Interview: Luke the Knife
Luke Miller of Lotus (guitar/keys) will be performing under his DJ moniker Luke the Knife for the first time on the East Coast in New York City on January 26th, following Lotus’ performance at the Best Buy Theater earlier that night. Luke took the time to answer some questions from Sensible Reason about his new solo project, as well as some (at times quite humorous) questions from a few of his devoted fans. Check out my interview with Luke below, and learn more about the up-and-coming electronic act LtK:
What (or who) was your biggest inspiration in beginning to play around with electronic music production equipment and ultimately launching Luke the Knife?
Equipment-wise, putting these tracks together is the same gear I use to put Lotus demos and songs together. The story behind launching LtK was that Lotus had a light fall schedule. The guys at the Highland Tap & Burger had inquired if I wanted to do a weekly gig there. Ultimately that didn’t end up happening, but the project that I dreamed up for that became Luke the Knife. I had never DJed before, so I had to learn to do that. I tried a couple different programs, but ended up going with Traktor. It took me about 5 days to learn to how to DJ with that software.
Your mixes utilize music from a variety of genres and almost seamlessly blend them together. Tell us a bit about your creative process. How do you choose the songs you remix? How do you choose which songs to weave together in a mix?
I look for songs that generally fall between 100 -128 bpm. And mostly use songs that have some live instrumentation, be it horns, electric bass, acoustic percussion, strings. I listen for songs that have a good groove first and a catchy hook second. And then from there it’s just a gut feeling I get from the song.
For the mixes it’s a bit different for each one, but generally I choose songs that have a similar energy level. Then I arrange them in an order of tempo and key. Finding the first and last song is generally first decision, then I try to have the mix build energy throughout, until a little comedown at the end.
I think I speak for many of your fans when I say we love that you are bringing the funk back and incorporating it into disco and nu-disco. You see a variety of DJ’s today mixing a lot of dubstep, and even remixing disco with house and electronic music, but it seems like there is less of a use of that classic funk. The prominence of funk in your project makes you somewhat unique as a DJ and live electronic act, and you have also created a more instrument-driven take on the nu-disco genre currently on the rise. Which classic funk and/or disco group(s) have had the most influence on your work? Do you have a favorite group or song?
I don’t know why there aren’t more DJ’s using funk influences. DJing is all about getting people dancing and the funk does that. It might be because it takes more work because funk songs are recorded with a live drummer so the tempos fluctuate and that makes it harder to mix. Also, the way these songs from the 70’s were recorded they have a lot less bass and punch in the drums than people are used to today with modern electronic music. So those are the things I work on for the re-rubs.
For this project I’m drawing on some of the heavier funk bands who generally had a bad-ass bass player like Brothers Johnson, the Gap Band, and Instant Funk.
You are swimming in a sea of a million DJ’s and electronic projects. Many of your biggest fans from Lotus feel like you stand out in that crowd, but who stands out to you? Are there any modern nu-disco or electronic acts that have influenced your own project?
I enjoy Gigamesh, the Magician, and James Murphy.
You’ve taken the stage hundreds upon hundreds of times with Lotus, and you always seem so at ease there. How has it felt taking the stage as Luke the Knife as compared to taking the stage with Lotus? How has it felt doing a DJ set as compared to doing a live set with fellow Lotus member Chuck Morris?
The first show DJing I was a little nervous since I had not DJed before and I was worried about pushing the wrong button and screwing something up. That did happen, but no one seemed to notice. After that first gig I’m back to feeling comfortable.
Doing a DJ set is all about reading the crowd. Should I milk this groove longer or should I change it up? Should I speed things up or slow them down? Should I do a build up or a break down? I usually move through songs faster (therefore playing more songs) in the DJ sets. In the live set I choose the songs and order beforehand, so there is less of reading the crowd. But having the keyboards and guitar up there and having a live drummer is a much more visual show.
Will your performance at Lucille’s at B.B. Kings Blues Club in New York City on the 26th this month be a live set or a DJ set? Will you be sporting your disco threads again, and do you invite your fans to do so as well?
That will be a DJ set. Logistically that was the only situation that would work. If fans can [come out in disco attire] that would be awesome. It definitely adds to the festivities and gets people into the boogie state of mind. I’ll see if I can fit anything into my suitcase for the flight out.
Is there any chance of Luke the Knife opening for Lotus or performing another after-party during the massive Winter Tour the band has planned? Do you have any plans (or desire) to perform at any music festivals this summer?
