Everyone’s definition of courage varies, but one person who irrefutably has a huge amount of it is Times Of Grace frontman Jesse Leach. The singer left the promising and much beloved Killswitch Engage at their crescendo, and has now come around full circle with KSE partner and kindred spirit, Adam Dutkiewicz to form Times Of Grace. The band, completed by guitarist Joel Stroetzel, bassist Daniel Struble and drummer Dan Gluszak, are embarking on a tour without so much as a small club date to prepare. Now that is courage.
Their Roadrunner Records debut The Hymn Of The Broken Man is rich, both in righteous fury and ethereal beauty, thusly acknowledging the duality humanity must endure to flourish. Also, to their credit, the duo of Jesse and Adam could have easily revived what they accomplished on Alive Or Just Breathing, but this offering covers a greater circumference and showcases the musician’s commitment to refine each song to it’s hilt.
If you consider Jesse’s first stint with KSE as one round in the music ring, and his time in The Empire Shall Fall and Seamless as the second, and then it stands to reason that with Times Of Grace, the third time is the charm.
The name Times Of Grace is instantly gripping. Aside from the spiritual connotation, well intertwined with it actually, because I don’t think anything can be totally separate from the spiritual, it feels like a reference to having courage under fire.
Yeah, you could say that. That is definitely an aspect of it. Just humbling yourself when you are going through a rough patch… a rough time in your life, and realizing that people care for you and the graciousness of God is really what can pull you through those really bad times. The name really just came out of a conversation that Adam and I were having. As soon as it came out of Adam’s mouth. I was like, “That’s it, that’s the name of our band right there.” It was one of those moments where we both looked at each other and we knew that that was going to be the name. To me it speaks volumes on many different levels. The word “grace” is such a powerful word.
What was it like working with Adam again, did the chemistry resume as soon as you got together?
We’ve always maintained a pretty healthy friendship over the years. Back in the Alive Or Just Breathing days, working together was rather difficult. I didn’t really have a good sense of who I was as a vocalist, or for that matter, as a person. This time around, it was a completely different thing for us; there was such a different energy there. It was a really enjoyable process.
How long of a process was it?
For me it was five or six weekends but during the course of eight months, because [Adam] just didn’t have time, in between tours and him producing records. It was interesting too, because we let the songs breathe, and I could go back and change something if I wanted too. So it was nice to have the time to really develop the songs over the course of the eight or nine months that we were recording. A lot of thought put into it and a lot of passion.
I like “Hope Remains” a lot. It feels like you’re singing not only about the redemption of others but of your own as well. It’s not preachy.
Oh, that’s great. We tried to really channel what we were going through, and when you go through a hard time, and the lessons you walk away with from that experience—it’s worth sharing with people, because everybody suffers. Everybody goes through hard times and knows what pain is. So I feel like that is part of the human experience. I feel like when you come out of a really dark time, whatever you’ve learned and walked away from, it’s almost your duty as an artist to express that to people. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it sort of makes the world a better place. We can all learn from each other’s experiences.
Your band seems like a diamond in the rough, because it’s so easy to pen the “drink and die” message, but the fact that you offer that extra spiritual level makes you stand out. Were you ever hesitant about that, like, “Are people going to get this?” “Are they ready for this?”
You know what’s amazing is that we didn’t think about that. This album was made out of necessity. It was made, because we felt we had to make it. So there was no moment where we sat and said, ‘Oh, I wonder if people are going to get it?’ Of course, honestly, we want people to be able to connect to it, but if people hate on it, then so be it. Then it’s not for you. In our minds, it’s for everybody, it’s just a matter if people give it a chance. This record wasn’t written to make a career out of, it wasn’t written to tour off of—that’s a wonderful byproduct that actually happened to us because of the record, so that is a blessing.
I guess that means that people are ready for it.
Yeah, I wouldn’t be where I am at right now if people weren’t. After a couple of years of working nine to five, now I am getting ready for the road.
“Falling From Grace” is a powerful song. You say that you have fallen yourself, how have you fallen in the past?
For me, what I have been through, I think it’s important as an artist to allow that to remain personal, because I feel like the byproduct of the things that I have been through is more important than the experience itself. As far as creating a piece of art or a piece of music, allowing people to hear the song and read the lyrics, and sort of come up with their own interpretation of what it means to them. I feel like me commenting on it, and explaining what the song is about specifically, it sort of takes away from the beauty of their own interpretation. Often people come up with a deeper, more intense interpretation of what it may mean or what I went through, and l love keeping a bit of a mystery there.
I think my favorite on the record, is “Where The Spirit Leads Me.” Have you dissected the record in that way yet?
