10,000 Hours with Cairo Knife Fight

Written by Matthew Montanez and Sergio Solorzano

Cairo Knife Fight is a hard rock, powerhouse duo composed of Nick Gaffaney and George Pajon Jr. We sat down with the two last November to learn about their journey cultivating CKF and about what it ultimately takes to be successful in today's music landscape.

We begin by discussing CKF's 2018 residency at the R-Bar in L.A.'s Koreatown.

How important or useful is a residency for a band?

George Pajon Jr. Having a residency helps us get rid of a ton of logistical nightmares setting up and tearing down our gear. We bring our own sound system to the R-Bar so we get to try new things out. You're not going to try a new song or experiment when you're at the mercy of a sound guy that doesn't know what you're trying to do. By having a residency, we get to expand a lot more.

Nick Gaffaney The residency allowed us to build a home for ourselves where we're often the only act playing and we can play as long as we want. There's no rushed setups and we're able to curate the set as we see fit.

Do you feel that your residency is going to scale in terms of building an audience or do you feel that eventually you'll have to figure out some way to start playing more venues in L.A.?

George Pajon Jr. That residency is really a tool for what's coming next.

When we start getting knee deep into the next record, the residency is really gonna help. We'll be able to experiment with our new songs outside of the studio.

The only way to cultivate an audience is to not have them guess where we're gonna play next.

The only way to cultivate an audience is to not have them guess where we're gonna play next.

Moving Cairo Knife Fight from New Zealand to L.A., was there a plan?

Nick Gaffaney We got run out of town back home - we were just too dangerous. We didn't really have it all planned out but, it happened a lot faster than it normally would because I met George right away.

George Pajon Jr. I met Nick in New Zealand, while working on someone's record. Nick moved here, needed a place to stay and I had a room available. So, it was just luck.

What was the conversation like when you decided to work together, "Hey man, do you want to join my band?"

George Pajon Jr Well we both said no. He was like, "What has he done? Black Eyed Peas? No."

So, I was in here recording one day when Nick was in the backyard and that's when he said, "Wait, who's playing guitar in there?" Well, it was me. That's when he asked if I was interested in working on Cairo Knife Fight.



When you're creating songs do you have a vision of how the song should be composed? Or is it more of a free form process?

Nick Gaffaney There's almost been every approach taken in this band. I want to do something that sounds like 'this' and describe what it's gonna be. Other times, it's a jam session and you just latch onto something that we'll flesh out later. It can also simply be a set of chords that someone's already got that we transform into a song.

For the next album do you plan to take more time recording than you were able to for previous albums?

George Pajon Jr. I'm moving. I'm leaving L.A. Doing music here and living here is extremely difficult. I'm kind of just liquidating everything and going on to Vegas where I'll have very little overhead and I can actually just sit and concentrate on writing every day. I want a place where all our gear is set up and all we do is show up and turn on a bunch of cameras.

Nick Gaffaney If you don't have a place that's dedicated for what you're trying to do, your mind is split. You are getting in there, setting things up, changing things around - sharing a space, it's not the same. That's fine when you're getting going, but we're so deep into this now.

It's just time to move on to another level with it because we'll keep making records at the same quality we've had in the past, if we keep doing things the same way, which has always been as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

George Pajon Jr. I'm blessed and lucky that I have a catalog of music that I wrote with the P's (Black Eyed Peas) and so I'm selling all of that. I'm selling my house and I'm gonna go over there with the mindset of committing to this 100%.

But, that's what it took. Will (will.i.am), had his own spot and we were in there 12 hours a day, every day with The Black Eyed Peas album. We wrote 300 to 400 songs. That's the level of commitment it took to get to something that we felt was perfect.

Guitar Pedals

George, we read that you grew up in Huntington Park. What was the music scene like when you were growing up?

George Pajon Jr. Well one of my close friends, still to this day is, Dave Lombardo from Slayer. Most people don't know, or maybe you do know, but Slayer, Metallica and Anthrax all started here. That shit was happening right around the corner from me.

My first show on a tour bus was with Slayer. Dave was like, "Hey want to come on tour with us to San Francisco?"

So, I'm watching the power of this band live and watching people just tear apart arenas. I remember thinking, "This is what I want to do with my life."

Being around people or bands that have broken through and achieved success like that must have given you the idea that you could achieve it to?

George Pajon Jr. Not only the idea, I knew it was going to happen. It wasn't an option for me. When I graduated high school, my parents said, "You have two choices: you can go to college and we'll take care of everything or you're on your own". I chose the other. I started working and I was on my own because I knew then that I was going to make this happen.

L.A. is now where you come when you can afford to be here and you have a career.

L.A. is now where you come when you can afford to be here and you have a career. You can be two hours away from here and you're gonna have an easier time at building your following.

Nick Gaffaney When you get to our age, it's important to have some success somewhere. Why would you still be doing this at 40 if you've never really had any success? He's had enormous success. I've had enough to keep me ticking along to this point.

