"We want to be the biggest heavy band in the world." How Knocked Loose are taking hardcore to the mainstream - by going heavier, harder and more brutal than ever

Knocked Loose live on stage
(Image credit: Future (Jake Owens))

All it takes is one word. Just one word, comprising three letters and one syllable, repeated twice. Bryan Garris, frontman of hardcore superstars Knocked Loose, looks out at the sprawling mass of bodies in front of him at London’s Kentish Town Forum, puts his mic to his lips, and detonates the bomb. “Arf! Arf!” he barks. The rest is chaos. Two and a half thousand people, from the floor to the balcony, are screaming and throwing their legs and fists around with abandon, slamming into each other as if it’s the last thing they’ll ever do.

It might be mayhem, but it’s calculated mayhem, as Bryan explained earlier in the band’s dressing room. “I feel like every decision that we make when it comes to writing is based off the live show,” he said. “We have a setlist that is completely built around crowd participation, and where in our songs we can create moments in a live setting.”

It’s an approach that’s working for them. That “Arf! Arf!” mosh call comes from the song Counting Worms, from Knocked Loose’s debut album, Laugh Tracks. Upon release in 2016, it went viral. Neither an Architects-style bleh, nor a Machine Head-style roar, it was a full-on, never-heard-before dog bark. Not only did it inspire a slew of YouTube reaction videos and memes, it currently has more than 31 million plays on Spotify. Last June, the Oldham County, Kentucky quintet surprise-released two songs with similarly massive mosh calls – Everything Is Quiet Now, featuring the title belted aloud, and Deep In The Willow, with its declaration of ‘Knocked Loose, motherfucker!’

That summer, Billie Eilish was caught on video banging her head side stage as Knocked Loose won over the notoriously snobby Coachella festival, while US pop royalty Demi Lovato gushed about wanting to collaborate with them. But Knocked Loose are a hardcore band – and a monumentally brutal hardcore band at that. How the hell did this happen? To find out, we have travelled to London on a rainy Sunday afternoon to witness Knocked Loose’s biggest-ever headline show. The first person we bump into is their perma-smiling drummer, Kevin ‘Pacsun’ Kaine, who has just been handed a sushi meal deal by an Uber Eats delivery man at the stage door. He leads us up the stairs to the band’s dressing room.

“We love the UK,” he grins. “But man, this weather sucks.” No shit, but there’s still a hardy handful of fans waiting outside the venue a full three hours before doors – something that Pacsun is having trouble coming to terms with. “It’s crazy,” he shrugs. “This whole run’s been just insane.”

We enter Knocked Loose’s dressing room, and Pacsun introduces his bandmates: bassist Kevin Otten, guitarist Nicko Calderon, and frontman Bryan Garris, who is pacing around waiting for his lunch, and seems to have one eye on a crew member’s Greggs sausage roll. The only member missing is lead guitarist Isaac Hale, who is feeling unwell, probably due to the British weather.

Are you familiar with Greggs, Bryan? “Dude, if I could have that stuff imported to the States, there’s no amount of money I wouldn’t pay,” he replies, his eyes bulging. For someone who’s the mouthpiece of Knocked Loose, and who screams with such intensity for a living, Bryan is a softly spoken man with a quiet confidence. Having bonded over a shared love of steak bakes, we ask whether crossover success was ever on his mind. The band might have released Laugh Tracks in 2016 and follow-up album A Different Shade Of Blue in 2019, and toured with heavyweights including Parkway Drive, Beartooth and Gojira, but it’s now that they seem to be breaking into the wider cultural consciousness.

“We’ve always tried to blur what we are, you know?” he replies. “Even back when we were touring at a DIY level, we would do metal tours and hardcore tours, and play with pop punk bands and play with rappers. We just wanted to play as much as we could.” But the things you’ve done are on a scale that’s usually unheard of for a band in your genre. "Yeah, that success has definitely allowed us to do things that we never expected or sought out to do when we started this band,” he continues. “In 2022, we did a tour openingfor [NOLA hip hop duo] $uicide Boy$, which is weird enough, but then we get there and they’re doing 20,000 tickets in New Mexico. It was an amazing experience, them allowing us to play in front of that many people every single night. When we started this band, we never thought we’d see a thousand people, let alone 20.”

It helps that hardcore is having a moment. In the early 2000s, bands with hardcore influences, such as Hatebreed and Refused, shook up heavy music but didn’t infiltrate the mainstream. During the last few years, Code Orange have played WWE pay-per-views, while Turnstile have been nominated for four Grammys, appeared on three major US talk shows (Late Night With Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon), and have done Glastonbury.

