A lot of the reason why the genre of Metalcore became so huge in the middle part of the ‘00s is because of the music of Killswitch Engage. Killswitch is celebrating its ten year anniversary this year and I think most would agree that it’s been a solid run for the band so far. To kick off the summer, the group released its fifth studio album (their second self-titled record) in early June. The album is unusual for the reason that for the first time, the band opted to work with a mainstream producer in Brendan O’Brien (Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine) rather than with Killswitch guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz who had previously always taken care of all production duties. The guys are just getting the latest touring cycle going behind the new record which will likely keep them on the road at least until the end of 2010. We recently had the chance to talk with Killswitch bassist Mike D’Antonio about what’s going on with the band and the new record.
You’re currently on tour throughout North America. How has everything been going so far?
Mike: Oh it’s going well, this is the first week of the tour, we’re touring with Slayer, Marilyn Manson, Bullet for my Valentine, Trivium’s on the bill, All That Remains, Cannibal Corpse, a lot of good bands, it’s a fun summer, hot as balls though.
The tour is of course in support of your brand new record released at the end of June. How do you feel about the album now that it’s been out a couple of weeks?
Mike: Oh I feel good about it man, it all depends on how everyone else feels about it to tell you the truth man. I mean I’ve heard it too much at this point so it’s time for somebody else to judge it.
Now let’s backtrack a little bit. Your last album As Daylight Dies came out at the end of 2006, then you toured for much of the next two years and somehow found time in there to write the new record. How did you manage to pull all of this off?
Mike: It was tough, it was actually two and a half years on tour, it’s the longest we’ve ever done but you know if people want to see you, you may as well keep going for sure. This business is not about longevity, it’s about playing to the kids who want to see you while they want to see you because they can give up pretty easily. You know, it’s tough, but it’s part of the job and it’s definitely one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had so you know you got to take the pros with the cons, there’s way more pros than there are cons, that’s for sure. As far as writing the new record, we had about three months off before we actually got back together to start writing so there was a little bit of time. For the last record cycle, we took a whole year off before we ended up getting back out on the road and that felt pretty relaxing, at the end of that everyone was just aching to get on the road, little did we know we’d be out for two and a half years. So yeah, this is the beginning, full speed ahead.
How much of it did you write on the road? Was a lot of it done while you were touring?
Mike: Actually none of it, we’re one of those bands who can’t write on the road at all, we’re either playing or it’s home writing, no real blending of the two.
You decided to self-title the album, the second time which you’ve done so. Why did you decide to put it out just as “Killswitch Engage” again instead of coming up with a proper title?
Mike: There were a lot of titles kicking around but the band’s a democracy and no one could really agree on one specific title. The idea of calling it Killswitch Engage was just sort of a starting over point, kind of a renewal of the band with the new producer, we felt it was kind of like a starting over point so that was sort of the idea behind it.
Now the new album is special for the reason that for the first time you decided to work with an outside producer and you chose an awfully famous and well-respected producer in Brendan O’Brien. Why did you decide to change it up for this album?
Mike: Well it was our fifth record, we figured if anything, that would be the record we could throw caution to the wind and try something a bit different. We were starting to get a bit too complacent, recording at the same studio in the same town we live in with the same producer five times in a row. It was one of those things where we found out that Brendan was really interested in producing the band, he really liked the band and we felt like it might be a good fit, a bit of a kick in the butt to get us to push a little bit more, to get us out of our element and attempt something a bit different.
Speaking of Brendan, how did he first become involved in the project?
Mike: Well for every record Roadrunner asks us “ok, this producer, this producer, this producer would really like to work with you, how do you guys feel?” And we always say “no, no, we have a producer, Adam’s fine.” With this one, we were talking about it early on that maybe we could use a producer and Roadrunner had said that Brendan O’Brien was in contact with them which feels kind of cool that a producer would go out of his way and call the record label to find out about the band and it all rolled from there. We had five or six phone conference calls with him just to make sure we were on the same page.
Take us through the writing and recording process for the new album. How many songs did you write in total?
