Contemporary American metal outfit Killswitch Engage are currently touring in support of their widely praised release, Disarm The Descent. With original vocalist Jesse Leach’s return to the roster of the quintet, big things are surely on the horizon. Don’t call it a comeback, though, as the seamless harmony of this band on their latest album would have a listener believe that the singer never even left. The group has put out six full-lengths to date, a DVD, and in recent times, new music videos for two tracks off Disarm The Descent. The videos are both visually and emotionally stimulating, but conceptually, could not be more different.
Killswitch Engage will remain on the road for just about another week or so before picking their gear back up again in the beginning of 2014 to go worldwide. At a tour stop in Detroit, Leach chatted with the Aquarian for a few minutes to talk past, future, and whiskey. Here are some of the more interesting moments of our conversation:
You and the band have just put out a video for the slow-building, emotionally-driven track “Always.” The song, which at face value appears to be a love tune, takes on an entirely new connotation within the video. Why did you decide to go in a somber direction with the storyline for this one?
I wouldn’t say that that is exactly what the song is about, but when you’re doing a video, you try your best to represent what you can. I teamed up with [Ian] McFarland and [Mike] Pecci, who are brilliant guys. I basically said to them, “This is what I don’t want: Typical guy meets girl whole thing,” because you can go there with that whole thing. I get it, a lot of people think that way. I just wanted it to be a little deeper than that so that it would impact people in a different way.
I’ve dealt with a lot of sickness and still deal with cancer in my family. Watching somebody pass away and that feeling of helplessness, ultimately when they do pass away, the feelings that rush through you and the memories that come back, it’s bittersweet. That’s kind of what I wanted the video to capture. That bittersweet feeling of loss, you mourn them, but you also celebrate them, try to focus on the positive things. I thought this would be better represented through family, a brotherly love, as opposed to a romantic or spousal love.
In contrast, the music video for “In Due Time” is a display of lighthearted fun and the band not taking themselves too seriously. I appreciated the fresh approach to that concept as well.
I think that’s a part of who we are, too. Even live, Adam [Dutkiewicz, guitarist] makes jokes; you’ll see us smiling on stage. There’s definitely moments of passion that are very serious, but more often times than not, we are having fun. I think that shows. I think it is important to portray that.
We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We are a metal band who come from hardcore and punk. That being said, you can only do so much posturing up there, like being a tough guy and all that other crap. We thought it was important—especially with me back in the band—to show fans, “Hey, we’re just a bunch of guys having a good time.” That’s why we still do it.
“In Due Time” has a melody that sticks with you. What is the lyrical backstory behind this cut?
It actually comes from a piece that I wrote a while back. I am a writer as well; I write poetry. I don’t want to call them “journal entries,” just when I have a feeling that I need to write to express myself, I will do it.
It’s one that I wrote a while back about just biding your time—when you’re feeling down, when you’re going through a period in your life where you’re not sure what is going on. If you have patience, if you have hope, and if you have humility, things happen when they are supposed to happen.
That’s what that song is all about: biding your time and realizing that everything is happening for a reason and that it has a time. All things happen in their due time. That’s kind of where it all comes from.
What is your routine like as far as vocal warm-ups go?
I definitely have one vocal warm-up that stuck with me from—she’s better known as the lady who did The Zen Of Screaming [Melissa Cross]. She was one of the first people who showed me how, because it is important to prepare when you’re going to do crazy stuff with your voice. Your brain and your voice have to be in the right condition. Thankfully, I figured that out.
I do that, I drink a lot of water, I’ll do hot tea in the morning, lemon and ginger… I have a pretty strict routine. I stick with basic-type foods when I’m on the road, not a lot of acidic red sauce. All of that stuff matters somehow.
The one thing I do do is I definitely enjoy my whiskey, but in moderation. People are going to say that I am wrong, but I am not the only vocalist who feels this way. A little bit of whiskey before I go on stage clears the mucus away and just takes off the edge.
Really? Like a shot?
I tend to be a sipper; shots get you into trouble. In particular, I really enjoy Irish and Scottish whiskey. I try to do it in moderation.
I’m going to start using that as an excuse. “You know, I heard…”
(Laughs) You can blame me on that one. Another little known secret is Guinness beer: It is the lightest in calories and is the only beer that doesn’t have an extreme inflammation effect on your vocal cords. You don’t want to do too much before a set, but after, oh yeah, or even during, I’ll have some Guinness on stage with me.
Interesting. I had heard about the calorie count, but did not know about the inflammation thing.
The old Irish rumor is that there is a trace of fish oil in it. Believe that or not, it is supposed to have a natural anti-inflammatory factor. Now, I’m going off here… Fish oil is extremely good for your voice, for inflammation, so instead of taking ibuprofen when you’re feeling sore or hoarse, fish oil. You have to know your instrument and how to take care of it.
Getting back on track, how has the tour been for you guys this go-around?
Absolutely great. The Lamb Of God guys are great. Old friends, being on tour with Testament is very humbling and amazing. The Huntress are awesome. Every band is a little different. Our fans get to come up and see four different kinds of metal bands. The crowd’s been great, sold-out shows… [It’s been] a lot of fun.
What are Killswitch Engage’s plans for the end of 2013 into 2014?
Thankfully, we get a nice little break after this one, which I plan on doing some traveling, some writing on my own. Then, we’re looking at a UK run with Trivium, I believe we’re filling up dates for Japan, South Africa is confirmed… We’re working on going other places as well. I’d say by the end of the year, pretty much the world. I guess the next step would be writing the next album. We’ll see, one thing at a time. Not going to rush that one.
You guys have a distinct flavor to your sound. How do you keep alive the core essentials of Killswitch while continuing to grow creatively? Or do you feel that anything under your name goes?
I’m not sure how our fans feel about it, [but] for me, on this last record especially, I tried to inject more of the hardcore stuff back in. Lyrically and vocally, I come from hardcore and punk rock. That’s kind of what the “core” of “metalcore” comes from is hardcore.
For me, I love metal—obviously, it’s what I do—but it’s not where I come from. I come from more of the punk-hardcore thing. For me, it’s important to inject that back in.
Also, the melody: The melody comes from the love of music, rock and roll, the early gothic, death metal bands that were doing the singing and the screaming way before Killswitch was. The blend of styles, I think that comes naturally to all of us because it is where we all come from.
Your focus as a band on being groove-oriented is definitely what sets you apart.
You’re going to be surprised to hear this, but I am a huge old-school hip-hop fan. I’m also a huge reggae fan. The way that I sing and the way that I place my words is very much influenced by emcees. Very much influenced by reggae music, too. The placement of a voice—to make your head nod, to very melodic metal—I try to put my voice in there to make you feel that groove. That 4/4, that 3/4, that’s very important in music.
I think you guys are doing a great job of balancing these things and making them your own.
We’re trying (laughs).
Killswitch Engage will perform at the Starland Ballroom on Nov. 22 and the Electric Factory on Nov. 24. Their new album, Disarm The Descent, is available now through Roadrunner. For more information, go to killswitchengage.com.