As the singer for metalcore giants Killswitch Engage, The Empire Shall Fall and Times of Grace, Jesse Leach has seen a thousand faces and he’s rocked them all. Though he’s known for his trademark vocal style that spans the spectrum from brutal to melodic, Leach’s musical predilections go deep into hip-hop, ambient, punk, dub, electronic and beyond. A few years ago his passion for music of all styles led him to start DJing around the Northeast and while on the road with KsE.
Leach says, “It became such a rush to see people react to what I played as well as ask me about the songs they were unfamiliar with.”
Thanks to the work of a friend from Down Under, Leach is taking his DJ show on the road for his debut mini tour kicking off this month in Australia. (If that wasn’t enough, he’s also going to premiere his spoken-word show in Oz.)
In his first-ever interview with a DJ publication, Leach talks about what attracted him to the art of mixing records, his band’s contribution to the upcoming Game of Thrones mixtape, and the rush he gets from sharing music.
Jesse Leach’s DJ and spoken-word dates hit Australia this month. Catch him at Hot Damn in Sydney on January 15; Brightside in Brisbane on January 16; Spoken Word Night at Eureka Rebellion Trading in Melbourne on January 21; and The Gasometer in Melbourne on January 24.
I’ve been following Killswitch Engage for many years and was really pleased when you rejoined the band. Where are things at right now with KsE in terms of new material, touring, etc.? And what’s up with the song you’re doing for the Game of Thrones mixtape?
Jesse Leach: Thank you! New KsE is only in the beginning stages of demos. We just booked an Asian tour hitting China, south-east Asia in April — that’s all we’ve committed to thus far for 2015. The song we did for GOT should show its face soon through the show and shortly thereafter we will release it…as far as I have been told.
So let’s talk about you and mixing music. When did you start DJing and what led you to pursue it?
I started about six years ago. I honestly just love to play music and wanted to hang out at a bar and hear the music I wanted to hear. Then it became such a rush to see people react to what I played as well as ask me about the songs they were unfamiliar with.
You’re about to embark on a DJ tour of Australia. What prompted you to take the show on the proverbial road Down Under?
My friend Anthony [Allayialis], who owns a great shop in Melbourne called Eureka Rebellion Trading, asked me if I would be interested in having a go at a small run around the area. I absolutely love Australia so I of course said yes. After I committed to do it it [the tour] took on a life of its own.
Are you at all concerned that KsE fans will turn up expecting you to play only KsE songs?
I certainly hope not, that would be a bummer [laughs]. I am sure most people will assume that is not the case and it definitely isn’t.
“Music is a gift to all of us, and I am blessed to be in a position to be able to share it.”
What does the rest of the band think of you moonlighting as a DJ?
As far as I can tell they seem pretty stoked for me. After all, when we are on tour I take every chance I can to DJ — on the bus, at an after party. We actually have a ongoing ritual called the “Dub Lounge” where we set aside a dressing room after the show and I will plug in my laptop and play old-school dub and reggae while we all hang out and chill before the bus leaves.
Talk a bit about your DJ sets. How long do you typically play and how do you program your sets? Are there any specific genres/artists you tend to favor?
I am actually used to doing 5-6 hour sets, although on this tour it will be about 2-3 hours. I program a 20-hour set beforehand then pick and choose from the playlist and always end up just freestyling once I get comfortable and feel out the crowd.
It varies on the reaction and the room. I find it is always good to have a set all planned out just in case. I prefer reggae, ska and old-school hip-hop, but because people know me as the singer of a metal band I usually do a blend of hardcore, punk, metal with all the sub genres thrown in for good measure. I tend to stick to music strictly from the ’70s to the ’90s with an occasional “modern” band. To me it is all about paying respect to the roots. If I get in front of a room of younger metal heads I will throw on some ’80s Bay Area thrash, mix in some ’80s and ’90s hardcore and then throw in some more modern bands and try to draw the lines of influence track by track. I really get off on getting people excited for a band they have never heard, then discover it is a band from 20 years ago.
Vinyl, Serato, CDJs….what’s your weapon of choice?
I will one day do vinyl but the sheer weight and amount of equipment makes that very hard and inconvenient. That and my vinyl collection is not even close to the quality of my digital library. So I stick to using laptop with Virtual DJ connected to a Numark Mixtrack Edge controller. It is the size of an iPad, and it works seamlessly with my laptop and program. I will then create home-made samples and intros and segues to keep the set interesting.
There’s been a few house-music DJs over the years — Robert Owens, Thom Yorke, etc. — who sing over tracks while spinning in the DJ booth. Does that appeal to you on any level?
Honestly, not really. I do occasionally “toast” over segues with a Line Six analog delay pedal just to talk to the crowd and get people rowdy. It all depends on the crowd and the vibe.
Fenriz from Darkthrone has dropped some online DJ mixes. Do you know of any other metal artists who also DJ?
Jonathan Davis from Korn and Chino from the Deftones. I saw Chino DJ last year, and he killed it. He had me dancing side stage.
You’ve worked hard to make a name for yourself in the hardcore/metal world. Do you ever envision a time when you’d experiment with producing electronic music?
Absolutely. I have been into ambient and dub most of my life and have countless beats and tracks I have never shared. Someday perhaps, but I do it more for me as a form of self-expression and therapy. One of my all-time favorite groups is a DJ/soundscape duo from England called [The] Orb. I have listened to them religiously since the early 1990s. I also have a deep love for trip-hop, specifically the Bristol, England scene that spawned Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky.
Who are the DJs who’ve changed your life?
As mentioned The Orb and King Tubby, DJ Shadow, DJ Premiere, DJ Swamp — to name a few.
How much time will you dedicate to DJing in 2015?
Not as much as I would like to, I can tell you that [laughs].
What would you say to a promoter offers you a million dollars to DJ with Paris Hilton?
Sure! I would have fun no matter what!
Any final thoughts?
So excited and very grateful to be able to perform and give music the platform it deserves globally. Music is a gift to all of us, and I am blessed to be in a position to be able to share it in one capacity or another. THANKS!