Interview With JESSE LEACH (TIMES OF GRACE, THE EMPIRE SHALL FALL)

[By: Kareem Chehayeb]

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Yes, I live in Boston. You can now all stalk me and tell me how cool I am for stalking musicians. Oh, and if you’re a BrokenCYDE fan, you can probably come and try to pick a fight with me…or probably a snowball fight since we’re talking BrokenCYDE fans here.

Point is, I had the great honor of interviewing and meeting Jesse Leach in person (not that I didn’t look like a complete idiot and make a fool out of myself half the time). This was before his last stop for his American tour for Times of Grace. Once I arrived by the venue, I called the tour manager, Kyle, and he came out. It was a priceless introduction. “So you’re ‘Spiritcrusher’?” I just shrugged, told him to call me Kareem, and got on with it. The first thing he told me that Jesse was really chill but was the least ‘metalhead’ of a musician anyone could find. After Jesse meeting me at the bus, we went in. I said hello to Adam, Joel, and the rest of the band, acting like I was worth shit, and I was locked up in some small room in the back of the bus with Jesse. I don’t want to know what usually went on there. I could guess, but I’d rather not share.

The gig itself was pretty good. The venue is really small, but fit quite a few people. Amon Amarth are playing there in May, and I have no idea how they’re gonna fit any of their Viking props there. The first band that played was a local opener. Unfortunately, I couldn’t’ figure out their name, but if you ever see a big vocalist with a mic inside a carved beer can, then that’s the band! They had a nice combination of Pantera, old school Mastodon, and even just a bit of Sepultura. It was mostly along the lines of old school Mastodon. They were pretty good. The two main opening acts on the Times of Grace tour were War of Ages and Straight Line Stitch. War of Ages put on a great show. I don’t think they’re extremely creative, in terms of not sounding like pretty much most metalcore bands, but I enjoyed watching them live and they did a great job. Straight Line Stitch was cool too. It’s always nice to see a female metal vocalist, but their drummer just blew me away as well. Obviously, neither are really my favorite bands and aren’t necessarily my cup of tea most of the time, but I have to say they both worked the crowd well and seem like really chill people. Of course, I was just counting breakdowns with my friend, and I nearly got to 40?

Times of Grace really stole the show for me. It was cool to see Joel from Killswitch Engage be part of their live setup (at least for now). Also, it’s the third time I’ve seen Adam D perform, but the first time without a cape. I guess that’s good. I wouldn’t wear a cape if I were performing songs about the darkest and deepest extents of my misery. I thought it was cool that his parents came out to support him. I was really impressed with how all the fans knew the lyrics to EVERY SINGLE SONG. The album just came out in January and the band hasn’t been around for a long time. I definitely have to give kudos to the fans as well, apart from one really annoying kid who kept singing to every War of Ages songs with his arms up in the air. That isn’t bad until we realized he’s got body odor worse than someone who camped out at Wacken for a week without a shower.

Here's how my interview with Jesse went:

Kareem Chehayeb: Hey Jesse! So, tell me, how’s everything going lately?

Jesse Leach: It’s been going great man. Tour’s been amazing: kids coming out, singing along…it’s great man. Today’s our last day, and it’s kinda a bittersweet day…


Kareem: Awesome, so this is pretty much a small tour. You guys only had a few stops right?

Leach: Well it was full US, but we basically just stuck to the coastlines and didn’t really hit the Midwest. It was kinda a last minute thing, because we weren’t really sure if we were going to tour. So when we decided we were going to tour, we all got set in motion a bit later than usual than planning ahead, so that’s why it kinda is the way it is.


Kareem: So, are we gonna expect some larger tours this summer? I mean people have been enjoying this album!

Leach: Yeah, it’s tough. As soon as we’re done with this, Adam goes to the studio to produce a band. And then after that, there are no plans as far as the US; we’re looking at the UK and Europe in June and July in Canada. But as of right now, we’re trying to piece something together for maybe May, some more US dates. Right now, it’s just kinda up in the air.


