Nearing the end of their recent European Tour with Trivium, Killswitch Engage played a series of sold out dates across the UK and Ireland earlier this month. Shortly before their packed show in Birmingham drummer Justin Foley took time out to speak to ThisIsNotAScene‘s Dewie about the return of Jesse, his shoulder injury, his influences and much more besides…
So – it’s been ten years now since you joined Killswitch Engage?
Yeah – it’s scary to think it’s been that long. It’s absolutely flown by!
The new album, with Jesse back, sounds energised – you’re really firing on all four cylinders…
Oh thanks…I feel that way – I definitely feel that way – I’m pretty sure the other guys do too and I’m glad it comes across on the record. Jesse has just brought a shot of adrenaline coming back in and being around him is so exciting because he’s excited to do this – he’s a very positive dude.
You’ve become way more established since he left the band and he’s not been doing big tours like this – does he bring a fresh perspective to it?
Yeah sure, and we’re going to places he hasn’t been to that we’ve already been to like Ireland which is great.
How was the recording of the album for you – fun? Or is drum tracking still pretty gruelling stuff?
(Laughs) It’s good – I just get it done, but we try to keep it fun. As much as I love being on the road I’m starting to itch to get back to writing new stuff and go through that whole process again.
What have the reactions been to the songs with blastbeats on the new album – Testament got some negative reaction not so long ago when Gene stuck some blast beats on their album?
I haven’t had any negative reactions at all. I think when you’re working on an album and trying to keep it energetic it helps…you know – when you get stuck on a part you just a stick a blastbeat in it (laughs) and initially it was kind of a joke but we sat back and then thought “actually that’s kinda cool, we should leave that in”. I really like the blastbeat in The Call, in terms of contrast too – it’s in the chorus so there’s singing with the blastbeat underneath – it works well.
How do you write the drum tracks?
Well a lot of the time people come in with a demo and they’ve done most of the song and so there’s some drum work on there too and it sounds great so it pretty much stays that way, but other times we’re not sure what to do with it and it’s really all over the place and we all have ideas about “try that part here” or whatever – and it all just comes together.
Do you find it’s quite a restrictive genre to play in as a drummer – lots of fast double kick work etc – is it difficult to keep it varied and interesting – for yourself as much as anything?
A little bit sometimes – just a little bit – but fortunately I really like this music so I enjoy playing it – it is always interesting and fun for me – I enjoy it and I try to keep it varied.
Your early background was more jazz-oriented wasn’t it, with Red Tide?
Yeah that was waaaay way back…
But with all the variations there and the time changes, does that approach help with what you bring to Killswitch Engage?
I suppose – I guess everything helps – everyone has their own gigantic lump of influences and stuff they’ve done in the past and I really think that everything you hear and play turns you into what you are now. Clearly now I couldn’t have a drum part that was as crazy as something on those Red Tide tracks, but it all ties in to a unifying language.
Dave Lombardo has always been one of my favourite metal drummers and I remember as a kid finding out his background was in jazz…
I think it helps you to think outside of the box as to how you’d approach a part and come up with something you might not do if you only played in straight metal bands.
When you’re not playing, writing and recording what do you listen to – a lot of metal – or do you steer away from that?
Literally everything across the board. When I’m at home practising I put my ipod on random and just play along to whatever comes on…soemthing heavy will come up and then a Weezer song will come on or Sigur Ros – and as long as I can just jam along to it, it’s great…
Do you play a lot when you’re not on the road then?
Yeah, yeah – I’m often mad at myself that I don’t play more because I do sometimes get home from a tour and I get tired and I get lazy, but I’m soon back into it and yeah I do play quite a bit when I’m home.
Do you do a lot to stay in shape – the work of a touring drummer playing this kind of music must be pretty exhausting?
It is…I don’t do a whole lot else – lots of drumming, and maybe I go out and play golf occasionally.
What drummers still inspire you these days when you listen to them?
From the heavy end, well you mentioned Gene [Hoglan] – he’s just unbelievable. We just did a tour with them and it was incredible to watch him play every night. I remember going to see Death as a kid and he punished those drums pretty hard (laughs). He was always a huge influence.
How about Neil Peart…I’m sure I read somewhere he was another of your heroes?
Oh absolutely! I saw them on the Clockwork tour and… MAN… they can all still really play. It was just awesome and that’s really complicated stuff he plays. When I was talking about my practising…if any of those Rush songs come up on the ipod, they will wear you out! He still does it every night and does it so well and he still hits so hard. It’s great he’s still playing at such a high level and is still inspiring me now. It’s not just “Oh yeah he was inspiring when he was younger” – I mean NOW. To this day his writing and playing is so impressive.
Last time I saw Killswitch in the UK was last year – in the middle of some European festivals you did a couple of small shows in England and….
Yeah, those are the ones I missed.
Yeah, what was the story behind that?
I hurt myself, basically – just riding my bike in my neighbourhood – which is a quiet neighbourhood – and came off. I don’t remember how it happened – I was concussed – but I fractured my clavicle and was out of commission for a long time. I had to have surgery and I have a plate and screws in there now…I spent three months in a sling so I couldn’t play at all.
Does that still give you problems then…that’s not just a bump – that’s pretty serious stuff?
