American metalcore titans Killswitch Engage have seen a high degree of success since their start in 1999. As their Decibel Hall of Fame-inducted 2002 album Alive Or Just Breathing turns 15, we caught up with vocalist Jesse Leach about the album's vinyl reissue, making Alive Or Just Breathing and their new beer collaboration with Cigar City Brewing.
Originally, you rejoined Killswitch Engage for the 10-year anniversary of Alive or Just Breathing. You’re at the fifteen year anniversary now and it’s been five years or a little more, do you feel good about your decision to return to the band as a vocalist?
Yeah, I think I feel like after five years, I’m kind of just getting started, just catching up to where these guys have been the past nine years or so. I feel good about it, but I feel like I have work to do still. Which I think is a good thing, I’m not resting on my laurels.
When you were writing Alive or Just Breathing back in 2002, did you have any idea what you were making in terms of how it would be received really well, like a classic metalcore album?
Zero idea of that. There was no concept of that in my head at all. I think where we were in our local scene, to me it was just about putting out a record that we thought was badass, that we could play shows and have fun with. I don’t think the bigger picture was really in my head at all, at that point.
You mentioned in the Hall of Fame story that you guys were initially met with some resistance from metal and hardcore fans because Killswitch didn’t really fall into either side of that. What’s it like now that those divides aren’t there as much? What’s it like looking back on that time?
It’s interesting, first of all to see where music is right now, period, with the internet and everything’s changed so much. Kinda makes you feel a little anxious sometimes but at the same time, I”m really appreciative of where we came from and the fact that things were very different back then. It gives us a bigger appreciation for the music and the blending of the styles and the fact that, you’re right, when we weren’t heavy enough for death metal but we were too metal for hardcore, and nobody really got what we were trying to do.
But for me, I think that’s great and the fact that people still care about this record is incredible to me. It’s humbling and it’s amazing, and it’s also nice because we’re able to go out and do this kind of stuff and when we play any song off that record, it’s well received live no matter what song it is. It’s a blessing.
When you were recording Alive or Just Breathing, Adam [Dutkiewicz] played guitar, drums and he did the production for that album. When you were recording that, how was the energy and attitude of the band as you were doing that, having someone playing two instruments and recording it, did that help you get closer to your vision of the album, or was it more of a necessity thing?
I think it’s just, Adam had his mind made up, he was gonna prove himself as a producer. It was his big shot and we all believed in him, and he was kind of at the driving wheel. For us, it was a matter of contributing our own ideas and allowing him to direct us. He definitely was the director of that record. And very much still is, even though we contribute a lot more these days. I give him full credit for his vision, he took songs that I wrote — I came up with “My Last Serenade” lyrically and melodically, but he polished it up. He just has this way, it’s kind of his vision. I would give him more credit than myself even though I did write all the lyrics.
Speaking of the lyrics, what did you write the lyrics about? What do they mean to you in 2017, 15 years later?
Looking back, I was a kid when I wrote them. I had a very different state of mind, I’m guessing a much different person. Unfortunately the years have made me a little more bitter and a little more realistic about the world and I think back then, I had an almost gullible view of the world, where I wanted to throw my arms around the world. The whole idea of world peace, I really believed the good of mankind will overcome and as I’ve grown up, I think I’ve accepted that there’s light and darkness and they’re both necessary for who we are as human beings.
When I look back on it, I really appreciate what I was trying to say, what I was trying to do, but my mind now, I think it was maybe a little idealistic, some of those lyrics.
You have a new beer calling Alive or Just Brewing and it’s with Cigar City Brewing. How did that come about?
We have a friend that was working with Cigar City Brewery and he used to come out to our shows, and of course we all dig beer, so it was kind of a no-brainer when we were talking about beers one night. He kind of pitched the idea, and it just so happened to coincide with our releasing of the vinyl. That wasn’t planned at all, it just happened to be that way.
So what we did was we thought hard on it and wanted to come up with something different. We all love IPAs but we thought it’d be cool to put a twist on it and give it a Massachusetts feel, and since Massachusetts is known for its cranberry bogs and ocean spray cranberries come from there, we thought it’d be cool to throw some cranberries in the mix and make it a unique IPA. It’s delicious, we had some a few days ago and it’s great.
Were you guys fans of Cigar City previously?
Oh yeah, they have a beer that we always get on our rider when we’re down there. We love that beer, it’s an amazing IPA and they’ve got a bunch of good beers. The IPA was a strong one, so it seemed like a no-brainer to do an IPA with them.