"Attitude Over Perfection": Killswitch Engage Talk Making 'As Daylight Dies' | Revolver

"Attitude Over Perfection": Killswitch Engage Talk Making 'As Daylight Dies'

Adam Dutkiewicz: "Making a record shouldn't be science, it should be art. Don't use your brain use your sack, man!"
killswitchengage2006getty.jpg, Martin Philbey/Redferns
Killswitch Engage, (from left) Joel Stroetzel, Adam Dutkiewicz, Howard Jones, Justin Foley and Mike D'Antonio, Melbourne, Australia, 2006
photograph by Martin Philbey/Redferns

This article was originally published in January 2007.

On an autumn afternoon in Manhattan, three members of Killswitch Engage — guitarist Joel Stroetzel, bassist Mike D'Antonio and drummer Justin Foley — are scarfing pizza in a Roadrunner Records conference room, while giving Revolver the lowdown on their new album, As Daylight Dies. Suddenly, the door bursts open; Killswitch guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz storms in and slams a brown-bagged 40-ounce beer down onto the coffee table in front of Stroetzel. "Drink this, motherfucker!" he growls, then turns and exits as quickly as he came in.

Stroetzel peels back the bag to identify the cold brew, and lets out a disappointed groan. "Busch Lite again? Goddammit!" he laughs. "We drank all kinds of 40s of cheap beer while making this record, and for some reason, Adam's really taken a liking to this stuff. I mean, he was giving me shit for drinking Olde English, and here he is drinking Busch Lite!"

"That should give you an idea of where Adam's head is at," chuckles D'Antonio.

Listening to the dark, muscular, and densely layered music of As Daylight Dies, it's hard to believe that these Massachusetts metalcore mainstays were fueled by budget-priced suds during the recording. Pineal-gland extract and human growth hormone — or at least moonshine margaritas served in gunpowder-rimmed glasses — would seem to be the more likely substances behind such corrosive-yet-emotive songs as "My Curse," "Unbroken" and the brutal title track. But as anyone who's seen Killswitch live or heard any of their three previous albums (2000's Killswitch Engage, 2002's Alive or Just Breathing and 2004's The End of Heartache) can tell you, bringing the rock has always come easy for these guys. In reality, Dutkiewicz — who does double duty as Killswitch's producer — administered the cheap swill to his bandmates not to psych them up, but rather to soften the prickly perfectionist tendencies that have bogged down Killswitch sessions in the past.

"We weren't as picky about getting everything as dead-on as last time," Stroetzel explains. "The End of Heartache was a whole different thing. We'd double every guitar, and everything had to be perfectly in tune. But this time, Adam promoted attitude over perfection — and he promoted it with 40s! It was more like, 'Well, that's pretty damn close! Good enough!'"

"It was very refreshing," says Dutkiewicz, cracking open a Busch Lite of his own. "Instead of overthinking and beating things to death, you're kind of flying by the seat of your pants. It should be exciting when you're making a record. It shouldn't be science — it should be art. Don't use your brain — use your sack, man!"

"There's a little more rawness in there, but it's not like it's audibly sloppy," Stroetzel continues. "It was just about getting it to the point where it felt good. We weren't drinking enough to get shitty — just enough to relax and not sweat it." Then, almost as an afterthought, he says, "When we were tracking the guitars and bass, we drank 87 40s."

The one member of Killswitch Engage who doesn't drink — and who observes his colleagues' beer-chugging ways with no small amount of amusement — is lead singer Howard Jones. Last night, Jones was in bed watching Conan O'Brien when a thoroughly ripped Dutkiewicz stumbled into their shared hotel room and roared, "Look at me! I'm a fuckin' T-Rex, dude!"

"I'm just laying in bed watching him, thinking, Wow, the rest of this evening's gonna go well!" says Jones with a hearty laugh. "I mean, this is a guy who brings his own Coleman cooler with him! Last night, he had four 40-ounce bottles of beer in there and a 64-ounce jug. He drank one of the 40-ouncers before he went out drinking. It was like his warm-up bottle. And then he's got the jug, which is like the post-game wrap-up!"

