Interview conducted by John Lambgoat. Published on 6/6/2002.
Why don't we start with the formalities? Name and position in the band?
Mike D.: Mike D. Bass guitar.
Adam D.: Adam D. Rock guitar.
Joel: Joel. Also rock guitar.
Tom: Tom. Drums.
So you guys have the new album out, "Alive or Just Breathing." If you could start off with how the writing process went for the record, compared to the self-titled record on Ferret Music?
Mike D: The first one was just me and Adam got together, and just writing songs really fast. Just have enough songs to do a set. And, it was really pretty much thrown together just to see what we could do, you know, on the fly. This album [Alive or Just Breathing?], we definitely took into account that it was going to be on a bigger label, and wrote it accordingly, right?
Adam D: Took more time with the songwriting this time around, definitely. I personally spent a lot more time in the studio producing the parts, and making different textures guitar-wise, you know, just sonically for all the songs, so they were kind of made a little more interesting. So, yeah, definitely much more time on this one.
Were there any particular adjustments or things that you wanted to improve upon from a technical aspect or writing?
Adam D: From the first record?
Adam D: Actually, I think, I personally wanted to take it in the other direction. I wanted to make it a little more, a little less technical I suppose. A little more emphasis on the song, you know, instead of parts. Develop songs, not just pasting riffs one after another. That's always been my main concern.
Do you guys feel that the new record is a pretty good representation of the band's sound as of right now?
Adam D: I definitely believe in it.
Mike D: Absolutely.
Cool. At the time you were writing, you were still a four-piece, right?
Adam D: Correct.
Were you writing the music taking into account that you only had one guitarist, or were you…
Adam D: Oh no, we were actually writing it pretty much as a four or five piece, knowing that we were going to be a five-piece later on down the road.
Ok. And why did you decide to re-record "Temple From The Within" and "Vide Infra" from the last album?
Mike D: Definitely, the production of this record, we knew it was going to be a lot better with the budget we had, and we felt those songs still represented what we were doing, and we play them live a lot and always get a great reaction. We wanted to take them a little further this time, and you know, with the bigger production and, you know, try to get them to rock a little bit more. And also, since the first record really didn't have the greatest distribution, present them to the kids that didn't know about the first record.
How about the vocals? Jesse's got great range from his singing to growling to screaming. Has he had any vocal training in the past?
Adam D: Nah, he's pretty much self-taught. Until recently, he's never really seen anybody about singing. He took a couple of lessons right before the making of the record.
Mike D: And then afterwards, a couple of lessons, like he took the "singing" singing lessons just a few times, just to try to get the feel with what was going on. And then, recently, he took lessons on how to actually scream, or to do more of the screaming without wrecking his vocals, without ripping his throat apart. And that's been helping him a lot on tour.
Right. And when you were writing, did you kind of write with the intent of displaying his vocal range more in terms of the screaming and singing?
Adam D: Not necessarily. I just think we were just trying to do something that we wanted to do. We never really aimed to write songs for a particular vocal style and stuff like that. We did what we felt was right.
There's a lot of layering in terms of the vocals on the record. Will you guys be doing any back up singing during the live performances?
Adam D: Yeah, I do some.
Did you guys do that at Metalfest? I don't think you guys did that. Back-up vocals?
Mike D: We might have. Yeah, you did the vocals.
Adam D: Yeah, the past Metalfest.
Oh, ok. Maybe I just missed it then.
Adam D: It's subtle. I'm a force lurking in the darkness.
You mentioned that you put more time in the production and what not. What moved you to go all the way across the Atlantic to produce them album? [Editor's note: They produced the album in Mass, but mixed it across the Atlantic. My mistake.]
Adam D: Actually, I produced it back at home, in Massachusetts. We recorded it there. And then I ended up mixing it in the UK with Andy Sneap.
Why'd you guys go all the way over to the UK to mix the record?
Adam D: Well, just because he was highly recommended, and we heard his stuff and he's excellent at what he does. So, we just started to go with him. It takes a lot of pressure off me.
Mike D: I think it was more money to bring him over here, than, rather than go over there and use his studio. And he knows his own board and stuff like that. We felt that it would take a lot less time too, because he was familiar with his own place.
Adam D: It was cool.
Working with him, what did he bring to the record?
