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Chris Shields

All Together Now
A group collaberation by their third album, roots-rockers knotworking continue to spin poignant tales amid a spirit of community
By Erik Hage

When local music fans think of knotworking, the first thing that probably

pops into their minds is Ed Gorch, the group’s gentle-demeanored, garbage-hauling singer-songwriter who, over the course of three albums, has built up a highly poetical world around the raw material of desperate lives, poignant ruralisms and rootsy instrumentation. (Gorch received a “Best Songwriter” nod in these pages last year.)

As the legend goes, Gorch started the folky, alt-countryish knotworking as his own home-recorded project in an old converted church in Kingston, and moved to Albany a few years back to complete his master’s degree in social work. His prior experience, helping at-risk teens in Kingston, provided grist for the lyrical mill, as did his starving-student job as a garbageman, wherein he trolled the countryside beyond Albany, hauling away the detritus of rural lives—the castoffs often providing hints to the fabric of their existence. “A lot of times I would write while driving around in the truck,” he remembers.

(Gorch found more than poetical bounty in other people’s trash: He recorded an album on a four-track recorder he resuscitated from the dumpster; he has also recovered an amplifier, two PAs and some speakers.)

It’s a great story, but the 2003 incarnation of knotworking—Gorch included—want to make one thing very clear about the current lineup: This is not a one-man show. The group make their democratic principles clear from the opening moments of the interview, as five players assembled in solidarity greet me on Gorch’s townhouse stoop in downtown Albany, where they are poring over a stack of vinyl records that knotworking cello player Karen Codd has just inherited from her parents. (Most seem to agree that Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is a great score.)

The gathering includes the core of the group—Gorch, Codd, longtime knotworking singer-guitarist Mike Hotter, and violinist Megan Prokorym—as well as Frank Moscowitz, who produced the group’s new album, The Garden Below, and who is, for right now, handling bass and “advisory” duties. “I’m not an official member,” says Moscowitz, a former member of the Orange and current half of the guitar duo Princess Mabel. (Knotworking have used a rotating staff of drummers, including Brooklynite Michael Napolitano, but want to bring in a full-time player.)

Gorch says that, back in Kingston, he initially adopted the knotworking moniker for his lo-fi, home-recorded debut. “I didn’t want to put out a solo album,” he says of the choice. “There was an idea that there would be a band someday. And now there is.”

As for the current state of affairs, Codd points out, “For the most part, we really write things as a band.” Gorch pushes it even further: “It’s not even like I’m ‘the singer.’ We’re all singing: Mike is singing lead, Karen just wrote a tune where she sings the lead.” He quickly adds, “Mike has always written songs. Now he’s bringing them more to the forefront.”

Gorch’s and Hotter’s relationship goes back to high school in rural Greenville, in the Catskill foothills, where they met as 15-year-olds, then headed in different directions after graduation: Gorch to Marist College, where he would play in a hard-rock band, and Hotter to a four-year hitch in the Air Force. They started playing together in the Kingston-New Paltz area after Hotter was discharged.

Knotworking at play: (l-r) Prokorym, Codd, Gorch, Moscowitz and Hotter. Photo by Chris Shields

The two friends came to Albany a few years ago to attend the University at Albany, Hotter to finish his bachelor’s and Gorch to undertake his graduate studies. They lived together in an apartment, a Delaware Avenue residence affectionately dubbed the Knothaus. The alternately freezing/sweltering attic of the structure became an inspirational nook and playing space for a bunch of local musicians. The mellow Hotter (most of the knotworking crew are surprisingly low-key) notes, “It was also like a mutual-admiration society. There was Matt Loiacono [of the Kamikaze Hearts] and John Brodeur. . . . They would play there.” Moscowitz also points out, “The attic is where most of the second record [2001’s Notes Left Out] was tracked.” The Knothaus even inspired an extended, beat-prosey elegy at, the virtual home of Albany’s “underground arts” scene. (The piece, cowritten by Hotter and Knothaus co-occupants/musicians Mitch Elrod and Albie, features such lively observations as: “Childlike, sad-eyed fire-fretted Hotter, wild like summertime, the ultimate rock’n roll name, like Jimmy Page trapped in the body of Dondi, from the comics.”)

The sense of community in the Albany music and arts scene is a dominant theme in the knotworking story, and (naysayers be damned) the group offer clear evidence of the supportive environs. “When I was living in Poughkeepsie, Kingston and New Paltz, it always seemed like there were people playing music, but nobody did anything collectively,” Gorch explains. “When I moved to Albany it wasn’t like that anymore. I was like, ‘Wow, people actually want to collaborate and play.’ ” That collective nature is apparent in the credits on The Garden Below, which list a host of locals, including multi-instrumental wiz Loiacono; Loiacono’s Kamikaze Hearts bandmate Bob Buckley; Suggestions leader and solo artist John Brodeur; and Dan Winchester, a former member of North Again.

