With seven albums and 17 years under their belt, you’d think that metalcore mavens Killswitch Engage would’ve knocked their latest album over with ease. Think again. Even after establishing themselves as one of modern metal’s most revered units, a creative crisis tossed a spanner into the cogs of their latest record Incarnate. Frontman Jesse Leach battled with a monstrous bout of writer’s block that would become both a hurdle and muse for the record. Meaning “in the flesh”, the album title perfectly encapsulates this struggle and creative evolution the quintet underwent to create the 15 new tracks.
This isn’t the first time the Massachusetts quintet has confronted and overcome adversity, though. The reshuffle of band members (especially Leach’s exit in 2002, departure of long-time lead vocalist Howard Jones in 2012 and Leach’s return in 2012) has forced the band to adapt and evolve many times. Leach believes that it’s this penchant for persistence that has strengthened the band in recent years.
We spoke to the frontman about their quest to complete Incarnate, Killswitch’s plans for 2016 and the likelihood of a Howard Jones collaboration in the future.
Music Feeds: First of all, congrats on finishing the new album Incarnate.
Jesse Leach: Thank you!
MF: Incarnate is a follow up to 2013’s Disarm The Descent, was it difficult getting back into the swing of things after the break?
JL: Initially it wasn’t. Initially, I was excited to get back in and start working again after, you know, we’d been on the road for about three years. It was nice to be able to create again, but at some point, about half way through, I hit a bit of a writer’s block.
I just wasn’t happy with what I was doing, so I had to take a couple of weeks to do a bit of soul searching and went up to the mountains and kind of, uh, reconnected with myself. So it’s just a process. Definitely a lot different to Disarm the Descent.
MF: Yeah, I’d heard that you’ve said creating this album sent you a little nuts. So what went into that “soul searching” to open up the flood gates of creativity again?
JL: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to really describe. Just a lot of reopening old scars and memories. Also just assessing where I am right now in my life. Being honest with myself. I think just after touring the world, I’m kind of slowing down again and getting to figure out who I am right now after everything is said and done. And some of that is just questioning existence, you know? Just like the deeper answers of the purpose of life. (Laughs)
I went into that, sort of, mind frame. Just really questioning life and out of that came songs like “It Falls On Me” and “Just Let Go” and “Alone I Stand”. Some of the more, like, soul-searching and soulful songs on the record. I just needed to do it. I can’t write lyrics that don’t, you know, show who I am. That don’t express my view of the world and my view of myself.
So I just wanted to do quality control, you know? I don’t want process that’s half assed.
MF: I noticed that songs like We Carry On, Strength of the Mind and Alone I Stand centre around themes of endurance and, like you said, a bit of soul-searching. Was this something you had in mind when starting to make the record or did it all come out of that process?
JL: Initially, you know, I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted it to be like. I just knew that I wanted to create something that was raw, that was honest, that, you know, was something people could relate to. My usual themes are of struggle and, you know, pain and finding hope and finding perseverance.
Those types of things are always part of my lyrics, so for this one I just needed to go deeper. None of it was planned. All of these songs just came about. Whereas with Disarm the Descent was very much a uh, almost like a concept.
You know, the title of the record was, we came up with that first and I wrote with Disarm the Descent as, sort of, the theme running throughout the album. Whereas this one was nothing like that and I approached it completely differently. Every song came from a different place and I’m just happy that they happened to be cohesive as an album.
MF: As well as those very intimate songs, the new album also touches on wider social and political issues. How did you arrive at this contrast?
JL: Yeah, no, absolutely. It was important for me to have diversity in my writing and not have the whole album be about me. Even with the songs that aren’t intimate, I’ve written them in such a way that it’s ambiguous enough where I’m not beating someone over the head with an ideal or a point.
For the most part it’s about getting people to relate to the lyrics and what I’m saying and identify with it and apply it to their own lives, you know? And sort of, define the songs within their own minds. Interpretation is everything with art and, for me, I don’t want to over explain anything. I also don’t want people to get bored, you know? So diversity is key and I feel a responsibility as an artist to at least have some sort of, you know, critique on the way of the world right now because I feel like we’re in a pretty messed up place right now.
Especially here in the States, there’s just a lot going on. Between the racial tension that goes on here and the police killings that have happened, killing innocent people on the streets and riots. All that stuff, I had to react. But again, Killswitch isn’t exactly a political band so I had to write it in such a way where it’s broad enough to not alienate anybody. Just kind of like, letting people know, I am aware this world is screwed up. And we definitely have to do something about it but without being preachy. I’m really careful to keep my words broad enough.
MF: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting point. Australia also has its own issues with racism and discrimination, so fans down here can listen to songs you’ve written about the state of the US and apply it to issues we’re experiencing here.