Adam D: He really cleaned up the drum tones a lot. The drum tones sound way better.
Yeah, they sounded really crisp on the record.
Adam D: Yeah. I think he's definitely the king of drums. He always gets great drum tones on all his records.
Mike D: Definitely gave it a more polished feel, which is something we were definitely looking for. We were a little surprised at the, between the raw tracks and the mix down, but, definitely, it grew on us after a while. There was a big difference I'd say.
And Adam, you originally played drums.
Adam D: Right.
You switched over to guitar and brought Tom aboard. How was that transition? You played guitar in Aftershock, so obviously you have experience.
Adam D: It was a little weird for me at first because it has been so long since I've played guitar in a band. I haven't really played guitar since I was in Japan with Aftershock. So, it took me maybe a month or a little more than a month to get back into the swing of things.
Tom fit right in. He played drums in Aftershock, so of course I knew him really well and knew what he played like. So, I think after a month or so I think we were locking in, eh?
I wish I had held the interview a little earlier when Jesse was around, but in terms of the lyrical influences for Jesse, they seem very introspective and almost spiritual to a point. Do you know what some of his influences are when he's writing lyrics for songs?
Adam D: Life.
Mike D: Well, his father was a minister, so he grew up around a religious background, which definitely he's kept with him for his whole life. Hmm, does anybody remember any of his answers to that one?
Adam D: Well, I know he's pretty much influenced by everything that goes on his life, you know? Everyday stuff, you know, he really pulls from it. Whatever he's feeling at that moment, he writes it down. You know, like last tour, he was writing lyrics while we were touring. He always keeps a little book with him.
Mike D: He did say that most of the lyrics that sound outward are actually pointed inward. Most of the bad habits and stuff like that that he has, he writes about.
You mentioned that he grew up in a family that had, I guess, a spiritual-oriented family. Does Killswitch, or the lyrics, do you ever get flak for that just because within the hardcore and metal scene, Christianity and some other types of religion get a bad rap?
Mike D: Oh look, there he [Jesse] is. It hasn't been too bad. I can see something like that possibly happening, but I mean, we're just kind of doing our thing. Jesse, do we get flak for having religious lyrics?
Jesse: I wouldn't say my lyrics are religious at all actually. I'm a religious person, but my lyrics, if anything, are spiritual. And I haven't gotten any flack for that, and I think if people have anything to say about it, then so be it. It's a positive thing, you know? I'm not pointing my finger at anybody. So, definitely not religious lyrics. No, that's a personal thing for me. It has nothing to do with a band.
Mike D: If you want to maybe re-ask that other question, I'm sure he can answer it better.
Right. The question I asked earlier was, a lot of your lyrics have a very spiritual overtone. What are some of the things that influence you when writing lyrics?
Jesse: For me, when I'm writing lyrics, I really try to write in such a way where I can get out a positive vibe without excluding anybody or making anyone feel like, this is a specific message, and these people can't really hear to it because it's not designed for them. I'm trying to design my lyrics to be on a broad-brush stroke if you will, so people can get different things out of it. You know, my personal opinions, I try not to push them into the lyrics because, you know, again, I don't want to push anyone away. So, I do have things on my mind when I'm writing those songs, but when I write, I'm trying to write to everybody so somebody can relate on some different level. So I really wouldn't say there are any specifics.
How about when a kid buys the CD. He opens up the insert and starts to read the lyrics. Do you have any particular hopes or some sort of point so that the listener can be challenged by them? Do you hope that they gain something from them?
Jesse: I hope so. I write in literal, as well as poetic text. So some of the stuff, I'm just trying to create some kind of a picture. But the overall aura of my lyrics are definitely positivity, and I want people to get that out of it, you know. Whether it be gathering up some sort of hope or confidence, or feeling that they can press forward by listening to the music. Be inspired by it. I hope that's the case. So when I'm writing, I am thinking about the people who would be reading the lyrics and hopefully giving them something to latch on to.
And how do you think the positive angle is important, since a lot of music, especially in mainstream commercial rock, it's about "My life sucks," "Everybody pisses all over me." Blah, blah, blah.
