How Alex Knight emerged from London darkness into Brightness

DRIVEN: Alex Knight, aka Brightness, spent six years in London before returning home in 2016 and releasing his own music.

DRIVEN: Alex Knight, aka Brightness, spent six years in London before returning home in 2016 and releasing his own music.

NEWCASTLE multi-instrumentalist Alex Knight never expected the fuss he would create when he uploaded his track Oblivion to Triple J Unearthed last August.

After all, the song about one’s hopelessness and its accompanying album Teething had been bouncing around cyberspace for four months on music sharing website Bandcamp with minuscule attention.

However, a week after Oblivion was uploaded to Unearthed Knight was no longer being ignored.

Knight, who performs under the moniker Brightness, received a raft of emails from music industry people excited by the song’s driving ’90s acoustic guitar and dreamy production.

Among the admirers was Johann Ponniah, founder of the hipster Mushroom subsidiary label I Oh You, home of the DZ Deathrays and Violent Soho.

Brightness - Oblivion

“It was a pretty good showcase at how tight-knit the Sydney music industry is because Johann had the song showed to him by two different people and there were all these triangulations happening,” Knight says.

“It just happened that my first actual show as Brightness was the one that he was at. He offered me a contract the next Monday.”

Ponniah wasn’t just impressed by Oblivion like the majority of other music industry people. The Gen-Y trendsetter had listened to Teething in full and was an unabashed believer in Brightness.

“He emphasised that he liked the whole album,” Knight says. “That excited me.”

Mushroom and Knight have since deleted Teething from Bandcamp and are preparing to re-release the record on June 30.

Oblivion and the second single Waltz have also been re-released with videos. The latter was exclusively previewed by Rolling Stone in February.

Waltz captures a completely different mood to Oblivion. It’s almost a lo-fi-punk-folk lullaby mixed with The Beatles’ Across The Universe.

Brightness - Waltz

Knight’s new-found success has been a miraculous turn of events. Just over a year ago the 28-year-old from Morisset returned to Newcastle after living in London for six years.

Musically, England provided mixed results. Knight initially moved with his Sydney band Canvas Kites, who he describes as a “one-single operation.” Canvas Kites would implode within nine months of moving to London.

Knight then played drums with a host of other bands, most notably English alternative act Kins, who enjoyed minor success and toured the US. But by 2016 Knight’s enthusiasm for London had waned.   

“It wasn’t a particularly happy period of my life and probably best to describe it as disorientated and a bit up in the air, rather than straight up miserable,” he says. 

LONDON CALLS: During his six years in England, Alex Knight, second from left, enjoyed minor success playing drums with alternative band Kins.

LONDON CALLS: During his six years in England, Alex Knight, second from left, enjoyed minor success playing drums with alternative band Kins.

“There were times when the unpredictability and being on a tightrope, which can be exciting, induced panic.

“After living there for that amount of time you want to take a breather and in London, just to pay rent, you need to be working a lot. It’s a divisive place.

“I have friends who hate it, but I personally like it but I didn’t have what it took.

“I had to retreat back here with the intention of going either back to Europe or somewhere else, like Canada or Amsterdam.

“To be honest everything changed when the record label got involved as it gave me a fresh perspective on my stuff and I take it a lot more seriously.”

Knight has been obsessed with music since he was 10. Yet as a drummer he was always the man at the back behind the skins and cymbals. Becoming the front man was never his intention.

“As a project it was something I sneaked in while working with other bands,” he says. 

“I’ve always been dedicated to other songwriters playing drums and my songs were always something I did in in-between hours.

“I’ve always written my own stuff but it’s been behind the scenes as I’ve always wanted to be in something bigger than me.

“I wanted to be a good drummer in a great band, rather than a mediocre frontman.”

Once back home in Newcastle armed with the songs and recordings from Teething, Knight’s path to becoming Brightness began in the unlikeliest of places – the Mayfield Hotel.

Knight, who had never played guitar live before, would perform at the suburban pub’s open mic nights in front of less-than-enthusiastic punters.

“I had zero experience, I’d only been behind a drum kit,” he says. “I’m glad I did that as getting heckled hardens you up a bit. Being told to sit down.

“By the time I got to that gig in Sydney I had my shit together to play 30 minutes and it convinced them [I Oh You].

“Within a couple of weeks we were all working together, my manager and the label.”

Brightness the live act has progressed rapidly since the Mayfield Hotel.

In recent months Knight has supported The Middle Kids, Jack River, Ali Barter, Scotland’s Honeyblood and he is preparing to play alongside Cloud Control for their sold-out shows on June 2 and 3 in Melbourne and Sydney.

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