The name Troy Sanders is ubiquitous in the world of heavy music. He is a founding member, bassist and vocalist for the mighty Mastodon. He serves as frontman for supergroup Gone is Gone, he has made cameos with the Metal Allegiance collective, and he’s currently half of the Thin Lizzy rhythm section alongside Judas Priest’s Scott Travis. In 2011, he became a founding member of Killer Be Killed which released its eponymous debut in 2014.
Fast forward six long years, and Killer Be Killed returns with its sophomore effort, Reluctant Hero November 20, 2020 via Nuclear Blast. Killer Be Killed is what most would call a supergroup, and while this is clearly obvious with the incredible musicians who have forged together to create this band, it is even more than that. They are close friends and have a beautiful energy that relays perfectly into their music. Max Cavalera from well known bands, Sepultura, Soulfly, Nailbomb, and Cavalera Conspiracy, to name a few, is one of the lead vocalists and guitar player. Greg Puciato from Dillinger Escape Plan and The Black Queen is another lead vocalist and guitarist. Ben Koller from Converge is the dynamic drummer, and Troy Sanders also handles vocals and bass.
It’s not everyday I get to interview a Grammy winning musician, yet that is where I found myself this morning. Troy Sanders reached out to speak about 2020, the upcoming Killer Be Killed album Reluctant Hero, and his philosophies on life. He was extremely polite, beyond chill, and just an overall good dude that created a very warm, inviting, and comfortable environment to make this interview a now personal favorite.
You are used to being incredibly busy with your three projects, how has it been coming to an abrupt halt this year?
“Personally, it has been great. Not that I felt super drained from traveling or anything like that, but when something forces you to stop, I think there can be some good stuff pulled from that. For me, once the touring plans for 2020 were put on indefinite hold, thankfully I was able to work on and finish a couple records that were a lot of work in front of me. I was able to dedicate my time to nothing but being creative and collaborative with band mates. So it’s worked out in my favor. 2020, amongst all the negatives of it, the best thing for me is giving me lots of time to finish two records and work on a third. So, I guess, having that opportunity for creativity and productivity, which go hand in hand with me this year. If your workload and your income is going to be put on hold, what’s the next best thing you can do? Clean out the shed, paint the walls, finish books, take up jogging, a hobby or a craft, plowing through your chores and to do list, what is going to be done? For me and my circle of friends it was just having the time to be creative and super collaborative.”
Yeah, it is definitely all what you make of it. So Reluctant Hero is coming out in less than a month now! You guys have been working on this for many years, how has it been finally hearing the end product?
“Hearing the end product, especially after five years of chipping away at it, it is extremely rewarding. It is like running a half marathon and you get to the finish line, there is a sense of pride, and of accomplishment. I think the biggest thing for me was in 2015 we did our one and only short tour which was in Australia, and they were amazing shows and we had a great time over there and we vowed to plow on and move forward from when we left Australia together. We knew it was going to take a long time because Killer Be Killed was taking a back seat to our main bands that already had loads and loads of touring. So we knew it was going to take time, but we just agreed to look forward at our collective calendars and literally when we would all have the same amount of time off, whether it be three days or more, we would pencil in Killer Be Killed and we would get together and work on music. So, I believe we had one writing session in 2016, one in 2017, and one in 2018. One each year, I believe, we had a couple of weeks in 2019, we went to Hybrid Studios in Santa Ana, California and recorded the music for Reluctant Hero and back in January of this year, we went back out to Santa Ana, we had I think nine days all together, and we wrote lyrics and recorded vocals. Thankfully, we were able to do that before March happened because that would have prolonged the album even further. One thing we vowed not to do was, to avoid at any cost, was to file share, remotely and separately. This band is based on raw energy and friendship so it is necessary for us to all be in the same room to achieve that. So we knew it would take a long time, but we got lucky that we got it wrapped up in early 2020. To answer your question, that persistence amongst my band mates is really rewarding to me because we were all on the same page. It might take a long time to do this, but we will get it accomplished. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.”
Did you ever think 20 years ago this is where you would be? Max Cavalera had already started his pace and had his name in the music world, did you ever think you would be working along side him?
