Detroit hardcore band Child Bite’s Shawn Knight reflects on 15 years in the underground

Child Bite.
Child Bite. Trevor Naud

After a lifetime as a musician, Child Bite founding vocalist Shawn Knight figures he'll always have a day job. The band has toured the globe for over a decade, playing with everyone from punk legends the Dead Kennedys to metal acts like King Diamond and Exodus. It's signed to Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo's Housecore Records. The noise-hardcore-metal stalwart's most recent album, November's Blow off the Omens, was produced by Steve Albini, the man responsible for the way Nirvana's In Utero sounds. But street cred's not enough to pay the bills.

"I don't even know how you get anyone to give a shit about your band," Knight laments.

No matter how much blood an independent artist puts into a record, there's no way to guarantee anyone will actually listen to it or that they'll even know it exists. Blame it on the current state of radio. Blame it on Spotify's algorithms. Blame it on the internet in general. The fact of the matter remains: We've become so inundated with entertainment options, it takes boatloads of cash to cut through all the noise.

"Sometimes it feels like we're going to spend all this time writing these songs, we're going to record them with the best sound, we're going to labor over this thing for months and months and months," Knight says, "then it's going to boil down to something that somebody maybe listened to once because it popped up in their feed.

"Then they're on to the next one because there are a million other things being shot in their face and ears."

While that may sound like a defeatist way to look at the world, Knight's simply being pragmatic. The band's Facebook page has just over 12,000 fans. On Spotify, Child Bite has 2,000 monthly listeners. Over burgers and beers at PJ's Lager House, Knight jokes that he hasn't seen any payments from the streaming juggernaut.

"I move around too much," he says. "Maybe those checks are in Ferndale somewhere. Maybe some random person has been cashing my 18-cent checks."

Sometimes Child Bite gets played on CJAM across the river in Windsor, but Knight says they've never gotten any airplay in Detroit. To be fair, the band whose sound Child Bite is closest to, Unsane, doesn't get any radio play anywhere either. There's no shortage of fresh music coming out every week, but terrestrial radio is more than happy to keep playing "Man in the Box" twice a day rather than take a risk on something new.

Knight isn't chasing radio play for the royalty checks (although those wouldn't hurt). Instead, it's the result of an innate desire to reach an audience. Everyone has a radio in their car, but few pay for a streaming service or go to metal shows.

"To share [art] and connect with people is a big thing for me on some subconscious level that I'd need a therapist to explain to me," Knight says. "I have this urge to connect with people."

Child Bite formed in 2005, but if Knight had his way, he'd turn back time and drop the band's first album in the early '90s. The hedonism of glam rock was fading, and out of nowhere came Nirvana, paving the way for an entire generation of artists making off-the-wall music. We take bands like the Melvins and Tool for granted, but the idea of them breaking onto the scene and getting major label support in 2019 is a fairy tale.

"There was a special period of time where the people in charge didn't know what was going to be the next big hit," Knight says. "There's a chance where we could've been just as big as Primus or the Jesus Lizard. Us being weird wouldn't have been a detriment, where nowadays it somewhat is."

That's not to say the band isn't successful. It's just that hitting the road for months on end is a grind, and you can't guarantee how many people will come to a show. Knight is 42 years old and a freelance graphic artist. He designs the band's merch and has done everything from silkscreened tour posters for the Melvins, High on Fire, and Grimes, to an art package for the internet's favorite cat, the late Lil Bub.

Bassist Sean Clancy is almost 41 and works as a screen printer at Essential Screen Printing in Eastern Market. Guitarist Jeremy Waun is an early thirtysomething and works at a Hamtramck florist. Their day jobs offer the flexibility to jump on tour when the offer arrives, as well as steady pay.

"I'm realistic with the type of music we're playing and the time we're playing it in," Knight admits. "We've had a lot of really cool opportunities that were beyond my imagination when starting this band, so I've gotta count my lucky stars." Recently, Knight was onstage in Las Vegas, playing "I'm Broken" with Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals for one of Slayer's final concerts.

"If it works out for people, that's cool and I'll keep forging ahead until it's not fun anymore," he says.

Child Bite could potentially make a living if they tour enough, but they found out early on that headlining their own shows across the country was hit or miss (mostly miss).

"We're still a small enough band that there's gonna be too many nights where we're playing to four people in Phoenix," he says.

Knight sees bands get livable guarantees for an entire tour — but when no one shows up, it's the promoters and venues who lose out, and they remember that the next time around. In the short run, the band makes out OK. But the next tour is a different story.

"When they come back around, all these promoters and venues are gonna remember they lost their ass," Knight says. "It's a shortsighted, get-rich-quick scheme, almost."

Rather than burn bridges and cash in on uncertainties, Child Bite is strictly a support band these days. The crowds are bigger, and the pay is better. They play opening slots for national bands that come through Motown, too. But after playing niche music for 15 years, headlining their own shows in Detroit comes with diminishing returns.

"It's like after you've done anything for so many years, you get burned out a little bit. You've been there, done that," he says. "The people coming to see you maybe get burned out."

Despite all this, Knight is happy. Sure, things could be different and Child Bite could've broken out of the underground, but Knight is proud of everything he's accomplished with the band. He has no regrets.

He wishes some things would've gone smoother or made more of an impact, sure. But those aren't the same as regrets. He did everything he could to maintain artistic control and do it in a way that was a pure expression of himself.

"I didn't make any big compromises," he says. "Maybe that'll be a future interview. Hopefully I can rack up a few regrets by then and give you a juicy tale of sadness."

Child Bite performs with special guests Easy Action, Strange Magic, Tongue Party, and Man At Arms on Friday, Dec. 13 at The Loving Touch, 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-820-5596; Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $12.

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About The Author

Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala is a senior copywriter and freelance reporter living on Detroit's northwest side. Since 2008 he's been published in The Daily Beast, Architectural Digest, Crain's Detroit Business, and Engadget, focusing on the humans behind entertainment, business, and tech.
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