"Ya gotta cap off the night, man," Dutkiewicz shrugs.

Unlike most metal bands, the five guys in Killswitch Engage seem less like a unified gang than a group of Usual Suspects–type misfits thrown together to achieve a common goal. "They are five people who are brilliantly mismatched," says Mike Gitter, Roadrunner's director of A&R. "Five extremely talented musicians coming from very different backgrounds, who have forged a sound based more on their differences than on their similarities."

No two Killswitch members seem less alike than Dutkiewicz and Jones. Dutkiewicz is a tall, pasty, self-proclaimed geek with an extroverted personality and a pronounced scatological bent. "Have you ever had a diarrhea dry-heave?" he asks Revolver a mere 10 minutes into our interview. "Like, you feel like you need to shit something out, but it doesn't come out?"

And then there's Jones, a handsome, powerfully built African-American who rarely swears in conversation (and never in his lyrics) and who is generally as soft-spoken and circumspect as Dutkiewicz is loud and goofy. Remarkably self-effacing for a frontman, Jones says that he's never watched any of the band's videos (or their 2005 DVD, (Set This) World Ablaze) all the way through. "Maybe I'll visit them 20 years down the road," he explains, "but right now it feels like vanity to be watching myself, like, Wow! I put in a stellar performance there!"

Jones isn't one to hang out after a show and bask in fan adulation, either, far preferring the solitude of the bus' back lounge while on tour. "Howard can be a charming man when he wants to be, but he does keep to himself a lot," says Stroetzel. "You look at this huge guy covered in tattoos, doing somersaults and screaming his ass off onstage, but he's kind of afraid of people."

Of course, since Dutkiewicz produces the band and writes much of the material and Jones writes the lyrics and sings the songs, this metalcore odd couple ends up spending a great deal of time together, both in the studio and in interview situations. Today, for example, Roadrunner has arranged for Revolver to accompany the pair to the top of 30 Rock, the tallest building in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, figuring that the fresh air and impressive views might stimulate a better interview than the stultifying atmosphere of the label's HQ. But after only a couple of minutes in the company of Dutkiewicz and Jones, it's clear that they would make a great comedy team in any setting. While waiting for the 30 Rock elevators, a question about the "Daisy Dukes" denim short-shorts that Dutkiewicz sported onstage while touring for The End of Heartache sparks the following exchange:

DUTKIEWICZ The shorts? They've been retired, guy! I'm over that! I heard people are jumpin' on the Daisy Dukes bandwagon, so… I've been pricing out medieval armor, but we'll see what happens. 
JONES There was a magical mystique to the short-shorts, but you just can't re-create the magic. It's like, Breakin' was awesome. Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo? Just not the same! 
REVOLVER Did you bronze them or frame them? Or did you sell them on eBay?  
DUTKIEWICZ Ah, I just threw 'em away. I did try to sell a pair of my pants at a show once, after I'd split my crotch. I just wanted five bucks so I could go to Taco Bell after the show!  
JONES [Laughing] Oh, yeah, that's Flavor Country, right there!

Once we reach the Top of the Rock observation deck, Dutkiewicz and Jones briefly pause to take in the expansive view of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and New Jersey and marvel at the beauty of the sunny September afternoon and the hellishness of the wall-to-wall traffic on the distant George Washington Bridge. But within no time, the pair is quietly bagging on unsuspecting tourists as they pass by. 

"Check it out," whispers Dutkiewicz. "That dude has a Sonata Arctica tour T-shirt!"

"And judging by the look of him, he loves him some Sonata Arctica," Jones laughs. "It's not like wearing a Crüe T-shirt. If you've got a Sonata tour shirt on, you're down. You love riffing — and elves!"

"Now, that man has nicely pressed slacks," notes Dutkiewicz wryly, as he watches a corporate-looking guy helping his young daughter look through the deck's telescope. "And he has loafers from Florsheim! I'd be bummed if I had to wake up early just to press slacks. That's the cool thing about our job — we don't have to press our slacks in the morning!"

