st November. Discover more below…
You’ve just released your new single ‘Eyes Open Wide’! Can you tell us a little about the track?
The song has turned into a meditation on the search for happiness. It’s also concerned with freedom – in getting away from the trivial complexities of modern life and escaping back to simplicity and peace.
The lyrics are deliberately cryptic and I want their interpretation to be left to the listener. I am quite influenced by the idea that there is more to reality than what we see/ hear/ touch/ taste/ smell/ perceive. Reality isn’t confined to what we experience with our bodies and minds. There has to be more.
There are some ambitious electronic sounds at play in ‘Eyes Open Wide’. What sort of atmosphere were you hoping to create?
The oldest version of the song was actually a lot more minimalist/stripped-back than the final track. I was using an old melodic idea from years ago which ended up being the euphoric chorus tune… After recording all the keys/ strings/ vocals in my cousin Tom’s studio he went away and made the beat and texture more intricate, and the song more electronic.
‘Eyes Open Wide’ has a B-side entitled ‘Ardour’. Why did that feel like the perfect accompaniment to the lead single?
I think both lyrically and musically ‘Ardour’ works well as a companion piece to ‘Eyes Open Wide.’ ‘Eyes Open Wide’ is more ambitious and macrocosmic. In ‘Ardour’ the lyrics are again quite abstract and meditative, but this time in a more downtempo and intimate electronic setting.
You’ve had a classical education when it comes to music. How do you feel that this has influenced your songwriting?
I am hugely indebted to my formal classical training for my output as a songwriter. It feels like gradually being given all the colours to paint with, rather than just red blue and yellow (important though they are.)
Your work brings to mind the likes of Bon Iver and James Blake. Are there any artists – or indeed, anything else – that inspires you and your work?
Laura Mvula is one of my favourite artists at the moment – also HOME, Sampha, Bach, Beethoven, The Beach Boys, and my label-buddy C Duncan who I had the pleasure of touring with as his keyboardist/backing vocalist from 2016-2017 before the Knightstown project was launched. I do like Bon Iver and James Blake. Blake’s most recent album is an absolute wonder. His musical impulses are really subtle. Most recently I’ve been a bit hooked on ‘Bad Kingdom’ by Moderat, a fantastic track (and music video by Pfadfinderei).
What can we expect from a Knightstown live show?
In terms of what to expect for Knightstown live, my bandmate Matt has taken the various tracks from the Album and B-Sides and adapted them into really dynamic performance pieces designed to fill the venue sonically. He’s also made up exciting moving visuals to accompany each song on projectors behind us, using the visual art created by director Helen Plumb in the new music video for ‘Eyes Open Wide’.
What else do you have planned for 2017?
Collaborations with other artists over the Christmas period potentially. And I’ve been trying to find time to put a Music PHD application together – but it’s taking ages! It may have to wait a while…