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Knife Wife encapsulate angsty teen energy with unsettling lyrics and a peculiar sound. The D.C.-based punk trio puts the teenage experience on display, and revels in demented thoughts and fantasies. On their Spotify page, they describe their essence: “The diary of a teenybopper translated and recited by freaks,” “three minimalist music monkeys churning out disconcerting melodies,” and “a gaggle of goofy creatures dancing like heathens to their own yelps for help.”
The group formed about a year and a half ago. Nico Castleman, 15, and Ruby Parrish, 16, met in school and began making music together. While performing a single song at a 9:30 club gig, 26-year-old Sami Cola happened to be in the audience. Cola was amazed at their unique sound, and approached the duo to express appreciation for the music. She was a photographer at the time, and offered to take photos of the duo. At the photoshoot, the two mentioned they needed a drummer—so Cola, a then-inexperienced musician, said she’d learn how to play. That was enough for Castleman and Parrish, who welcomed her into the group.
“I was surrounded by people who play music, but it never really felt that accessible to me,” Cola says. “Everyone was already a musician, and I didn’t feel like I was a musician. I just felt like I was interested in music. It’s been a hard thing to decide that I can call myself that now. With Nico and Ruby, it just makes sense, and it feels really easy.”
What began as three amateur instrumentalists playing together has blossomed into an authentic band: Castleman on guitar, Parrish on bass, and Cola on drums, primarily. But they’ll experiment at any moment. “We like to keep it malleable,” Cola says. “We each like trying our hand at different instruments.” Each member also sings, and Parrish and Castleman both contribute to the lyric writing.
They’re inspired by punk-rock groups like Hole and Sonic Youth, a couple of their greatest role models upon entering the music industry. Knife Wife attempt to embody the simplicity of their sounds, often using one or two note bass lines paired with blunt lyrics delivered emotionlessly.
“Euthanize your friends, then I’ll snip of their lips,” Knife Wife sing on “Lobe.” In each track, the group feels detached from their own music and experiences, yet they remain compelling.
“High school is just really graphic,” Parrish says of the group’s lyrical inspiration. “It’s disgusting. I’d say some of it isn’t even shrouded that heavily in metaphor. Some of it’s just kind of straightforward and appalling.”
Knife Wife’s music has served as a form of self-expression for the trio, rather than a platform to impart a message. “It’s more of a diary entry,” Parrish says. “It’s more for myself.”
Each twisted verse displays the struggles of teenage inner thoughts. On “Dreamland,” the group says they will “cut up photos of you and glue it to my eyelids.” In “Silly Pony,” they’ll, “collect your used Band-Aids until my infatuation fades.”
In the past year, the group has left their mark on the D.C. music scene and on stages across the country. The trio signed with Sister Polygon Records and released their second EP, Family Party, in July. They went on tour with fellow D.C. band Priests and took the South by storm, playing Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, and Nashville. The audience response to their hard-to-swallow lyrics has been overwhelmingly positive as well, the group says.
Knife Wife will open for Pissed Jeans at U Street Music Hall on Oct. 12. And while they say their future is largely up in the air, they hope to continue making music together.
“People do have these very grand desires that they scare themselves or talk themselves out of trying, whether that’s a hobby or a dream, so I think people are very heart warmed by me—and us—doing that,” Cola says. “I feel like I never wanted my life to revolve around one thing because I feel like that can make your world kind of small.”