KNUCKLE PUCK have unleashed their fourth album, ‘Losing What We Love,’ a relentless sonic journey that’s as carefree as it is exhilarating. Check out our latest Upset cover story.
Words: Steven Loftin.
Knuckle Puck are more grounded than an airport during an air traffic malfunction. The Chicago-based rockers resolutely understand that all that matters is that they relish in what they do. It’s why their fourth effort, ‘Losing What We Love’, sounds like a band going hell-for-leather without a care in the world.
Since 2010, the five-piece have been peddling rough-edged pop-punk that soars with abandon. Their 2015 debut, ‘Copacetic’, firmly made them a staple of the scene, and ever since, they’ve been onwards and upwards to cementing their place in the canon of heart-on-sleeve bands. Per vocalist Joe Taylor, the key to Knuckle Puck’s magic is relatively simple: “We think it’s sick to make cool stuff.”
It’s an argument it’s impossible to find fault with; this pure heart screams through every distorted chord and howled sentiment. Knuckle Puck, completed by Kevin Maida (guitar), John Siorek (drums), Nick Casasanto (guitar), and Ryan Rumchaks (bass), are a band that thrives in their basest form. “You get in a room together, and you make something, and you’re all looking at each other, and you’re like, ‘This is a really cool thing that we just did in this last hour or whatever’, and it’s like forty seconds of a song,” Joe beams.
Over the years, they’ve tried their hand at finessing their techniques, trying to find ways to build that wholesome idea into a force to be reckoned with. This culminated in 2020’s 20/20, which Joe admits was Knuckle Puck “really trying to make something that was us, but as accessible as we could make it.”
As true as this rings, the events of 2020-2021 hampered their plans, as they did for so many. “Covid and the lockdown and all that stuff, shows going away, threw a wrench in that record getting seen or heard,” explains Joe. “We couldn’t tour it or anything like that. So it made us reevaluate what we wanted to do with those goalposts shifting, we definitely had a different viewpoint on things and different things to aim for.”
Expanding on this further, Joe reckons, “If you look at our first records, as those first three records went on, it was us trying to make a more accessible package, with tighter songwriting and more hooks in the songs and everything – it was really fun to do that. It was a nice little masterclass in songwriting.”
“I think this is the most collaborative record that we’ve done”Joe Taylor
Going through the motions, however, also meant that they found themselves trudging a well-worn path. “That time was definitely when it was all the noise; we were touring all the time, we’d get home, we’d make a record – try to make the best record we can – then we’d go right back out. It was definitely not the original path that we could have taken, but we took a path, and then we were able to look back and be like, well, when everything crashed down in the world, we were like, let’s find what made us love this band in the first place.”
Knuckle Puck, according to Joe, should be seen as “a ball of energy that stops and starts at any second. “Aggressive, heartfelt, but also dynamic and explosive when it needs to be,” he promises. Throughout their four albums, the group have learned that this Knuckle Puck essence, which “can be anything we want it to be,” Joe explains. “And that’s something that we learned during this record.
“I was having a conversation with John, I showed him an idea and I was like, I don’t know if this even sounds like us, and he goes, ‘If we jam that in the room, it will sound like us, because it is us’. We can do anything we want as long as we’re having fun. Why can’t it be a Knuckle Puck song? If we play it, we can make it be that.”
It’s this train of thought that often leads to bands growing away from their initial fan base. While every musical act going has their detractors popping up like whack-a-moles whenever new territory is breached, Knuckle Puck are beyond that these days. Even Joe’s outlook is as laid back as you’d imagine, “There are bands that I remember growing up and being like, ‘Oh, I didn’t really like that record, but I can’t wait for the next one’. What’s truly a misstep? In any case, as long as the band loves the music they’re making.”
It’s this same resolute thinking he brings to fronting a band that has also had its share of critical commenters and day-one fans. “I try to ignore it; we just do our thing,” Joe shrugs. “We’ve toured with a lot of bands that we like. Like Four Year Strong, I listened to them in high school, and being able to do tours with them has been some of the coolest stuff in the world.”
For all the steps forward they’ve taken, they’re still keenly aware of what it is that got them this far. “It’s not forgetting why you started it, but taking the path you do,” reasons Joe. “And then having a moment to look back at that is kind of nice because then you can reassess where your actual target is, which, as you know, in life is always moving.”
While life does indeed keep on moving, Knuckle Puck have found a way to roll with the tide; their fourth album is offering more to them than they dreamed. “It’s really cool, especially in how we work together on this new record; I think this is the most collaborative record that we’ve done, as far as like the five of us all being involved,” Joe explains. “And us not being so precious about our individual ideas, and pretty much hearing everybody else’s ideas out at all times, and just trying something, seeing if it beats what you already got. If it does, then let’s roll with that. And if it doesn’t, everyone is very honest and will be like, ‘No, it was better the other way’.”
This openness as a unit has been nourished by their time spent slogging it on tours and going through the wringer as a young band. As they’ve grown and amassed their confidence in what it is they do, so comes this unequivocal belief in each other. It’s something that Joe quickly brings up a sports comparison to. “It’s like playing on a basketball team,” he reckons. “And, you know you’ve got to pass the ball, and your guy’s right behind you, wide open; you don’t have to look, you just throw it over your shoulder, and he’s got it. That’s what it feels like at this point – being able to trust that and lean into it.”
Knuckle Puck’s story befits a feel-good film: friends finding a calling and just having fun with it. They’re the group whose conviction you can see and hear in their songs, as well as the heartfelt immediacy they have for their craft and each other. Whatever it is that makes this Illinois band tick, for Joe, it doesn’t get any more complex than, “We just want to keep having fun. We like jamming with this group of people. It’s always been so fun,” he enthuses. “So we just want to keep doing that.” ■
Knuckle Puck’s album ‘Losing What We Love’ is out now. Follow Upset’s Spotify playlist here.