Interview conducted by Devin Braden. Published on 2/1/2008.
I met Howard and Justin on a cold day in Denver, Colorado. They were sitting in the front lounge of a comfortable, well-heated tour bus parked behind the chilly Fillmore Auditorium. Howard's fitted blazer and Justin's committed Viking-length beard provided a somewhat-comical contrast to rockstarish decadence implied by the inviting vehicle. I would learn in a hurry that the members of Killswitch Engage are not so successful in their pursuit of national recognition and international emo-metalcore superstardom that they can't take a moment out of their busy day to answer a few questions or laugh at themselves. Forget for a moment how many records they've sold and how many new metalcore acts (for better or for worse) they've influenced in their time with band – Howard Jones and Justin Foley are just two regular guys having the time of their lives on the road with Killswitch Engage.
Let's talk a little bit about the tour. This is obviously a pretty high-profile tour, and all of the bands on it have experienced a similar level of growth in terms of their respective fanbases in recent years. What would you attribute that to?
Justin: Uh, chugging. [Laughs] Um, I don't know – stealing from each other?
Howard: Thank you Soilwork! [Laughs] But I'd like to attribute it to writing the gayest lyrics possible.
Justin: Fans at shows are directly proportional to gayness of lyrics. [Laughs]
Well, speaking of gay lyrics, you guys did this year's Warped Tour as part of your most recent touring cycle.
Howard: Ha-hmm, ooph. Yeah, we were out-gayed. Seriously – if we're the leaders of testosterone on that tour... oh man.
Do you prefer to do headlining tours over big festival-type tours, then?
Justin: It's kinda fun to go out and try to win people over, but a lot of times [your own] shows are the ones where you get the biggest highs. It's mostly your kids out there singing along.
So, I know Adam D. [guitar] was having some serious back problems earlier this year. Is he 100% yet?
Justin: He'll never be 100%, no way. [Laughs] Yeah, he's actually a super-fragile dude right now – like, super-duper fragile. Every day we're glad we get through another day with him.
Howard: Dude's back is like a Rice Krispies treat. [Laughs]
Well, at least he's back on tour.
Howard: Yeah – it's a lot of fun having him around. He's always going to have problems with his back, though.
I recently saw an online video of a Dimebag tribute done by members of the bands on this tour at a show in Dallas, TX. Who all was involved in that?
Justin: Lots of people. I know that the other drummers on the tour were all out there, and Adam went out there with a cowbell. I can't remember all who did it, but it was kind of a mix of all the bands.
What led to the idea?
Justin: I don't remember who thought of it first, but the first time I heard about it was when the DevilDriver drummer asked me about it. I didn't really know the song that well, so I was like, "shit, how am I going to do that in an hour?" That was one of the reasons Adam was out there with a cowbell and my drumset didn't get wheeled out there.
Howard: Just considering it was [the anniversary of] the day Dimebag passed and we were in Texas, I think that kinda spurred everything.
Justin: Kids seemed pretty stoked.
I heard a rumor that you guys aren't going to record any new material until 2009. Is there any truth to that?
Howard: It's so hard to say. We're just always touring. If we could get another one out before then, it'd be nice. When did this one come out – end of 2006? Yeah, that's a pretty big chunk of time to not have any new material out. It all depends – I mean, we just keep getting stuff thrown at us.
Justin: There comes a time when you need to say, "okay, we've got to write again." We're not sure when that's going to be. We have a thing in January coming up, and there are a few places we'll probably have to get to. I'm getting a little antsy, personally. I'd like to start writing some stuff, but it happens when it happens.
Howard: I'd like to not smell this bus anymore. [Laughs]
Justin: We can't do the whole writing-on-tour thing, either. It's not gonna happen.
Howard: Adam's mixing something right now for someone, and usually the days are spent doing interviews and just hanging out and looking as foolish as I can playing Nintendo Wii.
Well, you have the special edition of the album that just came out, too, so you're still moving some records. Speaking of which, actually, I heard the "Holy Diver" cover on the radio the other day.
Howard: Man, seriously. We did the song for a Kerrang! [Magazine] compilation, but none of us expected that. I mean, yeah, it's a classic song and they were looking for that sort of thing. But, really, it's just kinda funny, so why not? We put it on the special edition because it was just one of those songs we had laying around that wasn't on any of our albums.
Justin: We did it for the comp and we thought that was the end of it. We were like, "alright, cool – we did it." And then people were asking us to play it live and we thought that was kinda weird. So then we played it live a few times. And then [Roadrunner Records] was like, "well, hey – you should do a video and we'll do a reissue." And we we're thinking, "what?!"
Howard: Yeah, we actually fought that for a while. We really did. It just makes no sense. We really didn't want to turn into a cover band. We just didn't want to be one of those bands. [Pauses] I don't know why, but I just thought of Alien Ant Farm. [Laughs]
Well, they are sort of the archetype for a band with one hit that just happens to be someone else's song.
