Killswitch Engage: Striking The Balance
After laying beautiful melodies and guttural screams on Killswitch Engage’s first album, original vocalist Jesse Leach quit the band, only to return to the fold in 2012. BLUNT got him on the horn from Yonkers, NY, to talk their new record Incarnate, finding the light fighting inner demons, and sweaty club shows.
It was way back in 1999 when Jesse Leach first bellowed into a mic for metalcore’s biggest band, but even after all that time, he still loves the grind. “My state of mind needs the road. I need live shows,” he reflects. “It wasn’t like that when I was younger. It was hard for me, but now it feels like where I belong. And it’s the best feeling in the world.”
The band recently staged a New York Takeover, playing five nights in small, intimate venues ranging from Manhattan’s stately Gramercy Theatre to Brooklyn’s grimy Saint Vitus Bar. “A big part of our crew is born and raised in Queens,” says Leach. “It’s just something where we thought it would be good to get back to the small clubs. No barriers, none of that nonsense.” In tribute to their legions of dyed-in-the-wool fans, the band rolled out a different new song from Incarnate each night.
While Leach is clearly amped about things right now, it hasn’t and won’t always be easy for him. Anxiety and the pressure of Killswitch Engage’s rapid ascent in the early 2000s marked his premature exit from the group he helped found. And stepping back up to the plate meant filling some big shoes left by his powerful and beloved replacement, Howard Jones.
“At first it definitely was tough. I don’t think I realised it at the time because I just pushing to do the best I could to prove my worth to the band and myself,” Leach recalls. “It was a trial by fire by I’m happy to say I came out of it with confidence and a knowledge I didn’t have before.”
Maybe it’s no surprise that, with some reflection on the past few years, Leach and his bandmates turned out what is a pretty dark record. “Alone I Stand” and “Cut Me Loose” allude to deep torment, whether found on the inside or seen in events unfolding in the world.
“If I die on the road or on the stage, then that’s the ultimate goal. I live for my music and I would die for it. I look at someone like Lemmy and think, ‘That’s how to do it. Do it until it’s done.’”
“With this record, it’s not just me talking about myself,” explains Leach. “It’s several points of view, other people’s stories woven into the lyrics. It’s exhausting how much struggle there is in the world, between wars, racial tension and police brutality. Just hatred across the board. It’s alarming and I had to get some of that out into the lyrics.”
Leach hasn’t only taken a wider view in terms on the topics he’s channelling through his words. As he talks, he always imparts a sense that his experiences and his lyrics have the ability to travel far and wide.
“My struggles with depression, anxiety and addiction are not to far from what other people live,” he confesses. “Plenty of people can relate to having a chemical imbalance, to having to fight their mental issues. People will write me messages, who read the lyrics and are going through something similar. The fact that I can be a vehicle for that understanding is an honour. It’s not my intention to explicitly help people through expressing myself, but over the years it’s the aspect of what I do that really moves me.”
And if he has any advice for his fans about how to keep a good headspace, it’s to stay off Twitter. “I’m one of the only guys in the band who keeps an active social media presence because I like to stay in touch with the fans, but it also worries me a lot,” says Leach. “People are constantly seeking a validation through being online. All the most positive experiences I have with people are in real life. That connection and communication is where it’s at.”
With a long string of dates ahead of them touring Incarnate, Leach will get more than his fair share of reality grinding out the shows. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. “If I die on the road or on the stage, then that’s the ultimate goal,” he reflects. “I live for my music and I would die for it. I look at someone like Lemmy and think, ‘That’s how to do it. Do it until it’s done.’ I hope that’s the case for me. It’s a sense of purpose and belonging.”