Killer of Sheep on police brutality, the perils of nostalgia, and being Black in hardcore punk scenes | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Killer of Sheep on police brutality, the perils of nostalgia, and being Black in hardcore punk scenes

click to enlarge Killer of Sheep
Killer of Sheep

Killer of Sheep have a lot to say if you take the time to ask. The four-piece band has been a staple of Pittsburgh hardcore for the better part of a decade, churning out brazen, hard-hitting political punk records, like the police brutality takedown "Jordan Miles/Gasoline" from 2017's Scorned. Both in their music and in person, the members don't hold back — on the perils of nostalgia, on the Trump presidency, on racism within and without the punk and hardcore scenes they've navigated since their inception. All you have to do is ask.

Formed eight years ago, the band — Greg Mairs on drums, Oyo Ellis on guitar, Ollie on vocals, and Trip on bass — has released three records (their latest for the seminal San Diego-based Taang! Records) and garnered a loyal fanbase internationally.

Ellis and Mairs have been playing together in Pittsburgh since their teenage years in the mid-1980s and the chemistry they developed still impacts how they approach music today. Nonetheless, Ellis feels it's important to keep the band away from relying too much on nostalgia for their upbringings in the punk scene.

“My effort is really to keep it in the midst of what’s relevant [now],” he says.

What's relevant to the band now is how they react against the misogyny and racism the band feels is emanating from this country’s leadership and spilling into everyday lives. 

“The politics is why we’re still here,” says Mairs. “The politics was an explanation as to why punk rock was separating itself from the ultimate white society at large. That’s the politics of punk rock. It’s my position that politics explains punk rock’s longevity.”

Ellis, however, felt his experiences of life in America were not being well represented in punk. “I would say the Black community ain’t represented in none of that shit. Because it’s not coming from anybody that’s had those experiences. I don’t know of any band that resonated with the Black community. I was trying to fit into what was already there. I didn’t get that feeling until I started listening to hip hop. Even a band like Bad Brains … their Blackness was unique, but it didn’t inform their music as much as you think,” he says.

Killer of Sheep has been able to use its platform as an extension of the members' views of Black life not only in America at large but also in Pittsburgh (as in the aforementioned "Jordan Miles," a black teenager who was severely beaten by three Pittsburgh police officers in January of 2010). 

“Things sound different coming from different people. I think the subject is kind of a given.” Ellis says. “A lot of white people don’t even see that as a white-people issue. ‘It’s not something that we deal with. We have sympathy for it, but it’s not really true.’ If it’s an all-white [band] talking about police brutality, it seems different coming from a Black band."

"My life is politics. Just being Black, going out there every day and being conscious of a certain type of way [of navigating] life in this country. Shit ain’t easy,” says Ellis.

For Killer of Sheep though, there is more work to be done. With an EP set for a Japanese release this summer and a stateside release later this year, Killer of Sheep continues to perform with the same force that has shaped its stalwarts since their youth.

And they still have a lot to say. 

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