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Interview: Killswitch Engage

mit Mike D'Antonio vom 11. August 2013 im Batschkapp, Frankfurt
Im April dieses Jahres wurde unter dem Titel Disarm the Descent das neuste Studioalbum der Metalcore-Institution Killswitch Engage veröffentlicht. Fast genau vier Jahre trennen dieses nun nunmehr sechste Werk von seinem zweiten selbstbetitelten Vorgänger und doch ist es weniger die Zeitspanne, in der die Fans auf neues Material gewartet haben, die gerade dafür sorgt, dass die Truppe mit ihrer aktuellen Tour in aller Munde ist. Nein, viel mehr ist es die Rückkehr von Ur-KSE-Sänger Jesse Leach ins Line-Up der Band, welche die Fans zur Diskussion anregt.
Als kleine Gedächtnisauffrischung: Jesse Leach hat die Band im Jahr 2002 - nur wenige Tage vor Beginn einer Tour - per Mailankündigung verlassen. Nicht die feine Art, oder? Das haben sowohl Band als auch Fans damals mehrfach geäußert. Das ist ja auch verständlich. Doch lange musste man nicht nach einem neuen Vocalisten suchen: Der US-Amerikaner Howard Jones übernahm von nun an die kommenden zehn Jahre die Arbeit am Mikro. Zuvor war er bei der Truppe Blood Has Been Shed als Sänger dabei, doch nachdem diese Gruppe 2004 endgültig aufgelöst wurde, widmete er sich gänzlich Killswitch Engage. Ihm ist zum großen Teil der heutige Erfolg und eine gewisse Massentauglichkeit der Band zu verdanken, welche sich durch die ersten relevanten Chartplatzierungen des Albums The End of Heartache im Jahr 2004 zeigten.
Letztes Jahr wurde jedoch bekannt, dass Howard Jones wegen gesundheitlicher Probleme aus der Band scheiden wird. Durch das langjährige Leben on Tour wurde seine Diabetes verschlimmert und er lag zwischenzeitlich sogar drei Tage im Koma. Die Situation war so ernst, dass ihm irreversible Hirnschäden drohten. In einer solchen Situation ist es nur zu verständlich, dass die Gesundheit Vorrang hat vor dem professionellen Musikbusiness. Doch woher einen neuen Sänger nehmen? Während einige Unker schon das Ende der Band besangen, kehrte Jesse Leach auf die Bildfläche zurück. Seinen Vorgänger lobend, wurde er noch im selben Jahr wieder fester Bestandteil des Line-Ups.
Nun sind die Jungs mit ihrem alten neuen Sänger auf ausgiebiger Tournee durch die Welt unterwegs und haben dabei auch Station im Batschkapp in Frankfurt gemacht. Da nutzten wir doch gleiche die Gelegenheit und trafen Gründungsmitglied und Bassist Mike D'Antonio zum Interview. Wir sprachen mit ihm unter Anderem über den Sängerwechsel, das Leben on Tour und über den nicht unbedingt allseits beliebten Glam Metal.
Viel Spaß beim Lesen!

The Interview:

Adrian Erben: Hello Folks, this is Metal Trails and today we're in Frankfurt at the Batschkapp. Next to me is Mike D'Antonio from American Metalcore-legend Killswitch Engage. Say hello!
Mike D'Antonio: Hello!
Adrian: How are you today?
Mike: I'm very good and doing well, thanks!
Adrian: When you founded Killswitch Engage did you expect that your band would get as influential and successful as it is today?
Mike: You can never expect that ... I started the band when my old band Overcast broke up. After a break of nine months I wanted to play music again. When you play music, especially when you're young, there's always this will to go on and so I went on. I called up Adam and then we started.
Adrian: You are also the creator of the bands artworks. Where do you take the inspiration from?
Mike: Well, mostly from horror movies, also The Misfits, generally the evil side of most of the genres. This is the way I've always done things. I try inspiration from lots of different stuff! Design is actually a lot of copying, when you copy enough you eventually have your own style.
Adrian: How long does it take to create an album artwork?
Mike: It just depends, sometimes I have tons of ideas and sometimes I have no ideas. Some records take five minutes, others nearly a whole year. It depends of the look that I want, if I achieved it the first time I tried it's good, otherwise I'll reshoot many times. I remember when we made 'The End of Heartache' I took about 500 photos from every single angle you could possibly think of to get something that worked like I wanted. Maybe the nails had to be lid up in a certain way or the background needed to work properly. I guess it just depends.
