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Live in the Clubs: Changes honed Knee Benders’ sound

Thursday, September 6, 2012
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Kyle Hanson, left, Sam Pine and Greg Halzack will be among the members of The Knee Benders playing at Hudson River Coffee House on Saturday.
Kyle Hanson, left, Sam Pine and Greg Halzack will be among the members of The Knee Benders playing at Hudson River Coffee House on Saturday.

— The six-man lineup of Albany ska band The Knee Benders only solidified about four weeks ago.

Vocalist and guitarist Sam Pine, a native of Orange County, has been leading some version of the band since the group’s members first relocated to the area to attend the University at Albany. Pine is the only one left of the original group, which is still composed of UAlbany students.

The seeds of the current lineup were first planted in 2009, when Pine joined up with drummer Tom Casey, bassist Alex Gallina (the band’s second guitarist and trombonist) and singer Greg Halzack. Their first gig actually featured eight members.

The Knee Benders

with Safety Nets, Drew & The Grand Spectacular, Nine Votes Short

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hudson River Coffee House, 227 Quail St., Albany

How Much: Free

More Info: 596-0959, www.hudsonrivercoffee.com

“We opened up for a band called Bayside, a Queens band . . . we had this whole ensemble,” Pine said recently, sitting with most of his bandmates at Hudson River Coffee House, a venue the band plays frequently. Their next show is at the coffee house on Saturday night, with Safety Nets, Drew & The Grand Spectacular and Nine Votes Short opening.

“We had a tuba, we had a trombone, trumpet. Alex actually played trombone; that was the first time that I played with him, because he was introduced to me by our former trumpeter before Jeff [Brauner]. And two guitars, bass and Tom on drums. Our former bassist left immediately after that. . . . And our trumpeter couldn’t make it to the only other gig that we had that year.”

Shifting personnel

Gallina moved to bass after that gig, and for a while the band was a three-piece, until Brauner came aboard and Halzack returned to the fold. In the spring, Gallina and Brauner left for a semester in Washington, D.C., necessitating a new bassist, Kyle Hanson.

Even now, with the full lineup in action, not everyone always makes it to a show — Halzack is the only member who lives outside Albany, and often can’t make shows. But the band has learned to adapt.

“We did have one show where it was actually the full lineup,” Casey said.

“We’re always in flux,” Brauner added. “I guess that’s what happens when you have kind of a school environment — you have people coming, you have people going.”

All of the lineup fluctuations have helped the band create a unique sound, with everything from punk to funk to metal to jazz permeating the band’s high-energy ska template. Early in its history, the group was actually acoustic, lending a slight folk influence to some of their material. But according to Pine, the idea was always to have a full ska group.

“It has a folk sound to it, but that’s not what the influence was,” he said. “I was listening to ska and punk rock, a whole lot of punk rock. I never really knew how to play guitar — I never took a lesson, just kind of taught myself how to play, but I was, in my opinion, a pretty OK writer. . . . And it wasn’t until I started playing with these guys that the sound kind of expanded into what it is.”

Due to busy school schedules, the band has stuck close to the Capital Region for gigs. In the next few weeks the band is playing Hudson River Coffee House, then the University at Albany on Sunday, and Valentine’s on Sept. 14. The schedule has also hindered recording a bit — although the band has 13 original songs, they were only able to record one at the University at Albany’s radio station, WCDB-FM, for a single release last year, the bouncy punk-ska tune “Pleasure and Pain.” The band does plan to record more, time permitting.

Because they spend so much time playing for the same audience, they like to switch things up on established originals, adding jams or changing the feel of songs after they’ve been played for a while.

“We actually did that to a recent song — we kind of had a song that was kind of mellow,” Brauner said. “We added a really punk rock ending to it, and now we have a song that’s very intense now; we just added a little mellow intro.”

Songwriting style

Songwriting often starts out with Pine and Casey creating the basic arrangement, which the rest of the band will add to in practices. But more often the band has been writing more collaboratively, now that the lineup is in place.

“There have been a couple of times where we just all came together and said, ‘What’s your idea; what’s your idea; what’s your idea; let’s try to do something with it,’ ” Pine said.

“The newest original that we have, I had the whole song written out. I had this riff, followed by this riff, followed by this riff. And then I said, ‘OK, Tom, we can play this, what do you got?’ And then we went to Kyle and said, ‘OK, we have this, what do you have?’ And then we brought horns in, and now it’s an awesome song.”

 
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