“Never say die” is a motto few bands live up to as intensely and successfully as New Brunswick-based Green Knuckle Material.
After nearly 40 years of covering the New Jersey music scene, I am convinced that determination is the greatest factor in a band’s success. Determination to write the best songs and perform them to their best ability. Determination to place as much priority on networking and branding as songcraft and gigs. Determination to tour and continue touring even though doing so seems pointless for the first few years. Determination to make the band the greatest priority even though family, friends, day jobs, and school may try to get in the way.
Green Knuckle Material are one of the best examples in today’s scene with that kind of determination. The band started around 2016 in bassist, sole original member, and manager Daniel “D-String” Ravenda’s Bergen County basement with two friends, Chris and Ryan. With a drummer intact, Green Knuckle Material recorded and released their first album. And just as the gig meter started to get hot, Ravenda’s band mates bailed.
But rather than give up, the determined musician reassembled an even better lineup, as evidenced by the edge they bring to recent re-recordings of three tracks from the debut release, Back to Your Roots. This coincides with a companion comic book D-String dreamed up to tell the band’s story and follows the well-received 2017 EP, Renaissance and the new single, “Queen of Dragons,” in honor of the Game of Thrones heroine-turned-villain Daenerys Targaryen. Brothers bound by a funky groove, a hip-hop vibe, an occasional jazzy jam, and a strong foundation of acoustic rock, vocal harmonies, and pop songwriting, rapper Scatterbrain PG, acoustic guitarist-lead vocalist YDK, drummer Tony Baja (The Hawaiian), saxophonist Sax Dan, and guitarists Mudd Dog and The Cuban Missile are equally determined to succeed. Part of that success stems from the fact that they have strong followings in North, Central, and South Jersey.
With that gig meter now scorching in the midst of their second of four tours planned for this year, GKM will continue on the “Back to the Roots” jaunt June 13 at the Bumpin’ Uglies’ Weekend at Wolfie’s Festival in Bedford, PA., June 14 at Willie McBride’s in Hoboken, and June 15 at their own Bayville V Music Festival—their fifth annual bay-front fest. This year will feature Experiment 34, A Boy Named John, Sonoa, Boy Blue, MAPS, SPITSHINE, Good Luck Brother, Jared Knapik, and 81 Rich, which features GKM members.
Green Knuckle then will open for Tropidelic on June 19 at Stanhope House, for Good Charlotte on June 27 at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, and for Badfish on July 2 at Jenks in Point Pleasant Beach. Then they will partake in parts of a seven-date mid-Atlantic summer tour organized by Makin Waves and Garden State Hip-Hop, with contributions on July 12 at Asbury Park Music Foundation; July 14 at FM Bar in Jersey City, July 20 at Sunnyvale in Brooklyn, and July 21 at Blackthorn in New Brunswick. The rotating rap ‘n’ rock tour also will feature Dane the Beautiful Monster, The Band Called FUSE, Chalk & the Beige Americans, Black Suburbia Music Group, Chris Rockwell Collective, Apollo Ali, K-Prez, Mista Encore, and DJ Ronny Rayz.
In August, GKM will embark on their fourth tour this year behind a new single that, like “Queen of Dragons,” will be released on an LP next summer. In the fall, they expect to return as headliners to Asbury Park’s fabled Stone Pony, where on March 2, they won the latest Rock the Top finals. They’ll also kick off their August tour at the Pony, opening for Rebelution on Aug. 4.
with D-String about many things GKM, and throughout the chat, he expressed his
dogged determination to lead this band to glory. But he also expressed how
important the networking and relationship-building has been—not only by makin’
waves, but also makin’ many new friends.
Are you the only original member of Green Knuckle Material?
Technically you could say yes and technically you could say no. The original idea of GKM was formed by two guys, Chris and Ryan, who both ended up leaving the band, but it was literally just two guys jamming in their basement. I pioneered the idea of GKM being an actual band with those two, as well as the original drummer, and I guess you could say that we were the founding four members, except we never actually did anything with that lineup except jam a few times in my basement. We started tracking the first LP and Ryan, as he’s known to do, just disappeared. So, we brought on Mike as the guitarist, and I took over lead vocals. That was the lineup we put the first LP out with and played our first six months of shows. So, you could say that Mike (Mudd Dog) and I are the only two founding members left, you could say that I am the only founding member left, or you could say that there are no founding members left. I always looked at GKM as an idea that is bigger than any one person.
What was the greatest inspiration to form Green Knuckle Material and why?
