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An Untamed Energy: Troy Sanders on KILLER BE KILLED's New Album, Reluctant Hero

Read an in-depth interview with the band's bassist and vocalist about the new record and why Killer Be Killed shouldn't be called a supergroup.

Killer Be Killed

While the members of Killer Be Killed require no introduction—they're pieces of storied and decorated bands that have shaped heavy music for decades—the egoless friendship of the four members retain the band's exciting, "first band" ethos. After more than five years of silence and hardly a mention of the band after their electric self-titled debut in 2014, Killer Be Killed returns with little warning for their second full-length album, Reluctant Hero.

The band's newest effort showcases a greater affinity for experimentation and penchant for catchy songwriting—even in the face of distance and all of their busy touring schedules between records. Reluctant Hero slowly came to fruition over the course of five years, ultimately taking tangible shape in 2019 and the earliest parts of this year.

The album's 11 tracks see the band barreling through many tenets of progressive, groove, and thrash metal while blending in elements of extreme genres like doom and death metal. The album's lead singles, "Deconstructing Self-Destruction," "Dream Gone Bad," and "Inner Calm From Outer Storms" are a refresher for the band's formula and an informal introduction of Ben Koller on drums. Troy Sanders (bass/guitar/vocals), Greg Puciato (guitars/vocals), and Max Cavalera (guitar/vocals) all take turns trading verses as the vocalist on every song. All four members have an ample hand in writing the structures of each song.

These singles also, as stated earlier, exhibit uncanny songwriting and an ability to measure and construct moments of rhythm, melody, and tension. This idea weaves through many other moments throughout the record, however. "Left of Center" has the catchiest hook and chorus on the whole record. "From A Crowded Wound" builds slowly over its 7-plus minute runtime, using a doom metal plod Puciato's clean vocals and Koller's rolls to pace much of the track before unfurling into a groove-driven stomp.

Elsewhere on the record, "Animus" barely breaks the one-minute mark. Riddled with hardcore punk energy, Koller and Puciato's backgrounds built the most furious moment of the record. The album closes on its title track, a somber arrangement driven by Puciato's tempered voice and towering moments of Sanders' bellowing and Cavalera's gritty deliveries.

The lyrical content and subject matter is as diverse as the styles Killer Be Killed employ. "Filthy Vagabond" is an ode to life on the road. "Deconstructing Self-Destruction" tackles self-empowerment. "The Great Purge" is a warning of ego-driven men in wartime. "From A Crowded Wound" and the title track encompass stories of pain and loss.

Ultimately, Reluctant Hero is a remarkable followup to Killer Be Killed's debut record. It accomplishes what any great record should, a clear and exciting progression of a band's vision. For the star-studded cast that comprises this band, they successfully achieve the energy that comes from four friends coming together to create music they love.

Metal Injection sat down with Troy Sanders to discuss Reluctant Hero and why Killer Be Killed should not be called a supergroup, among other things. Reluctant Hero arrives tomorrow through Nuclear Blast Records. Pick up a copy of the record now and read an in-depth interview now.

What's your take on the term “supergroup?” I've spoken to members of these kinds of groups featuring some other prominent bands, and they're not too keen on it. They don't want their project to be defined by their position in other notable bands. Do you or the rest of Killer Be Killed share similar sentiments or does that not really bother you?

TROY SANDERS: No, I think you just nailed it. That's the same way we feel. When something precedes the band's product—like it's already got this “supergroup” tag on it—was it put together in order to achieve a certain type of success before the music is even presented?

You have these marginally famous guys, they come together… Well, they're automatically going to be great, right? Not necessarily. When Greg and Max were put putting this band together and they were trying to find a bass player who they thought was a humble, fun person to be with and who could also do vocals, my name came up. When we were talking about a drummer who's a great person to hang with, someone that's funny, has a big heart, and also very talented on the drums, we thought of Ben Koller.

