Jesse Leach Talks Killswitch Engage Ambitions, Bringing Back Hardcore + More
Killswitch Engage vocalist Jesse Leach has had a busy year to say the least, most recently capped off with a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance ('In Due Time'). After he rejoined the band last year, Killswitch Engage have toured relentlessly behind their latest album, ‘Disarm the Descent.’
We recently caught up with Leach during the band's tour with Lamb of God, and he discussed the future goals of Killswitch Engage and about his growth as a singer. He also talked about his efforts to spread awareness of suicide prevention through his ‘Have Hope’ shirt, and why Gojira and Mastodon hold a special place in his heart. Check out our interview with Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage below.
Did your ambitions as a musician change from the first time you were in Killswitch Engage to your current return to the band?
Absolutely, I think for me rejoining, my mind was just like, “Hold on tight for the ride and see what happens. Roll the dice.” You never know how people are going to receive a new vocalist -- I’m the old vocalist, too -- but let’s be honest, there’s a nine-year gap there. For me, back then it was just a matter seeing what happens and now I have my gears in order and I really want to push forward with the band and the sounds. I want to tour more, we’ve got a bunch of tours lined up already. I think I’m definitely more ambitious now than when I joined because all I could see were all the “What ifs.” Now I’ve got a good idea of where we’re headed and the direction we’re going in.
After time away from Killswitch, what is the most important thing you needed to consider when you recorded 'Disarm the Descent' and also for new music going forward?
It was about being honest. You can’t go into a record with too much thought. How’s the audience going to perceive it? How’s the label going to perceive it? Is it going to make radio play? All of these things that are there, you can’t focus on that stuff because it’ll destroy the art. I’m totally into the art of music I’m not one of those people where it’s like, “We need to make a song for radio and it needs to work well.”
With that being said, there’s a part of me that realizes with the nine years that I’ve not been in the business and they took on a different sound, the songs were more of an anthem, very melodic, huge choruses. In my mind I wanted to bring my style into it but tweak it a little bit where the melody and the bigger choruses still play a role. The last thing I wanted to do was copy a style but also wanted to push my own style to fit with the times and who Killswitch is currently. That was kind of a challenge but I’m happy with what we did.
For me, I would rather do music I believe in and make less money rather than craft music for the sake of making it popular. The moment you start doing that as an artist and walk into the studio saying, “How is this going to work for me?” then it might be time to look for a new job or you’re going to make a lot of money and good luck to you. That’s just not my style, I’ll take the money but I got to do it on my terms. It’s a curse and a blessing, it’s ‘My Curse’! – wow that was a terrible joke.
Speaking of you and your terms –
Right, let’s talk about me, I love talking about me. I’m so boring, I’m sorry I’m putting you through this. [Laughs] I love books and documentaries and drinking green tea.
Oh scotch, well that’s the exciting part but that’s still a grandpa drink if you think about it. I’m not raging when I drink it, I’m sipping it. Boring, what were you saying? About me…[Laughs]
What about who you are now as a musician and person can we hear on the latest record?
In the back of my mind I was thinking about this term metalcore that has been kicked around so much and there’s a part of me that really doesn’t like that term but I get that people have to define genres. My big thing is “core” where does core come from? By definition, it’s the core of something, the center, the beginning point and for me that’s hardcore. Metal and hardcore bred to make metalcore, essentially that’s where it started. As the genre went on, I feel like people really lost touch with that and it became it’s own bastardized version of what it what it was supposed to be. Coming back to Killswitch, I wanted to bring that hardcore element back whether it was lyrically or with that positive mental attitude.
Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, Sick of It All, that’s where I come from, that’s my core and I wanted to bring that back in to Killswitch. I think it’s important for the younger generation to realize that’s where that music comes from, from people that have something to say – whether it was punk rock and I even tied it to hardcore and the early days of hip-hop. It was music with a voice that was saying something and metalcore lost that. You sing about relationships, you sing about this and that but there’s got to be something there where it’s like “Wake up, something’s wrong in society and think positive.” I really focused on bringing that message back and sonically too, there’s a bit of yelling style of screaming as opposed to just the high screaming or low guttural stuff. I wanted to find that middle, more hardcore sounding voice.
It’s certainly not a hard track but it is very positive. Can you talk about the song ‘Always’ musically and lyrically?
I love that the song made it on the record, I fought to have it on the record because I wanted people to know that I’m not totally one style. I love all different kinds of music, I go from reggae music to classical to jazz, I listen to everything. For me that one song is the breath, the whole record is just pummeling away then this song hits and it’s a totally different vibe, lyrically too. Some people are saying that it sounds ballad-y but in reality it’s more of a spiritual song like a gospel-y type song. When I say that word “Gospel” I’m not necessarily saying God and the sky, that’s a part of it but the sound of it – the lament of the chorus is sad.
There’s a longing for somebody’s presence whether it’s a relative that’s passed away or your ancestors, all of that came into play with that song. I wanted to write something with someone beckoning to the sky, a really powerful emotion when you lose a loved one and you’re thinking of their memory looking at an old photo album or looking at a grave site. Just thinking about the people that we’ve lost in our community of metal musicians or in your own life – to me that’s my tribute to people who have passed away.
One thing that I realized recently was that it was a song that drove home like ‘Cemetery Gates’ or ‘Hollow’ by Pantera. That’s what I feel that song is for us, that sort of style of song.
With all the bands that you have toured with since rejoining Killswitch, which have made a long lasting impact on you?
Gojira and in the same mouthful Mastodon, as well. We did a festival with them but this particular one in Sweden – it was Gojira then Mastodon after that. Just coming back into the scene after not being on the road and not being at a lot of live shows especially overseas, my jaw was on the floor when I saw Gojira playing stuff off the new record. I heard the name before and it’s always like “Yeah I hear they’re great” but I witnessed it and it’s powerful.
Then Mastodon, they’ve been one of my favorite bands for easily a decade. I love where they are right now, they’ve developed their style where they’re incorporating rock and roll and this stoner vibe but still with complexity. I just have so much respect for both those bands. I’m just really happy they’re able to serve, maintain and re-invent what the current metal and rock 'n' roll scene is for me.
Can you talk about the ‘Have Hope’ shirt and what this cause (suicide prevention) means to you?
The Have Hope shirt for me, number one anything I could do or say to help with the prevention of suicide in youth is huge and heavy on my heart. I’ve lost some dear friends to it and I myself, there was a period in my life, years ago now, where I considered it, as well. Everybody’s different when you go through that, the simple act of telling someone that life is beautiful and you don’t know what tomorrow holds and talking to somebody, those simple things that you say to somebody make all the difference in the world.
Taking two to five minutes, even with someone who’s a perfect stranger, which I’ve done via Facebook which I have to do that this morning – I got a message from a fan, this happens to me often enough where I get messages from people who are suicidal. It’s a dangerous thing to ignore, as a performer and entertainer but also as a friend to somebody if you see the signs. To ignore them could be detrimental, you could lose a friend.
Have Hope is just another way, another soapbox for myself and anyone else to get involved to just raise awareness about it and let people know you’re not alone. That simple phrase “You’re not alone” could save someone’s life. The word hope runs through all of my lyrics, it’s kept me alive and it’s a powerful word. For me it’s the least I could do to help out people.
Check Out the Video for Killswitch Engage's 'Always'