Interview: Killswitch Engage
Killswitch Engage are pretty high on my list of bands I'd like to party with. The Massachusetts-based quintet are infamous for drinking lots of cheep bear, causing fun trouble, and reveling in the sort of sarcastic humor that earns their home state's natives the label of "Masshole."
At the initial time I had scheduled for an interview with guitarist Joel Stroetzel, a manager called me asking to reschedule for an hour later. Stroetzel dutifully called at the new time, and while impressively chipper, admitted he was sleepign off a late night of boozing in a city whose name he momentarily forgot. Oh yeah ... it was Washington D.C. Truly, a man after my own heart.
Oh yeah, Killswitch Engage also play serious music. Emerging from a sort of hardcore-ish scene, KSE never neatly fit anywhere. They've got the tough-guy breakdowns, but also thrashy guitar passages and drum assaults. Lead singer Howard Jones doesn't need to yell -- instead he's got a melodic, almost quavering middle register that can quickly slip into a scream. But only where it's needed. Killswitch plays the subtleties as much as the extremes. And for that, the band has earned a healthy mainstream following. "My Curse," the lead single from their latest album, As Daylight Dies (2006, Roadrunner), reached number 21 on Billboard's "Hot Mainstream Rock" chart, and also landed as a secret track on the new Guitar Hero III game.
Killswitch Engage headlines tonight's show at the Fillmore Miami Beach with Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die. Full Q&A with Stroetzel after the jump. -- Arielle Castillo
Killswitch Engage, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Every Time I Die perform Monday, January 14, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets cost $24. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.
You sound tired, like you ran to the phone or something.
It’s actually that I was out super late last night. I pretty much just got up like 20 minutes ago.
The first day you were in Allentown, PA, and then where were you last night?
D.C. last night, I believe. Yes, at the 9:30 Club.
I believe. Yes, I’m checking to confirm. I’m in … Pittsburgh today.
Whose idea was this tour? You guys have all known each other for a long time, it seems. But actually Greg from Dillinger said he didn’t know he was on it until ETID told him.
It was kind of a last minute thing. We’ve been wanting to do something with Eevery Time I Die for a while, we talked about doing something low-key. It came up like, pretty late last year, as kind of an new idea, and it happened fast. The bill will be really interesting. It’s a pretty diverse bill.
How were the first couple of nights?
They were awesome, really, really good. I think both nights were sold out, and I think most of them will be on this tour.
Greg also said what he thought that what you all had in common was that all of the bands came out of a similar sort of scene. Do you agree with that?
I think so, yeah. We all came out at a similar time I guess, and we were playing a lot of the same smaller clubs at the same time, kind of growing up together.
Were you into hardcore?
A little bit of hardcore, but I listened to a lot of thrash metal and stuff. I’m more of the metal dude in the band. We did After together for a few years before Killswitch.
What’s it like headlining a bill with Every Time I Die, when they took you on your first tour?
It’s crazy, it’s weird. I guess we just got lucky and got a chance to play a few bigger rooms early on. Like we got to be out with Lamb of God which was an honor. It’s cool to be out with old friends; I don’t think there are any egos involved. We’ll just all play a fun show.
What do you think has contributed to your mainstream success?
I think doing the Ozzfest a couple years helped us a lot. And then we did Warped Tour which was weird, but we got to play for some new people. We like to keep the audiences different, to get a chance to try to play for many different types of people as we can.
Yeah, you’ve been on tour with Dragonforce, for instance, which attracts at least partially a different crowd, than, say, Every Time I Die.
Yeah, I’d say so!
Everyone’s used to you playing all those different bills by now, but at the beginning was it hard to get over on certain crowds?
It’s weird. For us, in the beginning we didn’t have a specific genre that we fit in. We had the hardcore parts, metal parts, melodic stuff. And a lot of the stuff at the time was either more metal or more hardcore. Shadowsfall was maybe similar; that was a band that had the melodic parts, the breakdowns, and the thrash stuff. They were one of the only other badns from our area doing something similar.
