Killswitch Engage: “It’s the romance of this lifestyle, you either love it or you hate it.”

An interview with Killswitch Engage frontman, Jesse Leach

Killswitch Engage: “It’s the romance of this lifestyle, you either love it or you hate it.”

By Rhian Wilkinson

Dec 11, 2016 14:57

We sat down with Jesse to talk about old memories and new music, and what it's like to be back with Killswitch Engage after a decade apart.

Killswitch Engage have recently released “Beyond The Flames: Home Video Part II”, a DVD chronicling the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach, after close to a decade of being apart from the band he helped to form in 1999.

Jesse’s return to Killswitch has signalled a period of new experiences for the band, including playing their first shows in territories including Mexico, Africa, and China.

“When I rejoined we actually played in Africa, we’d never done that before, and we’ve done Russia, Thailand, and the Phillipines too. I’m seeing the world, it’s insane. When we played China, it was our first time there and seeing people sing lyrics back with the language barrier, music knows no barrier, it’s incredible.”

Returning to Killswitch in February of 2012, after departing in 2002 due to struggles with depression, Jesse doesn’t like to imagine his life having turned out any other way.

“Download 2012, still stands out for me as a moment I’ll never forget as long as I live. The weather stopped, sun came out,” Jesse exhales, and relaxes back on the sofa, as though settling into a fond memory, “I still get chills thinking about that. To me it was like ‘oh wow, this is my life now, this is what I’m doing, it’s so crazy’. Prior to that I was working at a bar, studying to be a mixologist thinking that was my life, and seeing the same place every single day and becoming depressed again. That moment on stage was so liberating for me.”

The pressure of touring has not abated, though Jesse has found new ways to deal with the perils of being on the road – namely exploring the cities he visits.

“I make a point to get out and see things, this tour not so much because the weather has been pretty terrible. But I will make sure I’m not drinking a lot, I will go to bed early and get up early, and go explore. I live for that, it’s the thing that keeps me happy out here. You kind of have to do it because if you don’t you kind of lose your mind. You’re stuck in these little bubbles.”

“The Police put out a really good documentary, and Sting is talking about that, how it’s just the bus is small and compacted, your hotel room is small and compacted, your place is small and compacted, so the moment you get to an open space it’s as if your whole body just exhales, and I need that, I go crazy without it. When I’m at home I literally go and hide in the woods, I shut my phone off and purposefully get lost, I love that shit. It’s the first thing I do when I get home, I get lost in the woods.”

Killswitch Engage: “It’s the romance of this lifestyle, you either love it or you hate it.”

Jesse speaks emphatically about his life off tour, there is an ever-present longing to be with his wife, and finding that balance between being on the road, and being with her, is a soft undertone to our whole conversation. He relates the music he listens to back to her, and he recounts his memories to me in the context of  the moment he shared them with her.

“It’s almost as if scientifically speaking your body gets used to the buzz of being on stage, and if i’m not on tour, the time when we are usually on stage, my body will be like ready to go,” Jesse tenses up and jitters slightly to exemplify his point,  “My wife will be like ‘are we on stage time? Yeah I can tell you’re being crazy!’ It’s constantly adjusting to being home and being on the road, and there will be some nights where you are just so tired but you have to turn it on like that and deliver, that can be very taxing.”

“There are some nights being on stage is better than sex, it’s just this feeling  like you have a belonging, I matter to the world for that amount of time, and that’s a high where nothing can touch it. And coming down from those nights, to try and sleep, and if you have a bad show the next day it’s devastating. It’s such an emotional rollercoaster being a travelling musician, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

That constant strain of being on the road is what makes good art according to Jesse, it needs that struggle of being away from your loved ones, and the joy of being home with them. Those memories become intrinsically linked with songs, and for Jesse, Elbow’s ‘Sad Captains’ will always have a place in his heart.