Hotter and Gorch first tapped into the music community via MotherJudge’s long-running open-mike series, which served as a consistent cradle for local collaboration. “I was walking around and saw the Lark Tavern had Wednesday open mike, and I thought, ‘Oh, we should go to this,’ ” Gorch remembers. “We met everybody through the open mike.” One person they met early on was Codd, who had come to the area to attend the College of Saint Rose and who had played for a time with the Kamikaze Hearts. “Meg and I have classical backgrounds,” says Codd, “so for us to be able to play [a different kind of music] . . . I really felt a connection immediately with the community.” Last year’s addition of Prokorym gave the group the musical boost of a two-piece string section, albeit one that, they stress, is at the core of the group, and not an afterthought in the arrangement process. “As the arrangement is being made, we know that the strings are going to be a part of it,” Gorch claims. “It’s not like they’re adding their parts later.”

While knotworking have become a “group” in the purest sense, Gorch’s rustic vocal timbre and lyrical muse still clearly provide a nucleus for the listener, and he has mapped out a lyrical and spiritual geography around the hardscrabble lives of upstate New York. Gorch has traded in his trash-hauling togs and is putting his M.S.W. degree to work at a children’s home. Gorch says the songwriting can be a cathartic antidote to those duties. “A lot of times, stories or things that happen to the kids and their families will bother me a lot; it will eat at me,” he says. “And part of dealing with that is dealing with it in song.” Certainly, Gorch’s own upbringing, in a rural, low-income region, has a bearing on the tunes as well. “A lot of the stories are about people [Ed and I] knew,” Hotter says.

On the new album, however, the listener may notice a new sense of lightness. “This one’s a little less somber,” Gorch admits. “We actually dropped one tune because it didn’t fit. It was too dark.” Of course, “lightness” is relative in the knotworking world, as indicated by the battered-wife parable “You’d Be a Queen” (“You can’t tell a kiss from a mouthful of blood/Why would you stay with him?”), one of many socially conscious Gorch compositions to crop up over the years.

The new album does find knotworking kicking up their heels plenty though, from the sprightly alt-country of “Long Step” and “A Time Ago” (a Hotter cowrite) to more rocking fare such as “Seven” and “Blossom.” It also makes clear the “group” dynamic: Hotter is writing tunes and sharing lead vocals while Codd and Prokorym, whose strings have become part and parcel of the sound, are adding vocal harmonies.

The Garden Below also represents the first time the group have stepped into a real studio, and the sound is more lush than past efforts, thanks in large part to Moscowitz, a graduate of the Saint Rose music and technology program and engineer at Saugerties’ Nevessa Studios (where the album was recorded). “Frank gave us the right conditions where we could get something special,” Hotter says. Moscowitz, who recorded, mixed, coproduced and played on the album, explains it this way: “It’s kind of like, I’m sitting back, I’m recording it, and I’m filling up holes.” But he points out that his role was facilitative rather than directive. “I’m molding and shaping it as little as possible so that the original intent is communicated.” He says this is his first “all-inclusive, ‘You’re the producer’ record,” though he notes that he also helped out with the recording of Kamikaze Heart Matthew Loiacono’s recent solo album.

As for the Kamikaze Hearts, fans can expect to see them, along with the Sifters, at knotworking’s July 19 release party, which, knotworking point out, is not only about the new album, but an opportunity to put together a strong local lineup. The group speak vehemently about giving back to the community that nurtured them, and Gorch is currently involved with the Albany Musician’s Project, a fledgling effort that aims to pool together artists for local shows under the A.M.P. banner in order to increase awareness of the wealth of local acts. “Our idea is, after the first few shows, to make compilation CDs,” Gorch says. “We will have 20 bands on it that are part of the A.M.P. shows over the year and give those out to people, and that will have the contact info [for the acts] on it.”

As for knotworking’s future, Codd is relocating to New Jersey due to the vagaries of professional life, but says she will still be very much a part of knotworking. Gorch talks about stepping things up after the next album (to be recorded in the fall): searching for a larger label, touring more and playing bigger venues. “We have already done the work. We sweated and we froze in the attic,” Gorch says. “We’ve gotten to know each other and how we play. . . . I feel very connected to everybody that I’m playing with now.”

Hotter says that they also plan on writing together more. “We’re learning and hopefully getting better as songwriters,” he says. “That’s the most exciting part of it: The evolving thing, learning from each other.”

Gorch also wants to make it clear that, lyrical themes to the contrary, “We’re not downtrodden . . . for the most part. We enjoy sitting around, making fun of each other, enjoying life.”

Anything else? “Um . . . We’ll be looking for a drummer.”

Knotworking will hold their CD-release party at Valentine’s on July 19, with the Sifters and the Kamikaze Hearts joining in the fun. The shows starts at 8 PM and is $7. Call the club, 432-6572, for further information.

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