JL: Yeah, that’s the way of the world though. So I couldn’t ignore it. I can’t just write a record about me. It had to be about all of us.
MF: Strength of the Mind has already come out and you brought out a really cool video to go with that, but are there any other songs you’re excited for fans to hear?
JL: Yeah, there’s one song in the middle of the record called Upraised. It’s Embrace the journey …Upraised and it’s an instrumental into one of the more lyrically deep songs of the record. Again, going back to that soul searching type of song. It’s about that feeling you get that there’s a certain moment where you capture beauty within your own life and it can change the way you see the world.
But also acknowledging the struggle it takes to get to those moments. In other words, we all have our struggles, but when you come out of the other side of that moment in your life where there’s clarity and there’s peace. Being able to achieve that is so important in life, but it doesn’t come easy, it comes at a cost. It’s kind of what that song is about.
Finding understanding through the pain and suffering we go through. There’s a reason for it. Always. And searching for that reason and not giving up.
MF: The album title is Incarnate. Does that title have a direct link with some of those themes of struggle and perseverance?
JL: I think, for me, it’s sort of just a nice, ambiguous title to encapsulate a lot of things. The definition being “in the flesh” can mean so many different things. I really liked the idea of having a title that doesn’t really scream one thing or another. I like the fact that people keep asking me what it’s all about. It causes conversation. It’s kind of intentional. I wanted it to be something a bit abstract, something that people would question.
It’s just who we are right now, that’s what the title suggests. (Laughs) It’s a bit, uh, what’s the word I’m looking for…inconspicuous! I like the fact that this is who Killswitch Engage is now. This is Killswitch Engage in the flesh. If you spin it that way it makes sense.
MF: Yeah, well Killswitch has been around for almost 17 years now, so you’re bound to undergo a lot of changes as a band. Do you think the writing and recording process has changed a lot since you first started?
JL: It has. There’s definitely a real sense of purpose with this band. Whereas before we were just young kids, we didn’t know what we were doing. We were just having fun. Now, for me, being 37 years old and being able to have the opportunity to do this again for the past four years, I’m very thankful.
It’s very humbling and, for me, there’s a whole feeling of purpose to it. Not to mention that the band is just so cohesive after all these years. So it’s not really something we discuss or think about, it just sort of happens. There’s a synergy between us now, that there was never before. That makes me really excited. Not just for this record but for the future in general.
MF: One of the bigger moments in Killswitch’s history obviously involved the departure of Howard Jones and your return in 2012. It didn’t seem like there was any bitterness there, so now that he’s improving his health and is creating music with Devil You Know, do you think the band would ever collaborate with him again?
JL: No, it’s not something that’s been discussed. You know, me being the new guy it’s hard for me to comment on the situation because there are definitely certain things that are untold but the band are a bunch of complete gentlemen and I loved that they carried themselves with honour and dignity.
So that’s all I’ll say about that. I’m actually quite happy that Howard is back up doing his thing again and it’s nice to see that, but I don’t see a collaboration happening (laughs).
MF: So you guys are obviously going to be very busy doing album promo and touring for the next few months, but do you think you and Adam will get a chance to work on your side project Times of Grace again any time soon?
JL: Yeah, that tricky bastard has five or six demos kicking around. I’ve heard them once and what I’ve heard sounds amazing. So that’s definitely something we’re planning on for the future. As far as when, though, I don’t know, because we’re getting ready to do a lot of touring. But it’s something we both absolutely love and there will definitely be future music.
MF: So you guys are about to go on tour in the US with Memphis May Fire and 36 Crazyfists. Are there any new songs off Incarnate that you’re particularly excited to play live?
JL: Any of them, honestly. If I were to say, I’d say I’m excited about all of them. Cut Me Loose is one, it’s different for us and it has a different sound. It challenges me vocally, it’s pretty high in my register. So I’ve been working really hard on my voice so I’m excited to show the fans, you know, I take this seriously.
I’m really trying to push myself, so I feel like I’ve gotten better. So that’s probably one of the songs. Also Just Let Go is another song I’m really looking forward to. Just the more melodic side of my voice that I’ve really worked hard at, I’m stoked to showcase that.
MF: We were all super disappointed when Soundwave was cancelled and you guys couldn’t come down earlier this year. Do you have any plans to return to Oz in 2016?
JL: Yeah, there’s nothing solid right now, but we were all very, very bummed not being able to get over there because we love touring over there. But mark my words we’ll get there very soon. We’ve just gotta figure out what our schedules are planning to be this year. If not this year, which I hope we get to this year, definitely next year. We’ll get there. We absolutely love Australia, it’s a great place to play.
MF: That’s good. That gives us some glimmer of hope.
JL: Yeah, it does. (Laughs)
‘Incarnate’ is out March 11, you can grab a pre-order here.