Being in a hardcore band for 25 years can make it pretty darn tough when …
If you listen to Troy Sanders tell it, the world has Australia to thank for another Killer Be Killed album.
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His bandmate Max Cavalera may have been his usual enthusiastic self about the idea at the time, but it was Soundwave 2015 that clinched the deal.
“It was such an incredible time we had that, from the moment that we left Australia together to go back home, we all said that it doesn’t matter how long it takes, we’re going to continue this band, we’re going to make another record, and we’re going to continue to record and tour,” the laidback bass player says. “We all agreed on that when we got home and went our separate ways.”
Partner in crime Greg Puciato, who shares vocals with Sanders and Cavalera and guitar duties with the Soulfly frontman, is in full agreement on that assessment.
What makes you a band isn’t getting together and writing songs. That’s a project. A band is when you have a relationship with people on a human level.
[ Greg Puciato ]
“That was when, in my mind, we went from being a one-off to a band,” he says. “Ben (Koller) joined the band while we were in Australia. We asked Ben to join right after that final Soundwave show. We asked him backstage, outside, pretty much within twenty minutes of walking off that final show. You don’t ask someone to join your band if you’re not planning on staying a band. At that point, it just felt right. What makes you a band isn’t getting together and writing songs. That’s a project. A band is when you have a relationship with people on a human level.”
Five years on from that pact, Killer Be Killed’s second album Reluctant Hero is about to be unleashed. From even the most casual listen, it’s clear that the four piece have not felt it necessary to tinker with the formula established on 2014’s self-titled effort.
“It’s kind of the same formula,” Sanders agrees, “except we had more time to work on the songs, and we wanted to make sure that all four of us were very happy with every riff, every song structure, all the lyrics and all the vocal melodies. Having that much more time benefits all of us to make sure we’re all super happy about what we’ve done.”
Puciato puts it down to simply not over-thinking what they were trying to achieve.
“The more you think about things, the more forced you make stuff and the more heavy-handed you make things,” is his take. “If you think too much about what you’re supposed to do and think about what the next best step would be, you don’t operate honestly. You’re contriving, and that’s a terrible place to be. And then you freeze. You see people not put records out forever, like Guns N’ Roses or whoever. They’re freezing, because they’re so aware of what they’ve already done and you can’t operate honestly.”
“The main difference from the first one is there’s much more three-dimensionality to the guitars because Max and I are both playing at all times,” he adds. “On the first album, Max tracked about 90% of the guitar. This time we’re both playing every single second.”
One of the main aspects that allows them to work together with the honesty Puciato refers to is Killer Be Killed’s dedication to living and working together as a complete unit while writing and recording. Whenever their individual schedules allowed, the four of them would rent an Air BNB near Cavalera’s home in Phoenix, Arizona, work on songs and develop ideas.
It’s just a cool experience that all four of us are super into. If you have four guys that don’t need this band, but they really, really want this band, that’s a sign of awesomeness to ourselves. Because we don’t need it! But we want it, and we really enjoy it. Killer Be Killed is being done for all the right reasons.
[ Troy Sanders ]
Puciato: “Max, Troy and I are all strong writers and we all have vocal ideas and guitar ideas so we can come to it from a lot of different angles. The other thing, too, that is a real key to that is that we don’t do any file-share. We don’t get too married to an idea and try to force that upon one another. We rehearse through the day and we hang out at night and we don’t have any ideas that we send to one another prior. We bring everything with us and we then we beat on those ideas for a little while, maybe a week or two, and then we break for a while, half a year or so, and then we get together again. So the fact that we come to the table all at once with a bucketful of ideas, and we’re hashing them out in real time, before we get too married to them, and we’re not making individual demos of very specific things that we’re trying to do – the fact that we’re going in with things being that malleable allow them to move very quickly and very freely.”
“We kind of knew what we were going for,” Sanders offers, “and the fact that we did everything in the room together with one another, so we can bounce that energy off, you can tell right away if it has potential or not. So we never did any file-sharing, we never did anything remotely. It was always in the same room with one another, face-to-face, and it’s hard to go wrong when you’re doing it by that route. You can tell right away when something’s going to work or not.”
