An Interview with Killswitch Engage

Coming from the melting pot of Massachusetts Metal and Hardcore in the late 90’s, Killswitch Engage started out as a supergroup of local musicians with a passion and drive to create their unmistakable sound. It’s a powerful, tight, uncompromising heaviness born from the Heavy Metal that proceeded it, seasoned with incredible passages of melodic relief.  It was a sound labelled as The New Wave of American Heavy Metal or Metalcore.

Fast forward seventeen years, seven albums, countless world tours, millions of record sales and Killswitch Engage have become one of the most influential bands in modern Heavy Metal.  They continue to create incredibly relevant, influential music and whilst photographing/talking to them at the Newport Centre show recently, it was evident why.  After all of this success, they still have an energy and a passion for their music, keeping them amazingly humble and hungry to create and perform.  I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the founding members, the incredible guitarists Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz (also the band’s producer and original drummer) about Killswitch Engage, the music and their guitars.

Who or what influenced you to start playing and what inspires you to keep playing today?

ADAM: It was definitely a mix of Eddie Van Halen, James Hetfield and Angus Young.  I think you can actually hear elements of all 3 of them in what I do as well.

JOEL: My first instrument was actually the piano. I started playing around the age of 7 and by the time I was 11-12 years old I was way into Guns n Roses and Metallica. I convinced my folks to buy me an electric guitar!

What was the first guitar you owned?

JOEL: My first guitar was a red Washburn Lyon and I still have it! [laughs]

ADAM: Mine was a Samick, they normally make pianos I think.  It cost me $100 and I ended up smashing it apart with an axe onstage at one of the New England Metal Fests we played (true story).

Adam, Being a multi-instrumentalist and originally KSE’s drummer, do you feel that affects your guitar style in any way?

ADAM: I suppose it makes me play a bit more rhythmically?  I tend to write more of the percussive riffs for the band, so I guess it makes sense?

Joel, how much of a hand in coming up with the Caparison Signature JSM did you have and what’s it like having a guitar named after yourself?

JOEL: The JSM is essentially a blend of my favourite Caparison models with its own unique body shape. It's a TAT style neck cut, with an Angelus style headstock and body construction.  I basically told Itaru (Kanno, Caparison's chief designer)  the things I liked and he took it from there and came up with the design. It's an honour to have a signature guitar with Caparison!

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How important was it having a producer in the band to help propel your innovative, signature sound and represent the years you’d spent honing your musicianship and songwriting when you started recording?

JOEL: Having Adam produce our records it great. He always has the greater good for each song in-mind, yet still approaches it from a band member's perspective... While somehow still being a producer! [laughs] It's a very cool thing.

Do you prefer recording or playing live?

ADAM: Honestly, I feel like if I get too much of one of them, I get burnt on it. [laughs]

JOEL: I think it's all about balance... It's always fun creating and recording new music. By the time the record is finished, we're usually ready to hit the road. Then by the time we get through a touring cycle, we're ready to get home start working on new stuff. It works out pretty well!

Do you record using the same guitars you use live and is a there a preference on which guitars are better used for each purpose?

ADAM: Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.  It all depends on what the part is, what kind of electronics the part calls for.  Also, it's important to make sure that the guitar is set up properly and in good shape for recording.  I can't emphasise enough the importance of a well set up guitar to record with.  A bad set up can make a good guitar unusable.

JOEL: I use my Caparisons for everything in Killswitch... Live and in the studio.

KSE have spanned such an interesting time period, considering the evolution of the music industry. Do you feel touring has more to offer a musician than making records these days?

ADAM: Financially, yes.  Not many metal bands make money from record sales nowadays. Well, unless you're Metallica and sell a crap ton of records.  Touring really is the only way to make a living now in the internet age.  BUT... I do enjoy the writing and recording process alot.  It's very rewarding to watch a song come to fruition.

JOEL: I think that playing live is probably the main source of income for most musicians these days. But it is also important to have a steady flow of new material... Otherwise, people may get sick of hearing the same songs everytime they go to a show!

I’ve always enjoyed how you guys have been so tasteful with guitar solos, making them mean something when you put one in a song. Is this a concerted effort or a coincidence?

JOEL: We usually don't set aside time in a song for a guitar solo. If it feels right it feels right. As long as it adds something to the song!

ADAM: I don't feel like I'm very good at them at all, so I don't really try to write many.  When I do, I think of it more as a musical interlude, instead of a guitar solo.  I guess it's a bit more interesting to listen to than an interlude without a guitar part?

I’ve read that for Incarnate, you guys would email ideas to each other to create a collaborative idea pool to work from when piecing together the album. Has it always been this way? Did line-up changes affect the writing method over the years?

ADAM: In the beginning, we would all write together at a practice space, and it would take FOREVER.  Now that we all live far away from each other, we do the internet demo thing.  It actually moves a lot quicker that way since the initial ideas are all fleshed out.  We've worked this way for quite some time now.

JOEL: The emailing demo approach has become a much more convenient way for us to write, as we all live in different states now! If the ideas are somewhat solidified we can make better use of our time when actually are all in the same room.

Do you guys have any set roles in the creative process?

JOEL: Not necessarily! Everyone in the band writes. It's nice to have so many ideas! The more material we have to choose from the better.

As a band, you came from a very influential time period and geographical location for modern Metal. Would you say you were influenced by your surroundings in Massachusetts? If so, as a globally successful, influential band still creating fresh, relevant material on your seventh album, do your surroundings still inspire you to create?

JOEL: I think we were very lucky to be one of the bands from that era/area that got some attention. There was a lot of cool things happening in the Metal/Hardcore scene in the mid to late 90's... We often still draw influence from our old favourites! Now we all live in new places and we have new influences from all types of music.

ADAM: Massachusetts was definitely a great place to start a band in the late 90's/early 2000's.  The scene was very supportive, and it seemed like there was always a demand for shows and supporters of those shows.  It almost felt like all of the bands during that time period were there to help each other out.  I guess I'm always inspired by everything around me.  Whatever I see, hear, feel... I'm sure it all affects me in some way.

Talking of inspiration, what advice would you give a musician who is just starting to play?

ADAM: Inspiration-wise, I'd say just create something that you completely believe in, and strive to make the best music that you possibly can, always!

JOEL: My advice to anyone starting out is if you love it, just keep doing it!  Music is a labour of love in many ways.  If you love playing music, it will always bring joy to your life, whether it's in mom's basement, on a street corner, or in front of a crowd of people.

Check out the Caparison website and our online store to find out more about the guitars!  To find out where Killswitch Engage's current UK tour is heading to next (aswell as any more tour dates) click here.  You can purchase their newest album Incarnate from their online store and make sure to checkout their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more KSE based updates.

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