By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
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"I guess you get to a point in your life when you start asking the big questions, like what does it all mean," says Eric Knight, sitting in a Kendall Barnes & Noble, reflecting on personal turns of events that have changed his priorities. Sure, the shelves of the corporate megastore are filled with books about enlightenment and discovery, but no chicken soup -- or overpriced Starbucks coffee for that matter -- helps answer The Question. Still Knight has found some clues in, of all places, death. "I had a lot of people, like ten or twelve, die during the past couple of years," he continues. "You start seeing your mortality, and you think 'Man, tomorrow I'll be dead and this all means nothing.'" (Among those Knight reflects on this evening is late local musician Delvis Machado, who died three years ago in a freak accident when a three-foot-thick tree trunk fell on his car.) "One day you're here and the next day you're gone."
While Knight isn't necessarily planning to leave this world just yet, he is looking to get out of South Florida -- an area some may call a world of its own. Knight has had enough of Miami and plans to relocate to Los Angeles next year after spending more than a decade trying to get the Big Break in South Florida. "I think it's a waste of time waiting for something to happen here," says Knight, who is not exactly the stuff that gets glow sticks waving or gets a what-what out of people. "Miami has never, and will never be a rock-music mecca. Everything that surrounds what I'm doing is [in California]. I've already done and accomplished everything I set out to do here. You can get signed anywhere, but I want to increase my chances as much as possible."
With the upcoming Fractured Fairy Tales, Knight, frontman and namesake of the Eric Knight Band (Knight, bassist David Poole, guitarist R.J. Ronquillo, and uni-named drummer Jwani), hopes to use the sophomore effort as a steppingstone to bigger and better things, whether here or in California. The opening "Crux of the Matter" injects straight-up riffs and flying guitar solos over a midtempo beat, moving on to speed up the momentum on "The Oblivious One" and incorporate a country twang on "It's All Good." Knight yields a distinctive baritone to songs like "One of the Abused" ("How long did it take you to leave this place/Full of shame, fear, and disgrace"), while tracks like "Silly Love Song" and "Let Me Go," with its string orchestrations and lamenting pianos, balance the effort with sincere ballads that either tug at one's heartstrings or raise a lighter.
Growing up in Hialeah, Knight (real last name Diaz) first encountered music when he was six years old after going to a Kiss concert. In his early teens he learned drums and guitar, and by the time he was thirteen, a friend asked Knight to sing for a band. "I had always wanted to be the guitar player. I just kind of stumbled into the singing thing," Knight reflects. After several short-lived tenures in other bands, Knight went to co-form late-Eighties/early-Nineties hair band Vandal, whose arena-rock-quality shows made it a popular act in South Florida. But internal friction, among other things, led to the band's 1995 breakup. (The day before September 11, Knight and his former bandmates were planning a one-show reunion at the Button South, but the terrorist attacks put an end to the idea.)
Frustrated with the way things were going, and facing a breakup with a then-girlfriend, Knight dropped out of the music scene for two years. "I was so disgusted by everything that happened," Knight says. "Having put so much work and time and effort into one thing to have the rug pulled, I didn't want to have to go through that again."
But the itch to write and record slowly returned. One day he went to buy music equipment at a store where to-be (and former) Eric Knight Band guitarist Rick Valero worked, and the two began tossing around the idea of forming a group. Through Valero, Poole followed suit, and several drummers later, Jwani joined the band. "I was always a fan of Eric, going back to the Vandal days, and I was intrigued by his voice," says Poole. "He was a combination of talent and perseverance." Ronquillo joined one and a half years ago after Valero and the others parted ways. The band released 1998's Near Life Experience,whose "Play on Words," a catchy pop-rock anthem, landed the group regional air and video play, and helped it secure opening slots for high-profile acts including the Dave Matthews Band and Kiss. "One of the high points of my career is being able to say that I opened for Kiss, with makeup, on their farewell tour, even if the farewell tour [probably wasn't final] and they replaced Peter Criss with some guy that dressed like him," Knight says. The band recorded a song for the Tributized Def Leppard tribute album,and besides playing bars and venues, performed at twenty area high schools, where Knight talked to students about the music business -- and likely pissed off parents by encouraging their sons and daughters to become musicians.
Around 2000, eager for a followup, Knight entered the studio to start work on what would become Fractured Fairy Tales,although as Murphy's Law dictates, everything that can go wrong probably will. Earlier this year, for example, a wealthy investor-turned-fan offered to fund Knight's endeavors. Attorneys from both parties spent six months discussing the finer details, but the would-be investor backed out the day before final arrangements were to be made. "This guy just loved music; he was looking at it as 'You have potential, and I have money,'" Knight says. "In that respect it's a cool thing. We told him it's a risky proposition. I think that may have freaked him out.
"After this whole thing fell through with the investor I just said 'Screw it.' You try to depend on people and people just don't wind up coming through." To offset that reality, Knight created his own 28 Records to release his own material, although the plan is to have the label picked up by a major. That would allow Knight to keep the rights with financial backing and the ability to sign bands, as well as perhaps score music for films.
For a while Knight floated the idea of playing as a stripped-down solo artist while continuing the band thing separately. (Knight did perform a few solo dates in New York City and Los Angeles.) As a result, Soundsystem, the name of the collective, surfaced momentarily, although it didn't last very long. "Everybody wanted to feel like a part of the band, and I guess they didn't feel like they were a part of it under my name," Knight says. "People might take it the wrong way but it's not that. I don't want things to be half-assed. People might call it ego, but it's my name and my product, and I am my product."