CHRIS KNOX / ORIGINAL IMAGE FOR THE 'SEIZURE' COVER
By 1989, Chris Knox had been making music and records with his old Enemy and Toy Love mate Alec Bathgate for more than a decade. In that time, the two had made six 12” EPs and one album as Tall Dwarfs.
Tall Dwarfs were recording together every year or so, but Chris had been playing solo for over 3 years and found he was brimming with songs that didn't fit into the Tall Dwarfs oeuvre — and were screaming out to be recorded.
Chris was also having a big reassessment of his behaviour and the attitudes at work behind it. He had been supporting The Clean at an Orientation gig at Sammy's in Dunedin when his always opinionated intersong prattle got away from him and became rather ugly. Others did notice it, and so did Chris, who saw it as a clear signal to sort himself out and, as a consequence, the way he dealt with others. It was a karmic moment without the unnecessary karma. This was the crisis that created the start of the journey towards a more mellow Chris. The Seizure album was the first bit of output to come from this period of transformation, and you can plainly hear that he is keen to get on with it. There is to be some angst before the calm.
CHRIS KNOX - 'SEIZURE' LP COVER
The making of Seizure saw Chris spend less time recording at home and more in ‘proper’ studios. In February 1989, 13 songs were recorded at Mascot with Victor Grbic in 14 hours, and then another two were completed at The Lab with Glen Eisenhut. The Teac 4-track at home had taken a beating over the previous ten years and had virtually ‘fallen to bits’, so recording in a studio was inevitable. Knowing more about the process and working with sympathetic technicians made working in bigger commercial studio environments possible and productive.
The Seizure recording was straightforward. These are songs with specific subject matter that are clearly well sung over his own thrashy guitar playing. He is without the musical and temperamental sensibilities of Alec when recording for the very first time, and it can sound very stripped back as a result. There are some rudimentary Tall Dwarf-like percussively beaten cardboard loops on a few of the tracks to add some variety. After ten years of making music, the Tall Dwarf duo was well used to building increasingly complex, layered arrangements to enhance their songs. On his own, Chris didn't have the ability to build that kind of structure. Not that it was the point; this was about starting over, just him, kind of naked in the wilderness, if you can cope with the thought.
CHRIS KNOX - 'SEIZURE' LP REVERSE
So the recording is simple, the instrumentation is spare, and both the guitar and vocal are very directed and very insistent. It’s all about the songs and getting the message encapsulated in each across to the listener as directly as possible. There are a few times when it can feel just a touch unrelenting, but Chris designed this listening experience as a record with two sides. Some records are transformed when listened to as two distinct sides with the physical flip — the associated mental pause and whatever else goes on during those few complicated seconds. Here, that brief turn seems to give the listener just the right about of aural rest and reset for another side of honest soul-bearing and self-help moral guidance. It makes more sense and is a better listening experience on vinyl than streamed.
Many of these songs sound as if they couldn't wait any longer to be recorded. Songs can be like that, they have a life expectancy, and if they are to be remembered, they need to be recorded before they are forgotten and die. Being the first album, Seizure had a lot of songs in that category; they had started to build up, they needed to be recorded, and there was a desire for a ‘live’ as possible approach; you can hear the resultant immediacy in the recording itself.
As one critic noted at the time, you can hear the angry Chris persona that surrounds and overwhelms his live performances pull back and let these songs speak for themselves. These are songs that are naturally more personal than the Tall Dwarfs ones, and chart Chris’ concerns of the previous few years: rapists, epilepsy, the music business, women's perspectives and love. The subjects of some of these songs are so personal they are difficult to comprehend, let alone discuss.
‘Not Given Lightly’ is an easy one to digest. This is a love song to his partner that is almost uncomfortably sensitive and built around a very simple song structure. This is a song that was a hit that wasn’t a hit. A song that didn't sell as a single at the time or ever generate radio play or chart. It is a song that got around by word of mouth. A song that all sorts of people who had never heard of Chris Knox came to love. It became special. To the point where Chris found himself awkwardly playing it at other people's weddings, substituting the bride's name for that of his partner. Fortunately, he found a way of inserting the relevant name into the lyrics, creating a bespoke recording and sending off a CDr. For one to have never chased the all mighty dollar, ‘Not Given Lightly’ has generated income from its use in Vogel’s bread ads for more than 10 years, the income he has sorely needed over recent years since his debilitating and life-changing stroke.
Black and yellow. Chris loves that colour combination. Perhaps it grew out of his previous work, which was invariably in black and white. The yellow seemed to replace the white and crops up on his record covers and artwork everywhere. The original 1989 Seizure cover has it totally incorporated into the design. The 1990 version of the Seizure cover has it spelt out more dramatically, with alternating strips in black and bright yellow. The inner sleeve has the lyrics and the recording details, including all the fingering and chords for each song. Chris always had the confidence to complete his extensive liner notes (in fact any of his work) in his own hand rather than present it in type.
Chris always had unshakeable confidence in his ability to perform and make music, initially as frontman of two full-on punk rock new wave bands, The Enemy and Toy Love. Then with Alec Bathgate, the Tall Dwarfs invented their own sound, style and genre. Chris was always essentially a collaborator. He sensibly liked to work with others with the expertise he lacked. Finally, over time, step by step, he gained the know-how to be able to record a solo album that he could be happy with. Seizure was brisk and to the point, but it needed to be. There was a lot of damned-up important stuff to say, and he was in a hurry to say it. Once done, he could move on in a more measured way. He keeps on addressing issues that matter to him from both a personal and a societal perspective but is able to present them in more refined and elaborate ways.
Seizure is a key Chris Knox release. It represents the letting go of the old angry Chris in a cathartic blast and signals the start of a new approach to both living life and making music.