SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Chester Knight has been involved in music his entire life. He founded his own record company, Falcon Dreams Records, in 1997 and released his first solo album, "Freedom," which featured the hit "Love Me Strong." He followed it with his Juno Award winning 1999 album "Falling Down." Knight has just released his third solo album this past summer, "Standing Strong," on the SOAR Corporation's Warrior imprint, and it's brilliant.
"Standing Strong" is definitely a rock album, but it owes as much to the singer/songwriter tradition of the 1970s. Influences of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen can be heard throughout the album of love songs, break-up songs, and Native issues. Highlights include the intense "Shameface (So You Tell Me)" which was co-written with his daughter, Laura Knight. The song is an angry litany of lies told in a failing relationship where the passion is only equal to the mistrust; "So you tell me that you'll save me/ So you tell me that you trust me/ So you tell me that you'll show me / Show me slowly." The song is balanced out by such aching love ballads as "Strange How it is," which is as disarming in its simplicity as it is amazing in its direct harmonies and understated production. Indian issues are dealt with in songs like the soaring "Spirit Journey," the blues rocker "Bingo Baby," and "Cochise Was a Warrior."
"Everybody in my family plays music, my oldest brother had a band and my second oldest set of brothers had a band, and I played drums for them and never stopped," Knight told Indian Country Today. "I really didn't have the confidence to publish my music for a long time until I started getting involved in ceremony, the sweat lodges up here. After I found out who I was in the lodges I got the confidence to finance the first two albums, then I met up with Tom Bee of SOAR records." Bee is the executive producer of "Standing Strong," which also features Brandon Friesen and Derek Miller as co-producers.
From owning his own independent label Knight notes that it is preferable to have someone else provide the financial backing. "This album is huge compared to the other two," Knight said. "It makes a big difference when you have a lot of capital involved. When you finance your own album and you don't have a whole lot of money, it's like a taxi's waiting while you're shopping; you're under a lot of stress. When someone else is producing you can concentrate more on the song writing. Some of my music from the first album is kind of 'folky,' and some are 'countryish,' but the new album goes in a different direction."
Knight also spoke about the gentleness of his love songs and how he feels it is important for men to be in tune with both sides of their personalities. "A lot of times there are love songs about women and their issues and breakups and how they felt, but there's not a lot about men," Knight said. "Men have feeling just as much as women do, and I suppose it has to do with men being afraid to express their feminine side, the gifts they got from their mothers; the caring and sharing, the passion and the hurt. That's why I write music with those lyrics, to try to let the general public know that men have feelings and that we hurt just as bad as anyone else, even if we don't show it. As men, we're really not trained to show our emotions."
"When you feel despair it makes a big difference when you hear someone singing about it; it makes you feel like you're not the only one. When you know that other people feel it too it lightens the load of the burden. People say I'm a melancholy guy," Knight laughed, "producers do, anyway."
While the album is ultimately a gentle meditation on love, the blues, rock and even reggae are thrown into the mix. Knight talked about the influence of co-producer, Derek Miller, on the song "Last Dance." Miller, of course, also has a large following as a performer. "It's really a romantic song about the last dance, the last thing; it's never going to happen again. The reggae beat was a suggestion by Derek Miller. When he suggested it I thought 'Well, if you can fit it into the iambic pentameter ...'" Knight laughed. "It's almost paradoxical because it's a sad song, but it has this upbeat tempo.
Knight sees the new album as a mix of both Native and Western influences and he welcomes the different inspirations into his work. "When you first become an artist you write about the things that are really important to you; what makes you an Indian at the time," Knight said. "Then with your artistry, with your song writing ability, you start writing from the other parts of your reality; the contemporary reality. The spiritualism is still in the lyrics, but the expression changes because you have evolved. You're still trying to capture both worlds, but now your focus is just to try and create something valuable with those two influences. This is where the force of your originality comes into it, because your originality is coming from the Western tradition and it's coming from the First Nations, or North American Indian traditions, and it's turning into a new type of form. That's where I am right now. The albums are constantly changing because the eras are changing and my experiences are changing."