Off the hook
The Willknots hope that catchy pop-rock plus strong graphic identity will equal success
Any bloke can pick up a guitar and make a racket.
But in today’s brand-conscious world, what can separate a front-runner from a not-ready-for-prime-time player often hinges on whether or not the band in question can translate its musical style into a coherent, marketable visual aesthetic. Certainly, it’s still important to sound good, but it helps to also have a grasp on the visual components of success.
This is something that Douglas Deibel, frontman, vocalist and guitarist for the Willknots, seems to understand. Deibel works as a graphic designer in his day job, and from a quick glance at the band’s Web site (www.willknots.com), he’s developed a pretty solid identity for his band.
Branding is important, especially for any band that has listed “get signed to a major label” as one of its career objectives. And this is something that Deibel has thought long and hard about, from the Web site to the “slime” packaging of the four-piece group’s new five-song EP, Hook, Line and Sink Her. The disc is a distinct step forward from the last thing it released, another EP back in 1997 when it was still a trio.
“We didn’t want to do a full-length [CD] at this point, ‘cause we’re really hoping that, with some sales, we’ll be able to do the full-length on somebody else’s dime,” Deibel explains. “But we did feel that we owed it to all the people that we’ve been getting, fanwise. We’ve played a lot of shows, and a lot of people know who the band is, but we wanted a CD in the stores. After KWOD had spun us and stuff like that, there are certain perceptions of us now, so we didn’t want to do something cheesy; we wanted to try to get five songs that we felt was really representational.”
Of course, for every Creed or Linkin Park or Nickelback, to name three rock-identified acts that have found success in a pop-music milieu currently dominated by r&b, hip-hop and dance-pop acts, there are dozens that get signed by majors, only to fall by the wayside.
“The way I’ve been told that the music industry is headed right now is that they’re letting bands do a little bit of sales on their own,” he says. “That’s one big mark that [the labels] want to see.”
Deibel grew up around Phoenix, and moved north to go to college in the Napa Valley before finding work in Sacramento and reforming the Willknots, a college project. That was in 1997; the lineup currently includes drummer Eddie Luke, who’d played in some Southern California bands and has played with Deibel the longest, bassist Eric Foxxx, and recent addition Shawn Richardson on guitar and vocals. And while it may sound as if the Willknots are essentially a songwriter vehicle for Deibel, the band has evolved to where everyone contributes to writing and arranging new songs.
Still, Deibel says that it’s been hard to find other musicians in town who share his vision of sunny pop music, which owes more to, say, Blink 182 than to Jane’s Addiction. “Ours is a little more of a Southern California type of a sound,” he admits, “as opposed to, for example, the bands that have had some success out of [Sacramento]—Papa Roach, Far, the Deftones.”
Someone really young might trace the lineage of the Willknots’ sound back to, oh, Green Day. Dig back further, and there are plenty of turbocharged examples, from such punk-identified bands as the Buzzcocks to more poppy examples like Cheap Trick.
The latter two bands share something else with the Willknots: a strong brand identity, from logos to an overall visual identity. It’s something that played a big part in their success stories, and it may do the same thing for the Willknots. Who knows?