We recently sat down for an interview with Los Angeles-based metal band, Killakiah, to discuss how the band formed, influences, creative processes, and upcoming material and shows. Read on to hear what vocalist Dro Nersessian, guitarist Heros Gabri, bassist Zareh Minassian, and drummer Sevan Vartani have to say about their journey thus far and future prospects for the band!
How was Killakiah formed?
Dro: The band officially formed around late 2015. It started initially in 2008, but it was let go for a number of reasons. As soon as the ball got rolling again in 2015, I started to look for bandmates, and having been a follower of Heros on Instagram for a while, I messaged him, and luckily got a response after an entire day of waiting. (laughter)
Heros: Yeah, and Zareh and I had met in a classical guitar class at Glendale Community College – we’re both guitarists, but I turned him into a bassist for our band – and once Dro messaged me, I got Zareh in on it, and we had the band going. We took a few months to find Sevan, coincidentially, through a friend’s cousin on Snapchat who featured him playing an amazing drumroll. After I saw that, I inquired about Sevan’s number, and the rest is history.
Where did the band’s name originate?
Dro: In high school, my friend and I were looking for a band name, and as huge System of a Down fans, we wanted a way to channel our Armenianness, and we thought, how about [the name of the ancient kingdom of] Kilikia (Cilicia)? So we decided to give Kilikia a metal twist, hence, Killakiah. That’s where the name derives from.
Heros: I have something to add to that: being an all Armenian-American band, we get compared to S.O.A.D. a lot, which is a pet peeve of mine since we don’t really sound anything like them. Although we respect them tremendously, and are very much inspired by our roots, I think, overall, our music is more similar to Pantera in its overall vibe. Having said that, being Armenian is not a gimmick, it’s a privilege — we’re not using our culture to gain a fanbase, it’s a privilege to have Armenian roots.
Right, it’s great to acknowledge your roots and your cultural heritage, but to spin it in a different direction from what’s been done in the past. What was the first song you worked on together, and what did that process look like?
Heros: Basically, we were at Dro’s house, and I had a few riffs I had written that I had saved on my phone, and we worked on these riffs together – everyone put their footprint on it, and we worked on this song, called “Bleed Into Me,” that we still play today.
Zareh: Actually, there were two songs we worked on that day.
Heros: Right, “Bleed Into Me” and “Lost Boys.”
Dro: You want to say how long that took? You guys got to my house at, like, midnight, and left around 5 a.m.
Heros: Yeah, we went home at sunrise.
Sounds like magic! So, what does your creative process look like? Do you guys get together and flesh out a song in its entirety, or do you work on it in bits and pieces and compile it in the end?
Sevan: There’s not a lot of initial discussion as to the little specks of a song, usually Heros will come up with a nice guitar riff, then Zareh will think it’s cool and match it with what he thinks sounds good, and I’ll throw in my little bits, then we all take it home, Dro puts his lyrics in, makes sure it sticks with the instrumentals, and that’s just how it comes to be.
Heros: Yeah, everyone just puts their fingerprints on it.
Dro: And it’s a process, it doesn’t just happen overnight, obviously.
Zareh: And shout out to Sevan’s dad for letting us use his warehouse as practice space! It’s saved us a lot of money and time, and it’s the perfect place to let the creative juices flow.
How do you guys stay true to your own creative goals and artistic integrity, but also appeal to the largest audience possible?
Sevan: (sarcastically) We’re just trying to sell out as fast as possible. (laughter)
Dro: In the end, our creative process, along with what we’re inspired by, is mainly for ourselves — we want to make sure we love what we write. In the end, everyone’s inspired by their own personal favorites. We write for ourselves, but when we find someone that connects to our songs, that’s when the magic happens, and we’re like, oh my God, something that we wrote for ourselves has inspired others to become fans and listen to us. We like to maintain a great sound, not really to appeal to the masses, but to appeal to ourselves, at first.
Heros: And if people follow that, that’s great, you know?
Definitely, that is why art is so powerful — it unifies. Who are your biggest musical influences, both as a band, and individually?
Heros: For me, my biggest influences are split in two little subsections. For songwriting, I’m hugely inspired by John Lennon and a lot of the great songwriters from the early 1960s U.K. scene. When it comes to guitar playing, my biggest influences have been David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, and a bunch of others that’ll take too long to mention.
Zareh: I guess, for me, grunge, since I grew up in the 90s. I try to grab influence from everything, all kinds of genres, but mostly grunge.
Dro: Umm, Maiden mainly got me into wanting to play music, but as a lyricist, I don't really take from anyone because I just like to write on my own. Writers are probably more inspirational to me than anyone else. For vocals, definitely AFI (shows AFI logo tattoo on forearm), and Lamb of God as well. Davey Havok is a huge inspiration for me.
Sevan: For me, growing up, I didn’t have too many musical influences and kind of just listened to what everyone else was listening to, mainly alternative music. But definitely Avenged Sevenfold, because their drumming just blew me away, and I kind of just based my playing off of that.
Dro: I was so sure you were going to say Tool!
Sevan: Tool? If I could play like Tool, oh my God. Bless Danny Carey!
