Interview: Killswitch Engage’s Jesse Leach

Massachusettsan metal giants, Killswitch Engage, are returning to Australia in March 2017 in support of Incarnate, their outstanding seventh studio album. Joining them will be the highly lauded Fallujah on their maiden voyage to our fair shores in an unmissable set of dates for antipodean metal heads. Thanks to our good friend, John Howarth of Nuclear Blast, we had a chance to chat with frontman, Jesse Leach, about Incarnate, touring, creativity, and some of his great passions. 


SR: Something I often hear when people describe your singing style is that you have great passion. Are you a passionate person, generally?

JL: I’m still discovering the ability to attempt to sing (laughs). I have a lot to learn and it’s honestly a daily thing for me. And passionate? Yeah, I definitely live with that. Sometimes to a flaw. Sometimes I wish I cared less about things because I become emotionally invested in things that most people wouldn’t. I guess it’s just a part of who I am, and it’s a blessing and a curse.

SR: I was interested in an interview I watched where you attributed your emotional range to being ‘broken’ and a bit insane, which you said creative people often feel. Can you elaborate on that for us a bit?

Insane? Is that what I said? (Laughs).

SR: You did.

JL: Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, I think it was from some self-imposed things and I’m not an average person. I think that’s a good thing and most creative people are a bit unbalanced, with a bit of anxiety and depression. It’s something that I wrestle with on a regular basis, but it’s also my muse. I think I write some of my best stuff when I’m in the worst place. It’s something I’ve learned to accept over the years – it’s part of who I am. I don’t think I would be as passionate or as emotional if I was more balanced, so…so be it. I’m a bit crazy – it’s fine.

(Both laugh).

SR: Aside from music, what do you do to stay grounded and keep the demons at bay?

JL: Yeah, well I’m still learning that one. Two big things – aside from my wife, who’s one of my best friends – especially when I’m on the road and I’m not around her… I’m really into cycling…just getting out and going for 30-mile rides. Just getting outdoors: exercise, nature, all of that stuff is really crucial to me. And cooking, when I get a chance. I love to cook. It’s like therapy and a whole other passion of mine. I really enjoy getting raw ingredients and starting from scratch and making food. It’s wonderful.

SR: What are your specialties?

JL: Pizza from scratch. Just starting with flour and yeast…. I usually make my doughs the day before. I have a huge passion for pizza. And not just cheese and sauce…putting crazy ingredients together and coming up with different toppings, like, curries and Thai style. I go nuts with making pizza. Then the other half of it is just watching people enjoy the food you’ve made. There’s something really satisfying about that. One of my favourite things is hosting a dinner party. I love doing that – it’s so much fun.

SR: You’ve said that metal is like ‘sharing pain.’ Which metal bands and artists have helped you redirect, or lessen, you pain, over the years and why?

JL: Yes. First of all, you have to give it to Metallica. When I was younger, growing up, I was listening to their early stuff, which was some of the finest metal ever made, to my mind… Master of Puppets, …And Justice for All, Ride the Lightning, Kill ‘Em All… That was definitely the first metal that made sense to a young, angry, punk rock kid. I think, as far as modern stuff goes, I’m really into Gojira. I think those guys are creating some of the most important metal ever right now. I listen to them on a regular basis. A great band: artistic, creative, passionate, and fearless. They make fearless, emotional, cathartic music and I’m a huge fan of those guys. But it ranges, depending on the mood I’m in. Sometimes I like to put on really heavy grindcore and death metal. Other times I’ll listen to something more mellow, or old school stuff, like Black Sabbath, for example, or Entombed, or At the Gates, or In Flames – I love all those bands.

SR: Incarnate’s your seventh album now and has been described as being your most influential work to date. Do you agree with that assessment?

JL: I mean, it’s my opinion that it is, but everyone’s got an opinion. Other people will cite Alive or Just Breathing, which is also an honour. But yeah, I feel it’s our most relevant record…’cause it’s our newest (laughs). But people will have their opinions and so be it.keincar

SR: Can you talk to us about returning to the band and what the writing process was like, this time around?

JL: Yeah, I mean returning to the band was fun, exciting, and life changing. It was something I couldn’t have anticipated. If you were to ask me six or seven years ago if I’d be coming back, I definitely wouldn’t have thought so. But, looking back, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. It’s changed everything. It’s taken me from a working class life to travelling the world. And it’s changed me as a person, as well as my world view. Yeah, I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened.

