ALIVE AND BREATHING
Interview with Howard Jones of KILLSWITCH ENGAGE by Christopher J. Kelter
When "Alive or Just Breathing," the sophomore effort from Killswitch Engage, arrived in my "to-be-reviewed" package, I wasn't really looking forward to reviewing a Roadrunner Records release. The last laugh was on me as "Alive Or Just Breathing" blew me away in more ways than one. When I heard that Killswitch Engage was joining the latest In Flames headlining trek through North America I knew I’d have to check them out. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to speak with vocalist Howard Jones before the show. Jones had only been in the band for about eight weeks when I spoke with him.
Rough Edge: Well, first things first, tell us a little bit about Jesse Leach leaving the band and you getting in the vocalist slot.
Howard Jones: Jesse was basically having some health issues with his throat, he was a newlywed, and things of that nature so he basically decided to step down. So I heard about the opening, but I really didn’t do anything about it right away, but then decided I should give Mike (D'Antonio) a call. We talked and they were still having auditions with a bunch of people and he invited me for an audition. I met the guys and fudged my way through a song or two. A couple of days later they invited me back to play on a couple of more songs. I fudged my way through a couple of more songs at the second session, but they called me back a few days later and asked if I wanted to be a part of Killswitch. I said "sure" and they told me I had to learn all the songs in a week and a half. The first show I did was Hellfest and here we are eight weeks later touring with In Flames.
Rough Edge: So, kind of like a trial by fire, but not exactly?
Howard Jones: Yes, it kind of was, but kind of not. I'd known the guys in the band for a while, but it was definitely a crash course once I was in the band.
Rough Edge: You're originally from Massachusetts as well?
Howard Jones: I'm from Connecticut.
Rough Edge: When you first got in the band how did you deal with the dichotomy between the heaviness and the melody? Was that something you were comfortable with?
Howard Jones: To some extent I was comfortable with it. My previous band was similar to some degree to Killswitch Engage although we weren't a full-time band. The adjustment wasn't too tough. Jesse's voice is in a little higher register than mine. But we manage without making the songs sound too different from when they were done with Jesse.
Rough Edge: I know the band writes as a group - do you plan on contributing as a writer with the band when that time comes?
Howard Jones: Yeah,
we're going to write more material once Winter comes around and I'll be a part of the process.
Rough Edge: By having everyone involved in the songwriting process, is it still a democratic process?
Howard Jones: Everyone has input in the writing. The songs are discussed before hand. Actually, I'm getting a little nervous about it, because "Alive Or Just Breathing" is a pretty incredible album. I am looking forward to participating in the writing sessions because these guys are incredible musicians and songwriters.
Rough Edge: Let's take a look at your perspective of the band especially since the last year has been a difficult time for everyone due to the events of September 11th and now it's looking like the economy isn't looking so good, corporate scandals, and so forth. There's a whole generation of kids who don't know what a bad economy is like and adults who've gotten too comfortable with decade-long prosperity. Boom - all of the sudden people are in for a rude awakening. Are you privy to knowing that's what the band has written about in the past or maybe that these economic times will have an angle on the new record?
Howard Jones: I can see where Jesse is coming from based on his lyrics and his viewpoints - how he viewed so much evil in the world and how he perceives how we can change it. It's cool how he had such a positive outlook on things. Jesse is definitely a believer in the spirit of man and rising above troubles. I can't speak for him, but it's pretty apparent that's were he stands. I do think the economy is playing a bit of a role in the attendance drop-off with not as much money going around. As far as the way I write it might have an effect on the new songs. I write as things just pop in my head. If I try to write with a set topic in mind it usually turns out pretty bad - I just jot things down as they come to me.
Rough Edge: When I look at Killswitch Engage I see a bit of the DIY approach. How has the DIY approach served the band with Adam as producer and Mike as the artist? Has it made the band stronger? Have you seen the DIY approach in action in the short time you’ve been with the band?
