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Album Review: TBA

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Interview: Killswitch Engage

Killswitch Engage have been spreading the good word since 1999, and not even the founding member, bassist Mike D’Antonio, thought the band would be this successful. Now, with their fifth studio album out (their second that is self-titled) and showing distinct signs of experimentation and progression, they have brought the KsE roadshow back to Europe. John Skibeat and Rich Etteridge managed to catch up with bassist Mike D’Antonio to discuss gall bladders, Amsterdam, NYHC and ‘sports rage’.

You just got back from touring South America. What was that like?
Totally amazing. Blew our minds. I don't know why we hadn't done it sooner but we'll definitely be doing it again. Rabid fans really excited to see the bands, some of the loudest singalongs we've ever had - it was just very heart-warming.

You had to reschedule some dates due to illness?
Yeah. Howard [Jones, vocals] had some sort of surgery.

Gall stone?
Yeah, that was it. He is such a 'man', when he has a serious illness he just let's it go and go and go and doesn't go and see a doctor because he thinks it will fix itself. He let this thing go to far where they just admitted him straight into a hospital and he spent 12 days there. All his organs started to simultaneously shutdown on him. His liver stopped working, various things just said "okay, we're done, go get some help you idiot" so he got help.

He's feeling better now?
Yep, he's lost some weight to boot. Maybe that's the way to lose weight, girls.

Now you're just a few days into headlining the European Taste Of Chaos tour. Quite a bit different from your last tour then?
It is. We've done this tour before. We've toured with In Flames before, we've toured with Every Time I Die before. We feel at home. It's a tour that's run very, very well. It's very orderly. The same people that do the Vans Warped Tour and the Mayhem Fest so we know them pretty well.

When you're out on the road do you slip into a routine or do you make each day as different as possible?
It's pretty hard to make each day as different as possible. It's like Groundhog Day every day. The only cool part is playing in front of the fans. There's a lot of nothing, a lot of internet, searching the same sites over and over again because there's nothing better to do. Got interviews, eating, there's always food to take your mind off what's going on.

You don't have crazy Thursday or Mad Tuesday or anything?
I wish there was both those things. Maybe I'll introduce something like that.

What time do you get up?
As late as possible. Which means going to sleep as late as possible - maybe 4am, waking up about 1 in the afternoon. And then press starts about 3 and then you go straight in to do that. A lot of the venues are in the middle of nowhere so it's not like you can walk around and sightsee. Today was cool though - did some shopping. It was very cold though which is another thing that makes you not want to do a lot.

Do you ever get lost?
That's part of the thing. Out in Amsterdam it's pretty easy to get lost what with all those canals. That can get pretty spooky if you're in the wrong part of town.

Sharing a coach with Adam [Dutkiewicz, guitar] must be quite an experience. Is he the same off stage as he is on it?
Yeah, there's no difference. Sometimes a little hard to take, but it's fun to have someone who's always in good spirits all the time, laughing constantly - both fun and a headache at the same time.

The line-up for this tour is an interesting mixture. Is there anything you do different when in this situation to help you stand out?
On this one, we don't really have to. I think people know what to expect. I think it's diverse enough that it's not really the same thing over and over again. On the Warped Tour, or something like that, where all the people play punk and stuff like that, radio-pop stuff, we tend to go for the heaviest music that we've written. That makes you stand out a real lot - blow 'em away with some metal. If you're a metal band why play it safe and do the same thing as everybody else. Go for the throat.

Do you vary the set-list over the tour to help keep it fresh?
We have a new one for this tour. We'd like to include a lot of the video songs, a lot of people have paid to come see us play certain songs and we wouldn't wanna disappoint anybody, but there are variables in the set and there's a few songs in the mix that we switch around each night, just to make it different for people who come along two nights in a row. We played Scotland and then, two days later, we played Newcastle, so we switched it around then 'cos they're pretty close together.

You are over here touring the album. Why did you self-title it again?
There was a bunch of different titles we could have chosen but nothing was glaringly great, and since we're a band that needs to agree on everything, we couldn't really agree on one. The idea of possibly self-titling it again came up. I thought it was preposterous but everyone else said it was a good idea, so, in the interest of getting the cover done (it's my job to get the graphic design done) I just said okay. Done. I got the ball rolling to finish that up, as it was a strenuous month to two month process, and it was down to the wire and I needed a name on this thing to get it out the door, so that was pretty much it.

