An Interview with Jesse Leach from Killswitch Engage: The Return

This post originally was featured as the cover story in the October 29 edition of The Aquarian Weekly, Vol. 2-788.

Killswitch Engage is marking a moment. It’s been nearly three years since former lead singer Howard Jones departed the Massachusetts metalcore group after nine years. In an exciting twist for all—particularly fans—founding singer Jesse Leach was announced as his replacement the following month, in February 2012.timthumb.php

With Leach back in the band full throttle, touring the group’s April 2013 release, Disarm The Descent, bassist Mike D’Antonio, guitarists Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz, and drummer Justin Foley are gearing up for their first album from composition to creation as a unit.

This group serves up a hearty slice of head-banging humble pie, as each member is genuinely excited about having the opportunity to jam together and bring their collective inspiration to the masses. Have you ever seen the crowd at a Killswitch Engage show? In addition to your cliché mosh madness, it’s not uncommon to see fans being pulled up on stage to sing along with Leach—it’s a soulful experience and celebration of music.

The future of KSE looks bright. Look no further than the lead single “In Due Time” off the band’s most recent release for an apropos lyrical explanation: “All in due time, shadows will give way, give way to light.” Leach took some time from one of his favorite places in upstate New York to reflect on his experiences with KSE since his return, the band’s special bond, and the road ahead:

AFB: It’s coming up on three years since you officially rejoined the band. How have the experiences with the band been for you personally since you returned?

JL: It’s life changing for sure. Obviously for my career, but for me personally just being able to live without the restrictions of going to a job in between tours to see the world and play places I never thought I would play before. At my age, getting a chance to do this again, it’s been incredible. It’s changed my whole life and my whole perspective on the world.

AFB: You’re heavily active on social media and share a lot of your personal creative offerings and musings via your website. From where do you draw your inspiration for this content?

JL:I write all the time, just being a writer. Half the stuff I write just never makes it out to people. The great thing for me, having my website as a forum to reach out to fans without having to worry about being briefed about what I want to say, it’s been very liberating to share different parts of who I am. In the age we live in—when I was younger—I didn’t know much about my heroes and the people I look up to because that’s just the way it was. Nowadays social media is everything. If fans are standing by you then that goes a long way. The least you can do is give back to them, so that’s my way of doing that. And through that, I’ve found a certain catharsis so it works for both of us.

AFB: Killswitch Engage share a great deal of “behind the scenes” footage, which is a nice extension of the band’s offering to fans. You always look like you’re having fun and want to share that with the community.

JL: It’s all about longevity. The fact that this band has lasted as long as it has, with the transition of members, to me shows that we have die-hard fans that will stand by us as long as we’re being authentic and being who we are. I think putting out behind the scenes footage shows them the family vibe; it shows them that we’re out there, away from our families. There’s a certain aspect of family that’s inherent within the band. They may admit that they’ve lost that at some point. You sometimes get lost in yourself, lost in your career. But this band had a chance to really regroup and fix things when they went on hiatus.

That’s kind of where I came into play. I realized that in my life, I was working odd jobs and doing whatever I had to do to survive. I lost touch with the music and what the career is all about but it came together at the right time and from that point we’ve all been pretty grateful for the fact that we have careers. It’s like a reigniting of desire and passion in music. I think our fans can see that. You can tell we’re having a good time. We’re not going anywhere. We’re a family unit. You come see us live and you can see that. We’re grateful to do this after all these years.

AFB: What are your observations about the genre of metalcore and those bands that are in the game primarily to sell records?

JL: To me the whole idea of calling it quits because your record sales aren’t up is absolutely ridiculous. Record sales are such a minor component. Live shows, selling T-shirts—that’s how we started. We started in the hardcore scene as fans; it was a community. That aspect as a band isn’t lost on us. We’re still in touch with where we come from. For bands jumping on the genre because it got big and they wanted to sell records back in 2005 or whatever, that’s the way of any type of music. If you look at L.A. in the ’80s; Seattle in the ’90s, that’s just the way of the beast.

AFB: You are a spectacular live performer. What is your vocal training or maintenance ritual?

JL:Especially doing the kind of music that we’re doing, there’s a lot of aggression and it’s a lot on the voice. These last couple of tours we’ve also been doing the longest sets we’ve ever done—almost an hour and 20 minutes. As long as you’re hydrating yourself and getting sleep and not partying too hard, you’ll be fine!

For me, [vocal coach] Melissa Cross is one of my saving graces. She’s starting to blow my mind. I’m learning a whole new area of notes and scales. I’m sort of reinventing myself all for this next record and I want to make sure my vocals sound unique. I think it’s a constant evolution. When I’m on tour I’m very strict about what I do. It’s very rare that you’ll see me yelling, screaming, and partying.

AFB: Are you actively working on a new record?

JL: There’s a lot floating around about what we’re going to do but I think when the rubber hits the road it’s going to be all about getting on the road together and feeling it out, which is happening soon. For this record I wasn’t a part of the process of writing any of the music because it was done. The exciting thing for me is, I was starting an email chain a week after getting off the tour, and clearly nobody was ready to talk about the next record but I was just stoked! “Come on guys, I want to make this record.” I didn’t get a response right away so I think we’re still in the mode of needing space and being with our families after coming off a two-year cycle touring the world.

Recording only gets real fun when we’re done for the day. In the studio, make no mistake, Adam [Dutkiewicz, bassist and producer] is a tough guy to please. I’ll do two takes and be completely happy with it and he’ll make me do anther 20 just in case and drives me crazy, but the end result is amazing. He doesn’t mess around! It gets to the point where sometimes we argue. But I respect that he’s a damn good producer. The band moving up has a lot to do with his way of producing. I’m very much a raw, punk hardcore kind of guy—I love that about music. With Killswitch that’s not the case—you’re not going to hear any flaws because it’s going to be an exact science but that’s just how the band is.

Killswitch Engage will play Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Thursday, Oct. 30. Their latest album, Disarm The Descent, is available now. For more information, go to killswitchengage.com.

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