For me, Ryan has been a huge inspiration in terms of how I approach songwriting. I never wrote lyrics, melodies, or even sang before I met him. He was such a genuine person and really gave me the confidence to start writing and singing. Everything he ever did was very freestyle and improv, and so I adopted that style of writing as my own. My father was another big influence, as he has a hand in producing all of our music and is a great help when it comes to really building complete parts. He always says that every part of a song is like building a house. You need to lay down a foundation and then go from there. This applies to a song as a whole, all the way down to the bass lines and drum patterns.
Comment on how the current lineup brings more edge to the band, particularly on the recent remakes of the three Back to Your Roots tracks.
Scatterbrain is really what makes the EP, as he is featured on a total of eight verses throughout the three songs. Original GKM was way heavier on the rap verses, so this EP is really showcasing him. His energy has really transformed these tunes into something with a lot more bite than the originals. YDK brings a ton of punch when it comes to the vocal parts he took over, especially on “Go That Way,” and adding in the horn section on that tune really brought it to a new level as well.
How and why did you come up with the companion Back to the Roots comic book, and who designed it?
So, I was always coming up with crazy back stories for the band and joking that I was going to make it into a comic book, and then I did it. I found a great artist, Brook Waterwriter, and wrote out a script. She illustrated the entire thing for me and—bam! It started as a joke, but YDK—who was a marketing major—really reinforced to me that it was a good idea. People have been into it so far. I can’t wait to write the next one.
What is the status and expected release date of the EP or LP on which “Queen of Dragons” will appear?
Hoping for summer 2020. We are going to start recording the first half of the album this month, and plan on releasing four to six of the songs as singles throughout the year leading up to the album release. This is pretty standard in today’s music culture, as every time you release a single, it gives Spotify a chance to consider that song for a playlist and such. It also helps to drop an album that has songs, like “Queen of Dragons,” that people are already into. So expect a bunch of singles this year and a full length in the summer, when we can release and book a tour around it.
In addition to being the bassist, you also are one of the songwriters and the manager of GKM. Which role do you enjoy most and why?
That’s a tough choice. In my heart of hearts, I am a bass player and songwriter. When I sit down with YDK, and we’re writing music, it’s like another-worldly feeling. But I do enjoy all the administrative stuff as well. Marketing is a big passion for Dan and I, as well as music. We literally talk on the phone for hours every day—we call them fireside chats —about marketing ideas and ways to build our brand on social media. I’ve taken a couple online courses on it as well that have helped a bunch. I also have found great joy as a promoter in doing almost all of the booking. The best, and I mean the best part of being in a band is becoming part of these wonderful music communities and making really fantastic friends. To me community is everything. That’s what makes it worthwhile!
Green Knuckle Material had many great gigs and other accomplishments in the past two years. Which do you think was your greatest and why?
Despite all the big gigs and big numbers on Spotify, the real accomplishment I’m proud of is becoming part of the wonderful music scene here in New Jersey. The support has been second to none, and the friendships we’ve made are really special. I’m more honored to be a part of the NJ DIY scene than anything else!
How did it feel to win the Stone Pony’s Rock to the Top, and how has that helped the band?
It was pretty nice, particularly since we’ve lost every other battle of the bands we’d been a part of before that one. With every loss though, we tried to take something from it and improve upon our performance. The win definitely helps with notoriety and prestige, as well as the prize money and merch. We’re most excited for the headline show at the Pony. I want to really put a ton of effort into promoting the show and get three to four other bands that will do the same. I’d like to get as close as possible to selling that one out. I was there the night that Deal Casino sold it out last summer, and it was just awe inspiring.
When will you cash in the Pony’s prize of headlining the legendary club, and will that coincide with a release?
I’d like to do a Halloween show on Oct 26, but nothing is set in stone yet. If not that, maybe a Thanksgiving Eve or Black Friday show, something big that we can promote around. More than likely, we will have a single release to coincide with the show.
You have your fifth annual music festival coming up in Bayville. Comment on what you’re looking forward to most about it and why?
Bayville is always a good time. The best part is all of the bands that we have become really good friends [by] coming through and having a good time. I look at Bayville as a giant party for all our friends, and so far, that is what it has been.
What do you think of the concept of the Garden State Hip Hop & Makin Waves Rap ‘n’ Rock Tour, presenting musically and racially mixed bills throughout the mid-Atlantic in July?
Love the idea. It’s something [the scene] really needs. Hip-hop for some reason gets a bad reputation, but honestly, some of the most fun shows I’ve ever been a part of have been hip-hop shows.
In August, the band plan to embark on their third tour in as many months. What details about that can you share?
Right now, not much, as we are still solidifying dates. I know we have a couple shows in Asbury on Aug 4 at the Pony with Rebelution, and Aug 9 at The Saint to kick it off, but everything else is currently being worked out.