INTERVIEW: Mike D’Antonio – Killswitch Engage

KILLSWITCH ENGAGE have long been leading lights in 21st century metal. Off the back of recent album Incarnate and supporting BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE in the UK on their run of shows playing The Poison in full, we caught up with founding member and bassist Mike D’Antonio to talk the album, the tolls of touring life, and blast beat surf rock.

An album like Disarm the Descent leaves a lot of expectation for the follow-up. How d’you think Incarnate lives up to that?

Mike: All I know is that when we play it sing along and when we don’t play enough songs off the new record people yell at us that we’re playing too much old stuff, so I would assume that means people like it. It’s selling well and the new songs are fun to play.

Was working on Incarnate easier than Disarm the Descent because of Jesse being more fully integrated back into the band?

Mike: I suppose it was, it was definitely more all encompassing with everyone having their input whereas with Disarm the Descent we had all the music written before Jesse rejoined the band and he had to catch up to where everyone else was. This one he had a say in everything going, though he still only writes lyrics after the fact so he’d just say “Oh I like that riff!” and whatever.

Did you have a clear direction or vision for the album?

Mike: I think I had more of a clear direction with Disarm the Descent because with the way things were going it was going to be the last record we ever did, and I was mad as hell. All the stuff I wrote was very aggressive and went for the throat, because I was like “ok this is going to be the last thing I write for this band and it’s going to be gnarly”. The new one was almost like a fresh beginning. It felt like we could do some different things and not be so angry all the time.

How much do you feel that the KILLSWITCH ENGAGE sound has to develop?

Mike: I mean with any band you like to push it and get to the next level. We’ve been at it for seventeen years so there’s no way we’re going to sound like the first record ever again. We all write so it’s all whatever is in people’s heads at the time. I always tend to write faster and harder, I like the shorter songs because of my attention span and you make things catchier and hookier in more to the point songs.

Who is it who is pushing the more complex material then?

Mike: Adam usually writes a lot of the more complex stuff but I think Joel this time around came up with the most of that stuff. Very riff-heavy, he’s more mathematical along with the JUDAS PRIEST-y chug stuff.

Do you feel like you have the same fire and intensity as when you were younger?

Mike: I mean we’re older and wiser so we’re not as angry as we used to be. We’re really having a good time and hopefully that shows through the music. I’m not sure we have to be pissed off to write good stuff. We’re all really good friends these days and everything can be talked out which is a sign of a solid foundation for a band.

How has it been supporting a band like BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE who came in your wake and have a slightly younger fanbase?

Mike: Strange, we thought people would have known us a little bit more and it’s just all BULLET. The audiences are pretty insane. The styles are pretty similar too and sometimes I’m thinking “oh no, they think we’re ripping off BULLET!” But yeah it’s very young crowds, lots of girls who think Matt is the cutest thing and we’re these ugly old dudes. Sometimes it scares people which I guess is fine too. We’re going right for the throat with this one, moving around and going nuts and I don’t think many of these people have seen something like that before.

There’s also CANE HILL who bring back the nu-metal vibe somewhat. What’s your take on them seeing as when KILLSWITCH ENGAGE first broke through you were seen as one of the bands that were going to kill nu metal?

Mike: That’s what they kept dubbing us as yeah! They’re nice guys, it’s cool that they’re not doing what everyone else is doing. I am still not a nu-metal fan, I never was and never will be, I don’t really understand it, but it’s easy to see that they’re not following a trend going on right now. I appreciate throwing back to older things too because I myself like older music whether it’s hardcore or old school metal.

BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE are playing The Poison in full on this tour which is something a lot of bands are doing these days, playing a classic album in full. Is that something KILLSWITCH ENGAGE would ever be interested in or do you think it’s a bit too nostalgic?

Mike: We did an Alive or Just Breathing tenth anniversary tour five years ago and it went really well. That was the first thing with Jesse back in the band. It was something we had planned when Howard was still in the band and then Jesse coming back solidified it. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had. We are going to do a fifteenth anniversary of Alive or Just Breathing in Australia in March, but we had promised Australia two years ago after Soundwave got cancelled that we’d do that. That album in particular is very fun to play, not all of them are. I don’t know if we would do Howard records without him.

How is it being looked up at by younger bands as an inspiration?

Mike: It’s neat. It’s nothing we’ve ever aspired to be because we were always just looking forward ploughing away and suddenly you look backwards seventeen years later, so you don’t pay attention to what’s happening on the periphery.

