Knuckle Puck just celebrated ten years in the music industry. It feels a lot longer than that, especially with the number of EPs and albums the Chicago-based band has released in that time. After dropping three exceptional studio albums (2015’s Copacetic, 2017’s Shapeshifter, and 2020’s 20/20) Knuckle Puck have moved from Rise Records to Wax Bodega, and with the move comes their first EP in over seven years: Disposable Life. But they aren’t going backwards. The band are the surest of themselves they have been in a long time. And Joe knows that.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Joe explained that, after their latest album, the band weren’t 100 percent certain on where to go next. He said: “We put out 20/20 [during the pandemic] and it was like this weird thing where we couldn’t play shows or tour on it at all, so the only logical thing for us to do was to get back on working on music.”
Before long, the band had a new dose of songs they had written in their bedrooms, and a fresh new label backing them (Wax Bodega). Joe recalled how it felt like the band had gone back to their humble beginnings, circa 2013. He said: “We kind of felt like it was a reboot of the band. We kept joking: ‘Yo, we’re going to do a short EP – throwing it back to [2013’s] The Weight That You Buried – and capture the old vibe a little bit more. And then we’re going to do a seven-song EP – like [2014’s] While I Stay Secluded – before we do another full length [album]!’ But we were just joking about it!”
What followed was the band writing four new songs in no time, all of which are featured on Disposable Life. (It also includes one blink-182 cover that, Joe revealed, was borne purely for the love of the song. Adding: “We didn’t think about it hard at all.”)
Joe makes the band’s journey to Disposable Life sound simple, but he’s obviously telling the story without including all of the hard work they endured to perfect their sound along the way. Copacetic is a prime example of how much they care. On top of being critically acclaimed, it is still the “highest-selling debut Rise Records release of all time”. It was also the record that put Knuckle Puck on the map in a big way.
He’s extremely modest. Or maybe he doesn’t want to destroy the illusion of the laid-back pop-punk kids they are on stage. But it’s obvious they live and breathe this music, otherwise it simply wouldn’t be as good as it is.
“As a collective, we all wanted to continually write better music,” he says, almost with a sigh. “After Copacetic we were really like: ‘We should hone in on our melodies’. So from Copacetic to Shapeshifter, I think the songs got a little more catchy. And moving into 20/20 as well, we were still trying to make it a little catchier – but not lose the edge!”
The way Joe casually speaks about building on his own legacy makes it plain to see there is a lot of pressure on his shoulders. But he’s candid in explaining that it doesn’t come from his bandmates, friends, family, or even his label, but from himself.
“I love music,” he says, getting sort of serious for the first time in our conversation. “It’s just one of those things where… One of my favourite bands is Motion City Soundtrack. I think [their first] three records – I Am The Movie, Commit This To Memory, Even If It Kills Me – that is a great trilogy. [And] Taking Back Sunday has a great trilogy of records! So my only thing was, if KP could do a sweet trilogy of full-lengths, that would be dope.”
Joe trails off, before adding: “But there’s definitely a pressure to make something cool that I’m going to want to listen to in 15 years.” Is he currently ashamed of any of Knuckle Puck’s work? “No no, absolutely not.” But Joe confides that this pressure is where the EP’s name came from.
After absentmindedly writing the words “Disposable Life” in his phone, he revisited the phrase months later during the midst of the lockdown, long after forgetting they were there. After setting eyes on those two pensive words again, he began asking himself: “What can I do that matters in my time being here?”
Slowly, he mused: “I guess that’s the question that everybody asks: What can I contribute to the world? I feel everybody feels that way. Nobody wants to lead a life that’s disposable. Everybody wants their time here to mean something. That’s kind of where that line ended up falling for me.”
I noted that most of Joe’s lyrics are extremely self-analytical. Sometimes a deep-dive into the emotional pain surrounding his father, other times just an expression of sheer frustration with what is going on around him. I wasn’t trying to pry, but I mostly wanted to know what motivates him to regularly put himself through that to record and release music.
He replied: “I feel like if you’re not asking yourself those existential questions or getting introspective with yourself then it’s all slipping further and further from you.”
Asking himself these questions is exactly what has allowed him to write this slate of new tracks. And, I don’t know what it says about Joe’s headspace at the moment, but he’s back to writing bangers that sound like Knuckle Puck’s early work. Most notably: Levitate. A track Joe worked hard to perfect.
He reminisced: “I was definitely, like, I want to write a song that feels like 2012, 2013. That era of pop-punk. And the sound that we were pulling from back then that kind of got overshadowed as we started to write our own music and find out who we were as songwriters.”
Joe does not yet know what Knuckle Puck will do next – whether it’s another EP, or straight into an album – but he confirms they are constantly working on new music.
In the meantime, Disposable Life is out now.
Get tickets to Knuckle Puck’s shows here.