EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FORMER KILLSWITCH ENGAGE/CURRENT THE EMPIRE SHALL FALL VOCALIST JESSE LEACH
Photo by Will Hawkins. Check out more awesome pics from Jesse’s gigs with KSE in NYC here.
Jesse Leach has found himself back in the headlines a lot as of late: after Howard Jones dropped of off Killswitch Engage’s recent tour amidst some pretty bizarre rumors, Leach briefly reunited with the band, much to the delight of many a KSE fan (including this one). This inevitably led to gossip that Leach might be re-joining the band – gossip that Leach won’t actually confirm or deny.
It’s also led to a sudden surge of interest in The Empire Shall Fall, Leach’s latest musical endeavor – which is great, ’cause they’re a good band and deserve the attention.
And so this seemed like a good time to ask Leach to ponder his own past, present, and future. In a recent e-mail exchange, Jesse told me, in great detail, about all of his various musical endeavors, including Killswitch Engage, Seemless, The Empire Shall Fall, and Times of Grace, a new project he’s doing with KSE’s Adam Dutkiewicz. Full transcript after the jump.
Well, first of all, I did not know how to use my voice properly back then. So I would push too hard, and my voice would get hoarse, which would kill my confidence as a singer. (Note: this is no longer the case, my voice is 100% better than it was.) I also had a cancer scare a few weeks prior to the tour. So we had to cancel shows, and I started to get paranoid about my voice, so I would avoid drinking and smokey rooms, which in turn made me a bit of a miserable loner on the road. We were all fairly new to touring, so when we got out there, naturally, the guys wanted to be sociable and would hang out and drink, etc. Since I wasn’t drinking (foolishly thinking that would help me retain my voice), I spent a great deal of time by myself in the van, and it really started to drag me down. I had recently gotten married (to my wife of eight years now), and she was the only one I was confiding in about feeling like I was slipping into a depression. It got to the point where I could not deal with being on the road, and the loneliness. In retrospect, I was young and I did not know how to speak up and ask for help. Had I done so, things may have been different. I now see that everything did happen for a reason and I cannot change the past… it is what it is…
You’ve said in the past that you regret “the way I handled” leaving KSE. Can you be more specific? What would you have done differently?
Well, if I was able to do it all over again, I would have been more vocal about my issues with my voice and my mental state of mind. I also would have left on less awkward terms, face to face versus an email. Again, I was young and not completely self-aware back then.
The band really took off shortly after you left. Do you have any regrets about leaving? About others benefitting from your work?
No regrets really, I can’t… I made a choice and I can do nothing but stand by it. I am very happy for them and proud of all they have achieved. It is also pretty amazing that, after eight years, the band still plays the songs I wrote, so the message is still getting out to people!
How did it feel being back on-stage with KSE after all these years?
It felt really good. I have maintained a friendship with all of them, so I was very comfortable. As far as performing with them, it was amazing, it felt like redemption. The energy and the chemistry was still there after all these years!
What do you think of about KSE’s post-Alive or Just Breathing output? Specifically, Howard Jones’ work – vocally and lyrically – as compared to your own?
I think Howard is a great vocalist! Lyrically we do come from different places. Bottom line is, we are very different singers. So… it definitely gets on my nerves when people try to compare us. I grow weary of the arguments and people disrespecting Howard or myself to “prove” who is a better vocalist or frontman. If you like me or prefer me, don’t disrespect Howard, if you like Howard or prefer Howard, don’t disrespect me. Of course people will continue to do this, but I have to say “for the record” it is a shame that people do not consider the impact words can have on someone you don’t even know as a person. People just focus way to much on the nonsense and gossip instead of the content and the music.
It was great, and a lot of fun. We all saw it as a potential way to ease the rumors and silence a lot of the nonsense about there being bad blood between myself and the KSE boys.
Can you address the rumors that Howard is now out KSE and you are returning to the fold? And if you’re NOT re-joining KSE, is it something you would ever even consider if Howard ever did leave?
I will not comment on any of this. This is a private and touchy subject all around. I can’t say what the future holds for KSE. My prayers and thoughts are with all of them as they figure out what their next move will be. Regardless, I am very proud of Phil LaBonte and the KSE crew for stepping up to finish this last tour. I am certain it was not easy to muster up the strength and confidence to pull it off. I also think it shows the loyalty of a great many of the fans who still came out to support them. If you really look at that tour, it was something special, and, again, I am very proud of them all!
Your parents were at one of the KSE performances, and I think I saw your dad throw horns when you dedicated a song to them. Do your folks have any appreciation for the music you make? Do they still hope you’ll become a doctor or a lawyer or something?
Well, first of all, I can tell you he did not throw horns, ha ha, as he is a minister. He may have pointed at me or threw a fist. My parents have always told me to have a back up plan to music, especially after I left KSE. They were, and are, right. That is why I work 40-50 hours a week at a job that I could care less about. However, I have always been too stubborn and too driven to even consider it over the years. That being said, they definitely support my music and always have. My dad calls me a “rock star” all of the time and wears all of my t-shirts. I just laugh at him, as I beg to differ, but thats my Pops.
