"It started as one thing, developed into something I never expected it to and now it’s a big part of my life that I really treasure" - Max Cavalera
'Reluctant Hero', the new album from Killer Be Killed, is out now via Nuclear Blast.
Five years in the making and fueled on the sheer passion that exists inside of Troy Sanders, Max Cavalera, Greg Puciato and Ben Koller, it's a record designed to be limitless. Decadent, emotional, experimental and, most importantly, heavy as sin, it's the sound of four friends going back to the very thing that made them fall in love with music in the first place.
We jumped on the phone with Troy and Max to find out how this record came to exist and what makes this band such an important part of their lives.
So, what are the things that you think make Killer Be Killed so special?
Max: “So the whole idea for the band came from Greg and me wanting to do a project that was like Nailbomb. Little by little it has evolved into a whole other thing altogether. What I get from the band now is that same excitement that I would get when I was 17 making music with Sepultura. It’s the unknown. You don’t know what the music is going to actually be like so you’re just doing your best to bring everything you can to it. Then there’s the energy. Even though we are all great players, there’s the element of friendship that plays a big part. So the results we then get are very organic and together. There’s always friendly competition between the four of us as well trying to impress the other guys. My main department is riffs so I personally get super excited when I get to play something that blows them away. It works the same way around with them playing to me. There’s just so much less pressure.”
Troy: “The whole premise of this band from when Greg and Max put it together was to have no pressure, drama, no ego, no stress and no bullshit. Good times only. That’s remained true for the two records and the short tour that we did in Australia. I also believe that for Greg and Max there’s a different kind of enjoyment from this band. In their respectively bands all of the weight would fall on their shoulders in terms of song writing, lyric writing and/or vocals. For them to be a part of this collaborative effort that writes all of the songs together and writes all of the lyrics together takes a lot of workload off their shoulders and allows them to enjoy it all a little bit more. If it was more of a chore and if there was any sort of difficulty involved, I wouldn’t want to leave my house to be a part of it. My music life is solid and it has been for quite some time so there has to be a level of enjoyment and appreciation for me to want come back home after and say, ‘That was awesome, what a great vibe’. We seek the thrill.”
For you to still feel the tingles from this band that you did at the highest points of your other projects is pretty amazing and not to be taken for granted…
Max: “Absolutely and I don’t take it for granted because I know how hard it is to create something that you can actually call magical. There are all these different things that I have done in my life, Nailbomb being a good example that feels cult and underground, that doesn’t feel like Killer Be Killed. Killer Be Killed feels like this big thing that we have and don’t get to experience really often within a musical career. I’ve been blessed to experience that and through the years managed to maintain that pure spirit of just loving the music so much. Putting it tape, listening back and going, ‘Fuck yeah, this is amazing’.”
When was the first moment when you realised you were on your way to making a second full-length album then?
Troy: “For me, and I feel I confidently answer for the rest of the band too, is when we did that one and only tour across Australia. It was five shows and the four of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves off the stage because it’s such a great county to visit. On the stage, we were blown away by how many people actually knew our band and knew our songs and knew the words. It was beyond overwhelming. Beyond who we as individuals, we didn’t have any expectations about being well received or our shows being packed. So you combine the opportunity to actually do a tour with the shared good times that we all had. When that last show was done, there was this unspoken bond where we were so high from those shows. In my mind it was never a questions of, ‘Will we keep this going?’ It was a matter of, ‘When are we going to be able to get together again?’ There was never a doubt that there would be another Killer Be Killed record, it was just a matter of when.”
Max: “That Australia tour was just so amazing. Playing live with Killer Be Killed is easily in the top ten experiences of my whole life. That first Melbourne show we did and the minute we hit the first note the whole place erupted. We then did the first jam sessions after those dates, which we called desert sessions because they took place at my place in Arizona, and they were very necessary for the creation of this new record. We just got better and better with each one. We got more ideas from each of us the more that we played together.”
Troy: “We just started to live by the calendar and anytime we would all have three days off together at the same time, we would meet up and work on music. We did that once in 2016, once in 2017, once in 2018 and in 2019 we had three weeks together so we went to Santa Ana, California and to Hybrid Studios with Josh Wilbur and recorded all the music for the record.”
Max: “The only thing that wasn’t done in person was I sent a CD full of my riffs to everybody by mail. I’m old school like that.”
