With his deep, southern drawl and plainspoken nature, Chris Knight's first impression is not one of a literate singer/songwriter. But for over 15 years, Knight has produced some of the finest songs in the Americana genre. Tough and to the point, Knight's weary tales of losers on the wrong side of the tracks hearken to the southern Gothic writings of Flannery O'Connor.
Speaking from somewhere in Florida while heading to his daughter's cheer competition and in anticipation of performing at the 13th Annual Mardi Gras Texas Style in Fair Park, Knight spoke with DC9 about being an honorary Texan and his thoughts on the current state of country music.
You released Little Victories in 2012. Are you working on a new album?
No, I am not working on anything new yet. It will be a little bit before I get started. I haven't sold enough of the last one. That's kind of the way I think about it. I am not finished selling this one; so why should I put a new one out? I want people to buy my latest album.
How does the songwriting process work for you? Do you write all of the songs for an album in a short period of time?
They just come over time. Back when I was young, I was writing all of the time. It's never like I just sit down and write an album. I have some songs that are ten years old. When I want to do an album, I just pick what I feel like recording at that time. That's just the way I do it. I co-wrote a lot of stuff, too. It's about half and half. If I co-write a song, I have to do something to it if I am going to sing it.
You've had your songs covered by Randy Travis and John Anderson.
Yes, when I think about that, it's pretty cool. Montgomery Gentry has also covered my songs. I've had several high profile people cover my songs, people like Gary Allen.
Is there someone who you wish would record one of your songs?
Yes, Justin Bieber.
I was thinking more of someone like John Prine or Steve Earle.
No, Justin Bieber. I wish he had sung them all. Hell, yeah.
You didn't start writing songs until your mid 20's and performing until you were thirty. Why didn't you start earlier?
I caught fire in my mid-twenties. I started writing all of the time. It took a while to get my foot in the door in Nashville. It takes a while to get a publishing deal, and it takes a while to get a record deal. By the time all that came to be, I was going on 38 before my first record came out.
What do you think of the current state of country music?
Well, I don't listen to it. What little I hear, I don't like. I really don't want to talk bad about those people. I don't know what they're singing about. Evidently, somebody likes it. I do hear a few good songs. Some of the women seem to sing some good songs and write some good songs, but the guys are afraid they are going to offend somebody. They write about how all their girlfriends are beautiful with their pretty little legs and their toes up on the dashboard. That's about all they can write about anymore.
What women do you like?
Some of them, I don't even know their names. Kacey Musgraves, I think she won a Grammy. I heard a few of her songs. Miranda Lambert, I like her, too. They seem to be way more talented than the dudes. I don't know why. That seems to be the way that it is.
Your music is often described as coming from a dark place. Do you think you write dark music?
No, but I think my music may put some people off. I've always thought of myself as a novelist or someone who writes short stories. The only way I could find to do it was to put it to music. If I was reading a book, I wouldn't be reading a love story. I would be reading more books about what I write about: real life that is hard times and things like that. It is more interesting to me than song after song about a guy and a girl in a pickup truck.Have you thought about actually sitting down and writing a novel or a collection of short stories?
No, what I do best is write stories and put them to music.
Have you read Larry Brown?
Yes, I have. If he played music, he would be a really good songwriter. He is a great writer. I read Cormac McCarthy. But it's gotten to the point where everyone is writing a lot alike. All the writing got too cute in these books, too creative and too sensational. They got caught up in their own ability to write clever stuff. I got my belly full of that, too.
You've been named an honorary Texas by Governor Perry. Are you a big fan?
I actually am. I've never met him. I have a lot of friends in Texas and I am sure somebody else was behind it. I am sure Rick Perry wouldn't know me if he saw me -- I know for sure he wouldn't. I've been coming to Texas a long time and I have a lot of friends there. I have a good fan base down there. That probably had something to do with it, too. I like the guy. He has a little more backbone that a lot of them.
You don't strike me as being much into politics.
If I am, I keep it to myself. It mostly comes out in my songs. I figure it always has. I think the whole political thing is a big joke anyway. I don't know why we are waiting on that bunch of clowns to tell us that everything is all right or tell us what to do. We need to forget about them and go out and live our lives. That's the way I feel about it.
Do you still live in a trailer house on 90 acres in Kentucky?
No, I live in a brick house on 40 acres. I lived in that trailer until 2006. I lived there for over twenty years, but my wife and I built a house a few years ago behind the trailer.
You also put out your own records. Why not have a label?
I have my own record label. After with what I've been through in the past, I have to do things my own way. It's kind of always been that way. Even when I was on Decca, they would come up with some idea and I would pretty much laugh at them. I just couldn't toe the line the way they want everybody to do. Me and my manager have been working together on the label for twenty years and it works out better that way. He knows me and I know him and we make stuff work.
Before you started singing, did you work in the coal mines?
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I was a reclamation inspector, a strip mine inspector. I worked around coal mines for about ten years. I became an inspector and worked for another five years. That's about the time I got interested in Nashville and felt like I could go down there and do something.