Jesse: (laughs) Yeah, we've had enough of that, I think, as a whole. I'm tired of hearing it. And to me, that's kind of selfish if you're going to keep going on and on about how horrible your life is. Who wants to hear that after a while? I'm sure kids can relate to it, but is that really helping them? I mean, maybe in a way it helps them cope, but on the flipside of that, I want them to help them possibly get out of that and stop dwelling on all that sorrow. There is a flip side to it.
And you guys have getting a lot of great reviews from Kerrrang and CMJ about the new CD. How do you feel about all the praise that you've been getting?
Mike D: We're psyched. I mean, we worked really hard on the album. It's great to know that other people enjoy it as much as we do. Really just worked our asses off to get the thing done.
Cool. I was wondering if you could talk about how you landed on Roadrunner originally
Mike D: We did the record with Ferret and Carl Severson. And, it had been out for a couple of years, and Carl works at Roadrunner as the website manager. So, he always kind of just hands out his CDs and lets people check it out, and Mike Gitter ran into it and called us immediately and started talking to me a lot, and coming to our shows, and hanging out, and just being an overall nice guy to us, and saying he was very interested in the band. So, it was kind of a fast thing. It was like all of the sudden, "Bam, oh wow, Roadrunner A and R is calling us." They seemed the most interested out of all the other labels that had been talking to us and we felt like if we were going to quit our jobs and spend our whole life doing this, better to be starting off on a right foot on a label that has a lot of backing, a lot of money, can push us really hard, get us out there, have really good distribution. You know, there were a couple of other options, but we just figured, if we're going to do it, we might as well go for broke, and try to do the best we can.
I know you mentioned the last time I spoke with you at Metalfest that you guys handled all of the artwork and took care of a lot of things yourselves. Was there any conflict with Roadrunner in terms of doing that?
Mike D: Obviously Roadrunner is corporate, so I had to go down there and show them my portfolio, just so they make sure I could do the right job. Adam had to submit demos to make sure he could do the production on the record. I mean, it's absolutely like a job interview. You just got to show them you can do the work, because a lot of their bands say they can do stuff, but when it boils down to it, they can't. And Roadrunner has to shell out more money to fix the mistakes. So rather than cause havoc, they just check everything out first. I'm fine with that. Being a designer, you go through that all the time.
What are some of the positives and negative of moving from a smaller, more-indie label like Ferret, to a larger, more-corporate label like Roadrunner?
Mike D: Well obviously the distro is a lot better. Carl is one of the coolest guys ever. Helped us out in any way he could, but, we did about as much as we could on that label. And, either way, it was definitely time to move on whether we went to Roadrunner, Century Media, or anything. Roadrunner definitely supplied a lot more money for recording the record, so that was great. We have pretty much the same, we could pretty much do what we wanted on either label. We had every say on the whole record, so, you know, the only difference is the financial backing really. Do you have anything to add to that?
Adam D: No, I think you pretty much covered it.
Mike D: I mean, both labels are really super cool to us, are really into what we're doing, so they don't really fuck with anything that we're doing.
Adam D: Yeah, definitely. It's just the obvious stuff, like the money. The connections that Roadrunner has. Carl's a small label compared to them.
A lot of kids give Roadrunner a hard time because of the type of bands on the label, the way they do business, stuff like that. You guys have worked with the label now. What would you say to those kids [with those opinions]?
Mike D: Every situation is definitely different, and we were as scared as everyone of those kids that's heard about those stories. We felt like we were walking on eggshells the whole time. Took us six months to get the contract even remotely the way we needed it to be. We really took our time and made sure all bases were covered and all that stuff. So, I guess what it all boils down to is we put out a record they enjoy, without compromising. So they're treating us well. You know, five years down the road if they don't like us, who knows how they're going to treat us, but, I mean, we feel that we have fans in the office. We feel that they're very supportive, so, we're happy. Right? We're happy?
Adam D: Definitely. Happy. Happy runner.
And again, going back to the point that you've been featured in a lot of the larger publications out there. How do you see Killswitch affecting the landscape of more-commercial metal scene? You know, you guys are kind of poised to be the "next big thing" with all the great reviews you've gotten.
Mike D: Well, we're obviously hoping that Hatebreed does well, and we kind get in on that door. Whatever dude. We're just doing what we're doing and having fun. We're just going to continue to write the music we want to write, and hopefully people like it. It would be great if good things happen. We've really set ourselves hoping that good things will happen; quitting our jobs, and really sacrificing pretty much every lifestyle we have to do this the right way. So, we're crossing our fingers.
