Flip The Switch

Howard Jones is disappointed. When the singer for metalcore band Killswitch Engage sits down for a conversation with INKED, it’s easy to get the feeling he’d rather be chatting with Bass Fishing Monthly. We don’t take it personally. “Anytime I get the opportunity to fish you can count me in,” a scratchy-voiced Jones says while casting lures somewhere in Canada (he claims he has no idea where he actually is). “When I was a teenager I kind of drifted away from it, and then it sort of got sprung back into my life—and how unfortunate for those who sprung it back into my life,” he says with a laugh. “[Guitarist] Adam [Dutkiewicz] has gone with me a few times, but the rest of the band pretty much just get annoyed with me because that’s all I talk about.”

While Jones loves to talk bait and tackle, he’s far less interested in conversing about his tattoos and his band’s fifth full-length, Killswitch Engage; in fact, he sounds palpably pained when the subject of the band’s latest disc is broached. “I spent so much time on this album I don’t even know if I can talk about it,” he admits with a sigh before adding, “It was a difficult time, but hey, I did my best.”

Jones’s reaction seems largely due to the fact that for the first time in Killswitch’s decade-long career, the band brought in an outside coproducer in the form of Brendan O’Brien. The prominent producer, known for his work with mega-acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, was a big Killswitch fan prior to working with the band. “Brendan likes metal, but he likes metal with melody—and that’s why he was into our band,” Jones says. “So he really wanted to push the melodic aspect.”
O’Brien’s appreciation didn’t mean that this tight-knit group—which also includes bassist Mike D’Antonio, guitarist Joel Stroetzel, and drummer Justin Foley—weren’t apprehensive about bringing someone into their circle. “When we first hooked up with [Brendan] he was saying stuff like, ‘I don’t like metal records—they’re too impersonal, and we need to make it sound warmer,’” D’Antonio explains from the bus during a rare day off, which the band’s non-fishing-obsessed members have spent at the Mall of America, in Minnesota. “It took a lot for us all to agree on Brendan because he was definitely talking about a lot of stuff that didn’t make sense in our world. We’re used to that really metallic, heavy, thick sound that needs to be tight and impersonal in order to make it sound less sloppy.”
In order to achieve the proper balance of melody and Killswitch-worthy aggression, the band decided to divide the production duties between O’Brien and Dutkiewicz, who had produced every other Killswitch album as well as albums for bands such as As I Lay Dying and Every Time I Die. “Adam is so involved in this band that it wouldn’t be a possibility to make a record without his hand in things,” D’Antonio says. “Adam took on at least 50 to 60 percent of the duties himself, and that’s our comfort zone right there.”

The result is Killswitch Engage, an album that is a definite departure for the seasoned metalcore act yet still retains the raw aggression that made them one of the most exciting acts in the genre. From the power (metalcore) ballad and first single, “Take Me Away,” to the old-school Metallica thrash vibe of “I Would Do Anything” and brutal breakdowns and melodic flourishes of the album’s first track, “Never Again,” Killswitch Engage is unquestionably the band’s most varied effort to date. “The only thing we consciously tried to do was push ourselves to not sound like every other album we’ve done,” Jones says when asked what the catalyst was for the band’s sonic shift.

D’Antonio shares the feeling, adding that while he’s proud of all of KsE’s releases, the parallels between the band’s last two albums—2004’s slick The End Of Heartache and 2006’s return to form, As Daylight Dies—were at least partially responsible for why they felt the need to step outside of their comfort zone. “There were a lot of similarities between our last two records,” he says. “We didn’t intend for that to occur, but when you’re comfortable in the studio, sometimes things like that can happen—and then when you look back at it you’re like, ‘Oh, whoa, okay.’ But I think this [album] is definitely a departure.”

