In January 2017, the cult-adored Boston-based trio Krill explained in a Facebook post why they’d broken up two years prior. “The indie rock world skews upper-middle class, male, and white,” they wrote. “It can feel political and leftist and radical, but it often fails to spur real action. People sell engagement in this community as inherently countercultural, oppositional, and antagonistic to power. It's not.”
Rather than continuing to participate in that scene, they’d decided to take direct action. Bassist and singer Jonah Furman had gone to work in the labor movement, eventually landing as the National Labor Organizer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Drummer Ian Becker had moved to Texas to take a job in public housing. Guitarist Aaron Ratoff had gone to study civil rights law.
“A lot of people who liked Krill[...] liked it because it was implicitly radical — emotionally, aesthetically,” they wrote. “Well, now is a really good time to start being explicitly radical.”
Three years later, after handful of false starts, Furman, Becker, and Ratoff have reunited, brought in an extra member, and recorded a new LP under the name Knot. The four-piece’s self-titled debut is due out August 28 via Exploding in Sound, and lead single “Foam” is premiering below. It’s immediately clear from “Foam” that a few things have changed since the Krill days — Furman has switched to guitar alongside newcomer (and fellow labor activist) Joe DeManuelle-Hall, and the songs sound cleaner, tenser, more nervy.
But that same radical impulse — the one that had hardcore fans dissecting the existential questions at the root of Krill’s albums, the one that the one that meant thousands of them probably really were interested in being “explicitly radical” — remains. On Knot, as the songs clatter and stagger forwards, Furman sings about justice and collective destiny with the resolve of someone who’s not only thought about such concepts, but tried to realize them. Where Krill concerned themselves with ethics and morality, with Furman howling his unanswerable questions in warbled couplets, Knot are more politically frustrated. "Was my father right when he said, 'Maybe we are all just evil motherfuckers'?" Furman sings on "Foam." "I believe in people's power, but not at this late hour, personally."
On the phone from a beach about an hour south of Boston, Furman explained what brought the band back together, the “more mature” approach to music that comes with paying part-time, and what he hopes to achieve with these more politically minded songs.
The FADER: Was there anything specific that prompted your decision to dissolve Krill?
Jonah Furman: We were all politically conscious people. That's why we did the band. I think we all felt that it was time to do something a little more — I don't know, it's hard to find the right term that's not too harsh — socially useful or oriented to some kind of justice. Being in the rock band, it's not bad, I'm not sure how it helps anything. Every time I try to speak about it, it sounds like I'm being too harsh on it. I don't mean to be harsh on it. I think we definitely all felt like it was time to contribute to a world we wanted to see.
When you first started the band, did you hope or expect that you would be able to make a difference while pursuing art? Was it just it eroded on you after a while that you couldn't?
Obviously you tell a story and make sense of the choices you made. When I was younger, I was more open to the idea that making art is an important way to improve the world through creating something beautiful and meaningful. That was a worthy pursuit in itself. When I was 20, I thought that making art was an important part of making a better world. I don't know that I think that — or at least not in a world that's as fucked up as ours is. I think there's more important things to be doing. Also, you get it out of your system.
People talk about expressing yourself. At a certain point, you’ve said what you wanted to say. There's not much more to say. You need to have a little bit more life experience.
So, did the band start again because you felt you had something new to say?
It didn’t start like that. This new band has a new member, Joe, who I met after Krill ended. We started playing a little bit together. It was just very casual. Then Aaron and Joe and I were playing a little bit together. For me, being the chief songwriter, I wasn't writing songs in the meantime very much. I write when there's a band to play with. It wasn't super intentional to reform. [We were] just getting together when we could get together. I think everyone was quite reluctant to say this is a new band, these are songs, this is a project. We've been very slow with all of it.
Why do you think people were reluctant?
With Krill, we had other jobs, but it was like this is what we do. We are in this band. All of our output is supposed to be coherent and thoughtful. Our goal is to tour more, to put out more records. It wasn't clear to me what it would be like to be in a band where that wasn't the case — something that's not the main thing of your life.
I think that's a more normal of a way of making music and making art. It's a much more mature way of doing it, I think, where you're like art is the stuff you make alongside the life you live, as opposed to [putting] your whole identity in your output.
Was that quite liberating, just being able to write without having that pressure of having to put your entire life into a song?
In a way. I find it a lot more confusing. During Krill, I feel like I could write a whole narrative of the band and the albums and what this project was about and how it fit into other art and. [Knot] much more feels like a byproduct of other things. Maybe it's liberating in a way, but it's also a little bit more confusing for me how it's supposed to operate.
If you could put it in a paragraph, what was that narrative of Krill?
It was very much about ethics and morality. One's moral responsibilities to oneself and to other people and trying to be in conversation with other ethical art or moral art. I think it was a lot about duty and a lot about responsibility. I think about what I was reading in that time in my life when I wrote a lot of those songs. I used to re-read Crime and Punishment all the time and think about really heavy ideas about individual responsibility and relationships to the people you love, what you owe people, what you owe yourself.
With that in mind, two songs on this record really stand out to me: “Justice” and “Foam.” The whole album is concerned with the questions you raise there, but those tw in particular sound like they’re in dialogue.
Maybe opposite veins, yeah, but definitely in conversation. If you think of other Krill songs like "Infinite Power," that was all about the same question: Do I have a lot of power in the world? Am I an amazing empowered person, or am I a weak, insignificant nothing?
I think the same questions are on this album, but it's much more about people as a collective and not as an individual. Obviously, it's all written through the individual. It has to be. I think part of what this album is trying to do is explore different modes of political and collective feelings.
“Justice” is a lot about the value of absolute ideals of justice and power and how it's good to have collective power and it's good to have collective justice. “Foam” is really about, in an oblique way, global warming — the idea that we're all fucked, the collective feeling that we don't have enough power and we're not going to do what's needed to save the world.
Do you think your time away from music, working for Bernie Sanders, working in the labor movement — changed your stance? Did it make you more hopeful?
For me, the political work I do is not really about whether I think there's a chance or not a chance or hope or not hope. It's that there's a problem posed by the fact of being a member of a collective, the fact of you're born into certain political situations.
It's the same with Krill. Again, I don't mean to keep taking it back, but you got me thinking about this now. What I hope to do, or I think what I'm trying to do with music is explore the different modes that are available. Some days you wake up and you feel hopeful about political prospects, or you feel like a good person individually, or you feel happy, or you feel despondent either individually or collectively or politically. Mostly, I don't think the music stuff is a good venue for political action. My hope is not to inspire anyone to feel a certain way but to give voice to the tensions of thinking politically in the same way that Krill was trying to give weight to the tensions of thinking morally or ethically.
I don't find myself motivated by hope or aspiration as much as I find myself motivated by waking up in a world of suffering and a world of injustice. You don't have a choice but to respond to it.