Hopping between genres the way their wackadoo frontman hops around venues, Michigan’s Child Bite are seldom idle. With their relentless touring schedule, they still manage to consistently put out mind-bending, refreshingly weird records and unlikely splits and collaborations, all of which blur boundaries in extreme music. After the Philadelphia date of their tour with KEN Mode, singer/graphic designer Shawn Knight and I sit for chat that, much like their music, manically leaps from place to place.
How’s this tour been going for you?
Shawn: We’ve been having a lot of fun on this tour. This has been the first year where we got a substantial amount of tour offers, people asking us to go out with them. The first nine years of the band was very much like “Oh, we got a new record. I guess we should probably go do some touring” and we’d have fun, and it was super-duper d.i.y., but this is the first year where Coliseum wants to take us on tour, Superjoint Ritual, and then Down, and then KEN Mode, next month Negative Approach. It’s been good. We’ve been happy.
Speaking of Down and Superjoint, you guys seem to work with Phil Anselmo a lot. What’s that relationship like?
Shawn: Yeah, I don’t know why he likes us, but he does and that’s nice; I’m happy about it. It started a while ago. I was doing art for some of his bands, and then we had the idea for that Anal Cunt thing [Morbid Hits] and kind of ran that by him, and he was into it, and then the ball just kept rolling. We were just down there in April and May recording our new record, and having him produce it at his house, like in a studio and everything. We didn’t know how that was gonna go, and, to be honest, we were a little nervous, we were like “I don’t know if he’s going to try to f*ckin metal-ify us”, cause we’re not totally that, even though we like that shit, but we’re not straight-up that. To our delight, he was like “That’s the last thing I’d f*ckin’ wanna hear. I like you guys ‘cause you’re different”, and just really embraced that, and just tried to get the best performances out of us, and come up with interesting production ideas, stuff like that. So that was great. That’ll be coming out on his label, which is called Housecore, probably in the winter, later in the winter, early next year I’d imagine. So, yeah, the last record came out with him, the Anal Cunt collaboration came out with him, the new one will and for the foreseeable future, he’s kind of taken us under his wing.
Like what Phil said, it seems like you’re not really bound to punk or metal or hardcore, you’re kind of the Mr. Bungle of extreme music. Do you find that translates to a mixed crowd when you play?
Shawn: It seems like it’s been working out more often than not, which is good ‘cause we know it’s a mixed thing. We’re curious how it’s going to go over with the Negative Approach crowd –
-yeah, they’re so straight-ahead.
Shawn: Yeah, very strict guidelines of hardcore, even though they should keep in mind some of the old-school hardcore bands like Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, the later Black Flag stuff, some of that stuff got really weird. Hopefully, they see that we’re more influenced by the weirder side of that shit and hopefully they see it translates and goes over, but if not f*ck ‘em, it’s fine, whatever. We’ll do what we gotta do. But in general, yeah, people I have been into it and sometimes say shit like “That was a breath of fresh air cause I’m not sure how to pigeon-hole it. It’s like this band, but also this other band which is totally different”. I’m like “Yes. You get it”. That just comes from – we all write together. There’s not one or two of us that write the songs and say “Here’s how the songs go”. It’s like we all get into a room together, and we’ve all been into so many kinds of music growing up, not only 80’s shit, but 90’s shit too, just ‘cause of the age that we are, so it’s like a weird mix of anything from those 80’s hardcore bands I mentioned to 90’s shit like old Nirvana or Mr. Bungle – I gotta half-sleeve of Mr. Bungle tattoos, Disco Volante there, so, yeah, y’hit the nail on the head there, but then some of the other guys never heard about Mr. Bungle until they joined the band, and they were into all different kinds of punk and metal and “alternative” – there’s some air quotes there – and “grunge” with more quotes, basically all that weird, gnarly shit from like late 70’s to mid 2000’s is all thrown into our weird witch’s brew and stirred up and turns into whatever the f*ck it is we’re doing.
I remember reading somewhere that Child Bite is a sort of super-group. Is that accurate?
Shawn: I haven’t heard that, and I think it’s kind of funny. I wouldn’t say it’s accurate, cause it’s more just a group. We’ve all been in other bands, playing together, and our old bands would play shows together, and I look at Child Bite, at least from our little circle of whatever the f*ck it is we’re doing in the Detroit area, as almost like the ship that’s still kind of chuggin’ along, like when another ship – i.e. band – is sinking and most of them are like “Yes. I want this to end. I’m done. Please, the sweet relief of being done with this shit” and there’ll be one guy that’s on the life-raft like “I still wanna tour, and I still wanna play music.” “Well, c’mon! Jump on here!” So, we’re where everybody that is not ready to quit jumps on and keeps rollin’. That’s been the case. I started the band with a couple of other dudes ten years ago, and then each of the guys that are in the band now came from the ashes of another band, where they were all not doing anything or doing something totally different, so one guy would jump on over here. Let’s keep going’.
