When Killswitch Engage came to play at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels as very special guest of Bullet For My Valentine, we got the chance to have a talk with Jesse D. Leach, vocalist of the metalcore giants. After some waiting Jesse showed up and with a cheerful “let’s do this!” we sat down for what happened to be a really relaxed, cool and interesting talk. Before we actually started, Jesse noticed my cut-off and asked if he could have a look at it. After going through every single patch on it, he congratulated me with the -in his words- badass vest. The rest of our meeting went like this:
Nice to meet you! How are you?
Nice to meet you too, brother. Good! Actually good today, relaxed, good, slept well for once (laughs).
So, how’s the tour been up till now?
The tour has been good, man! I feel like the last couple of nights we kinda hit our stride, the energy’s been really good. You know, when you go on tour, sometimes the first few days are just getting used to it again, fighting sicknesses and that other crap. But we finally hit our stride, feeling good!
That sounds promising for tonight then! I heard from Padge (from Bullet For My Valentine, FYI) that you guys get along really well…
Oh yeah! Those guys are easy to get along with, Cane Hill as well, good guys! Not a bad person out here, which is nice. Doesn’t always happen that way… We’re the kinda band that do their job and if you don’t really get along with the other bands, no problem. We do our job, we’re friendly people and don’t get in anyone’s business or ignore people. We like to walk the fine line of doing our job and be pleasant. Thankfully for this one it’s been pleasant, it’s been good.
About your latest record “Incarnate”… I listened to it from start to finish several times now and loved it. What has the response been like?
It’s been good, man! I think for me personally, when this record came out, I honestly thought it was the best thing we’ve done. I think it’s my best work lyrically and vocally. I guess I almost wanted it to be received a little better, people like it but I don’t think… I think people are waiting for what’s next. There’s this attitude of we put this record out and it’s been out for a while now and people are looking “now what?”. And I feel like “this is good! Can we do this more?” (laughs) But yeah, the general consensus seems to be from what I can tell, people are anticipating what’s next, so we’re going to get working sooner than later on a next album.
I follow you in it being the best record up till now from you guys, having more of the energy of the first albums again…
Thank you! Well, there’s more passion in it and more honesty. And I really pushed myself vocally harder than I ever have, which made me have to take vocal lessons back and learn that again.
That’s something I noted down… It was really noticeable that you’re vocals are really “next level” compared to before and your reach has gotten pretty impressive…
Yeah, still working on it, but thank you. It’s a work in progress though, when I go home, I go back to lessons. I’m learning on a regular basis, which is probably something I should’ve done years ago (laughs).
I can imagine so, it’s basically your “instrument”.
Uhu! But when you’re young, you think you know everything… The more I listen to myself live, I’m like “holy shit, I still have a lot of work to do!”
Well, you’re definitely going in the right direction with it, I liked what you did there.
I noticed on the album that there are a few songs that for the first time are about what shit is going wrong in this world. At the moment it seems to be going berserk, I’m guessing the songs got even more fitting now (hinting at the election of Trump)?
(sighs deeply) Yeah, I have a hard time still wrapping my head around what’s going on. I think part of it is being over here, but hearing everything from my wife… You know, I pay attention a bit, but I feel like the media is lies. So it’s really hard for me to put my finger on what’s really going on. I’m definitely upset, I definitely have a lot of material to write about, don’t have the words quite yet, so… I think when I go home and I process, when I get back to New York City and see what’s going on… Uhm yeah, it’s really bad from what I can tell, it seems like a gaping wound right now (laughs).
I can imagine so, I saw what my wife who is American too went through after the results came through…
Yeah, a lot of my friends are having a hard time… And for me, I’m angry but uhm, I’m so distrustful of the media and I think we’re being lied to constantly. So I don’t know what I really think… I think there’s a lot of bullshit they’re putting on the television and social media that is distracting from other things that are going on. I’m one of those crazy people that believes presidents are just puppets, they’re not in control, they’re just there to distract us of what is really happening… So I think there’s something worse happening underneath the surface (laughs hard) and Donald Trump is just a distraction to make us angry and keep us busy…
He’s a very loud distraction…
Yeah, a very ignorant distraction… I’m sure there will be lyrics about that! With Killswitch though I have to be careful to skirt that line of political and still keeping it emotional and accessible.
Well, it was nice to see that in those few songs you were singing about “look at this shit that is going wrong here”, but not naming it necessarily.
Yeah, we’re not Rage Against The Machine, you know, I don’t ever wanna be that band.
Though it was also very nice to see your hardcore background shine through there.
That being said, in the future I think I’m going to have to start a hardcore band side-project to channel more of that type of stuff. No melodies, just angry, pissed off hardcore… I think it’s appropriate for this time.
You mentioned something like that too in a Loudwire interview; that the hardcore scene is going to flourish again if Trump got elected.
We have to, we have to! Yeah, it’s like the Reagan-era, you know, it’s so bad.
In a way for that part, I’m sort of happy. Because there was a lot of really good stuff released back during the Reagan period!
Yeah, at least we’re waking up. If there’s any silver lining, it’s the fact that we no longer can be silent about it. We can’t just go “oh, it’s going to fix itself.”, you can’t do that anymore, ’cause it’s not. It’s going to get worse and worse. And I think we’re at the breaking point where people are realizing that we’re having someone who is our spokesperson who is a totally ignorant person and bringing on blatantly racist people. You can’t keep quiet anymore, but for me, what I’m really careful about, is how I approach that. I wanna approach it with intelligence and I wanna approach it in such a way that I’m not choosing sides if you will. I’m just presenting the idea that makes you think. I don’t wanna draw the line in the sand saying “this is who I am!”… Violence and all that demonstration stuff, it’s not for me. Eh, still figuring it out!