That's actually another question of mine. You've mentioned that someone was selling a house here, right?
Jesse: I've got a house. Did you say house?
Jesse: I was going to sell it, and then decided to stay there because it'd be cheaper just to do that. I couldn't very well put my house on the market and go on tour. So, I have a house, a new car, and I just got married, so I got a life I need to maintain, pay bills. I've a lot at stake right now, so, I just hope I can maintain this, which I'm pretty sure I'll be able to.
So how's that worked out so far? You've put all your resources into the band and trying to make a living off it.
Jesse: It's a little stressful, but so far so good man. You know, as long as we get our check soon, we'll be alright.
Mike D: It's still the beginning phases.
Mike D: Everything's up in the air, but, we're just going to go with it for a little while and see what happens.
What's the reaction been from the live performances on the tour so far? At Metalfest, it seemed that everyone was really pleased with the performance and really happy with the band's success and what not.
Jesse: I think in the Northeast, we've always had a lot of positive feedback, like last night and the night before. Great shows, people really into it, people singing along. But I think a lot, some of the sections in the Midwest in the beginning of the tour, I don't think people really knew who we were. So, I think it was just more people kind of watching us and just checking us out. And, you know, there were still a couple of people really into it, but I think for the most part, we're a Northeast band. Aside from the Northeast, we'd be interested with what the West Coast has. We haven't gotten there yet, so we'll see. I mean, it's been fun either way. Whether people are checking you or not, we're just doing your thing anyway, you know?
And how does it feel to be in the midst of a US tour? In the past you've been more of a "weekend warrior" band playing shows around the East Coast.
Mike D: Definitely due to jobs, and people working full-time jobs, absolutely. It feels pretty cool. Like Jesse just said, the reactions have been kind of been pretty positive, and as long as they continue to be good, we're just going to have a blast.
Jesse: At first it was a little tough for me and my voice. You know, I'm not used to singing everyday, but I really feel that I'm starting to get into the swing of things. And, I don't know, touring, like, at the beginning is always a little weird because you've got to get into the flow. And once you're in the flow, it's like, you kind of like, look forward to that next show. And it's like, you get up in the morning, and it's "Alright, we're going to show. We're going to a show."
Mike D: And when you have time off, you're like "Where are we playing tonight? Oh crap, we're not playing! Why are we not playing?"
Jesse: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. You feel that you should be going out every night or doing something, because you're just so used to it. I'm definitely having fun right now.
Mike D: It's great to be on tour with Soilwork too. These guys are so awesome. Super fun to hang out with. Really, really nice guys.
How did you guys hook up with them for this tour?
Mike D: Hmm, I think it might have been Mike Gitter.
Jesse: Yeah, Gitter knew that we liked them, and I think he sent the CD over to them and said "Whenever you guys are doing something, let us know."
Mike D: I think what happened was Arch Enemy was originally up for our slot, and they turned it down to do something else, and we were next in line so we stepped up to the plate for that.
You guys recently recorded the video for "My Last Serenade" in California, right?
Mike D: Yep. L.A.
How was that whole process, recording the video?
Jesse: I think, at first, it was really funny. We got in there and, you know, we did our lip-synching and stuff, and we were laughing at each other. It was a great time. I think the whole experience was a lot of fun. A lot of sweat, a lot of smoke. Had people wiping our foreheads for us.
Adam D: It was really silly.
Jesse: It was definitely really, really silly. But, I think on a whole, we all had a blast. It's not something any of us is going to forget. And the video came out really well I think.
Mike D: It was like that nine-hour gym class.
Adam D: With beer.
Did you guys have a say in who could direct it and what you wanted to portray in the video?
Mike D: Roadrunner gave us a couple of options, and they really wanted to go with certain people. Certain people that they know they can get quality out of. The original budget was pretty low, and then the president of the US office said, "OK, we really want to do this the right way. Let's give them triple the money that we were going to and let's go all out," because they believed in the band, which was awesome. And they had mentioned a couple of guys and Paul Brown, who just directed the Coal Chamber video, was one of the few people that they were really happy with, and they said we'd have a good time with. And he sent us a script form of what it was going to be like, and it seemed alright. We were a little scared, but, you know, it's a video, so we went with it. And he's a great guy. We hung out with him and he's just so down to earth, so willing to do whatever we wanted to do, make the band seem like a band, and not just like a crazy clown wearing…
Jesse: Yeah, I think he was just doing what we were about, you know? No flashiness. Just like us, playing is mostly how the video is. There is a little bit of a story form to it, but none of the glitz and glamour, you know. Just cut and dry. That's kind of how we are. He kind of grasped that. He was a really cool guy.