I looked into a few options, but the only one that made sense was the late night show in NYC. I would love to bring LtK to some festivals this summer. The project is so new, just starting in mid-December, that I haven’t made plans yet, but maybe something will work out. What I’d really like to do is go overseas. On Soundcloud I have people following me from Spain, the UK, Denmark, Australia, Russia, France, etc. I’ve already gotten blog write-ups in Denmark and Australia. Disco is bigger over in some of those areas and it’s much more feasible to travel as a DJ than as a band. So that’s something I am definitely interested in pursuing.
Do you see Luke the Knife being more of a DJ project with occasional live sets, or do you see it becoming a consistently live electronic act more along the lines of EOTO or Big Gigantic? Do you see yourself producing original material as LtK in the future?
I’m not sure. I’m just going with the flow right now. I’ve only been doing LtK for 2 months now so we’ll see. Doing live sets definitely has a more exciting visual appeal and a DJ set has the flexibility for travel and ease of set-up, so it’s nice to have both options. I’m not sure if I will produce stuff from scratch for LtK. That process takes much longer than remixing so I might want to save that time for producing Lotus material. But you never know.
At your show at Highland Tap & Burger in Denver on January 9, you had percussionist Anthony Fugate and saxophonist Pete Wall sit in. Do you foresee bringing a variety of instruments and guest musicians in to play with Luke the Knife Live?
Yes. Clark Smith (Dynohunter) sat in [on January 12] at the Breckenridge show, and Nick Gerlach (Cosby Sweater) sat in [on December 19] at the show at Cervantes’ Other Side [both on saxophone]. I would like to bring in guest musicians when possible. It’s fun to have a change of pace during the show, and give the crowd a new face and sound for a little bit.
The following are some questions crowd-sourced from some of your die-hard Lotus fans. Some of them are quite amusing, and meant to give you a laugh more than anything else, but if you would like to answer any or all of them please feel free!
We’ll start with the slightly more serious questions.
How do you choose the samples you use in your mixes – particularly, those used in the opening to the “Live From Denver” mix? How do you layer your samples to make them sound so smooth?
Choosing songs live is all about looking and listening to the crowd, trying to read what I think will work best. If by “Live from Denver” you’re referring to the Bar Standard show the opening DJ’s were playing more disco-house stuff around 128 bpm. So I wanted to fit into that, but still be a bit different to stand out. So I went with a disco-house track that was a little slower, but with more of a funk underpinning than the sounds the openers had been spinning.
I think the layering question is asking about mixing between songs. To make that sound smooth I focus on keys and textures. Key-wise I either move in the circle of 5ths, or I find a song that is only a half-step or whole-step away. If it is a half-step or whole step away I’ll shift the pitch so it matches. Then I set up a custom chain on Traktor so I can move the keys of both songs in conjunction to return to the original key of the new song.
If the song I want to mix into doesn’t fit that criteria key-wise I’ll find a section that is drums only and mix at that point. The other thing I listen for is the bass. If the two baselines clash I’ll cut the low end of the first song before I mix in the second.
Is there any chance of you bringing in guest musicians playing the harmonica, the accordion, or other instruments of the folk genre in an attempt to blend folk music with your funky disco?
I do not see that happening. I don’t think it would blend very well. I could see horn players, guitar, keys, and percussionists fitting in the easiest.
What is your take on deep house and acid/mushroom jazz? Particularly on Mark Farina?
I’ve seen Mark Farina play several times. He is definitely a legend and one of the first DJ’s I was into. Nowadays I’m not as into deep house/acid jazz, but it definitely influenced me in the past.
This is where the questions get a little silly. Be prepared to laugh out loud.
Will there be a giant spinning disco ball at your show on the 26th (and can we bring roller skates)?
I’ve never been to the venue, so I don’t know. I have set up some visual elements for the show, but I’ll leave that as a surprise.
Can you one day hold a show at a roller rink in the New York area (or anywhere in the Northeast for that matter)?
If there is a roller rink with a banging sound system, let’s roll. Literally.
If ‘funk’ was in fact a person, what is the first thing you would say to him (or her!)?
Get the funk out ma face.
If you were to challenge any other live electronic performer to a cage match, who would it be? If you were to engage in said cage match, would it be hand-to-hand, music-to-music, or weapon-based (the traditional tables, chairs, and ladders, or the more thematically appropriate damaged or outdated DJ equipment)?
Maybe Excision. Give the evil dubstep bass some disco love to battle. Music-to-music a la Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. That scene where Sex Bob-Omb battles the Japanese twin DJ’s is great. I think Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene did the music so the bass tones are incredible.
Many thanks to Luke Miller for answering our questions here at Sensible Reason. I think I speak for many of his fans when I say we cannot wait for Luke the Knife to make its East Coast debut. Tickets are still available for the show, being held at Lucille’s Bar & Grill (inside of B.B. King Blues Club). However, as tickets are limited, you may want to purchase them in advance here. And don’t forget to dress disco!