Los Angeles based rock band Kill The Complex possesses an undeniable presence. On stage and in the studio they are a force to be reckoned with, delivering fine-tuned, well-crafted, in-your-face rock songs that ignite emotion and make you feel things you didn’t know you could. Out of the spotlight, however, the musicians who comprise Kill The Complex- Dann Saxton (vocals), Gabe Heredia (guitar), Ted Barakat (drums), and Mike Elling (bass)- are four of the kindest, smartest, and funniest people that the world has to offer. I got the incredible opportunity to spend the day with the band on the set of their video shoot for popular single “Shine”. In between filming takes of light bulbs exploding and the band performing, the guys talked to me about the music scene in LA, their growing popularity, and what’s in store for the rest of the year.
From the moment I meet Kill The Complex, I am at ease. Conversation flows easily and the artists make me feel completely comforatable being around them. So comfortable, in fact, that I make the embarassing confession that I just noticed my skirt was on backwards. Gentle teasing ensues and I find myself keeling over in laughter before the interveiw even begins. After a brief fashion tangent and some other small talk about my life, I settle in to the shower the band with questions.
Though Kill The Complex has spent time in Colorado, they haven’t played a show there yet. “We’ve been through there,” Saxton says. “But we didn’t actually play.” “We were trying to get a show at the Bluebird,” Barakat explains. “But it never materialized.” “We love Denver,” Heredia contributes. “Everything about it is really comfortable. It’s such a nice place and there’s a great vibe about the whole place.”
I feel confident that I have a handle on the Denver music scene, but when it comes to Los Angeles, I don’t even know where to start. I look to Kill The Complex for assistance. “There are a couple of scenes here,” Saxton explains. “I work at The Roxy, so every night there’s a different scene- hip hop, Silver Lake hipsters, indie rock dance kids, metal kids, and so on.” “I almost feel the total opposite,” Barakat disagrees. “I feel like there’s no scene here whatsoever.” This causes an uproar amongst the band. “You’re out of your element,” Elling says laughing. “I’ve been here fourteen years and I don’t see any camaraderie with bands,” Barakat defends himself. “I don’t see anybody who is like, ‘Oh let’s just go see who’s playing tonight’. Never. If you’re going to see a band, you watch that band and as soon as they’re done, you leave.”
There is some muffled arguing between the band members. “Here’s the thing,” Elling weighs in. “People in LA are used to everybody coming through here, so we’re spoiled.” “I feel like a lot of crowds in LA are not jaded, but kind of snotty,” Heredia puts in his two cents. “I’ve seen some amazing shows and people are just standing there with no enthusiasm. I’ve also seen shows where people are really going off. But I spent a lot of time in South America and when we would go see shows in Argentina people went crazy, there was so much passion and love.” “Well half of the people in the audience work in the industry, or they’re in bands too,” Saxton chimes in. “Everyone feels in competition. There’s so much pride. But I see a lot of camaraderie in bands actually. I see a lot of bands that help each other promote and they decorate the whole Roxy and plan everything together. There are a lot of bands that do that.” “Why aren’t we one of them?” Elling asks and we all chuckle. “Let this be a calling. If there’s a band out there that wants to team up and help each other out, camaraderie is our middle name. Let’s make it happen.”
“I have this love/hate relationship with the whole music scene in Los Angeles,” Heredia admits. “Sometimes I think it’s the best thing because it’s kind of the place where it really filters out the crap from the really good. If you’re good, you stick through it. If you’re not, you go back home. It sucks, and I hate that part of it, but at the same time I love it because you get to see some really great, groundbreaking artists.” “There’s no other place in the world where you can see Bon Iver playing in a graveyard with a set time of 4:50am,” Elling says sticking up for LA. “Maybe it’s jaded, maybe there’s a lot of BS in this town, but you also have the opportunity to see amazing shows like that.”
Now that we’ve thoroughly discussed the LA music scene on a macro level, I want to know how Kill The Complex fits into it. “Our friends come out and support us,” Elling explains. “And Gabe’s family too- his brothers are incredible. If his brothers didn’t come and start jumping and screaming and singing all the words, I would feel dead up there. They make the whole room come alive.” “The people who come to see us,” Heredia starts thoughtfully. “Are the kind of people who, like myself, will put a record in and it lives in their car for at least a month, so they love it. I feel like they have that relationship with our music. It’s a great thing because I think they’re always going to buy our records and they’re always going to come to shows, not because we’re cool or hip, but because they genuinely like our music.” “They’re curious too,” Saxton shares. “They come up after the show and they want to talk about the songs and they want to figure out what the lyrics are about. It’s awesome.”
We’re on the set of Kill The Complex’s video shoot for popular single “Shine”, so I first want to learn more about the song itself. “Personally I think it’s one of our most important songs,” Heredia shares. “Before it we were a different band, there was a different lineup. We parted ways with a member of the band and then became Kill The Complex. The first song that we wrote as Kill The Complex was “Shine”. It was at that moment we realized, this is who we are, this is what’s going on, we’re evolving into this different band and it feels natural- it feels good.” “You’re right,” Saxton agrees eagerly. “I never really thought about that.”