Troy: “Then nine months later we had ten days off together and that was January 2020. We all wrote lyrics and then tracked all the vocals. It was done in these chunks but that was never an issue. That’s what we knew it was going to take to keep this band going.”
Max: “I think the coolest thing is that we managed to keep it all a secret from the world whilst we were making. Everybody just promotes absolutely everything that they are doing these days. We didn’t want anybody to think that we were making a record. We wanted people to even think that this band was over. So that when we would drop the music out of the blue it would feel like a genuine surprise. It was super hard for me to keep it to myself, but it was the number one rule. Don’t talk about Killer Be Killed.”
It feels as well like there are different elements on this record that weren’t as present on the first one and that’s a result of you all knowing each other better. What was it like putting together those more personal and emotional moments of this record?
Troy: “Musically, when we would get together for those five days and not see each other for those nine months or longer, we had plenty of time to let the music truly soak in. Immediately the four of us would know that what we did the last time had solid potential or not. If we weren’t totally in love with a part from eight months previous, we had to replace it. So having that much time worked out in our favour. Lyrically, when someone had the first idea for a song then that’s how we would move forwards. So the first track of the album ‘Deconstructing Self-Destruction’, I had an idea for the verse. I went in the booth, recorded it and they all thought it was a solid idea. Then we would get excited off each other’s energy and Greg would say, ‘I want to do the next part’. Then Max would come in and, ‘I’ve got an idea for this’ and take the third part. For the whole album it would just be us rotating constantly raising the bar and pushing each other. It almost felt effortless because of it.”
“So anytime anyone had the vocal idea, there was enough mutual respect between that if they were going to go dark, slow or sappy then we would let it grow. If you have a solid idea, let’s start there. Just the trust within each other’s ideas and then seeing if it would become something that had solid potential.”
Max: “It feels like I can be my most experimental with this band and do things that I couldn’t do with my other bands. Write more melodic riffs, push the boundaries and be more experimental. We wouldn’t really change anything as we went either though. It wasn’t one of those records where you keep going back and changing things so much that you almost lose the original idea. We kept it in tact and I think that’s super important. The hardest thing to do is to say, ‘Stop’ and walk away from it when it is done.”
You have four different lives and four different paths that you are all traveling down. That’s an awful lot of catching up to do and you want to know about the parts that you haven’t been around for. If that results in a part your lives being brought to the table, then it solidifies even more of that friendship you have…
Troy: “The conversation picks up right where it left off ten months prior, every single time. Personally we love to catch up on each other’s worlds. Musically it would be easy for all of that time away from each other to result in the music going stale or sour or lose the momentum. But the fact is that we all share that determination and patience is what makes this so incredible.”
It’s also amazing when you consider how many different systems are in play with your other bands, and those are systems that have been in place for decades. But then having this new one that provides the raw energy that made you want to create music in the first place isn’t something you’re going to take for granted…
Troy: “Exactly. It taps right into that same first band innocence that we all had. It’s that same vibe and energy that we all shared when we were 15/16 years old and it’s a perfect match of emotions.”
What does it feel like for you having a project such as Killer Be Killed in your life?
Max: “It just feels like there is something that connects the four of us when it comes to Killer Be Killed. It brings extreme happiness when we are all together. It’s just a really pure excitement that we have whenever we are together. It started as one thing, developed into something I never expected it to and now it’s a big part of my life that I really treasure.”
How do you feel as though all of these elements reflect in what ‘Reluctant Hero’ is as a body of work that you have created?
Troy: “What first started as opportunity when Greg asked me if I wanted to hear some songs that him and Max had been working on back in 2012 when Mastodon was touring with The Dillinger Escape Plan, which I feel is always a special moment when it comes your way, turned into what it feels like when you get together with your guy friends and go on a trip. That’s what KBK reminds me of. It’s never a hassle and never a chore. Then I’m able to have a pure platform to exercise my musical contributions with people even more. Then with ‘Reluctant Hero’, I’m deeply proud of it. It’s another small piece of me that’s going to live forever. I think it’s a fun, beautiful and heavy piece of music, and that’s how I’ll always view it.”
Max: “I joke around and say that this is our ‘Ride The Lightning’ and then hopefully the third one will be our ‘Master Of Puppets’.”