Joel Stroetzel on the new Killswitch Engage album and tour

Positivity personified...

Joel Stroetzel is chilling on his couch at home. He’s enjoying it while he can because next week everything goes mental for Killswitch Engage. Their seventh album, Incarnate, drops and they kick off a massive March to August tour across the US, Europe and everywhere in between. He’s exceptionally positive and remarkably cool considering....

It’s been three years since Disarm the Descent (2013), and the new album Incarnate;  it’s (obviously) still inherently Killswitch but it’s also very different to your previous release. What makes it so? “Yeah – it’s a little different; I’m not sure how much of a conscious decision it was to do that but I think it’s a little bit denser. Musically there’s a lot happening with textures whereas Disarm was more thrashy, faster and more up tempo, this one’s a little more sluggy and thick. I’m not really sure how to describe it but we’re definitely excited to get it out there.”

And how does the writing process work for the band? “Generally everyone works on riffs and then we’ll present them to each other – we tend to record too many songs – and then we pick the ones that we think will make the best album. It’s kind of how we’ve always done things.” I mention this is the second album since the return of vocalist Jesse Leach; he’s well and truly back in the fold, yes? Joel brims with that sense of positivity “Absolutely. This is his first record [since his return] where he’s been writing with us from start to finish, which was really nice.”

Jesse mentioned that he had some issues coming up with lyrics, what about yourself, coming up with big fat riffage? “It all depends. Some days you can sit down and bang out a song then there were other days when I just could not think of anything. It’s tough because it’s always hard to put yourself on a schedule when it comes to writing stuff. Thankfully everyone in the band writes and everyone literally brought a whole bunch of demos to the table so we had a lot of material to choose from – which was nice.” So who has the biggest pressure to perform/contribute? “I think the majority of the pressure is probably on Jesse; instrumentally the riffs are the riffs and the songs are the songs but at the end of the day I think the vocals and the lyrics are really under the microscope the most. People really gravitate to them, and Jesse has pretty high standards. Again, sometimes the process happens fast and sometimes it takes a few months to figure things out. I think in the end it was worth the wait.”

Give me a potted evolution of the band since the debut Killswitch Engage (2000). “It’s funny, back when we were younger, we had the luxury of all living close together, standing in a room just banging out riffs, creating things together, and I think over the years we’ve learnt how to compose songs on our own and bring them to the table, and then we re-arrange from there. I think everyone has a little bit of a better idea of where songs should go before they even present them [to the rest of the band]. Whereas in the past there was a lot more trial and error as we tried to figure out what we should sound like.” And as a mere 36 year old whippersnapper, do you feel that you’re hitting your stride creatively or do you feel that there’s more to mine? He laughs. “Yep; a baby at 36!” before adding “I feel like the creative stride comes and goes sometimes; from record to record it’s different, you know? Who writes a lot of the record is always different but I think as a band we’re probably the most comfortable that we’ve ever been with ourselves. Everyone is getting along really well and I think we’re writing music that at least we’re happy with – and hopefully people who hear it like it – but I think everyone in Killswitch is in a good place and the vibe is positive in the band and the people are excited to be doing it.”

This brings me on his attitude to the numerous awards that Killswitch get nominated for (and quite often win) – do they mean anything to you? Again, Joel’s laughing as he says “It’s always flattering but when we’re writing songs no-one is like ‘Hey! This is gonna be the award winner!’ – no one’s thinking like that but it is always flattering to hear that people think we did a good job.”

Getting back to the tour, Joel is still busting out the positive vibes. “Yeah, we’ll be hitting the road next week and will be out for the next couple of months; we’ll be in Europe in June and then some more stuff in the US over the summer. I think we’re gonna be pretty busy – which is a good thing. It’s cool.” Do you cope well on the longer tours? “Sometimes it’s tough when you hit the four or five week mark; everyone starts getting a bit homesick but I think we’re very fortunate that we all get along with each other and we’re all good friends. I know a lot of bands that aren’t like that and I’m not exactly sure how that works but I’m just very thankful that we can all go out to dinner, band and crew, and everyone are close friends and we all hang out together and it kind of helps keep each other sane. It’s a positive thing – and beer always helps!”

You must get a sense of unreality when playing the huge stadiums and festivals? “Sometimes at festivals it can be really scary; before you go on stage there can be so many people that it almost doesn’t feel like people at that point – it’s just a sea of madness and sometimes it's more intense in smaller clubs with people two feet in front of you staring at your hands or staring at you singing. It can be really intimidating! So it can be a very different vibe between the big shows versus the club shows.” I mention the six shows scheduled for New York; small venues, heaving with sweaty punters…“Oh, for sure! We always have a blast playing the small clubs. It’s where we came from so having the opportunity to do that for a week in New York; everyone is really excited.” I ask how much of Incarnate is going into the live set. “Quite a bit of it; probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll be doing seven or eight of the new songs – not the same ones every night – we’ll experiment a bit in New York, playing a new song every night which will be kind of cool, and we’ll figure it all out and go from there. I’m definitely excited to have some new material play.”

I mention that Killswitch will have to chuck in the new single Cut Me Loose and he emphatically agrees – and also mentions previous singles Strength of the Mind and Hate by Design will be making the cut too.

Do you ever feel the need to get away from the madness of Killswitch Engage’s mayhem? He agrees, pointing out that “I think everyone in the band has little side projects. I have another band that I play in called Brothers Born; I don’t even know how to describe it, maybe kind of acoustic, folky? Maybe with a little bit of an 80’s twist going on? It’s very different and it’s always fun to get off a metal tour and kind of do the opposite. It’s funny, at the end of the night, we’ll be on the bus or after the show in the dressing room, everybody’s listening to mellow music – it’s crazy but variety is the spice of life, man!”

Our time is at an end so I push for one last question; any chance of an Australian leg on the Incarnate tour?  “I really hope so – we were really disappointed that Soundwave didn’t work out – we always had such a good time. I think that later in the year we’re gonna try and make our way down there and do some kind of club tour or something. Australia has always been one of our favourite places to tour. It’s always been amazing – we’ll make our way as soon as we can.”