Knocked Loose on challenging themselves to make a hardcore concept EP
Two years after their acclaimed second album, A Different Shade Of Blue, established Knocked Loose as solid hardcore contenders, it seemed the Kentucky outfit had raised their own bar almost too high. With the sophomore album curse well and truly broken, nobody could predict their next move — not least because they dropped their next EP, A Tear In The Fabric Of Life, by surprise in October.
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By discovering their pandemic project in its entirety, listeners found themselves thrown headfirst into the emotional concept flowing through the EP’s six tracks. Supported by a dark animated short film that weaves the narrative of the songs together, the EP follows the story of its main character navigating stages of grief and despair after being involved in a car crash in which his partner dies. The rare phenomenon of a hardcore concept record rooted in such personal topics opened new musical opportunities for the band, leading them to create what some say is their heaviest effort yet.
Why did you decide to suddenly drop your EP A Tear In The Fabric Of Life as a surprise? How did it feel missing out on all the build-up hype?
BRYAN GARRIS: There’re a lot of rap and mainstream artists that will surprise-drop projects randomly. There’s no promotion, but all of a sudden, you look on your phone, and Drake’s dropped an entire new album. I’ve always thought that was really cool. Also, things always tend to leak when you send it out to people to review it or to sell it the day it drops. There’s always somebody that works somewhere that leaks something, and it’s never-ending. That was something we wanted to try and avoid, so we thought the idea of a big surprise was really exciting. I think with the downtime lately, it allowed us to focus on something a little more artistic, and we didn’t need to worry about promotion, numbers or how it was going to sell. We just wanted to drop something for fun. I think quarantine really allowed us to do that.
What inspired this project in the first place? Why not make a full-length follow-up to A Different Shade Of Blue?
As that last album was coming out, we had the idea to do an EP next to take the pressure off following A Different Shade Of Blue. The reaction to that album was so much better than we had ever expected, so how do you follow that up? Our immediate thought process was that you don’t — you just do something fun instead. We never want to feel the pressure that we need to create or we need to outdo ourselves. We always want to feel like we’re doing it because we want to.
Beyond that, the idea of doing something a little more artistic and challenging, honestly, came about as a joke. [The band] considered it a branch-off from the song “In The Walls” from that album, so the same vibe and the same elements of that lyrically are on A Tear In The Fabric Of Life. We thought, “What if we did a whole EP surrounded by this and told a story?” We joked about it at first, but once everything shut down and we were forced to stop touring, we thought there was no better time to try and do something like that.
You worked on this EP in a cabin in the woods. How did you find that truly isolated experience after a year of social distancing?
We got a cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains, which is six hours from where we’re from. When we wrote the last album, we wrote somewhat isolated in the studio where it ended up being recorded the next year. We really liked the idea of being away from home and focusing on writing without the distractions of all your friends, family and everything.
But we wanted to take it up a notch, so we got more secluded, more isolated. We found this cabin, which was deep enough in the woods where nobody would complain about the noise, and we were there for a little more than two weeks. We cleared out the kitchen area, put our gear there and just jammed and wrote every single day. Then every single night, we’d watch scary movies and eat food together. It was like a getaway sleepover for two weeks, and we got exactly what we wanted out of it.
Where does this EP find you all personally? The grief shaping these songs sounds so genuine. Are you drawing on personal experiences for that?
Lyrically, I definitely sprinkled some of myself throughout this because I found that the only way I would’ve been able to do this project is if I made it personal. That’s always the kind of writer I am. I never really thought I would write something like this — a story that isn’t real — because I’ve always appreciated the vulnerability that comes with writing about personal experiences of loss, grief, anxiety and depression.
I think even beyond the lyrics, we were all in a weird place when we wrote this, instrumentally. It was in such a weird time in a weird year. I feel a lot of those tones came out in the music. We all very much collaborate together. We all sit in a room together in a circle, and even though I’m not playing an instrument, I’m voicing ideas, and everybody’s pitching in ideas. Musically, there are parts of the record [that] are very high anxiety and others that are darker than anything we’ve ever done in the past. I feel like the overall theme was that we wanted the music to sound scary, and I think that’s definitely there. There’s a layer of sadness to it that none of us intended, but it just happened naturally.
Will Putney’s producing for you again. How important is it to have a producer you can trust and who supports you through huge ideas like this?
This time, we chose to go back to him because every time we’ve ever recorded with Will, it’s been very important for us to capture the raw energy you expect from our shows. Trying to translate that onto a recording is extremely difficult, but Will is really good at it. This time going back to him, we wanted to take advantage of what he has and utilize things that we’ve never done.
A perfect example is where in the past, as a vocalist, I’ve always kept things pretty raw. This time, we wanted to get weird and try things vocally, see if there’s any other voices I can do. On the ending of the song “Forced To Stay,” where I’m repeating the lyrics over and over, that’s layered 10 times. We just kept layering [my voice], and we were laughing about it because we wanted it to sound as extreme as possible.
Then we had Isaac [Hale, guitarist] come in, and he layered his voice 10 times, so there’s like 20 voices. There’s a lot of stuff on the record where we’re trying out different effects on vocals, and the same on instrumentals. We had so much time put into just experimenting with weird noises and things we’ve never tried before like layering guitars. The whole thing together is a little more atmospheric than just five instruments. We really wanted to have fun with it and exaggerate what Knocked Loose is.
Magnus Jonsson’s visuals bring such an edge to this story. It wouldn’t have been the same without him. How did that relationship begin, and what was your working experience together like?
We found him through his previous work. He’s done a bunch of stuff, and I definitely encourage people to do a deep dive on him if they enjoy our video. He’s got a really cool style, and I really appreciate his artistic vision. There’s a lot of stuff in this where I was very specific with how I wanted the story to go, and I’d written it all out. It’s basically right there in front of you if you just listen to the lyrics. You just have to animate it, but I made sure he had room to incorporate his own interpretation of it in certain parts.
I think that was important because there’re things that he did and ways he translated the lyrics into images that I never would’ve thought of. There was a lot of back and forth, finding a balance between sticking with the story I wrote and then his artistic interpretation. I think we finally hit that balance, which is the video you see. It’s crazy because once we found it, we just clicked and found exactly what we wanted. He was sending me them one song at a time, and they [were] exactly what I pictured in my head, so we just kept knocking them out.
Where does this leave Knocked Loose for the next album?
The most important thing is just to challenge ourselves and not let other people challenge us because there’re definitely things that I feel people expect from Knocked Loose, but we’ve never written because it’s expected. People say this EP is the heaviest thing we’ve ever done, but that wasn’t a conscious effort. We didn’t think A Different Shade Of Blue was any less heavy than our earlier material because it’s always going to be heavy, but I guess things fell into place, and this ended up being way heavier. We’ll just have to see, but I can definitely promise it won’t be soft.
You can read the full interview in issue 400, available here.