Child Bite plays Thursday at 11 p.m. at the Polish National Alliance Hall with Danny Brown, Bars of Gold and Mumble.
The first time I met freak-out synth-punk quintet Child Bite, frontman Shawn Knight had leaped off a building's roof and landed shakily on Dan Deacon's tour bus. He sprang from car to car like a drunken Spiderman, shouting obscenities and shattering beer bottles off walls and onto the street. Child Bite had just finished playing the Barking Tuna Festival in Kalamazoo, where they performed off-stage so as to be eye-level with the crowd.
Their energy that night was contagious; a mosh pit formed and fans passed Knight broken glowsticks, which he poured into his eyeballs and down his shirt.
So it's comical to meet Knight and bassist Sean Clancy for ice cream in Ferndale. The pair sticks out against a kind of suburban family milieu — Knight sports a leather jacket and a gnarly beard, Clancy's dressed head-to-toe in black. But I'm greeted politely as they walk in — both are unpretentious and approachable.
They licked ice cream cones while talking of their, um, freak-out personas. "We're not super-confrontational or super-insane in the sense that we're provoking madness," Clancy says. "It's not like we're G.G. Allin and we're throwing our own shit into the crowd."
"The only plan is to put on as good a show as we can," Knight says. "I've seen bands that run through the same shtick every night. They say the same things in between songs; they rock the same set and vibe. That's cool, because that's sort of like having a safety net. But our safety net is not having a safety net."
The Ferndale-based Child Bite has been kicking around Detroit music since 2005, and has released seven albums, EPs and singles on either the wondrous Joyful Noise label out of Indianapolis, or the mighty Suburban Sprawl/Quack imprint in Ann Arbor.
Knight alternates during sets between vocals, keys and guitar. Clancy rocks the bass, Brandon Sczomak plays guitar, and Ben Moore drums.
They've won a following in experimental punk rock, blending high-frequency annoyances, synthesizers and joysticks with traditional instruments (guitar, drums, bass). Their shows compel even the most conservative concertgoer to hammer fists and push people around.
"I feel like every band says, 'You can't describe what we do,'" Knight says. "Nickelback is Nickelback."
"Child Bite doesn't have a home musically," Clancy adds. "It's a faction of different genres. There's some metal dudes that like us, there's some pop dudes that think we're good, there's punk kids ..."
"We get feedback from 'normal people,'" says Knight. "Not just weird punk or metal people."
Irony (and there's lots) or no, there's no denying the band has a twist. Take their album cover for 2010's The Living and Breathing Organ Summer, shot at Detroit's Burton Theatre. Skinny half-naked men dressed in loincloths and masks stand around a burlier man. This "god" is seated on a throne holding a staff and sporting a mile-high phallic headdress. Or, as Knight calls it, a "flesh column."
"It's pretty cryptic," Knight says. "My buddy [local artist] Dan DeMaggio helped make the 'flesh column' out of wood, metal, fabric and other stuff."
Knight's former co-worker played the "god." The masked servants include local stars Trevor Naud (Zoos of Berlin), Brandon Sczomak (Child Bite), Steve Puwalksi (Marco Polio & the New Vaccines) and DeMaggio.
"We had conversations about having beefy naked dudes on the cover ..." Clancy says, stone-faced.
"So we kind of wussed out a little bit," Knight adds.
When Child Bite headlined a 2011 Halloween party at Pontiac's Crofoot, things got out of hand. The crowd mobbed the stage and bashed into the band. Rumors were circulating that Clancy got into a fight mid-set.
"It was the end of the night and everyone was wasted," Clancy says. "This guy jumped on stage, got tangled up with my bass and kicked my pedals. If you're going to jump on stage ... that's cool, but you've got to respect the boundaries of instruments. I kept playing, and he knocked my bass out of my hands a little bit. So I shoulder-chucked him into the DJ booth. It escalated. He came back at me. I kicked him, and he fell off the stage. He jumped back on stage, so I kicked him again. He was grabbing my legs, and that's when the security guards grabbed him and took him away."
"It's cool to have crazy stuff happen like that," Knight says. "If it's what we're doing that makes people want to do that, then fine. I guess it's for better for worse."
"We're good at selling it," Clancy adds.