Mike: Well whenever… like if we don’t record a song, it usually goes into the bucket for the next album. There was one or two from this album that were supposed to be on the last album that we never quite finished, but in total we record fifteen, including a joke song called “Shitty Pain Train,” something really stupid we did a morning after drinking heavily and having to go into the studio early AM and we just did it as a total joke. So I guess fourteen real songs and one really terrible one and out of the fourteen, thirteen only had vocals, there’s one that’s still kind of in limbo, we’re not really sure what’s going to happen with that, whether that’s going to go to the next album, or what… Something always pops up, a compilation or a movie soundtrack or something like that so we may just hold on to it for a while.
How would you say the new record compares to early Killswitch from ten years ago? What would you say is the number one difference in your sound now?
Mike: Well we’ve definitely gotten older, we’ve definitely grown as musicians, it’s way more melodic than we ever thought we would get, but the band’s always been about pushing limits anyways so you know, this is just a different direction of pushing a certain style of limit. I feel like we still hold true to our ethics of real DIY, punk rock attitude, you know a couple of member changes here and there but ten years, you live and learn you know…
Now the new record has been so well received that it marks Killswitch’s highest ever chart debut at number seven. A lot of bands claim not to care about record sales but how did it feel personally when you heard that it charted so high?
Mike: It feels good, it feels really good, I’m not sure if those charts really have any bearing on anything anymore these days besides record label people so as long as they’re happy, we’re happy. But it’s cool to get noticed like that, it’s a pretty amazing feat so we sort of care but not really, but it’s cool, like I said, to have that noticed I guess. People care enough to buy our record, that’s really cool.
Just a question about Adam who usually produces Killswitch’s records. Now that he took a bit of a backseat on this one, was it at all difficult for him to take a step back and let Brendan do his job?
Mike: Not really, with every album when we talk about new producers, Adam’s always the first one to step up and say “hey, use whatever producer you want, I have no problem with it at all.” He’s not a heavy handed, “I need to do this,” or a my way or the highway type of guy, he’s not like that at all, he’s totally cool with having other people at the helm, it’s just that if they don’t do a good job like he wanted it, he tends to complain a little bit. So if you can deal with him complaining a little bit then everything is fine.
Just a touring question for you, with five records now, how do you decide on your set list? What does that process consist of?
Mike: Well there are definitely songs that get way better reactions than others, we definitely take note in our head which ones are really good live songs and which ones are probably not the best idea to play. We definitely take into account that video songs are nowadays “hits” even though they have nothing to do hits at all, those are the ones that people know the most so we definitely try to play as many of those as possible, keep everyone happy. We’re not that type of band who plays what we want to hear, I mean we’re selling tickets to the fans and the fans want to hear certain songs and we feel like we should be playing for them, I mean they’re the ones supporting us. So yeah, we try to smatter in as many of the “hits” as we can. And then we’ll throw in two or three new songs here and there, we don’t want to bore anybody until the record is out a little bit longer and people gravitate towards certain songs. It’s usually sort of a guessing game as to what songs that are going to be the ones that people like the most.
Aside from the current North American tour, what does Killswitch have planned for the fall and early 2010?
Mike: The next tour after this, we’re doing a run in Canada with our buddies In Flames and that’s going to go all the way across Canada, it’s always super duper fun. Other than that, there’s been a few plans that kind of got scrapped in mid-planning and right now I’m not one hundred percent sure what we’re going to do right now but I know there are three or four different things being planned right now for after that. Rest assured, it’ll be another two years or so around the globe a few times before we settle down so there’s definitely going to be a lot going on.
Do you see this going on for another two and a half years like last time?
Mike: I mean we’ll see I guess it all depends on if the record industry implodes or not. At this point, things are going really, really well and you got to take it day by day, that’s for sure. I know with the last record, it was one of those things where we were pretty much done and then the record label released a special edition with “Holy Diver” and it kind of sprang forth a new life and it would have been stupid to end it at that point and not take advantage of “Holy Diver” on the radio so we went out for an extra half year.