Over years and years of touring, every phone number in our cell phone is our friend. Most of those friends stem from the circles that we meet at festivals, traveling the world, and sharing stages with one another. So, it's not like we're sifting through our phones trying to find a marginally famous friend to ask to be in our band. They’re just automatically our friends because of being road dogs for 20 years.

So, Killer Be Killed came together very, very naturally with no preconceived notion of anything super except for how we feel about each other in the band. I think Greg, Max, and Ben are super people. You know, I would call the band a Superfriends Group instead of a supergroup. A super friendly group!

You nailed it. You don't want any sentiment to be stronger than the music itself. So no, I understand the tag, but I just ignore it.

Initially, in bringing this group together prior to 2014, was there any kind of pressure to beat that tag?

SANDERS: No, I didn't feel any. I think that was my take on the whole premise of why the band was put together in the first place. This was pieced together by Greg Puciato and Max Cavalera and their premise to put the band together was to have all contributing members who had good energy reminiscent of your very first band. When we were all 16 or so, we had a friend that played guitar and the other friend would play drums, and we would get together, enjoy our time together, and create and play the music that felt good to us. No drama, no stress, no ego, no bullshit—only good vibes.

That still exists today. I mean, we were more on fire for this record to showcase our maturity since the first one. I would chalk that up to being excited and driven as opposed to pressured to live up to something.

What sort of unique creative opportunities does writing for Killer Be Killed present compared to Mastodon or Gone Is Gone?

SANDERS: It wasn't intentional, but I tracked some guitar on this record and also tracked some piano, which are two things I'd never done before. Not that it couldn't be presented as an opportunity in any other band that I'm in. Looking back, that was neat. I had an idea and I went for it. I've never played electric guitar on an album before and I've never played piano. So, that was a highlight.

Ultimately the main difference is—I’ve used the analogy before, when you have different circles of friends and you go out with your three buddies this night. Then, the next weekend, you're going out with these other three buddies. What's the difference between your three friends over here and your three friends over there? It's a different energy. It's a different experience. Ultimately, I just get a different reward from the different experience.

You mentioned you tracked some electric guitar and you also played some piano on the record. That's something I didn't know about you. How long have you been playing piano?

SANDERS: Well, I wouldn't say that I am a piano player. It’s more of a textural idea that anyone could do. If you hear this potential piano underneath something or a synth tone that you might think could be fitting for a part, you can find those keys on the keyboard and play around with sounds and patterns with just those few keys. So, I would not classify myself as a piano player at all. It's more of a textural thing that pretty much anybody can figure out if you have that idea in your head.

It wasn’t an opportunity like, “Hey, do you want to play piano?”

It was just more the enjoyment of exploration during the Reluctant Hero recording sessions. That was always so much unknown. You never know what a particular song is going to turn out like or how a song is going to pan out as you're crafting it with one another. That’s half the excitement.

I imagine there's some increased excitement too having only two one-week stints where you're all together and able to record the album. What were some highlights or big moments for you and your friends getting together to work on this record?

SANDERS: I think the one fact that makes me most happy with all four of us is we were so dedicated and persistent over five years knowing that this record was going to take however long it took, but that never slowed it down. When we did get together, the energy was on, you know? The energy was incredibly high, and we were all just so anxious to dive right in.

It can be a drag if one person is super into an idea and one or more people are not. It creates friction or division. That never takes place within Killer Be Killed, and I chalk that up to so much time and space between each gathering.

It was just the fact that all four of us were just dedicated and driven to get it done, and we all really wanted to do this. We wanted to be a hero in its final form and that's happening now.
Let’s delve into those sessions and maybe the time in the lead up to you all getting together.

I was hoping to uncover a bit more about how you, Max, and Greg composed the words and established a cohesive rhythm and cadence because you three historically have very distinct unique voices and deliveries.

I noticed reading the lyrics while listening to these songs, you all employ various strategies in addition to just rotating verses—alternating lines, echoing, and almost triplet patterns. What does that work or decision-making look like for you to reach the final product in your lyrics?

