Killswitch Engage

author AP date 02/07/12

Killswitch Engage recently underwent a major transformation, as the band's long-time vocalist Howard Jones parted ways with the band and was soon replaced by Jesse Leach, the original vocalist who featured on "Alive Or Just Breathing" and the self-titled debut album. As such, we were keen to find out the reasons behind the changes, how the band felt with them, and what their future direction would now be. Read all about it in our interview with the band's guitarist Joel Stroetzel below.

RF.net: Could you introduce yourself to begin with, and maybe one interesting fact about yourself that not everybody knows.
Joel: My name is Joel, I play guitar for Killswitch Engage. Interesting fact? I like beer a lot, but I think most people know that.

RF.net You've pretty much toured the entire world by now, I'd imagine. So what country has had the best beer so far, and what country has had the worst beer?

Joel: I'm going to have to go with Germany on the best beer, no offense to anyone.

RF.net Do you have any specific preference of brand?

Joel: It's funny, because one of my favorite beers is Kölsch - it's local to Cologne, so I've never had it anywhere else, but there's something about it that's kind of magical. Worst beer? Probably back home in the States, man. We have a lot of shitty beers.

RF.net: So how's the tour been going so far? You've had some big shows at Rock am Ring and so on.
Joel: So far so good. We've done some fun festivals, and a few club shows in between - everything's been fun.

RF.net: How has the reception been? I'd imagine there's been some huge crowds at the more metal-oriented festivals?

Joel: Yeah. I mean, we're still trying to get back on our feet. It's been a few years since we've toured, and having Jesse have to get familiar with our set again... But it's been fun. It seems like people enjoy it, and we're having a great time.

RF.net: Speaking of Jesse, what was the actual story behind Howard leaving the band?
Joel: There were a lot of things, really. Some things I won't mention, for his privacy. But he had a lot of health issues for a couple of years, diabetes being one of them. And there was just a lot of familiy stuff, things in his life got strange, and he needed to take some time off. So we waited around, and a few years later we finally talked to Howard because we were ready to pick this thing up again, and he wasn't really ready to do that. So we decided we were going to part ways - it wasn't a nasty thing at all, but it was the right thing at the moment.

RF.net: As far as I understand, it wasn't just Jesse coming back to the band because he was the old vocalist, but he actually went through the whole audition process you had going on?

Joel: He did. We had a feeling that he was the guy if he wanted to do it. We also tried a lot of great people that sounded killer, but we told him, "listen man, if you want the gig, we need to hear you sing some of Howard's songs. Obviously you can sing your songs, but...". So he learned like seven or eight of Howard's songs and came and tried to impress us - which he did. So we just knew right away that he was the guy as soon as he came in. We had a whole rehearsal day in New York where we tried everybody out, and everybody was great, but the second Jesse got in there it felt right.

RF.net: Was there a learning curve to get back into working together?

Joel: I guess a little bit. I mean, it's funny, because in some ways it feels like we have a new band, and in some ways it feels like we never missed a beat. It's a strange feeling, and I can't really explain it. But as of now, obviously with Jesse doing Howard's songs, we're finally figuring out the set, and even though we're only two weeks into touring, it's been going well. It's been fun. Jesse's doing a great job.

RF.net: Has it been difficult at all for him to learn the songs that he didn't write himself?

Joel: I don't think so. I think initially Jesse was one of those guys that didn't really want to sing somebody else's songs, but when he came and said he wanted to do the gig and learn Howard's songs, he told us afterward that now that he was actually learning these and singing them, he was starting to connect to them and he liked them too - and it felt natural.

RF.net: Yeah, I mean you just played right before, and I was thinking, some of the songs that he wasn't a part of shaping, he made them sound almost exactly how they sounded like when Howard was singing them. So I was wondering why you didn't include any songs from the latest album?

Joel: Not too sure, really. I think a lot of that stems from the fact that we didn't really get to tour on that record, because that's when things got strange for Howard and we had to take time off. So we never really properly promoted those songs. I feel like a lot of people don't know those songs in a live setting. I'm sure we'll cross that bridge at some point and we'll maybe add a couple of those in.

RF.net: Speaking of that record, why was it that you decided to self-title that record again? I mean that's you're second self-titled album that you have. It's a little bit confusing...
Joel: That was a weird thing, actually. To be honest with you, there were a lot of weird circumstances surrounding that record. We were kind of encouraged by a lot of people to try working with somebody else, with Brendan O'Brien, who was a great guy. But it was strange for us doing everything that way, flying somewhere to do it when we were used to doing it at home. I guess with the self-titled thing, we maybe figured we were trying to reinvent ourselves, so we thought "let's start fresh and do a second self-titled" - though I'm not really sure why.