“There’s no pre-existing parameters or outline that we’re trying to follow,” Puciato continues. “We’re all very willing to throw shit away too. That’s part of that process. So if someone has an idea and it doesn’t work, or someone is willing to change it, we’re very open to that. We all just bring in different parts and we’re all writing in real time too, so maybe one part maybe spurs someone else’s idea. In every song there’s a kind of a combination of all of us.”
Sanders goes into detail about developing the album’s second single Dream Gone Bad out of a rough demo Cavalera had put together featuring a riff the Brazilian wasn’t sure about. He explains how his bandmate asked for his opinion at the end of a jam.
“I said, ‘Dude, that’s amazing. I have a part that will go right with that. Check this out.’ And I played part two, and it fit very well. Then we started working on part three, part four, then we started working on lyrics. The song grew from, in just a matter of minutes, Max saying, ‘Here’s this riff I recorded, what do you think of it?’ He was unsure, but I gravitated towards it right away and it was a complete song within a matter of, I don’t know… minutes, roughly!”
Other songs came together just as quickly. Cavalera and Koller wrote Animus while Sanders and Puciato were on a lunch break: “When we came back,” Sanders says, “they walked out of the tracking room and said, ‘We knocked out a banger! It’s like someone smashed your guts with a hammer!’ So the working title was Hammer Guts, and it later became Animus. So Greg and I went out for lunch and those two guys came up with an idea and banged it out in a matter of thirty minutes. I love that kind of spontaneity.”
“The only song on the record that was completely mapped out [by me] is a song called From a Crowded Wound,” Puciato continues. “That’s mine from front to back. The vocals are all me, even their vocals, I wrote. That song is my baby. That one I brought fully formed. Other than that, we all just bring in different parts and we’re all writing in real time too, so maybe one part maybe spurs someone else’s idea. In every song there’s a kind of a combination of all of us, except for that song, and there’s a song called Animus, that is Max front-to-back and there’s a song called Left of Center that, I would say, is 90% Troy.”
Reluctant Hero, the album’s title track, is also one that Sanders lays most claim to.
“It’s really slow, really dark and really doesn’t fit with anything else on the album so far. But I knew that I wanted to write this set of lyrics that I had, that were quite dark, and I wanted to have that song on the record. Of course, they trusted my lead, and we sat down and we wrote the song Reluctant Hero, which I’m also really proud of. And that wouldn’t have happened unless we all shared the same type of trust and respect for one another.”
Both make a point that is vital to how the band works together so well and easily.
Sanders: “We really like each other, and every time we get together it’s just a good time. There’s no egos, there’s no bullshit, we enjoy our time together and the chemistry that we share.”
Puciato: “We don’t bring a lot of ego to the table, because we’re all accomplished in other things. We’re not trying desperately to make sure we’re the one that shines. We’ve all got our senses of self coming into this, so we’re not desperate to try and outdo one another or be the star of the show.”
“You can tell right away when something’s going to work or not,” says Sanders. “It’s just a cool experience that all four of us are super into. If you have four guys that don’t need this band, but they really, really want this band, that’s a sign of awesomeness to ourselves. Because we don’t need it! But we want it, and we really enjoy it. Killer Be Killed is being done for all the right reasons.”
Reluctant Hero has taken five years to put together since Sanders, Puciato, Cavalera and Koller returned from that one and only concert tour in 2015. In between the busy schedules of every member, they have found the time to unite and create a second Killer Be Killed album. Not out of any particular need for another project, but simply as friends working on music together, and it’s all because of Australia.
“We’ve been slowly chipping away at new music together whenever the calendar would align where we all had the same few days off, or the same week off,” Troy Sanders says. “When we did find the time, we were all very dedicated to making it happen. It’s been six years between records, but that doesn’t matter to us because we just knew we were all going to persevere and get another record out there. I credit a lot of that to the shows we played in Australia, because we all left there on such a high note that we knew we were going to continue. There was no question about it at all.”