» J. Leach - Killswitch Engage
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Interview conducted January 14 2016
Interview published February 24 2016

"For me, as an artist, if I don't grow, if I don't get better, what's the point?"

Killswitch Engage's new album Incarnate is coming out March 11th.
Jesse Leach, the vocalist on the band's 2 first and now also 2 latest albums, made a quick stop in Stockholm, Sweden, in order to promote the album and Metal Covenant therefore took the opportunity to have a chat with him about the album specifically, but also a little bit about his past, as well as his return to the band he once helped to fame.

Tobbe: What kind of things have you been able to put to the new record, that you haven't done before?

Jesse: Ah, that's actually a good question. I think for me there's a bit of soul searching for this record. A bit of me just admitting and sort of realizing that, you know, the answers I thought I had in my past don't really apply to me anymore. I've grown and I've become a different person, and I am exploring more and I'm questioning a lot of things, and I think that's very evident on the record, that isn't so much on prior Killswitch records.

Tobbe: So what do you think are the biggest differences between this new record and your last one, Disarm The Descent?

Jesse: A lot of growth, man. Touring the world for 3 years, you know, definitely changed me as a person and broadened my world view. I see the world differently now and, you know, with age comes wisdom and I think with wisdom comes humility, and I have realized how much I have yet to learn as a person and as a singer.

It's important to continue to grow and have the desire to change and to improve yourself. That's really kind of where I'm at in my mind lately. I wanna grow and I wanna continue to learn about the world around me. Everything from spirituality, to my personal relationships, to music. All of that. I'm excited for the future and I'm willing to grow, and I think that's important and that's where I'm at.

Tobbe: Killswitch Engage has, obviously, always been a heavy band, yet with much emphasis on the vocal melodies, so when you enter the songwriting process, how do you approach those criteria with both being heavy and having vocal melodies?

Jesse: I think, thankfully now, it sort of comes natural to me. Depending on the lyrics and depending on the sound of the song. Sometimes I can hear it in the music, like "This part is gonna call for aggressive screaming" or "This part is gonna call for singing". And sometimes I flip it. If it's really aggressive, I'll sing over the top of it, just to kind of mix it up, 'cause I don't ever wanna be too formulaic, as much as Killswitch has like a formula that works.

And I think for this record it was a very conscious effort to make it creative and make it a motive and really have the heavy vocals hit when they need to and the melodic vocals sort of smooth it out. And also some of the more quiet parts, you know, for the emotion to come across and the subtlety of the voice that the melodies called for. So I was very cautious and took a lot of care on how I was performing for what particular part.

Tobbe: So how important is the meaning of the lyrics for you personally?

Jesse: Extremely important. But the meaning of the lyrics for me I believe will be different from the meaning from the listener, 'cause I wrote it in such a way where it doesn't give away too much and hopefully it will leave the listener to draw their own conclusion and have their own ideas about what the song is about, and I think that's important. But yeah, they all come from a very personal place for me. For sure.

Tobbe: Do you think that people in general still, like, read the liner notes like they did in the 80's with vinyls?

Jesse: [Laughs] No, definitely not, but the ones that do, we cater those people. We still put effort into our artwork, we still put effort into the tracklisting, the way the songs are listed. We actually painstakingly go over what order the songs should be in and we really listen to it. It's a lot of trial and error and we still make records for people who like records.

Tobbe: Exactly why is this not just another Killswitch Engage album out of many?

Jesse: For me it's just, again, the soul searching, and putting everything that I had into this record, to the point where I feel like I'm a different person from when I began the record. And that's never really happened to me in a record. I've never changed as a person during the writing of a record and I have with this one. So I think that's why it's different. It's a lot more soul and a lot more blood in this record.

Tobbe: And musically?

Jesse: Musically, you know, it's a Killswitch record, but I think we've pushed the boundaries a little bit as far as you can hear a little bit more of the hardcore. You can hear a little bit more of sort of the quiet, melodic stuff. The speed of this record is a bit different than the last record for example. But it's great that it's coming naturally to us as a band and I feel like we're more cohesive with this record than we were on the last one.

Simply because the music of the last one was written without me even in the picture. This music was written for me. These guys wrote the songs with me in mind and I'm honored that that was the case. Yeah, I think it really shows on this record. I was able to connect with these songs on a different level.

Tobbe: This is the band's 7th record and are you sometimes worried about coming out too similar to what you have done in the past?

Jesse: Oh, I'm very aware of that. Yeah, absolutely. It's something I constantly check myself on, whether it's lyric writing or the melody, and even placing the vocals. And that's the beauty of having someone like Adam [Dutkiewicz, guitar] at the controls as the producer, 'cause he's a very intelligent person and he knows his music and he's got a great ear for music.

But he also has a good memory and he called me out a few times. He was like "You've already said that in a song! You already did this!" or he'll say to me "That's cheesy. Don't say it that way.". So he's the damage control. He's really good at what he does as a producer. But yeah, I definitely don't ever wanna repeat myself.

Tobbe: Do you guys put a lot of pressure on each other?

Jesse: I think the pressure we put on each other is just to make each other better, you know, and that's why he's, again, a great producer, 'cause he knows how far to push me and he knows sometimes when to, like, really back in and allow me to just do what I do. But I think the pressure that was put on, I put it all on myself. For me as an artist, if I don't grow, if I don't get better, what's the point?

And for me I really push myself lyrically and sonically. Like my voice, I definitely pushed it into the higher range and the vocals that I did are the highest I've done. And I was able to do it comfortably, finally, 'cause I'm learning how to use my voice.