So it wasn't because you felt you'd made significant changes with the sound of the band or...
Well, I guess, theoretically, that would be the proper way to answer the question but, if you want the truth... [Laughs all round]

So, you've got your own design company. How's that going?
It's good. Right now, economic trouble has made the business a little bit slow but it will pick up again. Right now, I have nothing to do and I usually have so much to do, so these boring times seem extra boring. Still, peaks and valleys.

You've spoken previously about redefining your sound for this album. How did that affect the writing process?
Writing process is mainly people bringing demos to practice. Since I don't play guitar, I kind of learned how to play guitar to bring demos. It’s a lot easier if you bring a demo with the drums, bass and guitars sort of in place, rather than just walking in and saying "I got a riff and it sounds like this". I write in GarageBand a lot - you don't require any mics or amps, you just plug straight into a Mac computer. It's real fast. If you have ideas in your head at 12 at night, you just run your computer, record it real quick. Listen to it back the next day, splice a few riffs together, it's really fast and easy to do. That was my favourite part of the whole thing. If you're missing one riff, then 9 times out of 10, someone's got a pretty good idea of what's supposed to come next.

So it's more of a collaborative process than before?
The collaboration certainly helps. I Will Do Anything, from this album, is the first song I wrote for Killswitch from beginning to end without any help from any of the guys. Usually someone will give me one or two riffs to keep me going but that feels pretty good to be able to write a full song. Adam brings, like, 5 complete songs to practice and goes "Here!" and you're like "What? 5 songs? How are we gonna keep up with that?" Then he'll come back the next day with five more and go "Here! Let's write a record". For some people, it's a lot easier than for others.

What was the thinking behind asking Brendan O'Brien to produce?
Every record we do, Roadrunner comes up with an idea of trying something different. We thought the fifth album was a good time to do that. We got enough of a back catalogue to try and experiment a little bit. Brendan O'Brien was actually a fan of the band and he asked if we needed his services. It felt like a really good idea, there are a lot of cool bands that have recorded with him. We specifically were hoping that he could take Howard under his wing and help push the lyrics along in a few different directions. I think that was the one outcome that we were most happy with. He had Howard singing in different ranges and expanding some of his lyrical content some more. A lot catchier, I think.

You played the Download Festival again this year. They had changed the location of the stages since your last epic visit in 2007. For better or worse?
I liked it better just because we didn't have to get trucked a lot of places and our dressing room was kinda near the stage. Rather than having to drive all over the place and leave 20 minutes before you're supposed to [go on] and everything, it just seemed more organised. I got to see a lot of friends that I hadn't seen in a long while too. Usually it's just get to the stage, there's nobody else there, play the stage, go back to the hotel, a little impersonal. The best part it was sunny! I've never played Download when it was sunny.

What bands did you enjoy growing up, the stuff that made you want to be a musician?
I loved New York hardcore when I was a kid. Madball, Agnostic Front, Leeway, Bad Brains, stuff like that. It's stuff I still listen to today to get inspiration. I don't think anything has come close to some of that 80s to early 90s spirit. Back then there was the line where "this is metal, this is hardcore" and then this whole blurring section that they just kept pushing, pushing. Now it's like there's no line at all and it's all just one lump. Back then, it was like trying to take hardcore to the next level by adding this metallic influence. Not nearly enough genres are getting pushed to the next level these days.

When you're not touring what pastimes do you enjoy?
Graphic design, playing with my two pug puppies, video games (Left 4 Dead 2 just came out on the Xbox, it rules), PSP when I'm on the road, horror movies, skateboarding. Baseball is pretty much my only team sport. There's a big rivalry on our bus between Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees fans and people get so bent out of shape it's hard not to be a fan of watching the 'sports rage' on our bus. It's better than any TV you'll ever see.

Didn't the Yankees win the World Series this year?
Yankees did win this year. I have heard a lot about it. There's not been a break in the gloating that's gone on from our drummer and our sound guy!

Photo by Rich E
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