Kareem: A few years ago, we saw the reformation of Carcass, whose guitarist, Michael Amott, also plays for Arch Enemy. They toured together, and used to co-headline each other’s gigs. Arch Enemy’s drummer also covered up for Carcass’s drums. Given that Adam is part of Killswitch Engage and Joel is part of your live lineup, have you guys thought of that?

Leach: I don’t know. I don’t know if that would even be a good fit, I mean it honestly hasn’t even been discussed…not even a thought in our minds. Killswitch is definitely a much bigger band, so it might help Times of Grace but it might even harm it. So, at the moment, it hasn’t been discussed.


Kareem: So, Killswitch Engage played the Middle East with As I Lay Dying, Korn, Machine Head, and more at Dubai Desert Rock Festival 2008. There was a pretty large turnout. Have you ever thought of performing in the Middle East at one point or another in your career?

Leach: Oh man, I’d take anything man! I’ve never performed overseas in my career! So, for me, I’d love to do something like that! I’d love to hit Australia, Japan, and all those places too!

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Kareem: Did Adam or Joel ever bring up their experience in Dubai?

Leach: No, actually. They haven’t brought it up honestly. Now that you mentioned it, I should ask them about it!


Kareem: Given we’ve been talking about touring so far, do you have a dream band that you would like to tour with?

Jesse: Yeah, but they don’t exist anymore: The Clash. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time. As of now, though, there is a band called Thrice that I really love, and I’ve been talking with management…and they’re a band we have to tour with at some point!


Kareem: I really hope that works!

Leach: Yeah I hope so too man!


Kareem: You’ve had some experience playing live, have you had any embarrassing moments you want to share with our readers?

Leach: Fortunately, not really! I think that when you’re confident in yourself, even when things sorta get flubbed, you can kinda cover it up and just roll with it. I think that’s the beauty of playing live…you just don’t need to admit your mistake or making the mistake into something else. For the most part, I mean I dropped the mic a few times, but nothing really crazy.


Kareem: Times of Grace” is very different than your other active project, The Empire Shall Fall. I want to quote Adam from the official website when he says “there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I know the lyrical content was inspired when he was sustaining an injury. Can you tell us a bit more about what the lyrics mean to you?

Leach: I mean pretty much…to keep things very general, because I’m a huge fan of not explaining things too much, because I love the idea taking their own interpretation of the words, but my lyrics come from a place of darkness and pain that I was going through. There were a lot of dark times and depression. But throughout all that, I was able to maintain my hope and my faith, and that’s kinda where I’m coming from. You know, like being in the darkest depths of your soul and then finding a way through the grace of God to rise up above it. So this is kinda what the record represents to me; pulling up from a dark time.


Kareem: Now, this experience was different in the recording studio, because Adam pretty much recorded all the instruments and did some vocals, and you did the main vocals too. I mean, it was pretty much just the two of you guys in the studio. Clearly with the lyrical content being so deep and meaningful to the both of you, it must have been an interesting and intimate experience as close friends and band mates as well. So how would you describe the process of recording for such an emotionally driven album, as opposed to recording an album with a usual 4 or 5-piece band?

Leach: Definitely a lot more intimate and a lot more honest…I think that’s why the album came out the way it did. There wasn’t much distraction from other people and other opinions. It was literally just he and I, and we were really on the same page on what we wanted to get out of this record and how we wanted to convey our emotions. There were many moments where it was very deep and we’d talk about life and it was very heavy…but Adam being who he is, there was lots of laughter too. Which is great, because it’s nice when you’re not in a great place to have someone make you laugh and he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. So it was a balance between light-hearted laughter about fart jokes and everything that he does, and being able to have a deep conversation soon after. It was just an easy environment to let things just flow

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Kareem: So do you feel like the songs came out stronger more than anticipated?

Leach: Absolutely…I didn’t expect the record to be as cathartic and powerful as it became.


Kareem: Now, we know that The Empire Shall Fall is writing some new tracks now?

Leach: Yeah apparently they have 5 songs…I only heard one though. The Internet’s been crappy here. But in 2 weeks or so, I’m gonna meet up with those guys and rehearse and see what they’ve done. I can’t wait to start working with them again!


