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Killer Be Killed: the ways of collaboration


“I don’t understand why people in hip-hop and people in jazz they make records together, they collaborate often and in metal, everyone seems to be very concerned with hanging on to the success they already had and not really stepping outside the comfort zone.” This assessment pretty much sums up the reason Killer Be Killed was created. The project gathers together three big voices of metal: Max Cavalera (Soulfly), who’s used to all kinds of collaborations by now, Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan), and Troy Sanders (Mastodon), accompanied by Dave Ellitch (ex-Mars Volta), a high class drummer. Every collaboration carries the risk of failure, especially when egos are involved, but this kind of experience is always rewarding and can even turn out to be very gratifying. The first Killer Be Killed album is a first step on a whole new path, where the singers had to learn to know one another as people before anything else.

Although he’s very impulsive and intuitive, Greg Puciato is also a highly intelligent man, as the (very) long and fascinating interview he gave us last year, when The Dillinger Escape Plan released their latest album, already proved. It is therefore with great pleasure that we talked to him about this new band and his desire for collaborations.

Radio Metal: Apparently when the idea for this collaboration emerged between you and Max Cavalera you weren’t sure if you guys were just kidding about this idea or being serious. Same thing with Troy. At what point did you guys think that this was serious and that this thing could actually work?

Greg Puciato (vocals/guitar): We didn’t know without getting in a room together. The first test was going out to Phoenix, which is where Max lives, and hanging out there for a few days and see what happen. So, after we discussed that it was something we were interested in pursuing, I drove out there and we sat in a room from morning to night for like 3 or 4 days just writing and talking and trying to find common ground and intersections in our musical affinities. And when we left after these 3 or 4 days, we had so many ideas that we had recorded, so many riffs and so many parts, so we knew, after that, that we were going to do something. It was just a matter of whether or not we were gonna involve other people and getting Troy and Dave in it all really happened very naturally.

What’s funny is that apparently, during the tour Dillinger Escape Plan did with Mastodon you told Troy about the project. And then some times later Troy went to meet Max telling him « Hey, I’m Troy. And I think we’re in a band together. » Is this story true ? How did Max react?

Yeah, Troy came up to me, we were on tour, saying “hey man, are you still doing that thing with Max?” and I said yes, and he said “well, who’s playing bass?” and I was like “I don’t know” and he was like “well, I’m playing bass in your band and I want to sing too, so… I just want to let you know”. He pretty much put himself in the band. He’s a very matter-of-fact person, so he was like, “if you don’t mind, I’m gonna play a festival with Max next month, so I’m gonna tell him, hey we’re in a band together”, so he was like “just let me know when and where to show up and I’ll be there with the bass.” So yeah, I guess he went up to Max at some festival in South America where Mastodon and Cavalera Conspiracy were playing and pretty much told him “hey, I’m the guy, let me know where to be”. I mean, we were excited. I have known Troy personally for a very long time, I’ve known him since maybe 2001, 2002 when we were both on Relapse Records and he’s not just an awesome person but he’s got a really really cool playing style and I think, when his voice came into the picture it really increased our dynamic range a lot.

« Ego is very damaging creatively because it makes you be defensive, you’re not open anymore to outside ideas, you’re not open to criticism, you’re trying to protect, and you’re in a defensive mode all the time. »

Killer Be Killed is not just a project meant to feature a vocal trio since you all also provide the instrumentation. Was it important to make this collaboration between you three a band on its own?

Yeah, I don’t think we tried to go and take a little bit of Mastodon and a little bit of Max and a little bit of Soulfly and a little bit of Dillinger and try to throw them all together, that wasn’t the idea. We wanted to spend a lot of time together and to be in a room together. Just because you have guys that have already accomplished something in other bands, you have to get the ego out of the way and realize “hey, we’re still a new band”. It doesn’t matter whether or not we’ve done something outside of this, us together is still new. So you need to spend a lot of time together to allow things to start to develop and not just as musicians playing in a room but as people and the more you talk to and relate to one another, the better the music’s gonna be.

Do you think you guys are going to be touring with Killer Be Killed?

We would like to do some shows, we just don’t know. It’s obviously all about schedule; we have to find time in all our schedules and everything. It makes sense that we all have to have our time off at the same time.

How did you organize yourselves on the composition process, how was it decided who would sing which parts?

That was the part that we thought was going to be the hardest and actually it turned out not to be that hard. We finished all the songs musically and we left room for the vocals, we knew where the vocals were gonna go and then we sat down and kind of went song by song and if someone had a really strong idea for a part, we used that as a jumping point. So if Troy was like “hey here’s my idea, I’ve already got a great idea for the verse of this song” so we were like “okay, cool, so let’s hear it”, so he would be humming or something like that and we were like “oh that’s awesome, so if you’re gonna do that, how about the next part I can do this” and then obviously the next part would be Max’s. You know, honestly, everything kind of penciled itself in really quickly. There wasn’t any friction in that process, we all pretty much agreed on who was gonna sing where really easily. It was very apparent whose voice was gonna sound the best over what part.

Was having the three singers sharing each song important?

I think that 3 singers thing is pretty unique, I don’t know if that’s ever been done, having 3 singers on every single song, we definitely made that our focus: every song has to have all 3 of us on it. It would have been very easy to be like “ok, here’s the song that Max is gonna sing, here’s the song that Troy is gonna sing”, I think it’s much more interesting and exciting to have all 3 people on every song. I think the fact that we have 3 different voices on every song is something that is very defining for us stylistically; I don’t think there is any other band out there that has that.

