The Knocks Break Down 'New York Narcotic' Album, a Love Letter to the City: Exclusive
Billboard Dance caught up with The Knocks to hear the story behind each track on their sophomore album, New York Narcotic.
When they call New York "the city that never sleeps," they're not joking. It's easy to find yourself wandering the streets all hopped up on energy at 3:00 a.m. right up until sunrise. Your phone might be dying, but you're living life. Every day is an adventure, every night is wild. That's the kind of vibe that keeps The Knocks (Ben "B-Roc" Ruttner and James "JPatt" Patterson) so in love with the place.
The duo proclaims that love from speakers around the world with New York Narcotic. It's a 14-track love letter read loud and proud over funky beats inspired by the cross-genre sounds that soundtrack The Knocks' life. The album artwork harks back to early aught hip-hop design, with lots of gritty, low-res imagery of tall buildings, old-style website GIFs, flame effects and diamond-encrusted bubble letters, but the production is super modern. It's crisp and poppy with some seriously-big features from rock and hip-hop greats.
The Knocks will celebrate the release of New York Narcotic with a tour across North America. It kicks off Dec. 31 in San Francisco, with dates running through the end of February. Tickets are on sale now. Listen to New York Narcotic below, out now on Big Beat Records, and check out the duo's breakdown of the record after the jump.
This started out as a short intro snippet to establish the album's tone, but turned into so much more. The album New York Narcotic is a story about our relationship to NYC. When we started writing the album, we wanted to take elements of all of the best music that came out of New York during the early days of our careers as DJs and producers; hip-hop, indie, blog Haus, electro, funk. We kept going back to this intro and soon decided that it needed to be more than just that. JPatt personifies NYC as a girl that everyone wants to meet, which could also be taken as a reference to drugs, which is a theme throughout the whole record.
"Goodbyes" Feat. Method-Man
We both love hip-hop. That was the common bond for us when we first met. In the early days, we started our careers making beats and writing raps in our East Village apartment. Our first project as The Knocks was remixing Jay-Z's American Gangster album in its entirety -- in one day. [We] have always incorporated elements of hip-hop, specifically East Coast, New York hip-hop, in a lot of the music we create. This is one of the first songs we wrote. B-Roc sent JPatt the beat, and he came up with the verses on the train while on the way to the studio. We knew from the start that Method Man would be the perfect fit for this, and somehow it worked out exactly how we imagined. Wu-Tang forever.
"New York Narcotic"
This is the title track and might be our favorite on the album. We had an original concept for the title track that was much more house-y and left field. Ironically, we were on a writing trip in Los Angeles [when] we re-produced the song with the incredible Joe Janiak and fell in love with the new sound of it. This song really embodies the concept of the record by explaining situations where life in NYC might be hard [or] shitty, but you just keep coming back because New York is so addicting in different ways.
"Big Bills" Feat. Big Boi
This was the last song we finished on the album. Both of us are huge Outkast fans and always their admired ability to write funky hip-hop hits for decades; never following trends or playing it safe. The Knocks project is about creating fun, carefree music, and we knew this was a keeper as soon we started it. We wrote the hook with JPatt singing it like a soul song, then pitched the vocals and sped it up. Big Boi was our number-one choice for the feature, and we couldn't have been happier to have him on the album. A real dream collaboration, and he absolutely crushed it.
We wrote this with our homies Jerm and Pilo in L.A. Our philosophy as a group is to live whatever life you want to live and not give a shit what anyone else thinks or says about you. JPatt owns about 1,000 pairs of cheap sunglasses, and has always declared them as his "hater blockers," so we decided to write a song about it. Our boys Brasstracks added some dope horns to bring things home. This song is really fun to perform.
"Brazilian Soul" Feat. Sofi Tukker
This was one of the more organic sessions that came together. Our friends Sophie and Tucker have been working out of our HeavyRoc studio since they started as artists. We were working on the beginning of this track, when Sophie popped down to hang. We played her the start, and she really dug it. Within a couple of hours, we had laid down the core idea. It came together really quickly, and we couldn't be happier with how it turned out. We had worked with S&T on "Best Friend" earlier in the year, so it only made sense that we continued the friendship on our album.
