When Knuckle Puck returned with their first single 'Tune You Out' back in spring, the plan for the album was essentially "it'll be out at some point this year" as a response to the coronavirus pandemic beginning to take a hold globally. But, from the Knuckle Puck camp, it was all very laid back and relaxed.
"We were gonna release the album in June," singer Joe Taylor starts. "It was gonna be all out already, and so when we were working on the album, we were trying to do a cool summer vibe album. Something that would come out in June and then people would be able to hang out with their friends and have a fun summer album to enjoy."
That was the plan for '20/20', but 2020 had different ideas. Instead, the album is coming out in late-September, and the feel-good summer vibe that Knuckle Puck aimed for doesn't have the same impact, but the message of finding the positives in life still rings true.
Since their headline US Tour was cut short in March, Knuckle Puck have steadily drip-fed almost half of the album and spread little glimmers of sunshine to brighten up these gloomy last few months. Not too derailed by their plans for 2020 and '20/20', Joe has found ways to keep busy and creative.
"I feel like I've been doing the whole normal, mowing the lawn and cleaning the house, all that random normal stuff, but in the last week I had a bunch of revelations of just, 'dude, what have I been doing?' I've just been living normal life and so literally one week ago yesterday I started working on some solo songs, and then two days later I was like, 'I'm just gonna make an album'. So, I'm halfway through it at this point, and I'm trying to finish it in the next two weeks," he reveals.
It's that positive mindset that comes immediately from '20/20'. It's an album rich with positivity that shimmers into view from the textures provided by guitarists Kevin Maida and Nick Casasanto which are carried by the huge poppy hooks of Joe's songwriting which decorate this album. The title track is a shining example of that flip of the switch as the chorus soars, "I can finally see clearly / as if my vision's 20/20."
The vision for Knuckle Puck was to create the album they've been trying to make for 10 years. The plan was always to be positive and relaxed and this time the band "leaned into the grooves" and went with the flow of making an album.
It's not to say that Knuckle Puck were unhappy with their last two albums but, in Joe's opinion, this is the one in which they realised their vision and executed it.
"Our intention for 'Copacetic' was to make something that you would listen to, and you would go, 'hey, everything's okay', but it definitely came out to be more of this emo album, and we didn't really hit the mark on that," Joe admits.
And with the follow-up, 'Shapeshifter', he adds, "We had no idea what we were doing, we were just like, 'oh well, we gotta make a second record and it's gotta be good', and that's all we knew." It shows that Knuckle Puck were more trepidatious in their sophomore record and Joe is first to admit there is a "weird ball of anger and frustration" in 'Shapeshifter' that was largely down to how the record came together.
Now, older and wiser and with two albums behind them, Knuckle Puck arrived at their third album "seeing a lot of things more clearly as far as our intention for being a band in the first place [and] what's gonna make us happy too ultimately."
It's not that there was some divine moment of inspiration but, for Joe, talking with Nick ahead of working on lyrics for the album encouraged him not to overthink what he wanted to say in '20/20'.
"We were just talking like, 'man, we have so much fun playing shows, and people have so much fun coming to our shows, why don't we make something that's fun?' Me and Nick have always like been on a level with each other where we can really relate to each other," he shares.
"We've always had great conversations, and we were like, 'dude, why don't we put these conversations into songs and have it be like you're talking to your best friend'. The song 'Breathe', we were talking about that song specifically, and we were like, 'pretend like it was you giving your brother advice or your best friend some advice'. I would say, maybe our mentality didn't change, but our intent changed."
The result is an album that is absolutely necessary this year; it's the positive message we all need. None more so than in 'Breathe' which anchors the middle of the album and features long time friend of the band and Mayday Parade singer Derek Sanders. With its spiralling chorus of "If the world has opened up beneath your feet / And you're pushing daisies up from underneath / When all you need is just beyond your reach / Just don't forget to breathe," it's the helpful, calming, lyrics needed for a world teetering on the edge of an anxiety attack.
Getting to the point of making such a hopeful message in '20/20' did start with 'Tune You Out' and 'RSVP' which both have a slightly more defiant - blocking out the haters - vibe but the remaining 9 tracks radiate goodness.
To match their positive message, Knuckle Puck went straight back to producer Seth Henderson to capture "that early 2000s MTV feel-good kind of thing". Having spent some time listening to some Motion City Soundtrack, Box Car Racer, self-titled Blink-182 and especially Sum 41's 'All Killer No Filler', Joe's ambition for the album was to go back that "punk rock summer camp" sound rather than the super pop or emo pop-punk which has saturated the scene in recent years.
Joe even revisited the older Knuckle Puck records and, whilst his favourite songs like 'Untitled' and 'Plastic Brains' utilise more space, he found that they didn't flow like an album should.
"Listening back to our old stuff, it was very blocky. 'Copacetic', the first six songs you're like, 'alright, I gotta strap in because it's not gonna stop'.
"Before that, we were just making EPs, every time we'd go to make an EP we were like, 'dude, every song's gotta be a banger, every song needs to hit you in the face because we're only gonna do 5 or 6 of them'. So, when we were writing 'Copacetic', we were almost still in that EP mentality of, 'well, we can have a break at the halfway point, but it's still got to smack you in the face all the time'.
"And now we're at a point where we're definitely more comfortable with exploring each song and exploring whatever we can do dynamically, because we're not worried about every song smacking you in the face at all times."
Instead, '20/20' feels much more about the journey rather than the destination. There are moments of serenity in 'Green Eyes (Polarized)', dreamy tones throughout 'Into The Blue' but also pulsating throwbacks in 'True North' and breakneck romps through tracks like 'Sidechain' to keep the album different at every turn.
It turns out Knuckle Puck weren't completely satisfied with what they had done before, but '20/20' is the album they wanted to make. Joe states, "we don't really know what we're doing, but this time we were like, 'yeah, we don't know what we're doing, and we're gonna lean into that'." But by embracing that unknown, Knuckle Puck have crafted a dynamic third album that propels them forward without losing any of their identity either.
That means, for Joe, he gets the trilogy of albums he always wanted like his favourite bands Motion City Soundtrack and Taking Back Sunday. "All my favourite bands had that trilogy, I was always like, 'yo, if we can do the trilogy I'll be happy'. I feel like we did that. Here's a cohesive discography of this band and it all sounds different but it all connects," he explains.
There is a real sense of accomplishment around this album that Knuckle Puck have never felt before. The album glistens with confidence from their refreshed outlook and a sound that is not only dynamic but overwhelmingly optimistic too. It would seem that we never really knew Knuckle Puck, but in '20/20' they held a mirror up to themselves and found the band they want to be.
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Knuckle Puck's album '20/20' is out now.
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