No compromise: How KNOCKED LOOSE got bigger than ever, but also darker and heavier | Revolver

No compromise: How KNOCKED LOOSE got bigger than ever, but also darker and heavier

"Hardcore isn't for EVERYONE, but it's for ANYONE"
Knocked Loose feature shot Live 2024, Ed Mason
photograph by Ed Mason

This story was originally published in Revolver's new Spring Issue, which you can order at our shop.

Knocked Loose are playing, and the room is going buck-wild. People are scrambling onstage and front-flipping off like bullfrogs at a pond's edge. Crowd-surfers are crawling atop the maw of screaming fans, all of them battling for a chance to grab the mic when frontman Bryan Garris leans down to pass it off. The mosh pit is pandemonium, a kinetic flurry of circle-pitters and arm-swingers. And as is custom at Knocked Loose shows, when Garris barks "arf-arf" before the ass-beating breakdown in "Counting Worms," the whole venue erupts like a dog kennel at dinner time.

That could describe any one of Knocked Loose's greatest, most intimate performances from over the last 10 years — and it does. Except in this case, the band weren't headlining a 1,500-capacity club or even rocking a marquee hardcore festival. All of that mayhem went down at Coachella, the California cool-kid retreat where Knocked Loose whipped up a frenzy while Billie Eilish watched from the side stage, and Frank Ocean headlined the 2023 festival later that night.

"Coachella was, as far as the vibe of the show, one of the most hardcore sets I've ever played," guitarist Isaac Hale tells Revolver without a whiff of hyperbole. "It had the stage dives; it had no difference between us and the crowd; it had the call and response; it had the moshing. It had everything."

Knocked Loose Bryan Garris portrait 2024, Brock Fetch
Bryan Garris
photograph by Brock Fetch

Knocked Loose weren't the first hardcore band to infiltrate the pastel-pink expo of pop and rap that is Coachella: Trash Talk, Code Orange and Turnstile have all preceded them as the festival's token pit-starters. But none of their sets rivaled the magnitude and intensity of Knocked Loose's crowd, which underscores just how far the Louisville, Kentucky, band have come over the last decade. In the 2010s they ascended from Midwest breakouts to genre rulers in five years' time. In the early 2020s, they scaled up to touring arenas with Bring Me the Horizon, Motionless in White and $uicideboy$, expanding their empire beyond hard-core's borders. Now, their fanbase boasts everyone from Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows to Disney pop star Demi Lovato, who, in 2023, said that she'd love to collaborate with Knocked Loose on a song. This spring, they'll be in the driver's seat, headlining their own sold-out shows in 3,500-cap rooms across the United States.

All of these feats would be bewildering for any hardcore band; over its 40-year history, the DIY-minded subculture has produced only a handful of bands who've attained Knocked Loose's degree of popularity: Hatebreed, Biohazard and Turnstile being the main three. However, the hype is especially remarkable considering how unrelentingly heavy Knocked Loose remain. The Louisville crew still don't have a single clean vocal in their repertoire, and they continue to churn out savage breakdown after savage breakdown. Many extreme bands lighten up with age, but Knocked Loose are only getting heavier. They want to be the biggest hardcore band in the world — to put "the intensity of a Knocked Loose show in front of as many new ears as possible," Hale says. But can they do it without compromising the furious sound that brought them this far?

"I want people to see the crowds that we're playing to," Hale says with a proud smirk, "and then hear our music and be like, 'How in the fuck are they doing this?

The band's new album, You Won't Go Before You're Supposed To, only makes that question more flummoxing. It contains mosh parts that are genuinely terrifying and guitar riffs that approach death-metal levels of face-mauling intensity. Even with a couple vocal features from big-name guests who reside outside of hardcore — Motionless in White's Chris Motionless and Poppy — there's not a single clean chorus to be heard throughout its ballistic 10-song tracklist. Historically, when hardcore scene leaders reach album number three, the itch to expand melodically becomes irresistible: See Hatebreed's sleek The Rise of Brutality, Earth Crisis' nu-metally Breed the Killers and even Turnstile's resplendently bubbly Glow On. The door was open for Knocked Loose to sand down some of their caustic edges in a bid to broaden their appeal — but they were very intentional about doing the exact opposite.

"I know that we didn't compromise at all," Hale says of the new record's creative direction. "And we could have. But we didn't."

Indeed, nothing about You Won't Go… makes Knocked Loose's sound any more palatable to the masses. If anything, the quintet — Garris, Hale, rhythm guitarist Nicko Calderon, bassist Kevin Otten and drummer Kevin Kaine — are only becoming more abrasive as they evolve, experimenting with stranger rhythms, screechier guitar dissonance and, for Garris' part, even more intensely blood-curdling screams. The band spent years working on this batch of songs, riddled with doubt and anxiety that they wouldn't be able to surpass their 2021 EP/mini-movie A Tear in the Fabric of Life, which shattered the high expectations set by their instant-classic sophomore album, 2019's A Different Shade of Blue.

"I feel like bands like us aren't supposed to make three albums," Garris muses during a separate chat. "How many breakdowns can you write?"