Mike D: I mean, he did want us to wear clown make-up, but we said "No."
Mike D: We were like, "Fuck that."
I'm sure that would've went over well.
Jesse: Insane Clown Engage.
And why did you choose that particular track to do the video?
Jesse: Was that chosen by us? I don't even know.
Adam D: They did want our opinion on it. I don't know. That seemed like the song that everybody really grasped on first listen.
Mike D: Yeah, that's the thing. Out of all the songs, we felt that song, you listen to one time, and know what the band's about. It's got pretty much every type of riff.
Jesse: Melody, the metal, and the rock. Does that cover it? Space riffs?
Actually, I forgot to ask you this question.
Mike D: You can't go back!
Sorry! "Fixation on the Darkness." Was that written or co-written with Pete from Overcast?
Mike D: He joined the band and we started writing for the new album, and he just happened to have some really killer riffs, and we used them. And then, his girlfriend was having a kid at the time and the whole Roadrunner thing came up and touring, and he just said he really needed to be a father to his kid. So we said, "We're not going to stand in the way. You've got to do what you've got to do." So, he had left the band, but we still loved the song, so we made sure he got as much credit as he possibly could for helping us out with that one.
How does Killswitch serve as purpose or its members and the unit as a whole? Is it an outlet of some sort?
Jesse: For me it's a complete outlet. I consider myself to be a fairly calm person, and when I get on stage, I can just let everything, all of my frustrations, out. Vent it all into that energy. And for me, it definitely serves a huge purpose in my life as far as, I feel like I'm doing something. I'm not just up there screaming about myself. I'm trying to give something out. For me, it's complete catharsis. I absolutely love performing live. It's one of my favorite things to do. So that's what it serves for me.
Mike D: It's definitely and outlet for aggression for me. I really don't talk to too many people. I kind of keep to myself, but when I get out on stage, I let it loose, and it's also extremely creative for me. I'm an art guy, and I feel that art and music run very parallel to each other, and I switch off back and forth all the time. But, extremely creative for me.
How about the rest of you guys?
Tom: I just like the idea of being able to travel all over the place, and see new places. I like smashing my drums a lot.
Joel: I just love music and playing guitar. It's my favorite thing (indecipherable).
Adam D: I think one of the most rewarding things for me is writing music, creating music, and playing guitar. Nothing makes me happier than to see other people happy listening to music. So that's kind of why (indecipherable).
Do you guys have any highlights or horror stories about the tour so far? Or has anything gone pretty smoothly?
Adam D: The way this van smells.
Adam D: That's a horror story on its own.
Jesse: I think for me, last night in Worcester, was like one of my favorite shows ever. I had a blast. The audience was incredible, and the energy was incredible too. There really is not that much negativeness. I mean, there was some bad stuff, but it wasn't really worth mentioning.
Adam D: Yeah, we ended up missing a couple of shows because of some unfortunate things.
Jesse: Really nothing worth mentioning. It's been good so far.
Mike D: Yeah, it's just been a lot of fun.
You mentioned earlier that you're here to write music that you like, that you enjoy. Is that basically the purpose or goal for Killswitch overall? Is it anything else or are you just here to rock?
Jesse: I think each of us kind of has our own take on it. For me, I want to rock, and I want to definitely want write music that we all want to enjoy. But for me, it's also getting out a positive message which is very important to me. I think there is not enough of that out there, especially in metal music. So that's why I'm doing it.
(Enter Alfie, drummer from Scar Culture)
Alfie: What's up guys. Hey, you new? Good to see ya.
Adam D: "Are you new…"
I wish. I'll be playing tambourine in the back.
Alfie: I can be such a dick sometimes. I'm Alfie by the way. How you doing?
I'm John. Nice to meet you.
Alfie: Oh! You're doing an interview! Fuck! Sorry!
