INTERVJU: Jesse Leach från Killswitch Engage

Killswitch Engage är aktuella med ett nytt album, “Incarnate” och till skillnad från förra albumet, är det här skrivet specifikt för Jesses röst. Vi tog ett snack med sångaren när han besökte Stockholm och pratade bl a om att självmant välja mörkret och även ifrågasätta sig själv:

“I had a moment where I questioned stuff. I questioned myself as a writer, I questioned if what I was doing was the best it could be and the answer was no, so I kind of spiralled myself into depression, almost purposely. I purposely put myself into a dark place and started thinking about the bigger questions of life and from there I started to write stuff I never thought I´d write before and came to self-realisations about how I was raised and what I believe and don´t believe? I´m in a good place now, but I question a lot of what I was raised with and I question a lot of my beliefs. All this stuff that surround how I was brought up, I realized some of that stuff I was just believing because I was taught it and I didn´t really accept it as true.”

Last year in September you said that this was ”The record of my entire career.” Is this your peak and it´s all downhill from here?

Jesse: Maybe. (laughs) For me, I look back on it now and I back that statement. I´ve changed because of the record. My personality and the way I think. I put so much into this record and something happened to me and I think, as an artist, you can only hope to have those moments in life. So far I would say that this is my best work as a vocalist and a lyricist, if I may can be so bold with such a statement.

In what way did this album change you?

Jesse: I think it initially started out that I had an idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go lyrically. I had a moment where I questioned stuff. I questioned myself as a writer, I questioned if what I was doing was the best it could be and the answer was no, so I kind of spiralled myself into depression, almost purposely. I purposely put myself into a dark place and started thinking about the bigger questions of life and from there I started to write stuff I never thought I´d write before and came to self-realisations about how I was raised and what I believe and don´t believe? I´m in a good place now, but I question a lot of what I was raised with and I question a lot of my beliefs. All this stuff that surround how I was brought up, I realized some of that stuff I was just believing because I was taught it and I didn´t really accept it as true. The way the state of the world is now and the way the American media has been aiming towards… between police brutality and gay rights, all these things that just upset me and anger me, I realized that the organization of religion and the organization of politics, I don´t want anything to do with that anymore. Who we are as humans, is so much greater than these confines that this particular systematic way of thinking puts on us. I think I liberated myself through a pretty heavy depression, but it was an artistic depression. I almost don´t want to use depression, it was just a dark place. I didn´t go quite down into the rabbit hole like I have before in the past, but enough so it affected my wife and she was worried about me, but to me it was like I needed to do it. I´d wake up in the morning and have extremely strong coffee and go out into the wilderness and spend all day just by myself and contemplate life and contemplate God. These heavy questions and I wanted to tackle that on this record and I think that I did.

Killswitch Incarnate

Being in a darker place, does that enable you to write better, more than being in a “happy” place?

Jesse: I do, but I did write some of this record when I was in a happy place and the topics change. The stuff that I wrote about myself on the record, I think I had to be in a darker place, but the stuff I wrote about the world… there´s actually two songs on the record that don´t even have anything to do with me. They´re written about people that I´m close to and a particular fan that reached out to me that had been some really heavy stuff. I was in a good place writing those, it´s just having perspective. That´s the cool thing about this record, I was in two different head spaces. We actually broke the record down to side A and side B, like a throwback to the cassette tapes. We purposely grouped those songs and I think they are two different head spaces. The first part you´re gonna get is the more positive and uplifting stuff and the second part of the record goes into the darker stuff.

Questioning things, like the way you were brought up and religion, that is often something that comes with age. The older you get, the more you look back and question things.

Jesse: Yes and I did that a lot and I tell you, touring did a lot for me too. Meeting people from all over the world that come from all different places in life. Meeting fans and hearing their stories and I make a point whenever I´m able to, to actually have discussions with people who care about my art. I think I had a shift and I see it as a very positive thing. It´s growth.

