Stories Behind the Storytellers: Paul Knakk

Photo credit: Facebook.com/PaulKnakkMusic

One by one, Lehigh Valley Underground will feature the local artists opening for Candlebox’s Brian Quinn at American Spirits Roadhouse’s Acoustic Storytellers Night on Thursday, December 1.

First up is country rocker Paul Knakk, a Bethlehem-based singer-songwriter with a growing list of accomplishments to go along with his “Knakk” for writing a great hook.

We like to start from the beginning around here, so tell us: What inspired you, at the age of 13, to learn how to play guitar?
My uncle had been playing guitar, bass, and singing for bands on and off for his entire life. My family followed a local band called The Honey Buzzards (which were eventually renamed “Sweet Brother Rush”) while I was growing up, and they also had a huge impact on my interest in playing music.

What did you like to play early on?
Depends on how early we’re talking. The first songs I learned were “Beth” by KISS, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, and “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones. The first song I ever performed live on acoustic guitar was “3AM” by Matchbox Twenty.

A bit later, you turned toward writing your own songs. Did that move come about as an epiphany, or something you had been working toward for a while?
I had been writing since about 10th or 11th grade. I was a “rapper” and my Dad knew that I was able to play together.  So, one day, we’re driving in his truck. Buckcherry comes on, and I started singing. He paused the song and says, “How about you stop rapping and sing instead?”

That was the spark of my music career. I performed weekly at an open mic for my first year and, within my first two years of playing, I had written over 100 songs.  I guess I had a lot to talk about at the time.

Your songwriting has served you well, winning you awards and opening gigs for national touring acts such as Weezer and 3 Doors Down. When did you know that your hard work was starting to pay off?
When I won the Lehigh Valley Acoustics Performers Competition. That was the moment where I thought I might be able to make a career out of music. I’ve had an unbelievable amount of local support, which is always a huge help. Opening for acts like Silvertide, Weezer, 3 Doors Down and, most recently, Colt Ford gives you that small glimpse of hope that you work so hard to achieve.

Fun fact: You were one of the first local acts to perform at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center. Being from Bethlehem, what does that distinction mean to you?
It’s an incredible feeling.  At the time, we were known as a band that plays covers at bars. It was a massive step in the right direction, and I couldn’t be more thankful and grateful for the opportunity I was given.

You’ll add another milestone to your list on December 1, opening for Candlebox’s Brian Quinn at American Spirits Roadhouse’s Acoustic Storytellers Night. Tell us how you got involved.
It’s all about who you know. I’m friends with Chris, who is a manager at the venue, and he saw me as a good fit as one of the opening acts.

What can we expect from your performance that night?
Well, I grew up listening to alt-rock and country music, so that’s pretty much what everyone can expect.  I don’t play anything too “yee-haw,” but some songs definitely gravitate more towards one genre.

Before we go, you have an EP out right now called “Rebel With a Cause.” Tell us about it!
Yes, I do. It’s a collection of songs that I had written over the years. I sat down with some friends of mine who own a studio, and we went through about 15 songs that I showed them and tried to pick the best ones for the album. We narrowed it down to eight, and that’s what we recorded. The title track, Rebel With A Cause, was written in the studio shortly after I stopped working with a producer from Philly who wanted to change everything I worked for and worked towards since I had started playing. It was the “lightbulb” moment, when I realized what I do and do not stand for.

Where can people get the EP and learn more about you online?
Everything – bio, EP purchase links, and social media links – is available through links on my website at PaulKnakk.com.

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