Nope, not really. When I first saw the x-ray I was horrified and the doctors didn’t know what was going to happen. The last tour we did with Lamb Of God in the states…the two weeks before that tour started was literally the first time I could play after months out of action. The first week I was playing it gave me a little bit of trouble – not so much pain, I was just stiff – especially when I would go around the kit, say, to the floors over here [floor toms] I would have to be really careful not to reach but turn properly from the waist. At the beginning of the tour I got a little sore but I think that was just because the muscles hadn’t been used in a while, but by the end of the tour it was fine and nowadays I don’t think about it at all.
Well that’s good to hear…I have to admit I still had a great time at the Rescue Rooms gig even though you weren’t there….I always go a bit nuts when Life To Lifeless starts
(Laughs) ah well that’s good…we’re not playing it on this tour though…it’s one of thoise songs we play a lot and we swtich it in and out of the set. We tend top play it at festivals a lot – it’s a really good festival song, just the right tempo and it’s got that groove that gets people…[starts battering the drum intro on his thighs with his hands] it’s the groove you need for gigfantic fields full of drunk people!
You’ve never been a band that has been very public about internal politics but when Jesse left, then Howard left…was there ever a point where you were worried about the future of the band or were you always certain the core of the band was strong enough…
It was natural to think that especially at the last changeover – you know a third singer is a pretty difficult thing…
Audiences can be fickle at times?
Exactly, and it had been a long time since we played live when Howard left and we had no idea who would be the next singer – I mean Jesse wasn’t even on our radar really – we didn’t think he would be interested, but then it turned out he was and…well he’s just done such an incredible job. Since we started playing with him again – it felt SO right and even if it didn’t work for some of the audience – even if people weren’t going to be that interested in the next record we knew that it was the right thing to do for us and this was the way the band was going to be. Before that it was a little scary I guess, but once it felt right with Jesse back, that’s all that mattered.
Knowing why he left – that he didn’t like the idea of touring or being the frontman and focal point, I think a lot of us fans were worried how well he’d gel when he came back, but having seen him on stage last year he looked so comfortable…it was great to see.
Right, right. I mean it’s great for us to see as well (laughs). He needed to make sure he could connect with someone else’s lyrics as much as his own lyrics and be sure they meant something to him as he sang them. Once he was able to do that and really feel confident doing that then it was just fantastic.
I think it reflects really well on him and on you as a band that he wasn’t ready to just come in and sing the Howard-era stuff karaoke style – he wanted to make sure he connected with the lyrics so he could deliver them with passion…
But that’s because those lyrics mean so much to our fans – so they’re not going to hang around if the songs that they love are some half-assed version and just couldn’t do that.
I have to say, it was incredibly shitty luck to get nominated for a Grammy the same year Sabbath got nominated
(Lots of laughter)
I mean, Sabbath were never going to be anything other than the winners in a thing like that were they, but despite being a lifelong Sabbath fan, 13 didn’t do much for me at all…
Of course Black Sabbath‘s going to win – of course, but there are millions of bands out there and just to be nominated is so cool, genuinely. Sabbath were always going to win and we expected that but it was still really nice to get nominated when there are so many other bands around. [In Due Time, from the latest album Disarm the Descent, was nominated for a Grammy in 2013]
So next up you’re off to Ukraine, Belarus, South Africa…are these all new places to you?
Everything in the next leg is new except St Petersburg and Moscow…although when we played there before it was with Howard, and also Adam was out with his back injury and so we played as a four-piece – so in actual fact only three of us have done those places before.
What are the crowds like in that part of the world?
Well they don’t get so many big tours there, although they’re getting more now which is great – but the fans are really excitable – it’s great fun.
Do you get much time between shows to look around and go sightseeing?
It’s really hit and miss – last time we were in Moscow for instance and we went to Red Square and spent a whole day off looking round and it was amazing. It’s great when we do get chance to do that, but you never know.
You mentioned getting back into the studio again, do any of you have any parts or riffs ready or not yet?
No, it’s not so much we have stuff ready – we’re just thinking ahead. We have touring plans right through the summer so any writing will have to wait until the fall. It feels like the record has been out a while, but I guess it’s only April. I think a lot of it is having Jesse back too. On this record we had almost all the music done before we had figured out the new singer, so on the next album it will be – from the get-go – all five of us together writing and jamming and I think that’s what we’re all really looking forward to.
Finally…if I wanted to get hold of Themes Of The Cosmic Consciousness, how would I go about that?
(Laughs) Ohhhh, man – I don’t know…I’ve never seen it anywhere as an album.
You can get hold of a couple of tracks online or they’re on YouTube, but…
Yeah, I’ve never actually seen it on sale anywhere so…if you want a copy – you got a flash drive on you? We didn’t do many copies of that. The one after that I still have 200 copies of that in my basement. (laughs)
You need to get those up on Ebay…
Nah…no-one gives a shit I don’t think.
I think people would be interested – stuff like that where it’s essentially thrash but there’s a whole lot more going on, like with Sadus and Blind Illusion.
Really…wow – it was so long ago though – like 1996 – but it’s really cool to see more experimental stuff becoming more popular. Between The Buried And Me are doing stuff I don’t think we would have been physically able to play in Red Tide back then and so it’s great to see it has a wider audience.
Well, it’s been a genuine pleasure chatting to you and thank you for taking the time