Interview: Killswitch Engage

By May 11, 2013 August 23rd, 2016 Features, Interviews

In our latest interview we talk (for ages) on the phone to drummer Justin Foley of legendary metallers, Killswitch Engage. The band has just finished playing a string of shows in the UK and are getting ready for their big US tour this summer to promote their most recent album, ‘Disarm The Descent’. Justin talks to us about the phenomenal success of the band in the past 10 years, how he relaxes when he’s not on the road, and his relationship with the rest of the group.

Killswitch Engage

“To do a project with Jesse [Leach] was a really big deal for me” – Justin Foley

Justin first explains how well all the bands on this tour are getting on with each other, “Recently the guys on tour have been doing a drinking game during the last song where they drink every time Adam D squeals and they’ve been going through like three beers a song every night. It’s kind of ridiculous. Everyone’s been having fun with each other.”

As a drummer we wanted to know what was going through Justin’s mind when one of our favourite tracks off the new album, ‘You Don’t Bleed For Me’ was being put together. “I actually wrote most of the music for that one. I sat around at my house, and came up with the riffs and when I brought the song into practice Adam and Joe jazzed up one of the riffs. The song kind of stayed as it was. I think Jesse really likes that tune and he’s really into the hook that’s in it and I think he’s really proud of that one. Just as a whole we’re really proud of the record and excited to be playing new stuff for everyone.”

With ‘Disarm The Descent’ being the band’s sixth studio album, Justin tells about his favorite track off the album and how it relates to the band as a whole. “I think in general, start to finish I’m really excited and happy with the record but for me personally the one that I’m most excited to play live and that I’m really the most proud of is ‘New Awakening’. I think that song is a good definition of the album as a whole and the energy on the record; just the vibe that the band was feeling when we were finally tracking again, it’s kind of the way we feel when we go out on tour and play. When we play it live, we have a lot of good sing-a-longs and it seems to go over very well.”

With Killswitch Engage being such an influential band in the metal world, we asked Justin how he feels comparing where the band is now to the success they’ve had recently with ‘As Daylight Dies’. ‘I guess it still feels very present now because we play those songs live and we get a terrific response from them. If you really sit and think about it, that was a very long time ago, but everything still seems very fresh to us, and the energy is still really there with those songs. I don’t know how to look at us yet, since we’re still going we kind of go forward and we have songs from the past that we play but we also have a lot of stuff that we just wrote and we’re proud of. So far everything we’ve played live has gone over just as well as some of the popular old songs.”

Over the past 10 plus years playing music together the band have gone through six albums, countless tours, and several lineup changes including their most recent change in lead vocalists. Justin talks us through the evolution of the band and how well they work together. “As a group, we try to focus on what we do well as a band. We know what our sound is and what our strengths are and we play to our strengths and work on the weaknesses. In general when you’re a touring musician and you play so many shows over so many years and you’re playing every night you naturally develop a tightness with each other so it’s an impossible thing to simulate unless you’re touring out there all the time. Anyone that’s been out there touring for as many years as we have will feel the same way; that they can connect musically with people on stage a lot more easily than before.”

Continuing with the discussion of the band’s evolutions, Justin talks about the recent change in lead vocals they faced from their singer for the past nine years, Howard Jones, back to the band’s original vocalist, Jesse Leach. “At first it was very scary because we didn’t know what we were going to do and who was going to sing and after Jesse expressed interest and we did the whole audition process, he was obviously the guy for it. As soon as we started moving forward with him, he put his vocals over the demos we had written and just in general getting in a room and playing with him, it was immediately exciting and rejuvenating and it was a huge kick in the ass that we were all really happy to get. It’s been so much fun and it’s great having him on the road and playing shows with him, I’ve been a fan of him for forever and to actually do a project with him was a really big deal for me.”

Anyone that’s ever been to a Killswitch Engage show can see how close the band is, and how well they work together. Justin discusses a recent quote from an interview with Jesse that says the band is a more cohesive unit than 10 years ago. “We’re unbelievably close, it’s amazing how much time we spend together. It’s good that we like each other so much because it would be hell if we hated each other, a lot of bands do it without getting along personally, but we don’t have to worry about that, we all have a great time together on the road. We’re with each other constantly laughing. It doesn’t ever feel like it’s a job out here so it’s pretty sweet.”

Moving on, we asked Justin if inspirations for his other project, The Blood Has Been Shed are different from his inspirations used when playing with Killswitch Engage. “It’s definitely different, when I was doing that stuff, it was a much different sounding band [to Killswitch]. Kind of all over the place and crazy, a lot heavier. You kind of have to approach each band with what’s best for them but in general the more you listen to and the more people you play with makes you a better musician in different ways. Like the Killswitch thing, I know what the band needs but you can always get a different perspective, so it all comes from being any kind of musician and just opening up yourself to as much music and experience as you can and using it on your current focus.”

With all the success that Killswitch Engage has experienced since forming in 1999 we asked Justin what some of the biggest challenges were of being in the band in 2013. “I think we need to make sure that we play the right tours because now that the record’s out we have to tour a lot. I don’t want to play in front of the same people constantly, it’s so complicated and things move so quickly now. People could forget about us in six months and if it happen it happens, but we’ve been so lucky that we’ve been able to go on for so long. Right now we feel good about it and we need to keep the energy up in our shows. That’s all we can control right now, what we do when we’re on stage. Which is fine because I think that we’ve been pretty good at that over the years so I think it’s a strength of ours.”

Justin tells us about the band’s plans for the rest of 2013. “We’ve got a US tour right when we get home from this one with As I Lay Dying. We’re going to be back in Europe for festivals in August. It’ll be a short run for some of the later festivals and after that we were going to tour some more. No confirmed line up yet, but I’m sure it’s going to be good whatever it ends up being. We’re just going to be on the road all the time.” When we asked Justin what outside of music inspires him he explains his love of baseball to us. ‘I love going home and watching baseball, it’s my favorite thing to do. I go home and lay on the couch and watch baseball, so I’m looking forward to that.’ When we ask if any of the other guys in the band share Justin’s love of the game he explains the rivalry between him and guitarist, Adam Dutkiewicz. ‘Adam and I hate each other when it comes to sports but we love each other the same way. I’m a Yankees fan he’s a red sox fan. Sports brings out the most psychotic in everyone.”

We ask Justin how he feels about writing lyrics like he previously did for Red Tide and how he enjoyed contributing to the musical process outside of drumming. “I haven’t written lyrics in 12-15 years and I’m more than happy to let Jesse handle that job. As far as being able to contribute something with guitar and everything I like that very much. I understand I’m not nearly the player the other guys are but whatever little bit I can give is pretty satisfying.” He continues by explaining how the entire band has a voice in the creative process “By the time a song is done everybody’s added something or had their opinion, whether it’s just arrangement or a specific riff or note in a riff. It really is a reflection of all five of us when you hear the end product.”

After playing the drums for so many years with the same band and touring so frequently, we asked Justin what keeps him inspired and motivated as a musician. “The fan reaction absolutely. Playing in front of them and hearing everybody singing the songs in different parts of the world, it’s amazing. It never gets old. No matter what kind of day you’re having when you get up there and see people with smiles on their faces singing your songs you can’t help but feel incredible immediately so that’s what does it for me.”

To end the interview on a (slightly) darker note we asked Justin what his weapon of choice would be in the event of a zombie apocalypse. “It would be Adam’s stage clothes because they smell so awful. If we somehow had a shield of Adam’s stage clothes’ scent no zombie would understand that we were human and they wouldn’t bother us.”