Adrian: I realized that the albumcover of 'Disarm the Descent' is made in the same colours like 'Alive or Just Breathing'. Was this intended?
Mike: No, not even close, even if I loved it. I actually wanted to create something new! (laughs)
Adrian: What are your other jobs inside the band? Do you also write songs?
Mike: Yeah, everyone writes in the band. It's really cool, everyone can say something before a record is finished. There are several possible ways of writing, I like to write in garage bands, which is good for doing demo-stuff and things like that. It takes about two weeks to write something, then we come together and talk about stuff, play it all, listen to it, critique it, and if changes of the demos need to be made we go straight to Pro Tools and everyone puts his own hint on the song. Sometimes we write songs on that way. The new record was actually really easy to create, really fast, because we got two solid years off before writing it so we really were kind of anyious to get back together and restart writing.
Adrian: The new record was also really successfull, it went straight to number seven of the Billboard 100. I guess you are satisfied?
Mike: Yeah, I'm really satisfied. It took a long time to get out, so I'm also glad THAT it came out. The whole time I couldn't wait to put it out because everyone came and asked: "What does it sound like?" And all I wanted to do was saying: "This is what it sounds like!"
Adrian: One song of the album, 'No End in Sight', was released nearly a year before the record actually came out. How did this come, was the record finished yet back then?
Mike: At this time we had still a different mix of it, so that's the reason why it sounds so different to the rest from the record. The bummer for us was that everyone wanted to hear the new stuff with Jesse, some even so much that they were willing to steal it – what I'm really fine with by the way. I'm excited when people love our music, we just kinda wanted to put this song to a good spot. But this was not possible because it just wasn't finished.
Adrian: The song nearly didn't make it on the record? Why? It's a really good one!
Mike: The others thought that it didn't came up to the rest of the record, but since it got released we started playing it live. From that perspective it seemed a shame to not put it on the record. We couldn't put it on a special version of the record to pull people extra money away for a song they listened to the whole summer and that they kinda liked. That would have been a lame thing doing to people, so finally it got on the record. But it took a lot of lobbying on my part. Retrospective it was a good choice because it is one of the most popular songs of your new record I think.
Adrian: Let's move on! Which bands did you listen to when you were young?
Mike: I loved the New York Hardcore growing up, for example 'Cromax' and 'Agnostic Front'. I'm still listening to this music today, it gives me tons of inspiration, I'm also in some newer bands, I like a band called 'Orchid', a band that sounds like Black Sabbath, they even sound more like Black Sabbath than Black Sabbath. I also love the band 'Witchcraft', I really would love to see them live, I really would love to. Furthermore I stick to that stuff to that I listen for a long time now.
Adrian: Let's talk a little bit about touring... Do you like touring in general?
Mike: I actually do, but the last few months were so crazy. It almost makes you blurry-eyed with travelling and things like that. Sometimes I wish there's more downtime, but it's fun to play the new record, it's fun to see people get excited about the new record, and there is an old saying that fits: You have to keep the irons hot! You've gotta do it while it's happening. Otherwise you'll miss the bow. You know, this is the life we chose so I'm not gonna complain, except that I'd love to have a little more time in between the tours. Things are goin' well!
Adrian: So you have no problems to combine having a family and touring?
Mike: Sure, you miss your beloved ones, it's pretty much the only drawback missing your family.
Adrian: Is there no possibility to take them on tour with you? Max Cavalera is currently on tour with Soulfly and has his whole family with him.
Mike: Yeah, that would be the ultimate way to tour, I guess. My wife does not particulary like goin' on tour, she would have to share the bunk with me and often bunks are only made for one person, so it would be a little bit sticky in there. It's hard to get to sleep. You know, I've taken her to a bunch of places, I've taken her to Japan, to Europe, she's been to Alaska, Hawaii ... But once you've been there, you get over it. So you know, she's over that. Then there's also the jetlag, especially for people that don't travell as much. When they are goin' with you they are finally understanding that it's not exactly for everybody.
Adrian: Okay, now let's talk a bit about Killswitch Engage in general. Back in the day when Jesse left, did you ever expect the he would come back one day?
Mike: No! Never!
Adrian: Why?
