Killswitch Engage: “Open your mind beyond metal”

Jesse Leach

Loyalty to heavy metal is an admirable thing, but should it prevent us from exploring other types of music? Killswitch Engage’s Jesse Leach has eclectic tastes, and he believes you should too.

“As with anything in life, diversity has a strength to it. It expands your mind. You think differently. I think that if you just stick with one thing, like metal music, it’s going to affect the way that you write and you’re only going to be able to write so much that is interesting to people. There are definitely bands that can get away with doing that one style and not put people off, but those bands are one in a million. So for me personally, it’s much more interesting to get out of that box and experience different things, different sounds and have my mind expanded.

I definitely have certain bands that help me feel a certain way when I’m in different moods. And to actually help me change up my mood as well… that’s why I’ve always had reggae in my life. It’s a type of music that can change the way I feel, energise me and give me a different emotional response. But if I want to go on a long, crazy bike ride or do some exercise, then I’ll put on Gojira or Mastodon or some grindcore stuff. Because of the way it affects your brain, it makes you realise how important music is. I don’t think people understand how much music can change the core of who you are and sway you in different directions.

It’s therapy, too, so if I’m feeling bummed out then I can put something on to help me through that feeling. A lot of people within metal don’t understand the reggae love, apart from my man Benji [Webbe] from Skindred, and they maybe wouldn’t quite be ready for me to do a reggae project. But I have a deep love for that music. It puts me in a good place and touches parts of my mind that metal won’t ever be able to. But so be it. People are going to be closedminded. I think that metal is such a lifestyle thing for so many people that they don’t dare open up to anything else.”

“Hip hop is another good example. You hear metal fans say they could never get into it, but the thread between these two cultures have so much in common. I grew up in the ghetto and was exposed to it from a very young age, and then when I learned about hardcore and punk I saw that a lot of those same people ran in those same circles. Especially in the UK, if you look at a man like Don Letts, a legendary DJ who was mixing reggae music in between punk records in the 70s, he was brilliant because what he was doing just made sense.

Whether you’re lower class, working class or middle class, there is a sense of struggle within reggae music. It speaks of the struggle of mankind. And I don’t get how people can’t relate to that. I know that if you’re a metalhead then that’s the identity you want to show to the world. I get that, but just because you like hip hop it doesn’t mean that you’ve got to start dressing differently.”

“My look is definitely ‘rocker’ I guess, but it doesn’t mean that it has to affect my lifestyle. People get bogged down in genre specifics, and life is too short for that. It’s boring. So when I DJ I love to pull up some things that a room full of metalheads wouldn’t expect. Maybe some KRS-One into some old-school hardcore. I’m never surprised when I get a diehard metalhead come up and ask me, ‘Who is this?’ because KRS-One is so hardcore. People who consider hip hop or reggae as ‘pop’ music have to understand that, just like in metal, there is a whole underground scene out there waiting to be discovered.

There’s a hip hop band out there for everyone, there are reggae artists out there for everyone. But you just have to go and look for them, because that’s what you have to do with all of the best music. All of the best of our culture comes from the underground, and it’s true of these other cultures, too. I think we really have much more in common than we have anything that is separating us. If you can find those commonalities, then it’s a whole other world of great art to be discovered and enjoyed.”