“I think there’s a lot of really cool bands,” says Bryan. “I feel like every year you get to witness a band open new doors for the genre. We’re fans of it first, so we like to support, and we like to see people win. We think that a win for us is a win for everybody, and vice versa.”

But while Code Orange have alt rock and electronic leanings, and Turnstile offer boyband good looks and sun-kissed, good- time 80s vibes, Knocked Loose bring crushing beatdowns, death metal tendencies and naked aggression, underpinned by Bryan’s unique – some would say unusual – screeching. In a genre that still hasn’t had a genuine mainstream breakthrough band, they might be about to succeed. Do you ever consider that in 20 years’ time, when people talk about hardcore, they’ll mention your band in the same way as Agnostic Front or Refused or Hatebreed today?

Every member of Knocked Loose freezes when we say this. They all eyeball each other like it’s never crossed their minds. “That’s just...” Bryan stops for a second. “I mean, thank Wyou for saying that. That’s wild to consider, we’d love that.” We suspect Knocked Loose’s position will only be strengthened with the release of their third album, You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To. Arguably the most extreme-sounding thing they’ve put their name to, it embraces the most sadistically punishing riffs of their career. All this, while featuring an excoriating/sinister turn from the genre-blurring Poppy on Suffocate, and a glass-throated Chris Motionless on the thundering Slaughterhouse 2 (payback for Bryan Garris guesting on Motionless In White’s track, Slaughterhouse). Anyone who assumed acclaim would lead Knocked Loose down a more melodic path is in for a shock.

“Honestly, we just want to be the biggest heavy band in the world,” shrugs Bryan. “Every record, we’re obviously trying to push ourselves to write more complex music. But when you mix that with how heavy we are, the complexities kind of just make it sound scary and chaotic, which I think works really well for us. We want to see how big we can get without sacrificing any of the chaos that our music has.”

No Billie Eilish collab on the album, then? “It’s not up to us,” Bryan smiles. Surely you’ve reached out?! “I’m sure we could, but ultimately it would be up to her, because that is, essentially, just a really big favour to us,” he adds. Is that stuff a bit weird for you? The Demi Lovato shoutout and Billie watching you at Coachella?

“Nah, I just wish there was a story, but there isn’t really,” laughs Bryan. “I didn’t even see her side stage.” “I didn’t either,” adds Pacsun. “I didn’t know she was there until the video. And I’m glad – I would have shit my britches and dropped my sticks.”

At Coachella, playing on a stage with no barrier, they got the entire crowd jumping and flipping. Security were operating a one-in, one-out policy. “Yeah, they had to cap the tent off when we played,” nods Bryan. “A lot of the time, things happen for Knocked Loose and they’re so amazing, but you’re caught up in the adrenaline of the moment. Then you leave and reflect, and you’re like, ‘Wow, that was like a big deal.’ But I feel like Coachella was one of those times where, while it was happening, I was like, ‘This is a moment for this band. This is a huge milestone for this band.’”

Tonight could be another milestone for the band. With food delivered and eaten, we head downstairs to see Knocked Loose, support acts Deafheaven and Headbussa, and members of the crew pose onstage for the traditional ‘last night of tour’ photo. One face we didn’t expect to see is that of Architects frontman Sam Carter, who has travelled from Brighton. “I’ve come up for the big rock show!” he tells us. “I love these guys, they’re so great.” With the pictures done, the band amble over, each warmly embracing Sam. More friends in high places for Knocked Loose.

We say goodbye to the band, to allow them to prepare for the show. Stepping out into the rain, we see that even more fans have gathered in anticipation of the quintet decimating the capital. When Knocked Loose walk onstage, they inspire total devotion and utter havoc. The mania from those in attendance is the sort of thing you’ve heard people talk about when they harkbackto Slipknot’s legendary Astoria show in 1999. Bryan transforms from chilled and thoughtful into a screeching, spin- kicking lunatic, while the songs sound crushingly monumental. During a closing Counting Worms and Everything Is Quiet Now, the crowd singalongs are deafening. Knocked Loose might not be the biggest heavy band in the world yet, but you would be a fool to bet against them.

“I feel like every ceiling that at least I expected the band to reach has been blown past,” Pacsun tells us, when we ask just how big Knocked Loose could be. “So, I am at a point personally where I don’t know what that looks like anymore. Everything’s been exceeding these expectations that I set for myself, and then for what I hoped the band would achieve. I’m just blown away by all of it.”

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.