Three may be a lucky number, but good things come in twos. What are chips without aioli, Batman without Robin, Madonna without dumbbells or Meg without Jack? Add to that list Nick Gaffaney and Aaron Tokona, a pair of Kiwi counterparts that are alone just two men with a love for loop pedals – one stable, one not so much – but together combine like Captain Planet and the Planeteers to become the driving rock duo Cairo Knife Fight.
After touring the US last year to play SXSW and the CMJ Music Marathon in New York, their self-proclaimed ‘guerilla rock warfare’ caused some ears to prick and the guy at the band merch table to put his beer down and sell some shirts. For now though, the pair is back on home soil and preparing to launch to the other-mother land to play three shows across Melbourne and Sydney at the end of April. Tone Deaf was lucky enough to have a chat with Nick Gaffaney, lead vocalist and drummer of the band.
Firstly, a quick bit of history: Nick and Aaron, both previously involved in Fat Freddy’s Drop at different times, began playing together in a larger band that was “more like some weird blues revue”, however Nick explained “looking back on the videos it’s blatantly obvious that it was really Aaron and I, and a whole lot of other people”. The pair decided to embark on their own project in 2009 to cut skyrocketing touring expenses and build on their own sound as a duo.
Cairo Knife Fight released their second EP Cairo Knife Fight II on April 6 this year in Australia, after recording earlier in 2011 at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios in Auckland on the Neve console, which was famously built for The Who and relocated from the Bearsville Studios in New York. And according to Nick, the desk was worth the shipping: “That desk is amazing – the gear, the crew, having Neil Finn wandering around occasionally… I’ve done a lot of work in that studio for other people so that place feels like home to me.”
After compiling a heap of ideas and recording material and commencing what they thought was going to be a stint of fairly ‘normal’ recording sessions, Christchurch began to shake violently as the earthquake that bought New Zealand to its knees in 2011 struck. Both men had family in the city at the time. When asked whether or not this had an impact on the recording, Nick explains, “I think it did. I think both of us were pretty highly-strung at that point. It was a sense of inspiration… and it created a slightly, kind of, unhinged moment for the whole thing. It was a very traumatic experience actually, we were glad when we finished it.”
It’s not uncommon for an artist to want to glad-wrap their ears when listening to old recordings, and when asked if he is happy with their first EP, Nick says, “Sometimes I put it on to get an idea of what we want the next one to sound like…there’s definitely no listening to it for pleasure though.” The traumatic experience of recording Cairo Knife Fight II doesn’t seem to have put the pair off getting back into the studio though, the only “million dollar question”, according to Nick, is when. Although he is partially on his way to winning that elusive million by clarifying it would be “this year at some point.
Despite already giving it a lot of thought, the pair is still not sure what sonic direction it will take just yet. However for those who think Cairo Knife Fight are just another predictable, cliché-riff-playing rock band, their next foray may be a side step from the current sound they are working with. “I think we’re really just scratching the surface on some other emotions we want to explore. We’ve obviously got a pretty raucous thing going on but there’s other elements that we’d like to get into… just some different feels and tempos, because we’ve obviously done a lot of stuff which is driving, but that’s only one element for both of us.”
Nick hints they might be going in the direction of the third track on Cairo Knife Fight II, ‘The Opiate Of The Living’ – a sound the band “hasn’t really done anything like before” but would like to explore.
Mister-Nice-Guy Dave Grohl seems to think that Cairo Knife Fight’s driving, raucous sound isn’t bad though – the band have opened for the Foo Fighters twice before – once in front of 50,000 punters at Western Springs in the US, which according to Nick, was “easier than playing to a room of 100 people because no one can throw their beer at you”. Makes sense really. But then the comparisons start to fly. As a rock band, the parallels to Led Zeppelin, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Foo Fighters are inevitable, but just for the record, the idea that Cairo Knife Fight sound like old-school White Stripes is “complete bullshit.”
After touring the US for their first (and probably only) appearance at Austin’s SXSW festival (“it was mad, it was amazing, but once was enough”), Cairo Knife Fight stumbled onto their musical Mecca at the CMJ Music Marathon in NYC. “SXSW is like someone’s daughter’s 16th birthday party, and CMJ is more like someone’s 40th. It’s totally relaxed and everyone is cool and awesome. You have great gear and there’s no stress about changeovers, everyone’s just so damn happy to be there.” However, when being asked if he thought concentrating on the US market would be a definite possibility in the future, Nick simply said the general plan is “wherever it takes off, we’ll go.”
So after already making ripples in international wading pool of rock, on the eve of their Australian tour, Aaron and Nick are getting excited: “It still feels like we’re just getting started [in Australia], but we’re definitely getting started in the right place.” That place is Cherry Rock, of which event booker and co-owner James Young says “there’s going to be so much fuzz on the speakers in AC/DC Lane that we may have to shave them.” We think Cairo Knife Fight might just like being a part of that.
Cairo Knife Fight kick off their whirlwind Australian tour on April 26th at the Workers Club ahead of a ripping Sunday sesh at the Fu Manchu-headlined CherryRock12. Their EP Cairo Knife Fight II is out now on Liberation. For a taste of what’s to come heck out their clip for ‘The Origin Of Slaves’. If you play your cards right, you could even get a free double pass in your hot little hand.