But yeah, we went out with Soilwork, and later we went out with Kittie, which was a completely different crowd. Then we were out with In Flames after that. We jumped around a lot. We didn’t really know where we stood.
Kittie, wow. How was that?
It was fun. That was our first tour where a lot of shows were sold out, it was a super big deal for us at the time!
After all that stuff, why did you decide to go back and play Warped Tour last year?
We had done so many metal tours over the course of two or three years, we figured it was time to try something different. We had no idea if it was goinng to work or not. It turned out pretty well, but, you know, I’m sure there were kids who didn’t like us at all.
What was the most difficult thing for you guys about playing Warped?
It was a little weird getting there and not knowing what time we were gonna play. But there weren’t many days where we’d have to play before, like, 2:00 p.m.
One word that’s used a lot to describe your sound is “clean,” and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. For you as a guitarist, how much of that is on purpose? Did you get a lot of formal training growing up?
I took guitar lessons for a couple years when I was a kid, and I did jazz band and all that. I went to Berklee for a little while to check it out; I had a few years of guitar nerding. Adam [Dutkiewicz, fellow Killswitch guitarist] is a Berklee guy; he went and did the whole thing. He’s a nerd. But we’re very comfortable playing guitar together. We think in a similar way as far as riffs go.
How does the writing work between the two of you?
It depends. Usually you hear something in your head, and figure out something in your guitar. Sometimes he’ll write an entire song or an entire riff and say, “Hey, I need something to go after this.”
So do the two of you do the majority of the band’s songwriting?
It’s usually just everybody together. I think if there’s anybody who writes the most complete songs from start to finish it’s Adam. The rest of us will do a few together. It’s kind of weird and unpredictable, whatever happens.
How is Adam doing with his back? Obviously he’s well enough to have undertaken this tour.
He’s doing great, and he made it through the past tour with no problem. As you know he’s had two pretty major surgeries recently. He seems like he’s rediscovering his health and figuring out what he needs to do. Like trying not to drink too much so he thinks he’s invincible onstage.
Basically we’re trying to convince Adam not to kill himself, telling him you don’t need to drink 20 beers and stagedive every night. It’s cool, but it’s cooler to be able to walk at the end of the night.
I read an old quote from Mike [D’Antonio, bassist] that said Killswitch is like “turning everything off.” What do you mean by that? What things were you turning off, and then turning back on again?
I think that was just a quote for a certain time period in our life, where our old bands were ending and Killswitch was starting. I don’t think it had anything to do with the music.
Well, what’s changed about the music over the years?
We used to be a lot more random about writing songs. We’d crank out a riff and jam on it, and there you go. Now we try to make sure the arrangements make sense and stuff. It might sound cheesy, but we try to structure it like a pop song where the changes at least make sense, that they are where they should be.
You’ve been touring behind your last album, As Daylight Dies, since 2006. Have you been writing any new material on the road?
Usually we don’t on the road. We usually wait to do our whole record cycle, which can be anywhere from a year to two years. Then usually when we start having some time off, we’ll get together and throw some ideas together. There’s 13 people on the bus so there’s not even room for a guitar.
A propos of nothing, I’ve been playing Guitar Hero III and found your song “My Curse” on the game. Did they consult you guys at all about designing the actual game play of that?
I think they spoke with Adam a little bit; he needed to give them some kind of multitrack versions or something.
Have you played it?
I have played it, it’s pretty fun.
How’d you do?
I got like 90%, and it was on easy.
On your own song!
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s probably harder to play on the game than in real life! The game is pretty cool. I dig that Pat Benatar song on there.
You’re going to keep touring through April. What happens after that?
I think we might do some stuff in the summertime, go overseas, try to keep busy. I think by the summer or by the fall we’ll probably start working on new material.