"Ride or Die" Feat. Foster the People
This song has been so good to us, and we have been blown away by the reception and support from fans. We wrote this original idea with the intention of creating a song that was nostalgic but also modern. We sent a rough sketch of it to Mark Foster, and he responded back almost immediately about getting involved. We then flew out to L.A. and put this together in two days. Since then, it's been a crazy experience for us. Radio and Billboard charts, late night TV, performing acoustically [for the first time]. A lot of firsts, and we are so appreciative to everyone that has been on board.
We have been producing nu-disco since the early days of The Knocks. It's one of our favorite genres, and some of the best nu-disco to come out of the early 2000s was from Australia. We worked with our boy Styalz Fuego from Melbourne, Australia, on a lot of this album, and knew we needed to include a fun, throwback joint on it. The original demo was a bit more electronic-leaning, but we added some acoustic guitars (the only ones on the album) which really made if feel lighter, which we are very happy with.
We wrote this song from the point of view of someone who might be "on one" late night somewhere and really in their head. Imagine that guy dancing in the corner with his eyes closed and hands up making that "I'm the shit" face when in fact, everyone around him is noticing how wasted he is. Our favorite line in this song is, "I got me, myself and I/that’s perfect attendance/everybody's feeling fly." It really visualizes that all you need is yourself and your strong self-confidence to have a party...inside your head.
We wrote this with our longtime friend Jean [Philip Grobler] from St. Lucia. This song was an absolute blast to record. We took elements from those classic '80s dance tunes but also wanted to capture that dirty analog feel. We would recommend renting an old-school stretch limo, rolling down all the windows and playing this song on full volume. JPatt played all the live drums on this song, which was really fun to record, too.
"Room For You"
Indie rock has had a big influence on us, especially during the early blog Haus and Hype Machine days. We wanted to make an airy, warm, deeper sing-along that still had the signature The Knocks sound. With the production scaled back, we really like how JPatt's vocals are featured here. This song was written about the time when your life seems really busy, but there's that one person that you want to make room for because they make it less crazy-feeling.
"Wizard of Bushwick" Feat. Sir Sly
B-Roc was out on a solo mission in L.A. and linked up with the Sir Sly guys at their studio outside of [the city]. We had never met them before, so we spent the early part of the session getting to know each other. They wanted to know more about JPatt, so B-Roc showed them a picture of him in full Burning Man wizardry attire on his roof in Bushwick. This sparked the idea of writing the song about JPatt and his love for his hood. JPatt naturally was down with it and jumped on the chorus. Voila. This psychedelic jam was created.
"Don't Talk Love"
We wrote this early on in the trip with the legend Stuart Price. Stuart has written and produced for The Killers, Madonna, Coldplay and countless others. He is someone we had grown up admiring as musicians. Our relationship started when we asked him to remix our single "Trouble," so we naturally wanted to do a proper song with him. His studio was incredible; full of the greatest analog gear we had ever seen. We truly look up to him and his musical legacy, and it was an honor to have him be a part of our album. This is one of the more personal songs on the album. It’s about someone that doubts your ability to love, when in reality, they might just not be the person you love.
"Fung Wah Bus" Feat. Alexis Krauss
We had Alexis from Sleigh Bells over to the studio in Chinatown and originally started [with] a dancier idea. We were big fans of Sleigh Bells and the impact the band had on NYC's electronic rock scene of the early 2000s, so it was cool to brainstorm ideas about the city and the similar places and crews we rolled with during the heyday. After playing around with the track for a few months, we realized how much we loved the emotional connection of the lyrics and wanted that to be more of the center-focus of the song, rather than the production. We decided to flip the production completely into a ballad and make it into something entirely new. We think this song is the perfect way to end the album and is also a little bit of a cliff hanger about what comes next for us.