"That's a huge thing," Knight continues. "I've seen bands that fuck something up and everyone's looking at them. It throws them off for the whole show and it's a disaster. If something happens to us, we know how to react to it. Even if something insane happens, like somebody gets punched in the face or an amp explodes."
Like any band worth its salt, Child Bite has its good and bad nights.
"There are some nights Shawn will say something between a song and I'm just like, 'Oh my God ... stop talking,'" Clancy says. "But then there are some nights where it's genius. It's working, it's connecting with the audience. Rolling that dice is so much more exciting and has such a creative payoff."
It's been nearly two years since The Living Breathing Organ Summer dropped. Child Bite is planning a six-track digital and vinyl EP in March called Monomania. Meanwhile, the band has been touring pretty hard. But the group has had to get a hotel room only twice.
"We stay at the homes of generous concert-goers," Knight explains. "Every night on tour we say we need a place to stay, and if anybody wants us to take us home, 'We'll do your dishes and laundry. Nothing sexual.'"
"It's sort of like hitchhiking," Clancy adds.
"Maybe people are excited to have the band stay over," Knight says. "We tell them we appreciate [the hospitality], and then they'll say, 'Alright, we'll have an afterparty, we'll get people over, it's going to be crazy all night!' And we're like, uh, we'd be cool with watching a movie and going to bed."
"I've gotten pretty good at just falling asleep in the middle of the party," Clancy says, continuing, "but I've gotten dudes that I'd never have met if I hadn't crashed at their house who I'd invite to my wedding. I'm glad to have them in my life."
One night while touring with Prussia, Child Bite had issues finding a place down in Greenville, N.C.
"There was a strange man sitting off in the corner reading a book," Knight says. "He wasn't even at the show; he was in the next room over. He heard us talking about a place to stay ... He said: 'I own a trailer park and you can stay there.' So we said, 'Let's do it; let's get weird.'"
The mobile home park turned out to be a broken-down, leaky trailer in the middle of nowhere that wasn't "fit for habitat," Knight says. "The first thing we saw when we walked in the door was an ax and a chainsaw."
"But, that was one of the best nights," Clancy says. "The dude was totally a warm, inviting guy who just wanted to help us out. We had the best night ever. He got behind the guitar and sang some songs. We just had a dude party."
"Even after all that, when the guys were having a great time and everything was cool, Brandon [Bite's guitarist] was still totally freaked out," Knight says. "He slept in his coat, his shoes, and his glasses right next to a window, so he could jump up if anything happened."
Knight and Clancy are preparing to leave for a mini-tour that ends when the Hamtramck Blowout begins.
"When you're touring, you're driving around spending all this money on gas and sacrificing the rest of your life to do this thing," Clancy says. "We're so small, people don't really know who we are. Everybody has to do their job for it to work out. We're not riding some kind of hype wave. We have to tell people about the show, people have to convince other people to go. There's a lot of things that need to happen."
"But you still have to bring it," Knight says. "Whether it's two people or 200 people. They paid to get in. It's not their fault. I hate it when I'm at a show and bands say [on the mic], 'Oh, it sucks nobody came out for this.' Well, I did!"
"We've made it a point to not be Debbie Downers when it comes to actually doing what we do," Clancy says. "Because what's the point otherwise?"
Both Clancy and Knight agree that the balancing act is a challenge. Clancy works at a sporting goods store, Knight is a graphic designer, Sczomak delivers pizzas and Moore works at Trader Joe's. Having a full-blown career isn't always manageable if you're dedicated to a band.
"We're trying to push this band as hard as we physically and mentally can," Knight says. "If we're just playing a couple of shows here and there, that would not be hard at all. But because we are leaving for months at a time, or spending three or four nights a week trying to get everything together, it's difficult."
As far as relationships go, it takes some juggling also. "If it's ever going to work — like my wife, for instance — the person eventually gets used to it," Knight says. "It's a wearing-down process. I've been in an older band, and there was always a lot of tension about that. She would say, 'Why are you spending so much time on the band? I miss you.' Thirteen or 14 years later, I'm still doing it, harder than ever before. She said, 'I understand this means everything to you, and I want to be with you. If that's what I have to deal with ...' Well, she decided it's worth it for her."
Hours after this interview the band updated its Facebook status with a Frank Zappa quote: "If you end up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your priest or some guy on television trying to tell you how to do your shit, then you deserve it."
Rachelle Damico is a Metro Times editorial intern. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.