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The pandemonium at Ben Koller's house is palpable. Like all touring musicians, the Converge/Mutoid Man/All Pigs Must Die drummer is stuck at home during the pandemic. Due to Los Angeles school closings, he and his wife are now home-schooling two of their kids while caring for an infant. "I have an eight-month old, so he was born right before the pandemic," Koller explains. "And I have a six- and an eight-year-old. The six- and eight-year old are in Zoom school in the mornings, so we are now professional educators as well as IT people just out of sheer necessity, because you can't make a six-year-old look at an iPad for six hours straight and pay attention. It's impossible."
Despite the chaotic upheaval of his entire life, Koller is in high spirits. "Today I'm good because of this Killer Be Killed record," he says. That would be Reluctant Hero, the new album from KBK, the band Koller is in with Mastodon's Troy Sanders, Soulfly's Max Cavalera and the Black Queen/former Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato. Though it's the group's second record, it's Koller's first KBK album. He joined in 2015, after the band's debut had already been released. "It's very exciting," he enthuses. "I haven't had something like this to look forward to in like six months."
YOU'VE BEEN IN THE BAND FOR A WHILE, BUT THIS IS YOUR FIRST ALBUM WITH KBK. HOW DOES IT FEEL?
BEN KOLLER This record feels very natural because we all wrote it together. I was rehearsing with just Greg for a little while, and then Greg and Troy would get together, and then we'd all go out to Max's place. It was very collaborative. It felt so right from the very beginning, and I'm really, really happy with it. I wouldn't change a thing about it.
YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN WORKING ON RELUCTANT HERO FOR YEARS, BUT YOU'VE MANAGED TO KEEP IT A SECRET THE WHOLE TIME. HOW DID YOU SWING THAT?
It's been really hard. I'm surprised we pulled it off. A bunch of people on the inside obviously knew it was happening, but as far as the public, I can't believe we kept it under wraps for this long. We'd been consistently writing for the past three or four years, so it wasn't easy. I remember seeing a few interviews with Max where hints were dropped and thinking, Take it easy, bud! [Laughs] You can tell he wanted to let the cat out of the bag so bad, but he had to reign it in a little bit. But yeah, that was the master plan from the beginning: Keep it a secret and then one day all of a sudden be like, "Here's this new record."
MANY MUSICIANS WHO HAVE BEEN AROUND AS LONG AS MAX DON'T LISTEN TO NEW MUSIC. IT WOULD NEVER EVEN OCCUR TO THEM TO START A BAND WITH THE NEXT GENERATION OF PLAYERS LIKE YOU, GREG AND TROY.
Max is the most enthusiastic person ever. I can't believe how excited he still is about heavy music. Death metal, black metal, punk — he's into all these super underground bands and he's aware of everything that I do and Greg does and Troy does. It kinda makes me feel bad about myself as a music fan. It's like, "I don't get nearly as excited as you about music like this anymore." I'm so jaded from touring and seeing this stuff all the time, but he's such a fan still.
YOU'RE PLAYING IN AT LEAST FOUR BANDS AT THIS POINT. DO YOU FEEL AN ARTISTIC NECESSITY TO EXPLORE DIFFERENT AVENUES?
For sure. Different personalities and different musical personalities — that's a big part of it. The other big part of it is just needing output all the time. As a person with a low self-opinion a lot of the time, I always feel the need to do more — sometimes to a fault. So I don't really say no to things a lot, though I've had to a few times and I was totally gutted about it. But I like to try whatever.
When Two Minutes to Late Night came up a few years ago, I was like, "House band for a late-night metal show? Sign me up!" I've had some new projects come up during the pandemic that I've said yes to, but unfortunately I can't talk about them yet. New collaborations, new bands, new projects — I tend to say yes to everything. Another part of it is, I don't think I'm very good at anything else so I might as well milk this for all it's worth.
THE TERM THAT ALWAYS COMES UP WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT KBK IS "SUPERGROUP." HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
I think it's just something that people throw out there. If a band has people from other bands, they call it a supergroup. That even happened with Mutoid Man when it was just me and [Cave In's Steve] Brodsky — "supergroup." No, it's not — it's just me and my friend jamming in a five-foot-by-five-foot rehearsal space. It's not a supergroup. [Laughs] So I'd just like to think of us as a real band. Maybe with a few more releases under our belt, we can shed that moniker. I don't really care, though.