Adam D: That's the foolish drummer from Scar Culture, Alfie. He's cool. He's definitely one of the cooler guys on this tour. Definitely one of the cooler characters.
Jesse: I love you man. "Did we get a new guy"…
That's cool. Hardcore, metalcore, indie rock seems to be the new trend with Hatebreed on Universal, Cave In and Thursday going to the majors, and Poison the Well in the works. Where do you think hardcore and metal is going overall with the way things are happening and bands getting signed?
Adam D: I think the whole thing might be rearing its head, you know. Getting a little more mainstream, a little more accepted. Screaming vocals, for so long, have been seen as another thing and not really, you know, people can't really stand it. I think people [things?] are starting to change.
Do you think that change is for the better or for the worst?
Jesse: I definitely think as far as making money for bands like us, it's good. But, you know, there's also a lot of stuff on the radio I wouldn't listen to. But, overall it's good for a band like us. Paving the way for us to jump on radio. And we just recently got on radio on some stations.
Adam D: I think it's cool as hell. Why can't they put every kind of music on the radio?
Jesse: Absolutely, absolutely.
Adam D: People can go through radio stations and be like, "I like how this sounds."
Jesse: You can choose.
Mike D: Just because it's on the radio, doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. There is bad stuff on the radio, but once in a while you find gems.
Adam D: True. Who's to say something is bad? That's personal opinion.
Mike D: As long as there is enough to choose from and different things to choose from, then whatever.
Do you think "the scene" will be ruined by "the man" picking up bands?
Jesse: I think there always going to be an underground scene. There's always going to be bands that refuse to get big and be on the radio. I think a lot of hardcore bands, I think that's what the movement's about. Keeping individual, do it yourself. That's always going to be there. When we started out, we weren't one of those bands. "Alright, we're going to keep it underground, we're going to do this." But we just wanted to be a rock band. We just want to go out there. But there are bands that just stay true to that, so I still think there will still be a thriving scene, especially bands that swear they'll never make it to the radio.
And what do you guys do on your off time that's not band related when you want to relax? I know Mike, you've got your design label, Darkicon.
Mike D: Yeah, I bring a power book on the road with me and do work in the van. So I just get bored, I just need to be working on a computer. I'm actually doing the new Shadows Fall record right now for Century Media.
Mike D: Other than that, what do I do? Play videogames.
Jesse: I hang out at the beach. Hang out with my wife, and I love life.
Mike D: Oh, I hang out with my cats a lot. They're fun to talk to.
Adam D: "They're fun to talk to."
Jesse: They never talk back.
What about the rest of you guys?
Adam D: I pretty much live at work. Never leave, don't see sunlight. My flesh is pale.
Some may consider that Goth.
Adam D: Yeah, I pretty much don't have a life. I just work the whole time. When I'm at home, I'm either playing videogames or watching game shows.
Reality game shows?
Adam D: No, "The Price is Right." It's so good dude.
Price is Right. Ok.
Adam D: I've watched that for so many years. Someday I hope to meet Bob Barker. He is truly an American icon. Love him. Dude, I want to spin that wheel so bad, you have no idea.
That'd be cool. Arrange a hardcore-oriented Price is Right.
Adam D: That'd be so killer.
Mike D: Sometimes when we're in a hotel and he'll be sleeping and say, "The Wheel. The Wheel."
(Adam D. simulates beeping noise from wheel)
How about you guys, Joel and Tom?
Joel: I teach guitar lessons. Been doing that for a long time. Go to school. Taking a break from all that to do the tour. So well see what happens from there. Besides that, just hang out.
Tom: Yeah, I just like to hang out, go to bars, play pool.
Adam D: Meet ladies.
Jesse: That's about it man.
Well, I guess that's about it for questions, unless there's anything you want to touch on or plug?
Mike D: Killswitchengage.com. We just got a facelift. We got a whole new Flash site, so please check that out. It has our video on there, "My Last Serenade," and "Life to Lifeless" video that we didn't know we had until Roadrunner told us. And that was shot live at Metalfest and it cam out pretty cool even though we didn't approve it.
Adam D: I love fried chicken.
Jesse: Ugh. One love.
Adam D: So if anyone wants to bring some to shows...
Alright guys. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.
Killswitch: Thank you.