About the title of the album, “Incarnate”? It means “in the flesh” in Latin and it can be something positive or negative, like “the Devil incarnate” or “God incarnate”, right?

Jesse: Yeah, that´s why we chose that title. We wanted it to be ambiguous enough. For us as a band, we all feel like… through all the changes, me coming back, rediscovering who we are as a band, this material was written specifically for my voice, which is so awesome. After touring with them for three years, they know my voice, they know where I come from, so it´s a nice mixture of the styles of music I like to sing over, whether it´s bluesy or hardcore or metal. I was honoured. Hearing the demos, I felt “Wow, these guys are writing for me.” “Disarm the descent” was written before I was in the picture, so that music wasn´t written specifically for me, so I just kinda had fun doing my own thing over it, but I feel this is truly who we are now.

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Do you look at your life and sometimes wonder what your life would´ve been like, had you not joined a band and instead stayed in your hometown working as a bartender or something?

Jesse: I´d probably dead from alcohol poisoning. (laughs) I think about that often. I´m fortunate enough in my life to have been able to step away and come back, two times over now. I had it with Times of Grace and touring with Adam and Joel and seeing Europe and playing in Europe for the first time in my life and then going back to a regular job. In my life it´s been – go on tour, get a job or go on tour, quit a band, figure out my life and then tour and work, tour and work. I am very much confident who I am as a person and I don´t think I would´ve had the depth of character I have, if I was just a touring musician. I´d be a different person and I see that in my friends who´ve been touring for non-stop. Great guys, but you tend to take things for granted when you´re not reminded of where you could be. In the back of my mind I´m always thinking, even when I have a hard time and I´m lonely and feel like shit, don´t complain. (laughs) First of all, no one wants to hear you complain and two, I could always be behind a bar doing the same damn thing. Working five days a week doing 14 hour shifts and dealing with the same people. I never wanna go back. I may someday, but for now I´m just very appreciative of who I am.

When it comes to lyrics, is there a limit to how open you can be or can you write about anything about yourself?

Jesse: I think it´s how you write about it. I´m an open book on this album. There´s stuff there, implied, that are some of the darker things that have happened to me and some of the darker things I´ve done, are in the lyrics but I´ve written them in such a way where hopefully the listeners can draw their own conclusions and get their own inspiration. I think it´s so important. You don´t want to beat someone over the head with a message, whether it´s political or sort of personal or whatever. I think music needs to be painted with a broad enough brush stroke where the listeners can engage themselves to be a part of that process. I wouldn´t want to take that away by over explaining.

We live in a society today where everything is out there. No secrets.

Jesse: On the internet I´m a huge sap. Anyone who follows me knows I´m very honest. When I´m bummed I write about how bummed I am. I think it´s a fine line. I actually had a moment about two years ago where I thought to myself “Do I just get rid of all my social media? Just go away?”, because the mystery of my heroes growing up, I didn´t know shit about them and I don´t know if I would have wanted to know? But now days the fans almost demand that from the bands and no one in Killswitch, besides from Mike D, even tries to be on social media. For me doing that, I´m engaging the fans and hopefully I´m giving back and I´ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, but I also get a lot of insults, which keeps me humble. (laughs) The moment I think I´m doing something cool I get “You suck!” which makes me think “Maybe I do suck?”.

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About the songs. I like the first track “Alone I stand”.

Jesse: That´s my big middle finger to the world. I´m not worried about if you stand with me or not and I´m not worried if you agree with what I´m gonna say.

There´s a line that goes “I reject what you demand”.

Jesse: Isn´t that what metal is all about? Hardcore, punk… it´s a return to form I think. On this record there´s some sad sappy stuff and that´s who we are as a band now and we can go there with confidence. When I got back, I sort of had to prove myself to myself and to the fans, so I went in guns blazing with that last record and with this one I allowed myself to be a little more opened and honest and vulnerable.

When you´re younger you worry more about what people will think about you, but as you get older those feelings tend to fade more.

