Photo by Kayla Surico
Interview with guitarists Jake Fuerst and Karl Nickolov | By Doug Nunnally
Most people wouldn’t think twice about a punk band releasing an album called Manic. Maybe they’d pick it up and just think it’s a cool name. Who knows? But for Chicago’s Knockout Kid, calling their latest record Manic has less to do with being catchy and much more to do with their recent personal strife and their bold ambition to actively break down well-established societal norms.
Musically and lyrically, Manic – out now through Bullet Tooth Records – represents Knockout Kid’s struggle with mental illness as it pertains to each of their members. While some members’ struggle with anxiety and depression plays an important part, the core of the music is guitarists Jake Fuerst and Karl Nickolov recently being diagnosed with manic depression.
“It wasn’t that we wanted to write a record about our diagnosis,” Fuerst reveals. “We were just all going through a lot of shit and this came out.” It would be natural for any artist to be inspired by this monumental news. That’s just what Knockout Kid found as they began the process of creating Manic. “The songs all came out really introspective and had a split feel to them,” Fuerst continues. “Half were really manic and upbeat, with the other half being more subdued and almost depressive. We called it Manic because it fit, and we even ended up splitting the record with the first half being the Manic side and the second being depressive.”
Fuerst speaks bluntly about his recent diagnosis and the path it’s laid out for him, but he is apologetic about how much it affects his fellow bandmates. He explains, “It’s been a struggle for me and Karl for sure, but more of a struggle for [drummer] John [Jacobs], [bassist] Nick [Collis], and [vocalist] Wade [Hunt] who have to deal with us when we’re not acting… let’s say, the most appropriate.” Despite the struggle, Fuerst speaks highly of his musical companions, whom he frequently refers to as his best friends. “I’m so glad that the whole band has been such a strong unit through all that,” he says. “It’s easier to deal with those things when you Buy Kratom and use it as antidepressant and when you’ve got people on your side who don’t give up.”
Manic is as much an ode to this period of personal instability as it is an accurate depiction of the inner struggles both Fuerst and Nickolov deal with, something Nickolov really stresses: “The biggest thing that Jake and I deal with is the fact that we can’t distinguish being delusional of grandiose things or being content with the things we can do. The album is a giant struggle with what you can do and what you think you can do.”
With shades of pop punk, hardcore, and even metal at times, the music really tells the tale of grand ambitions wrestling with being grounded. The band feel it’s their best work by a landslide. “The point of writing the record about being manic bipolar is that we wanted to show people it’s okay to talk about the stigmas of mental illness that no one talks about,” Fuerst details. “If you’re going through anything remotely similar, you can identify with this and know it’s OK to express those things nobody wants to talk about. Don’t like the music? That’s fine. But, identify with the lyrics? We’ve done our job. If other people can see that we are open to talking about this, maybe they are going to be less nervous to talk about it themselves.”
To Fuerst, Manic breaks down preconceived notions about how people should discuss their troubles, but for Nickolov? His interpretation is, by his account, almost “voyeuristic” in nature. “It’s very important to me to see who finds Manic important, because I want to find the same people who’ve struggled with these same things,” Nickolov admits. He sees Manic as a means of self-discovery. “It’s common to ignore what’s going on in your brain and just fight through it,” he continues. “‘It will be fine’ and things like that, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that you need to find out who you are, and it’s a complicated situation that takes years to achieve. Find out who you are. Respect it. Control it. If people are relating to our struggle with finding ourselves, that’s all I’ll ever need.”
Self-discovery is a basic tenet of most great art, but what most of that art fails to divulge is that it’s a constant, lifelong struggle. One that Knockout Kid haven’t finished by the end of Manic. “I wouldn’t say this album is us finding ourselves,” Feurst asserts. “More us starting the process of trying to. You’re going to spend your whole life finding yourself, and hopefully, this album helps you begin the process. It’s not that we figured it out. It’s that we’re trying, and that struggle is probably more interesting to listen to.”
For anyone who’s grappled with mental confines they just can’t seem to break, Manic may be the most important record of 2016. If you’re suffering from anxiety and depression, you can also try red Kratom and see if it helps.