So I haven’t been able to find the lyrics to this last release [Strange Waste]. Are you still on that Lovecraft tip?
Shawn: I would say not quite as much on this one. There was a record a couple EPs ago called Monomania that was much more Lovecraftian, and Edgar Allen Poeian, and maybe even Italian futurist, just very weird word scramble, but with very dark undertone like “I don’t know what he means by that, but it doesn’t sound good” type of vibe.
Shawn: Yeah, a bit of that. The more recent records and the one that’s not out yet, it’s more so dealing with subject matter and topics that I think about, like actual real day-to-day kind of shit, but worded in a weird, fanciful, thesaurus-y type of way that makes it a little more confusing and a little more interesting. If you don’t want to read what it’s all about, like “That’s kind of weird and f*cked up. I can appreciate it on that aesthetic level”, or if you read into it you’re kind of like “What does he mean by that?” and you keep reading and “Oh! I think I get what he’s talking about”, then you can go deeper if you want, but it’s cool. I’ve never even been very much a “lyric guy”, when it comes to other bands. Certain songs here or there like “That’s so cool, or profound, or touching” or whatever, but it’s never been the main thing for me, so that was kind of a whole other project: becoming a frontman for a band and “What am I gonna talk about?” Just like when I stopped playing guitar in the band and I was like “What am I going to do up there?” It’s not like it’s that thought out. It’s not “I gotta pose and do all these cool things”. You gotta do something! You can’t just stand there…we’re getting into a totally different topic.
Shawn: It’s interesting. What is the phrase? Necessity is the mother of invention. “I need to say something. What am I going to talk about?” and you come up with something and hopefully you don’t fall flat on your face and say some dumb shit. I think that’s where lyrically and musically the biggest concern was for me: I just don’t want it to be generic, some shit that a thousand other bands have already done, so we push to be unique musically and lyrically, “Well, I can talk about regular things I think about, but try to find a new way to do it”, so it just doesn’t sound like “I’ve heard this song before done by a plethora of other bands”, y’know?
Yeah, especially in punk. It’s like every band has to have an organized religion is bullshit song, every band has to have a cops are bad song…
Shawn: Right, and we do have some of those, but I try to frame it in a new way, so it’s not just the same thing that you’ve already f*ckin’ heard. How many times can you say “pigs must die”? You gotta come up with a new way.
You do all the graphic design for albums and merch?
Shawn: I do, yes.
It seems like it’s become more consistent. At this point, do you sort of know what Child Bite looks like?
Shawn: Yeah, that was a conscious effort. The sound and the visual at the same time was a conscious effort. Like I said, we’ve been a band – we started in late 2005, and it’s changed as time’s gone on; different people have come in, our influences have changed, and just getting bored with one thing, wanting to do different shit. It keeps changing. There was a spot once the original two dudes I started the band with were out of the picture, and it was the newer guys. We always had pop sensibilities, and kind of teetered, tip-toed into the indie rock world, but we also had the weirder and heavier sort of jarring aspects of the band, and it was about mid-way through our – again, air quotes – “career”, about five years into the band when it was enough of a change of the guard and enough of a change of the scenery around us, as far as the Detroit local music landscape, the types of bands we were playing with, that we were like “Let’s get the f*ck off the fence. Let’s just go more heavy and weird than heavy and weird, but also more indie, poppy, kind of weird”, y’know? We still can’t help but write stuff that has hooks to it, but it’s more in a way, like the way The Misfits had hooks, that kind of thing. We’re never gonna be just a straight-up punishing, bludgeoning, noise-type thing, y’know?
Not like these guys [pointing to the The Body shirt I have on].
Shawn: Yeah. We played with them a couple of months ago, and they have this shirt where it’s like “Anti-Sabbath, Anti-riff” or something like that, and it was like “I like you guys, but I’m into Sabbath and I’m into riffs”. We’re all about riffs, and trying to have catchy parts and shit, but in a noisy, heavy way.