Once the members of Killswitch decided it was time to push their sound in a new direction, they felt liberated. “I think we’re all about pushing envelopes, and I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do right now musically,” D’Antonio says. “We’re constantly pushing and pulling and we’re our own worst enemies. I think we’re all really critical about what we do,” he elaborates, adding that this tension was exacerbated by the fact that vocals for the album weren’t added until the music was already completed. “Everyone felt really solid about the instruments, but the vocals weren’t close to being done before we left the studio, so it was sort of like a ‘wait and see, let’s hope for the best’ kind of thing,” says D’Antonio. “And when we finally got the rough tracks from Brendan with Howard’s vocals we were pretty stoked.”

Jones says the biggest lyrical inspiration on this album was the fact that he didn’t listen to anything while he was conceptualizing his vocals. “While we were recording and writing I didn’t listen to a single note of outside music, so I’m out of touch,” he responds with a laugh when asked about the current metal scene. “Ask me that in six months and I’ll be able to answer it correctly.” To date, Jones hasn’t even heard a finished version of Killswitch Engage, nor does it seem like he has interest in hearing it anytime soon. “I haven’t listened to crap,” he elaborates, adding that he doesn’t even own a copy of any of the band’s previous recordings. “I lived [this album] for so long that I’m over it,” he explains. “I just want Adam to get out of the back of the bus where he’s mixing it so I can watch fishing programs.”

Jones’s lack of interest also extends to talking about his tattoo work. When asked to describe his ink, he curtly responds, “I have a bunch of crap, that’s the best explanation,” before telling a story about how he got his first tattoo from a coked-up biker while he was in his early 20s. “The guy would stop and take a break, and when he’d come back to start tattooing again he’d be wiping his nose,” he explains. “I was looking up at this guy going, ‘What’s happening? I don’t get this,’ because I had no idea what he was doing. And when I look back I go, ‘Oh, I get it now.’ If I had known then, things might have been different,” he adds. So what exactly did this coked-out biker actually ink on the frontman? “Bad art,” Jones responds. “Next question.”

Although D’Antonio has his share of regrettable ink, he’s more interested in discussing his tattoo experiences. “My learner’s permit actually said [my birthday] was five months earlier than my actual birthday, so the day that it said I turned 18 I went to Tattoo America and got some flash off the wall,” he recalls. “I got this pretty terrible sun on my back that I wish I’d never got, but from then on I was hooked.” Now that he’s in his mid-30s, D’Antonio is far more confident about what type of art he chooses to have immortalized on his body, most notably a three-quarter sleeve of Japanese art that was influenced by the ’70s anime cartoon Force Five. “When we went over to Japan for the first time and I noticed that they had all these robots everywhere, I re-fell in love with the artwork and everyone just having so much respect for each other over there,” he says. “What goes into Japanese art is just so amazing.”

While the band don’t show much of their ink in photo shoots, the best place to check a glimpse is their explosive—and fun—live shows, where you might see Dutkiewicz running circles around the stage in short shorts or Jones making self-deprecating jokes between songs. “We think that the metal world takes itself way too seriously,” Dutkiewicz says. “There’s no smiling going on onstage for three-quarters of the metal world, and I think that’s unfortunate. We enjoy ourselves, we have a good time, and we want the crowd to have fun too—we don’t want them to bring their problems to the show. We want them to release them and have fun.”

Jones shares a similar outlook with D’Antonio when it comes to the band’s tendency to swim against the metal world’s preconceived norms. “I think there’s a place for everything when it comes to metal, and our place is to be silly and do what we do,” he says. “We don’t emulate anyone; we just go onstage and try to enjoy ourselves. And at the end of the day, if you can walk away from a show—whether you played it or watched it—and you enjoyed it, that’s its own reward.”

While many acts are fixated on sales and chart position, Killswitch Engage are content simply to play music and have a realistic approach when it comes to long-term expectations. “We’re not going to be the Rolling Stones or U2; we’re not going to be around for 30 years doing this,” Jones acknowledges. “So we do our best and then say, ‘Let’s chill out, have a good meal, and do something fun.’ And for me, I want to go fishing.”

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