Jesse Leach: If Writing Lyrics Is Ever ‘Comfortable’ I’d Call It a Day
Killswitch Engage's Jesse Leach was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. With the band's new album, Atonement, already out, the singer touched on some of the crucial elements that make the release a standout. One song, "The Signal Fire," features former frontman Howard Jones joining Leach and in the interview, Leach discussed how the two extended their relationship beyond mere acquaintances into a genuine friendship.
One of the defining elements of Atonement is the pain and suffering Leach exorcised in his lyrics and how his lyrical message has evolved since his early days in Killswitch. For the singer, pain and suffering is a necessary component to his work, meaning that it's never a comfortable situation as he explains that if it were ever to become comfortable, it might be time to hang it up.
Read the full interview below.
The last couple of years haven't been easy for you. In what ways is the release of Atonement an enormous relief?
It's definitely a big relief. My personal life went through a bit of an upheaval and in my professional life I had vocal surgery. I was going through a really rough time making this record, but now that it's done and over with, I couldn't be happier and I think it's probably my best work to date. I know it's typical to say, but I actually truly mean it. I think it's one of my best work and it's because of everything that I've been through and my determination. I'm just really proud of it.
Jesse, recovery from throat surgery isn't easy. What's the silver lining in terms of what the rehabilitative process taught you about using your voice?
I think it's two-fold. First of all, I'm just so grateful that it was a successful surgery and it's given me a freedom I never really had with my voice, singing with an instrument that's kind of been damaged for a long time. I've got more range. I'm actually able to hit notes clearer.
I really learned a lot by just being quiet for the better part of two months and observing people and really thinking about the voice and how we utilize it in everyday life and how some of us just kind of waste our breath talking bad about people and being negative. It made me realize what a gift we have and something that shouldn't be taken for granted as being able to sing or tell somebody that you love them or whatever the case may be.
It was a profound thing for me mentally and I'm so grateful that I had a successful surgery and I still have a career and I'm still able to use this beautiful gift called the voice.
Howard Jones recently joined you on stage and he also appears on the new Killswitch record. What type of bond develops between people who have both been in your rather exclusive position?
It's cool. When we first actually became friends instead of acquaintances through the music scene, it was fun to sort of vent to him about having to sing his songs. He was venting to me about having to be the vocalist of a record that I had written and bailed on — Alive or Just Breathing.
We had some really good laughs about the pressures of it and and just the expectations and wondering what each other was going through. So that was definitely a fun part to kick off a friendship. And since then it's just nice to be able to compare notes and just have a laugh about certain things that only a singer in a band would really understand.
You were barely out of your teens when Killswitch Engage started. What's the most dramatic difference between how you use music to express yourself now compared to then?
That's a really good question. I would say that the message is a bit different. Having lived life and having become a man as opposed to being a man-child if you want to call me that back then... Just seeing the world, getting out and traveling, living through suffering, going through life experiences made me out a lot more of an empathetic writer as opposed to a confrontational one.
Telling my own story, I'm very self-reflective and nowadays I sort of look at the world and try to tell other people's stories and try to help people be more socially aware. The message is much broader and much more wisdom-filled and gained from experience with just living life. So I would say, if anything, it's the message. It's a lot more inclusive and empathetic than it's ever been.
Writing lyrics can be a personal very vulnerable activity. What did you do to make it a more comfortable process with the new record, Atonement?
I don't know that it is ever a comfortable process. Maybe the moment when I start getting comfortable I need to be cautious about what I'm writing because most of my music comes from very deep wounds and painful subjects. I think that's kind of what makes me the writer that I am — it's raw. It comes from a very honest place and I think the moment I start getting comfortable, I need to be cautious because it might be time to call it a day.
There is no comfort in writing lyrics for any of the projects that I do. I sort of just accept that and just roll with it and know that every single album process, there's going to be some dark periods and it's going to be some suffering and some struggling to get out the messages in the words and the memories and stories that I need to tell.
You asked fans to cover one of the new songs from atonement without actually hearing it using tablature. What stood out most about their attempts at "I Am Broken Too?"
I think people's eagerness. It just goes to show you so much about perception and it's really fun to see the people coming at it and sort of getting close to it or not getting close to it at all. I liked watching the eagerness and how much support and love that people have for the band and their willingness to put themselves out there and play something blindly and without knowing what they're doing. It's a really cool thing to do and I would love to do more of that. I was definitely entertained by it and and touched by it as well.
Thanks to Jesse Leach for the interview. Grab your copy of Killswitch Engage's 'Atonement' album here and follow the band on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s radio show here.
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