Interview: Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage Talks ‘Atonement’

Twenty years on, Killswitch Engage are still showing the world who’s boss! Not a band to focus on the past, Killswitch are focusing on always growing, always changing and always rocking!

Spotlight Report got to chat to lead guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz about their new album Atonement.  

SR: You guys started in 1999, right? It’s a big anniversary this year! What does Killswitch Engage mean to you twenty years on?

AD: Oh, man … jeez, it’s kinda crazy. It’s something I never really think about to be honest with you. It means I’m old [laughs] because I’ve been doing it that long. It’s just kinda nuts to think about. Especially considering looking back … when we first started the band I was just like “oh, we’ll give it a go and see how far we can take this thing”. And I never really considered it to be something that would turn into a full-time thing that I could do for the rest of my life, you know? So, it’s shocking when I actually think back and look at how far we’ve come and what we’ve done. It’s pretty insane!

SR: You said you didn’t expect this. What did you think you’d be doing?

Well, I thought I’d just be a full-time audio engineer doing something. I wasn’t really sure because I was fresh out of college, so I was still kinda trying to find my stride. I was working at a recording studio … I was also working as a telemarketer – believe it or not – and then we had the band going as well, so I was kinda balancing a bunch of different things and trying to find which one made the most sense. Then all of a sudden, the band got too busy. I had to quit my day job – thank God, because I hated being a telemarketer – and then it became a thing where we could actually try to make a little bit of money and stay on the road all of the time. And that’s amazing that we did it!

SR: It’s fantastic and it’s fantastic that you’re still such a known band and you’re getting more and more fans all the time!

AD: I don’t know how we are to be honest [laughs].

SR: Are you planning to celebrate the twenty-year milestone at all?

AD: Not really. I think we’re just at a point where … because we have the new record coming out, we’re just gonna be pushing the new stuff as far as we can. Lots of touring of the new stuff, that’s about it.

SR: Fair enough. You have previously said you don’t like to live in the past. But do you ever get nostalgic?  

AD: Never [laughs]. It’s weird! Yeah, I don’t really think about where we’ve come from and all that very much. I probably should! When I do it really hits home and it’s like “Wow! I can’t believe what we’ve done and where we’ve been; where we came from. This is pretty crazy!”

SR: I think it’s really great that you’re focusing on the new things and that’s really clear in the new album. Congratulations on the album, by the way! Atonement is great! I love it!

AD: Thanks – oh, good thank you!

SR: It really shows that moving forward and creating new music is your focus!

AD: Of course, yeah if you stop, what good are ya? Always try to move forward and be something, you know?

SR: If you had just one word to describe it, what would you say?

AD: New! [Laughs] I don’t know … it was a tough one to make. So … I don’t know. I guess a … relief? It took forever. So new and a relief. That’s two words. I can’t pick which one I want.

SR: I like them both, we’ll keep both of them.

AD: Okay! Alright!

SR: It sounds like it was a pretty tough process with everything going on. Did you guys struggle at all? Did it ever feel like maybe it wouldn’t get done?

AD: No, I knew we were going to finish at some point. It was just the fact that it took so long! And the actual process really beat me up! I feel that whenever you spend too much time working on one project you can kinda lose focus a little bit here and there because you’ve heard the material so much. Yeah, you spend so much time with something … it kinda brainwashes ya. Yeah, by the end of it I kinda went a little crazy just because we were working on it for over two years. Yeah, that’s why I called it a relief that it was done. So many things that came up while we were making it stalled the production of it; a lot of other things getting in the way. In reality, I would love to spend two months, three months tops, on a production of a record – to keep it fresh and keep it alive.

SR: Fair enough! This record is so musically diverse! You’ve got heavy songs; you’ve got lyrically driven songs … did you have to change mindsets when recording them?

AD: Oh no, not at all. You just look at ‘em like they’re different kids. One kid acts like a brat, one kid’s a sweetheart, one kid just wants to be left alone … So, it’s kinda like that, you know?

SR: What a fantastic way to look at it – like they’re your children! I love that!

AD: A little bit … yeah, right! 

SR: So, with this album, you recorded the material in separate locations.

AD: Oh yeah … just because we all live in different places. I live in California and Justin – our drummer – lives in Florida and then everybody else still lives in the North East. It’s a lot of miles between us!

SR: How do you make that work? Is it as hard as it sounds?

AD: Ah, we have to! We all write music separately and we’ll email each other ideas. And then if they suck, we tell each other that they suck, but if we like them, then we’ll say “it’s a keeper” or “I like this, but it needs improvement, so we’ll work on it together next time we see each other”. And yeah, then we’ll get together and try to fix up the songs as best we can so we’re all happy with it.

SR: Brilliant! That process sounds fascinating!