The song went through some changes to get to where it is now. For instance, it originally started as a drum part, but when it was mixed the drums were cut in favor of the guitar. Barakat wasn’t upset, however, because he knew that’s exactly what the song needed. “That’s how it is in this band,” Saxton explains. “We all just care about the song and what’s best for the song. There are no egos about it, we all get what the goal is.” “A lot of people ask about how the writing process goes,” Heredia says. “It’s always been us collaborating as a whole. I think that’s really cool because it keeps a level playing field when you get to the studio and it makes sure no one’s feelings get hurt. A lot of bands don’t last that long because they can’t handle it and there is an ego.” “I think part of the beauty of it is we all have a lot of ideas,” Barakat reveals. “If I only had one idea and they didn’t like it, I’d be really hurt. But because we have so many ideas, it’s just another way to introduce something that’s cool that you may not have thought of yourself.” “There’s a lot of trust too,” Saxton agrees. “We’re fans of each other so if Teddy has an idea, we’re interested.”
The video for “Shine” has a really intriguing and beautiful concept. “Sebastian Davis is the director,” Saxton tells me. “We got four different concepts from different directors and his struck a chord because it’s not literal, it’s not a narrative- it’s just epic.” “The idea of the video is to gradually, over time, show light itself,” Heredia explains. “We’re using these ultra high-speed cameras and shooting all these light bulbs exploding in slow motion and then playing them backwards. So it’s dark, then gets lighter and brighter for certain parts of the song. You’ll see the light bulbs, then you’ll see us performing- I think we start dark.” “We’re backlit,” Saxton confirms. “Then by the end of the video we’re completely saturated.” “Yeah so you can see us starting the song,” Heredia reveals. “But it gradually gets brighter and brighter behind us, so at the end of the song we’re just silhouettes playing.” “At the end we’re going to ‘shine’,” Elling says showing off his wordplay skills and everyone bursts out laughing.
“Shine” is a single off Kill The Complex’s excellent full length album Evolution and I’m curious to know what the band’s goal was for this record. “To finish it was the goal,” Saxton says causing another bought of laughter. “There’s a blessing and a curse,” Heredia adds. “Because we produce and mix all of our own records, it allows us to continuously change and work on things. The record wouldn’t have gotten to where it was unless we did this process, but it also took a little bit longer then we had expected.” “If we were paying per hour like a normal band does in a studio,” Barakat explains. “We would have been there, done it, and said, ‘That’s it’ and let it go. But when is the last brush stroke on an artist’s canvas? You can always add. You can always hear things. Gabe is producing the record in his own studio, so he just keeps adding.” “You just keep painting,” Heredia agrees going along with the metaphor. “So basically we went through about fourteen different coats for the record. You kind of get a general idea of a song when you record it. Then we can hear it for what it is and start breaking it down, changing it, and restructuring it and it opens up a whole new part of being a musician.”
The band is proud of the songs that made it onto the record. “We went through a pretty big change from the style of music we used to play to what this is now,” Heredia comments. “Definitely Evolution fits as a title because we have evolved personally as well musically. It best represented what we wanted to do and how we wanted to portray ourselves. This record definitely defines us as who we are. And now we’re writing new stuff and getting into a new groove. We have another element that’s going to change us again so it’s cool.” “Yeah we’re doing a dance record,” Saxton blurts out jokingly and once again the room is cracking up.
Last year was busy for Kill The Complex, but 2012 is shaping up to be even busier. “The majority of these songs started off acoustically and then transformed into more rock,” Heredia informs me. “So we have a record of the acoustic songs that we are going to release pretty soon, as well as pushing a new single and probably doing a video for it. We’re also writing new material for another EP coming out.” “Our next immediate thing is MusInk on March 3rd,” Barakat chimes in. “It’s a music/tattoo festival down in Orange County.” “I’m going to get a tramp stamp,” Elling announces forcing the room into hysterics. “It’s going to say: ‘Dirty A** B****’.” “This is going to be a good year for us,” Barakat continues after the chuckles die down. “We have a lot planned. We definitely want to take “Shine” to radio right away because we’re getting some placements on KROQ right now.” “KROQ and MTV have been hugely supportive of us and it’s really given us a lot of confidence going into this year,” Elling says seriously. “Our music really reaches a huge demographic- young teenagers to people in their thirties and forties can relate. It’s been great to watch and very exciting.” “That was a good sound bite,” Saxton says nodding his head in approval.
As Kill The Complex continues on their path of world domination, who do they want as their biggest fans? “If Dave Grohl was a fan of our band, I would probably die,” Heredia says without hesitation. “Because I’m such a fan of who he is, and his band’s music, that if he was our fan, I would freak out.” “There’s this guy who goes to every show in LA and, no matter what kind of show it is, he is dancing his face off,” Elling describes. “I approached him one night and I said, ‘I want you to come see my band because seeing you in the crowd would be great for us’. This guy hit me up on Facebook the other day and said, ‘Let me know when your band is playing, I’m going to come and get everyone going’. I was like, ‘Yes!’ So he’s my number one choice and he’s already a fan.” “This is a tough one,” Saxton says. “I would say my dad, honestly. We kind of had a rocky thing, but now we’re so close and we talk a lot. It’s changed so much because now we talk like men, we just talk about life and what he was going through at my age. He’s seen us play once, I think. He’s really proud but he doesn’t really understand what I do or the life that I live.” “I think mine is a little more generic,” Barakat says hesitantly. “I would love for friends of mine that I grew up with to be fans of ours without knowing I’m in the band. You know, have them genuinely like the band not because I’m in it, but because they like the music.” “Actually our answer is, we would love for you to be our biggest fan,” Elling says and with that the interview ends as it began- with everyone in the room doubled over in laughter.
Stay tuned for the release of the completed vide for “Shine”!