Interview with Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage

In what is a huge deal for us here at Rocksins, James had the pleasure of sitting down with Killswitch Engage front man Jesse Leach backstage at Brixton Academy in London, hours before Killswitch took to the stage on their co-headline tour with Trivium. Read on for what he had to say…

How have the first few dates gone?

Amazing, amazing, we did Dublin and then we did Belfast and last night we did Manchester, amazing. The crowds have been amazing, meeting people after everyone’s so nice. I love touring over here, it’s one of my favourite places in the world.

Have there been any particularly memorable shows so far?

I think both of the Irish shows were pretty memorable, the great thing about them is that the venues were smaller so the crowd barrier was really close and I could really get into the crowd and I could really interact with them and I love that. In bigger shows with just the huge gap I miss the interaction.

This ones the biggest one I think

I’ll try to find my way into the crowd, we’ll see what happens… There’s just something about being able to look into people faces and make contact, I love that and I miss it in bigger shows.

You’ve done quite a few tours with Trivium, do you get on well with them by now?

Oh yeah, they’re easy to get along with. Very professional, nice guys, Matt and I have a lot in common with being food snobs and just being very much on the same wavelength in terms of taking care of our voice and really wanting to know how to be better and being responsible and having to be the party pooper in the band because you can’t drink a lot, can’t party a lot so we all sort of get on fairly well.

Your only European festival performance is at Download, what are you planning on doing the rest of the year? Will you be taking a break or doing more touring?

We’re going all over the world, once we’re done touring this year and I think August is the last tour we will have been everywhere in the world, so full world tour pretty much. It’s been crazy.

There was a lot of jealousy in the UK over the Trespass America lineup, was it a conscious decision to book a lot of the same bands for this run?

I think for us it was just that we love these bands and when you tour with them you get into a routine with them and you get to know them. I think the Miss May I guys are gentlemen, they’re great people they get the crowd going, they’re great performers. Battlecross guys are awesome and they’re a great metal band and Trivium we’ve just known those guys so yeah I dunno if we even thought about the Trespass line-up. It’s funny you said it, when I think about it. We just get along with them, they’re great bands. It’s exciting for me too to hear Battlecross just get more notice and do more gigs outside the US,they need the exposure to show people they’re a great metal band.

Do you prefer to do big package tours like this one or the Lamb of God one you just did in the states or smaller ones with just you headlining?

I like them both, there’s pros and cons to each y’know but it’s fun doing our own thing because you knw at the end of the night, people are there to see you which is great, you already know the audience is there for you. But I also really like the challenge of playing with bigger bands or different types of bands because you have to win people over. The Lamb of God tour there were some nights where we had our fans there but clearly there were some people who were there to see Lamb of God only and to hear that some of those people enjoyed our set as well I love that. So the challenge is good.

In terms of on-stage performance when you come back into the band did you ever have to have a discussion with Adam about sort of dividing up frontman duties?

*laughs* Yes and no, it just happened naturally because we worked together with Times of Grace which was a totally different beast but there’s a beauty to what he does on-stage and I think balancing his goofiness and my heartfelt wanting to change the world attitude. I don’t think a lot of it has been vocalised, it just happens naturally.

What sort of things do you consider when picking a setlist?

We just wanted to make the audience happy, and in this case that’s playing the stuff that people want to hear and maybe throw in a few y’know B-sides and stuff that people normally wouldn’t hear. Thankfully Justin is the man behind that, he comes up with our setlists so we leave it up to him and every tour he sort of surprises himself. I think I’m on record as saying this setlist is one of our best since rejoining the band I think it just touches upon everything.

Jesse Leach from Killswitch Engage being interviewed by James Halstead from
Jesse was admiring James’ Chapters T-Shirt

Are there any songs you don’t like performing live but you feel you have to?

Yeah, we haven’t done in a while because I really don’t like it, Holy Diver. I think that song was done so well by Ronnie James Dio that it’s hard for me to want to sing it but I know fans really like it so occasionally we pull it out once in a while. Even lyrically I don’t understand what the song is about. It’s hard for me to perform something if I don’t understand it, but it’s a song that people like so the kind of the mindset I have to have is, have fun with it. But that’s tough for me, so Holy Diver by a long way.

In the setlist is there more of a song upon songs that you’ve recorded originally?

I think its for the sake of the set, and sometimes its not even just a matter of like sitting there and going “this is your song, this is his song” thankfully its got to that point where they’re all OUR songs and we want to put on a good show so I don’t think that really comes into play. The one thing we are conscious of is whether we have enough of the newer stuff just enough that people can hear it, hear the “singles” if you will, just trying to be fair to us and to the audience.

You mentioned before that you found it hard to perform Holy Diver because of the lyrics do you find it hard to perform Howard’s songs just because you didn’t write them and you don’t  feel the same emotion connection to the lyrics?