Whatever the limit is, Knocked Loose have been raising it since they formed the band as teenagers in 2013. A lot has changed since then. Only three of their members still live in Louisville (Garris is now in Los Angeles and Otten's in Colorado Springs) — the city whose DIY hardcore scene they grew out of and, at first, never expected to leave. They wrote their gnarly debut EP, 2014's Pop Culture, without thinking that anyone would ever hear it. Garris was a full-time college student at the time. And despite his passion for hardcore burning bright enough to ignite his family's interest — he and his brother Trey are in XweaponX (along with Hale), while his other brother Dallas played in Street Rat and guested on Knocked Loose's "The Rain" — Garris initially had no desire to make Knocked Loose more than a hobby. Hale, on the other hand, always had grander musical ambitions.

"I was the one that had always wanted to do it for a living. That's been my plan since I was a kid." says Hale, who also plays in the straight-edge band Inclination and produces for bands including Wristmeetrazor and SeeYouSpaceCowboy.

Knocked Loose Isaac Hale portrait 2024, Brock Fetch
Isaac Hale
photograph by Brock Fetch

Once Pop Culture picked up an unexpected buzz on the strength of its ferocious sound and Garris' confessional lyrics ("All my friends have problems with their selves/We don't talk about it, nothing helps," he shrieks during the runaway under-ground hit "All My Friends") it gave them an incentive to tour beyond the confines of Oldham County. Their momentum has been rapidly growing ever since, and Garris has put his college degree on indefinite hiatus. As Hale puts it, they've been going "straight, no brakes" since their 2016 album Laugh Tracks, which made them one of hardcore's fastest-rising acts and scored them crucial support tours with Every Time I Die and the Acacia Strain.

By 2019, they were a headlining force unto themselves, and A Different Shade of Blue was met with resounding praise. Five years onward, the album stands as a landmark of modern hardcore, a crucial entry point for a whole generation of hardcore fans who killed their first crowd in a Knocked Loose pit. COVID-19 could've snuffed their flame, like it did to many of their peer bands, but Knocked Loose buckled down and wrote A Tear in the Fabric of Life, which boasted their most relentlessly heavy music yet. It was also accompanied by their most ambitious project: a 20-minute animated short film that visualized all six of the skull-cracking songs.

The band felt it was their crowning achievement, but they weren't sure if their fans would get it. Ultimately, the EP and movie were a hit, and Knocked Loose emerged from lockdown more popular than ever. But the success came with a catch: They were so proud of A Tear in the Fabric of Life that they weren't sure where to go next.

"How do we top something that feels like we just completely knocked it out of the park?" Hale says of the stress they felt going into You Won't Go Before You're Supposed To.

That tension is baked into the whole affair. The album's loquacious title is, word-for-word, a comment that a total stranger told Garris when he was confiding in her about his ever-worsening flight anxiety before takeoff. The casual confidence of the airplane passenger's tone — the message being that he won't die until his fate has been fulfilled — struck a chord with Garris, who's wrestled with themes of religion, death and mental health throughout Knocked Loose's whole career. Taken together with songs like "Blinding Faith" — a haunting account of religious trauma in which Garris howls "I deny the church" — and the spooky album cover — depicting a woman standing before a giant glowing cross, evoking an A24 horror film like HereditaryYou Won't Go Before You're Supposed To is Knocked Loose's most conceptually coherent project to date.

Tying together all those threads took time. One thing that's remained constant since the band's house-show days is their step-by-step ethos. There's never been a grand plan for how they approach the full-time job they more or less fell into, but they credit their success to constantly outdoing themselves and never resting on their laurels. That's easier said than done.

"We don't think about long-term goals," Hale says. "We're always just like, OK, well we did that, how can we one-up that?"

Compared to previous albums, writing was an arduous process as the band struggled to meet their own standards. They ultimately penned 30 tracks that were potential candidates for You Won't Go…, which they slashed down to the record's final 10. "I definitely went into this process with a lot of anxiety," Garris says. "In a lot of ways, this was definitely the hardest record I've ever created."

Knocked Loose Promo 2024, Brock Fetch
photograph by Brock Fetch

Knocked Loose set their creative bar sky-high, but they don't have their heads in the clouds. They're acutely aware of how they're perceived by the hardcore scene they emerged from, and their mission with this record was to stay true to the culture and push their sound as far as it could go without sacrificing any of the no-holds-barred intensity that got them to this point in the first place. The quandary of adding clean-sung vocals to the mix, a contentious sonic tweak for breakdown-based bands of Knocked Loose's caliber, was a real internal discussion within the group.

"We're very aware of the, 'Oh, they introduced cleans for the first time,'" Hale says of the common 'core trope. He and his bandmates would literally pose the question to each other as if they were fans: "Do we want cleans in a Knocked Loose song yet [that are] sung by us? No, we wouldn't," they ultimately decided.

Hale continues, "Everyone in Knocked Loose fucking loves the band Knocked Loose. We approach it from a fan's perspective a lot of the time. It's like, What do we like about the band? What do we want to stay the same and what do we want to evolve?"

