From 'wild and wonderful' West Virginia, KnuckleDuster is composed of some of the greatest talents that the Morgantown metal scene has to offer. Currently promoting their first album release entitled: "The Art of Regression," we were graciously granted the opportunity to ask KD frontman a few questions regarding the album, as well their method of practicing. What's more, these insights show just how KD has utlized modern technologies to their full potential to make for a well-structured, well-organized metal tour de force. But don't just take my word for it, as both their album and their live performence speak for themselves.
With much fanfare, I present to you the ever-so- wise, ever-inspiring, and all around good dude, Mr. Austin Kritzer:
Q: Tell us a bit about your journey -- from start to finish, how long did it take you to write and record your debut album?
A: This album started out a few years back. Somewhere around 2013 I am guessing? At that point in my life I was trying to be an Osteopathic physician. I had taken all of the required courses and was in the process of taking the “recommended” extra “Hey, look at me!” classes and I was absolutely miserable. I had already graduated college in 2010 so I was absolutely sick of living in a library being cut off from the world. Not to mention I was surrounded by 19 year olds and their post high school drama. The Icing on the cake was that I was so busy studying and trying to do well that I didn't touch a guitar for 8 weeks. That’s something that I haven't done since before I started playing. The day I came home and saw one of my guitars hanging on the wall and realized that, I was done.
After all that garbage happened, I was pretty down on myself. I went back to the only thing I really knew how to do and that was being a musician. I just stated writing as much as I could. Thats how “The Art of Regression” started to happen. Soon after, I got in contact with Chase and Charlie. Things have kind of been a roller coaster ever since.
Q: How did you go about tracking the guitar and vocals for the record?
A: I used a Schecter Hellraiser V-1 with HUGE strings on it -- 11-60 if I remember right -- for all of the rhythms. For the leads I would switch between my ESP LTD EC-1000 and my Epiphone Les Paul Prophecy Custom EX. From there I split the signal chain in 2. One path went directly into my Scarlet 2i2 recording interface for a dry track. The other track went to my POD HD500. That I could hear some distortion while I recorded. For good measure the POD went into the other input in my 2i2. We actually used the POD tones on the EP to save some time. We wanted to get some songs out ASAP.
The vocals were actually recorded twice. I recorded them originally in my studio using only a Shure SM 58 going directly into the 2i2. When we sent the tracks over to our engineer he offered me the chance to redo the vocals using a pro level mic. So, I ran over to his place and re-tracked the vocals for the whole album in about 4 or 5 hours -- with the exception of Chase’s Parts. There are still a few parts from the original takes sprinkled throughout the album but they have some grit and effects on them so it doesn’t take away from the clarity of the good mic.
Q: What does the writing process look like for you and the rest of the band, and how do you go about working on vocal melodies?
I am fortunate enough to be in a band where everyone plays everyone else’s instruments on some level. So our writing process can be chaotic. Everyone will write riffs and one of us will arrange it. Or one of us will write a whole song and the others will add extra parts and break up bits. It’s literally all over the place. As for vocal melodies. It’s kind of the same way. Sometimes, I will think of a melody in the car and record it on my phone. Other times, I write a riff and punch in notes in the vocal line in Guitar Pro. I guess I just kind of let that part happen as it happens. I like our process but I will say it creates a lot of waste. I have probably 3 albums worth of undeveloped “riff fat” on my computer.
Q: There seems to be some thematic elements within your songs such as: valor, honor, failure, cowardice -- are these topics reflective of your own inner struggles, or were they inspired by others?
Yeah, there are definitely themes. I have always tried to write lyrics with some kind of gravity to them. I feel that the most meaningful lyrics are those that are relatable and make the listeners think. The lyrics on ["The Art of Regression"] are extremely personal to me and deal with issues that have affected me in some way or another. “Generation Hollow” stems from student loan debt controlling the entirety of my financial situation/life. “Save Myself” is about me having to cut off someone extremely close to me due to their drug addiction. “No Drive” is about having no determination to move forward after tragedy. “Stolen Valor” is Chase’s baby so the lyrics on that one are mostly his, so I can’t speak on that one. Overall, this album chronicles all the bad crap that has happened to me in the past few years. Plenty of good stuff has happened too, but those don’t make very good metal songs.
Q: You have an interesting practice method for the whole band -- could you share with us some of the specifics, such as gear and such that you use for band practice? And how do you go about sharing files amongst all the members of KnuckleDuster?