Kareem: That’s great! So can we expect an album?

Leach: I think we’re planning on doing a bunch of EPs…a 5 song EP here and 5 song EP there. We’re talking about maybe doing 3 and making them all connect somehow, almost like a loose concept to the lyrics, feelings, concepts and tones….The plan is that we’re making them available digitally and also on vinyl, for people who like the old school stuff.


Kareem: The Empire Shall Fall’s track “Lords of War” was on the first Metality compilation with bands like Daylight Dies, Norther, as well as many other bands, many from the Middle East. Have you had the chance to check out other tracks from the compilation?

Leach: Honestly, dude, I haven’t. I’m sorry! It’s just been a busy year, bro! But I’m aware of it! Haha, I’m sorry!


Kareem: You’re also in another project called Seemless, you guys have been on hiatus since 2009?

Leach: Yeah, it’s pretty much done…it’s done…it ran its course. We went our respective separate ways. All very good friends, I just felt like it ran its course. We thought we’d put it to bed. I’m still interested in doing a blues-rock project, probably solo. I’m a huge fan of blues music.


Kareem: What sort of blues music are you into?

Leach: Well I’m more of a rock-blues guy. I love the old school cats. I’m a big fan of Ray Charles. I’m a big fan of the Allman Brothers. I warm up to them every night. I really love Robert Johnson, how can you not if you like blues? Anything that’s got blues, I’m sure I’ll dig it.


Kareem: Do you have any hobbies that are not music related that you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Leach: Food! I’m a huge foodie. I love food. I like wine, beer, and scotch. What I love to do, if I get a bottle of wine, I’ll make something that goes with it. If I make dinner, my wife and I will pick a beer that goes well with it. To me, that’s a passion. I absolutely love. I’d like to be a chef someday. I mean I feel like I am a chef but I don’t have the degree, but whatever.


Kareem: Do you have any long-term goals that aren’t necessarily music-related?

Leach: To be happy… That’s it man. If I can be happy, then God’s blessed me…maybe someday have a family, children, I don’t know. But right now I’m really happy with the way the things are, and hopefully my career continues on the way it’s going. Every day is like a therapy session out here on the road singing these songs. There are moments where I forget where I am because I’m in the moment of my lyrics. It’s been wonderful for me.


Kareem: We talked a bit about the blues bands you’re into, but what else have you been into?

Leach: I’m a huge reggae fan. I love King Tubby, Jacob Miller, and into some stuff like Capleton, Sizzler, Bob Marley obviously was a huge influence. To me, Reggae music and Dub just has this rhythm that feels right with me. I’m also a huge fan of underground hip-hop, a lot of the stuff from the 90s. I love Tropical Quest, Anticon Crew; I love all kinds of music. I’m actually the least bit a “metalhead”. I’m more of a “punk-hardcore” kid, and I got into all types of music growing up. I do enjoy performing metal, but not much metal on my iPod.


Kareem: It’s good to be eclectic with music anyway.

Leach: Yeah I think it helps with writing more interesting things too!


Kareem: A lot of the readers on Metality.net are young musicians and want to hear from their heroes and idols. So can you give some advice for young musicians who aspire to be successful with their work?

Leach: To me, what is most important is maintaining your integrity and not losing sight about why you started playing music in the first place. I find that many young musicians who get caught up in this “rock star” mentality who are pushing so hard to being successful tend to lose sight in why they play music and the reason behind it. So, I say stay true to yourself and always be honest as a musician…and hold high your ethics and your artistic mindset, because that will sustain you in the long run. That’ll get you more than any greed or desire to be a rock star will ever get you.


Kareem: Of course, the deepest question of all: are you a cat or dog person?

Leach: That’s a tough one, man! I like both! I’ve had both too. Ideally, man, I’d say dog. Dogs win over. That’s for sure.


Kareem: Well, that’s it. Thanks again, Jesse! Good luck with everything in the future

Leach: Yeah, no worries, man! Thank you brother!




Make sure to visit TIMES OF GRACE online, for all the latest updates. The band recently announced that they will be performing at this year's Download Festival, with more shows to be confirmed.

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