Undoubtedly, not having to press your slacks is only one of the cool things about being in Killswitch Engage. After all, The End of Heartache has sold nearly 500,000 copies to date, and the band counts the likes of Shadows Fall, Mastodon, Slayer and Ville Valo from HIM among their many friends and admirers. But there have been rumblings and rumors that Killswitch may not be long for this world, largely owing to the fact that Dutkiewicz, Jones and D'Antonio all have jobs outside of Killswitch that they're rather passionate about. 

D'Antonio is a talented and much-in-demand graphic artist who has designed album covers, T-shirts and logos for bands including Shadows Fall, Cannibal Corpse, Chimaira, Six Feet Under and Madball. "Every time I get home from tour, it seems that there are all these design jobs waiting for me," he says.
 
Jones manages several up-and-coming bands, including Twelve Tribes, Bury Your Dead and August Burns Red, which means that he stays "pretty much glued to the phone and the Internet" when Killswitch are on tour. "But, hey, that's what the back of the bus is for," the singer says. "They sit in the front and drink, and I sit in the back of the bus and talk on the phone and watch really bad movies."
 
And Dutkiewicz has already made quite a name for himself as a metal producer, having helmed records for Underoath, Unearth, the Acacia Strain, All That Remains, From Autumn to Ashes and Every Time I Die, as well as producing all of Killswitch's releases.
 
"I do have a job that I love outside of this band," Dutkiewicz explains. "But aside from that, this is an awesome job!"

"Sometimes…" shrugs Jones, clearly more ambivalent than Dutkiewicz about the whole thing. 

"C'mon, you get to travel and drink for free!" says Dutkiewicz. "Think about that, dude — if someone paid you to drink beer, wouldn't you do it?" When Revolver reminds him that Jones doesn't actually drink beer, he just laughs. "Well, he should! That's what separates the men from the pussies!"

"For me, it's just, like, I don't know much else, other than music," says Jones, softly. "What else am I gonna do?"

While no one will cop to seriously wanting out of the band, everyone admits that, by the time Killswitch finished the 2005 Taste of Chaos tour, they were all severely burned out. "What had it been — two and a half, three years straight?" asks D'Antonio. "Not straight as in every day, because there were little breaks here and there — and we took a few months off to record The End of Heartache — but it was a long time to be touring without a real break. We all needed some time apart."

Dutkiewicz wasn't even able to take part in Taste of Chaos, owing to a severely herniated disc that required surgery. "It was cutting off 90 percent of the nerves in my spine, and I couldn't even walk anymore," he says, shuddering at the memory. "Every night, I was drinking a bottle of wine with a bunch of Percosets, hoping that my life would end. But then, once I had surgery, I felt awesome. The first thing I said when I woke up from surgery was, 'Nurse! I need a steak and a pumpkin-spice latte, stat!' Of course, I was on morphine at the time. Look how tiny my scar is!"

Oblivious to the stares of bystanders, Dutkiewicz turns around and pulls up his shirt, revealing a two-inch incision on his lower back — as well as several large and very ripe acne pustules. "Look at that zit right there," laughs Jones, pointing out a particularly fearsome-looking one. "That thing's got a mind of its own!"

When Taste of Chaos ended around Thanksgiving 2005, the five members of Killswitch scattered in separate directions. For the first time since Jones joined the band in the summer of 2002, they all had time to chill out, recharge their batteries and concentrate on other things. Dutkiewicz went into the studio with Underoath; Jones devoted himself to managing his various bands; D'Antonio worked on design projects, and recorded an as-yet-to-be-released reunion album with his old hardcore band Overcast, which also includes Shadows Fall frontman Brian Fair. Stroetzel got married and gave guitar lessons at a music store in Westfield, Massachusetts, while Foley contributed the track "Up and Atom" to the Drum Nation Volume 3 CD. "It was so nice to not play Killswitch songs for a while," the drummer says with a laugh.