Heros: I mean, we’re influenced by a lot of things, a lot of genres. Hip-hop is also a big influence. Sevan and I love Wu-Tang Clan, Zareh is a jazz guy, Dro is into EDM and deejays, too. Classical, reggae, all of it inspires us.
It’s awesome to have a wide variety of influences and inspiration to draw from. Dro, you mentioned that you have writers that influence you, and as a writer, I’m curious to know who they are?
Dro: Ah, man. It’s hard. A lot of our lyrics are dark, so obviously, the main dark guy is Poe — he’s just something else.
And for the rest of you guys, do you have any other non-musical influences that inspire your work with Killakiah? Art, film?
Zareh: I’m heavily influenced by movies — Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson are all big influences. I could go on forever.
Dro: It’s funny, one of our songs, “Lost Boys,” is actually based off of the film, The Lost Boys. I love horror, and that song ended up having a very dreary, gloomy sound.
Looking back on your journey as a band, what have been some of your greatest obstacles thus far?
Heros: I mean, being in a band is like being married, except not to one person, but three other people. It can be very difficult to maintain everyone and keep everyone in line, so we always have to keep our egos in check so as to understand each other. It can be very difficult at times.
Zareh: It’s like a relationship.
Heros: Yeah, it’s like being in a relationship, like a marriage commitment. You have to work with each other, and that’s our biggest obstacle, standing each other in the same room without wanting to kill each other. (laughter)
Sevan: Can I get a divorce? (laughter)
I see, monogamy, done three ways. Having said that, what have been your personal greatest accomplishments with the band, as of yet?
Dro: I get to play metal with a bunch of fantastic musicians on stage all the time!
Heros: Yeah, as a band, we love playing with a bunch of great people. We were also on a television series, called Goliath, with Billy Bob Thornton — they asked us to do the scene via Facebook, and it was fantastic — we got star treatment and had our own trailers and everything.
What an amazing opportunity! What are you guys currently working on?
Heros: We’re just trying to write some new songs for now, play some shows for the fans. That’s always been our objective since day one, that’s never changed.
Right, the live experience is really important both for the band and the fans. As a Los Angeles-based band, what are your favorite parts, and least favorite parts, about the L.A. scene?
Zareh: There’s a huge hype in the L.A. scene, as a lot of up-and-coming bands are trying to promote themselves and get their name out there, so I think that’s the hardest part. It’s not competitive per se, but there are a lot of people trying to do the same thing.
Heros: L.A. is spoiled. It’s spoiled with a lot of material, and with that comes a lot of watered-down stuff. The downside of it is that it’s kind of like a spiderweb, you get stuck — how many times could you play The Roxy, The Viper Room, The Whiskey? Great venues, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a bit of a spiderweb. But, we love L.A., that’s where Killakiah was born, and that’s where our fanbase is.
Dro: Good advice I’ve received about being an artist in L.A. is that the best thing to do, as an up-and-coming band, is to meet other bands, form bonds, and then try to venture out to other areas together to gain a larger fanbase. You and your fans can back the other bands up, and vice versa, thus, you uplift each other.
Heros: Yeah, that’s why our last two shows were outside of L.A., one in Santa Ana, and one in Long Beach. And sure, sometimes you end up only playing for bartenders, or a little crowd, but at the same time, you capture one or two new people, and that gain in fans is worth more than anything, and the next time you play in L.A., say at The Troubadour, those two new fans will be there.
Exactly! It’s a process with ups and downs. So you guys want to branch out to other locations — what are some of your other goals for the future?
Heros: We’re just trying to see where this goes. We have our own personal goals, but we’re just trying to keep the momentum going, so as we move along, the goals will come to us instead of us chasing after them.
Zareh: Right, and also we do things step by step. We have a checklist, and with each step we move forward.
Dro: We’re very scheduled, and that gives us a lot of motivation. The last thing a band needs is demotivation.
Sevan: (jokingly) Get fans, get money. (laughter)
What can fans expect at a Killakiah show?
Dro: Energy, madness, chaos, a mosh pit — if you have been to a Killakiah show, and not have been in the pit, then you haven’t been to a Killakiah show.
Heros: Energy is the perfect word. If you don’t leave injured, we haven’t accomplished our mission. (laughter)
When is your next show, so that we can all come out to see the madness and energy in action?
Heros: On Sunday, April 23, we’re playing Silence the Lies at The Roxy! It’s an annual event commemorating the Armenian Genocide put on by K’noup, and a bunch of awesome local bands always play. Viza, who has been a headliner for years, is returning this year after a two-year hiatus. Also, The Dirty Diamond, another badass local band, has been a huge influence for us. Silence the Lies is always a packed event, and this year, it’s going to be a brutal, high energy show.
Zareh: Yeah, and most importantly, it’s to support the cause, to support recognition for the Armenian Genocide and to commemorate the lives lost. Be sure to come out there!
We’d like to thank Killakiah for the interview, and look forward to hearing more material. The band is currently in the studio, working on their first single, called “Set in Stone,” which will be released in the following months, along with a corresponding music video. In the meantime, be sure to catch them at Silence the Lies, and follow them on their social media channels through Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube!
By Pauline Pechakjian