Latest release: Disarm the Descent (Roadrunner/Warner)
Hailed as the leaders of the so-called New Wave of American Heavy Metal after the release of their influential debut Alive or Just Breathing and escalated to worldwide adulation following the Billboard success of The End of Heartache, Massachusetts’ Killswitch Engage endured a recent dark period with the departure of long-serving vocalist Howard Jones and uncertainty over the future of the band. But as founding guitarist Joel Stroetzel explained to Loud on his day off in Sydney during the Soundwave tour, the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach has injected new life into the band.
What do you think the fans will think of it with Jesse’s back and what is the dynamic like in the band now that he’s returned?
It’s really funny man. It’s like we have a new band after all these years. Jesse has this energy and excitement to be touring once again and he’s got the rest of the band up and firing too. It was like that with the recording too. It was real blast to record. Some of the songs have a real excitement to them and I hope that people can hear that we’re all fired up. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.
When Adam and Jesse started working together a while ago on Times of Grace, there was probably a few people who believed that Jesse would come back to Killswitch Engage eventually. What are your thoughts on that, because you worked on that as well? When you played here last year the vibe seemed to be incredible.
Yeah man, it was really easy. It really gave me a chance to see what a great dynamic those guys have together and it was really great to tour with Jesse again. It was a really fun tour, a really fun camp to be involved with and everybody had a really good time. There was a really positive vibe going on. It was a lot of fun! I think that it made Jesse maybe miss us a little bit! I’m sure before all that happened, I’m not sure he would have wanted to rejoin. After Howard left and after hanging out with us and having some fun he said he didn’t want anybody else getting the gig.
You said that this has revitalised you a little bit, so what direction does the new album take for Killswitch?
I think it’s still a Killswitch record. You can definitely hear that people are either pissed off or psyched up and amped up to get back because they didn’t really know what was going on. There was a phase where we weren’t sure if the band was going to continue so there was a time during the writing where everybody had their own different fires burning to get going together. Everybody was really fired up. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, but I think this is a really fast and aggressive record for us. But it’s still melodic. It still has a lot of the elements that we’ve always had, you know.
Just going back to the issue about whether you thought the band was going to continue, one of the things James Hetfield said during Soundwave was that he feels very lucky that his band is still together after 30 years. You haven’t been together as long as that, but do you feel fortunate that you’ve been able to keep it together all this time?
Obviously. When we first started out it was just something that we did for fun. We never thought of it as something we would do as a job or for a living. We were just playing little halls on the weekend and stuff. Just the fact that fourteen years later we’ve been able to tour and make a bunch of records and we’ve met a lot of great people on the way, I think everybody feels really fortunate and I hope we can do it for another fourteen!
A lot of people mention Killswitch Engage when they talk about their influences these days. It seems that KE has been around long enough to have been an influence on new bands coming through now.
[Laughs] That’s flattering to hear. We started out as a bunch of guys doing our thing in a basement, and suddenly fourteen years have passed.
Soundwave tends to get a bit of criticism almost every year, but you’ve played a lot of these type of shows. How does it compare to festivals that you’ve played elsewhere?
Did you say Soundwave gets a lot of criticism?
Yes, I hear a lot of criticism from people about it. If it’s not the talent then it’s the organisation or something else.
Well I think I can comment as someone who’s played it a couple of times. I will say this man, I think the bands are pretty well taken care of as far as transportation, accommodation… usually things run pretty smooth. Sometimes it’s a bit of a nightmare getting on stage and making sure you’re set up in time, but it’s like that at any festival really. I think it’s great. We love coming to Australia and playing there and we’ve always had a good time. From our perspective, we really love it.
The fans have had a little taste of the new stuff from these shows. After you’ve done the rest of the world, what are the chances of getting back here and doing some shows of your own?
Well we’re only just starting our record cycle now, you know it’s coming out in a few weeks. So this is really just the beginning of it. I’m sure we’ll be back down and hopefully do some club dates.
Tell us a little bit about Disarm the Descent now. First of all, what is the meaning behind the title?
Um… It comes from something that Adam and Jesse were talking about, regarding some of the lyrical content. Killswitch Engage at the time we started was about putting a killswitch on everything and starting something new. We were all in other bands at the time and they were all coming to an end. It’s kind of the same thing. I don’t know how deep the meaning is, you know, from Jesse’s perspective. I guess you’d have to ask him. But it’s the same kind of a theme. It’s kind of stopping everything and starting again.
In a way then it is kind of a new start now that Jesse’s back. Not a start from scratch, but taking on a new lease on the life of Killswitch Engage?
Yeah it certainly feels that way, yeah.
Are you able to comment too much on the artwork, because that’s always a pretty key ingredient of your releases?
Yeah, yeah. Mike and Jesse together came up with some images, ran them by everybody and Jesse was like, “This is a lot like my lyrics.” It just seems fitting. Again, that’s something that you would probably specifically ask Jesse. It was something that he got really attached to and we all just loved the images. We’re all really happy about it.
What to you is the best part about touring with a band?
Playing the shows is great. Sometimes the travelling, the flying, is kind of a bummer. Playing the shows is the bomb, especially festivals where you run into bands you tour with and your friends and people you don’t get to see all the time. We’re all in the one place. That’s kinda neat. We’ve always found that with Soundwave. There’s always people we can hang out with and we really look forward to that.
It seems that everyone always says that Australia is their favourite place to tour, so I won’t ask you that. If Australia is your favourite place to come, what’s your second favourite?
I always really like touring in Japan.
So what’s your hopes for Killswitch Engage for 2013?
Well first of all to get the record out and hope people dig it as much as we did making it. Get it out there, do some touring and see what happens. That’s really all we can do.
Do you have a particular favourite from the album or are you just a fan of the album overall?
Well the first thing we did was the first single. It’s a good place to start. Actually a lot of us really like the opening track. It’s kind of a fast one, kind of a blazer. It’s pretty diverse. We’re pretty stoked with the whole thing! From our perspective, it’s always tough to tell. It’s hard to tell when you listen to your own record. Time will tell. The fans will decide whether it’s good or not.
I guess in some ways it’s like trying to choose a favourite child and it take times to develop a critical eye. Not taking this one into consideration, what are some of the things you’ve learned from the back catalogue?
I think we’ve learned to be more efficient in the studio. We’ve kind of learned what sounds we like, what works for us, how to play things and how to double track the guitars and we are able to get to a point where we’re pretty efficient. We’re not dicking around for a long time trying to get guitars done. We can get ’em done in a week or two. I think everybody’s got more efficient from learning from the mistakes of the past (laughs).
Do you have anything final you’d like to impart to our readers?
I’d like to say thanks to everybody for sticking around through all the changes over the years. We’re happy to be still around and have a new record for you guys, and I hope everybody likes it!