Local musician Kyle Knudsen, 18, wins full scholarship from Vans to prestigious Berklee College of Music
Kyle Knudsen’s first Vans Warped Tour was pretty special.
The year was 2013, and the ticket was arranged as a day trip through the Grammy Museum’s Music Revolution Project, a program for young musicians through which he’d met his future bandmate Miclain Keith.
“It was the first time we’d each went to Warped, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a music festival,” said Knudsen, 18, of Riverview. “I’m a huge fan of that kind of music. It was kind of the music that raised me, that alternative and punk scene.”
Now Knudsen has another big reason to thank Vans. The singer, songwriter and producer and Gibbs High School graduate was awarded this year’s Vans Off the Wall Scholarship, a four-year, full-ride prize to Boston’s Berklee College of Music that covers tuition, room and board, laptop and other materials.
The Palm Harbor native is just third person to receive the scholarship, which is designed to go to a “rock, alternative, or indie musician/creative artist, who is an academically high achieving scholar.” He just wrapped his first semester at Berklee, where he’ll study electronic music production.
Berklee is one of the most prestigious music schools in America; alumni include Aimee Mann, Steve Vai, Susan Tedeschi and members of Imagine Dragons. Current faculty include Paula Cole, Livingston Taylor and Melissa Ferrick.
“Some of my favorite musicians come and visit on a daily basis,” Knudsen said. “It’s really incredible.”
For Knudsen, co-founder of the local electro-alternative band Denim Blue and Miclain Keith — which this summer evolved into DBMK as Keith left to pursue other projects — it’s the latest highlight in an already impressive career.
Denim Blue and Miclain Keith toured and played a handful of high-profile shows in Tampa Bay, including gigs at the 97X BBQ and 97X Next Big Thing. But it was their music that caught the attention of Berklee and Vans. Their latest album, Collapse, is full of warm, downbeat electronic textures, a la James Blake or Gnash — though the comparison Knudsen says he hears most is Twenty One Pilots.
“People relate to our music in the same sort of emotional vein as Twenty One Pilots,” he said. “It’s incredibly flattering to me, because they’re one of my favorite bands of all time.”
They’re also the hottest alternative outfit on the planet, which couldn’t have hurt as Berklee and Vans were considering Knudsen for the scholarship. Collapse, Knudsen said, “had that sort of experimental, honest mentality about it, and I think that’s what was attractive to the scholarship committee at Berklee and the people at Vans. It still had some commercial appeal to it; however, it was still very honest alternative music.”
Knudsen is still writing music and playing gigs where he can, including a Jan. 7 show at the Krazy Kup in Plant City. He’ll head back to Berklee later in January.
“A lot of the students are actually turning out to be pretty good allies to have in the music industry,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people who are in pretty successful bands, and I’ve been building my networks now in the northeast. I’m having another hand in a part of the country that I haven’t really had before, and meeting all these kids in bands that want to tour and play shows. That’s what DBMK is trying to do right now.”
-- Jay Cridlin