« Max and I thought that we were gonna make the record kind of brutal from front to back and then Troy came on board. »

When you put several strong personalities and leaders in one band, it’s usually pretty complicated from an ego point of view. Do you think you have managed to avoid that?

Yeah I think so, totally. I think we went into this and that was one of the things that we wanted to establish right away in order for this to really not just be… You know, ego is very damaging creatively because it makes you be defensive, you’re not open anymore to outside ideas, you’re not open to criticism, you’re trying to protect, and you’re in a defensive mode all the time. So we knew, in order for this to work, that we had to go in and treat this as if we were 15 year old kids who had never accomplished anything musically. So when we went into the room, we never had a hard time doing each other criticism and accepting criticism. There was as little ego as there could have been, given the potential for there would be a lot. We’re all very self-aware and respectful people to one another creatively, so there was no time when anyone was operating on ego. I think we were just trying to look out for what was best for the song.

The songs are pretty straightforward and catchy. Was it a conscious effort to sound that way?

We didn’t really know that was gonna happen, that was a big surprise to us too because when we first started writing, Max and I thought that we were gonna make the record kind of brutal from front to back and then Troy came on board. Mastodon have come such a long way from where they started, Troy has developed a really good sense of songwriting and he kind of made more sense of Max and I’s parts. The very first time he came with a vocal idea, he was like “hey I’ve got this idea for a part” and it was a singing part and it wasn’t screaming and that kind of changed everything. That allowed us to go down a much wider dynamic range and if you make a record that’s brutal right out of the gate; then you pin yourself to a corner too. So now, if we wanted to, we could make a record that was all screaming, or we could make a record that was all singing, we could make a doom EP if we wanted to, there are so many different alleys we can go down, now. If there weren’t any melodies on the first release, then we would have been pinned into a corner.

Do you think that the collaborative spirit that led to Killer Be Killed and which we often see in other types of music is something we should see more often in the metal genre?

I would love too. That was the point when we first started this; I was being frustrated with the lack of collaboration. I don’t understand why people in hip-hop and people in jazz they make records together, they collaborate often and in metal, everyone seems to be very concerned with hanging on to the success they already had and not really stepping outside the comfort zone. I think when people develop any type of success, they become more afraid of losing their image or losing whatever it is they’ve built upon and when you collaborate you risk a lot. By doing that, you risk your image being tainted or something, I think it’s all very silly but in metal there’s so much image involved and so much aggressive posturing, that I think there’s a certain level of sensitivity and egolessness that you need to have, and you need to be willing to let something not work and if it doesn’t’ work, it was still worthwhile because you grow from collaborating, just by taking yourself out of your comfort zone. So there is a risk in that and I think a lot of people, maybe, in the metal world have such an aggressive stance that maybe they’re afraid to take a risk.

« I think there’s a certain level of sensitivity and egolessness that you need to have, and you need to be willing to let something not work and if it doesn’t’ work, it was still worthwhile. »

What is the thing that has united you musically on this project? Is it some sort of common sense of anger and energy?

There’s a lot of different things, a lot of common ground, not just musically. Obviously, musically we all come from a similar background, we grew up in a time when thrash, hardcore, punk rock… We grew up listening to a lot of the same bands. When Max and I first started talking about this, we were talking about bands like Bad Brains and Discharge and Black Flag and thrash bands and when Troy came into the picture we started talking about things like The Melvins, doom bands and crust punk like His Hero Is Gone. Musically we all had the same roots, so it became more about getting to know one another on a personal level. So when we were all writing lyrics we would have themes that would resonate with everybody, since we all wrote our own lyrics for every song. There’s three different people singing and writing lyrics for every song, so we needed to find a lot of common ground and themes that we could all relate to in our lives. So we spent a lot of time just talking about life and things that we’re dealing with, things that we’ve been through and that way we can reach a common thread when we were writing lyrics.

Can you tell us more about your project called The Black Queen with Josh Eustis? When it this going to come out and how does this sound like?

We’ve been working on it every day for a couple of years now and we’re really close to being done. I would say probably, either the very end of 2014 or the very beginning of 2015. And it’s not metal or rock at all, so I think people are gonna be very surprised.

Has Killer Be Killed actually woken up your thirst for more collaboration?

I love it yeah! I feel addicted to it now! You gain so much from it creatively and you grow so much artistically by taking yourself out of your comfort zone, that I wanna do as much as I can now! Obviously I have The Black Queen so there’s another one, but I have to finish that record, it’s kind of the front runner right now so I have to finish that and then who knows. It’ll be probably time for another Dillinger record by that point, Ben and I are still very excited by our collaboration in Dillinger, we’re still very stimulated by one another. So whenever it’s time to write another Dillinger record we’re always excited, like it hasn’t become a job for us, we’re genuinely still very excited. So, you know, get this record out, get the Black Queen record out, do another Dillinger Escape Plan record and then see… I just want to do whatever I want, basically (chuckles)!

Interview conducted by phone on March, 18th 2014 by Metal’O Phil
Transcription : Judith
Questions & introduction : Spaceman
Photos by: Glen La Ferman.

Killer Be Killed official website : killerbekilled.com

Album Killer Be Killed, out since May, 12th 2014 via Nuclear Blast.



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