music (2006-09)

Shits and Giggles

Dirty Knees is for real, really

DISCLAIMER: Dirty Knees is more three-dimensional in real life.

by Leslie Wylie

They think it started in between rounds of foosball. At a party last year, maybe late spring or early summer. More than likely, there was beer involved. There were definitely instruments laying around. So they picked them up and started making some noise, and it sounded pretty good, and somebody suggested that they start a band. “And we were like, yeah, we should start a band,” recalls one of them, a rumple-tressed blonde who also plays guitar with Fistful of Crows and responds to the name Hussla.

That night, Dirty Knees was born. Since then, the three-girl consortium has been making its presence known around town, shellacking ears with its part-pensive, part-snotty brand of rowdiness. Bassist Maggie Brannon, also the pigtailed frontwoman of sister band Divorce, explains, “It’s pretty straightforward, kind of garage-y, a little sloppy. It’s punk rock.” To which Hussla adds, “Not necessarily in speed, but in spirit.”

The three band members erupt into laugher, the violent, table-quaking kind that makes you glad nobody’s got a mouth full of spewable liquid. And then, just as suddenly, they regain composure. No, really, they’re serious. Totally serious. And they’ve got the tattoos to prove it.

“Here, I’ll show you.” Hussla kicks a leg up on the table and rolls up her jeans. There, above a ratty tennis shoe and a long, black stretch of knee sock, is an inky scuffmark that resembles a shoddily drawn tic-tac-toe board. “They’re dirty knees,” she explains. “We all have one. It was our initiation into the girl gang.”

Granted, when the body art proposal arose, the Knees only had two practices and one song to their name. Their decision to permanently engrave their bodies with the Knees’ logo was the musical equivalent of a second-date shotgun wedding. “But it’s a good way to keep it together,” drummer Laura Rogers points out, looking halfway sensible in her dark-rimmed glasses. “We have to back up our big mouths constantly. We were like, we rule! And then we had to rule.”

Another round of husky giggles. It’s one thing that’s still a struggle for the Knees, the inability to resist laughing at random, sometimes inappropriate moments—during harsh songs, after harsh songs, whenever. But they can’t help it; they’re just having fun, poking sticks at whatever ails them—a fellow band, a friend’s self-destruction, their own laziness, the art of growing up in a backwards Southern town.

Both Rogers and Brannon hail from Powell. Rogers, being older, dated Brannon’s brother and professes to dragging his kid sister around to punk rock shows at an early age. “I was, like, 11,” Brannon recalls. “Laura adopted me to corrupt me. She did a damn fine job.” And Hussla, originally from Cookeville, says she can relate. She praises Brannon’s lyrics to “Powell, Tennessee,” a soon-to-be-debuted song: “At home in the woods/ at home in my sin/ falling out of my clothes/ crawling out of my skin/ I heard what you said but I know what I see/ Love just ain’t love in Powell, Tennessee.” 

Thankfully, the Knees seem to have found their niche in the big-small city of Knoxville, thanks to a music scene that welcomes in the fringe with open arms. “There’s support to try new things, to just get out there and do it, and people aren’t going to be judgmental. People are accepting of experimentation,” Hussla says.

Being in an all-female band also doesn’t feel like an issue. “There are so many great girls playing music in Knoxville, like Meg (Vincent of Maxi and the Pads) and Julia (Hungerford of Lobster, Lobster, Lobster and The Cheat) and the Dirty Whores, who we haven’t seen yet but we know they’re out there, and Maggie and all these bands, and the girls are kicking as much ass, or more, than the guys.”

It helps that the Knees aren’t afraid to burrow into the muck of things, both literally and symbolically, intentionally or on accident.  Messiness is in their namesake, after all.

“It can be taken so many ways,” Rogers quips. “I’m just thinking that we work real hard so our knees are kind of dirty.”

Brannon is quick to remind her that it’s not all metaphor—they do have a tendency to physically fall down. “Laura got real live dirty knees once,” she explains, recalling a time when her bandmate took a nosedive in the Corner Lounge parking lot. “I don’t think I saw her fall down, but I saw her walking, and then I didn’t see her, and then the next time I saw her, her knees were, like, black and had red clay all over them.”  

The Knees double over in laughter, once more. Gravity’s an inconvenience they’ve learned to come to terms with. If you can’t beat it, embrace it.

What: Dirty Knees w/ Fistful of Crows and the Damn Creeps