The Cover Story

Knocked Loose: “Sacrificing heaviness was never an option… As this band grows, it only gets more uncomfortable and extreme”

Modern hardcore’s most uncompromising heavyweights, Knocked Loose have been swinging at extreme music’s glass ceiling for over a decade now. But having boiled four years of suffering, uncertainty and self-discovery into awesome third album You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To, the Kentucky crew are armed to brutally break through…

Knocked Loose: “Sacrificing heaviness was never an option… As this band grows, it only gets more uncomfortable and extreme”
Sam Law
Nat Wood

Bryan Garris knew it was going to be one hell of a flight. Climbing the steps onto a rickety old airliner and staring out the box window at a swirling storm, a feeling of dread about crossing North America had lumped in his stomach. Ashtrays plugged into seat-backs, haunted by the scent of decades-old cigarettes did little to assuage concerns about the airworthiness of his ride. Neither did the realisation that his own seat was broken, contorting him into a permanently reclined angle. Then a flight attendant demanded all headphones be removed until cruising altitude, snatching away the guided meditations that soothed his growing aviophobia.

“It felt like someone was messing with me,” the Knocked Loose frontman remembers with a wry smile. “I’d never really flown before Knocked Loose. But when the band started it just became a part of my life. Before COVID, we actually did a tour of Southeast Asia where we flew every single day. And I was fine. This fear kinda coincided with quarantine. On our first flight back after lockdown – to Psycho Las Vegas in 2021 – I had a really hard time. And it just got worse and worse from there.”

Bombing down the runway at close to 150mph, a voice reached out over the fixings’ rattle and engines’ roar. Knuckles white around his worn armrests, Bryan hadn’t given much notice to the older lady who’d taken the next seat along, but she’d picked up on him. Intuiting his stress and understanding the need to talk, she struck up a conversation that would stick with him forever.

“She just asked where I was going. I told her that I was headed home to Louisville. And it started a conversation that distracted and calmed me over the course of the entire flight. I didn’t even realise that she had managed to do that until we were back on solid ground. But there was one moment in that exchange that she dropped so nonchalantly, which hit me so hard. She said that she didn’t fly often. I told her that I had to fly all the time, but I hated it. She asked if I was afraid. I said I was. Then she just looked at me and shrugged, ‘You won’t go before you’re supposed to…’”

Death has always been at the heart of Knocked Loose’s thinking. The elemental carnage and inevitability of it. The psychological struggle to deal with loss and grief left in its aftermath. The existential questions swinging from the end of the scythe: What comes after? Is there any point to all of this if we’re all destined for the cold, dark void? 2016 debut Laugh Tracks found them grinning into oblivion. 2019’s A Different Shade Of Blue felt like a chronicle of marinating in the misery. But that casual remark from a passing stranger – a reminder of the futility of worry and the miles we must travel before we sleep – helped crystallise more mature thinking. Tellingly, her words would become the title of a stunning third album, emblematic of a bold new era.

“It’s an incredibly dark record, lyrically,” expands guitarist and chief composer Isaac Hale. “But giving it that title – You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To – feels like a cool, hopeful juxtaposition. It’s representative of the music we’ve always made. Everything that we’re saying or playing is so dark, scary, sometimes downright terrifying, but in the end it is a positive outlet.”

Positivity was in short supply for much of the record’s creative process. COVID feels almost like a bad dream in 2024, but it was an asphyxiating reality for much of the last four years. On a visceral level, it bore down in daily fatalities reported in their thousands. On a more personal one, it produced dizzying uncertainty, robbing away purpose and teasing an alternate existence.

“It feels like such a broken-record thing nowadays,” Isaac continues, “but you had so many doomsayers, so many headlines claiming that music wouldn’t be able to come back for 10 years. I’m a pretty anxious person so I convinced myself that it was all over. I’m also maybe the only one in this band who dreamt of doing this since I was a little kid, and those dark feelings still linger.”

“One of the weird outcomes,” Bryan picks up, “having toured full-time since 2014 to 2019, being on the road as much as I can, pushing my body to the limits, was the feeling in 2020 of just getting back to a ‘normal’ life. Seeing my brothers every day. Seeing my parents all the time. Doing those ‘normal’ things with my girlfriend. It was a taste of what my life would be like if I wasn’t a touring musician. Everybody, including myself, was so excited to get back on the road, but now I see how it’s back to going weeks without seeing my brothers, months without sleeping in my own bed.”

“Becoming a young adult is the first time you’re introduced to the idea of loss and grief”

Hear Bryan on confronting his thoughts around mortality

You Won’t Go…’s processing of those feelings – to which we’ll come – is dense and layered, but when the album artwork dropped on February 27, fans wondered whether they’d converted to Christianity. A striking photo of a young woman standing in the light of a glowing cross – taken in Maryland by Briscoe Park, in collaboration with longtime collaborator Ridge Rhine, and inspired by one of Briscoe’s works posted to Instagram in December 2021 – it is by far the band's most confronting visual to date. Rather than an explicit comment on religion, though, it’s better viewed as a symbol of a growing self-confidence in their ability to grapple with Big Themes.

“We’re spiritual guys,” smiles Isaac, tugging at the gold cross that hangs from his neck for the duration of our interview. “We’ve touched on that in previous records. Where does someone go when they die? Is this person still watching me? Should I put faith in this or that? It’s an internal struggle in a lot of people’s heads that we – particularly Bryan – tackle on this record more than ever before. But there’s a self-aware sense of mocking, too. We put out the album art and people were like, ‘Are Knocked Loose going Christian?!’ Then we put out a song like [ferocious lead single] Blinding Faith. As a kid into heavy music, you’re supposed to feel like, ‘Fuck God and the church!’ I still feel that way. But there’s a lot of things about faith that feel necessary, and which we connect to.”

“Of course, religion is something I’ve always struggled with, questioned, had my doubts about,” Bryan emphasises subjectively. “I’ve talked about it a lot over the history of the band. But this cross can symbolise anything that constantly towers over you and pulls you back in. It can mean death. It can mean depression. It can mean addiction. Whatever your big glowing cross might be.”

Oldham County, Kentucky – a peaceful patch on the far outskirts of Louisville’s metropolitan sprawl – is still very much home base for Knocked Loose. Last time they were on a K! cover, we explored its countryside together, took in local landmarks like the The Kentucky State Reformatory and The Southeast Christian Church, watched freight trains roll down the Main Street of local hub LaGrange. Bryan and long-term girlfriend Taylar just bought a house in the area. “I love that I was born and raised here,” the vocalist shrugs, “and this is where I’ll die.” But the couple’s flit to Los Angeles (a consequence of “real-life cabin fever” as lockdown really set in) would come to impact the album more tangibly – and symbolise how YWGBYST would be a product of far wider horizons.

“Once we’d moved out there,” Bryan goes on, “we kept finding reasons for the band to come visit.”

Indeed, their lockdown livestream emanated from The City Of Angels. The first writing session for the album happened at Joshua Tree, 100 miles east of the city in summer 2021, before previous EP A Tear In The Fabric Of Life was even out. “It was straight-up 115 degrees during the day, so we’d just stay inside and write,” Isaac paints the scene. “Then at night we’d just get in a hot tub and look at the stars.” And although their second intensive session happened in northern Michigan amongst the Great Lakes almost a year later, the third and final was right back in gritty bustle of La La Land between their landmark sets on the twin weekends of Coachella in April 2023.

“The Coachella show blew any show that we played that year out of the water,” grins Isaac, already used to suggestions that playing at events like that and Bonnaroo signalled that Knocked Loose might be getting too Hollywood. “No barricade. Stagedives. Sing-alongs. And it was filled with people that hardcore kids and metalheads would make fun of. We know what crowds will be like. We know how to play to a crowd that don’t like us or don’t listen to this style of music. We pride ourselves in having done that forever. The pop-punk gigs. The rap gigs. We make it a point for people to know that we believe that we deserve to be there. People react to that.”

From touring with NOLA hip-hop duo $uicideboy$ to Bryan’s cameo with Thirty Seconds To Mars, belting out The Kill at Lollapalooza 2023 – less a collaboration than a cool opportunity to sing a song that he had on his iPod in seventh grade – the pull of mainstream-adjacent alt. has been strong as of late. But they stress that there was never any temptation to compromise creatively.

“It’s funny,” Bryan half-laughs. “There have been moments in our careers where people have looked at what we’re doing and said, ‘Oh, the next record is going to have clean singing.’ Signing to Pure Noise Records. Touring with A Day To Remember. Playing Coachella and Bonnaroo. But it’s not coming. First of all, it’s not something that I can do. Secondly, it’s not the music we like to make.”

“Sacrificing the heaviness was never an option,” chimes Isaac. “We’ve never even had that conversation. If anything, as this band grows, it only gets more uncomfortable and extreme. Because that’s where we want to take it. We want to give listeners some of the craziest stuff they’ve ever heard. Sure, we might add hooks or choruses. But that’s just giving people something to latch on to. It’s our version – the insanely heavy, scary version – of what a rock song might be.”

“Everybody nowadays just wants to go as crazy as they can,” agrees Bryan. “We’re a band that you can go crazy to. But it’s not about just playing a crazy show to make people mosh anymore. Now we’re opening for Bring Me The Horizon in arenas. It’s about how we scare 10,000 people at once.”

“Let’s see how we can be the most extreme band to do these mainstream things”

Bryan explains why they’ll continue to be the heaviest band at Coachella

Summoning those bigger, badder sounds was always going to take something special. So when it came to recording in the latter half of last year, Knocked Loose headed for another LA institution: Dave Grohl’s legendary Studio 606 in Van Nuys. Rather than tapping into heavy music’s past, though, fresh perspective was needed to really unlock the heart of the band. Longtime producer Will Putney had been key to their story thus far, but having collaborated with Disturbed/Papa Roach veteran Drew Fulk on last year’s Upon Loss singles, it was clear he should oversee the next chapter.

“You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To is a Drew Fulk-produced record,” explains Isaac. “But it’s also kind of a Knocked Loose-produced record. There was a lot of hands-on stuff with Putney. A lot of changes. A lot of him being in the room like a member of the band. I still think Will has the best mixes in heavy music but, creatively, there’s a lot more purely Knocked Loose on this record. It was about us having gotten to the point where we want to push the boundaries: to get that bigger mix; to find a sound that was a bit larger than life; to have each song feel like an event. It was about asking questions like, ‘What if the guitar didn’t sound like a guitar here? What if it just sounded like Hell?!’”

You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To is exactly the blockbuster Knocked Loose set out to make. Condensing all of the anxiety and ambition, tumult and transformation of the last four years into 10 tracks and 27 minutes of savage, staggering sound, it simultaneously builds on and blows away everything they have done before. From the eerie intro and brutal blindsiding of 107-second opener Thirst, to the sprawling post-metal barrage of astonishing final track Sit & Mourn, it isn’t just the best hardcore album of the year, but a record ready to take extreme music back to the masses.

“A Tear In The Fabric Of Life was, in our minds, both the most artistic and the most extreme thing that we’d ever done,” Bryan explains of their emboldened creative approach. “We had convinced ourselves that it was going to be pretty niche, that it would fly over people’s heads. But listeners really responded to it. That was when a lightbulb went off in our heads. We started thinking, ‘Oh, we can pull off being dark and extreme and artsy? Well, okay, that’s what we’re gonna do!’”

Collaborations, for instance, are no longer just about jamming with mates, but real opportunities to expand the Knocked Loose sound. Avant-garde icon Poppy is welcomed aboard for early highlight Suffocate: a song smashed out in two hours, where you can feel the relish as they experiment with a sassier, dancier, more off-the-wall attitude without sacrificing an ounce of heaviness. Its slowed-down reggaeton beat two minutes in feels emblematic of this new Knocked Loose. Slaughterhouse 2, meanwhile, is an infernally OTT ‘sequel’ to the Motionless In White original, on which Bryan featured, from 2022’s Scoring The End Of The World with Chris Motionless returning the favour.

