Jesse Leach: "After Alive Or Just Breathing came out, I was not in a great place"

Jesse Leach
(Image credit: Press)

In the early 2000s, Killswitch Engage helped revitalise a scene that was growing restless with nu metal. They became figureheads for the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal and inspired a generation of metalcore bands that continue to thrive today. 

Frontman Jesse Leach departed just as the band exploded after 2002’s Alive Or Just Breathing, but made a triumphant return a decade later and has carried the band to new heights ever since. So what better way to celebrate the band’s enduring legacy than letting you loose to ask him questions about psychedelics, double-denim and the drunkest rock stars he’s ever seen? 

Metal Hammer line break

The New Wave Of American Heavy Metal: actual scene or a load of media bollocks?
Rory Atkins, Twitter 

“I think those things were happening whether or not you want to call it the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal, which is a term I still don’t understand. It didn’t matter if you gave it a name or not. The shows were packed, the bands were exciting. I think because of the label, people were able to latch onto it and it did help the momentum of the music… I hate to say it, but it did help to get a soundbite and give it to people to understand that this is happening. It’s not just Iron Maiden, Motörhead and Metallica, there’s something new going on here.” 

You often undertake ‘vision quests’ where you go into the wilderness. What’s the most insightful revelation you’ve had?
Dan Beard, Facebook 

“It’s hard to put those things into words. It’s not just a message you get, it’s a shifting of consciousness. But I would say the overall theme that I have gotten is how we need to keep our ego in check. They call it ego death and when you realise that you are part of a much greater energy, that you’re not above or below, we’re all on this same playing field. I think everybody could use a heavy dose of going out and being one with nature. 

People always think that’s so cheesy but our ancestors were all partaking in things like this. All our ancestors had these spiritual tools. Communicating with nature and partaking in the substances which nature provides us with, whether that be mushrooms or ayahuasca… Vision questing is very much a part of that – finding purpose and your calling in your life, killing your ego and being humble.” 

You got engaged recently. What song will you have as the first dance at your wedding?
David Paxton, email 

“A song that’s been becoming one of our songs is by this band called Mutemath. They have a song called You Are Mine and it’s just beautiful. The lyrics are incredible, it almost skirts the line of creepy because it talks about possessing somebody, like obsession with somebody, but it’s beautiful. Love should be a little crazy. Tame love is great, but I think a little bit of intensity and excitement added onto your love keeps the flame going.” 

Are you currently writing new Killswitch material?
Adam McCann, Twitter 

“Yeah, I’ve been at it for weeks. It’s been a long time in the works and we’ve been quiet about it. I’m really being picky and extra careful not to repeat myself lyrically so it’s been quite a challenge, but I think that’s what we should be doing at this stage in the game. Making sure that we’re putting out something that’s exciting, fun, new and fresh.” 

Hammer: If you’re writing now, will we get new music by Bloodstock? 

“It all falls on my shoulders. If I come up with demos good enough then we move forward, if not then it’s gonna take longer. If I had to throw out an idea, I’d say it will be another year before they see the light of day. [As for Bloodstock] I don’t know, that’s to be seen. I think it’s always good for bands to put out singles and tease the new record if it’s done. I’m game for that completely, but I’m one of five very opinionated men so it depends on what the majority think we should do.” 

Do you think we’ll get any music from your other projects next year?
Anthony Varesi, Facebook 

“I have no time. Where I’m at now, Killswitch is my No.1. Times Of Grace put out a record we were never able to tour on so we really want to try and get out and maybe do a few dates on that. There’s talk of the five-song EP that we’ve been holding onto; it may very well see the light of day next year if we do some shows, but as far as me tackling any new projects or doing anything besides Killswitch, I just don’t have time for it. And when I do finally find time, I want to focus on some solo stuff I’ve started, which is a complete departure from anything I’ve known.”

What’s the best hardcore song ever written?
HeIsWill, Twitter

“Sick Of It All’s We Stand Alone. That song encapsulates why I love hardcore and punk. It’s a total protest song. When I was younger, looking for my identity, I didn’t fit in with the mainstream, I didn’t fit in with the cool kids, I didn’t fit in with all these people… Sick Of It All were one of those bands that made me proud. That song was all about standing on your own – you don’t need help from anybody or society, you don’t have to follow all the laws that they throw at you, think for yourself.” 

What was it like playing the Roadrunner United live show with Killswitch in 2005 while also on hiatus from the band? What were the highlights?
Alice Barley, Twitter 

“The highlight was just getting to hang out with the Killswitch guys again. Before the show, I met them at a bar, just hanging out and having a good time. After Alive Or Just Breathing came out I went MIA, so to see an audience singing along, and to be backstage with people I considered my peers telling me I did something worthwhile, that really stuck with me and altered the way I felt about my music, because I was not in a great place at that point.” 

Did you get to party with the other bands at the Roadrunner United show? Which band gets the drunkest?
Ashley Friar, Email 

“I’d say Brian Fair from Shadows Fall, who headbanged and fell offstage because his dreads were so heavy and he was drunk. Him and the 36 Crazyfists guys would take the cake for most drunk. I’ve never seen anyone that drunk in my life. I love those guys but they were probably the most fucked-up I’ve ever seen anyone.”

Who would have been on your Roadrunner United team back in the day?
Marc Sullivan, Facebook

Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth – he’s one of the most prolific writers to this day in metal. Then Zakk Wylde for sure. Martin Lopez, who was the drummer in Opeth, was incredible. And I’d have to throw in Adam D. He’s only known for his work in metalcore but he is a prolific musician and I think he’d add a lot to that line-up, not just because he’s one of my musical soulmates but he’s incredible, he’s a genius.” 

Hammer: Who would you have now? 

“Gojira. Done. Gojira can take care of it.” 

On a scale of 1–10, how much does Adam D’s goombah-ing around onstage get on your nerves?
Daniel Millar, Twitter 

“It depends on the night. For the most part he makes me laugh because he is hysterical. But there are times when I’m in a real heartfelt moment, or I’m connecting somehow with the audience and trying to be heartfelt and he’ll come in and bludgeon me with a dumb joke. I think the bottom line with Adam is that people really know who he is. 

He’s a sweetheart but when he gets onstage that persona takes over and he loves it, it’s punk rock for him. When I first rejoined it was a little difficult for me because I take what I do seriously – sometimes too much. But at this stage in the game that’s who Killswitch is, that’s part of our identity. If Adam isn’t doing shit like that it feels weird.” 

How many full denim outfits have you got?
Robin Maes, Facebook 

“Most of my wardrobe is denim. There is something comforting about denim, I don’t know what it is, man, it just reminds me of growing up in the 80s where denim was king. My dad was an ex-hippie rocker who always wore denim. It just reminds me of rock’n’roll and working with my hands and splitting wood. I have at least six outfits that are fully denim!”

Killswitch Engage headline Bloodstock Festival in August.