“No, not at all. We have a song called ‘Dream Gone Bad”’ on our new record and the way it was put together was after one of our practice sessions Max played the riff, which became the verse, and he asked me what I thought of it. He said, ‘I don’t know if it is too simple for this band or what,’ and I had immediately fell in love with it because I immediately had a vocal pattern that I thought I could go over this potential verse. Then I had two loose riffs that I thought could be with that riff and maybe even complete a song. When I busted them out, he really dug it, and it became the song, ‘Dream Gone Bad’, which was Max’s idea. He said, ‘that sounds cool but it also sounds like a dream gone bad’, and we put that song together quickly and rather effortlessly. Later that night I was winding down and I was thinking to myself, if I had flashbacked 20 ago and thought, ‘In 20 years you are going to collaborate and write a song, that you love, with Max Cavalera, it would have blown my little brain *laughs*. It made me think the song ‘Dream Gone Bad’ in full circle is a dream come true. So I got a kick out of that. That is one of the many factors of how music and collaboration can be magical. It was one of those moments. I am proud of all the songs on the record, but I am proud of that one for that specific reason of how it came about after a practice one night. In the early days with Sepultura, I was very much into heavy music but they took it to a level that borderline frightened me. Then to flash forward years later and through touring and through friendships and side projects, he is one of my best buddies. He is a very warm and loving person who just wants to enjoy himself. I am really glad that all of us our friends, but Max has already carved out his own legend and legacy and to be a part of this with him is super great.”
You have already released two songs off the upcoming album, how has the response been?
“I am not on social media, so I don’t get that instant reflection of how people feel and what not, but in my small circle of friends and acquaintances, I have had a lot of people hit me up and say, ‘Hey I heard the songs’, and they are super digging it and it sounds bad ass. So from what I have heard in my own, has been nothing but positive. If I have any friends that don’t like it, they are cool enough to not tell me that they don’t like it. *laughs* I say this all the time, and anytime that I have been a part of a band, there is loads that is in your control, and there is a handful that are not in your control. Meaning that, once we finish an album, we all need to be very very proud of it and happy with it, and I am. Once it is released into the world, what if it gets horrific reviews, and it sells 47 copies, and you don’t get any airplay on even Sirius radio or Satellite XM? You know, if it were to bomb, that would be a bummer, because I want people to like it, and I hope that some people love it, but that is truly not in our power, or in our control. So, I love the record, it has been mixed and mastered for several months and I have listened to it, literally from top to bottom, dozens of times. I was heavily involved in creating all of this over the past five years. I am not burnt out on it, I am not sick of listening to it. I think it holds up to any heavy rock release that will happen this whole year. From what I understand, it has gained some positive reaction that I think a lot of people are excited about the record, I just know that Ben, Greg, Max, and myself are extremely proud of it and very very much ready for it to be burst into the world.”
I have listened to the album a few times and feel it is really diverse, yet it flows beautifully. Every song is just a touch different. I could be completely wrong here, but “Filthy Vagabond” first of all has a Motorhead feel to it from my perspective, but also the lyrics almost seem like it is a homage to Lemmy.
*laughs* “That’s awesome. When that song was put together, we were calling it the Motorhead/High on Fire song. Of all the tours we have done with High on Fire, they would be first to say, Motorhead is one of their all-time favorites. So that was the rough working title for ‘Filthy Vagabond’. Then when it came together, we were talking about how the four of us and our chemistry is unique and how we found each other through touring, and that is how we befriended one another in the band. We had the idea of, everybody take a verse and this song it about being a lifer and being a road dog. So we each took a verse and talked about the touring lifestyle. So, it wasn’t specifically a homage to Lemmy, but unconsciously, I would say, absolutely. He was the epitome of a lifer.”
That’s awesome. So moving down the line, “Reluctant Hero” is so emotional and clearly personal. It is raw and real and not sugarcoated. It is very real to how it feels to lose someone and I know you unfortunately have experienced loss in a really tough way. Is this one you have a difficult time getting through? Or is it more of a part of your healing?
“Yeah, great question. I was really pushing for that song to happen, to be on the record. It was the last song we put together while we were recording the record. We had these loose parts that were all dark, slow, and sappy, but I knew it could be put together with loads of sincerity. I already had this idea of these lyrics I wanted to pen to it. I wanted to write a song for two of my dear friends. I didn’t really view it as being negative or sad, I wanted to make something pretty to these guys. That was the intent. My band mates would have been the first to say, ‘Man that’s cheesy’, or ‘That’s too soft and sappy’, but once we put those three parts together, and had a vocal idea over the top of it, I said, ‘I love it, are you guys on board for moving forward?’ They were all super into it. Then as soon as I said, ‘I want to call the song Reluctant Hero’, they all said, ‘That’s amazing. We should call the album Reluctant Hero’. I was very very humbled that they were willing to be on board with me pushing for this title track to truly come to fruition and to become something that put an end statement to our record. It brings me happiness. I don’t know if that is me being odd or macabre, I don’t think it is, I think it is just a sincere letter to my friends and for them. Giving thanks, because it is a giant reason of why I am here doing what I do is because your guidance and your appreciation and your love.”
