Killswitch Engage are launching a month-long North American tour tomorrow, November 24, on which they'll be playing their 2002 album Alive Or Just Breathing in its entirety - with vocalist Jesse Leach, who sang on the record, back up front. We got Leach on the phone to talk about how the tour came together, his personal creative process when writing lyrics for the band's next album, and much more. He even answered a few questions submitted by fans. Enjoy!
When did the idea of playing Alive Or Just Breathing front to back come to you guys? Was it something that was discussed as soon as you rejoined the band, or later?
Before I rejoined the band, actually. When I found out they had parted ways with Howard [Jones], I made that initial phone call, saying, “Hey, if you guys are in a rough spot, I’m willing to go out and do a reunion tour for fun—keep you guys moving, get me out of my job for a little while.” Is that a fire drill?
Yeah, they’re testing the fire alarms in my office – it’s awesome on a day when I’ve got a phoner to do.
Oh yeah [laughs]. So yeah, basically I was the first one to put a bug in their ear about it, because at that moment the mindset I had wasn’t “Oh, I’m gonna rejoin Killswitch,” it was more like, “Oh, this’ll be fun—I know these guys need to get out and do some work, and I’d like to get out of my job and have some fun,” so that was the initial thing. But Adam [D.] was like, “We’re looking for a permanent replacement.” So the initial bug was put in their ears by me.
Are there songs on that record that you’ve never sung live?
Yes. Like, three, maybe that they’ve done, but I haven’t done them.
So did you have to refer back to your old lyrics, or did you have to go to the CD itself to bring it back?
I’ve literally been listening to the CD way more times than I ever have before. In the past two weeks, that’s all I’ve been doing is listening to that record.
When you’re planning to play a whole album, do you rehearse it that way too, like running through a play, or do you take it one song at a time?
Well, yesterday [Monday, November 19] we just kind of dissected it, and today the plan is to just run through the album a few times, so we’re definitely gonna stick to it, play it track by track without switching anything around; we’ll have a few breaks for tuning, but for the most part, we want the listener to feel like they’re listening to the CD when we’re playing it live.
They’ve been playing some of these songs for a decade, so have they changed up any of the arrangements on you or anything?
No, I mean, I’m sure there will be the more than occasional pinch harmonic squeal that Adam and Joel [Stroetzel] always seem to throw into every song anyway [laughs], but other than that, we’re pretty much sticking to the way the songs were written.
Can you remember any particular moment from 10 years ago that made you think the band was really going to make it big?
Honestly, not really. I think the reaction to the record was great, but the mindset I was in at the time was so far away from caring about any of that stuff, because I was in such a dark place, I don’t think I ever had the notion that Killswitch would go on to be successful. And at that time in my life, I had such punk rock guilt about me, I didn’t want to quote-unquote sell out. I had all those youthful punk rock hardcore kid things I had in my head back then, and I never saw that it might be special, and now it’s amazing to see what these guys have accomplished. I’m definitely a much different guy than I was back in those days. But thankfully, there are some things that did stick—the hardcore ethos of PMA, the positive mental attitude. Community stuff, the good stuff. But all the sort of ignorant youthful stuff, I grew out of. [laughs] You’re such an elitist at a young age, when you’re you’re a hardcore fan; you think the whole rest of the world is a bunch of dumbasses, and then you kinda realize, “Well, we’re all just dumbasses.” [laughs]
The new album is basically finished – what was your personal creative process when you were writing?
Oh, man, it was intense. I had a loose idea of what I wanted to do with the direction of the lyrics, and the good thing is we had started the record before touring. I didn’t feel satisfied, I felt a lot of pressure to get so much done in such a short amount of time, and my mindset was like, “Well, I can write this record now, and try to get it done before we tour, or we can go out on the road, and I can live with these guys and get back into the feel of things, and have sort of a better perspective on my role in the band.” For me, it felt better to get back out there on the road and live, and that helped the record out a lot. Cause just seeing how these guys interact with the fans, hearing the stories from the road, catching me up to speed over nine years of stuff that’s been going on…and reflecting on my own personal life, and thinking wow, it’s been a decade since I’ve been in this band. My life has changed so much. So I think that was the trigger for me, was reflecting on the past, reflecting on their past, and kinda tying it all together. And it’s kind of a concept record in a way. It’s really about suffering in life, and perseverance.
When you were writing, how did you avoid the mental pressure of being too influenced by your own past, or the band’s history?
I think a lot of inspiration came from the music itself. I would listen to the instrumental tracks over and over again, and free write. I wouldn’t think about writing a specific part, but just the feeling the music gave me, the notes, the general feeling you get from the music, and I would free write for hours, pages and pages of stuff, then go back and sort of do it again but try to organize those thoughts. A lot of the writing came from the music itself. And then outside of that, I would take long bike rides, cause I’m really into biking these days to stay in shape, just 20, 30 mile bike rides, and when I’d get an idea I’d stop and speak into my phone, record stuff, whistle things…so basically just living it. Everything I did, I found a way to make it work for me as a writer. Just constantly writing, finding inspiration from different things.
OK, these next three questions were submitted by fans. The first one is, weren’t you a vegan for a while, and when/how did that change?
Yeah, I was vegetarian for 12 years, vegan for a year, and I think I got to the point where I realized in my own mind that it’s more important to support local and organic stuff—farm products, food, whatever the case may be. Cause the reason I got into vegetarianism in the first place was for environmental purposes, caring for the earth and not wanting to contribute the corporate farming that was going on, which I’m still very much opposed to. But I think it got to a point in my life where I realized I wanted to be more locally minded, and the way the economy was, the way my mindset was four years ago when I decided to partake in meat again—I don’t want to say I grew out of it, but I realized the goal was more environmentalism as opposed to vegetarianism. So local and organic is the way to go, that’s the short version of it. And I do not regret it at all.
Next one: Do you have any plans to tour places you’ve never been in 2013?
Yes, and I would love to, that’s all I can say. I will go anywhere in the world; I just want to get out there. Absolutely.
Last question: Do you have any pre-show rituals or superstitions?
Oh, I’ve got tons of rituals. Tons of water, like, ridiculous amounts of water. I do Melissa Cross vocal warmups religiously, every single day. And just a little bit of whiskey. And stretching—I do all kinds of stretches, physically not vocally. I’m a creature of habit, I stick to my routine and I’m very cautious in everything I do because I care that much; I want every performance to be as good as it can be.
Killswitch Engage will be on the road from November 24 to December 29 - find a show near you!