A change in producers felt right. The band recorded their first two albums and A Tear in the Fabric of Life with hardcore boardsmith Will Putney, of Fit for an Autopsy and Better Lovers fame. After using Drew Fulk's services for their pair of 2023 songs, the Upon Loss Singles, Knocked Loose hired the L.A. producer full-time for this job. Fulk has worked with everyone from Ice Nine Kills to Lil Wayne, and the band thought his all-encompassing ear would lend itself to the knottier, more eclectic vibe they wanted You Won't Go… to have.

Fulk's handiwork on the final product sounds a little shinier than past Knocked Loose albums, but it really only accentuates the record's whiplash-inducing soundscape. The band's most experimental song yet, "Suffocate," features an apoplectic verse from Poppy, the genre-hopping juggernaut whose own catalog flits between scabrous metal and sensuous pop. Having her inimitable vocals on the track gave Knocked Loose the leeway to flex their creative muscles, cutting up her vocals to jarring effect, and including what Hale calls a "reggaeton beat" during one of its off-kilter breakdowns. Chris Motionless, frontman of arena-ruling metalcore titans Motionless in White, makes an appearance on "Slaughterhouse 2," a cheekily titled sequel to the MIW track Garris guested on in 2022. (Garris is no stranger to wide-ranging collabs: from adding vocal fire on Dying Wish's raging "Enemies in Red" to his surprising onstage appearance at Lollapalooza 2023 with 30 Seconds to Mars to perform "The Kill").

Like the first "Slaughterhouse," it's an amazingly natural pairing that high-lights the two band's creative kinship. They're an odd couple both sonically and aesthetically — MIW being makeup-wearing metalcore goths with huge choruses, and Knocked Loose being, well, not that — but they've become close compatriots in recent years. MIW invited Knocked Loose to open for their 2023 tour, hoisting the budding stars into arenas on a nightly basis, where they were forced to unleash their knuckle-dragging hardcore in giant rooms where stage-dives and mic-grabs are a no-go. Learning how to contend in those spaces was an instructive experience for the band, especially Garris, who was mesmerized by the scope of MIW's stage show — a dizzying display of fire, dancers and other eye-popping visuals. It got the singer thinking: "What's Knocked Loose's version of that?"

"What can we do to expand what Knocked Loose is without changing what Knocked Loose is?" Garris ruminates. "Motionless in White had dancers. I don't think that it would make sense for Knocked Loose to have dancers, but I look at that and I'm like, what's next production-wise?"

These are decisions that few hardcore bands in the genre's history have ever had to make. Hatebreed and Biohazard are two comparable antecedents to Knocked Loose's trajectory, but neither of them are as musically malicious as the Kentucky boys. Where Hatebreed and Biohazard write anthemic songs that naturally translate into full-room shout-alongs, Knocked Loose unleash a relentlessly aggressive sound — punctuated by Garris' banshee screams — that is designed for the fist-swings and front-flips that small-room hardcore shows facilitate.

Accepting that they've literally outgrown the no-barricade spaces they made their bones playing was a "hard truth to swallow" for the band, Garris says.

"There's been so many days on tour where we show up to a room and there's a barricade," he recounts. "And me, our tour manager and Isaac are just arguing about this barricade, sometimes [getting] heated in the face of security."

More than anything, Knocked Loose want to ensure that the all-thrills energy of their live shows doesn't suffer as they continue to grow. In addition to gleaning advice on how to work a big room from their hardcore elders in Terror, they're looking beyond hardcore for inspiration. Seeing how an extreme-metal band like Meshuggah play devastating music in blockbuster venues has been a helpful guide.

Knocked Loose live 2024, Ed Mason
photograph by Ed Mason

"Meshuggah are a very big inspiration to us," Garris says. "You watch their show and there's so much going on that the members don't even have to move."

As Knocked Loose's upward mobility in the heavy-music industry has increased, so has — unsurprisingly — their fair share of haters. There's al-ways been a vocal cadre within hardcore who believe bands from that world shouldn't even be allowed to get as big as Knocked Loose, and if they do, then it means that they must've watered down their identity to get there. Knocked Loose are an easy target for that kind of cynicism — literally. The retail giant Target has an exclusive vinyl variant of You Won't Go Before You're Supposed To.

Their commercial success is undeniable at this point, but it's not coming at a creative cost — their sound is heavier than ever. It's a particular point of pride for Hale to hear people say, "They keep getting bigger but there's no selling out." He understands where the skeptics are coming from when they view hard-core bands playing Coachella as antithetical to the subculture's anti-establishment ethos. But he sees it differently. Knocked Loose didn't use hardcore as a stepladder to get where they are — they remain connected to the scene and view themselves as ambassadors of the mosh who are out to recruit the next generation who'll help keep this thing alive.

"I would say that hardcore isn't for everyone, but it's for anyone," Hale says, dropping wisdom like the Confucius of crowd-kills. "Even if it's someone that just listens to Playboi Carti or indie artists, I think everyone should be subjected to hardcore music, punk rock music, metal music — because I think it's the most exciting and passionate music in the world."

And they'll do so while staying true to their skull-crushing selves. If the normies don't like it, so be it. That's cool with Knocked Loose, too. "We can either scare them or get them into it," Hale says. "And we're fine with both."