Mike: Well, he was over! I can lead this to your last question! Touring is not for everybody and it seemed like touring was not for Jesse at all. It just seemed a little bit more difficult for him and what he anticipated, so he kinda freaked and left. But we always stood in contact with him, we've always been really close friends, singing of a bunch of records, doing background stuff and things like that. Just to show the bands that there were no bad feelings, I mean this shit sometimes happens. What you can do about it? Nothing! I never thought that he would come back. But when our time with Howard was over and we had the chance of doing stuff with Jesse again, it really felt like the right thing. It also depended of him willing to sing the Howard stuff, cause that's really the book of what most people know, the Howard-Era-Stuff. And Jesse came in and made an audition and killed it. He did like an awesome job, it seemed like a no-brainer. You know, in the US we like things like 'Behind the band' stuff, if we would do something like that it would be like 24-hours long, there are just to many things to tell of things that happened to us. But luckily we have great fans that stick with us, otherwise... I don't know ...
Adrian: Was there a point when you thought that the band might be over?
Mike: Oh yeah, definitely! When the things with Howard happened, it didn't seem like it made sense to get a third singer, no band should do that, and if it does it's probably a mistake.
Adrian: Well, luckily Jesse came back and you had the chance to make 'Disarm the Descent'! Stilistic you followed the sound of 'Alive or Just Breathing'. Was that intended or just a natural thing happening because Jesse returned?
Mike: I think it has to do a lot with the two years off that we had. If your not on stage for such a long time ... You know, being on stage is like a crazy drug. You really can't get as high from a drug like of going on stage and play and then the crowd claps and wants more songs. The coolest thing ever, it pushes you to a level that most people don't get to. I missed that a lot. Not the ego-trip, not that people loved me, just people wanting you to play music. In my time off I started a new band called 'Deadly Vision', it's pretty much a drawback to the old hardcore days and the stuff I really liked to play, based on the fact that I was upset with the whole situation not being able to tour and not being able to perform. In this time I started to write some really angry music, and that had influence on the writing in Killswitch. The Deadly Cision stuff was just not Killswitch-able, way more stripped down and like a tough guy. Anyone came up with the idea of writing new songs, which was a shock, because we were not sure if we would ever write new material again at that point. I kept on that path of writing some really pissed-off music and when we started playing the demos for the first time, I played 'All We Have'. That was the first track that I played from my demos and Adam turned to me and said that's exactly the stuff that I want to write, we should go on with this path. Whether that song shaped the rest of the record, I don't know, but I kept it to write more and more angry music.
Adrian: I'm wondering how you would describe the personal relationships in Killswitch Engage. Is it more like a family or just business?
Mike: Well, there's no way around being a little bit business, that's just the way it is after 14 years of stucking together. But it is exactly like a family, people get mad if I'm not talking about it. But there are also weird situations, at the end of the Howard-Era it was really noticeable that things weren't workin' out between everybody, and it didn't feel like a band or a family towards the end. And now with Jesse back it's just different, there's this new-found energy and emotion in the band, we feel like a real band again and after 13 years of playing together this is a really good feeling.
Adrian: Fine! Now let's leave the band stuff behind and talk about music in general: Metal gods like Lemmy and Ozzy are gettin' old, even the 'younger' generation of bands like Metallica. When they are gone, they will leave big footsteps. Who – in your opinion – will be able to fill in these footsteps?
Mike: It's hard to say ... I don't know. You know, that brand of metal isn't gone yet, there's a big charm in that era. But we'll see if it will once be repeated. Well, Slipknot made it and there are some other bands that I think also made it that they will be remembered. I don't know, maybe it's right that music is too watered down. I really don't know!
Adrian: It's a really difficult question, for that I asked it. (both laugh)
Mike: But hey, there's Iron Maiden who still are awesomewith Bruce Dickinson!
Adrian: Do you think they will make another record?
Mike: I would love it if they did, but they still behindsuch a great legacy in life. It's just like you said: Guys like Lemmy and Ozzy are gettin' tired, but Maiden not! I even like their newer stuff...
Adrian: Even the last two records?
Mike: Well, you know actually they don't have to pull out another record. I didn't like the records since 'Brave New World' that much and even that one was just okay. But the ten records before that were just awesome!
Adrian: 2013 is actually a big year for metal music, bands like Bring Me the Horizon, Volbeat, Black Sabbath, Bullet for my Valentine - and of course - you gained high positions on the charts. Is metal becoming trendy again?
Mike: I hope so! (laughs)
That would mean even more people to come ... I don't know, Pop-Punk had it's time and died, Rap is pretty much on the way out. If metal would see another few glory years and then die out it would be okay for me, I think. If this should happen, it would be a great story for grand-kids.