Jesse. The cool thing is, where I´m at, is that I found that some people will like it enough for me to have a career, which is amazing and I´m very thankful for that. But I think that if you stick to your guns and you´re true to who you are as an artist, that shows and people can tell that.

How would you say Killswitch has grown and matured since the first album “S/T” (2000)? What´s the biggest difference?

Jesse: It´s hard to put that into words. I just think we´ve all grown up so much personally, first of all, as far as our relationship with each other and our communication with each other. Don´t get me wrong, we´re still very childish (laughs). Our jokes are pretty much the same as they were back then, maybe a little worse. Maybe it´s just appreciation for life. You get off stage and you´re a lot more sore than you used to be. You have a night of drinking and when you wake up it´s like “Who, I can´t recover as fast these days.”. Those little tiny things stick to you and they make you realize that you´re winding down, so embrace it and soak it up. (laughs) We are not 18 years old anymore. We just appreciate it a lot more than we did back then.

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We´ve recently lost Lemmy and David Bowie. Those iconic artist are reaching the age when they´re actually dying and we might never have those kind of iconic artists again.

Jesse: And Scott Weiland. Yeah and it´s been brought up in conversation about the big headliners at the festivals. Who´s next? It´s a scary thought, but at the same time it fills me with resolve, to think that maybe one day we´ll be even close to that, where people consider us a main stay. I don´t assume that and I don´t know, but I think that being said, as much as those losses were heavy and they definitely impacted me, as a fan of those three guys. The one thing I will say, especially when I look at someone as Lemmy for example, what a legend. The fact that you´re able to live your life all the way up to your death and David Bowie putting out his records two days before he dies… I wanna go that way. I salute that. That´s so amazing. With Scott it´s a little different, because of his drug use, but I even back that too. Listen, you make your choices, you live your life and if you die with no regrets, then all hails. I would love to go out that way. I don´t mean to sound morbid, but I mean that. I´d rather die of that than from old age with diapers on in a nursing home. I don´t know what the future holds for headlining acts, but I will say this, I think there are definitely a number of them. A band like Mastodon for example. Mastodon to me is like a modern Black Sabbath. They´ve been able to come from that technical metal and add that sludgy stoner rock vibe and I think they are on their stride and to me, they get better with all their records. Their latest record (Once more round the sun, 2014) to me, is a masterpiece. I put Mastodon on that pedestal and I know they´re not huge, but I´´ll also put Gojira there. I think Gojira has so much potential. Baroness´ new record (Purple) destroys me. I think there are those bands that are simmering and I have hope for the future. Another band is Amon Amarth. They´re beasts. And Opeth. Those are the metal bands that I would say are gonna rise to the occasion.

Did you ever get to meet Lemmy?

Jesse: I´ll tell you what. Times of Grace actually opened for Motörhead at a festival in Belgium, I think. We were backstage and Lemmy was 10-12 feet away from me and I was like “I´m not gonna do it.” Just such respect. I wouldn´t know what to say and I would be afraid to sound like a little girl, so I stood side stage and watched him play and I was in awe the whole time. I was to chicken shit to say hi, but I was in the area. (laughs) I could´ve, but I didn´t, out of respect.

A guy like David Bowie really pushed the boundaries in all directions. Being a band today seems hard in a way, since everything´s been done already?

Jesse: It´s hard to say. I look at the younger generation, like Periphery, who did what Meshuggah´s doing, but brought it to a jazzy sort of strange direction, which I respect highly. There´s gonna be some of that, but whether or not it´s completely original, I don´t know because of the internet and the over saturation. I guess the best thing we can hope for, is that people will do it with heart and be genuine. Honesty and raw determination to make your mark, is the best we can hope for. Lord knows there´s enough copycats out there, but I think in time those bands will either figure themselves out and rise to the occasion or fade away. If you´re in for the long haul, you´re gonna be tested and it ain´t gonna be easy. Look at Mastodon how their style´s changed, but I think they´ve gotten better and that´s just from keeping at it. I remember when those guys were touring in a van. I´ll never forget it. I was standing at the Palladium and they rolled up in their van late to the show. The van door opens up and they all roll out half asleep, bring their equipment on by themselves, strap it on and destroy the place. They did that for years, so you just have to bite the bullet and keep going and you´ll eventually evolve and find yourself.