Talking about hardcore: Sick Of It All released an EP not too long ago to celebrate their 30 years and there were already quite a few songs clearly hinting at the campaign and stuff like that, so it’s coming (read our review here)…
They’re awesome, those guys are amazing… Great band live! They make a lot of bands younger than them seem lazy, live they’re really great!
Yeah, looking at their age and how much they jump around the stage, it’s quite impressive.
It’s something I try to do, but often times I’m in my bunk thinking “why did I do that?!” (laughs)
Now, Killswitch has always had a bit of (emotional) darkness to it, but it seems that on Incarnate, there’s more a sense of positiveness, that there’s a light in the darkness…
Yeah, I think the balance between those two is key. For me personally as a writer, for any project I write for, I think that’s really important. ‘Cause all of us as humans have darkness and light, you know. Not everybody is completely dark, not everybody is completely light. And if you say you are, you’re lying, you know? Everybody has a mix of everything, so to me that’s how I write cause that’s how I am, how I see the world. I think it’s human nature.
Songs like Strength of the Mind and Uprising… Embrace the Journey are easily great anthems for people who feel down a bit, to pick themselves back up!
Yeah, essentially for me my dilemma as a human being is how my brain works… I’m pretty extreme: when I’m down, I get really down and when I’m high and happy and energetic, you know that sort of depression anxiety/bi-polar thing. I thrive on either end, there’s really no middle ground for me (laughs). Today I feel good though! But uhm, that’s how I write because that’s how I am and I know that people can relate to that. On one spectrum or the other, you can relate to it.
Now, I’ve been wondering: it’s soon the 15th anniversary of your let’s say “break-through album” Alive or Just Breathing. Any plans to have a special tour or event at which you play the album from start to finish?
I can’t say… (laughs) maybe? (trying to look innocent) We’ve had some offers, so we’ll see… Probably… (laughs)
Going a bit further down the line of playing an album live from start to finish, would there be any album you’d want to see live in that way?
Do they have to be alive? Can they be dead? (laughs) Well, alive I’d say the new Baroness record, Purple. I think it’s a flawless record from start to finish, I’d love to see that performed! But dead, I’d say The Clash London Calling… I would kill to see that line-up during that time… Love that record… Love that band!
By the way, I’ve noticed that the re-release of Alive or Just Breathing for record store day will go together with the release of a beer: “Alive or Just Brewing”…
Oh yeah, appropriately so, yes!
You think you’re going to continue making the beer?
I certainly hope so… If people like it, you know. For us, we’re all pretty big drinkers for the most part, so yeah, if people like it, we’ll continue doing it. If it’s profitable, I’m sure they’ll want to continue doing it too. I just hope it doesn’t suck! (laughs hard)
Well, there are a lot of bands doing something with booze nowadays. And we’re working on a project to kind of support that side of the music business too…
Awesome! Of course it goes hand in hand for a lot of metal bands.
So, any nearby future plans?
Yeah, we’ve talked about starting to write rather sooner than later. Actually, taking the summer off, not to tour, which would be nice too, and start writing. And we’re free agents now, we don’t have anyone telling us what to do or any rules or regulations. So we may do a record, we may do an EP, we may put out a seven inch for fun… I mean, we kinda can do what we want. So I think we’re all excited about that idea. I think we’re going to do a lot of different things that we’ve never really been able to do because of the record label telling us it has to be this way or this way. So yeah, I think the future is bright for us, we’re excited.
That’s cool, sounds exciting to me indeed. We talked about beer just a sec ago, so I have to ask: did you try Belgian beers already?
Tell me if this is correct… Belgian beer… Delirium? (approval from me) Leffe? (another nod from me) I had Leffe last night and I’m going to have Delirium tonight! (laughs hard) I actually love Delirium, we get it in New York in a Belgian bar I go to, it’s great! And there’s a Belgian bar called “The Burp Castle“, if you ever get in New York City go to this bar. When you walk in they’re playing old Gregorian chanting and you can’t talk too loud or they’ll shush you. And it’s all Belgian beers on tap and it comes with these amazing fries, Belgian style fries with different dipping sauces and the fries and dipping sauces are free. So you come into this quiet bar and you can have a nice conversation like this, but if it gets too loud the bartenders will shush you and all the beers are Belgian, it’s very good!
And Belgian fries are the best!
Yes!!! They are! The original, not French!
Yes, thank you! Now if you’d be able to have a Killswitch Engage festival, what would your line-up be?
Uhm, I’d say Lamb of God, Testament, Mastodon, Slipknot, Periphery, Meshuggah, Letlive, Refused, Sick of it All, Agnostic Front, Madball,…
That sounds like a really cool festival… And if there’s an album of 2016 that you would say that we definitely need to check out?
Uhm… (deep sigh)
I know it’s a difficult question for a music fan, maybe first thing that pops into your head?
Well, last night we listened to Testament‘s record Brotherhood of the Snake and I was blown away. I thought that trumps a lot of metal that is out right now, top of my head I’d say that’s the one.
Padge answered the same in our talk…
It’s fucking… (expresses disbelief) And you know, I’ve been holding off on a lot of metal, ’cause I listen to a lot of music. But last night in the front of the bus all of us were like “woahaha! They still got it, still kicking ass!”.
To conclude our talk: any last words for our readers and your fans?
Absolute gratitude… Merci… For supporting us for all these years. We’re so thankful for what we do. And we’ll continue to put our fucking total hearts and souls into everything we do as long as we have you supporting us as fans!
Great words! Thank you for this talk!
With this we ended our chat. Though I couldn’t let Jesse go before asking him to sign my beat-up copy of “Alive or Just Breathing” and get on a picture with him. Which he did with pleasure and with a “Good talk, bro” we said our goodbyes.