"To really open the doors and try to figure out exactly what everything is would almost be like watching Metallica's Some Kind of Monster," says guitarist Steve Stiller. "They go to a shrink and try to expose their feelings and it just turns into more harm than good." It's not that local melodic modern rockers Kill the Drama advocate the unexamined life; rather, it's that some degree of emotional containment fuels the music's eventual cathartic release. "When it comes down to it, the songs are true -- they're not only about what's going on outside the band, but what's going on in the band."
Even the group's moniker comes from a fraught interaction between those two spheres: "We had a female singer for six months," Stiller notes wryly, "which is sorta how we came up with the band name!"
Stiller and longtime musical partner and drummer Jason Godek formed Kill the Drama in late 2005. They brought in Benjamin Solnik (a.k.a. Skinny) on bass and, after a lengthy search, recruited Bryan Laskey for vocals. "We started with an idea of what we wanted to sound like," Stiller says. "We wanted to do something that was contrastingly pretty and also very powerful."
Now barely a year old, Kill the Drama hit the ground with a sense of purpose that's helped it build a following and play some of the city's premiere venues, such as Mr. Small's Theatre. When one of your first gigs is playing -- and winning -- the 2006 Graffiti Rock Challenge, you're off to a great start.
But the group's current success is hard-won, built upon experiences playing in other area bands. Solnik played in local band Inventory, while Laskey had been "in some heavier bands where he's been more of a screaming-type guy," including Break the Sun. Stiller and Godek logged many miles and several years in Pagewater; Stiller recalls playing with that band at the Millennium Music Conference in Harrisburg and the meeting the then-unknown headliner, Godsmack.
Now Kill the Drama is using those years of experience -- and the studio time and CD duplication they won at the Graffiti Rock Challenge -- to release the band's debut full-length, Close Friends with Sharp Knives. Recorded at Soundscape Studios, in McKeesport, the CD brings together 11 high-gloss songs that pack remarkable punch and promise, influenced by art-rock groups like Failure, Muse and Dregd.
On Close Friends, elements of early-'90s grunge interlace with modern guitar sounds, swirling atmospherics and a high-test rhythm section, all supporting Laskey's high, clear vocals, reminiscent at times of Claudio Sanchez (Coheed & Cambria) and Chino Moreno (Deftones). Stiller, who composes many of the fiery riffs, takes a supporting role, "making everything flow together, and making everything hit its peak at the right times. Keeping things heavy when they need to be, but also bright, so it doesn't sound like a grungy mess."
That balance of contrast and dynamics, along with regrets and hopes, informs many of the songs on the album, including the standout anthem, "Shudder." "It's a song that's very uplifting, and very triumphant in a way," Stiller says. "But there's some dark things entwined in there." But don't ask him what the lyrics are about. "We don't really necessarily like to get into the details of everything that is being said ... it's really not as important as what people make of them."
"As opposed to having a ridiculously poppy song and a ridiculously heavy song,," he adds, "if you can mold those two together -- those different avenues together -- that's really what Kill the Drama is."
Close Friends will be released in a joint show with School of Athens, which is lauching its own CD The Manuscript, on Sat., Feb. 24, at Diesel. The South Side venue, formerly Nick's Fat City, has itself become a new contender on the Pittsburgh music scene, with local bands playing all-ages shows and Jon Rinaldo's Joker Productions booking national acts. "The location's good, the sound was good when we played there, the stage was nice," says Stiller. "It really had the feel of a legitimate rock venue. Which, it seems like, are dying by the day in Pittsburgh."
Kill the Drama and School of Athens dual CD release, with Triggers. 6 p.m. Sat., Feb. 24 (doors at 5 p.m.). Diesel, 1601 E. Carson St., South Side. $5. All ages. 412-431-8800 or www.dieselpgh.com