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We're several months deep into pandemic lockdown when Revolver checks in with Greg Puciato. While much of the world seems to be on pause, the Black Queen frontman and former Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist is a whirlwind of activity.
He's just released his debut solo album, Child Soldier: Creator of God, launched the Federal Prisoner label with visual artist Jesse Draxler, and put the finishing touches on Reluctant Hero, the second album from Killer Be Killed — the all-star band he's in with Mastodon bassist-vocalist Troy Sanders, Converge drummer Ben Koller and living metal legend Max Cavalera.
"We had this plan to go out and play all these shows this fall," Puciato says of Killer Be Killed. "But the world was like, 'No, you're not.' So whenever it happens, it happens."
In the meantime, we discussed the making of Reluctant Hero.
YOU GUYS WROTE AND RECORDED THIS RECORD IN SECRET FOR YEARS. HOW DID YOU MANAGE THAT?
GREG PUCIATO Troy and Max and I don't have social media, so that made it a little easier. There was no real risk of any of us being like, "Hey, we're in Phoenix for album number two!" But we made a point early on to acknowledge that we had no idea how long it was going to take and there was zero point in getting people worked up in 2016 over something that might not happen for years. So we got everyone onboard with that pretty quickly, and I'm a Nazi about people filming shit. That stuff can and will get out, so the second someone has their phone out, I'll be like, "Yo! What are you doing?" But it wasn't that tough, because we made an agreement.
KEEPING THE WHOLE THING UNDER WRAPS SEEMS LIKE A GOOD WAY TO ALLEVIATE ANY OUTSIDE PRESSURE OR EXPECTATIONS.
I'm a huge fan of holding your cards and not showing them mostly for that reason. The second you tell people something is happening, you'll either let them down when it doesn't happen or you'll have to answer for it later when someone says, "You were talking about this last year — whatever happened to that?" And you can get steered internally by public perception, which is really dangerous. I don't wanna see anything where people are like, "I hope the album is like more this song and not like that song," because then you're being led by your audience. So the only way to stay pure is by not letting anyone know that you're doing it. And that way you don't end up answering questions about something that's taking longer than you thought it would.
YOU, TROY AND BEN SHARED AN AIRBNB WHEN YOU WERE WRITING OUT AT MAX'S PLACE IN PHOENIX. DID THAT HELP THE PROCESS?
That was the best part. It was important to make sure we were together. There was zero file sharing for this album, which is the exact opposite of how you might think people who live in different states would do it. I never received or sent music to any of those guys via email, ever. Everyone would just collect all the stuff they wanted to work on and then we'd get together and sift through it. So, me, Troy and Ben sharing a place — even when we recorded here in Southern California, where I live — we all lived together during that period so that we'd always be immersed in it. The only other time I did that was when Dillinger did Ire Works and we all lived in the same hotel room for two months and just ate, breathed and shit everything together. It made it feel like a tangible thing we had done together.
I IMAGINE THAT KIND OF COMMUNAL LIVING SITUATION IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT FOR A BAND LIKE KBK, SINCE ALL OF YOU GUYS ARE USUALLY OFF DOING YOUR OWN BANDS.
You cover a lot of ground a lot faster, in terms of getting caught up on personal and musical chemistry. You can accomplish more in a few days than you probably would in a month if you were just getting together for a few hours a day and then going back home. We're all professionals and we all know what each other sound like, so if we're sitting in the living room and Ben's got a practice pad and some sticks and I'm playing a riff through a practice amp and Troy's working on a lyric, we can tell pretty quickly if it's gonna work or not. So that's a really productive thing that wouldn't be happening if you were going back to your own room and doing your own thing every night. So it was imperative, I think, to spend all that time together.
BEN HAS BEEN IN THE BAND FOR A WHILE, BUT THIS IS HIS FIRST KBK RECORD. HOW DID THAT AFFECT THE OVERALL PROCESS AND ATMOSPHERE?
It was really exciting, because we're excited to have him in the band. I feel like Ben is exactly the guy you would want if you're playing in a metal band with Troy Sanders and Max Cavalera. We pretty much asked him to be in the band as soon as we finished those Australian shows — we were still in Australia, actually. That was 2015, so he's been ready to rip for a long time. I've played with a lot of killer drummers, and he's just a total workhorse, a stamina machine. We beat the life out of him, man. As far as pace and fills, we worked him harder than I've ever worked any drummer. By the end of it, he was a noodle. But when I listen to the drums on the record, he's ripping the whole time. It's super cool.
YOU WROTE MORE MATERIAL FOR RELUCTANT HERO THAN YOU DID FOR THE FIRST KBK RECORD. DID YOU APPROACH IT DIFFERENTLY MUSICALLY OR LYRICALLY?
I think I was just more interested in the guitar aspect of it. And the last one was six years ago, so I'm so much more confident as a writer in general. But I think everyone came in that way — not being so tentative about their own ideas. Whoever had the most fire for something, that's who we'd default to.
WHEN BANDS CAN TOUR AGAIN, WILL YOU BE PLAYING GUITAR LIVE IN KBK?
Yeah, that's what we did in Australia. But it's a huge pain in the ass. Anyone who tells you that playing guitar and singing at the same time is easy, it's not true. And I didn't grow up doing it, so I'm not great at it. I have to practice a lot to get to the point where I don't have to think about what I'm playing. It's not natural for me, so over time I lose it.
My comfort zone would be to have some other guitar player play my parts while I just sing, but I don't want to do that. I dig the idea of this band separating itself from the other stuff that I'm in. There might be one or two songs where I don't play, but the way I envision this band is all three of us playing. Last time we had Juan Montoya doing stuff live just to beef it up, but I have no idea if that'll happen this time.
ARE YOU GETTING A KICK OUT OF SHARING FRONTMAN DUTIES? TO ME, SOME OF THE KBK STUFF IS LIKE A HIP-HOP TRACK WITH MULTIPLE RAPPERS TRADING VERSES.
That's exactly how I think of it — like hip-hop albums with multiple people on them. If you're not rapping, you can be the hype man for the other guy. If it's not your turn to take a verse, you do a harmony or a backup scream while the other guy is doing his thing. That's the most fun part — unlocking the vocals to each song. All it takes is one person to have a really strong idea and the rest of it comes into place because you kind of ricochet off each other.
We were all in the room when we were doing vocals. It's not like certain guys would have days off. We were all in there at all times. At some points it kinda becomes a competition, where you're all fans of each other and pushing each other to come up with even better parts. It must be how people feel when they play all-star games. This album was easily the most fun I've ever had making a record, and mostly for that reason.
YOU'VE BEEN INVOLVED IN OTHER COLLABORATIVE BANDS — PLUS YOUR SOLO PROJECT — SO WHAT STANDS OUT TO YOU ABOUT WORKING WITH KBK AS OPPOSED TO DILLINGER OR THE BLACK QUEEN?
Stylistically, it's the only thing I've ever done that's a straight-ahead metal band. And that's cool, because you're not even thinking about putting other stuff into it. I'm not trying to shoehorn some other element in there. Or with Dillinger, where the bounds are pretty far, but where's the line? On my stuff, there are no bounds, and then in TBQ you can't get too metal or too rock. So I don't really have anything else like this. When I was a kid, metal was pretty much the only thing I listened to, so KBK allows me to go back to my earliest enthusiasms.
THE TERM THAT ALWAYS COMES UP WITH KBK IS "SUPERGROUP." HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
I feel the same way as I do about "mathcore" — I understand why people say it. I understand marketing. I understand why people need to categorize things. But I don't care. Call it whatever you want. It's shorter and easier than saying "a band featuring four guys from other bands you've probably heard of."