AD: Yeah, it’s difficult now that we all live so far from each other. I think that next time we’re gonna try to spend a little more time together during the writing process. I think it just becomes a bit more fluid when we’re all right in the same room and we can talk about the ideas right there in person.

SR: Very interesting! So, you’ve said that as a band you don’t take yourselves too seriously. And you don’t act like a “typical metal band” – how do you keep yourselves so grounded?

AD: I don’t know … maybe with our parents? Who knows? We were taught not to be dickheads! I think modesty is a good thing to observe. And don’t let your ego take over yourself because nobody’s gonna stay gold forever! And life is short – have a good time! It’s way too short to take yourselves too seriously!

SR: Great answer! And speaking of egos, I wanted to ask you about your touring experiences. You haven’t named them, but you’ve worked with some pretty tough bands who have made life difficult for you on tour. How did you deal with it?

AD: It’s all expected in the music industry. People will flex their muscles and act like they’re better than you … so, it’s kinda just something that’s gonna happen no matter what. So, at the end of the day you just have to stick to your guns and believe in what you do and put on your show and do the best show that you can. And hopefully people can see that you give a shit. And you know, that means a lot; it carries through. Instead of somebody who’s just got a big ego, who likes being the centre of attention all the time.

SR: It definitely comes through! We can see you guys love the music!

AD: Yeah, we don’t give a shit. We’re there just to have a good time! And we’re hoping everybody that’s at the show has a good time too! It’s important!

SR: That’s what it’s all about!

AD: Yeah! Exactly!

SR: Going back to Atonement. I think ‘The Signal Fire’ and ‘Us Against the World’ are two of my favourites – I can’t actually pick a favourite …

AD: Right on!

SR: Are there any particular stories behind either of these songs?

AD: Not necessarily. I actually wrote the music to both of those songs. And we got Howard our old singer on ‘The Signal Fire’. It was really cool to get him on the record again – just to show solidarity with our singers. There’s so many people out there that say “I like Howard better” or “I like Jesse better” … just to show them there’s no beef, no dramas behind the way we roll. It’s kinda cool to have both of them together – really working together – on a song. We just want everybody to know it’s all good, there’s no dramas!

SR: I like that about you guys! I know a lot of other bands have been quite dramatic when changing singers.

AD: Oh yeah! A lot of other bands just thrive on that drama, don’t they?

SR: They certainly do! But with you guys it’s just clear that music is your priority!

AD: Right!

SR: So, what’s your favourite song on the album and why?

AD: Oh, boy. I don’t know if I have a favourite song. You know, honestly, I’m so tired of hearing all of them at this point, I don’t want to talk about any of them, but um … maybe ‘The Crownless King’ … because I love Chuck Billy’s voice so much, and it was so amazing to have him on the record.

SR: For anyone who isn’t sure what you guys are about or whether you’re for them – what would you say to get them to buy this album?

AD: We’re a metal band … and we like to party? [Laughs]

SR: [Laughs] Perfect!

AD: I guess that’s all I can say. I know that’s not a very good way to convince somebody to go buy our record, but there you go!

“…We were taught not to be dickheads! I think modesty is a good thing to observe. And don’t let your ego take over yourself because nobody’s gonna stay gold forever!…”

SR: I think the music speaks for itself – maybe you just have to sit them down and play the album for them?

AD: Yeah … let’s hope that’s how it works! I think that’s how it should work, right?

SR: Absolutely! And what would you like to say to your fans here in Australia really waiting for this album?  

AD: Well, I say this all the time, but it really needs to be said: a big thank you! We always want to thank our fans! We may look stupid, but we know that we need our fans and we’re smart enough to know that they’re the reason we’re able to do what we do! So, without their support we wouldn’t be playing shows, we wouldn’t be putting out records, so thanks to our fans for being there! And hopefully you’re there when we come back to Australia!

SR: They’ll all be there! I know what your crowds are like – everyone gets so excited for you guys!

AD: Right on!

SR: Speaking of fans … what’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done for you guys – or to you guys?

AD: Oh … boy … I don’t know … one of my favourite stories is when we were playing a show in France, actually. This is good! I loved this moment on stage! There was a crowd surfer/stage diver who made his way to get up on stage and when he got on stage, he was gonna stage dive. Before he took his dive, he just dropped his pants and was just hanging dong! It was right there! And he just jumped – jumped right into the crowd with his pants down. Like, oh my god! That’s great! [Laughs] Somebody probably got a face full of cock and balls!

SR: [Laughs] That’s an image I will never get out of my head!

AD: I know right! I was laughing – God, for weeks after that! It was so good!

SR: Brilliant! Well, thank you so much for chatting to me! And thank you for this album – it’s brilliant!

AD: Oh, thank you very much! You’re very sweet! And thanks for having me!

Atonement is out this Friday August 16 via Sony Music Australia.