We want to ask about the album artwork and the music videos. Who drives that direction? How does it get produced?

Nick Gaffaney We just come up with an idea and we share it with the same team that we've worked with since the first EP from New Zealand. We gave our idea to Karl Lear, who is the director, and he builds the team. Hannah Tasker-Poland, is the other person that we work with for our videos.

The faceless guy has always been a metaphor for the band since the very beginning in Christchurch (New Zealand). It's a tiny place and you can feel incredibly isolated, and that isolation can kind of become quite blinding to where you don't see more than an edge past your face. Especially, in a place that is so lonely.

We wrote the first two EP's there and it's remarkable we managed to do anything aside from hanging ourselves from the rafters.

We wrote the first two EP's there and it's remarkable we managed to do anything aside from hanging ourselves from the rafters.

So it was a metaphor for all that.

George, a few of the songs that you've written with The Black Eyed Pea's won Grammy's. At what point did you feel those songs would get that level of notoriety?

George Pajon Jr. We wrote this song, "Where Is The Love?" and Ron Fair said to Will, "I'm going to write a string arrangement for this song and I'm going to book a date." So, he invited Will and myself and I saw Ron conduct a 30 piece orchestra that played the song. I was like, "Oh this is gonna be huge."


George Pajon Jr. When I heard those strings for the first time I thought the world needs to hear this. Later on that that summer, that song did go to number one.

Is it an indescribable type of quality that you recognize in those moments?

George Pajon Jr. Yeah. It's what I haven't yet had the opportunity to do with this band because remember that it didn't come overnight. When we wrote that song, we had written 70 songs already.

As you're writing all this music, eventually you'll stumble upon something interesting. That's how you get to that point. That's no secret. Every big band that creates albums that are listened to by the world have followed that same formula.

And you know when you get to that point where you're like, "OK we're starting to smell something, we're starting to feel something, there's something here", that happens from repetitions. That 10,000 hours thing that sports guys talk about. You gotta put in that 10,000 hours. I've done that. I've seen the success, I know what it took, and I know how to do it again.

That 10,000 hours thing that sports guys talk about. You gotta put in that 10,000 hours. I've done that. I've seen the success, I know what it took, and I know how to do it again.

If you do that with anything, you're going to get somewhere. Because it's gonna speak. You put that kind of commitment to anything, you're gonna succeed.

That's how they get there. It's the same shit. It's not a fucking secret formula.

I'm saying that I don't think we're gonna get that song that's undeniable until album 2 or 3 and it takes that kind of commitment and that kind of nonstop effort to get to that point.

In your experience, working with different music producers, how does that compare to the way you're recording the music on your own? Do you guys plan to at some point to collaborate with someone outside the band for final direction?

George Pajon Jr. Money is the main problem. You also have to get those people interested. Most people now are not working for what they used to work for. They would take a percentage on a record depending how big you were and they would make money on the record sales regardless. Since no one's selling any records anymore, those people are being paid in advance. So can we afford to do that? We don't know.

Nick Gaffaney First, you hire someone and they provide you a service to work with them and you develop a relationship that might not work. To do that, even to find that out, is going to cost you money. Everyone knows now that you really just need to have one or two songs that work.

George Pajon Jr. I've made a lot of connections and I have a lot of friends that are big time producers. Will they open the door? Of course. Will they pick up an e-mail? Of course.

But, the only way we're going to even have that conversation is if I bring them that undeniable song that will blow them away. At that point, they'll have the fear of missing out.

You have to love it. And it has to blow them away to a point where it's like they feel that they have a fear of missing out.

You have to put them in a place were they can't say no. 'I have to make time and I have to actually invest in this because these guys could change my career'.

We know that the product has to be something that people can sink their teeth into. You have to be something that people can actually invest money into and have no question that they're gonna get their investment back.

Nick Gaffaney The problem is that we really haven't been able to translate what we do live onto the record properly.

George Pajon Jr. That's a real problem with this band that people don't understand. Someone might listen to us on the record and think we sound great, but then they come to see us live and they're blown away.

The way to fix that is to have a song that's undeniable. Then they're gonna come just to hear that song. Now that unique style becomes an extra attraction.

And look it's not just CKF, that happened with the P's too. The P's were basically a fucking glorified backpack hip hop band.

They had 250,000 followers that would go to every single fucking show, but they weren't selling any records. Same problem. The music was not communicating to the masses. So, what did they have to do? Have an undeniable song that changed everything.

The music was not communicating to the masses. So, what did they have to do? Have an undeniable song that changed everything.

You don't have to explain it anymore because they're already there and they're already watching you. Without that undeniable song, none of these bands are gonna get anywhere.

We look forward to seeing what Nick and George produce next with Cairo Knife Fight, and can't wait 'til their undeniable album drops. Find out more about Cairo Knife Fight on their website.

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