Howard: Yeah, but ugh!
Justin: Yeah, that's the last thing I want.
Howard: Yeah, seriously. But we figured we'd done okay without playing a cover, so yeah – why not? When they were like, "we want a video," though, we were like, "why?!"
Justin: We said we'd do a video if it could be really funny. We've wanted to make funny videos for a while, but you kinda have to do them serious, so this was finally a chance where we thought we could do a video that would be really silly.
Howard: We got the treatment for it and we were like, "okay, this looks like it's somewhat true to the original, but it will definitely be our spin on things," and Adam said, "what if I was the princess?" [Laughs] That opened up the floodgates. And the label was like, "hey, go for it!" And so that's what we did. For it to get played on the radio, though – we didn't expect that.
It is pretty strange to hear you guys on the radio. I heard you guys did pretty well at this year's Boston Music Awards, too.
Howard: Once again – what?! [Laughs]
Justin: We wrote the songs and people, I guess, liked them. I dunno – it's not something we every really think... I mean, we don't really know that this stuff happens. Our manager will say, " oh, by the way – you guys have won this-or-that." Uh, ok. Sweet. Thanks!
Howard: Thanks... question mark.
Well, there's some tough competition in Boston.
Justin: Well, you can link so many people to there just because of Berklee [School of Music], and they also link a lot of people who spend time there. There are a lot of people they can choose from. It's pretty neat that they'd even consider us.
Speaking of tough competition in Boston, do you think the Patriots will go 19-0?
Justin: I hope not.
Howard: Yeah, agreed. Thing is, though, they've got a legitimate shot.
Well, I'm with you guys. I'm tired of seeing Boston teams win. We're still a little bitter about the World Series here.
Justin: It would have been nice if you guys had remembered you had those four games to play. It was like, "c'mon – at least show up for this game!"
Yeah, really – I was yelling that at my TV every night.
Justin: I hope Miami can beat [the Patriots]. I really do. There's no way in a million years, but if Miami can somehow go from... I mean, it'll be 0-14 [note: actually 1-13] against 14-0, but if Miami can beat them, that'll be the greatest.
Howard: That's just pure embarrassment if that happens. That's just such a blow to the ego. And it's amazing how often that happens in sports, so you never know. It always seems like the team that's smoking everybody just gets ruined by the losers.
Since I have both of you guys here, I should probably ask: are there any plans for Blood Has Been Shed in the near future?
Justin: Ehh... there have been some rumblings – rumblings about possibly putting riffs together. Some weirdo parts are out there.
Howard: [Laughs] Yes. Our guitar player is starting to come up with wacky ideas again. So, who knows? Something may pop up. [Pauses, notices my sweatshirt] And you have a Turmoil hoodie on.
I do, yeah.
Howard: Dude, they're putting out new stuff. Now that I'm happy about.
Yeah, it seems like a lot of bands from the 90s are getting back together.
Howard: Yeah, one of the guys that played in Turmoil played in Believer, and Believer's putting out new music! I'm stoked! Wait... where were we? Blood Has Been Shed?
[Laughs] Ah, yes. So, there is the possibility that something could happen soon?
Justin: Yeah, we've been talking a little bit about it, so we'll see. Corey's a super-busy dude.
Howard: He's running two businesses and procreating. [Laughs] Guy's gotta stop having kids!
Justin: Making more Coreys.
Howard: His son is a giant.
Justin: We'll see. It's gonna be weird, what ever comes out of him. I think he has even more weird alien powers now that he's been struck by lightening.
Howard: Guy's in his front yard doing some work when his hair starts standing on end. Next thing he knows, he's at the emergency room.
Howard: He got struck by lightening.
Justin: Right in his driveway.
When did that happen?
Justin: This summer.
Howard: Yeah, it was the end of this summer. It happened on a Friday and I was talking to him [the following] Monday and he's telling me about it. I was like, "man, are you okay?" He was like, "yeah – it was like being hit by a truck! Man, it was brutal. Anyway, can I give you a call back? I gotta go to work." What?! Why are you working?!
Justin: Knowing him, he probably worked on Sunday, too.
Howard: He probably did. The man's a brute. His genetics are just bizarre. His son's, like, six years old now and he's, like, 5'5" or 5'6". That's not even a joke – his son is huge!
Justin: Powerful genes.
Howard: So, yeah – if anybody can stand up to the forces of nature, leave it to an Unger.
Justin: That lightening bolt was a sucker. It picked the wrong dude to strike. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Sounds like it. So, since we mentioned a few other bands, I'm curious to know what each of you thought were the five most important releases of 2007.
Justin: The Cancer Conspiracy just put out another record. I was pretty stoked on that. I think they wrote it a long time ago, but it just came out now. I think the new Between the Buried and Me album is unbelievable.