Metalcore is obviously something you helped really push into the mainstream. Do you think though that metalcore is a dirty word in 2016?

Mike: I always thought it was a dirty word for the past ten years to tell you the truth. Not many bands took what we were doing or other bands were doing and took it to a new level. There’s a difference between us and a band like LAMB OF GOD if you were to call them metalcore too, and I think that diversity makes the genre healthy, but there are so many bands in between that sound exactly like us or them which waters it down. People need to add things to genres and I’m not sure there are many bands doing that in this one.

Do you think it’s harder for heavy bands to get places and gain traction now?

Mike: I think there’s a lot of bands out there and that might be a hindrance. There are so many bands and nobody’s buying records. If you’re pushing boundaries though people are going to take notice. GOJIRA, for example.

Did you see that recently they were opening up arenas with ALTER BRIDGE?

Mike: Yeah, that’s crazy. I’m not sure if they’re having a hard time or a good time with it because they’re definitely a band that once you see them, you understand them and that power. ALTER BRIDGE actually asked us to do something too and we weren’t really that into it but I think that’s rad. I like mixing up styles on a bill just like CANE HILL on this one, totally different dynamic.

Obviously this past year has been very turbulent politically. How much do you feel that the recent US election for example is going to feed into future KILLSWITCH ENGAGE music?

Mike: Jesse is very, very up on all the news going on. We’ve actually been here during the election and now the outpouring of people being really bummed out about it, the massive racism going on, and I don’t really know how home is going to be there until I get there. I’m a little nervous about what’s gonna happen. All you can do though is push forward and hope for the best. It is definitely providing Jesse with a lot of lyrics, I know he is already writing stuff as we speak.

You’re seven albums in now and very firmly established in the metal world. What are your aims now at this point in your career?

Mike: Just keep doing what we do, writing the best stuff we can possibly write. I think our plan right now is to maybe write more records and tour a little less. This touring cycle has kinda been a monster. We started in February of last year and it’s been almost non-stop. It’s worn on us very heavily, people are at their wit’s end. We know we’re going up until at least mid-May with all the tours we have lined up after this and if people are going insane now, wait till May. That could help though, being in the studio more and being home more. We also have the new DVD coming out which shows our home life and how much we actually like being at home, sitting on the couch with our wives and our dogs recuperating from this type of life. It’s awesome being able to tour but it’s a struggle sometimes to keep your sanity when you’re away from home all the time and the only holiday you see is Christmas. We thought the BULLET tour would be a perfect fit for us though, we like those guys a lot and had never toured with them so thought it would be a fun idea.

Wrapping up 2016 now, has there been a particular highlight for you?

Mike: It’s a blur, man. I’m actually stoked that the DVD’s out because it was a four year cumbersome thing that people were dragging their feet on but it really tells a story. Actually getting that out and seeing it in the flesh after four years of work felt very good.

Do you have any favourite music of this year?

Mike: I’ve been in a weird phase of listening to surf rock recently. I haven’t really bought anything new and I don’t normally listen to music on the road because I’m listening to music on stage and it blurs your eardrums out a little bit, but I’ve been super into SWAMI JOHN REIS’ surf rock stuff who is the guy from ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT. I’ve never particularly been a fan of that genre of music but sometimes I just like to immerse myself in something. Next week it’ll be stoner rock, the week after it’ll be back to GODFLESH or AT THE GATES. I’m planning on going home and writing some, last time we were on a break I wrote a bunch of stoner rock stuff and was really into it, just to see if I can do it. I’m gonna try surf rock with blast beats because it almost has a death or black metal vibe to it with the fast picking. It’s probably gonna be really stupid but I’ll try it!

Do you have lots of demos then lying around the place of you trying your hand at different styles?

Mike: A lot, and most of them suck! It’s good to try new things. I play with another band DEATH RAY VISION with old band members of my old band OVERCAST and it’s just quick punk rock stuff. It’s fun to play with different people and get different perspectives and then jump back into the family atmosphere of KILLSWITCH ENGAGE.

Finally what can we expect from KILLSWITCH ENGAGE in 2017?

Mike: We are still touring until mid 2017. We’ve got Australia and New Zealand in March, a ginormous US tour that I can’t quite announce yet but we’re over the moon and stoked on doing it, and then we’re gonna start writing again.

Incarnate is available now on Roadrunner Records.