On-stage fisticuffs, chainsaw-wielding hill folk and faithful fans keep this band grounded
Published: February 22, 2012
Child Bite plays Thursday at 11 p.m. at the Polish National Alliance Hall with Danny Brown, Bars of Gold and Mumble.
The first time I met freak-out synth-punk quintet Child Bite, frontman Shawn Knight had leaped off a building's roof and landed shakily on Dan Deacon's tour bus. He sprang from car to car like a drunken Spiderman, shouting obscenities and shattering beer bottles off walls and onto the street. Child Bite had just finished playing the Barking Tuna Festival in Kalamazoo, where they performed off-stage so as to be eye-level with the crowd.
Their energy that night was contagious; a mosh pit formed and fans passed Knight broken glowsticks, which he poured into his eyeballs and down his shirt.
So it's comical to meet Knight and bassist Sean Clancy for ice cream in Ferndale. The pair sticks out against a kind of suburban family milieu — Knight sports a leather jacket and a gnarly beard, Clancy's dressed head-to-toe in black. But I'm greeted politely as they walk in — both are unpretentious and approachable.
They licked ice cream cones while talking of their, um, freak-out personas. "We're not super-confrontational or super-insane in the sense that we're provoking madness," Clancy says. "It's not like we're G.G. Allin and we're throwing our own shit into the crowd."
"The only plan is to put on as good a show as we can," Knight says. "I've seen bands that run through the same shtick every night. They say the same things in between songs; they rock the same set and vibe. That's cool, because that's sort of like having a safety net. But our safety net is not having a safety net."
The Ferndale-based Child Bite has been kicking around Detroit music since 2005, and has released seven albums, EPs and singles on either the wondrous Joyful Noise label out of Indianapolis, or the mighty Suburban Sprawl/Quack imprint in Ann Arbor.
Knight alternates during sets between vocals, keys and guitar. Clancy rocks the bass, Brandon Sczomak plays guitar, and Ben Moore drums.
They've won a following in experimental punk rock, blending high-frequency annoyances, synthesizers and joysticks with traditional instruments (guitar, drums, bass). Their shows compel even the most conservative concertgoer to hammer fists and push people around.
"I feel like every band says, 'You can't describe what we do,'" Knight says. "Nickelback is Nickelback."
"Child Bite doesn't have a home musically," Clancy adds. "It's a faction of different genres. There's some metal dudes that like us, there's some pop dudes that think we're good, there's punk kids ..."
"We get feedback from 'normal people,'" says Knight. "Not just weird punk or metal people."
Irony (and there's lots) or no, there's no denying the band has a twist. Take their album cover for 2010's The Living and Breathing Organ Summer, shot at Detroit's Burton Theatre. Skinny half-naked men dressed in loincloths and masks stand around a burlier man. This "god" is seated on a throne holding a staff and sporting a mile-high phallic headdress. Or, as Knight calls it, a "flesh column."
"It's pretty cryptic," Knight says. "My buddy [local artist] Dan DeMaggio helped make the 'flesh column' out of wood, metal, fabric and other stuff."
Knight's former co-worker played the "god." The masked servants include local stars Trevor Naud (Zoos of Berlin), Brandon Sczomak (Child Bite), Steve Puwalksi (Marco Polio & the New Vaccines) and DeMaggio.
"We had conversations about having beefy naked dudes on the cover ..." Clancy says, stone-faced.
"So we kind of wussed out a little bit," Knight adds.
When Child Bite headlined a 2011 Halloween party at Pontiac's Crofoot, things got out of hand. The crowd mobbed the stage and bashed into the band. Rumors were circulating that Clancy got into a fight mid-set.
"It was the end of the night and everyone was wasted," Clancy says. "This guy jumped on stage, got tangled up with my bass and kicked my pedals. If you're going to jump on stage ... that's cool, but you've got to respect the boundaries of instruments. I kept playing, and he knocked my bass out of my hands a little bit. So I shoulder-chucked him into the DJ booth. It escalated. He came back at me. I kicked him, and he fell off the stage. He jumped back on stage, so I kicked him again. He was grabbing my legs, and that's when the security guards grabbed him and took him away."
"It's cool to have crazy stuff happen like that," Knight says. "If it's what we're doing that makes people want to do that, then fine. I guess it's for better for worse."
"We're good at selling it," Clancy adds.
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