Members of the self-proclaimed “Gypsybilly/Punk” band call various neighborhoods in Brooklyn home, and are getting ready to release their first album, which they recorded back in 2009 while still based in Miami. The group sings of the hardships emigrating to a new country.
I met up with Nacho Segura, vocals and percussion, Nikko Martiz, vocals and guitar, and Ethan Cohen, banjo, guitar and singer, last week at Dos Toros Taqueria, located at 189 Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg, to talk about the roots of their group and some of their future plans.
With so many different backgrounds, how did you guys come together and form one cohesive group? Nikko: Originally, me and Nacho lived in Miami and we did the whole record together in Miami and bringing out all the musicians together that now formed Butcher Knives. Nacho, I met him back in 2005 when he was the drummer for another band and I was their sound guy. Eventually I went out on tour with them, Gogol Bordello and other bands. We started getting together to listen to a lot of music together and eventually we started making music and songs. We compiled this whole record together, Nacho moved to New York City where he got together with everyone and eventually it formed down to what it is today.
Ethan: We were playing live for a year or so with Nico flying in from Miami for every show. He just moved to New York like six months ago.
What did you see in this group that gave you the drive to fly in for shows? Nikko: It’s been ever since I was like 16 or when I came here to the city for the first time, I knew that I was going to move here. When I got together with Nacho, we kind of knew NYC was the place to be for this kind of music. New York has a lot of variety and a lot of cultures.
Nacho: What happened was when we did the album, we created the music, we were thinking about getting every piece of music from every genre we like and put it together from different parts of the world. When we were recording we couldn’t find a banjo player or an accordion player and we had to actually fly some people in from New York to record. That’s when we realized that we had to move. You have every culture and every genre here.
In what ways does your music represent this city? Ethan: In many ways it is quintessential New York just because it is totally a melting pot style of music. The other bands that have done that kind of stuff and have been successful with it and reached a lot of people with it, a lot of them have been based out of New York. I don’t think there is another city, certainly in the United States, that has the diversity that New York does.
Nikko: The fact that there are people from all over the world adds to the global sound that we’re trying to reach.
Ethan: I don’t think there really is another place where there is an audience for it.
What do you hope your audience takes away from your band? Nacho: The idea of the band, in our live show, is basically getting in contact with the crowd.
Ethan: Physical contact. (laughs)
Nacho: You know when you go to see a band and it’s just boring. There are guys playing and the whole time you’re just waving your hands and it’s cool, but nothing happens and you get out of the venue and you’re like, “Oh yea, whatever.” For us, the main thing is when you get out of the venue, you’re like, “Wow, that was an awesome show.” The contact, the tension we create between us and the crowd, that makes the show.
What kind of contact? Are you guys hitting people? Ethan: (laughs) Well, we are mashing with people, we go and dance with the crowd, Nacho likes to crowd surf.
Nacho: They go down and play the drums for us. It’s very important for us, the interaction with them.
Where did your band name come from? Nikko: Back in the 1940s and 50s in Columbia, where me and Nacho are from, there was this whole political movement and it got many families displaced from the violence from the farms to the cities. It was a ten-year violent period called “La Violencia.” All of these farm families got displaced by the guerrilla forces that came in. Both of our families were displaced at that time and all they had to defend themselves with were butcher knives.
Since you have so many different sounds, how you are you able to write the music for all these different parts? Nikko: The thing with the writing process is we usually do it alone, then we make it Butcher Knives after that. We try to make something really weird, then we add a banjo or an accordion, which is one good way of doing it. We take all of these ideas that we write down and record and we stretch them out adding all of the elements from the band.
Ethan: A lot of times Nacho and Nikko will come up with the skeleton of the song and an idea of what they want it to sound like. The song is pretty much there, but we just add the different layers on top of it. They don’t play accordion or banjo.
Nikko: I do everything on the keyboards first.
Do you trust these guys with your songs? Nikko: Yeah man, they add something unique and it’s really cool.
Who writes the lyrics? Nacho: We do it together (referring to Nikko). For this album, it was divided in two. It was based on our experience as immigrants when we came to the United States. So it’s our view from here to our country and then our country to here. It’s about the American dream and all these things. What they show us back in our country is completely different from what it really is.
Nikko: I think now that all these corporations are taking over, it’s actually something that is being sold to you, propaganda-wise.
What did you think the American Dream was before you came here? Nikko: I mean everything. It was movies and everything that is being said to you is meant to portray a certain image. Even as Americans this country is meant to be portrayed in a way that it is not quite what it is. I am always the guy that talks about politics for two hours and then I go around in the loop. At the end of the day all I can do is make a song and convey my thoughts.
Nacho: The most important power of a band is saying what they think. You can reach a lot of people with your message.
What is that message? Nikko: It would be to learn as much as you can about the world and there are many more cultures than just one. There are infinite amounts, between tribes and cultures and people, I think that is what life is about, too. Experience.
Nacho: Don’t judge.
Ethan: Have fun.
Nacho: Really have fun.
Check out Butcher Knives live at Pianos, located at 158 Ludlow St. in Manhattan, on Dec. 21 and look for their new album Misery set to hit shelves on Feb. 18.