Brent Knopf is a familiar face around these parts. A former member in the popular Portland-based trio Menomena before breaking off to form Ramona Falls (named after the Mt. Hood trail), Knopf has been contributing to our city’s music scene since the early '00s. His latest project, EL VY (pronounced like the plural of Elvis, according to the band’s Facebook page), finds him paired alongside The National front man Matt Berninger for their October 30 release Return to the Moon.
From a tiny rented practice space in North Portland surrounded by keyboards, guitars, and amps (oh my!) Knopf chats with us about EL VY’s origins, trusting yourself, and his competitive camaraderie with band mate Berninger.
Is it significant to you that EL VY will be starting its tour at the Doug Fir?
That’s actually something I requested. I have had so many great memories with Menomena, Ramona Falls, and Lost Lander at the Doug Fir. I am really excited that EL VY’s first ever real concerts are going to be in one of my favorite venues in the world in my favorite city in the world.
And you are starting off with a series of sold-out shows…
I know right, no pressure! I think the credit for that has to do with Matt. It was such a thrill to make the album with him, I gotta say. I didn’t think it was ever going to happen. It always seemed like this back-burner thing for a long time.
The two of you toured together previously, but what initially sparked the idea of collaboration?
It was Matt’s idea. He knew I had a whole bunch of ideas and was curious to see what it would be like to sing on top of these zany pieces I come up with. He put the idea forth a few years ago when Ramona Falls opened for The National on the West Coast, so it’s all his fault.
What does this collaboration provide you with that is different than Menomena or Ramona Falls?
I love collaborating with people. Matt is a very compelling collaborator because I love how inspired I get by how hard he works. I feel like we are kindred spirits in the sense that whatever we are doing, we just throw ourselves into it.
In Ramona Falls I do most or all of the singing and in Menomena I did my equal share. In this collaboration my goal is to be in charge of the music side of things. Berninger doesn’t play any instruments that I know of and it was his role to sing and write the melodies and lyrics. Our roles were pretty well defined and that ended up being a real strength to our collaboration. He didn’t ever feel second-guessed by me about the quality of his lyrics because I just trusted him to do his thing. And I never felt second guessed by him.
We always tried to rearrange and manipulate the songs and I think we were always trying to one-up each other a little bit, surprise the other guy. So it kind of became this competitive camaraderie.
Did the friendship then boost the music to the next level?
Actually the creative collaboration really boosted the friendship. Matt and I have always liked each other but I didn’t really know him. It’s through making this record that we’ve become better friends and got to see all sorts of different sides of each other.
I’m assuming the tour will probably bring you even closer…
It’s going to be intense and I hope the vibe stays good because tour can be grueling. It’s just such a condensed period of time for us to make a go of it. The context in which EL VY exists is one in which there is a condensed window of time before we bot go back to our other projects.
What are the creative bonuses of having a side project like this?
I think Matt thrives off the energy of creativity, and I do too to an extent. I think having an extra thing makes your primary project feel less claustrophobic. When I write I usually don’t have any project in mind, it is just expressing myself, trying to blow off steam and not go insane.
The more I work with Matt the more I know the stuff he gravitates toward more. In the future maybe I will tailor the way I get things set up before I hit record so that what comes out of it is inherently more something that Matt would more readily sink his teeth into. These patterns emerge.
Do you think EL VY will influence Ramona Falls?
I’m sure it will. I think everything has a gravitational pull on everything else. When I made the EL VY record I decided to not really tell anyone about it and didn’t really submit demos because I wanted to just see what it would be like if I just decided to trust myself. I wanted the making of the record to be something that happened between Matt and me and let that be enough. So I like that, it is working for me right now and I think I will try that approach with the next Ramona Falls record.
Lastly, what was the aftermath of Taylor Swift adding the title track off Return to the Moon to her ‘New Songs that Will Make Your Life More Awesome’ playlist?
Besides my sister’s head exploding? It was really funny because a couple of my more hipster friends were like, ‘Don’t ask me how I know this but…’
EL VY’s 27-stop tour begins right here with two sold-out shows November 3 & 4 at the Doug Fir Lounge.