When it came time to choose a new lead singer, Massachusetts metal band Killswitch Engage looked backward. Original frontman Jesse Leach, who left the group after two albums in 2002, was rehired in place of his own replacement Howard Jones. Leach’s return doesn’t mean the band is reverting; more accurately, they’ll be fulfilling the promise of KSE’s first two (and best) albums with new material already in the works.
Since Leach’s return in January KSE have toured and demoed new material. The reignition of both performing and creating music with his old friends seems to have satisfied Leach deeply – he touched on that and more in a recent conversation with us.
When it came to rejoining Killswitch, what sealed the deal?
The carrot they dangled in front of my face was the new record. I sat down with the band, they showed me the new demos and I was completely fired up. I knew it would be amazing. It’s what metal needs right now: a fast, aggressive record. And I love these guys – they’ve been doing this for so long, but are still down-to-earth gentlemen.
Do you feel you played a role in how metal developed in the 10 years since you left the group?
I do see some influence, yeah. Some of it I don’t want to take credit for. I’m just proud people still care about what I did, that’s the bottom line for me. If I inspired people lyrically, sonically or spiritually in any way it’s a total honour, not something to take lightly.
Did you keep up with Killswitch fans?
Bits and pieces here and there. These guys were still my friends when I left and I wished them the best success. I’m sure their fans have a lot to say about [the change] but I’ve learned to not pay attention to what someone might say about a band. You’ll oftentimes get totally different points of view.
It doesn’t sound like, after the initial announcement of your leaving, there was much bad blood.
I strove for that. After the awkwardness of leaving it was important to bridge the gap and make sure there were no more bad feelings. After those feelings wore off there was definitely still a strong bond. They shot to success with Howard and that took a lot of pressure off my leaving.
What’s been the most memorable show since the return?
I’d have to say Download. It was just ... mind-blowing. It had been raining all day but when we got onstage, the sun broke through the clouds. It was just one of those ... when I’m older, I’ll still be telling stories about that show.
Did that moment make you think “OK, this was the right choice”?
[laughs] That and many others.
Does working on new material feel like a return to the old days or more like a third, entirely new chapter?
Yeah, that’s an accurate thing to say. It feels like a third chapter for all of us. The new material sounds different from any Killswitch album, even without my vocals. It’s definitely faster, more aggressive. [Live] we’re playing my songs, Howard’s songs, but this will turn over a new leaf for us.
Have you talked to Howard about his songs?
I’ve known Howard since I was 16 but we’ve always been more like associates. We’ve never talked in depth about anything. Since I rejoined we haven’t really been in touch, I don’t know him that well. It would be interesting to hear what he has to say but I need to use my own interpretation of what the songs mean. I need to feel them and breathe them and focus on what they mean to me.
Did KSE start work on new material not long after you came back?
The guys have been working on it longer than that. But I got the demos only about a week after coming back, about a month before [touring]. I haven’t started writing much, we’ve got about two songs done with 14 more to go. We’d like to finish it up in the fall and release early next year.
Is playing Killswitch music still a physical challenge, if I’m correct in assuming that’s part of the reason you left?
That’s a sliver of the reason why I left. I was probably more physically able to do it then than now.
How do you take care of your voice?
Throughout the day I’m constantly drinking water. At least a gallon a day, probably. And I have a whole bag of remedies, supplements, vitamins. And how I speak during the day is very important. I have to keep it in a certain place, especially while drinking in a loud bar after a gig. Stay clear of yelling or abusing my voice.
You seem naturally soft-spoken.
I just remember to take care of my voice, keep that in the back of my mind at all times.
KSE will be performing at this year's Heavy T.O. festival August 12.