Years After Leaving St. Louis, Muscle Brain Knows It'll Always Sound Like a St. Louis Band

Jul 13, 2016 at 6:00 am
In St. Louis, "you have a lot of bands that are doing really crazy, far-out shit without a care," says Jim Fitzpatrick of Muscle Brain.
In St. Louis, "you have a lot of bands that are doing really crazy, far-out shit without a care," says Jim Fitzpatrick of Muscle Brain. COURTESY OF THE BAND

Jim Fitzpatrick still remembers the moment he met Jordan Knecht. Fitzpatrick was sixteen years old at the time, and already playing guitar in punk bands around St. Louis. One afternoon, he was practicing with a group called Subjective Apparition when two younger boys approached the open garage door. Just thirteen years old, Knecht wasn't intimidated by Fitzpatrick and his high school buddies. Knecht played drums in a few bands of his own, mostly punk groups that performed aggressive songs about such heady subjects as Chinese takeout.

Without hesitation, the prepubescent Knecht started making fun of Fitzpatrick's guitar amp. Fitzpatrick promptly warned him and his pal to fuck off.

Over the years to come, though, the two young musicians continued to run into one another around town. They shared stages at block parties and local venues such as the (now-shuttered) Creepy Crawl, and eventually became friends.

"A few years after we met, Jim's band broke up and this friend of ours was like, 'Hey man, would you play drums with Jim so that he doesn't quit guitar?'" Knecht remembers. "It was just supposed to be a temporary thing. I asked Jim if he wanted to jam and he did, and it was an instant connection. After that we never stopped jamming."

In the ten years the band has been together, Muscle Brain has sometimes been described as a punk band, but its two members, Knecht and Fitzpatrick, agree that the label isn't quite accurate. The band's tone is more nuanced than straight-up punk rock, juxtaposing bombastic dissonance with moments of absolute serenity. The songs follow unpredictable trajectories, with each riff adding vastly different sonic textures. What makes Muscle Brain's music feel cohesive is not so much a genre as the emotional resonance at the core of every song.

"I think of our songwriting process as sort of like Brutalist architecture," Knecht says. "It's like there's these huge movements of different types of concrete, and they each have their own textures, but you're still putting them together to make something that is structurally sound. We try parts different ways and record them and listen to them, but it's really just a big conversation. A lot of the times it's a conversation without words."

In its formative years, Muscle Brain was influenced by the highly technical, experimental sound being pioneered by local acts such as the Conformists and Yowie. But while the members of Muscle Brain are still inspired by those bands, they have long since separated themselves from the local scene.

In 2008, Knecht left St. Louis, leaving Fitzpatrick and Muscle Brain behind. He would live in Chicago and Massachusetts before finally settling in Denver.

"I left St. Louis as fast as I could because I got sick of hearing people say things like, 'Oh you just played a show? Sorry, I had to beat this level on Halo' and shit like that," he says, speaking from his studio in Denver. "It felt like there wasn't a priority for music when I lived there. I don't know what it's like now, but at the time it was much more about socializing and drinking than it was about music. There was a lot of radical stuff happening — more than Denver, for sure — but nobody would really come out to see it."

When Knecht left he mostly lost contact with his bandmate, but within a couple of years, Fitzpatrick had also grown impatient with the St. Louis scene. In 2014, Fitzpatrick joined Knecht in Colorado, moving into a house right up the street.

"I feel like in the St. Louis music scene, because it's so insular, you have a lot of bands that are doing really crazy, far-out shit without a care — they're just doing it because they want to, which is awesome," Fitzpatrick says. But the lack of fan support was frustrating. "It just felt like, in St. Louis, music didn't have this inherent value to people. It always seemed like it was in the background to other things. [In Denver], people will spend money to come to shows. People will show up because they really value music as this cultural worth."

But while Knecht and Fitzpatrick have left St. Louis, the two musicians agree that, to some degree, they will always sound like a St. Louis band. Their tone has shifted slightly since the move — it's more meditative and groove-oriented than before — but those eerie melodies and wild experimentation have not dissipated.

"I feel like our music is still definitely influenced by the sort of far-out, weirdo, St. Louis thing," Fitzpatrick says. "When Jordan and I get in a room and play music together, we're not really thinking about our surroundings so much; we're just thinking about what we're doing right then. I don't think that's changed."