Interview: Pepa Knight
What began as a mutual acknowledgement between myself and Cameron ‘Pepa’ Knight that interviews are just really fucking bizarre, quickly and ironically became an easy hour conversation covering everything from a national teepee music tour to Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Pepa was the first to say, after my awkward admission that I Googled him to prepare for our conversation, that “I find interviews really strange and I’m not that great at them”. But as the jokes and the conversation continued, this admission became harder and harder to believe as it became clear that he’s just a really down to earth guy who loves creating and talking about music. Bizarre introductory remarks aside, we were then able to chat about his current solo project and upcoming album Hypnotised, which is the product of an inspirational three years on and off of travel through India.
While Pepa’s dog Tali suddenly begins gnawing at his leg, I make sure to also ask the story behind the nickname Pepa, hoping to dear god it has something to do with our favorite 80’s soft-core pop band Salt’n’Pepa. But in truth I discover from Pepa that it’s just a completely random nickname chosen for old solo projects. The nickname while completely random was encouraged however out of a necessity to distinguish himself from “a guy who had the exact same name as me and also the exact same birthday who also lived on the Central Coast”. It turns out that the second Cameron Knight “had ended up getting in some bad credit and they blamed me for it. So this guy has been giving me hell for ages and whenever he got a fine, I would instead. It kind of put me off the name. It took a long time but I think I’ve fixed it now.”
While Jinja Safari and the band’s high energy, afropop sound is undoubtedly where Pepa began to garner attention and popularity as a musician, his upcoming solo project proves that he is a talented and individual songwriter in his own right. Pepa explained that the upcoming album could be seen as “an extension of what I was doing in Jinja, but maybe a bit more ‘next level’ in that sense of using different world sounds”. It might seem interesting that an Australian guy from the Central Coast makes such a distinct effort to listen to and explore world music, be it African rhythms or Indian scales, but it’s simply because according to Pepa, world music is “really fresh to my ears”.
His travels to India were the source of the myriad musical inspirations that he channeled into the album, be it in the table arrangements of a few songs, to the inclusion of Sitar, which Pepa was able to play before travelling but had worked on and developed throughout his stay. There is an unfortunate but sometimes true cliché of Western musicians and travellers becoming self-proclaimed experts of a culture completely foreign to them, but what is absolutely refreshing about Pepa’s recollections of his experiences in India is his humility. Far from boasting about his Sitar skills, Pepa laments that “even if I played Sitar everyday for the rest of my life, I still wouldn’t be as good as some of those guys I met in India”, and that “when I was first in India, my mind was blown, it was such a new experiences for me to hear all these new sounds and time signatures”. The sense is never that Pepa fetishises or casually adopts Indian musical influences, but immerses himself in it and does his best to do justice to this world of music that a large majority of Australian audiences just simply haven’t heard.
The same dedication to achieving an authentic and respectful world music sound is clear in how Pepa talks about his creative process in general where “sometimes I would just really want to write a song in 7/4 and then I just keep adding layers and work from there. Sometimes it might be getting a new toy and a new instrument. And that’s what I like about new instruments, you end up writing something completely different because you’re not used to the instrument and it’s a new way of writing.” His boyish excitement is palpable in conversation and only grows more charming upon hearing that his studio was originally “set up in the teepee, but now I’ve moved it out and now… I just sleep… inside the teepee. I moved the studio out to another spot… in the granny flat (laughs)”.
While it’s ideal to approach the project without any predispositions and expectations, it seems unavoidable that comparisons between Jinja Safari and Pepa’s solo project are made, particularly by all those already familiar with and fans of Jinja Safari’s sound. I mentioned the tendency to look for a dramatic narrative of betrayal and tension when the words ‘solo project’ or ‘solo album’ are uttered, but Pepa laughs off that idea as I broach the subject of Jinja Safari’s hiatus: “A lot of interviewers have been trying to get some dirt out of me on the band and why I’m playing solo now but there’s always compromises in a collaboration, in a good way, and so its been a good thing for me to do while the bands on break to get some songs out and make a project work and get the vibes happening”. There is no daytime drama here but Pepa ventures in anticipation of a currently unknown future where Jinja Safari work on new music, that “I can imagine the new Jinja sound being a lot more minimalistic and completely different to what I’m doing now, so this is my chance to dive into this”.
While Jinja’s sound is definitely more upbeat and pop driven, Pepa’s solo album is “much more folkier than the Jinja songs, maybe not in the single that was released (referring to Rahh!) but in the rest of the album”. There are undeniable commonalities in the world music influence, and in the production value of the songs that feature interesting samples and textural layers, but the essense of Pepa’s solo project is that it’s a personal snapshot of his travels through India, and perhaps that’s what lends a much more intimate and warm sound to Hypnotised. Pepa tries to explain this by saying “I don’t think anyone else will get this, but for me I was trying to create this 3D experience when you listen to it.” It somehow makes complete sense and once again the fallacy of being a bad conversationalist seems ridiculous.
Pepa walks me through some memories that he captured through samples and included in the album: “Each song has these samples in there that are from the same place where the song was written. There’s a song called Lake Pushkar that was written in Pushkar, and I recorded these drums there from this man who would be playing there every afternoon as the sun was setting. So I got to loop that sample and write a whole song around that loop. And I also found this gypsy woman who offered to contribute to the song and sung this bit that was in the bridge later on. It was nice being able to have the song about what I was doing at the time. And the real samples from that place are all mixed in together”. Why should I try to explain when I can let Pepa explain it perfectly when he says that the experience of writing and recording in India felt as if “because they were written at a certain time and then rewritten as I was revisiting, it felt like in a way I was collaborating with myself. You know what I mean? It sucked when I deleted all the files (laughs). So I’d have to listen to the mp3 of what I did and try to replicate it or build off what I did before”.
In this sense, Hypnotised can almost be recognised as an album in its most literal sense, almost like a time capsule – a musical distillation of moments and memories brought back to share, but ultimately only belonging to the person who’s experienced it all. I’m just glad that person was kind enough to create something out of it and share it with the rest of us, setting off a domino chain of good vibes.
Pepa will be launching his album Hypnotised at Goodgod on August 1st and will be playing with a live band of five, all local musicians from Long Jetty, NSW. If you wanted to get tickets head here. You can also check out the two tracks released from the album below.
By Jess Alcamo
Pepa Knight Album Launch
When: 8:00pm, Fri 1st August, 2014
Where: Goodgod Small Club, NSW