I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Jesse Leach, vocalist of the renowned metal band Killswitch Engage about their upcoming release, Disarm the Decent. This is Jesse’s first album with the band since his return a little over a year ago. The band is widely considered to be pioneers of the metalcore genre and have received numerous accolades of the years including a Grammy Nomination for Best Metal Performance. Here is how the conversation went.
Hey Jesse how are you today?
Jesse: I am doing great thanks.
Where you guys at today?
Jesse: Well I am at home here in New York; we leave for tour in Australia in a few days so I am just hanging out doing the home thing and relaxing while I can.
How long are you going to be in Australia?
Jesse: We are doing the Soundwave Festival which I think is about two weeks long and then from there we are going to Hawaii and Alaska. Then we are home for a few weeks and off to Europe once again.
Are you going to be doing the festival circuit again this year?
Jesse: No actually this year we are backing off the festival circuit and doing a headlining run instead.
Now that Disarm The Descent is complete, how do you feel about it and are you satisfied with the outcome?
Jesse: I would not change a thing, I think it is great. The album captures a moment in time of just being back in the band, being back in the family and touring again. I am really proud of the record and I would not change a thing.
Check out the song “In Due Time”
Was the record written prior to your return?
Jesse: Yeah musically it was pretty much done. When I heard the stuff I thought it was great and I was so stoked about it. Not much tweaking had to be done at all. They handed me sixteen demos to work on before we headed out on that first tour, but a lot of the writing I did off the road. It is very difficult for me to be creative while on tour. The songs were conceived on tour but mostly written in the studio.
Is that different from the way you used to write when you were in the band in the late 90s?
Jesse: It is definitely different. For example the first Killswitch Engage album, (the original self-titled record) was written in a few weeks and actually was recorded in just under a week, which is very very quick, sort of the DIY punk way of doing things. It was tough back in the early days because I wasn’t totally confident with my voice and just as a person. I just really didn’t have a strong artistic vision.
Disarm The Dissent seems to be a bit heavier and more aggressive than a typical Killswitch Engage record. Was that intentional or was that something that just sort of happened?
Jesse: No it was intentional I think for those guys. Being pretty unhappy with the last record they musically just wanted to give the new material more teeth and more balls. I just reacted to that, I heard it and thought well if these guys want to bring the thunder, we are going to do this. I got really excited just by hearing the music. A lot of the vocal sounds and the way I delivered them were a direct response to that.
I think it makes sort of a statement as well sort of like, “Here we are back as the original unit again.”
Jesse: Yeah I think that was the thought process behind the way it happened. There is a little bit of that in the lyrics, I tried to write in a very broad brush stroke and I think, “The New Awakening,” is sort of the anthem for us, it kind of sums up how we feel, to just get out there and do it and not be afraid of anything, live life to the fullest. That is what we have been doing since I got back in the band and touring has been a blast now. We have it in fifth gear and we have no plans on slowing down.
Does it feel good to be back in the saddle again?
Jesse: Yeah it does man. It is different though. I have been a musician for over twenty years now and for the past ten years I have been doing things my own way. While it feels good to be able to do things my own way and explore new directions with a band on the level of Killswitch it has been so much fun because I am now riding in fancy tour buses and being treated much differently. I used to deal with promoters myself and get screwed over, but none of that happens now with this band. All I have to do now is worry about grabbing a microphone and singing; it is a blast.
What were the circumstances that led to you returning to the band?
Jesse: When Howard left there were talks about them holding auditions. I hung out with those guys and they had asked me to be a part of the band again a month before the audition process and the announcement of the news with Howard. I initially turned it down because I was pretty satisfied with where I was artistically and I felt that I might not be comfortable singing songs that I didn’t write. Time went on and I was working my shift at my job, (because I used to be a working guy), and I remember reading the press release about the auditions. I thought somebody is going to get the job so maybe I ought to give it a shot. I called up Adam and consulted with him and he told me they were going to hold auditions and exercise all the options they had. I called management up and told them to put me on the list because I wanted to audition. I had turned it down before and I just wanted to prove to them that I was really serious about being back in the band, so I went and auditioned.
Was it weird auditioning for a band that you were a founding member of?
Jesse: No I think with all the thought that had gone into this I felt it was the proper way to do it. I think those guys sort of ruled out having me come back after I initially turned it down. So because I had changed my mind after the fact I just thought it was an honorable way to do it by allowing them to go through the process of hearing other people sing the songs. When I first showed up I said, “guys you know I really really want this and we are really good friends but if guys choose somebody else for the job I get it, no hard feelings, I support you guys and want you to make the best move that you can.”
Check out a ‘Disarm the Decent’ teaser clip
When you are performing live do you find it difficult singing songs that were written during the “Howard” era?
Jesse: Yeah I mean like I said that was the initial reason for me being unsure about it in the first place, but I would be talking to you right now if I didn’t find a way to do it. I found a way to live inside those songs I found a way to make them my own so that when I am up there singing them I have attached my own feelings, thoughts and emotions to them, making them my own.
Gotcha, the subject matter is a bit different than topics that you write about as well right?
Jesse: Yeah definitely, it definitely is. But I think the subjects that Howard wrote about are subjects that everyone can relate to and so I just had to figure out how those songs worked for me. I have a bit different of a style.
You guys are widely considered to be pioneers and early innovators of the metalcore genre. Does that add any pressure to you when you are writing or performing or do you not even think about it?
Jesse: No I don’t even think about it, to me it is just a weird sort of thing. It is an honor that people think we are pioneers, it is really amazing but I don’t want to take any responsibility for any of the metalcore that has come out recently. For me it is all about the music, the audience and my band as long as all that stuff is working the outside pressure does not even matter, it is all white noise, you learn to ignore it all.
Any closing words Jesse?
Jesse: Just gratitude to the fans and anyone who cares about this band and has supported us.