But, yeah, to get back to what you actually asked about, around maybe 2011, with that Monomania record, that was when I came up with a t-shirt design that I did a new text treatment for and it was like “We’re going to keep using this”, and we all kind of agreed “Yeah, why don’t we just do that?”. Before that it was “Let’s do something different for every cover, every record its own special little snowflake. I’m not gonna do logos”, because I am a graphic designer by trade and worked in agencies and what not, [grumpy punk voice]: “We’re not gonna do logos or branding, ‘cause that’s corporate” and then I remembered “What about when I was in middle school and I used to draw the Metallica logo all the time, or The Misfits logo, or the Black Flag bars, or the DK, or the Anthrax logo? Why am I fighting so hard against this shit that I thought was so f*cking cool?” The type of music we’re playing now is the closest to what I used to listen to when I was like 13, 14, 15, 16 years old, and it just feels right, y’know? We’re kind of coming full circle in a way. So, yeah, we just decided “We’re over-thinking things. let’s just f*cking go with something that’s recognizable. We dig it. Other people seem to dig it, here and there, a little bit, and let’s just f*cking go with it.” Not to say it won’t change in the future. It’s fun to work within a framework. Sometimes it’s too much to have, in any – music, visual art – anything where it’s like “Your options are limitless.” Sometimes it’s kind of cool, but sometimes that’s just too much. Right now we’re having fun working within a framework, where it’s like “I’m doing the illustration stuff”. We’ll teeter on different borders of that, but it’ll still be recognizable as Child Bite, and the music it’ll be “This song will maybe be slower or this other thing where it’s almost grind-y”, but still within a framework where it’s like “I can tell that’s Child Bite”.
I heard that you live in a tiny home. Is that true?
Shawn: I do. It’s a little tiny home on wheels. Yeah, it’s been cool so far. I’ve been on tour so much that I don’t actually know. I’ve just been in the other tiny home a.k.a. the van, but my wife and I moved into it a couple months ago and it’s been so far so good. We just figured “F*ck it! We don’t own the house that we’re in, so we can just leave whenever. We both do work that we can do from the road, wherever we have Wi-Fi. F*ck that. That’s cool. Don’t have any kids. We just have little dogs. They’re compact enough.” We were both into the idea and we were like “Let’s try it out” and, if a year from now, we decide we don’t like it, we can always go back and rent another house or apartment or something. So far, so good. We’re having fun with it.
The road’s kind of your home now, huh?
Shawn: It is. It’s kind of a permanent tour where we’re relying on the Google calendar. I’m on actual tour, and right when I get back the other color lines are where it’s like “We’re going to be in our trailer living in Ohio for a week, and we’re moving over to southern Indiana for two weeks, and then I gotta be back in time to rehearse with the band for the Negative Approach tour, but at the same time we have the other line going because we have to store the trailer further south so the pipes don’t freeze, and then after that tour’s done we’ll go down there, then go back for Christmas”, so, yeah, it’s a little crazy, but we’re into it at the moment. If it becomes more overwhelming than fun, we’ll change it, but until it’s not fun, we’re not gonna change it.
Wrapping up, what’s next for Child Bite?
Shawn: We just finished mixing the new album a week ago, cause the tour right now that we’re on swung through New Orleans, where we were working on in it, and it was the day before Phil and his whole crew left to go on the Danzig tour that they’re on right now. So there was that one day of overlap where we eclipsed, and that was great. We got to make the final touches in the same room, and thumps up all around, we were like “Good. Done.” That’s done. It’s still gotta get mastered. I got to work on the art as soon as I get home. It’s hard to do art from the road. I keep on not having time, or being in weird scenarios where I can’t focus or don’t have a flat surface or I’m not bouncing’ around in a van. So, got to get the art done, get the mastering done, get it pressed, so it’ll still be a few months, but I’m thinking’ January, February, March, something’ like that, and that’s about it. I’ve been doing a fest in Detroit the past couple of years called Berserker and this’ll be the third year coming’ up in March. We always play it. It’s fun, I get to pick all the bands and shit so, obviously, that’s a kid in the candy store type of thing. It also ends up being kind of like our anniversary hometown show, so I know we’ll be doing that Detroit show in March. Other than that, our agent is looking into different tours for us, a couple where it’s fingers crossed but too early to say, and hopefully it’s more of this, but with a new record, and different bands. We’ll just keep the ball rollin’ and try not to stop. Like a shark, as soon as you stop, you start to second guess everything. I guess that’s what sharks do: they start second guessing life. They get all existential.
No, I think they just die.
Shawn: IIIIII’m not sure about that, we’ll have to double check that. We’ll have to Wikipedia that when we’re done with this, but one or the other.