RF.net: So will the next album be called "Alive Or Just Breathing"?

Joel: Yeah, part two! No, I'm just kidding. You know what man, that was a strange time.

RF.net: What would you say were some of the things that made you feel like you were reinveting yourselves on that album?

Joel: When we were actually writing the tracks it felt really exciting, and working with a new producer and doing it away from home for the first time, we felt like maybe changing our sound a little bit. I'll be honest, I'm not sure it worked out. I'm not crazy about that record to be honest with you - just my own personal take. It was a strange time doing that record. Musically there's things I like on it, but as a whole I don't think it came out as it should have. But I'm glad we did it that way because now we know. Now we can approach things differently from here on.

RF.net: Speaking of learning things from that one: do you have any idea about what your future direction is going to be with respect to that?
Joel: Well, the new record is basically written, and most of it is recorded. It's a fast record; it's got a lot of fast songs and it's pretty aggressive. I'm not sure what Jesse is going to do on a lot of the songs yet, I've only heard a few things that he's done. But once again, it was a joy writing it with the guys; we had a great time doing it, it's very energetic, and hopefully we can make that translate. We're still working on it, but once we get home at the end of the summer, we'll finish it up and try to get it out there.

RF.net: Next to the other albums, where would you place it?

Joel: I don't know man. It's probably going to be a mix between "Alive Or Just Breathing" and "The End of Heartache", but with some new stuff. It's kind of more like the older stuff in that it's faster.

RF.net: That reminds me: God Forbid, on their newest album - I don't know if you've heard it - went with this pretty modern sound where they incorporated elements of djent and stuff to it, and basically this djent and deathcore stuff is kind of taking over from what you guys were about back in the day. Do you ever feel like you're being pushed into the shadow by this new movement of bands?
Joel: No, not really. We're stubborn, we'll do our thing and hopefully people will like it. I appreciate the djent style though. I love Periphery and bands like that, so I'm definitely into it. But I'm not sure that's something that would work for us, so we'll just keep doing our thing.

RF.net: Do you find that your core fanbase is loyal in following you through?

Joel: I guess we'll find out, because we're only two weeks into touring. We'll see soon enough.

RF.net: Have you witnessed any kind of shift between what kinds of fans you had back during the first self-titled and "Alive Or Just Breathing", and the kinds of fans that came to the shows during the second self-titled album and "As Daylight Dies" for that matter?

Joel: Not really. It's been a similar crowd. And once again, we didn't really have a proper opportunity to tour on that last record. There are things about it that may have been more radio friendly, but we never really got to explore that, and maybe that's for the best.

RF.net: You guys played here two years ago at Roskilde Festival, and now you're playing here at Copenhell, which is just three years old. So I'd be very interested to know what your experiences from the two festivals are?
Joel: I'm not sure I really remember Roskilde Festival, but I can tell you that today was fun, we enjoyed it. We're lucky enough to have great weather and people in front of us when we played, and that's all I could really ask for.

RF.net: When you compare it to festivals in the States, what are some of the key differences that you find?

Joel: There really aren't festivals of this scale anywhere in the States, really. I mean you have Warped Tour and Ozzfest I guess, but it's five, ten thousand people. It seems like in Europe festivals are a big thing, and we've never really been able to get it right in the States. - I'm not sure why. I definitely prefer playing the European festival scene.

RF.net: One of the things that we tend to ask in these interviews is music piracy, and different bands seem to have very different takes on it, and whether it's really affecting them. So what would you say about that?
Joel: I can't speak for all the other guys in the band, but for me personally, we've never been the type of band that sells enough records where we can make a living selling records. So it doesn't really affect us that much. I've tried to kind of look at is as the new form of radio, where if someone wants something, they're doing to download and get it. It's better that they hear it that way than not hear it at all. I've never really thought about it. We've always made our living playing live and being on tour, so I don't think it affects us that much, really.

RF.net: But you are able to sustain yourselves economically?

Joel: I guess when we're on the road, you know? But we've never sold millions of records or had radio hits, so it doesn't really affect us that much. I guess it affects the label more.

RF.net: Do you have any famous last words, any shout-outs or anything like that for our readership?
Joel: Thanks to everybody who stuck with us through all the strange changes over the past twelve years. It's been kind of a rollercoaster ride, but it seems like it's going to be okay.

RF.net: When can we expect the next album to drop, tentatively?

Joel: We're trying to get it done before the end of the year, but probably early next year.

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