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Knee Benders bring ska to UAlbany

By Mike Smollins
On May 5, 2010

   The Knee Benders are a local reggae/ska band that got their start by playing open mic nights, and played their biggest show on April 7 at the UAlbany Campus Ballroom opening for Bayside.  The band has gone through many lineup changes, but now feels that they finally have the right dynamic here in Albany.

   The Knee Benders consist of sophomores Sam Pine (vocals, lead guitar), Greg Halzack (vocals), Blane DiGiacamo (lead guitar), and Chris Bernal (bass); freshmen Tom Casey (drums) and Alex Gallina (trombone); and junior James Kiernan (trumpet).

   While they consider themselves mostly reggae/ska, the band insists that they cover multiple genres. 

    "We are actually a combination of a few genres, including funk, jazz, and metal," said Casey. "Anything that sounds good, we try to emulate it and fit into our music," added Pine. 

   Pine said a lot goes into their song writing, and the ideas for his songs come in many different ways.

    "Some lyrics are politically driven, or something will happen during the day that I'll write about," Pine said. "I like to generate it into something harmonious."

   The band got the Bayside gig thanks to Pine pulling some strings. Pine is a member of Students for Live Music and is also in the Student Association. Jessica Dolnick, the president of Students for Live Music allowed the band to open for Bayside thanks to the work of Pine for raising the money to get the band to the school.

 "The Bayside show was a tremendous experience," Pine said. "It was a lot of fun." 

   The band played six songs at that show in their half hour set. Although they wished they had a longer set, but were just excited to play a show of that magnitude in front of around one thousand people.

  The band's name comes from the ska dance called skanking; when a person skanks they must bend their knees. 

   They released their first demo entitled "Skanks for Sale" six months ago during open mic nights for $3. 

   "We have had such an exponential improvement since that demo was recorded," said Casey, who wasn't the drummer on the demo.

   The Knee Benders originated in Monroe-Woodbury, when Pine and original members Chris Vergara and Sean Case began playing songs and open mic nights. Vergara went to UAlbany and played in the band until last year and now goes to school in the Philippines. Case parted with the band to go to New Paltz.

   Rulon Feeney joined the band in Albany as a vocalist/mandolin player.

   In the spring of 2009, they played another open mic and found Kiernan to play trumpet for them. He then brought in Bernal from the University Jazz Ensemble. 

   Pine then taught them the songs and they recorded the demo in 19 takes in six hours with basement equipment. In the fall, Casey became the new drummer of the band after meeting Pine at a party at a mutual friend's house. At the same time, Kiernan brought Gallina in from the Jazz Ensemble to play trombone.

    Halzack is Pine's best friend from home, and he filled in for vocals and remains in the band.

   "[Halzack] is one of the best singers I've ever known," said Pine. "He learned [Feeney's] parts and made up some melodies of his own just two weeks before the show.

    It was hard for the band to get everyone together, and they finally practiced with entire band just three days before the show.  They only had an hour, and Pine described it in one word: "disastrous."

   They then moved to the Lecture Centers, and with two nights before the show, they got everything down and had a great performance. Kiernan even wore a clown outfit to the show just for fun.

   With the summer coming up, and the band spread out over five different parts of New York, they are hopeful they can keep it all together.

   "I'm looking forward to the future of this band. It's all about having fun, it doesn't matter where it takes us," said Kiernan.

   Pine is the one who started this band and has seen some close friends come and go, but has also made some new friends through the band. He's thankful for the experience.

   "It's been an awesome journey.  The music I've made has been absolutely ridiculous, and I hope it continues," said Pine.

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