Interview: Mike D’Antonio of Killswitch Engage
“You’ve got to be friends,” Killswitch Engage bassist Mike D’Antonio replies without hesitation when asked how a band can function in the face of time and adversity.
“After seventeen years, we’re all still good friends, and we all like to hang out. You hear about bands that don’t get along and travel on separate tour busses, and you never know when that’s not gonna work out for them – but not us. That’s the basis of staying together. We all get along, and we have this sort of synergy writing together – you don’t get that every day as a musician. It’s sort of like meeting a girlfriend, or getting married. You feel an intense knowledge of this person and you know what they’re feeling at times. Onstage, when you know what everyone’s feeling, it can be pretty easy to play and write music together.”
Killswitch Engage found their market through early releases, their self-titled debut in 2000, and its follow-up, Alive Or Just Breathing, in 2002 – but before the band could gain any traction, original vocalist Jesse Leach left. It seemed as though Killswitch Engage were destined to be ‘that band that could have been’, but defying normal trends in changing frontmen, the band responded with their breakthrough album, End of Heartache, which spurned the band their first Grammy nomination.
A new era of Killswitch Engage – with Howard Jones on vocals – had begun, and old fans stuck with the band and their slightly newer direction, while new fans flocked to the group with a more accessible sound. While the album was their most successful to date, D’Antonio says that the sudden pressure of being successful – coupled with the breaking in of a new vocalist – was a challenging period.
“Everyone was tired. We were over playing, but we got up and did sixteen songs in a row!”
“There was a little bit more pressure,” he conceded. “It seemed like a rocket that was going up and up and up. We didn’t know if the bottom was going to fall out at any time, so we just enjoyed the ride. We couldn’t have predicted the outcome, because that album had a new singer and kind of a different style. We had created the best album we could have, and we were just glad that people liked it.”
For the next nine years and three albums, Jones stayed at the helm of Killswitch Engage, and all but the loyalist of fans accepted him as the focal point of the band. Then, as it had done some years earlier, fate intervened and Jones’ interest in the band started to show signs of discontent.
In a statement released in early 2012, it was announced that Jones would no longer be an active member of the band – so began the quest for a third singer. With a renewed sense of vigor, but also an unfortunate case of déjà vu, the remaining members started the arduous task of finding someone who could do justice to not one, but two former vocalists, who the fans could also embrace. The early idea was to approach Leach once more, but D’Antonio says it wasn’t as easy as him just accepting and slipping back in to the role.
“At first, we asked him if he wanted to come back,” he said of Leach, “and he took it under consideration but wasn’t sure if he could actually sing Howard’s stuff. He knew he could do it, but he’s the type of guy who really has to believe in what he’s saying and doing in order to pull it off. He can’t fake it. That was always the major criteria in being the next singer for this band – doing Howard’s stuff – because some of that material is the most popular we have. It was a condition, and initially, Jesse wasn’t sure if he could do it.
“On the day we were holding auditions, we had people filing in and out, doing three or four songs over and over, and then, by the end of the day, Jesse walked in. We started talking general friend stuff, like, ‘How’s your mom? How’s your wife?’ Everyone was tired. We were over playing, but we got up and did sixteen songs in a row! They were mostly Howard’s tunes, and Jesse was belting them out – it sounded awesome. There were smiles all around, and we knew that we could pull it off.”
“I don’t know if they’re showing off or just having a lot of fun, but it’s always great to see the community of people that have embraced us.”
With their fans’ loyalty already having been tested by Leach’s original exit, D’Antonio says that the band was expecting some backlash over the decision.
“It seems like the fans took it pretty well,” he said. “Unfortunately, you’re always going to have people that don’t like certain things, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles – I like David Lee Roth better than Sammy Hagar – so that’s always going to happen. All we can do is release the music that we believe in, and hope that people follow us. Most of the fans have stuck by us through thick and thin, and you can’t ask for more than that.”
Incarnate – the band’s seventh studio album and second with Leach back – has been out for around six months now, and D’Antonio happily admits that the fans are reacting favorably to his return.
“It seems to be going well,” he enthused. “I don’t read much about it, but you can always tell by people singing along to our new songs at shows. It seems like the fans have gravitated to a lot of the songs straight away. We’ve got five or six new songs under our belt, and we’re popping them out here and there and getting a really good response.”
Killswitch Engage were one of the bands slated to appear at the now defunct Soundwave Festival earlier this year, and D’Antonio says the band feels like they owe its Australian fans for the letdown. Their tour – which isn’t until March next year – has already produced one sell-out, so it seems their fans aren’t ones to hold a grudge.
“It sucks about how Soundwave went over,” he said regretfully, “but we’re gonna try and correct that by going over and doing our own show. You guys have been so great to us. I don’t know if it’s because you understand that it’s so expensive to get over there and not every band can make it, but when they do, the Australian fans are always tops. They get excited, so we have really rocking shows there with lots of stage diving and crazy people. I don’t know if they’re showing off or just having a lot of fun, but it’s always great to see the community of people that have embraced us.”
Killswitch Engage / Fallujah
Wednesday March 1st – Power Station, Auckland (18+)
Friday March 3rd – Enmore Theatre, Sydney (AA)
Saturday March 4th – Eatons Hill, Brisbane (AA)
Tuesday March 7th – 170 Russell, Melbourne (18+)
Wednesday March 8th– Metro City, Perth (18+)