By Bella Savignano | May 28, 2022
It’s The Knee-Hi’s circus, and we’re all just along for the ride. The fringe-clad, self-proclaimed “troupe of wide-eyed rats” from Chicago incinerated Bushwick’s psychedelic secret garden venue, Rubulad, in an unforgettable set. Dev, Alice, Ash, and Chris are the four ringleaders of this pageant–equal parts rock ‘n’ roll show, theatrical performance, dress-up party, and shindig of best friends sauntering around blithely onstage–and they’re ready to redefine what it means to be a band.
“I would have been way too intimidated to join any other band than this one. Having that sense of support and encouragement from your best friends to be ok with being horrible at something–like, this is gonna be loud and bad, but I believe someday, I’ll sound listenable,” Ash, who plays guitar in the group, revealed to us. Most bands come together through shared musicianship, surpassing a vaporous threshold at which they determine they’re good enough for the masses…whether perceived or actual. In The Knee-Hi’s case, the technicality of musical prowess is just that, a technicality. The band’s anarchistic tenor is one of their preeminent values–they write the songs that they want to make and listen to, with no regard for their public reception. So far, it seems like that outlook is paying off. The musical neophytes have traipsed through some of indie music’s favorite venues, from Empty Bottle in their stomping ground of Chicago to Baby’s All Right in our very own New York City, bringing their clamorous embryonic freakshow to the rowdy cabal of eccentrics channeling the GTOs’ original brand of electric nostalgia. Their three-day stint in New York City, lighting up the stage at Arlene’s Grocery, Rubulad, and Baby’s All Right, was a first for them and an enthusiastic coterie of dolled-up fans was eager to welcome them with a bang.
“We weren’t sure if the New York crowd was going to be more intimidating, just standing there watching us. Everyone was dancing, we had a mosh pit going– it exceeded all expectations for our first night here,” said Ash about their show at Lower East Side standby Arlene’s Grocery the prior night. Though the troupe had fantasized about band-hood since they were kids, the fantasy didn’t materialize until a few years ago. Watching Dev’s boyfriend Andrew on stage with his band, Ably House, she and Alice realized an emphatic urge to be up on stage themselves, and not too long after, their jocular repartee materialized.
“At one point we started to take it way more seriously, we started having practices, either in my apartment or Dev’s house. We only had a couple of practices ‘til Devyn reached out through her Instagram, and Ash and Chris came in and said that they wanted to be a part of what we were doing,” said Alice, whose restrained demeanor during our interview diametrically opposed the untamed starlet who annihilated any notion of docility we previously held on stage later that night. The freshly formed ensemble’s genre-defiant music blends the ethereal wistfulness of 1940s doo-wop à la The Penguins with the restless slapdash urgency of 1970s punk powerhouses, The Ramones and Blondie, all enveloped in the campy sequin-flocked spectacle of T. Rex. Their multiformity makes their live show as much vaudeville as a concert, which is just how they like it. The ensemble coordinates their outfits for each show, and at Rubulad, they went full showgirl with ripped fishnets, fluttering fringe, and enough sequins to make Elton John question his bravado.
“It’s all an extension of us,” said bassist Dev about their penchant for dramatic fashion.
“We’re all artists in our personal lives, and so it’s a great outlet for our expression, style, art, and performance. It all just goes together really well,” added Chris, the hard-hitting drummer who learned her instrument by pounding on notebooks just a couple of years prior.
Rubulad was the perfect setting for The Knee-Hi’s otherworldly effervescence–only a rusty gate separates an industrial, graffiti-splattered block from the psychotropic fantasy land. The venue looks like a defunct amusement park that was commandeered by an acid-tripped LA cult circa 1967, a fitting locale for a cosmic recess into The Knee Hi’s mystical world. In the garden, a giant, rainbow mouth and tongue sculpture à la the Rolling Stones looks about ready to swallow you whole, and faux flowers and twinkle lights adorn every possible surface–from the trees to the ravaged top of a spaceship that’s been converted into a quasi-teepee. Indiscriminate mannequins hide in corners, and chaos reigns throughout. It’s a hallucinogenic playground for the eccentric. And it doesn’t end there–the inside of the venue is just as helter-skelter as the outside. Iridescent fringe and beads ornament the silver sequined walls, with feathers and haunting masks hanging low from the exposed beam ceilings. The stage is about the last thing you would discern in the venue, but The Knee-Hi’s changed that. Their set was spellbinding, sprightly and unrefined, and it was amply clear that they were having the time of their lives.
“You know how The Ramones couldn’t get through a single set without messing up?”, Alice queried the crowd, “That’s us right now.” Their songs changed tempo and key, gushing an aura of gaucherie that, with any other artist, would abate their cachet as a band, but it seemed to work for The Knee-Hi’s. We wonder why their imperfection was so endearing, and the answer is really quite simple: The Knee-Hi’s are a much-needed departure from the testosterone-fueled gasconade of rock ‘n’ roll. For them, it’s about friendship, fulfillment, and sisterhood through a mutual passion for music. They do not feel the need to assume the form of deities at the apex of musical aptitude because, for them, success ultimately follows passion. It’s why they’ve imprinted so strongly on their fanbase.
“When people say, “I made this friend because of your band,” or, “me and my friend started a band because of your band,” that’s like my favorite thing ever to hear, it warms my heart so much,” gushed Chris. Just like the songs they write are the songs they want to listen to, The Knee-Hi’s are ultimately creating the community they want to be a part of. This is just the beginning for the band, who released their debut album, Charmed, in February, and with stardust and sisterhood already on their side, this rat pack is one to watch.
Sprawled nonchalantly atop the giant rainbow tongue, The Knee-Hi’s answered a few questions for the groovement:
What were your first concerts?
Dev: Alice Cooper, when I was 18.
Alice: I don’t remember my first concert.
Chris: It might have been Hannah Montana!
Ash: Rare Earth, when I was in the womb.
Chris: Actually, it would have been Wayne Newton when I was a kid!
You’re based in Chicago now, but where are you guys from?
Alice: Suburbs of Chicago for me.
Dev: Northwest Wisconsin
Ash + Chris: A farm an hour outside of Chicago.
How would you describe your music?
Ash: A lot of fun, garage rock.
Dev: Messy, a lot of fun.
Chris: “Loud, loud, and fast.”
Ash: And constantly evolving!
Do you have anything you set out to impart to your audience? Any deep-rooted mission?
Ash: Go for your dreams!
Chris: If it scares you, it’s probably what you should be doing– If it’s your own self-imposed fear. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment.
Alice: Making people feel welcome and that they can be whoever they want to be.
Dev: Go for the gold, baby
What is your dream venue to play?
Ash: It’s hard to beat Rubulad!
Chris: We really wanna play Desert Daze.
Alice: I’d love to play at a dive bar somewhere in Japan.
Dev: I’d love to play on the moon.
📸: shot by Sierra Horne