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xmag.com : July 2001: Smooch Knob

The name sort of says it all. There's no artistic chest-thumping going on here, just good old-fashioned fun with a decent helping of sexual innuendo.

Well, maybe it's not even innuendo, especially with a single just released on Breakneck Records called "Penetration." Either way, Smooch Knob is about putting fun first--often with what leader Don Rife admits is a pubescent point of view--in a revved-up, slightly punkish pop, anxious to race itself to a permanent place in your head.

The goofiness began back in 1997, not long after Rife had moved to Portland from Iowa and found himself tired of the prevailing grunge musical climate and its inclination toward the depressing.

"The idea was to start a band that was the opposite of grunge," he said. "I got tired of ten-minute songs from grunge bands trying too hard to be deep, and fitting that stereotypical rock-star image."

Hence titles such as "Penetration," "Weirdo," and "I Like Skin"--which predominate Smooch Knob's self-titled CD--reveal lyrics such as, "I wanna see you with my one good eye/what resides on the inside," or, "I know a guy who had a magnet surgically implanted into his skull."

"I think the one thing you can say about our music is that it's simple, straightforward, catchy, and happens to be humorous sometimes," Rife said. "I'm definitely against bands who are trying to be too deep."

That sense of fun has the same dirty little snicker you'd find on a group of young boys who just discovered someone's stash of Playboys. Much of Rife's lyrical stuff oozes such adolescent revelry.

"It's about sexual frustration," he laughs. "I've got tons of songs that a 12-year-old boy would write."

"Penetration," the single that just went out to stations across the country, is just such a song. The genesis for that randy tune came from a school band trip back when Rife was 16 years old.

"We had some porno channel that was soft-core, and we stayed up all night hoping to see some penetration," Rife said. "But they never showed anything. We were a bunch of stupid teens who stayed up all night and spent lots of money we didn't have."

Rife began writing the song back then but never finished it. About nine years later, Rife and guitarist John Young finished the song during recording sessions

for the album, and it became the first of two singles released with this CD.

On stage, the thing that immediately sets Smooch Knob apart from others is the fact Rife sits behind his drum kit and sings; but his drum kit is up in front of the band.

"It certainly gets attention," Rife said. "There are times we show up and the soundman says 'No way, you can't do that.' I'd rather choose to not play than not do that. It's hard enough as a drummer and singer to be visible, doing the whole lead-singer thing. People have warned against it, but I think everyone who's a drummer/singer should sit up front."

On the musical front, Smooch Knob's spunky, guitar-driven material has a vibe not unlike Everclear, Foo Fighters, and maybe a bit of Green Day. "Penetration," "Inner Tube," and "Champ" seem keenly tuned into Art Alexakis and friends, and Rife's vocals even sound close to Alexakis's voice at times. Other tunes, like "Weirdo," scurry ahead with the amplitude and breakneck
poppiness of Green Day, while "Champ" opens with fast stop/start rhythms that remind you of "My Sharona."

So, it's no surprise Rife admits to being influenced by these bands. His affection for Weezer is no wonder either, considering the band's sometimes quirky, wacky take on everything from guitar lines to lyrics about female X-Men members or masturbating in the bathroom.

"I'm not like a lot of people who hop on the bandwagon to hate Everclear. They're a good band. They're catchy, and the best thing about them is that they're simple and they don't try to blow people away with how many guitar solos they can do. It's straightforward, simple fun. And that's what music's all about."

So, if some of this comical approach to musical mayhem seems familiar, it should also come as no shock that two members of now defunct funksters, Love Lode, occupy half of Smooch Knob. Paul Lawrence--minus the long hair of those wacky days of lore when Love Lode would spin their long locks in sync with each other on stage--was the lead singer of that band, but now plays rhythm guitar in Smooch Knob. And bassist Shayne Green now takes care of the bottom end of the Knob's sound.

There's an unreleased Smooch Knob album lurking out there, which Rife said is tentatively entitled "Junior High Anthems." After Rife and the boys hooked up with Portland-area sound whiz Ryan Foster and his new Breakneck label, two albums were recorded.

"He loved it," said Rife, talking about Foster's reaction to the mix. "We're going to start shopping the second one around a little. We're talking about going back into the studio and recording ten new songs. But, we've released this one now, while we're shopping the other one. I'd like to sell enough albums to make it feasible to release the other one on Breakneck Records, too."

Next up for the boys is a bit of touring the Midwest and crossing their fingers that "Penetration" starts getting into rotation. It's already made a stir at a commercial station down in Medford, Oregon.

"Our management got a call from them saying, 'We featured it on Yank It or Crank It, and got a great response,'" Rife said. "I guess it wound up basically being tied, though. So, maybe a commercial pop radio station isn't the right place
for it."

Maybe not. But this publication thinks the Smooch Knob sound will catch on somewhere, 'cause boys just wanna have fun.

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