Yeah, man, we use a jamhub at practice. It’s a piece of gear that allows each band member to plug into a channel and then each band member gets their own separate mix in their ears. The really cool thing about it is you can actually use pedals or processors and plug directly into it for a completely silent practice. It’s nice because it allows each member of the band to hear everything. You can’t hide behind straight volume or crappy room treatment. You have to be on point and know your parts. If you don’t everyone knows you screwed up. But in all seriousness, it makes your band sound tight in no time and keeps you from blowing out your eardrums in the process. It’s also pretty reasonable price wise. As for file sharing we write everything out in Guitar Pro and we share a Dropbox folder.
Q: What does your live set up look like, and what guitar is your current “workhorse?” And have have you made any [functional] modifications to it?
My live setup is extremely minimal right now. I literally go from my guitar, to my Line 6 Wireless G30, into my Mesa Mini Rec with matching slant 1x12. No pedals. Nothing. I am sure I will throw some more processing/effects in after a while but I like the ability to set up and tear down in 3 minutes. Plus, my amp sounds fantastic -- it’s a Rectifier!
My workhorse for Knuckleduster is easily my ESP LTD EX-360 that I affectionately refer to as “The KD Special” It’s an explorer style guitar with a mahogany body, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard. It’s outfitted with and EMG 81 in the bridge and an EMG 60 in the neck. That’s about where the stock options stop haha! I have customized the living crap out of this thing to suit KD’s needs and it has been a fantastic guitar. It’s survived all kinds of beatings. As for what I have changed:
Ironage Killswitch – This is one of the coolest add-ons I have found for guitar. It’s a standard push button killswitch with an LED light around it. Looks cool. Works great. Total head turner too.
Lumenlays side dots -- these things are life savers on stage and I don’t know why it took so long for these things to show up. They are a pain to install because you have to drill out your original side dots, glue the lumenlays into place, then, sand them flush. Totally worth the work though. [Just] charge them up with the flashlight on your phone before the show, and never get lost on a fretboard again -- it’s a lifesaver on dark stages.
Q: Do you suffer from any pre-performance anxiety? And how do you prepare for shows?
I wouldn’t call it anxiety. I just get wicked mad tunnel vision. It pisses my girlfriend off to no end [laughter]. I get in this zone where I keep thinking of all the crap I need to do and all the crap that could go wrong. Then, I am thinking of a fallback plan for my fallback plan if any of that happens. I can’t tell you how much stupid crap has happened to me on stage that you would never even think of. The way I look at it, something is going to happen to you at some point on stage. That is just the way it is. Just shake it off and try not to let it happen twice. So yeah, I wouldn’t call it anxiety because I don’t get nervous. My palms are dry. I am more consumed with what I have to get accomplished beforehand. By the time we get to the bar I am relaxed and ready to have fun.
Q: Which track is your favorite track on the album and why?
Ah, man, that’s like asking which one of my kids is my favorite [laughter].
In all seriousness, I don’t have a favorite. It changes up depending what mood I am in. During live shows, I always like playing “Life as a Failure” and “Save Myself” 'cause the crowd gets really into those. If I am just jamming around “Spineless" is my fallback. I do really like playing “Tear Out the Life” just because it’s the newest and we are still polishing it up live.
Q: Where did the name KnuckleDuster come from, and what sparked the idea for the KD logo? And who did the art work for the record?
We didn’t have a name for like 4 months and it was kind of getting annoying. We had a group text going and we were throwing out random names. One of us -- I don’t remember who -- threw Knucklduster out there and we all liked it. It’s also a pretty sweet Children of Bodom song.
As for [the] artwork, we go through Brittany Evanovich at Black Bear Customs in Grafton, WV. She’s made some killer designs for us and our mascot Dusty (The Skull with brass knuckle teeth and the KD logo on his forehead) is kind of her brainchild. She also had a huge role in the design and look of the album overall.
Q: Where can we find out more about KnuckleDuster and any upcoming shows?
The Best way to get a hold of us is probably on Facebook...I know that might sound unprofessional but we get notified when people message us and we make it a point to stay in contact with fans. So if you ever want to talk to a KD band member that is probably the fastest way. As for other sites, my god we are on all of them. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat I think, Youtube. If a social media platform exists, we are probably on it. Shit, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of us made a KD tinder profile.
You can also check us out at any of the following sites: