Knocked Loose turns pandemic malaise into pummeling music

The band will visit the Athenaeum Theatre this week in support of 2021 EP ‘A Tear in the Fabric of Life’

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Knocked Loose

Months into the pandemic, the members of Kentucky hardcore band Knocked Loose started to feel cabin fever sinking in. “So, to fix that, we went to a literal cabin,” singer Bryan Garris said by phone in mid-March, going on to describe how the band decamped to a secluded rental in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where it recorded the tracks that would later become A Tear in the Fabric of Life, released in 2021.

Upon arrival at the cabin, located deep in the woods, a 25-minute drive from the nearest gas station, the band members cleared out the dining room, setting up an informal studio in the large space. Each morning following breakfast, the five would gather there and begin playing, stopping only to eat dinner and watch a movie before bed, and then repeating the process the next day.

“It really allowed us to focus things on a more artistic level. The record we got out of this is … a very art-driven record, where before I feel like some of that might have been sacrificed to the hectic schedule,” said Garris, who will join his bandmates in concert at the Athenaeum Theatre on Sunday, April 3. “Our last full-length, A Different Shade of Blue, we were fortunate we got to tour off of it properly. I know a lot of bands were releasing records right before the shutdown and during the shutdown, which is such a bummer, because you can’t tour it and you can’t promote it the right way. … But we had gotten to take it where we wanted to take it, so it was like, ‘We don’t have to do another full-length, and no one is waiting for anything from us.’ There was no rush, no deadlines. Everything shutting down gave us the opportunity to focus without that pressure."

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While the tracks that populate A Tear in the Fabric of Life are still aggressive, built on gnarly riffs that alternately backfire and claw, quick-twitch tempo shifts and Garris’ shell-shocked bellow, there’s an undercurrent of sadness that runs through the EP, and which helped inform the story that unfolds over the course of the record, a fictional account delivered from the perspective of a narrator who has lost a loved one in a car crash and spends the record unpacking the accumulated grief, anger and survivor’s guilt. “God knows I belong in hell,” Garris howls on “God Knows.” “That’s why he left me there by myself.”

“The sadness is definitely there, and it’s a little more melodic, but at the end of the day it’s a Knocked Loose record, so I don’t want to talk like we were reinventing anything because that’s never the case,” Garris said. “But I do think we tried a lot of things we had never done in the past. … And one of those things was, there are just certain things about Knocked Loose that we decided to exaggerate. If we were going to be heavy, then let’s be really, really heavy. And if it’s going to be fast, make it really fast. And sometimes when we’d be writing something really, really heavy, we’d play it together and we’d all be laughing at just how ridiculous it was. And I found through writing this EP, that’s a good thing. If we think it’s ridiculous, it’s usually sick.”

On previous records, Garris' lyrics were entirely autobiographical, and even though the events that unfold within A Tear in the Fabric of Life are fictional, the emotions at the core of the EP ring true, shaped by the mental health struggles the frontman endured early in the pandemic.

“It was a challenge for me, because going into it I was like, oh, I’m writing a story, whereas normally I would write 100 percent about my own experiences,” he said. “It was like, ‘How can I make this believable?’ And I found through the process that in order to make it believable I had to incorporate the feelings and emotions I was going through, and obviously the year was hard for everyone, myself included.”

When Garris started singing in hardcore and metal bands in high school, he initially adopted advice given by a friend and bandmate (“Just scream”), soon realizing that his career as a vocalist would be short lived if he didn’t study up on technique, which he did via YouTube instructional videos. The frontman’s lyrics have advanced in similar ways, taking on a depth and nuance over time that brings greater dimension to Knocked Loose’s pummeling music.

“I definitely take advantage of the opportunity to really spill my guts in the lyric process,” Garris said. “So, the music can sound big and scary, but the lyrics are all very vulnerable, and I think that kind of helps the band be a little bit more approachable.”