Last Superbowl, while Peyton Manning cradled the Lombardi Trophy and showered Budweiser with delicious, beery shout-outs, Jersey boys Billy the Kid and Nickey Knoxx (of Camden and Trenton, respectively) were huddled around their family televisions with baited breath. A music supervisor had more or less greenlighted the duo’s song, “Champion” for use during the annual football bonanza, but as as lives go, those of professional musicians are rife with uncertainty. Plans are made and changed, nary a certitude. At last, they both heard it: their track echoing behind Manning’s words while confetti rained down in Levi’s Stadium. And just like that, Epoch Failure (pronounced epic) turned over a new leaf.
Joanie Wolkoff for AudioFemme: What was that fateful moment like for you guys?
Nickey Knoxx: I was about to give up and zone out cuz the show was wrapping up, but then while Peyton Manning said something about going home and drinking a lot of Budweisers, all of a sudden I heard our song. I definitely lost my shit.
Billy the Kidd: I mean, Superbowl is the mecca of American sports. I’m gonna be honest, I’d been drinking tons with my family and I just teared up.
The American American Dream came true!
Billy the Kidd: We always say we didn’t do too bad for two kids from the inner city.
Nickey Knoxx: When I was growing up, my mom- being from South Carolina- listened to a lot of country and gospel…Dwight Yoakam, Dolly Parton, Travis Tritt, Donnnie McClurkin, James Brown, Reba McEntire… I’m a Brown American. My mother’s Native American and Black and my father’s Black and Puerto Rican with a Jewish-German mom. So, I am the melting pot.
Billy the Kidd: I’m just Puerto Rican, first generation American. My dad’s a South Philly guy, so I grew up on Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, a lot of Harlem renaissance swag, also Bellamy Brothers, Earth Wind and Fire, the Bee Gees, Bon Jovi and Metallica. Every Friday my dad would pour a glass of gin, smoke a cigar and listen to the Stones on vinyl for hours.
So you guys cut your milk teeth on American music?
Nickey Knoxx: Definitely. Then, when we started exploring other music in high school it was all hip hop- Biggie, Naz, Wu Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Tupac, Jay Z. My sister also got me into rock and a lot of Prince.
Billy the Kidd: I loved all the heavy hitters in rap but I also got into punk and pop. It’s just that at the time… well, you can’t tell people in the hood you listen to five white boys singing in harmony. I love Iggy Pop, too. Saliva, Limp Biscuit, Slipknot- I went the rock route.
Your live performances are bursting with kinetic energy. Did seeing any of your influences in concert shape how you carry out your music in front of an audience?
Nickey Knoxx: We go apeshit! After watching all those pop-punk bands growing up, seeing the energy those guys bring to the music- the way they pour their heart and soul into it- that’s what we do. We end up chest-naked.
Billy the Kidd: You could say we get that full blown rock energy combined with the hip hop demeanor. It’s urban pop: full of hooks but still very much blended with hip hop elements, because this is the time we live in. We’ve got a dope drummer- Mad Mike- and our bassist Lowdown Dirty Shane and DJ Big Jay. We’re each other’s hype men.
Is it possible that a band name like Epoch Failure might come across as… anti-hype?
Nickey Knoxx: We’re from the inner city and we’ve been on this musical journey together for four years together. It’s been a new epoch for our failures (laughs)… but we’re gonna make it epic! I’ve lived on both sides of life but it’s what made me and it’s what made Billy. It gave us the drive to see the other side.
What does the other side look like?
Billy the Kidd: Music is a grind. You have to treat everybody you meet like a somebody because you never know what they’re gonna bring to the table. I think young musicians need to know not to quit their day job. If you’re an artist, living by the skin of your teeth can’t work that way…. but as Will Smith said, if you focus too much on plan B, you’ll forget about plan A. The dream is music. To live it, breathe it every day, wake up and do it.
What do you do to supplement your music career?
Nickey Knoxx: I’m a combat photographer in the US Army. Billy is an electrician.
Billy the Kidd: Our day jobs feed our creativity. My work is blue collar- it’s the way I was raised. It motivates me. When I get off of work I’m all dirty and grimy and sweaty and I just want to go home and make the best song ever, so that maybe tomorrow I won’t have to go and get dirty and grimy and sweaty.
Did anyone in particular transmit this wisdom to you?
Billy the Kidd: When I was in seventh grade and my grandfather was ill and on his way out, he said, “Never give up.” Whether you’re making music or in the military or marketing or flipping burgers… be the best fucking burger flipper there is. Have some pride. We were meant to be great in what we do. A guy with a million dollars could have a penny attitude, so stay humble and dream big.
Nickey Knoxx: The best advice I ever got was to floss my teeth and wear underwear. Clean underwear make the world go round.