Interview: Chris Knight Reflects on His Past as He Looks Forward on ‘Almost Daylight’
It's been seven years since Chris Knight released new music, but he's not too worried about the time that's passed.
"I've been on the road, living life," Knight tells The Boot. "I have a whole deal going: got a wife, land, a house, two kids in high school and one in college. I ain't been sitting on my ass."
Knight's Missouri-born, Kentucky-raised drawl is saturated with confidence, so there's no pushing back on the time since Little Victories came out in 2012. "I've been writing all along, but I wasn't in a hurry," he admits. "I was going to put the record out when I was ready. You always rush when you get into the studio; you always run through stuff trying to get it done in just a matter of days. But I never felt any pressure."
He pauses to laugh to himself. "I guess I just don't feel pressure. I don't stress," he adds. That calm, focused demeanor permeates Almost Daylight, his new LP, out now via Thirty Tigers.
"What are you gonna do with stress anyway?" Knight asks. "You just gotta do what you gotta do and keep moving."
Almost Daylight is Knight's ninth record since he made his debut with a self-titled LP in 1998, but he was writing songs and crafting stories well before that. "I've been writing songs since 1986," Knight explains. "I guess I didn't really start writing keepers until I got to Nashville, though.
"I met Frank Liddell [who was at Decca Records] in January '92, and after I started working with him, I started writing better songs," he continues. "I mean, I had songs that I liked, but they just weren't ready. They had good content or subject matter, but they weren't that good of songs at the time."
"What are you gonna do with stress anyway? You just gotta do what you gotta do and keep moving."
As Knight reflects on his relationship with Liddell, he remembers getting a lot of CDs from different artists and being exposed to obscure songwriters he'd never heard of. "Nobody knew who the songwriters were," he says, "but they were living in Nashville, writing songs, and that's what I wanted to do. That's what I went down there for.
"I've had quite a few songs recorded by other people since then, and a few of them have done pretty good. But at a certain point, if you're not getting regular album cuts on records that are selling a million copies or writing a few Top 20 songs every now and then, it's hard to make a living down there," Knight says. "So, Frank told me that I needed to record my own music."
When Liddell committed to working with Knight, he also expected a significant commitment in return -- specifically, one song from Knight every week. "For a little more than a year, I was writing at least a new song a week," Knight recalls. "That got Frank excited.
"I was writing, but I hadn't really played live all that much. I hadn't really been on the road until my first record came out, but it was a thing I wanted to do," he continues. "I quit my job right after I signed my publishing deal. I'd been working around the coal mines for 10 years and enjoyed it, but if I was gonna do music, I was gonna do it and see how it goes."
For Knight, success was never an end goal in his pursuits: "I wasn't really tore up about it or anything like that, because I was confident in what I was doing and I knew I liked it," he says. "I don't care what people say, but when I know I got a keeper, there's no way you're gonna tell me that it ain't a good song, you know?"
Knight began to learn what makes a song good when he was surrounded by the likes of Steve Earle, John Prine and many others. "Oh yeah, they were huge influences on me, not to mention the Eagles," Knight says.
"I grew up in the '70s, the whole time they were starting out. The first record I ever bought was a single of "Witchy Woman." I was 10 or 11 years old probably," he shares. "Then it was Jackson Browne, then Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top. I mean, Elton John was in his heyday as far as I was concerned ... It was just great freakin' music. Gordon Lightfoot, JJ Cale, Rolling Stones — there was a ton of good rock 'n' roll."
Out of all of those artists, though, Knight found himself identifying with the work of Earle and Prine. "I learned to play guitar by listening to John Prine records," he says. "With Steve Earle, the first thing I heard was "Guitar Town." They were playing it on a little country station that we listened to where I worked, and I heard that song maybe twice a day. And at the same time, I was hearing Dwight Yoakam's "Guitars, Cadillacs," and Patty Loveless just came out, and Marty Stuart. Man, that was great. I ain't heard nothing like that before."
Over the years, Knight has grown into one of the most respected songwriters around, becoming known specifically as a one-of-a-kind storyteller. Almost Daylight lives up to that accolade, and to those who influenced him, as it showcases some of Knight's finest writing of his career.
"To be honest, the writing has slowed down a bit," he confesses. "I still have a bunch of songs -- I could probably put out a record a year for the next five or six years, but I'm not going to do that. Some of them are probably good songs, but even a few of the songs on this record, I had to go back and re-write. They were older songs, and I changed a lyric or two, or changed the way I sang or changed the melodies."
Regardless of what he's writing or how much he's writing, Knight stays centered on what drew him into this career in the first place: crafting and telling stories.
"The things that interest me are to write stories, that's it," Knight says. "I don't have any desire to write little love songs or hooky tracks. I don't want to, and honestly, I can't. I can't write that stuff and make it work for me. It has to have a little bit of something in it."
With a family and so much else to care for in his life — and a high bar for the quality and content of the songs he writes — it'd be easy for a guy like Knight to feel pressure, but as he already asserted, that just isn't something that he lets into his life.
"Listen, I was able to tour on what I've already done for seven years," he says with a chuckle. "I'm not not gonna put pressure on myself. Not now. Not ever. I'm feeling pretty good. It was time to get Almost Daylight out. Yeah, it's been seven years, but it really ain't that long."
He clears his throat and sounds as though he's getting ready to shrug his shoulders.
"It could've been longer."
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