Killswitch Engage Guitarist Joel Stroetzel on Reunions, Bonding, and Stalker Fans

Would you like a little bit of folk with that?

Killswitch Engage guitarist Joel Stroetzel is relaxed and ready to blow the collective minds of the Brisbane Soundwave crowd. He’s also charmingly polite, which makes my job a whole lot easier, and so we begin the Petersen/Metal As Fuck interrogation.
Having ex-vocalist Jesse Leach rejoin in 2012, was there an urge to go backwards with KSE’s sound? “It kind of happened naturally – even the music we wrote before Jesse rejoined – we just wanted to do a kind of fast, crazy record and were excited to be writing again, and I think you can kind of hear that in the songs.”

Jesse rejoined during the Trespass tour (2012) and you guys delayed recording the vocals so Jesse could ‘rebond’ – was that an easy process? “Yeah! It was really easy. He came in and we had most of the album instrumentally recorded and we played a couple of tracks and he was like ‘Let’s not rush this’ so we spent the summer together, had some beers, did some touring. He got settled in and we went back [to the studio] and he really felt like a part of it – it was the right move.” So he slotted back in well? “Yeah! It was really easy, man. It was really easy. It was really funny because when Howard (Jones, ex-vocalist) came in, it was really easy with him and now Jesse’s come back…”

Speaking of Howard, both he and Jesse quit from musical fatigue and/or disillusionment, so I ask if Joel ever feels like quitting. He steadfastly rejects the idea. “I’ve never really felt that way. Sometimes if you tour too much and you do two or three months in a row and don’t get much time at home, it gets kinda hard but at the same time, if you have a good time and love playing the music…there’s not really anything else I’d rather do.” Did I just hear a sigh of relief from all the KSE fans across the globe?

Tell me what the ‘rebonding’ process involved; just hanging out and drinking beer? “Yeah, just being there, you know? I think me and Adam (Dutkiewicz, guitar) had a little bit of a chance to do that with Times of Grace and we realised then that we really missed this guy because we had such a great time.”

In my mind, Jesse never went away, he simply went from Killswitch to Times of Grace, and Joel agrees: “We always remained friends with him over the years; it wasn’t like a nasty thing,” and he adds “Same thing with Howard; it came time to go and it was OK …”

The single In Due Time has been getting some good reactions, are you happy with how it’s been received? “So far, so good. It’s been good, man. We put it up on Youtube and we’ve had a lot of people check it out. Obviously peoples’ comments are mixed on there but a lot of people like it.”

That’s the trouble with social media; every peanut and his dog is a critic. Joel tells me that after Soundwave, the band are off to Europe to ply their trade at the festivals, and says that he loves playing both the large gigs and the sweaty, gritty clubs. So what’s better, touring or recording? “It’s funny; when you get sick of one then it’s time to do the other.” He laughs and adds “It kinda all works out. You spend a couple of years on the road and you get sick of that then you go home, take a break. It all works out.”

Mike D’Antonio (bass) cites a lot old school hardcore bands such as the Cro-mags, Agnostic Front, and Madball as influences on him. What about you? “When I was growing up I played a lot of thrash metal like Slayer, Testament, Megadeth and Metallica, that kind of stuff so I grew up learning to play guitar to that…”

He admits that to play on the same bill as Metallica is “crazy” and graciously acknowledges “It’s just an honour to be around them…”
So Mike has Death Ray Vision as a side project; tell me about what you’re doing aside from KSE and Times of Grace. “I have another band called Brothers Born, it’s more like indie-rock, folky stuff – just to get a break from the metal – so I do that on the side…” So you like a bit of folk? “Yeah, I do. I love metal but when you’re around it all day; it’s nice to just put on something mellow…”

Jesse has said that he’s stoked to be on bill with Tomahawk and the legendary Mike Patton – Joel agrees but is also keen to catch Perfect Circle’s set. I suspect that won’t be happening as they’re both on around the same time.

So you’ll be pushing  the new album Disarm The Descent for the next few months but then what? “I do think we’re gonna try to get back to writing and recording sooner this time. It’s been too long between records for us; three or four years between records (Killswitch Engage, 2009) and we don’t wanna do that again.” So I ask if there’ll be any particular style or theme for the as yet unwritten album. What a ridiculous question; they’ve only just finished their latest one. Joel reckons the band will just follow their  instincts “We haven’t planned anything – I guess we’ll just sit down and play and see what comes out. We don’t particularly pay too much attention to ‘styles’; if we like it we use it.”

So having Jesse back in the fold, will that take you off in a new musical direction? “It’s hard to say. I think on the new record there’s a lot of different stuff vocally. Jesse has a lot of different voices; a kind of rock and roll thing and a hard-core and metal scream. He does a lot of different stuff. We’ll have to see what happens, he’s still getting settled in and it’s his first record with us in a long time. We’ll see.”

Joel tells me of an instance when a (psycho?) fan turned up at his parents’ house yet he’s quite mellow about the whole thing (“I’m sure the guy was nice enough…”) and that pretty much sums up his attitude; he just seems to deal with stuff as it comes up, though he doesn’t encourage fans to do crazy shit like that: “You can’t really just show up at someone’s house – there’s ways to go about it if you wanna talk to somebody [in the band]. It is what it is though; I got no hard feelings.”

And if Jesse decides to take another break, will you get Howard back in? Again, he’s unfazed, “Who knows, man! We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…”

And is there anything you’d like to add before you’re whisked off a nearby stage to blow the crowd away? “The record’s out 2nd April in the US so hopefully everyone will dig it…”
Note:  According to Road Runner’s website, it’s out in Oz at the end of March. Hoorah!