Killswitch Engage // Jesse Leach

Speaking with Jesse Leach, you’re never lost in terms of topics to discuss with the guy. The Killswitch Engage frontman is an enthusiastic interviewee (which helps my job a lot) and is a real straight-shooter in how he answers as well. Speaking to the vocalist over the phone recently, he honestly talks to me about his “odd couple” relationship with guitarist Adam D, scarily undergoing vocal surgery earlier this year, as well as his thoughts on touring, technique, and the term ‘metalcore’. Oh, and of course, we also chat about new music and him collaborating with former Killswitch frontman, Howard Jones for the band’s next record, due out in 2019. I mean, as if we wouldn’t bring that up!

Jesse, I was at the last Australian tour you guys did and I loved seeing a band I grew up with doing an anniversary tour, as there were people my own age there going to metal shows as so many anniversary shows are for 80s bands now.

[Laughs] right on! That was such a fun tour, man. I’m so glad we did that one.

For sure! And did that almost feel like validation in a way, as there was that massive response from the fans for you coming back?

Yeah, I think there have been many moments that have reminded me how fortunate I am to be back in the band. That album especially [‘Alive Or Just Breathing’], so many people look back on fondly, and that record is a benchmark record for us. So it was great to come back and play the whole thing from start to finish.

Absolutely! I saw the post on social media a couple weeks ago about you tracking vocals for 21 new songs. Is this going to be a much longer album or are you guys cutting it down?

We’re gonna cut it all down and keep the other songs in our back pocket. We’re gonna make the best album that we can so we’ve written a bunch of songs and then choose the best to make the record as solid as it can be.

Sick! Now, the line-up of Killswitch has been pretty consistent in terms of the instrumental side of things and who’s playing. Is it a challenge from your point of view to keep things moving forward when the guys are writing and not wanting to fall on old habits as your observing them?

Well, I think everyone puts pressure on themselves first and foremost to come with something fresh and new. That’s the beauty of this band, we try to push each other. It’s great because it doesn’t feel like it’s an old routine or that we’re jaded or bitter, which can tend to happen in a long career.

For sure, and I can’t wait to hear this new album. One thing you mentioned online was how you and guitarist Adam D are an “odd couple”. So what are the clashing differences there for people who maybe don’t know?

Well, Adam is a talented and intelligent guy who can read music; he understands it, he speaks the language. He went to Berkley and he has the skills he needs to write a good song. And me? I’m a punk rocker. Some of my favourite bands play just a few chords and don’t sing well all that much. I just come in with passion and energy, and I don’t know if a note is correct or not, as I’m just singing from the gut. So we compliment each other well. He polishes my bad ideas and helps make the song better. And then I can tell him it doesn’t have to be perfect, maybe have a part that’s “imperfect” so people can feel it better.

Does your punk side influence Adam D and his stage presence? As you wouldn’t see that composed songwriter in him just from seeing his live outfits and antics.

[Laughs] that’s actually a really good point! Because he’s definitely rooted in punk and hardcore, and that’s the aspect that comes out live. That complete lack of concern for the expectation of how metal should be; this silly, doom and gloom, tough guy attitude. That’s his way of twisting it that persona live.

Killswitch Engage’s Jesse Leach while in hospital for vocal surgery, 2018.

In playing live, you guys just got off a massive tour with Iron Maiden. Was it fun or challenging to try and win over those old-school metalheads?

[Laughs] yeah. I think it was good for a band like us to do that. There where crowds that were tougher than others, but by the end of the set we do win over some fans. Iron Maiden fans, as soon as they see me step out on-stage and I start screaming, you can see them think: “here we go, now we’ve gotta sit through all of this”. But thankfully, we’ve won some over. It went well.

I can see that happening, as a fan of both bands, there’s an old-school metal sound in the music of Killswitch. But during the start of Killswitch, the tag “metalcore” was used to define your style of music, which soon became a negative name. But as times gone on, fans consider your sound as just “metal” now. What are your thoughts on that now?

I’m glad you said that, man. As I never really liked that term as I just don’t think it’s an accurate representation of the bands that fall under it. But I get it, people need to give it a name so they can define it to someone else and talk about it. I’d like to think that we’re much more of a metal band now… but people will use the term whether I like it or not.

Even with your time away from the band, it feels like that absence has really come through in a vocal and melodic way on the last two Killswitch records. There’s something new to your style now.

Yeah! I found an appreciation for the bluesy side of my voice, for blues scales which I didn’t know much about beforehand in Seemless. It was really good for me to get out and experiment, learn new styles and play new shows, and really gain my confidence as a singer with other bands. So to pay my own dues before I eventually made it back to Killswitch. It was never ever my plan to rejoin the band, but I’m so glad that my life took that detour. And I’ve grown as a musician.

Right on! For the fans, it can be like you’ve come back with a new set of tools too. Killswitch is back in full-power now and many people are excited. And, of course, Howard Jones is on the next album. Jesse, as a long time fan, I gotta ask this: what was that experience like, working on something new with Howard?

Oh, it was so fun. I didn’t have much studio time so I wrote it all and he came in and sang on it. It was so cool to stand outside the studio live room and hearing him belt out those choruses; I got chills, man. Since that we’ve become good friends. We text each other a lot now. It’s cool to see what he’s doing with his new band, Light The Torch, and I’m just super proud of him. He’s overcome a lot of obstacles. And just what an incredible vocalist too!

He’s great! And I cannot wait for this song, it sounds so cool. Another thing that happened this year, though, was your vocal surgery to remove your polyps. We hear a lot of this in terms of singers in rock, hardcore and metal. So how are you going now, Jesse?

I’m stronger than ever, man. I’m better than ever. Thank you. It was a blessing in disguise I think, in retrospect. Years of abuse and fatigue with life on the road was really hard, especially as a vocalist screaming and singing in the band. But since I’ve changed my lifestyle, I drink less, I take care of my body better, I sleep better, and I do some pretty intense training and techniques. For the first time in my career, I’m more confident as a singer and I have more of an idea about how my voice works. And I don’t know if I’d have that without this extreme thing happening to me. It was a scary couple of months but I’m glad it happened. I feel and sound better now because of it.

That’s so good to hear. And we’ll get a taste of these new vocals in November! With this Parkway Drive Australian tour and with just touring in general, is that advice you’d give to newcomers: to really take care of your voice? That real damage can indeed be done.

Yeah! When I was growing up doing this, no one told us how to do it. Nowadays, there are so many teachers and techniques showing kids how to train vocally. I’ve heard kids in their teens sounding incredible! Because there are the tools out there now for screaming and singing. It’s definitely important. But also, do your own thing; have your own signature. There are too many singers who sound too similar now. Your technique isn’t quite everything, and I think it’s important to still sound like yourself on the microphone.

Great advice, Jesse! So, a sneaky question now… will we hear new songs on this upcoming Australian tour?

Nope! [Laughs]. We’re saving all of our secrets for next year, man.

Catch Killswitch Engage in Australia this October & November at the following headline dates

With Parkway Drive & Thy Art Is Murder:

Thursday 25 October – UC Refectory, Canberra
Friday 26 October – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Saturday 27 October – Nex, Newcastle
Sunday 28 October – Riverstage, Brisbane
Friday 2 November – Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
Saturday 3 November – Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Tuesday 6 November – HBF Stadium, Perth

Headline dates:

October 31st – Sydney, Metro Theatre (SELLING FAST)
November 1st – Melbourne, Max Watts (SOLD OUT)

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