The PV Q&A: Killswitch Engage Prodigal Son Jesse Leach—Alive and Still Breathing

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BY Rick Florino

"This feels like a new band," declares Killswitch Engage prodigal son Jesse Leach. Disarm the Descent, the group's latest and first with Leach back in the fold, definitely upholds certain Killswitch traditions. Yes, it's got the requisite Euro-thrash inspired fretwork punctuated by positive, poetic melodies. However, there's a newfound energy inside of the music that comes with Leach's return. Everything hits harder from the music to the melodies. Simply put, they sound like a band on a mission.

What is that mission?

PureVolume's Rick Florino spoke to Jesse Leach to find out what lies at the heart of Disarm the Descent and so much more.

This feels like your most intimate and immersive album yet. Is that a fair assessment?
That's great. For me, that's what I was really aiming for. I wanted it to bring it to a new level lyrically but still maintain an ere of familiarity with the lyrics I write. People know I have a particular style, and I tried to bring that to the table and add a little extra.
Are you allowing people in more?
It's funny you say that. I'd say yes and no. Quite honestly, a good chunk of the main lyrics are not about me. They're from a different point of view. They're kind of about other people, which is the first time I've done that on a release. I'm in a band called The Empire Shall Fall, and we did an EP that was just a story. I wrote a story about a fictional character. I brought that into these lyrics, but they're about actual people who are close to me in my life. I wrote them from the perspective where the listener can bring his or her own meaning to the table as well.
There's always that element of relatability.
I think that's really important with lyrics and music. People have a very powerful experience with music. You can tie your own emotion or experience to what I'm writing. Oftentimes, it's a lot more powerful than something I can conjure up or explain to the listener. That's the beauty of good art. It can be left ot the listener or viewer to come up with his or her own conclusion.
Overall, were you writing about different subject matter?
I try to keep myself in touch with world events not just what's going on in our country but around the world. I was paying attention to the various revolutions going on and the political outfalls—whether it be in Spain, Iceland, Africa, or here in the United States with Wall Street. Current events were definitely in the back of my mind as well as gathering stories from the road being out with the Killswitch guys again and seeing how they tour and interact with bands. I was being an observer of life. I was spending time down in New York City and keeping a journal of daily stuff I'm observing. I go back and read that and find different sparks. As far as music goes, I listened to a lot of mellow, ambient stuff. I don't know if it'd inspire me to write. A lot of it had to do with personal experience.

When you got into the studio, did it feel like you were picking up where you left off or did it feel completely now?
All of it felt completely new. To this day, we're six tours in, and the energy is still fresh. It's great.
What moment did it come together?
I don't think it really hit me until we were out in Europe playing festivals together. It hit me hard like, "This is huge. This is great." There was an excitement in the air, and everybody could feel it. I think we all knew it going through rehearsals and writing the record. It didn't hit any of us until we were out there playing together. It felt more real.
Was that partly due to the crowds?
The audience had a lot to do with it. We didn't what we were walking into. We knew some people would be stoked to have me back and others would probably be skeptical. The moment we started seeing positive reactions, it brought everything full circle.
Alive or Just Breathing was so seminal. That was the best way to re-introduce the band with you at the front.
That was the plan. We really thought about it when I rejoined. They had some gigs booked, and they were going to cancel them so we could get in the studio and write the record. I said, "No, let's get on the road. Let's work on the record while we're doing it." I thought that was important for us, play some Alive or Just Breathing material, and get my road life started. I think that helped write the record. Touring and being on the road had a lot to do with reigniting the band's energy.
How did the album cover come about? It mixes a few different art forms—photography and painting.
Mike had that idea initially. He sent me these photos of a woman who wasn't necessarily evil-looking, but she had something. I actually took some pictures of myself posing. The particular pose I did was the one that made the album cover.
"Always" veers off into a new space for Killswitch Engage.
That song was very much put on there for that particular reason. The whole album is pretty up-tempo. We didn't really have anything slow and dirging. Joel wrote that song. We didn't even know if would go on the record, but I fought hard for it. I wanted it on the record. It gives the listener a quick push in a different direction.
Was the Times Of Grace record a bridge to the album?
I think it definitely helped get me back in the swing of things and on the road. Touring with Joel and Adam in that band definitely answered any question I had in my mind about how we would tour or how I'd feel about it. It made me want to live in the whole process of writing, recording, and touring. At the same time, I don't think it was a direct catalyst. It wasn't like I was sitting there on the tour bus plotting and scheming, "Now that we're doing this, let's move on to Killswitch." I was all about Times of Grace. The fact that I knew Killswitch were going through some issues, it made me want to put all of my eggs in one basket and go with Times Of Grace. I thought it was going to last longer, when it didn't, long story short, it just sort of happened. It was natural. I wouldn't say Times Of Grace was a direct catalyst, but it warmed me up and got me road-ready and studio-ready.

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