Justin: I think it's shocking how good it is. And I'm really bummed I didn't get to see them [this tour] because they're playing the whole record and I never got to see one of those shows. That totally sucks.
They are actually playing tonight – about 50 miles south of here.
Justin: Alright, we're canceling! [Laughs]
Howard: Wow, it's so hard to remember what else has come out.
Justin: I went through and I did a list for Roadrunner because they asked me the same question, but now I don't remember what's on it.
Howard: Did they ask all of us? 'Cause if they did, I don't think I knew anything of it.
Justin: I don't know.
Howard: There's been a lot of good stuff that's come out. Um, wow – I just wish I could remember them. If you gave me, like, ten minutes, I'd probably be able to remember something. I'm at a loss right now – unbelievable!
Well, two out of five isn't too bad.
Howard: Well, what's in your top five?
My top five? I really haven't given it much thought yet. Have you heard the new Queens of the Stone Age record yet?
Justin: I like them a lot, but I haven't heard the new record yet.
Howard: Yeah, the new one is good.
Justin: Cool. What about the Radiohead record?
I haven't heard it yet.
Howard: Neither have I. I have not heard anything from that album yet.
Justin: That one's really good.
Howard: Ooh – Down's album. I like it. It's, like, the worst sounding recording, and Phil's voice isn't as strong as it once was, but there's just emotion in it. And the riffs are just... it's good. It's so good. It's like, Pepper and Kirk? You're in good company.
Justin: I remembered another one – a band I like a lot called Low. They put another record out this year. They're really, really ultra-soft. I like them a lot.
Howard: And, of course, I love HIM, so...
Howard: Yeah, exactly. [Laughs] Yeah, make the face bro.
[Laughs] Well, it's an interesting choice – to say the least.
Justin: The Dillinger record's pretty good.
Howard: I've only heard a couple of songs – I like them, I just haven't gone and bought anything in awhile. I need to do that.
It's been getting kind of mixed reviews. It seems like they really pushed the pop/experimental side of things this time around.
Howard: Well, I dig that. I mean, Miss Machine? Man, I wore that album out. I'm such a huge fan of it. I don't know – I'd like to listen to the new one. I'll actually buy it, even. I have to support the boys.
One final question: what's your favorite touring memory of 2007?
Howard: Moscow. That was a trip.
Justin: Yeah, that was pretty sweet. That's up there for sure.
Howard: I mean, the crowd – it was incredible. They turned the building humid. You couldn't breathe in there. And, especially for us never having been there – there was something like 1500-2000 at the show. I made the biggest mistake of my life by jumping into the crowd. They trapped me. I finally got out of the crowd, threw up, had to do one more song, and they stole my shoes.
Both of them?
Justin: I think only one.
Howard: They stole one. The other one, well – there was no point, so I just tossed it.
No point in keeping just one.
Howard: Also, we played Houston a couple nights ago. It was kinda awesome – I saw some guys holding a dude up in the crowd, so I said, "bring him on up!" So, he came all the way up to the front... definitely had no legs. And so he just sat down right there on the stage and rocked out. He was just bobbing around to the music, man – it was awesome. Who'd have thought we'd be on a tour like this?
Yeah, it's pretty incredible – every band on this tour has gone from playing tiny clubs to playing these big concert halls in just a few years' time.
Justin: Yeah, you can definitely luck out. [Laughs]
Howard: Case in point: us, Lamb of God. I don't think any of us really expected anything like this.
Justin: Yeah, the Headbanger's Ball tour we did 3 or 4 years ago – that was, like, unbelievably huge.
Howard: We thought that was, like, the biggest show in the world.
Justin: [We thought,] "how could it possibly get bigger than this? How are metal bands playing shows this big?" None of us could figure it out, and it hasn't really stopped yet. It's kind of ridiculous.
Howard: My mom is old and stoked! [Laughs] Just sayin'. She thinks it's cool. She always thought I was crazy because I'd listen to Hip Hop, then I'd be listening to Death Metal. She always thought I was kinda kooky. And, alright – I'm still weird.
Well, it's a pretty impressive accomplishment for any underground band to make it as big as you guys have.
Justin: Yeah, let's hope we can suck another year out of it before we start rolling down the other side of that hill. [Laughs]
Howard: Yeah, let's make the most of it before the dream is dead. [Laughs] I mean, this will either go downhill quickly, or... I don't know – which you do think will happen first: this will go downhill quickly, or Lambgoat will actually like us? [Laughs] I think the downhill quickly part has a better shot of happening first!
Well, I always say that if Lambgoat hates you, then it means people actually know who you are.
Justin: [Laughs] Yeah, they only like bands that nobody has heard of. It's like, "this band practices next to my parents' house – they're awesome!"
Howard: [Laughs] Yeah, then as soon as they play a show…
Justin: Yeah, as soon as they play a show, it's like, "they suck! I remember when they used to practice next to my parents' house!"