Are you sick of people (like me!) concentrating on your past as the front man for KSE?
At times it sucks, because like any passionate artist, I want to be relevant with the times, like what I am doing with The Empire Shall Fall. However, I can’t have anything but appreciation for people who have so much love for something I did or was a part of. In fact, it is pretty amazing that I get emails about Alive or Just Breathing almost daily. I have seen how the power of music can effect peoples lives on so many levels, and I will always be grateful for that… so I guess it is bitter sweet.
It is funny, because when we were recording Alive or Just Breathing, it was not a conscious thing where we set out to do any particular style. That is how I approach everything I do. I am not consciously saying to myself, “Okay, let me do this so I sound like this or don’t sound like this.” I try to put vocals over the music that make sense to me and feels right. I am not a fan of being put into genres. I understand the reference points needed for people to grasp the tones and sounds, but I don’t ever want to be painted into a corner. I am a mutt with the music I listen to, and I am a mutt when it comes to how I like to use my voice. Basically I am a mutt… I will do whatever music I want with no regard to how it is received. I believe there will always be people who will recognize genuine music and support it.
What was the cause of the demise of Seemless, and what was the impetus for the creation of Empire Shall Fall?
Seemless was formed becasue Derek Kerswill, the drummer, wanted me to sing for his band. Pete Cortese [from Overcast], an old friend [And very briefly a KSE member. – Ed.] was playing guitar with Derek and sent me a CD of songs. I loved what I heard, and decided I wanted to challenge myself to sing for a rock n ‘roll band. Seemless was a great experience for me, but after six years, it had run its course. I think Seemless was dying after the last tour we did, it just took months for us all to lay it to rest. That and the fact that Derek joined Unearth as the full time touring drummer and is now an official member. So with Derek traveling around the world doing his thing, there was little time to try to salvage Seemless. We did what we could and Seemless helped me discover a whole other side of my voice, and also gave me a love for touring. Nothing but great memories with those guys!
The Empire Shall Fall came about due to my desire for more aggressive music. I was talking to my long time friend and “jamming partner” Nick Sollecito (Bass player for The Empire Shall Fall) about doing a band together. I needed an outlet for aggression at that point in my life, as 2009 was a tough, tough year for me. Anyway, Nick knew of a guitarist who was interested in jamming – his name is Jake Davenport (who at the time was seventeen). Jake sent me demos of him jamming with programmed drums. I was floored, and we recruited a mutual friend, Alex Chapman, to play drums. Alex and Nick had never played in an aggressive band, so our sound was formed out of experimentation with styles and tones. Long story short, Alex had to focus on his paying jazz gigs, and we enlisted Marcus De Lisle as our seconded guitarist and Jeff Pitts, also an old friend, as our drummer. Marcus is also an engineer, and he produced our first record, Awaken. We have only begun as a band, and it has been amazing to build a band from the ground up and watch it grow. We put on a killer live show and are already working on new material to follow-up our first record, which is a demonstration of our embryonic and evolving sound. Lyrically, it touches on political and humanitarian themes, which people either love or hate. However, not all of it is supposed to be so literal, but I think the passion of my voice may counteract my “artistic story telling.” Yah live & learn. Definitely excited for our new stuff as I feel we are coming into our own as it were.
We hear you’re working on a solo album, as well as a new project with Adam D., Times of Grace. What can you tell us about those projects? How will they be similar or different from your past endeavors?
The solo music for now is in demo form on MySpace. It is the music that is in my head and will be mostly very mellow stuff mixing various styles: trip-hop/dub/ambient, etc, etc. This is a work in progress ,as I don’t know if there will be vocals, or what songs I will scrap or rewrite. I like the idea of putting up raw ideas seeing what people say. Who knows, I may keep it raw andlo-fi…
Times of Grace, however, is a project Adam and I have worked on and have been waiting to release for the past few years. The timing has to be just right, and we are finalizing stuff now with the label that will release the record worldwide… It is to be seen where this will go, but we are both very excited for this record! Style wise it pulls from metal/rock/ambient shoe gaze type stuff, as well as punk and blues. It is something you just have to hear. I will go on record and say it is the most epic work of our careers in my opinion. I am certain people will react to it as lyrically it is very soulful and deep. The music (all written by Adam I might add) is just powerful stuff. Adam is an incredible writer and producer… I truly feel if given the right opportunities, he could be a full-on composer and score movies, among other things. So be on the look out for this one…
Anything you’d like to add for the readers of MetalSucks?
Give respect where respect is due. To anyone reading this that has ever supported me or shown me love, you have my infinite thanks! Support the underground! One Love to all… even if you are a judgmental, close-minded jerk… you have your place in this world… ha ha. Thanks for the interview guys, God Bless.