“The idea to have Chris do that song with us started kind of as a joke, like a ‘What if?’ moment,” grins Bryan. “But then Drew just FaceTimed him. He was so excited by the idea. It took a few months to get his part back, but I’ll never forget listening to it in my car. I’m normally a pretty chilled-out, monotone guy, but I was gripping the steering wheel, just like, ‘Yes! He killed it!’”

“If you’re listening with a smile on your face and laughing, that’s how we feel while writing it”

Listen to Isaac on how people can get the full Knocked Loose experience

Elsewhere, titanic second single Don’t Reach For Me might be their first attempt to write within a ‘conventional’ verse-chorus-verse-chorus-breakdown structure, but it’s absolutely staggering in its severity. Moss Covers All and Take Me Home echo an unsettling sonic motif, while reckoning on the inability to get comfortable where you are due to illogical nostalgia for the places you’ve left behind, and that more authentic homesick yearning for family. Most striking of all is The Calm That Keeps You Awake: an atmospheric masterclass about the need for background noise to keep away the dark thoughts that pull towards depression, which harks back to the very best of first-wave nu-metal, while showcasing new levels of subtlety and emotional dexterity. For Bryan, Isaac, drummer Kevin ‘Pacsun’ Kaine, bassist Kevin Otten and rhythm guitarist Nicko Calderon, the influences at play are less traditional hardcore outfits than the ruthless cutting-edge of metal icons like Sepultura, Meshuggah and Gojira and bold nu-metal revolutionaries Slipknot and Korn.

“Previously, we were writing riffs and mosh parts and just putting them down,” Isaac goes further, emphasising that there’s room even for a whole spectrum of sound in their chaotic blur. “But nowadays, we’re just into so much more music. We’ve got so many different ways to assault the audience. My favourite band is Metallica, Bryan’s is Matchbox Twenty, Kevin loves Enter Shikari and I think Nicko would pick Converge or AFI. There’s even a side-snare on the album that comes from Pacsun doing Breaking Benjamin and Tool cover videos when he was a kid. How cool is that?”

Breaking new ground comes with no small amount of pressure, though. Speaking to Bryan back in January, he admitted this was the first creative process where he needed to step away, referencing Keith Buckley’s final lines on Every Time I Die’s The Big Dirty: ‘It is better to destroy than create what is meaningless / So the picture will not be finished…’ They’d already achieved something like perfection on A Tear In The Fabric Of Life. What was the point of continuing to go back to the well?

“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever made,” he reflects today. “The hardest lyrics to write. The hardest vocals to track. I’ll always remember those difficulties. But I’m glad I was pushed the way I was. They became the best lyrics I’ve ever written, the best vocals I’ve ever tracked. Holding myself to that standard, even though it was hell at the time, is something of which I’m incredibly proud.”

Milestones keep racking up for Knocked Loose. Last year marked a decade of the band. This June is 10 years since debut EP Pop Culture. 2024 has already seen them headline their biggest-ever rooms on this side of the Atlantic. They’ll do the same stateside imminently – with Show Me The Body, Loathe and Speed in tow. The bigger business gets, mind, the more Knocked Loose they become.

“This has never been a ‘big picture’ band,” says Isaac. “We’ve always just taken steps. How do we reach more people? How do we put on the best shows? How do we make the next album stronger than anything we’ve made before? We’ve gotten to the point now where those steps are becoming more like leaps and bounds. But our attitude is still the same. We need to play bigger shows, sure. Would I love to play Madison Square Garden? Absolutely. But we’ll never be too big to play the 70-cap pizzerias we used to. We want to be able to do both: to experience the high of playing to the most people we ever have, and the also high of playing to 70 people totally there in the moment.”

“Ultimately, Knocked Loose will just keep doing whatever we want to,” Bryan nods. “We’ll always challenge ourselves. ‘Let’s keep being the heaviest band wherever we play.’ ‘Let’s see how we can be the most extreme band to do these mainstream things.’ ‘Let’s go to places you’d never expect to see this and get in people’s faces.’ In that, we’re widening the umbrella in terms of inspiration; experimentation; what we can be. But you should always expect it to be challenging and extreme.”

“Knocked Loose is a heavy band,” Isaac signs off, simply. “We’re always going to be a heavy band.”

You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To is out May 10 via Pure Noise.

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