Mike D'Antonio: Killswitch Engage Feels Like A Band Again

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Killswitch Engage has gone through some major changes during the past few years. Since 2000 the Massachusetts' metal act has put out six studio albums, sold more than four million albums in the U.S. alone, and is known as one of the defining bands for the New Wave of American Heavy Metal.

Up On The Sun talked with bassist and band artist Mike D'Antonio about bringing back the band's original singer, the new generation of metal, and the band reunion he would like to see.

Disarm the Descent is the band's newest record, released in April. It's also the band's first album since 2002's genre-defining Alive or Just Breathing with original singer Jesse Leach. Leach came back to the band in early 2012, replacing Howard Jones, who'd been the vocalist on fan-favorite album The End of Heartache (the song of the same name was nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.)

Since the release of the release of Disarm the Descent, Killswitch Engage, rounded out by guitarists Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz, drummer Justin Foley and bassist Mike D'Antonio, have been touring nonstop. New York City fans got a special treat on October 12, when the major metal act plays an intimate show at the tiny Santos Party House as part of the second annual CBGB Festival. Now they are heading to Phoenix to regale us with some metal alongside Lamb of God, Testament and Huntress.

So you guys have been touring non-stop this year since Disarm the Descent came out. Are you getting sick of touring yet? You're right; it's been non-stop. We've actually been touring since February with little to no time off. Before this tour we had a few weeks off, so I was getting used to being home.

Am I sick of it? You know, it's a job and I'm lucky to be doing it for a living. It does wear on you, and I miss seeing my wife. But the band pays the bills.

Do you have any sort of touring regimen that keeps you from going crazy? Well I'm a graphic designer as well, so any time I'm feeling lonely I crack open my laptop and do some design work; it puts me in a completely different mindset. That helps a lot.

I also play a lot of video games. We have a lot of really cool roadies that come out with us, too. It's all about personalities on the road, and having other people to hang out with besides the band. We're fortunate enough to have some really good friends that are roadies.

What type of graphic design stuff are you working on? Well, all the record covers for Killswitch I've done. I've done some for Shadows Fall, All That Remains... and stuff for a lot of different festivals. I've been doing it since 1992, and my design company is called Dark Icon Design.

I'm currently doing logo stuff for bands, but I also do books, and a broad range. I'd be happy doing a mortuary logo; I just like doing design period. I actually consider myself a graphic designer first and foremost before I consider myself a musician... it just happened that one of them led to a career. [Laughs]

So with Disarm the Descent, didn't you guys all write separate demos? That's usually how we write. Everyone goes their separate ways and takes a couple weeks, and everyone writes demos. I use GarageBand and write rough demos. Then we'll bring them to practice, talk about them, listen to them, critique them. Then we'll go to the Pro Tools rig and everyone has their input and puts their stamp on it.

We used to just sit around and stare at each other and try to write, but for us, that's a bit of a waste of time. I know it works for a lot of other bands.

Do you ever write on the road? It's pretty difficult for us to write on the road. I don't do it... I think Adam does some writing on the road. Like, he was doing a death metal record with some of the Cannibal Corpse guys. You can tell right away if someone is trying to force music, if they aren't in the mind-set, so we don't write on tour, usually, because we're not in that place.

How do you feel the response was when Howard left and Jesse came back on board? Did it surprise you at all? We hadn't played a show in about two years, so everyone was ready to just do it. I felt like we could've been doing so much with the time we had off, but we were just trying to figure out Howard's situation. When he left we pretty much thought the band was over. So when we reconvened and started talking about getting a new singer it was a relief, because I thought the band was over at that point.

When Jesse showed up to try out, he came into the room and everyone lit up and we were having a great time. We were so tired but we busted out like 16 songs in a row, and that was when we were tired, but it just felt so right. Jesse hasn't done a lot of touring so it's cool for us older dudes who are jaded from the road to see things through new eyes, from a different perspective of someone who really enjoys and respects where he's at. Not that we don't--but you know, just like every other job, you get used to it. His excitement gets us excited.

As far as the fans go, people have been very open. There's always going to be people who like Howard and people who like Jesse, but I feel like we made a record that our true friends can really enjoy. We had two years off, and I was just pissed off because I wanted to write music.

Maybe that's why the record is heavier. It's not as radio-friendly as the older stuff, [but] everyone seems to be embracing the new stuff. I'm excited for the future. It really hasn't felt like a band in quite a while, and now it really does. It feels solid and everyone's on the same page.

On this upcoming tour you guys will be with Lamb of God, Huntress and Testament. What's something you are looking forward to on this tour? Testament I've only seen once in my entire life, and I'm a big fan. I'll probably be on the side of the stage giddy watching them every night. The Lamb of God guys we've known for quite a while, and we get along well.

I don't know if they drink anymore, but we'll be drinking! We're excited to see our old friends again. On tour you really do form great bonds with bands and band members. And Lamb of God is like our brothers. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Do you feel like what happened with Randy Blythe will affect his future music? Randy's one of the nicest, most stand-up guys I've ever met. He has a lot of cool insight into different things going on. When I first heard about it I felt terrible; it was a bad situation. Then he got to go home, but then he had to go back.

I was amazed at how great he treated that. He wanted to stand up and prove he was innocent and went back to Prague for [the] trial. That's way more of a man than most people I know could do. That's a scary thing; being in a country where you don't understand the language and then the concept of having to go to jail and rot for a while.

For the music, maybe it will be more political now? He probably sat there writing 300 songs from the experience. If they gave you a pen.

Killswitch has been around since the late 90s and are seen as one of the founders of New Wave American Metal. But you guys have toured with an array of older metal bands, like Testament on this tour. What are your thoughts about the new generations of metal musicians moving forward? There's definitely a whole new crop. In that interim of time we took off, a ton of new bands came around. We're still getting used to the new bands and sounds. But I feel like even though there are a ton of new bands out there, no one is really competing like they used to in the 80s and 90s, which is awesome.

I feel like our band and Shadows Fall and Hatebreed and Lamb of God... these bands kind of came up and created this new wave. Everyone seems to be trying to put on the best show they possible can for everyone rather than one band blowing everyone away.

What are some acts you have been listening to? I really only listen to older stuff from when I was a kid; hardcore New York. Agnostic Front, you know. As far as new music? Not so much. You had to ask that question, huh? [Laughs] It's hard to get turned on to specific styles now. One style has forty different genres to it now.

Fans all over the world celebrated when Testament reunited years back, and people were worried about if Lamb of God were going to be able to move forward. Now Killswitch has reunited with its original singer. What band reunion would you like to see? I'd love to see The Misfits play again, as the Misfits, in full band. I'd love to see Danzig with the original first four record line-up. But I don't think Danzig's ego would allow anything like that to happen.

Killswitch Engage is playing at Marquee Theater on November 7 with Lamb of God, Huntress and Testament.

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