SANDERS: Thankfully, it almost seemed effortless. When we would get to a certain song, whoever had the initial idea would throw it out there. It was always a case of, “Awesome, let's expand on that…”

At all times, lyrically and vocally, Max, Greg, and myself were in the room at the same time, each and every time, every day. It was an extremely collaborative team effort. For example, we get to a song and here's the music. I would say, “Guys, I have a verse idea. Let me go try this.”

I jump in the vocal booth and I would try this pattern. Those guys are like, “OK, that's great. Cool, stick with that.”

Greg or Max would be anxious to claim parts. “I have an idea for that bridge let me try this!”

Max, for example, said, “Dude, I got this chorus idea. Let me try this…”

It was just the three of us constantly going in and out of the vocal booth building a song from nothing into its final form. Each day we would tackle and complete a whole song. It was magical how all three of us were on the same page at all times. I think that stems from the idea of just not feeling any stress or pressure, but simply just having fun and going with our gut and what sounded or felt the best.

I don't know if there was ever one example of someone going in the booth to try something and the other two guys saying, “Ehhh… I think we could find something better.”

That never happened. It was fun and pure and just slammed with upbeat anxiousness to claim parts and make them great. Then someone would lay a track for a verse, for example, and then whoever jumped in there next wanted to match their energy. Everyone was just firing at the top of their game. It was incredible. It was amazing to be a part of that type of—that tag team trio's so fucking cool to be a part of.

I use the word effortlessly, loosely because we did focus and put a lot of attention and energy and effort into it, but it was never a strategic, “OK, well, if I'm doing this pattern, then you should counter it with this pattern.”

We just we have so much appreciation and trust in each other. We all wanted each other to be happy and we just kept feeding off each other and feeding off each other. It was incredible. It's awesome.

I heard in a recent interview, Greg and Max mentioned the instrumental arrangements were completed well in advance of the lyrics. I'm sure that kind of gave you some time to ruminate and start drumming up some ideas there as well.

SANDERS: It did. We recorded the music in 2019 at some point, and we didn't have a collective week on our calendars that we were all available until, I want to say January 2020, which is when we reconvened for eight or nine days to write lyrics and track vocals.

The music was just sitting there, so the vocal ideas and the lyrical subject matter—all those ideas—were marinating for months. So, it did make it easier and it wasn't just going in and spontaneously starting a vocal idea from scratch, which was very helpful.

For you personally, does the record carry any sort of central theme? I've noticed the lyrics themselves kind of ranged from like self-empowerment to dealing with loss and to life on the road and a lot more.

SANDERS: I would not say there is one thematic storyline from top to bottom. We took it day by day and song by song, and we tried to write lyrics that were reflective of how the how the music itself made us feel. Then the three of us would all agree on a subject matter and we were all able to write the song knowing what the song was geared towards or about. Overcoming obstacles, empowerment, loss, frustration—every song has its own theme.

As the album release approaches, what are you hoping that fans of Killer Be Killed can take away from this new album compared to the self-titled one from 2014?

SANDERS: I would hope that some folks would take away what I'm taking away from it. This record has been mixed and mastered for several months now. I have listened to Reluctant Hero from top to bottom, literally dozens of times, not exaggerating. I still absolutely love it. I never skip over a song.

Even as a contributor and band member over the past five years creating Reluctant Hero, nothing feels stagnant or weak. I listened to it, and my head and my whole body are bobbing up and down. It’s just chock full of fun, heavy riffs, and a lot of great vocal melodies and I'm just absolutely in love with it.

So, my only hope would be that someone out there can share the same feelings that I have. I've always said that once a record is released, you have relinquished control over how anyone will accept it or feel about it. If anyone receives any pleasure of hearing these songs—hopefully it will put a smile on a handful of faces after a questionable and odd year. I hope this can provide some sort of a reprieve and put a smile on some faces of some heavy rock music lovers.

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