The Knux's breakthrough could hardly have been more auspicious. The duo's first major-label release, 2008's Remind Me in 3 Days, was immediately touted as one of the most innovative and different-sounding new acts in hip-hop.
There was just one problem: Despite the alternative hip-hop label assigned to them by most music critics, the two brothers that make up the Knux — Kentrell "Krispy" Lindsey and Alvin "Joey" Lindsey — don't consider themselves a hip-hop act at all. Instead, they'd prefer to operate more along the genre-defying lines of folks like Prince and Radiohead.
"We're like them because we see ourselves as artists," says Kentrell. "I mean, Prince did all of it. Prince did the super, super rocking stuff with guitar solos. He did so much that was R&B. He did soulful stuff. He was a funky guy. So we saw ourselves the same way, I guess. Or even as a band like Radiohead, that would change every album."
Co-produced with Rob Orton (Police, Lady Gaga), the duo's 2011 followup album, Eraser, drives home Kentrell's point. Singles like "Run," featuring Kid Cudi, and "She's So Up" are driven by hooky guitar riffs and harmony-laden choruses. The programmed rhythms and hip-hop elements of Remind Me in 3 Days are still there, but they take a backseat to the duo's more rock and pop ambitions. "1974" boasts a guest vocal from British electro-pop diva Natalia Kills, while "Queen of the Cold" recalls Sandinista!-era Clash with its multi-cultural mix of rock grit, dub bassline and driving dance beat.
The ability to move easily between musical styles didn't happen by accident. It's an outgrowth of the Lindsey brothers' early years growing up in a rough-and-tumble area of New Orleans, where their music-loving mother introduced them to the funk, R&B, soul, pop and rock styles that would eventually be reflected in the duo's music. Along the way, they also became well acquainted with rap and hip-hop.
After Hurricane Katrina, the brothers relocated to Los Angeles, where it didn't take long for the duo to get noticed. They flirted briefly with Atlantic Records, but instead decided to go with Interscope, lured by the label's assurance that the group would have creative control over their music.
"If there's an audience for it, people that want to hear it," says Kentrell, "I feel like you should be able to do anything you want to do."
This time out, that involved changes to the songwriting process. "A lot of the new songs were written on acoustic guitar," explains brother Alvin, noting that the previous album began with programming rhythms and then building the songs up from there. "Personally, I think songs just sound better on acoustic. If it doesn't sound good on acoustic, it's probably not a very good song."
Of course, the acoustic guitar was soon replaced by heavier sounds. "We're fairly garage rock, really a straightforward rock 'n roll band," says Kentrell. "This is the kind of record we've always wanted to make."
The duo says Eraser is also more conducive to live performances, where, in addition to Alvin's guitar and Kentrell's keyboards, they'll feature a drummer, bassist and second keyboardist.
"We're a touring band, that's how we started," says Kentrell. "We did our first tour before we even had our first single out. To really get us, you have to see us live."