Howard Jones: The band is incredibly self-reliant. The band basically started with Adam and Mike saying they wanted to see what they could make of it. And it all came together pretty fast. They just kept pushing and pushing even when no one else cared - it's easy to see how they busted their butts to make it happen.
Rough Edge: Yeah, when I got the record I said to myself, "I should know these guys, but I haven't really heard of them? Why's that?"
Howard Jones: Well, they were known a little bit in the underground, but the real deal is how they took the time to make the songs the best they could by redoing them over and over until it was right. And it shows - the album is a testament of what those five guys were cable of doing. Even though I'm in the band now I still listen to "Alive Or Just Breathing" for enjoyment.
Rough Edge: Well, that's the thing. Outside of Fear Factory the Roadrunner label hasn't really catered to my personal interests and certainly didn't make me have any high expectations for the record. I think I put it away for a few days and didn't even listen to it simply because it was on the Roadrunner label. And shame on me for thinking like that.
Howard Jones: Yeah, that's true.
Rough Edge: It's gotta be a tough situation to have to change any member of a band when someone leaves, but that's especially true when a vocalist leaves a band. Maybe the switch wasn't difficult for you because it is something you wanted, but was it difficult for the band switch to have you join in?
Howard Jones: In a way I think it was difficult for the other guys in the band because the band wanted to tour and with his throat problems he couldn't really do much touring. I know they went through a number of people in auditions trying to find the fit they thought was right. I sensed they were definitely stressed about being put in a situation where they had to find a new singer. They were getting great tour offers, but didn’t have a singer!
Rough Edge: Any thoughts on being a part of killer concert line-up, yet the only American band with two of the other bands coming to North America for their first tours? Do you feel like an outsider?
Howard Jones: (chuckles) Just another day in the adventures of Killswitch Engage. (laughs) In a way this line-up is great. We are playing with In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and Sentenced - all fantastic bands. Bands that we've all listened to and enjoyed for the longest time. But at the same time we’re in the same vein as those bands with just a different, more American sound and style. But in a way it is also intimidating because it's IN FLAMES! In Flames have been around for years. Dark Tranquillity have been around for years. Sentenced have been around for years. It's definitely unnerving.
Rough Edge: So is being a part of this tour a test for Killswitch Engage? Or just another opportunity?
Howard Jones: We look at it both ways. It's a test because we are playing to a different type of crowd than we've played to before; we try our best to win over a few fans and hopefully more than a few. But it's been a good opportunity because the shows have turned out really well - we've turned a test into a big positive.
Rough Edge: Any particular areas of North America been better than others?
Howard Jones: Yeah, the shows in California and Texas went really well. In all honesty most of the pretty good - and we've been stunned by the response. There's no way to explain it. It's an amazing thing and we thank everyone - all bands are thankful. But this has been particularly heartfelt. It's great to see kids enjoying the set whether they're just nodding their head along with the music or slamming in the pit - it's great to see the reactions.
Rough Edge: Is being from Massachusetts and the newest wave of bands a good thing or a bad thing - if one could characterize such things as good or bad?
Howard Jones: There are always good bands coming out of Massachusetts no matter what the style is. Massachusetts just turns out good bands. Anywhere in New England you can travel two or three hours and see a good band.
Rough Edge: I'm always interested in the technical aspects of albums - have you heard anything from the other guys in the band about how Andy Sneap got involved in the record? I mean anything he does sounds great.
Howard Jones: Well, just from talking to Adam I've learned that Sneap has an amazing ear - everything he touches turns to gold. I wish I was there to see it happen, because from what I hear the guy is amazing.
Rough Edge: What are the future plans for the band?
Howard Jones: Well, we're touring in Europe the rest of the Fall and squeezing in writing new songs when we can. I'm sure we’ll do local shows all over New England when we get the chance to play and eventually we'll get around to writing and recording the next Killswitch Engage album.
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400.