Sweet Knievel

Sweet Knievel


Sweet Knievel is a 4 piece jam band from Athens, Ga. The group combines funk, rock, jazz, and twang with an indie sensibility. The songs often lend themselves to improvisational exploration in their live performances while also showing an attention to tightly arranged composition and catchy melodies.


Sweet Knievel is a jam band. This much is true. As guitarist and lead vocalist Jonathan Brill says, "One minute we'll play a funky tune and then we could follow that with a bluegrass tune.. or with jazz, or rock, or whatever... We basically try to play every kind of music that we like, all while leaving ourselves room for some improvisation to take place." Yep, sounds like a jam band. But hey hope you won't judge them for it.

Brill, began playing guitar the same year that his older brother took him to see the Grateful Dead for the first time. It was not a coincidence. "I was so moved by the whole experience of the show and the scene, that when it was over, what I was left with was a seemingly boundless collection of these enchanting songs. If I could learn to play those songs, then I could keep that experience going all year long until the band returned to Atlanta. And I didn't stop learning those songs until I could at least fake my way through every song in their songbook," Brill laughs. Well somewhere along the line, he actually learned to play the guitar and he broadened his musical horizons. Playing casually in bands while attending the University of Vermont, he began to study guitar in a more formal setting, both at UVM and back home at the Atlanta Institute of Music.

Upon returning to Georgia in 2001, Brill immediately contacted an old friend, Athens' resident, Jerry Hendelberg. Hendelberg was in the early stages of forming what would become Dubconscious, a nationally known reggae band out of Athens. Within just a few years, Dubconscious had toured in over 40 states and had played at celebrated venues, including Red Rocks and The Tabernacle in Atlanta, and at festivals such as Bonnaroo and High Sierra. But while Hendelberg studied the stylings of reggae legend Jackie Mittoo, he was concurrently drawing inspiration from artists as diverse as Dave Brubeck, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Brian Haas (of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey). As an outlet from reggae, and a channel to try out all of these other styles, Hendelberg would put together bands with various friends to play this other music. For most of these shows, Brill played guitar. Over the years the two developed a musical bond, and eventually they decided to turn the side-project into it's own band.

While continuing to play music from artists such as Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, the Flaming Lips, and Dave Brubeck, the band began to integrate Brill's original music into their live sets. Some of their early songs had Sweet Knievel likened to Syd Barrett and the Beatles. As the band continued to add a variety of Brill's original material, the songs touched on rock, funk, folk, straight-up bluegrass, and more.

"Going back to what I learned from Dead shows,” starts Brill. “One huge takeaway for me was that you can play an unlimited number of different genres over the course of a night. I think it's nice to get a little bit of everything." A typical Sweet Knievel set reflects that philosophy. "I love so many types of music, " he continues. "I've always loved Motown and Bluegrass music at the same time. And I think you can hear that in our music. I love reggae, jazz, indie rock, and even hip-hop. But don't worry, I won't be rapping anytime soon."

Both Brill and Hendelberg have been longtime fans of jam bands. "Something I think we've both learned from going to jam band shows all these years," says Brill, "is that there is more to music than melody, harmony, and rhythm. There is a huge part of the musicality that comes from the momentum the musicians create while improvising off of each other. Builds and falls with climaxes; whirling tensions snapping back into a tight groove; these are what Sweet Knievel is about, to me at least. Of course songs with melodies and hooks are important to our music.. but to me, it's the dynamics and the places a song or jam can take you that make it super exciting." But Brill does not consider the songs just vehicles for jamming. "I really love playing these songs, and some of them have been written for a long time. But I've never had the right outlet for them until now."

Their upcoming album, 'Collapsible,' was recorded in February of 2012 with Jay Hoots on drums and Kris Dale on bass. Brill points out, "From the time we started playing with Kris, we really wanted to play his original songs too. He writes these quirky jazzy songs that we just love." One of those songs,'Travelers', was recorded by the band and is included on the album. Another cover on the CD is their live version of RJD2's 'The Horror.' 'Collapsible' is their first full-length release since forming back in 2009.


Rule of Thumb

Written By: Jonathan Brill

Beaten by a better hand
Never goes quite how you planned
If you offer more than you demand, you’ll see
There was a sullen man who gave advice
who sometimes was not very good at life
who is still deciding what he wants to be

He spends his days in mind making theories
There was a time he was on line to see it clearly

He spends his nights out of his mind deconstructing theories
Come the morning he has found fewer clues than queries
You stand in line, you bide your time, but you get weary
You come to find that what you love has cost you dearly
As a rule of thumb I look for signs always appearing
The way you roll your eyes before you look in mine
I know what game you’re trying to play

If you’ve been beaten by a bigger bluff because you think your hand’s not good enough
Don’t you feel like you have just been sucker punched when you finally see the cards turned up?
Does it make you feel like getting rough?
Or does it make you want to quit the stuff?
Or does it make you feel like it’s just some game that everybody plays.


'Collapsible' - self-released January 2013
Sweet Knievel - 'EP' - 2009