I think we all experience death a little bit different. To have the ability to put out into the world something that means so much to you, must be a huge honor.
“Thank you. I agree. It also can be very vulnerable when you are in a position like that and your art is going to be displayed for many years to listen to. Vocals and lyrics can be a very special expression. If it feels good to me, I go for it, without worrying too much about how others many think of it.”
And that’s the way it should be. What is the point of doing music if you are not enjoying what you are doing?
The beginning lyrics of this album, “I close off the madness, blackout the unseen” from “Deconstructing Self-Destruction,” I absolutely love. It fits 2020 so well. It is what the world needs right now. The world needs this album right now.
“I do too. I thought about that as the spring was happening and I knew that this record would see the light of day relatively soon. This album was tracked before March, it sounds like it could be a direct reflection of the year, but it was a coincidence.”
I think the whole album represents life struggles in general and could really help many people out.
“I hope so. I like to sometimes bring humor into the music, because I think everyone can use it. I know I certainly can, at any given time. An uplifting song or a funny joke.”
One of my favorite lyrics on the album is, “Behold, behold, beware of men that are too proud”.
“That was a Max lyric, I believe. The three of us were so anxious to write lyrics together. We had such an enjoyable experience doing that on our first and only record back in 2014, so once we got down to working on lyrics and jumping into vocals, we were like little kids in there, ‘I want that part! Let me try this, you do that, you do this!’ It was super reminiscent of the energy we shared in our very first band we were ever in, you know, everyone is excited, you really want to be a part of it, and make it as good as you can and you want to match the energy and excitement of the other guy. Just good stuff.”
Yeah and with you guys having completely different styles of vocals it is amazing how you were able to make it work and flow so well. I never in my life thought three completely different vocalists would be able to sound so well together.
“We didn’t either! On the first record, we had never rehearsed or made anything lyrically or vocally until we were in the studio. So the idea was that all three of us would do vocals for each and every song, but that formula on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to a natural sonic recordings of three different voices. These three voices work and fit for their own specific entities of bands, but doesn’t mean it is going to work and be super cohesive together. Thankfully listening back to the first record, we were like, ‘oh wow, it does work together. Ok good.’ That would have been immediate career suicide had it not worked. With this record, we decided to follow the same pattern and all contribute to each and every song.”
*laughs* Right! Are you guys planning on doing online live shows this year for this release?
“We are not planning on it, only because three of the four of us are currently in the recording studio and are actively recording records with other bands. So the idea to make everyone stop what they are doing for a solid ten days and work on rehearsing a set together and putting the time and energy into just one live stream, doesn’t really seem to excite us as much as continuing what we are doing with our other bands at this moment. We hope to do a proper show when the time is right, whether that be this summer or fall or whatever. We would rather wait and do some live shows. It is more where our passion lies.”
The music industry has taken a huge hit this year. You guys are used to making money on tour through tickets and merch sales. What is the best way people can help with cushioning this financially for you all since you have been hit so hard?
“That is a great question. Touring and merchandise are the biggest facets of our livelihood or our income. If the bands you enjoy are doing live streams, that helps them generate some type of band income, so that is important. If you are willing and able to afford any of the merchandise, that is always helpful as well. Those are the first two things that come to my mind. For the past 20 years that is what we counted on to contribute to our livelihood.”
This year has been really tough on kids, they don’t fully understand all of this. I know you have two children, what are you hoping they learn from this experience?
“I hope that the end result does bring some type of, not only relief of returning to some type of normalcy, but the idea that this is not an individual battle, we are all in this together. Which is pretty rare. Hopefully kids and younger people will be able to realize that it takes a household, a community, a country, a global participation to overcome this. It is a great question that I have yet to really think about. I hope it brings some type of knowledge that it takes a collective and you are part of the solution, or you can be part of the solution. Your tiny part of the solution is extremely important. We are all in this together. Hopefully globally we can have this attitude at some point.”
Yeah it is like the ripple in the pond analogy. One pebble can create many ripples and changes.
We want to thank Troy Sanders and Nuclear Blast for checking in on Killer Be Killed’s new album Reluctant Hero. For fans wondering about Troy’s day job, you can look forward to new Mastodon album news later this week!
Pre-order Reluctant Hero, buy all the merch! This album is incredible and will be a frequent spin for many. We need to keep the music going! The music industry has been hit hard, it is up to us to save them, like they have saved us so many times.