For the first time since the release of their 2013 album, Disarm the Descent, Killswitch Engage head to Australia in April to unleash their aural assault on the nation and HEAVY had the pleasure of catching up with guitarist Joel Stroetzel ahead of the tour.
With original vocalist, Jesse Leach, back at the helm Killswitch Engage are about to return to Australia for the second year in a row. The band are focused and re-energised. “I think everybody is in a really good place. I know Jesse’s really excited to be back after all of these years. I think his positive vibes have really rubbed off on everybody,” Stroetzel comments, “It feels fresh and exciting.”
Killswitch Engage’s 2013 album, Disarm the Descent, was the first album with Jesse Leach since 2002’s stellar Alive or Just Breathing, but, despite the length of time that had passed and the change in the band’s notoriety, the creative process remained the same. “We all tend to write a few songs on our own and present them to each other and it’s a combination of that, working together on each other’s songs and whatever we have left that people can’t finish, then we kind of jam it out and figure out what’s best, what we can use, what we don’t like,” says Stroezel. “We usually do all that stuff as the rhythm section and present it to [Howard Jones, ex-vocalist] … ‘Here’s what we’ve got, what do you like? What don’t you like?’ and we did the same with Jesse on Disarm the Descent.”
After the musical portion of the songs for Disarm the Descent had been written, creative control was passed over to Leach. “We handed over a bunch of songs and just kind of let him do what he liked with them and we tend to use the songs that Jesse would gravitate toward most. We always tend to write too many songs, but the ones he really feels are the ones we tend to stick with.”
Disarm the Descent peaked at an impressive number six in the Australian charts, the highest ever reached by the band in this country, and a monstrous effort for a non-pop, non-mainstream album. Musically, it combined elements of the Leach era hardcore stylings with the soaring vocal melodies brought to the table by Jones, but what’s in store for the new material the band plans to write this year? “I’m not too sure. I think it’s a little soon to tell… we’ve still got a few months of touring ahead of us, on and off,” says Stroetzel, “We tend to not really over think that stuff too much we kind of just start writing as we get together and hear what everybody comes up with and we just take what we like. It doesn’t necessarily matter what style or direction it is. If we like it, we like it.”
As with the majority of Killswitch Engage’s albums, Disarm the Descent was produced by the band’s guitarist, Adam Dutkiewicz, which Stroetzel considers to be of great benefit. “It’s a very relaxed atmosphere with Adam. He’s a character that keeps everyone on their toes and he definitely doesn’t let anyone get away with anything in the studio, but I think it’s a good thing and he holds himself to the same standards… it’s just nice having someone in the band that knows what we’re going for and doesn’t really try to push us in a direction that we don’t want to go in.”
Brendan O’Brien, who has produced albums for AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, came on broad to produce Killswitch Engage’s 2009 self-titled album, but the band felt that the album was a bit soft, acting as a catalyst for Disarm the Descent’s heavier sound. Stroetzel recalls “It was a cool experience [working with O’Brien] because we’d never really done a record away from home with a different producer so we figured we’d try out and it was actually cool hanging out with Brendan O’Brien, it was a totally different vibe, but he’s more of a rock ‘n’ roll guy so I think a lot of the stuff he did with Howard [Jones] he tends to push towards more melody,” he continues, “The record, in a rock ‘n’ roll kind of way, has got its cool moments, but I think ultimately we were looking for something a little bit heavier… when it came time to do Disarm the Descent everybody was really fired up. We just happened to write a lot of fast songs and I think everybody was really excited to be still playing and still have a band after so many years of taking a long break… it just kind of naturally came out being a pretty aggressive record.”
Killswitch Engage have been described as being one of the founders of metalcore, but Stroetzel feels that the band were lucky and shouldn’t get all of the credit. “It’s flattering,” Stroezel laughs, “but it’s kind of strange for us to hear that though.” He continues “there’s been a lot of music like our music happening for a long time since the early ‘90s and I think we were just kind of lucky. We were one of the first ones to get noticed and get the opportunity to be on a bigger label with Roadrunner. It’s definitely flattering though. It makes us feel old [laughs].”
Be sure to check out one of the founders of metalcore, Killswitch Engage, along with support from Kill Devil Hill.
Friday 11 April 2014 – Brisbane, Eatons Hill
Saturday 12 April 2014 – Sydney, Roundhouse
Sunday 13 April 2014 – Melbourne, The Palace
Tuesday 15 April 2014 – Adelaide, HQ
Wednesday 16 April 2014 – Perth, Metro City