Will Knaak Talks: Blue October, Ernie Durawa and Guitar as a Way of Life- Interview By: Art Fredette

Written by on July 1, 2021

Blue October is one of the country’s biggest cult bands and is known for it’s distinctive guitar sound.  I recently had the honor of posing a few questions to Will Knaak their guitar player and he was generous enough to answer.   Will is more than just the guitarist for Blue, he is also an in demand session player with a rock-n-roll pedigree and stylistic versatility.   Many great guitarists have hailed from Texas and here is you chance to meet one of the newest.

RRX:   Every musician has a journey, yours started at 12. What first inspired you to pick up a guitar?

Will: Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, & very possibly Johnny B. Goode. But, these were just seeds. I didn’t really pick up a guitar until after my mother passed away in a house fire. My father had a small apartment off Oltorf and he had a Martin. I was separated from all my school friends that summer so I started playing guitar while my Dad was away at work and I was alone at the apartment.

RRX:  Music runs in your family, your father having been a member of the legendary 13th Floor Elevators.  Was this the career you always thought you would pursue or did you have other ideas as a kid?

Will: QB for Houston Oilers, Guitarist or Fighter Pilot. So yes? QB might’ve paid more. (Chuckle) Crazy my Dad played the last 13th Floor Elevator shows. He also played some with Roky’s mom. 

RRX:  You Have been involved in a lot of projects and have an extensive resume of session work, in many different styles.  How do you approach different styles of music when you record?   Is there a different mindset for different styles or do you have more of a “feel” approach.  And who are some of the different acts with whom you have recorded?

Will:  Austin always influenced me to play many styles. Ernie is a big influence in that way too. We literally play everything. As for different styles, you have to speak the flavor of the language. If it’s Latin, you won’t use blues type guitar lines but Harmonic Minor flavored runs. Or country, make it snappy and twang. Rock, go heavy with a fuzz, or go with some gorgeous ambience. However, these are just generalizations. Most importantly, you play THE SONG, how much or little it requires from me to make it say what it needs to say. So I believe that goes more with the ‘feel’ approach, however mindsets can help to get you into a ballpark quickly if a producer ask for a specific flavor or vibe, then you can feel it out from there.

I’ve recorded with quite a few, too many to list, but some of the more notable commercial recordings would be Blue October who I am the guitarist for, as well as Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen. These projects all went to the Top of Billboard charts in their respective genres.

RRX:  Recently you worked on a new single with Ernie Durawa of the Texas Tornados.  We here at RadioRadioX have received an advance copy and are blown away.  How did this come about?

Will: We have played together when we weren’t touring for almost 10 years now! We just wanted to record an album. Chris the bass player sings half, I sing the other half. They were all cut live at The Ice Cream Factory and are currently being mixed I believe. On this single I feel like it’s a nice Soul Rock Vibe that meets an aggressive Psychedelic Finish.

RRX: How did you come to be the guitarist for Blue October?  Is it a Texas thing (LOL)? And how does it feel to be a member of a band with such a devoted fan base?

Will:  Matt Noveskey our bass player reached out to me. I had recorded at his studio Orb several many times and we had developed a connection. He’s the BEST person you’ll ever meet in your life and a phenomenal bassist and producer as well. He told me they were making a change in the guitar department and asked if I would like the job. I went and hung with the guys at Justin’s studio, jammed and even recorded a part on the song King from ‘I Hope You’re Happy’. I later went back and did a formal audition. I remember seeing another candidate leaving as I was pulling up, we exchanged curious glances. I went in, jammed with the guys and Justin had me improvise a solo at the end of ‘Home’ he said ‘take a solo that’s not shreddy but melodic. Also, I like repeating melodies’. I played a very ambient, droning solo, featuring themes that started lower and developed higher and higher until a nice musical climax was reached. I was offered the job officially 2 days later, accepted it and we went straight to Europe for a tour.

As for the fans, The Blue Family is a true blessing to play for. They are incredible and some follow us all over the country, even the world. It’s all about the music, it’s not a scene but a community of people who are all witnessing to Justin’s amazing lyrics and the bands heartfelt music. I’m grateful for them.

RRX:  I am personally a big Blue October fan and have had the honor of seeing you with the band.  Blue October is known for having an extensive touring schedule.   How does this work for you with family and session work?

Will: I didn’t have a family until COVID, so we will see, but I’m excited. My baby girl Nova is coming to her first show this week as we play our first live shows since the pandemic. As for session work, most of mine comes through Orb Studios and Matt, so it’s always ready when we get home.

 RRX:  I saw that you did some guitar work on the Icarus Bell project.  Can you tell us if there is any possibility of a full album?

Will: Yes, and Yes. 🙂

RRX: I ask this question of every one I interview.  What is your musical guilty pleasure and what currently is on your music radar?

Will: Guilty pleasure would absolutely be either 80s glam rock like Warrant or Firehouse, or very possibly emo power punk like Blink 182 or Good Charlotte. 

What is currently on my radar would be artists like Jack White, Josh Homme & Gary Clark Jr. It’s the distressed modern meets retro blues rock sound. I have 6 songs so far on a solo album in that vein I am working on currently. More to be revealed.

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