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Secret Knives Returns With New Album 'Snuff' + Interview

Secret Knives Returns With New Album 'Snuff' + Interview

F. / Interview by Brooke Singer / Wednesday 23rd October, 2019 11:44AM

Pōneke's Secret Knives has made a triumphant return with his ten song opus Snuff, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ash Smith's first album since 2010's breakout debut Affection. The long-awaited collection features contributions from fellow capital city artists Grayson Gilmour, Charlotte Forester (Womb) and Cory Champion (Borrowed CS), with mixing and mastering duties fielded by Jon Lemmon. Snuff is out now via independent trailblazers A Low Hum, with physical cassette copies releasing via Prison Tapes – including a download code for a bonus digital-only collection titled Ashley Smith’s Blue Period, presenting "exploratory ambient instrumentals written alongside Snuff." Wrap your ears around a stream of Snuff here and read Smith’s insightful conversation with Brooke Singer of French For Rabbits about the album below... 

Brooke Singer: Kia ora Ash, congratulations on the release of your new record Snuff. I've spent a lonely evening in Los Angeles with it, and it gave me all the feels. Did you have an overall concept for the record, what were you were aiming to achieve with this one?

Secret Knives: Hey Brooke! Yeah, it’s maybe more disciplined than the last ones: ten songs, no instrumentals. Any instrumental passages are folded into actual songs. I also wanted to escape the more predictable electric-guitar-rock stuff… you can sort of hear me trying to work out how to make the same kind of songs, but with more varied textures and instrumentation.

The album feels like it takes the best aspects of 2010's Affection, but intensified - the instrumentation is wild, grittier, brighter, prettier and the production is meticulous. What was the process of making the record like? How does a song come together for you?

Generally writing and recording is one and the same for me. I “find” the song in the recording process. A song starts with a germ, which could be an interesting sound, texture, or chord progression. I record that and just start layering - adding and subtracting things until it’s a song. Sometimes one song gives birth to another: like ‘Cruel Optimism’ was written over the top of ‘Flush’ - they’re the same tempo, start with similar guitar arpeggios. I just subtracted all the parts that make ‘Flush’ and added new bits until it became its own thing.

I’ve always been pretty militantly DIY but kind of hit a ceiling there with this record. Like, there were so many dead ends and loops trying to put it together, ‘cause I didn’t know enough - how to make things sound good, why this thing that I thought should sound awesome just didn’t. Some songs, like ‘Snuff’, just have so many moving parts. Songs felt bloated and on the verge of capsizing. The sessions were real mazes but they started to make sense when Jon Lemmon got involved with mixing. We tidied it all up and got everything in its right place.

Do you have a track that you're particularly proud, or that means the most to you?

Not so much. Making a collection of tracks that belong together, that combine to explore a theme, is more satisfying than any one part.

Although maybe ‘No Psalms’ I’m attached to. I’m paranoid that song reads as taking a shot at religion, or like I’m some atheist agitator - but I’m absolutely not about that. It’s just a criticism of blind dogma, especially any kind that maintains calcified, unequal, exploitative power-structures.

Were there any themes you ended up exploring on Snuff lyrically? I feel like there is a kind of yearning in your music. Self-reflective, but you're making fun of the situation sometimes too - is that a fair assessment?

It is! Yeah, I feel often Secret Knives appears as quite serious, quite dour stuff. But the tone is often sardonic.

I think I had a really hard time in my mid-20s just trying not to implode. I was a reasonably functioning but very depressed person. I felt embarrassed and self-conscious about that but… it coloured every aspect of my life. At some point I realised it was the only thing I could write about authentically. So the songs on the record kind of document me trying to unpack that, being really forensic about it: trying to understand the feeling, to articulate it, identify the seed of it, to work a way out of it.

Tell us about the collaborations on this record - who did what? Did you have string players too, or just really good samples?

It’s a mix - some real strings and some samples. I can’t perform drums, brass or strings with any real technical proficiency so I would ask generous friends to help play parts things or there, or provide samples I could re-arrange as the songs evolved. Like Charlotte Forrester (Womb) did some strings and vocals… I asked for her help with two songs but those samples got used in five songs - re-pitched, messed around with etc.

I had a few friends jam over early sketches, or I would program demo drums, and then gave most of it to Cory Champion (Borrowed CS) to reinterpret… but even his drums got cut up and rearranged as the songs changed.

Any particular music or art that inspired the record?

Not specifically. I think the most inspiration comes from musician friends, from people I know or see in the local scene. There’s so many people here making vital, meaningful, genius music. I’m in awe of all of them. That’s basically what the track ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is about…

Lastly, not a question, but I'm going to call it and say this is my album of the year. Thanks for releasing it

༼☯﹏☯༽ Too kind!

'Snuff' is out now via A Low Hum, with a limited cassette edition releasing via Prison Tapes.


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