For many young, up-and-coming musicians, playing festivals and shows is a great way to make money and get their name out there. For the Knuckleheads, there’s much simpler reason to do so.
“We do it because we love it,” noted Kevin Brennan, who makes up half of the duo. “We’re older than a lot of the guys you see out there today, and our lifestyles aren’t set up to play three nights a week. We’re just out there to play the kind of music we enjoy playing.”
Brennan incorporates violin and mandolin in the act, while bandmate Tom Easter supplies the rhythm on guitar.
“We’re more of an original-band with a few covers,” observed Easter, who also plays harmonica for a few sets, “rather than the other way around, which is what you see more of today. I write the songs, and they’re like the blueprints. Kevin comes in and makes them more approachable. He brings in the harmony, while I supply the rhythm.”
While the two have delved into the musical realm for decades, the duo has been together, playing as The Knuckleheads for only a few years, performing at coffee shops, festivals and accommodating restaurants. As a band primarily putting out original songs, work isn’t always as readily available, Brennan noted.
“It can be tough to find a place that wants original music,” he said. “You have to hope that places are willing to try something different. Some people prefer to hear the cover songs that they know, and we have a couple, but we’re proud of the music we create.”
“We have nothing against the bands that focus on covers,” Easter added. “There are some who are very talented, too. We just prefer to play what we want and what we create. We don’t have a goal of getting money or becoming famous. At our shows, people will still come up to us and say, ‘Wow, I loved that song. Who did that one?’ And they’re surprised when I tell them it was an original song that we wrote, but that makes us feel really good about what we do.”
The Knuckleheads haven’t been limited by the sound they produce, despite the two-man operation.
“You see a lot of duos that you’ve heard in the past,” said Brennan, “and they had no problem with rhythm. We’ve definitely had people come up and dance at our shows, but we don’t promote ourselves as a dance band. Our sound is Americana. It blends rock-and-roll, folk music and classic rock.”
In his teens, Brennan picked up the electric bass and went on to guitar and banjo from there. He dabbled in bluegrass music and ’80s rock, before trying his hand in a couple of Spanish bands. There, he was joined by Easter, and the two expanded their musical horizons.
The duo’s name came about one evening while playing at an open-mic night, roughly three years ago in Berlin, Md.
“Tom and I were playing with another guy,” Brennan recalled, “and they called us up to the stage. The emcee asked what we wanted to be introduced as, and I just told him, ‘Call us The Knuckleheads.’ The name just stuck with us from there on.”
The duo has since made appearances at open-mic nights throughout the Berlin and Ocean City, Md., and Delaware beach areas, including shows at the Bistro at Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View. Easter has played at the widely popular Delaware Music Conference in Dewey Beach, as well. They have even ventured into Virginia and Pennsylvania with their shows at different festivals and haven’t ruled out the metropolises, either.
“There aren’t always a lot of outlets for our kind of music in this area,” said Brennan. “In places like Baltimore, D.C. and Philadelphia, there are lots of venues where our sound would be appreciated. Our whole goal is finding those places and promoting our style of music.”
Easter acknowledged the limited gig opportunities that the duo faces. “Around here, it can be tough playing in the resort areas,” he said, “but there’s definitely room for it. Some places just have to open up.”
The songs The Knuckleheads produce are a reflection of everyday life
“Our songs aren’t preachy,” assured Easter, “but they’re very down-to-earth. We write songs about things people can relate to. Our songs paint a picture and, a lot of times, have a sense of humor to them.”
“Each time we play a song,” said Brennan, “even if we’ve played it before, there’s something different about it. We change up songs all the time, and it keeps things interesting for us and fun to play.”
The two have also considered another avenue for their musical performances.
“We’re trying to get a musician’s hour in at some places, like local coffee shops,” Brennan added. “We’d like to bring in 10 or 12 other local musicians and share our ideas and play a little music, for singer/songwriters. It’d be great to have something like that at a place that’s looking to bring in more customers. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to get business owners to look outside the box.”
But, for now, the pair enjoys getting out there and gigging once or twice a month.
The Knuckleheads will hit the Berlin Coffee House on May 14, from 6 to 8 p.m., part of the town’s “Second Friday” series, celebrating the visual and performing arts throughout the area.