Times of Grace: Alive and Breathing
*Editor's note- Since this interview was conducted, it's been confirmed that Jesse Leach has rejoined Killswitch Engage. Hardly a surprise, but great news nonetheless.
Words: Brendan Crabb
Latest release: The Hymn of a Broken Man (Roadrunner)
Band site: www.timesofgraceband.com
Festival site: www.soundwavefestival.com
Since the January 4 announcement of metalcore superstars Killswitch Engage parting ways with vocalist Howard Jones, fans have been clamouring for the recall of beloved predecessor Jesse Leach. While every man and his dog Leach encounters is likely asking him about it, Loud feels compelled to raise the topic at some point in our conversation. It’s the proverbial white elephant in the room, so this writer gently probes for any insight at all. Even a slight hint that he’s been sounded out about permanently re-joining the band he fronted on 2002 classic Alive or Just Breathing and departed shortly after, a brief 2010 touring run filling in for Jones aside.
While more than content to talk about his tenure with the band, relationship with its members (he readily admits that Killswitch guitarist and Times of Grace partner in crime Adam Dutkiewicz is one of his best friends) and their success, he’s staying tight-lipped on the issue of a possible return to their ranks.
“My viewpoint is to respectfully step back from the situation and support them,” he says. “Whatever decision they make will be the right one for them and I look forward to what it is.”
So has he been directly approached then?
“I’m not going to comment,” he (very) politely responds. “Everyone wants to know… I’d rather those guys go through what they’ve got to go through and whenever they make that decision… They’re good friends of mine, so I’m respecting their space at the moment. It’s more fun, more mystery too; you don’t have to know everything. These days everybody is on Facebook and tweeting everything that happens. What’s happened to the mystery of music and not knowing everything?”
When Loud admits that’s a good point, he seems pleased. It’s agreed that much of the romance of waiting for months for a new album, running to the record store to buy it on release day and then spending countless hours poring over it has been sadly lost. Leach also laments that current technology enables people to criticise any aspect of a band’s music, while remaining completely faceless.
“I think it differs,” he ponders. “With a band like Killswitch, they’re on such a level where they don’t have to actively pursue their fans as much. The Empire Shall Fall, a small independent, DIY metal band in America, we don’t have that many fans, so we’re constantly putting little clips online.” Having entire discographies at one’s fingertips is a double-edged sword, too. “Complaining about it won’t change anything. I don’t want to be that grumpy punk rock guy,” he laughs. “I do like to support the art of music, (but) you have to roll with the times.
“It can be an advantage, but there’s a line that can be drawn with people’s personal lives. People don’t really have any regard for other people’s feelings. We’re all human beings and have emotions. The Internet allows people to be on the soapbox and belt out whatever they want and that can be dangerous. I think it’s give and take, but a bit of mystery is exciting. I’m old school; I still buy records and CDs and love sitting down and listening to a whole record, I still enjoy it. On Sundays, I go to my parents’ house, my dad has this great record player and we will drink some Scotch and listen to an album in its entirety.”
Articulate and thoughtful as Leach is on such matters, Loud deems it necessary to steer the conversation towards Times of Grace, as that’s primarily the reason we’re even talking in the first place. The band’s excellent, wide-reaching debut record The Hymn of a Broken Man exudes Leach’s passionate, soaring voice and positive worldview and marries it with Dutkiewicz’s melodic sensibilities and production savvy, reigniting their undeniable songwriting chemistry. While any future releases from the band are up in the air as Killswitch Engage get their house in order, Leach waxes lyrical about the project and Dutkiewicz, who he refers to as a “musical soul-mate”.
“We’ve got a few new tracks kicking around,” he explains. “What’s great about it is there’s no pressure from anybody to do anything, it’s just doing it on our own and enjoying it. We have been kicking around the idea of doing an acoustic blues EP. I’m just happy to be creating music; Adam and I, we just have a chemistry and I’m just happy to do something with him. Even the stuff we love to listen to outside of metal; he got me into a lot of British rock music from the 90s, stuff like The Verve. I never really listened to that style of music. I got him into reggae, ‘cause I’m a huge reggae fan. I think he’s a genius. I’m yet to hear a song where there isn’t something that amazes me. Underneath all the jokes…I love him; he’s a brother, one of my best friends and one of the greatest people I know.”
However, as renowned as the guitarist is for wacky antics, the Times of Grace live experience presents an alternate side of Dutkiewicz. Thus, those attending the Soundwave Festival likely shouldn’t expect on-stage shenanigans.
“He still comes out with a joke here and there, but he’s not wearing a cape or tutus,” Leach laughs. “Subject-wise, the lyrics, it really wouldn’t work too well. It’s a good balance; I’m the straight man and he’s the joker. I’m an emotional, introverted person. He’s a performer and you can’t take yourself too seriously as a performer – he’s definitely taught me that. I think he learns a little bit about himself on our tours. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, (but) he’s definitely a lot more calm off-stage. I love being able to spend time (with him) away from all the crowds and we have a lot of great, in-depth conversations. He has an ‘on’ switch that gets turned on quickly, but I think he knows when to tone it down and there are times I ask him to, as I’m a pretty calm guy.”
While not knowing entirely what to expect from his debut trip to Australia, the frontman clearly has a sizeable following on these shores, due in large part to Alive or Just Breathing’s legacy as well as the enthusiasm surrounding Times of Grace. When Loud discusses the importance of Alive…, he’s humbly thankful for the compliment while also a little surprised when he’s reminded that 2012 marks its ten-year anniversary.
“It’s been ten years, crazy. It’s one of those records that doesn’t leave me; I fought against it for a while after leaving, I wanted to turn over a new leaf. I think it was an important time in music; the right record at the right place at the right time. It’s a career-defining album for me. I’m reminded every day what it means to people, by the fans. I’m honoured and if I had a résumé as a musician, it would be the highlight of it.”
Times of Grace will be touring with Soundwave 2012 on the following dates-
25/2: Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD (SOLD OUT)
26/2: Sydney Showground, Sydney NSW (SOLD OUT)
2/3: Melbourne Showground, Melbourne VIC (SOLD OUT)
3/3: Bonython Park, Adelaide SA
5/3: Claremont Showgrounds, Perth WA
You can also catch them with Machine Head, Chimaira and Shadows Fall on the following dates-
28/2: The Palace, Melbourne
29/2: Roundhouse, Sydney (Lic. A/A)
Tix: Oztix, Ticketek