Adrian: Currently the situation is very similar to the end of the 80's, there's lots of electronic stuff on the radio. At some point this will come to an end. Do you think we will se some-kind of a Grunge-Revival? Bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden pulled new records out ...
Mike: I hate Pearl Jam! You can print that!
Adrian: You can be sure with that ... (both laugh)
Mike: I love Alice in Chains, as long as it sounds like that I'm okay with that. But Grunge is cool I think, it helped shaping music in a cooler era. 'Cause at that point it was all about Glam Metal, and if one made a balled every other band had to make one to.
Adrian: What's your problem with Glam Metal? There were some really good bands back then!
Mike: It started really cool but it ended terrible. In the beginning there were some cool acts like Cinderella, Def Leppard or the first Guns 'n Roses record. It was cool when it came out, but after some time everything get's washed out. It was the same thing with Grunge. You listened to new drum-beats and it was just refreshing, but everything get's old after some time.
Adrian: Do you think Dubstep could once earn a similar position?
Mike: I know that it's really popular, but I hope not, I don't like it...
Adrian: I don't like it either, but it's a contemporary trend. Some other metal bands like Korn used it on their last records ...
Mike: I think styles with similar drum-beats can die a faster death.
Adrian: Except AC/DC or Lars Ulrich's style.
Mike: That's true! (laughs)
You're right with that. I don't particular like the newer Metallica stuff, it died with '...And Justice for All'!
Adrian: For me I think even 'Load' was okay, it's just different.
Mike: Even the 'Black Album' was a disappointment for me, it was so different to the Justice-record. I started listening to them with the Master of Puppets album and from Master of Puppets to Justice it was a huge jump up from song structures, riffs and all this crazyness, and then it was a big jump down. The Black Album saw some kind of safer structure. But that's fine, people like safe!
Adrian: You can say what you want, the Black Album brought them to big fame and success! By the way when we're talking about Metallica, I read a funny statement two days ago... Matt Tuck from 'Bullet for my Valentine' told Metal Hammer that their next album would be their version of Master of Puppets. Do you think they are able to do that?
Mike: I'd love to see them try! It would be cool if they did...
Adrian: They also said before their last album 'Temper Temper' that it would be the next Black Album ...
Mike: … it's difficult to say things like that, because you always get critisized for that. ButI love these guys.
Adrian: Are you friends with them?
Mike: Yeah, also with other bands like Trivium or As I Lay Dying. That's a cool thing about the bands of today, there's not a competition between us, we all support each other. And of course they are all super nice.
Adrian: Sounds pretty cool by the way, better than the competitions ins 80's and 90's. But you said As I Lay Dying: Now I have to ask you about Tim Lambesis' arrest. Do you think that he is guilty?
Mike: Well the worst part of that is that we wanted to go on tour with As I Lay Dying and two weeks before it started Tim got arrested. Luckily we got two other bands who where able to fill in their spot. I know Tim for quite a while now and he's always been a pretty nice person. If you would ask me what friend of mine would be able to do that, I never would have thought of Tim. Is it true? It looks like it. Do I want it to be true? No, because he's a friend of mine and that sucks. But it seems like they have a lot of evidence that says that it is true. So some time ago our drummer Justin was hurt in an accident, he fell as hard that he can't even remember why he fell. This happened one week before this tour started, which was a bummer, because we didn't know if we were able to do the tour infact. So we got the drummer from As I Lay Dying to fill in for this tour, he learned 16 songs in one week. He came out and we rocked a japanese show without even practicing, it was really cool. He is in great spirits and so I feel for these guys. Everyone in As I Lay Dying is ridicolously nice and it just sucks that one person has to bring the whole thing down. But I think these guys will figure it out, they will look for new music and wont gonna stop.
Adrian: I know this sounds shitty, but from another perspective it might even be usefull for the band ... I mean they get publicity, they have time to reform and write new material. Maybe this story will bring them to bigger success.
Mike: I hope it and I'm also pretty sure with it. But I think Tim's wife won't like it! (laughs)
Adrian: Pretty bad joke! (both laugh)
Unfortunately we have reached the end of the Interview and I have only one question left: What are your future plans with the band?
Mike: We pulled the record out in April, so now we will just be touring. I think at least 'til the next summer. Justin will also be back for the next leg with Lamb of God, so I hope everything will be alright this time.
Adrian: Thank you very much for spending your time for us, Mike.
Mike: Thank you, too. I had a good time!
Moderation: Adrian Erben

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