Tobbe: Apart from what you just said. How do you think that your voice has developed, or your singing style has developed during the last 15 years?

Jesse: I think, for me, confidence first of all. Second of all, knowing how to take care of myself, my body, my lifestyle. All of those things contribute to, you know, your voice. When your instrument is inside your body, there's so much that goes into it. I mean, even a cold breeze can affect it.

It's just being knowledgeable and having the right tools around me. Humidifiers, tons of water, good sleep and not a lot of alcohol. All these things I have to exercise on a regular basis to ensure that my instrument is working properly. And just training, and knowing my warm ups, and techniques, and separating that emotion that can get in the way of the technique. It's a constant juggling act of things that helps me, 'cause I need it, you know, I wanna get better as a vocalist, so, making every effort.

Tobbe: You always gotta strive for something. No matter how good are.

Jesse: You can always be better. And if you think you can't, then you're wrong. …And you are probably a pompous jerk. [Laughs]

Tobbe: Your band has a very distinctive sound, but hypothetically, how much could you deviate from that sound and still be valid? With forthcoming records, I mean.

Jesse: Yeah, it's a good question. I think it's up to us to decide initially and then see if the fans dig it or not. I think we can play with some of the styles. You know, I think we're able to do stuff that's a little more rock oriented and do stuff that's a little more hardcore orientated, but obviously metal runs through all of it. But yeah, I think we're aware. We don't wanna go too far out of our style, that people know us for, 'cause I think if you do that, you run the risk of alienating certain fans. So I think, as far as Killswitch, we're gonna stick to what we know and what we're good at. And that's our style. Whatever that is. Whatever that style is. You know, I think we're pretty in touch with that.

Tobbe: Honestly, do you think that this new album actually can make you gather some new fans to your music, or do you think that your fanbase is kind of already carved in stone?

Jesse: I certainly hope we get new fans. We're striving to do tours and go out with bands that are gonna generate new fans. You know, again, just as an artist and as a performer, and same thing with the band, you wanna continue to grow. You wanna continue to gain new fans.

Tobbe: What do you think that bands, or maybe your band, can do nowadays to convince people to actually buy the physical product and not just steal the music?

Jesse: [Laughs] Shit. If I knew. I guess just, if you really love what we do and you wanna support us, that's one of the best ways to support us and keep us on the road. Keep supporting us, and buying the record is another thing. You know, if you care about a band, you support them. And if people don't really know who we are; come see us live, come check us out. Read interviews. You know, we're genuine guys that love what we do and I think that that shows. Hopefully that speaks for itself.

Tobbe: Why have Incarnate as the album's title?

Jesse: Incarnate to me is sort of an ambiguous title that allows people to sort of go "Hey! What's that all about?". And I love that. I love that it's not obvious. But to me it almost just speaks "This is who we are right now.". You know "This is Killswitch in the flesh.". And it can also be a positive and a negative. It can be darkness. It can be evil in the flesh. God in the flesh. All these things. I love that. It's just a powerful one word thing that doesn't mean specifically something. So I like that.

Tobbe: Which are Killswitch Engage's strongest assets as a recording unit?

Jesse: Hmm, it's a good question. [Pause] With those guys, they can just write songs like this [Snaps his fingers]. Musically, they're all really good at that. And for me, it might take me longer, but you're gonna get something genuine, so I think that's my strong point. I'm honest and genuine of what I do. But with those guys, they're just great musicians, period.

Tobbe: If those guys had asked you to rejoin the band a couple of years earlier than what you did, would you have been ready to do so, or was 2012 just the perfect time, when you now look back at it 4 years later?

Jesse: Yeah, 2012 was a perfect time, 'cause prior to when I did rejoin I was asked to rejoin and I turned it down thinking I wasn't ready. And then, you know, fast forward to when they were starting to have rehearsals for other singers, I just thought to myself "I gotta give this a shot, because the 3rd singer thing doesn't usually work out too well.". [Laughs]

So I gave it a shot. I went to the auditions after turning it down and they were like "Wow! Okay. You really wanna do this?". I learned a bunch of Howard's [Jones] material and I sang a bunch of my old songs and we had a blast, like we just jammed. And I was like "Okay. I think we can do this.". And the rest is history. I'm super happy and they're happy and here we are.

Tobbe: Was it a little strange in the beginning to sing Howard's material?

Jesse: Absolutely. For 2 different reasons. 1: Because he's got a different vocal style than I do. And 2: Because I didn't write it. - So in order for me to like believe what I was singing I had to really attach my own thoughts of what I thought the songs were about. So it was a bit of a process, for sure. But that being said, nowadays it doesn't even cross my mind really that it's not my songs. I've put so much emotion into these songs live that I'm comfortable with the thoughts that I'm singing.

Tobbe: Have you changed the lyrics, just a little bit?

Jesse: No. Not at all. I think that would be an injustice to the fans to do that. But in my mind I probably think differently than Howard did with those songs. Obviously, 'cause he wrote them. But it's important for me to be genuine and to really believe in what I'm singing.

Tobbe: You were away from the band for almost a decade and how many times during that period did you actually regret your choice to part ways with the band?

Jesse: Never. I had to take care of myself. I had to figure out who I was as a person. I had to put my life together. I was in a bit of a tragedy at that point in my life. So yeah, no regrets.

Tobbe: This year has just started, obviously, so what do you see when you look at 2016 for Killswitch?

Jesse: Toooooour. A whole bunch of it. That's it, man. Record comes out and we hit the road. That's it. That's my life.

See also: review of the album Incarnate

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