Yes, it’s funny because they really all speak to me on a different level. Each song speaks to me in certain moods and it’s really all part of the package. It’s really hard for me to say this one or that one. I think that one that I have brought up, because I think there is a really interesting story behind it, is the “End Of Eternity.” It’s the epic of the record; it’s the longest song on the record. That one was written by Adam, he had an idea for the chorus, he had these lyrics in mind, but I didn’t hear his ideas, I thought it was an instrumental. I didn’t hear his ideas. I was writing the song on my own. I was talking to him about what I was going to write it about, so when I came to the studio, my lyrics were all dark. All about seduction and evil, and I felt like it was a really dark song. About the maintaining your hope and love, about the fact that there is still beauty in the world no matter what you are going through. To just truly collaborate on that, lyrically and vocally ,where he maintains that positive light, and even his voice is that light part of that song, and I am sort of the darker part of that song. To me, that’s a real great example of how we work together. It has a real special place for me, just because of the way it was conceived. We’ve been rehearsing and it’s a great song to play live.
You’re about to go on tour, but you haven’t even played any little club shows or anything yet. Have you?
No, were are trial by fire. We just finished off our last rehearsal, we had like maybe five or six rehearsals as a band, but fortunately, we have picked up some really solid musicians who learned the stuff on their own. When we get together it’s business, we just run through the stuff a couple of times and that’s it. I am curious to see what our first show is like, there may be some flaws here and there, but it’s all part of the experience.
That shows a real belief in what you’re doing.
The record was supposed to come out earlier than it did, what happened there?
Well, basically, between the artwork of the record, and the visual, the DVD we did for the special edition… all that stuff wasn’t wrapped up yet. We could have rushed, and we could have made last minute decisions and pushed it out in November, but I think it was wise for us. I mean, we waited four years for this record to come out; a couple of months to us wasn’t worth it. We made sure all the Is were dotted and the Ts were crossed. It was just a labor of love, and we just waited to put it out until it’s perfect.
What I really like and respect about this is that it doesn’t sound like Killswitch Engage part II.
What was the process like for you to reach this point? It seems like you are right where you’re supposed to be at this moment.
It’s hard to put it into words. I feel like I really didn’t find myself as a human being in all honesty until maybe 30-years-old, a couple of years ago. I think up until that point, I wasn’t really honest with who I am. It’s one of those things that when something happens to you, like a really intense thing, you just see through different eyes. And for me, the one thing that I felt like was that I really had to give music a fulltime shot again. I really felt compelled to share this record with people, and to go out and challenge myself to be on the road again.
Working a nine to five job—it sucks the soul out of an artist. I really felt lost for a good couple of years, and I think having that realization made me feel like I’ve got to share what I have learned. I have got share what I have gone through with the world. I feel so blessed that I am able to give it a shot. I mean there are no guarantees. I mean when you have something that you feel the need to express or share, you should just do it. Life is too short and too fleeting, and it’s so worth it.
Even if people don’t get it, just to be able to let it out, and it’s such a release. It’s such a perfect, wonderful thing. Again, I just feel really blessed that I am able to do that. In my personal life, I am more honest with my family, with my friends. I have allowed people to get to know me, the real me, where before I had walls put up. I was afraid to let people get to know me, and now I am more confident in who I am. That has actually made me a better singer, because I am not afraid to bare my soul. I am more honest about things.
It sounds like it’s not only your artistic expression, but also, a courage to embrace who you are.
Yeah, it comes out when people need me now, or when I am doing interviews. I am a different person than even just a-year-and-a-half, two years ago.
That’s great, and something that people can follow your lead on.
You know what I have realized too about being self-aware, there is a new confidence to where I am not afraid about what people think about my art, about my work. Where before if someone would criticize me or say something negative about it, it would really hurt my feelings. Now I feel like if someone says something negative or hurtful, I kind of just shrug it off, because I feel really confident about what I have been able to do. I feel that’s important as a performer, you want to be able to be up there and feel confident with what you are doing. Sans cockiness, I think you’ve got to walk that fine line between being confident without being a jackass. I feel that I am starting to figure that out.
Maybe that’s your time of grace.
It feels like God’s plan for you, you had to take that time out to come around full circle
You couldn’t have said it better. All things happen for a reason, I firmly believe that.
Are there any touring plans beyond these first couple of dates?
Yeah, thankfully we have started to confirm a few festival dates up in Canada, there is a festival in Belgium that we confirmed. So it looks like we are going to jump the pound and do some festivals in Europe. Lord knows. I mean I feel really good and I feel really positive about everything, but in this day and age, nothing is guaranteed. Adam and I just feel blessed that the record came out and we are actually going to do some touring. My hope is that it continues and is able to be a fulltime thing. Time will tell.
Times Of Grace will play the Gramercy Theatre in NYC on Feb. 22. Find more info at myspace.com/timesofgraceband.