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Looking Back At 10 Years Of Kentucky Knife Fight

James Baker performs with Kentucky Knife Fight at Off Broadway
Jess Luther | St. Louis Public Radio

For 10 years the band Kentucky Knife Fight, an institution in St. Louis’ indie rock community, pursued a sound that stood out from the crowd.

“I would want people to remember us for the fact that we never compromised our sound, we never tried to fit into a box,” said James Baker, 31, the band’s drummer.

Saturday Nov. 22 the group played its last show at Off Broadway. Baker has been with the group since it formed in 2005 in Edwardsville. Its sound is a particular kind of Americana dominated by tight guitar licks and a dark swagger. The air of an outlaw breathes through their lyrics. Each song on its last album Hush, Hush focused on crime. Band members pride themselves on their sound, a sound wrought from years of experience playing on the road and here in St. Louis. Barker remembers their first practice as unfocused.

“It was odd, we were trying to write folk songs,” said Barker, “we were sitting in a room writing music, not really knowing what kind of sound we were going for.”

Since that early listless practice, Kentucky Knife Fight has dedicated itself to its craft. The band released three albums and toured across the U.S., playing in more than 25 states, while maintaining a home here in St. Louis. Baker says the St. Louis music scene was integral in supporting the band.

“St. Louis in general has really kept us going, we’ve got a good base here,” Barker said. “A lot of local journalists, and bloggers, and radio stations have really embraced us.”

CD cover
Credit Band Camp
CD cover

The band has changed and grown during the years. There have been line-up changes and changes with each tour, each album. Yet, Barker thinks the band hit an early stride in Edwardsville where the band had a free practice space and a place to throw house shows. It would set up merchandise in a back room and host bands from around the country in an unheated building next to a police station. When the band transitioned to St. Louis it began to play official venues like Off Broadway.

Steve Pohlman,Off Broadway’s owner, gave the band its first gig at his venue years ago. He still remembers the first show’s intensity and energy.

“When you see these guys on stage, there’s a lot of movement with purpose,” said Pohlman, “Like they’re about to get in a fight.”

Pohlman booked the band repeatedly because of their energy and the band’s hooks. He insists it was impossible to forget their songs if you heard them live.

“When you see a band live and they play a song, and they’re three minutes into it, and the chorus comes around again and you’re there with them, that’s a pretty good indicator that something’s going on,” said Pohlman. He’s watched the band evolve, developing its sound and honing its craft through tours that always wrapped up here in St. Louis.

Barker remembers the road fondly but admits it wasn’t always easy, especially early on. The night before an important gig at a Chicago club, guitarist Nate Jones was in a fight with his roommate, whose collarbone was broken. The roommate pressed charges. Nate spent the night in a St. Louis jail and was released just in time to make it to the show. During Nate’s overnight stay, Barker started coming down with the flu. They’ made it to the gig on time but Nate remained shaken and Barker was ill.

Eventually founding guitarist David Wiatrolik left the group and was replaced by multi-instrumentalist Curtis Brewer, 31, who joined in 2010. Brewer went to his first rehearsal with the band having learned every guitar part for 23 of the band’s songs. His second show in St. Louis with Kentucky Knife Fight was the record release show for the album We’re All Nameless Here, at Off Broadway.

Curtis Brewer performs with Kentucky Knife Fight at Off Broadway
Credit Jess Luther | St. Louis Public Radio
Curtis Brewer performs with Kentucky Knife Fight at Off Broadway

“It was the first time I’d played original rock and roll music in front of three or four hundred and some odd people, and we got done with three or four songs and Jason Koenig, our bassist, turned to me and said ‘welcome to being a rock star!’” said Brewer.

For Brewer it was a feeling unlike any other. The experience was only topped by a later show at Off Broadway where one of his guitar strings broke, and instead of replacing it Brewer pulled taught the end still attached to his guitar and began to play it.

“It was making the most distorted gross noises in my entire life and just when I was doing that one of my guitar heroes in St. Louis walked by and it was like, ‘Woah, that’s cool’ and that made me feel like this was the greatest gig of the entire year,” said Brewer.

Brewer feels as though the band’s success was due to in large part to word of mouth in the St. Louis music community as well as support from local journalists, bloggers and radio stations. Both Brewer and Baker felt touched by the chance to look back at their legacy and share a decade’s worth of music with a crowd of fans, friends, and family at their sold-out show this past weekend.

“To know this is more than likely the last time I’ll play the solos on songs of ours like '"Love the Lonely' and 'Bad Blood,' that this is it, it’s a very strange feeling, I can’t imagine it,” said Brewer.

“I don’t think any of us expected for it to last for 10 years, but I don’t regret it at all,” said Baker, “It’s a really amazing experience, I’ve met a lot of friends and fans all across the country and it’s not something I would change for anything.”