Courtesy of Atom Splitter PR

Working Their Strengths – Talking Killswitch Engage’s ‘Holidaze Rager’ & Side Projects

Sharper than ever are Killswitch Engage, the Massachusetts-hailing metal quintet with more tricks up their sleeve than they let on – including a trio of Christmastime concerts for NJ, NY, and MA.

Killswitch Engage have not only been the heaviest band for years, but they’ve also been the most soulful. This is an act that has broken many barriers by simply injecting raw emotion in between their screams. We have to note that every album cycle is more exciting than the last, musically and personally. They’re one of the few bands that – despite their lineup changes – still maintain quality with every single era they embark on. Now it has been three whole years since their last official record release, but the band has no intentions of slowing down and are still keeping busy.

They’re set to play a massive holiday show in New Jersey this week, which is a great example of how productivity and creativity, as well as engaging with fans, is a part of who they are to their core. For a band that has been around as long as KsE has, their continued relevance becomes obvious when you see their explosive live performances. A Killswitch concert is the cherry on top of their music.

Earlier this month we had the chance to talk with Justin Foley, Killswitch Engage’s drummer, about their upcoming live shows and holiday plans. With so much Jersey love in their hearts, this is bound to be a memorable show for any metalhead in the tri-state area… and this is without mentioning that Foley’s brand new side gig, the band Lybica, is also opening the shows alongside supporting rockers Rivers of Nihil and Unearth. Playing two sets in a single night is bound to be a prolific moment for the drummer and new friend of The Aquarian, so that is something we got into in the following conversation.

Right off the bat, the holiday show for our New Jersey readers is coming up on December 28 at Starland Ballroom. Are you excited?

Yeah, absolutely! We’ve had awesome shows at that place. It’s always super fun to go there – that crowd has been on it forever. It’s been really, really fun. There are certain rooms that you just remember and you get a feeling from when just thinking about the room. I don’t know how to describe it, but that’s definitely one of those places. [It’s] awesome that we have a show there.

It’s that Jersey crowd that knows how to get hyped more than any crowd I’ve ever been in, personally. It’s such a community experience. 

You can definitely feel that from playing and just from being at the venue before. Years and years ago we did a signing or something kind of by the entrance and everyone was just super fired up even for [that]. Jersey’s always been an awesome place for us.

You know what’s crazy about Killswitch Engage? You guys have been making music for 20+ years and there’s still this insane amount of hype with everything you drop. Whether it be Incarnate in 2016 or Atonement in 2019 or even the live album from this year, being deep into your career and still see people foaming at the mouth for more content from the band is amazing.

I don’t even know what to say. It’s incredible. Yeah, we owe everything to our fans for being on this ride with us for so long. It’s really a cool thing that people are still coming with us.

Absolutely! What I love about Killswitch Engage is you always put your best foot forward with every album. There’s never been a lackluster Killswitch album. When writing an album, how do you make it have a ‘Killswitch’ sound while also having it be new and original?

It’s tough. We don’t want to just do the same thing over and over again. Nobody wants to do that, you know? We always want to do something different. At the same time, we know what we are as a band. We want to work to our strengths. Also, like you said, it’s been so long. We’re definitely different people than we were 20 years ago. Everybody grows up and everybody’s taste changes and the stuff they are interested in changes. Even just being a musician, you change the kind of stuff that gets you real excited to be a musician. It all changes over time, so we always want to do something that we’re happy with. We’re always pushing ourselves to have something come out that’s good and that we’re really stoked on. We don’t ever want to do something where we’re going through the motions to just get something released. That’s probably never where any of this will come from.

I’m glad you get that sense. We definitely put a lot of thought into it. As goofy as the stage show can be, when we’re writing music we’re deadly serious about trying to get everything to that certain level that we deem is acceptable. 

Personally speaking, Atonement is my favorite Killswitch record. That’s saying a lot.


There are so many amazing records that you guys have made. As you’re saying, you grow as people and you can feel it.

Well, thanks! You never hear anyone say their seventh record is [their] favorite. It’s always the first or second. That’s awesome! Thank you so much.

I think that that’s such a testament to the band as we’re saying. You grow as people and your art grows as a result.

Yeah! You just stay true to yourself and what you’re into and what you’re trying to accomplish as a musician. That definitely changes over time, but what doesn’t change – at least what doesn’t change for us – is that we want to be as good as we can be and be as honest as we can be.

I want to get your opinion on this. A lot of people say Killswitch Engage created the genre called metalcore. They like to say, “Metalcore was born with Killswitch Engage.” However, I know that you have been vocal about it, saying, “Oh, we’re just metal! It doesn’t really matter the label!” Do you have any thoughts on that scene?

I don’t know. With [different] kinds of genres, I get why they exist. I have a hard time understanding them or even being able to put bands in them that I really like, though. I’ll be wrong on what our band is or something. It’s hard… it’s hard to do that. I think when we hear something like that it kind of makes us think that we discovered something brand new. We did the same thing all the other bands, every other band in existence, has done. We take influences from stuff we like – little pieces from this and that to make something that’s ours. Every band ever has done something like that. We just did it, too. We sound like this because of our influences. Whatever that is, we owe it to all the bands we listened to growing up, that’s for sure.

