McKnight’s coast is clear

Making inroads into the local alternative music scene, Australian singer-songwriter Amy McKnight feels inextricably drawn to Jerusalem and its underground artists.

Singer Amy McKnight 370 (photo credit: (Matthew Morgenstern)
Singer Amy McKnight 370
(photo credit: (Matthew Morgenstern)
No Coast, the underground Jerusalem music collective, is something of a strange titular bedfellow for Amy McKnight. “I grew up on the Central Coast, which is about an hour north of Sydney,” says the 26-year-old Australian singer-songwriter.
“The place is called Bensville and the yard of my parents’ house backs on to the beach.”
So, McKnight certainly had plenty of coastline to enjoy as she was growing up but, topographical contrasts notwithstanding, she has found a common avenue of artistic exploration with the No Coast gang, as well as with several other left field musicians in this country. The Australian has collaborated on several occasions over the last three or four years with, among others, one of the No Coast founder members, multi-instrumentalist Amir Bolzman. The most recent occasion was during the Hachazit music event, which took place last month under the aegis of the Jerusalem Season of Culture.
Even so, at first glance it seems strangely incongruous to see a musician, with such an obviously none Middle Eastern and, indeed, non-Jewish name, making regular appearances in Jerusalem and other parts of the country. In fact, McKnight has been making forays to this part of the world since 2009, when she came here to take a semester of studies at the Bezalel College of Arts and Design of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as part of a degree in sculpture, performance and installation art. She connected with the capital pretty quickly and, despite having a strong desire to stay on, McKnight duly returned Down Under after her academic stint here, to complete her degree. But she has since made three long sojourns here, holing up in Jerusalem on each occasion, including stretches of seven months and a year and half, and she is now around half way through a three month Israeli stay.
It is hard to pigeonhole McKnight’s sound and genre orientation but there is a definite strong bluesy strand to what she does. That, she says, is thanks to some welcome paternal input. “My father exposed me to a lot of stuff, like Tom Waits and Van Morrison, and my dad’s extremely musical too,” explains the Aussie. “I started on piano, then later moved to the clarinet and saxophone, but once I started on the guitar that’s when things started to settle and then I found my voice as well.”
The latter instrument, says McKnight, also offered her a degree of freedom of maneuver which she had not previously experienced.
“It’s easier to play on your own, on guitar, and to play melodies.”
Prior to her initial, academic, trip here McKnight was already performing in Australia on a regular basis, looking to carve out her own niche in the scene. “You know, I could make a good living just doing covers. All a lot of people want to hear is things like [Deep Purple 1973 hit number] ‘Smoke on the Water’. If you do that you keep people happy, but I don’t see the point in just playing other people’s stuff. You have to do something that has some worth.”
McKnight has fallen in love with Jerusalem, and spends as much time as possible in the capital, and in Israel in general.
Of course, there are certain logistics and financial considerations to be dealt with when crisscrossing the globe. “I don’t make much money here so, when I go back to Australia, I sort out my finances and then come back to Israel,” she explains.
But, at least, on the artistic front things are moving along nicely for McKnight in this part of the world. Last week, she performed a launch gig for her latest EP, produced by the No Coast collective. The mini-album goes by the slightly whimsical name of Amy McKnight and Her Jerusalem 9.
McKnight says that hooking up with the likes of the No Coast guys and DJ Gili De Kid have really helped her to find her slot on the Israeli alternative music scene. “I was lucky to fall in with those guys and, particularly, once I began working with Amir Bolzman that’s when things really developed. He’s a wonderful guy. He’s very driven and very hardworking and, in a way he’s a crazy creative genius – the way he organizes things and puts them together.”
One of the ventures Bolzman ran which involved McKnight was the recording session that spawned the new EP.
In purely semantic terms, McKnight is, indeed, a singer-songwriter, and there is a folksy element to what she does. But there are also some darker colors in the mix which one might not automatically associate with that category of artist. “X on My Map”, one of the tracks on the new EP, is a point in case. The lyrics reveal a steely side to the Australian, with lines like “I've been...floating out at sea, for many months now. And I lost sight of trees just before the storm. I rocked and I rolled in the wet and the cold.
And I can see insanity sailing and gaining on me.” But this is evidently no standard lament about the helplessness of the artist’s predicament, as amply demonstrated by the next verse: “But I won't raise this flag or throw up any flares, I got myself into this.”
McKnight has certainly gotten herself into the alternative music scene in this country, and plays at least one gig a week while she is here. With her bluesy playing and sinewy vocals McKnight means business.