By the time the band reconvened in June at Westfield's Zing Studios, everyone was raring to lay down some new Killswitch music. "I think everyone was just so pent-up and ready that as soon as it was time to write, it was no holds barred," says D'Antonio. "Everybody came to the table with so much stuff, at times it was like, Okay, hold your horses!"

Though there were plenty of heated arguments about parts and arrangements — "We're a bunch of picky bastards, always tearing each other down" is how Stroetzel describes their working relationship — the sessions went astonishingly quickly, lubricated by Dutkiewicz's supply of 40-ouncers and bolstered by the general sense that they were making the best Killswitch album yet. With "Desperate Times," the penultimate track on As Daylight Dies, the band even broke new stylistic ground. "It's completely different than anything we've ever done," says Stroetzel with obvious pride. "It's slow, but it's really heavy, so it's not so much like a ballad. It's more of a Crowbar kind of thing, really sludgy and melodic."

"When we went into the studio with it, we thought it was going to be a B-side," adds D'Antonio. "But when we heard Howard's vocals, we thought, Holy shit! This needs to be on the record!"

Though Jones is notoriously shy about discussing his lyrics, he's at least willing to talk about how "Desperate Times" ties in with the album's title. "It just seems like the world can be a terrible place, and it doesn't seem like there's a lot of time left to do anything to change it," he says. "So if we're gonna do something, we've gotta do it while we've got a little bit of daylight. I mean, I'm all for helping someone out who needs help. I don't like to get political or anything like that, but it's so weird how different things have changed since 9/11, but at the same time they've stayed the same. It's horrific to watch politicians using that catastrophe as a platform. It's like, If I say the right things about this, I'll get elected."

"I just farted," offers Dutkiewicz.

"Well, apparently my little diatribe is over," laughs Jones.

"Hey," says Dutkiewicz, "I had to break up the seriousness with some light-hearted flatulence!"

By the time you read this, Killswitch Engage will be in the midst of a U.S. club tour, following dates in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. "And then, at the beginning of the year, we're doing four or five weeks in Europe," says D'Antonio. "And then, after that, who knows?"

Wherever the bandmates wind up going, it's a good bet that the Killswitch Engage tour bus will continue to live up to its reputation as the place to be mellow. If you're tired of the drunken brawls, the rampant drug use and the parade of visiting strippers on your own bus, you're always welcome to come and get mellow with the Killswitch boys. "It's plenty drunk," notes Stroetzel of the bus' vibe, "but it's plenty chill."

"We like to watch television and fart and drink beer, and that's it," explains Dutkiewicz. "We ain't the rock-star type, that's for sure!"

"Killswitch Engage: Champion of the Disenchanted Fat Kid," laughs Jones.

"Fuck, man, we are them!" says Dutkiewicz.

As Daylight Dies hits stores around Thanksgiving. Unless your name is Metallica, the pop-glutted holiday season has never been a great time for a metal band to release an album, but Roadrunner's Mike Gitter says he's extremely optimistic about the disc's chances. "It's going to do damn good," he promises. "I think they have more universal appeal than any band they've been grouped in with, and they really could be the next breakout band on the level of Korn, Metallica or Iron Maiden.

Which, frankly, may not quite be what the Killswitch guys have in mind. "Don't get us wrong," says D'Antonio. "It's cool that we're selling a lot of records, and we feel very privileged in that respect. But at the same time, we still have our normal lives, our normal girlfriends and wives and stuff…"

"If we sold half as much, and our shows were still as fun as they are now, we'd be like, Cool!" adds Stroetzel.

For now, at least, the five members of Killswitch Engage are mostly right where they want to be. They're well rested for the first time in years; they're still able to balance the demands of the band with the demands of their other jobs, projects and domestic situations, all while retaining a fairly low personal profile; and they're just about to release a kick-ass new album. But if As Daylight Dies goes platinum or beyond, the increased media attention and the endless tours that come with great commercial success might actually throw the aforementioned balance completely out of whack. The irony of the situation is not lost on Dutkiewicz.

"Yeah," he giggles, gazing off into distance. "If this record takes off, we're fucked!"