I think for me though it’s more a matter of making myself feel, in my own way. So sitting down with the song, reading the lyrics and really thinking what it means to me. Thankfully all the songs we perform that are his I have been able to do that and I think he writes in such a way that a lot of people can relate to the lyrics. So no, it hasn’t been that tough. But it is a conscious thing I have to do, y’know.

So did you just have to sit down with all the lyrics and just go “I’ve got to work this out”

Yep, and the more I listen to it the more it makes sense in my head. Because I pull from visuals when I’m really present on-stage I’m pulling from memories so I’m able to do that with his songs as well which is good.

You’ve often talked about using personal experiences to make songs more relate-able and get an impact, are you afraid that there might come a time when you just can’t find the same sort of feelings to write the lyrics?

No, no, I think if anything I hold back sometimes with my writing, because I have so much to say so I’m not worrying about that I’m constantly inspired.

Was doing Times of Grace with Adam an influence on our decision to return to Killswi-

Not at all, I would say if anything I wanted Times of Grace to keep going. When they initially were talking to me about rejoining which was before the whole auditions before any of that stuff I actually turned them down and said, “no I’d rather just continue doing Times of Grace and working a day job if I have to in-between tours.” But, long story short when I found out they were doing auditions it didn’t sit right with me and I felt I owed it to myself and to them to at least give it a shot and go and rehearse with them and see what happened. Long story short here I am, I fell in love with the stuff.

Was there a moment when you thought “I love doing this.”

Yeaaah, I think ‘Arms of Sorrow’ was my gateway song, that’s the first song that really struck me because I deal with depression and anxiety and that song is clearly about depression. It’s a heavy song and I think from that point on it just opened me up to his music. I have moments every day that I’m thankful to do this.

Will Times of Grace still be active now that you’re doing Killswitch fulltime?

Yeah, I mean Adam’s always here and there about it but the last thing we ever did he said he was going to start writing, so yeah I guess so!

Is it hard to balance, being the same writing team on Times of Grace and Killswitch?

Well, the cool thing about Times of Grace musically, it’s all so out there influence where, for example the new Killswitch record its very much everybody involved. Like Joel wrote one song like, D, Justin, everybody had a song where song ideas were presented whereas Times of Grace is just Adam presenting me with music and I’ll tell you what too, we’ve always discussed with Times of Grace pushing the genre boundary and making it even less like Killswitch so the new record will be different. Purposely to just set it aside and be more creative.

So like an outlet for all the stuff you don’t get to do with Killswitch?

Yeah, we can go more mellow or we can go more epic we can do longer songs so we’re going to exercise both of those things.

As one of the few newer metal bands you’re operating at quite a prominent level doing venues like Brixton. Do you feel it’s a duty to take out newer bands like Miss May I and Battlecross out on tours?

I mean, I guess but for us it’s something we want to do. It keeps it fresh and honestly not only does it give bands like that an opportunity it gives us an opportunity to stay in touch with the “younger vibe” which I think is important. You don’t want to be out of touch, you don’t want to be jaded and sort of bitter, grumpy, old men. I think it’s important to know what the younger generation is doing and they give you energy. Such a positive vibe from, for example Battlecross. They’re excited, they’re on fire and they play fresh music. It’s got its roots in the past but they’re doing their own take on it. I love that. That’s why I love taking bands out that have a different perspective.

Did you ever find yourself influenced by some of these bands?

Not really, because I pull my influences from way other things besides metal, but the energy, the freshness, the positivity, I love that. Because I don’t see it, when you’re in a band that’s been around for so long they have moments where they take things for granted. When you see the younger bands just loving every single second that’s inspirational for sure.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened on-stage?

I was drunk in Belgium… Switzerland? I don’t remember and I forgot the entire verse of My Curse. I was just having the time of my life just so excited, I got to watch Amon Amarth play who I love and I was just partying, having a good time and it was like “oop wer’re getting ready to play…” I don’t remember most of that day so from that point on, it’s been “don’t be an idiot” and I haven’t got drunk on-stage since then. But yeah, completely forgot the words to My Curse *laughs*.

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Oof. Alright. Only because of the last few Star Wars movies, Star Trek. Because Star Trek to me, kept it more OG, more old school. Even to this day I can watch the old episodes with like Captain Kirk and they’re so hysterical! Like, one of the monsters is like a rock with light bulbs on. Only because of that but I love Star Wars too, I’m equal parts nerd but Lucas screwed it up with those last three ones. I think we all know that!

A review of Killswitch Engage’s show at Brixton Academy with Trivium can be read right here. Killswitch Engage’s current album Disarm The Descent is out now on Roadrunner Records. T-Shirt Banner

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