That’s such a unique perspective. I feel like a lot of music journalists are more like, “You guys use metal. You use some emo elements. Some of this,” and the band’s just like, “Well, we just write good music. We’re just trying to make good music.”

Yeah, you’re just trying to write riffs that you hear and get stoked about. That’s all we’ve been trying to do. Someone plays a riff and it’s like, “Hey, that’s awesome, let’s go with that,” or “Nope, but what else you got?” That hasn’t changed at all.

Even just the friendship that you guys have, I bet. This has been a very consistent lineup for years now. 

We genuinely really enjoy playing on stage. How can you not when you’re playing songs and people are stoked and you have a room full of people that are super excited to hear your songs and are singing it back to you? If that doesn’t get you stoked then get out of here – you’re doing the wrong thing. It’s easy to be fired up and happy when you’re in front of people that are showing you so much love. That’s the best feeling. 

As the drummer, all the Killswitch songs are very fast and vigorous, and out of all the instruments, I feel that drums is the most physically taxing. Obviously playing an instrument is very difficult no matter what. With the drums you have to use your whole body, though. To play for like an hour-and-a-half, does that get exhausting?

No. I’m just sitting in a chair flailing my limbs around… that’s all. Adam’s the one that runs a 5K on stage every night. One of the things that drew me to drumming is that it feels kind of athletic. When I really got into drumming when I was 13, I was huge into soccer and sports, so [drumming] felt like running sometimes. That was one of the things that drew me in. Now, when playing a bunch of guitar with Lybica, you realize how physical it is in a different way that I didn’t even realize before. You get this release from literally smashing something that you don’t get that release when you’re playing guitar.

You mentioned Lybica and I definitely want to talk about that a bit. This is such a cool project that you have. With drums it’s all rhythm – you’re the soul of the song. With guitar, it’s all melody and totally separate thing. Was it hard to go from that sphere to the other sphere?

It was great! I loved it. I had a bunch of stuff laying around and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. To just be able to go in there and throw as much of that into something that it could, it was really fun to do. I just love the marriage of rhythm and melody and everything together. It was a really cool thing to put together. I’m really enjoying diving into guitar and getting to know that instrument, figure out the basics. It’s funny how much I didn’t know about it after playing in bands for decades, but then finding out that different pickups did different stuff. It was pretty humbling. It’s pretty fun to jump into that and also just be playing in a band from a different perspective. You hear things totally different by doing it that way. The way you’re fitting into everyone else playing is entirely different. Getting to see it from another side has been really really fun.

That is amazing and I’m urging all our readers to check it out. It really is an incredible record, the self titled Lybica. I want to say, and it’s not really a question but more of a statement: I really respect that. Justin, you’re in one of the most successful metal bands in history. Most people would be like, “I’m a drummer in a super successful metal band, that’s what I’m going to do!” Most people wouldn’t try a new instrument and new project. It’s really cool to see. 

Oh, thanks! I mean, the other guys have other stuff they do. I’ve always had a bunch of ideas sort of filling up a file on my computer not really seeing anything through with it. The time was right, though. Luckily I found some people that were into it and wanted to see where it would go now. It’s been super, super fun so far. I can’t wait to play these shows in December, too, with Killswitch. I definitely scammed the guys into letting us open those, but I’m really excited and nervous to be on those stages, different parts of those stages, in one night… scary but exciting.

It’s going to be cool for you to play double sets! That’s also a hard thing to do because the guitar is draining in a different way. But drums, as we’re talking about, is so physical. You’re utilizing every mental capacity for every show.

We did it with one show on the last tour we did with Lamb of God. There was an off date show that Killswitch headlined and we needed an opener for it. I was like, “No, it’s not a big deal. It’s two different instruments. I’ll be fine.” I realized there’s a whole other mental taxing and like an adrenaline fade that happens. I did the set and I was just getting ready for drumming and halfway through the Killswitch set I started thinking, “Wow, my adrenaline is not where it usually is at this point.” It’s because, I realized, “That’s right, you emptied some of that tank earlier.” That’s something different that I’ll just have to navigate.

This is just from a fan’s perspective, and I might be right or I might be wrong. [When drumming], you’re so focused on the drums and the instruments around you, but when you’re on guitar, you’re seeing the audience and you’re seeing their faces and you’re seeing their expressions. That’s got to be weird, too. 

That’s the worst part! [Laughs] I love being in the background, not being the focal point. It’s so easy with Killswitch during all the set everyone else is doing. Yeah, I’m just hanging out back there drumming and it’s perfect. I look at the crowd and no one is looking at me ever. It’s awesome. I love it. Then you’re up there [during Lybica] and I’m like, “Oh no, everyone can see what I’m doing.” That’s something I’ll definitely need to get used to.

One more question for you: Killswitch Engage is gearing up for the studio. Tell me a little bit about what percentage of the songs are done. Are you guys still in writing? Mixing? 

Oh, it’s writing, definitely still in writing! Done? I would say 0% done but it’s in writing and we’ve got a lot of ideas. I can’t say anything is done. There are lots of ideas and no shortage of riffs and we are getting some pretty cool lyric ideas coming from Jesse, too. We’re starting to put the pieces together. I think it’s about that time as it’s been a while since Atonement was out. We’re excited like always to do that, and, once again, put what we’re doing through the wringer to make sure that it’s worthy of being released, which is a tough thing.