“Another sunrise with my sad captains, with whom I choose to lose my mind…”

“There is one song that always kills me, it’s a track by Elbow, ‘Sad Captains’. I will never forget, we had just played in Africa, and we’d come from Russia, and I got the record from Talk House, a website I used to write album reviews for, and I remember listening to that, we were rolling into another tour, we were on the tour bus, it was maybe two in the morning, everyone was all up in the front lounge drinking wine and beer. We were kind of just doing what we do, venting about our lives, being brothers, and laughter and sad, and all of it. That song brings me to that moment of like, there’s a joy in it, but there is also a sadness in it because we’re all missing our family members, we’re all having problems with our relationships, then looking out the window and seeing a foreign land and knowing we have a destination somewhere. The lyrics go something like ‘another sunrise with my sad captains, with whom I choose to lose my mind’ and it just struck me, I remember being like, ‘I love these guys, they are my family, whether I like it or not they are my family now’. that was a couple of years ago now, and that song everytime I hear it takes me back to that. I’ve actually played it for my wife and my dad, and explained the story, and everyone is just like ‘wow’, it’s a powerful song. Guy Garvey is the writer, and that whole album is wonderful. It’s the romance of this lifestyle, you either love it or you hate it. It’s so hard sometimes, but I love it. Any good art should have that though, the struggle and joy and pain. That’s what makes good art.”

Jesse says his new music hits closer to home now than the older albums do. ‘My Last Serenade’ has taken on a new life, no longer about anger and burning bridges, it has morphed into the opposite.

“It’s kind of turned into a melancholy song where I’m almost mourning people in my life that I lost touch with, or have passed away. I think as you get older that stuff happens. That original piss and vinegar I had has matured into a melancholy. I think that’s the nature of the beast, songs tend to take on a life of their own.”

‘Always’ is another track Jesse laments the loss of, it isn’t his song anymore, it belongs to the fans. Having penned the track about mourning the loss of loved ones to cancer, Jesse now hears of fans using the acoustic version to walk down the aisle.

“It’s become their song, people are sending me clips of them having their first dance to it, it’s like that song is theirs now. It doesn’t even matter why I wrote it, it can be about that, it makes sense. It’s kind of brilliant that music can do that, songs can take on a life of their own.”

Jesse promises there is more exciting things to come in the future, and confirms there is definitely more Killswitch Engage songs for fans to adopt as their personal anthems.

He also announces for the first time that he has been working on a new hardcore project. Already having tracked three demos; though you’ll have to wait for the official announcement to learn its name.

“We’re going to start writing again which we’re stoked on, and then outside of music, I’m taking my wife to Paris, she’s never been so that’s exciting, and then we’ll probably just start writing the new record. Then I have a hardcore band I’ve been working on, secretly, no one really knows about it, this is the first time I’m talking about it! We have three demos right now, and musically it’s very much like Discharged, Black Flag, Minor Threat, old school hardcore, and I am really excited for that! There’s also new Times of Grace demos, yeah, I’m busy in 2017! But outside of that I can’t wait to just travel and be with my wife and be a normal human for a little while! I’m going to go hide in the woods!”

It’s endearing the way he speaks about the future, there is an excitement that cannot be abated. He doesn’t think of Killswitch as being a job, it’s more than that, rejoining saved him from a life of mixology, it gave him back the future that a bout of depression stole back in 2002. He is passionate about everything to do with music, and he isn’t afraid to shout about what he loves when he finds something new. His instagram chronicles both his life and its soundtrack. Which currently includes a lot of new music from the UK.

“I’m such a Brit-o-phile when it comes to new music, I am absolutely obsessed with Puppy I think they’re amazing! Keeping in UK, the Skints, are an amazing ska-reggae band, Hollie Cook, amazing reggae singer, her voice is incredible. Then there is a band from my area, called Flowers of Evil, they’re really good friends of mine too, they sound like if The Circle Jerks and Sex Pistols had a baby, and it was a really angry violent baby, and their shows are absolutely explosive – they make a mess of the club, it’s punk at it’s finest. Dustin Tebbett, oh my lord, he is brilliant! I’m kind of a sad bastard on tours, so I listen to a lot of sad bastard music. His first EP is very lonely and desperate, and then he found the love of his life, his soul mate, and wrote a record about her, and I just got chills, ah, it’s just so beautiful, it’s an amazing piece of music. His longing for her when he’s on tour, I could cry, it’s so good! I showed it to my wife and was like [fake sobs] ‘this is what I listen to when I’m on tour!’ It’s devastatingly beautiful!”

Sad bastard on tour or not, Jesse Leach is a frontman to behold. Taking command of the O2 Academy in Brixton a few hours after our chat for an explosive show that featured a full house sing-a-long to ‘My Last Serenade’.

You can pick up ‘Beyond The Flames: Home Video Part II’and learn more about Jesse Leach’s return to Killswitch Engage from Amazon now.