And as far as writing this record goes, it was probably one of the most difficult records I’ve written — only because about halfway through writing it, I checked myself. I sat down and looked at what I was writing and was really paying attention to it. I wanted it to really speak for what my views were at the time. I think it took a good two weeks for me to discover what I wanted to say with this record, and it kind of put me in a really dark place. But again, as I said earlier, it was like a blessing in disguise. It also changed me as a person. I think this is the first record where I can say I came out the other side a different person.
SR: When are you at your most creative and what do you do to motivate yourself, artistically?

JL: I’m at my most creative in the morning, and it’s usually a mix of caffeine, edible marijuana, and riding my bike out in nature. Those combined are when I’m at my best, creatively.–28c

SR: Do you do much writing on tour?

JL: No, I try. I wish I could say that the creativity just keeps going, but it doesn’t. It just sort of comes and goes with me. I’ll lose it on tour. I’ll watch nature documentaries and stand-up comedians on tour. There’s not a creative burst in me. But occasionally, I’ll wake up one morning and I can’t stop writing. I’ll have a creative day. It’s not consistent for me. Even after all these years, it’s hard for me. But when it hits, I capture it. Always. I’ll stop what I’m doing and say, ‘I have to do this.’ Everything in me just says to capture the moment. So, whether it’s a napkin, or I’m in a cafe and writing on a paper plate, I’ve just got words and lyrics in the weirdest places. I just make sure I keep them and put them in a place I can go back and look over them again.

SR: And when do you expect to start writing new material, roughly?

JL: I think when we have a moment to breathe and that’s not going to happen for a while. We’re pretty much touring non-stop right through until we get down to Australia and New Zealand, so it may be a while. But I know we’ve made a pact that we won’t allow three years go by before we make a record ever again. It’s too long. But I’d say probably early next year we’ll start getting demos and ideas together.

SR: What have been some of the highlights of your domestic tour so far?

JL: Whenever I get on my bike and am able to hit trails. When I’m out in nature and it’s a gorgeous day and my blood’s flowing and I’m sweating and happy. Those are my favourite moments, aside from being onstage. Obviously being on stage is great, but not everything in life isn’t amazing. But every time I get on my bike, it’s amazing (laughs loudly). Getting alone time is so precious.

SR: When you’re on stage performing, how connected are you to the audience? Do you feel a separation, or are you really aware of the crowd and their responses?

JL: It depends, I think. We played recently in Calgary, Canada, and it’s a show I know I’ll remember forever. It’s weird, because some nights I can’t recall. Some nights I know I’m definitely in a zone. It depends on the audience. If they’re sort of super-nonchalant, we’ll just be, ‘Alright, well let’s get through this.’ We’ll still do the best we can, but there are those nights of getting through it. The show in Calgary was incredible, and that has so much to do with the audience. I felt the connection between us and them more than I have in a long time. And that feeling? There’s no other high and no other buzz you can get on the planet than when the audience is there – right there with you. That’s the best feeling in the world. And if we get that at least three or four times out of a tour, then I consider that a good tour. Thankfully, we get that more than three or four times a tour. It varies, tour by tour, depending on who’s supporting. I mean, when we’re headlining, there are a lot more consistently good shows. When you’re opening for a band that has the majority draw of the audience, you can just tell that people are there waiting for that band.

SR: You’re heading down our way in March. What are some of your fondest memories from past tours and what are you hoping to get up to that you haven’t so far?

JL: I’m not sure what I want to see that I haven’t seen before. It’s not realistic because I won’t have time, but I’ve always wanted to have a glimpse of the wilderness – the wildlife. We always play the cities, so I think that’s the one thing that I’d like to do. But for me, memory-wise, the stuff I love more than anything is the people. I have some really good friends there now, especially in Melbourne. Melbourne’s one of my favourite places. The food there’s incredible. I just don’t have a bad thing to say about Australia. I’ve always had such a good time and been treated so well. I’d love to see more of the nature, but that takes time and we don’t really have that much when we go there.

SR: Do you have a message you’d like to send out to your Aussie fans ahead of the tour?

JL: 100% absolute heartfelt gratitude for supporting us, and when we do get there, we’re going to give it everything we have. It’s going to be a hell of a party.