Pop and circumstance

Vocal interplay, catchy choruses and delightful guitar hooks—Knock Knock produces one sonic gem after another

Knock Knock. Who’s there? It’s (from left to right) Heather Conway, Allen Maxwell, Nicola Miller and Mike Cinciripino.

Knock Knock. Who’s there? It’s (from left to right) Heather Conway, Allen Maxwell, Nicola Miller and Mike Cinciripino.

Photo By Angela Wyant

9 p.m. Thursday, April 21; with the Nightmares and Pets; $6. Old Ironsides, 1901 10th Street.

Chemistry is everything in a band. If the members of a band don’t have it, the listeners can sense it. On the other hand, once a band concocts the perfect alchemical formula, it permeates everything the band does.

Take, for instance, local pop rockers Knock Knock. At an interview on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it became clear that the members of the indie-pop outfit are more than just bandmates; they’re family. Well, maybe not technically—although singer-songwriter-guitarists Heather Conway and Mike Cinciripino recently tied the knot.

“We actually have amazing band chemistry,” said Nicola Miller, the group’s drummer. “I remember once, this woman in Merced came up to me and said something like, ‘What I liked most about you guys was that at one point, I looked up, and all four of you were smiling. You all looked like you were having such a good time.’”

The quartet, which also includes singer-songwriter-bassist Allen Maxwell (of Rock the Light and the Feeling), has held its current lineup since 2000. “From the ashes of Slumber Party rises Nicola and Allen,” Maxwell joked, while explaining how the group came to be. “Our duo then morphed into a band with [Allen] Campos. Then, we got Conway on board,” Maxwell continued.

Eventually, Campos elected to leave the band, and, although Maxwell hinted that the departure had something to do with Campos’ idea for a rock opera, this writer suspects Maxwell was kidding. At any rate, the band soon picked up Cinciripino (of the Bananas)—whom they claim to have found in Conway’s bed—and the current lineup was cemented.

“That’s when the magic really started to happen,” Maxwell joked.

The 3-year-old pop outfit released its debut album, Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders, in March 2004 on the local indie label 25% More Sacramento Records. Given the sun-soaked harmonies on the album, one might expect the lyrics to be overly optimistic. This is not the case. The band finds balance by combining sing-along-ready tunes with gloomy subject matter.

“Like Lightnin’” was inspired by a three-month-long headache caused by Maxwell’s under-producing thyroid. Maxwell sings, “Tonight I turned on my stereo and tried to wash a dish. / Tonight I tossed another Tylenol and fell into a wish / to be struck down by lightning.” Never have headaches and pop music seemed like such appropriate bedfellows.

It’s this bittersweet duality that best exemplifies the band’s sound. “A song might be about something really depressing, but it might seem really fun,” explained Miller.

This duality is further represented in the album’s title, which found its way to the table after the group noticed all the weather references that kept popping up. “It’s a weather-related album in feel,” explained Miller.

“And content,” Conway added.

“I thought it was because we were all still very uncomfortable with each other, and we only ever talk in small talk and little tidbits about the weather,” joked Cinciripino.

In May last year, the band performed on KDVS 90.3 FM’s Live in Studio A program. By July, Warm Fronts, Cold Shoulders had crept its way onto KDVS’s Top 30 Albums list, nabbing the No. 29 spot. And by August, the album had reached No. 1, beating out music veteran Jonathan Richman.

When asked, “How did it feel to top Richman?” Miller was quick to respond, “It felt natural.”

“It’s been a long-standing feud with that bastard,” joked Maxwell.

“He’s kind of our nemesis,” said Conway.

As for the band’s future plans, the foursome will head back to the studio soon to record a limited-edition vinyl EP for Tone Vendor. Then the group will begin working on its sophomore album, which Maxwell promises will make plenty of references to the end of the world—including a song that “equates doin’ it with the end of human existence as we know it.” There aren’t many bands that can pull off a pop song about the apocalypse, but Knock Knock has a well-balanced equation for achieving pop perfection.