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With Killswitch, do you have like a five year plan or is it just from album to album?

Jesse: It´s day to day with this band. We´re all wondering when one of us is gonna die? Between our drinking habits and the crazy stuff we get into on tour. I´m kinda glad we haven´t lost that. We´ve slowed down a little bit, but we´re all still pretty insane. Adam D definitely has his nights where I go “You are insane.” But that´s fun and it´s part of being in a band. What are you gonna do? Drink spring water and do yoga the whole time? Not yet. (laughs)

Could you see yourself making a Jesse Leach album in the future? Something completely different to Killswitch?

Jesse: I´d love to, but I just don´t have the time or the energy for it these days. I´m putting everything I have into Killswitch. But I´m a huge reggae/dub guy. The Clash is probably my model for what I would love to be doing on the side. Rancid is another one of those bands that I love, but I would lean a little heavier towards the reggae/dub, which I don´t think the vast majority of Killswitch fans would give a shit about, but solo records don´t have to be for everybody. I would do it just for the sheer joy of doing it. I´ve got ideas and demos but I just don´t have the energy right now.

You were raised as a Christian, but you were drawn to Rastafari. What is it about that?

Jesse: Still drawn to that. It´s the culture. I blame The Clash and Bad Brains for that music and I just fell in love with it. It started with Bob Marley who was the gateway and my favorite singer off the top of my head is Dennis Brown (1957-1999) who was like the Marvin Gaye of reggae. The music and the culture is beautiful and as soon as I hear a reggae rhythm, I get up and dance. People laugh, but that´s my soul music. There´s a rhythm and a soul to it that is so unique and the sound of the guitar going up while the bass is going down, it hits you in your hips. It´s magic.

Where you a young metal head growing up?

Jesse: No, no, no. I was sheltered and protected and I wasn´t able to listen to secular music until a certain age. I had to smuggle tapes in. I think the first tape I smuggled into our house was RUN DMC “King of rock” (1985) and I think my brother brought in Iron Maiden´s “The number of the beast” (1982) and we both showed each other the music. I leaned more towards rap and Public Enemy was my gateway, because they did a song with Anthrax and then I got huge into Anthrax. They were kind of like my gateway into metal, but my first love was probably RUN DMC and Public Enemy. That´s where I felt “This is my music.” And then I got Def Leppard´s “Hysteria” (1987) when I was in 5th grade and I still love that record. My dad was very strict and he found those tapes and we got the fire and brimstone thing and he smashed them. He was like the Führer of our house. He laughs at that now, but back then me and my brother were like Ned Flander´s kids in The Simpsons (sings Jesus loves me) For me, because I was raised that way, the moment I was offered drugs and punk rock, I grabbed that with all my might and dove right into f me, the punk rock lifestyle and if you put a drug in front me, I did it. I don´t regret any of that stuff because I had a good time. I will say this. I do carry a very positive love in my heart because of how I was raised. I reject certain dogmatics and contradictions that I don´t get and that I don´t think makes sense to who I am or who we are as people. That light and hope of love, like God being love, is still in my heart. I´m not comfortable putting restrictions on that. Again, travelling the world and meeting people, being open to Rastafari. To me, it´s makes me so angry when people of faith demonize certain things. They demonize homosexual behaviour. If you´re loving another person and you´re telling me that God is love and at the core of everything you´re saying, God is love and you shouldn´t judge other people, what the fuck are you doing? It makes me really angry. That´s where I´m at with it now. I´m open and God is love and I´m still searching.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Michaela Barkensjö