INTERVIEW: Joel Stroetzel – Killswitch Engage

Alongside the likes of LAMB OF GODSHADOWS FALLUNEARTH and so forth, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE are often credited as pioneers of metalcore. Since exploding onto the scene in the early 2000s, the Massachusetts’ based metallers have become a renown name in modern metal. Now, 17 years after their formation the band have just dropped album number seven, the sensational Incarnate (read our review here). Two weeks after the release, we spoke to guitarist Joel Stroetzel to talk about Incarnate, the development of the band, how metalcore is today compared to it’s glory days and the band’s UK tour with BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE in December!

Your new album, Incarnate, has been out for two weeks now. How have you found the early reception?

Joel: So far so good man! It seems that a lot of people have checked it out and it’s been a lot of fun playing these new songs live and changing up our set. Yeah we’re trying to figure out which songs to play live but it’s great having new material to play.

So with it being album number seven, did you encounter any difficulties when recording that album?

Joel: I think it went pretty smoothly, especially towards the end. Jesse took a lot of time getting the vocals right, Jesse [Leach, vocals] and Adam [Dutkiewicz, guitars] were pretty particular about that but the music side, it was pretty easy and it was done pretty quickly.

And what musical influences did you bring to the studio?

Joel: I tend to write a lot more of the thrashier stuff whereas Adam and Jesse focus on the melodic side of things and Mike [D’Antonio, bass] does the hardcore, chuggy stuff. So it all comes together that way, it’s pretty cool. A lot of this record in particular was Justin [Foley, drums] and Adam‘s songs so it’s a cool mix. Justin really stepped up and did a lot of writing and it’s cool to have a lot of different sounds.

So with each record by KILLSWITCH ENGAGE does a different member step up and is the main writer?

Joel: Well with a lot of the older records we all wrote together because we all lived in the same part of the country but we don’t have that luxury anymore. So it’s a lot of people demoing songs, each of us come up with three to five demos a piece. We then just cut through them all and it definitely makes for a varying record!

And since Incarnate has come out it has received a lot of positive reviews from critics and fans. Where do you feel it stands in your back catalogue?

Joel: I know Jesse is really proud of this record, he really should be as he’s done a great job with the vocals. I think it’s the best representation of where the band is at right now and currently it’s my favourite KILLSWITCH ENGAGE record. Mainly because it’s new and like I said before I’m excited to be playing new songs. Over the years people will get their favourites but I’d say it definitely holds up as a KILLSWITCH record!

You’ve been in the band since it started in 1999, how have you seen the band develop over such a long period of time?

Joel: It’s funny, I think everyone has a better vibe with each other with how we write and arrange songs. Maybe now it’s because we arrange songs as rock songs rather than metal songs, some people criticise that, it’s just the way we do things. Almost like metal tunes with pop arrangements. It’s the way we feel and it feels good.

When KILLSWITCH ENGAGE started to become popular, metalcore really started to explode. Do you feel the scene is in a good place now? It’s certainly a lot different now than what it used to be…

Joel: Oh for sure it’s definitely different. I think we were very fortunate and very lucky to be noticed and now there’s obviously a lot more bands now playing all sorts of different types of metalcore. It’s all competition but at the same time it’s more accepting. You hear screaming on the radio, you would never of had that 15 years ago so it’s cool as it’s a more widely accepted form of music than what it used to be.

You just said the competition is a lot tougher. What do emerging bands now have to do to set themselves apart from the competition?

Joel: It’s tough to say. A lot of it is luck of the draw in terms of getting noticed. I think it helps if you are creative and have your own sound, a lot of the bands now are doing the genre-bending stuff. It’s cool and it’s different, it’s definitely turning people’s heads. It’s cool that there will always be new music coming out.

When the scene really started to expand, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE were at the forefront of it. Personally, do you feel that your band has been crucial to the development of metalcore?

Joel: I hear people say that and it’s flattering to hear. I think any band that is lucky enough to get noticed would be glad to hear that. But there are bands alongside us, ALL THAT REMAINS, UNEARTH, LAMB OF GOD, SHADOWS FALL. They’re all friends of ours, there was kind of a thing on the East Coast of the US for people doing that hardcore/metal writing. It’s cool to be part of that.

Can you forecast another movement like that in the next couple of years to bring forth a new style?

Joel: Yeah, there hasn’t really been stuff that’s crazy different. I think that the djent style of metal is pretty cool, bands like PERIPHERY have done some great stuff. But I don’t think there has been anything that has been mind-blowingly different over the past five to ten years. I’m curious to see where things go.

Now that is Incarnate is out, for UK fans you’ve recently announced a tour with BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE. What can fans expect from that tour?

Joel: It’s going to be a fun one! We’re good friends with the BULLET guys, we’re looking forward to coming over there and playing these new songs. I think we’re coming over in June and playing Download Festival, so we’re coming over there a lot and I can’t wait.

It’s two completely different performances isn’t it, playing a festival compared to a nationwide tour, what do you prefer?

Joel: Festivals are great. But after playing a month’s worth of festivals it starts to get a little bit menacing and you get more disconnected from the crowd. They are so big and overwhelming and you can lose the whole vibe of chilling out at the venue.

So for the setlist for the upcoming UK tour, will it mainly be songs from the new album?

Joel: Well we have been trying to do a different setlist on the current tour we are on now and we’re doing a handful of classics people are expecting to hear. We want to play a good chunk off the new album and then some older material too. Just to keep things excited for us too, people who are coming out to the show won’t know what to expect so that’s cool as well!

Well awesome, thank you for taking the time to talk to me Joel and I look forward to seeing you guys in the future!

Joel: Thank you!

Incarnate is out now via Roadrunner Records.

KILLSWITCH ENGAGE play at Download Festival on Friday June 10th. Tickets are available here.