Emo bands live short lives. The majority of those years are spent playing in basements and crowded house shows, rarely leaving their sector of the United States. Snowing existed for three years. The Brave Little Abacus existed for five years. Cap’n Jazz existed for six. Algernon Cadwallader existed for seven. Glocca Morra existed for eight.
In that sense, Boston band I Kill Giants is just like every other math rock-leaning emo act, and while true, that claim suggests a false notion of homogeneity. Like all of those bands, I Kill Giants means too much to its fans to be labeled mediocre, synonymous, or, perhaps worst of all, derivative. The band’s sound stands out in a sea of emo revival bros and finger-tapping guitars. If the band didn’t, then its surprise reunion wouldn’t have prompted such an ecstatic response.
After breaking up in 2014, I Kill Giants surprised fans this year by announcing the band would reunite to perform three shows in June. The three-date, co-headlining tour alongside fellow local act Cerce sees the band go out in style at the Sinclair this Sunday with openers DUMP HIM and Pink Navel. Naturally, tickets started selling almost instantly.
I Kill Giants’ upcoming reunion show proves that the four-piece act has its place in local emo, punk, and math rock history. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, though. If it was, I Kill Giants wouldn’t have laid the band to rest in the first place. Back in 2014, all four members of I Kill Giants—vocalist and guitarist Dylan Hanwright, vocalist and guitarist Chris Lee, bassist Nick Koechel, and drummer Sander Bryce—found themselves at a conventional crossroad. Nearing the end of their time at Berklee College, the members found job offers calling and possible moves to other cities. Instead of trying to uphold the band via a long-distance musical relationship, the four decided to end the band on positive terms, essentially putting I Kill Giants to rest in the name of post-college careers and the vague looming beast known as adulthood. The band played a comically packed Democracy Center for its final show. The line snaked so far out of the door that the venue had to turn fans away before the music even started.
But that was 2014. In the years since then, the allure of I Kill Giants has only grown the way the ghost of all defunct bands seems to swell, gathering momentum the more people speak its name.
When I call the band on the phone, Hanwright picks up. All four members are sitting around a table inside Bryce’s home in New Jersey, eating dinner. It’s the first time the four have been in the same room together since disbanding. Together, fresh off their first rehearsal as a band since reforming, they’re pulsing with the various type of nerves that come with reuniting. Everything can be felt through the speaker: the giddiness of seeing friends again, the paranoia of expectations, the relief of fun coming with ease. The phone call is pillared by stories, mainly reflections on past moments and one-off memories that make them all laugh. Their joy is contagious. It’s hard not to picture them all smiling again, like an old photo of the band but with a few years’ worth of aging tacked on.
I Kill Giants was built on eagerness and excitement. All four members were accepted to Berklee College of Music and moved in to the school in the fall of 2010. On the first day of orientation, the band began. Bryce tracked down Lee and later knocked on his dorm room door at night. He told him they should practice in one of the college’s basement studios. Draped in his pajamas, Lee followed, and the two found themselves jamming together within the first few hours they were on campus. Hanwright and Koechel followed suit in time, and the band found a natural chemistry. It’s what has allowed them to change sound over the years, morphing ever so slightly from a math rock ode to the flailing vibrancy of emo revival to the jazzier punk underscoring various techniques.
It wasn’t until the band released their self-titled album in 2013 that they finally found their sound. They perfected the art of fast-paced songs, boisterous singing, and technical licks that peppered their music with equal parts talent and emotion. A song like “Collector,” all power-pop riffs and yelled statements, pairs perfectly with “Lucky Shirt,” the type of sloppy singing that feels impossible not to sing along to, even if you don’t quite know what it is you’re saying.
As I Kill Giants are slowly relearning their parts, the members have found a good chunk of what they wrote back then isn’t as easy as it sounds. The drumming is demanding. The vocals require an intensity but flexibility that won’t scar your throat. Though certain guitar or bass parts aren’t as witty as they once seemed, they have their strengths, and seeing how it all pairs together live again sets that in bold.
Perhaps the best part of I Kill Giants reuniting is the fact that it lets Hanwright, Lee, Koechel, and Bryce realize just how important their band is to a lot of people. There are all sorts of milestones that stick out. There were the opening slots they got with bands like the World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die or Jeff Rosenstock of Bomb the Music Industry fame (“True validation was talking to Jeff [Rosenstock] at that show,” they all say, laughing, talking over one another in excitement). There were the local iconic bands like Animal Flag who revealed they, too, were fans of their music. There were people who got tattoos of I Kill Giants’ artwork or lyrics. But the weirdest (and best) part by far was learning how many lives they soundtracked. After hearing the news that I Kill Giants would reunite, one fan in the Midwest contacted the band to express her elation; she discovered I Kill Giants by happenstance in middle school and their music soundtracked her childhood as a result. Hearing the importance their music had on other people changed the way the members looked not only at their music, but at themselves and what they were capable of.
“It never really hits you until you hear a kid younger than you, or older than you really, telling you that you created music that meant a lot to them,” says Koechel. “That sticks with you for a long time. Because, really, that’s what it feels like it’s all about, what making music should be. It can help people, even if you don’t mean for it to.”
“I came into Berklee not being good, so it’s always felt like an uphill battle trying to get good at drums. Really, I worked my ass off,” says Bryce. “My biggest takeaway from this band was that it, in many situations, gave me a reason to live. That’s kind of depressing, but that’s been a thing. It was validation that what I’m doing is worth it, all the work I put in is worth it, and having friendships is important. To have a friendship with three dudes that respect me enough to spend time with me and let me play drums with them? Then having kids reach out to me about my playing or the music? Just being part of this has gotten me through a hard time, and hearing that it’s helped someone else through a hard time makes being in a band feel even more worth it.”
That will come full circle when they perform at the Sinclair this weekend. The show marks the first time I Kill Giants play a venue with a capacity larger than 200 people (Note: the Sinclair holds over 500 people). It’s the first time the band will have monitors onstage. It’s the first time the band will play on a massive, elevated stage. There’s no hiding the nerves under their excitement, but the members aren’t really trying to hide that to begin with. Their band has always been about letting loose, yelping, and playing a little sloppy. The comforts of the Sinclair will just add a new level of professionality to I Kill Giants that the band never got to experience in their initial years as a band.
In a wholesome turn of events, the three-date tour kicks off at First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia. Seven years ago, a few of the members planned a roadtrip to that very venue to see Snowing’s farewell show in the blustery November of 2011. In many ways, it feels poetic. I Kill Giants get to play the stage some of their idols once performed on. And then, two days later, they will be one of those beloved emo acts performing for listeners who never got to see them in Boston during their original era.
“It was a fundamental show for us. It was the first time I saw Glocca Morra. First time seeing the World Is. Dylan lost his glasses, and while he was stage diving for the first time. It’s wild to be playing that same stage. I hope everyone experiences that kind of happiness we did, too,” says Lee, before everyone begins talking over one another in excitement. “Sorry, sorry. We’re going hard reminiscing right now, so I’m sorry, but it’s strange. All of this is strange. It’s the first time we’ve all been together in so long, and it just feels so good.”
I KILL GIANTS, CERCE, DUMP HIM, PINK NAVEL. SUN 6.10. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 7PM/ALL AGES/$13. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM