Killswitch Engage Vocalist Jesse Leach Was Coughing Up Blood Prior to Vocal Cord Surgery
Killswitch Engage vocalist Jesse Leach underwent emergency vocal cord surgery in April 2018 to have polyps removed from voice box. Worse than the canceled tour dates and delayed recording of the band’s then-next album (what would end up being Atonement) was the scary reality of having his main money-maker and creative outlet literally cut open, and the sobering message from a doctor that he may never fully recover.
In a recent chat with Cryptopsy vocalist Matt McGachy’s Vox&Hops podcast, Leach revealed that the situation was way worse than he initially let on publicly, detailing the series of events that led to the surgery and the subsequent recovery.
Recounting when he first realized something was wrong, Leach explained:
“We just played a sold-out show [in Los Angeles], and the crowd was incredible. And when your adrenaline’s going, you tend to push, and you’ve gotta be really careful, whether you’re a drummer or a vocalist, especially, that push can be really fucking dangerous. And I was pushing — I was feeling it. I was, like, ‘This is fucking awesome.’
“I got off stage, and I immediately went in the bathroom, and I was, like, ‘Something’s not right.’ I felt something off. And it wasn’t the usual, ‘Oh, I’m fatigued.’ And I hocked a loogie, and it was blood-red. And then as I’m in there, they’re, like, ‘Are you all right?’ I’m, like, ‘Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.’ And then I hocked a dark loogie — so it was internal bleeding. I was not okay.
“But I carried such guilt from quitting Killswitch in 2002 and then rejoining in 2012, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was cancel shows and be a burden. So I just rode it out and I didn’t talk for the next day, next two days, and the blood didn’t show up.
“We ended the tour, [then went on] the next tour. Every once in a while, this blood would just come up, and I’d pretend like I couldn’t see it, or I would just drink tequila and numb it, and be, like, ‘We’ll get through this. We’ll get through this.’ On my days off, I didn’t talk to anyone. I was just hyper, hyper resting, thinking that I could compensate.
“And then, yeah, it just got to the point where we were in the studio, and I was singing a line from one of the songs on ‘Atonement,’ and Adam [Dutkiewicz], our [guitarist and] producer, was, like, ‘Dude, you can hit this note. I’ve heard you hit this note thousands of times. You’re not hitting it. You’re flat, you’re sharp, you’re flat. We’ve been at this for a half hour. This is ridiculous. Something’s wrong.’
“And that led me to fly home from San Diego, cancel the rest of the [studio] sessions, and go to my doctor. I had been going to this [doctor] religiously for five or six years, and he’s, like, ‘You’ve gotta be careful.’ And he would put me on prednisone, and fix me up, and I would be good, and I would go off on another tour, and I’d damage it. So it was coming — I knew in the back of my mind it was coming. And he looked at me, and he was, like, ‘I’ve never seen you this bad. This is bad. I wanna put you on vocal rest.’
“So pretty much I was on vocal rest for about three months in total. And I couldn’t speak to anyone. When they [saw] that it wasn’t healing after a few weeks, they referred me to a surgeon. And he looked at my voice, and he was, like, ‘You voice looks to me like an 80-year-old’s neck skin when they crouch down. It’s bad.’ He was, like, ‘I can’t even guarantee you that you’re gonna be able to continue doing what you do. It’s that bad.’ He was, like, ‘We can do the surgery, but I can’t guarantee you’re gonna be able to do what you do anymore. And I recommend you don’t do what you do anymore, if you continue all this shit.’”
Thankfully the surgery went very well, and Jesse subsequently enlisted notorious metal vocal coach Melissa Cross to help with his recovery, crediting her with getting him to sing better than ever before:
“When the voice came back finally, I said my first word, and I started my rehabilitation after the surgery, it was, like, ‘This is fucking amazing. I can still do this/’ And that first show back was in Talinn, Estonia opening up for Iron Maiden in front of 11,000 people, and I did vibrato for the first time in my career, and I started hitting notes. And I remember Adam, who is one of the guys that complain all the time, was, like, ‘Dude, you did vibrato. Dude, you did good. Holy shit! You were hitting these notes that you don’t really hit. You weren’t sharp; you weren’t flat. Wow!’ So that was it. And the rest of that Iron Maiden tour, I was on top of the fucking world, man.”
Needless to say we’re very glad Leach bounced back from what must have been an insanely scary experience!