bill bodkin speaks with the New Jersey blues-rock band …
Listening to The Knight Owls, you’ll be transported to a bygone era of blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll. The Woodbridge, N.J., band is quite unique. It’s made of up three veteran musicians and a high school-age guitarist. No slight to the rest of the band, but the quality of the guitarist Matt Check’s work is really impressive. Do we have a future guitar hero coming of Central Jersey? This is something we’re excited to see.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with all four members of The Knight Owls — Matt Check, his father John Check, Manny Pena and the newest Owl Ron Wagenhoffer — about their relationship as a band, their album Who Gives A Hoot and performing at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
Pop-Break: How did the band come together? I only ask because the band consists of three adults and one high schooler.
Matt Check: I had met Manny’s son Sean in school [Woodbridge High School], and one day I came over to jam and Manny came down and just got his bass, and it went from there really. We picked a song to try and play and that’s how it started. The next session, I brought down ideas I had for songs like: “Scarlet,” “The Loner,” and “Gemini.” I recruited my father John to come and play from there, and that was the lineup for a while. After Sean left, we went through a couple different drummers — a couple came and went, and then we got Ronnie and have never been happier.
John Check: Matt was jamming with his friend Sean on drums and his father in the bass, and they needed a singer, so I decided to help.
Manny Pena: Two high school kids brought it together.
Ron Wagenhoffer: John called me one day and asked if I wanted to play with him and his son. I didn’t play for five years, but I knew John for over 20 years, so I didn’t even have to think about it I said yes.
PB: What is it about the blues that you guys that made you guys decide you wanted this to be the sound of the band?
MC: Our blues-rock sound derives from all of our influences. I love a lot of rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Cream, etc. — which really plays a lot in my feel for rock. I also have a great interest in older blues like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, etc. Buddy was even my first concert. We just love the sound, to say the least.
JC: Matt played blues in a heavier style and I play blues in starting in a bluegrass style moving in a country rock style.
MP: It is the sound that moves me.
RW: I always loved that kind of music. I played with John a long time ago, and he got me into it.
PB: Talk about your debut at the legendary Stone Pony …
MC: We performed with some bands local to the area [Closetalker, Until Holy, Bed Of Thorns], I believe. We also were on the bill with an acoustic duo called The Great Valley. I had never heard of them before they were cool — turned out they are pretty big.
MC: It was incredible, a moment in my life I won’t ever forget. We were all very excited. What a place to start out at.
JC: A little nervous and excited to be on a stage that so many great performances have been on.
MP: I was very excited to play the Pony.
PB: What was the reaction from that first crowd?
MC: They loved it. We couldn’t see them cause the lights were too bright … but we heard their cheers.
JC: They loved it — it was a great response.
MP: The reaction was really good, made it feel like we were playing The Garden.
PB: Within a few months of playing. your first show, you recorded your first album. How difficult was it to create an album? You guys were so new to each other as bandmates.
MC: We actually had been working on the album Who Gives A Hoot about a year before we released it, so we had a lot of time with it. It wasn’t difficult, it was great. We loved recording. It was more difficult going through a lineup change in the midst of it.
JC: It was fun. We took our time because the price was reasonable. So we could be be creative and each member would react off of the other ideas.
MP: Actually really easy. We had help from a friend.
PB: What’s been the reaction to the album so far?
MC: It’s a gotten radio time and the public is enjoying it. Some critics are confused by how it can be a trip back in time, but we don’t care what they think.
JC: Every one has a different comment, but most people love it.
MP: The album has gotten good reviews.
RW: So far, I have heard good things.
PB: Since that first show, how was the band matured and grown?
MC: Musically, we grow every second. We’re becoming a very tight band that are venturing into realms of sound that will surely grab your attention. Some of the things we have been doing recently amazes me still.
JC: Some songs have changed for the better. Some harmonies have been added and melody lines changed.
MP: The band has grown by heaps and bounds since Ronnie has joined.
PB: What are your plans for the rest of 2011?
MC: We’re planning on doing a couple more shows before the year is out, writing music and drafting our new ideas. We have some surprises up our sleeves.
JC: Start writing a second album and sell 40 million copies of the first.
MP: Many more gigs and writing new material.
RW: To keep playing with the band and make great music.