Sunday, April 18, 2010
Interview with Jesse Leach of The Empire Shall Fall!!
This phone interview was conducted on April 1st, 2010.
The Empire Shall Fall Official Myspace:
This was a cool interview, as Jesse was a really nice guy and seemed genuinely enthused about me liking his new band. The interview went really well, Jesse was very talkative (as you can tell in his responses to my questions) but at times it was kind of a challenge to try and figure out what he was saying as I typed this up. Oh, and I also don't know why I had told him I'd seen Valient Thorr live twice...I've only seen them once.
WULF: I'd like to start off (by saying) I'm very, very impressed with this new album. Before preparing for this interview, I (still) hadn't heard Seemless...I had heard OF (them) obviously, but for some reason I was expecting for the Empire Shall Fall to (be) just straight-up metalcore or hardcore, and so needless to say I was really surprised when I heard this album just because I'm most familiar with your work on "Alive or Just Breathing". Anyway, how has the reception been so far on your end?
JESSE: It's been great, man. I think some people are a little surprised, other people just sort of expected it from me, which is really sweet of them, but overall the press has been great and people are really digging it which is pretty (good) for an independent band, for sure.
WULF: That's awesome man! Like I said before, I really enjoyed this new album. Everything from the kind of ethereal sound on "Awaken" to the sludgy ending on "Lords of War". I just really enjoyed (the whole album). How would you describe the recording process for this album?
JESSE: (laughs) The recording process was tedious. We did everything ourselves. We did the drums in a professional studio (because) you can't really do drums on your own (inaudible), but other than that it was done between different people's houses and I had to travel (inaudible) to do vocals, so it just took a long time to come together because you know, we're funding it on our own and (inaudible) but (with) the end results, we all sat back and were like "this is crazy, we accomplished what we set out to do". It's a great feeling. As far as the creative flow, I would go into the studio and do a couple of takes and that was it, and on other days I would spend a good three or four hours just looking at the takes trying to get the best one.
WULF: Oh, wow! That kind of leads into my next sub-question-- what would you say is your favorite track on the album, or which do you feel at least turned out the best in your opinion?
JESSE: Yeah, that's a tough question. I think that they're all cool to play and they're all important but if I were to choose one...probably "Our Own" which is the second-to-last track on the record. For me it just shows a little more diversity and I think it hints at the direction we may be heading. Just for me I love brutal music, I love when it's heavy, but there's got to be an underlying melody to it to kind of like...catch you, and I think "Our Own" does it really well. It's really heavy but there's melody all over the place and we mix indie rock, punk with metal, hardcore, and even (we've even got) some ambient thing going on if you listen to the guitar work and vocals. I think that song and "Awaken", the first track off the record, are really sort of the direction we're heading in.
WULF: Well since you were talking about taking a few hours to try and get the right take for some song, what would you say then was the track you had the most difficulty with recording, or the most challenging?
JESSE: Hmmm...let me think. Probably "We the People" because it's such a long song and there's different kinds of vocals on it, and I really wanted to make sure that the vocals were coming out a certain way. For those people who don't know, if you read the lyrics it's a very political song but I've actually based it on a few historical events which will remain nameless because I really like for people to interpret lyrics on their own. The song is meant to be metaphorical, just literal so I think that one lyrically and vocally are the hardest just because I was trying to achieve like almost a Bob Dylan-style of writing. I think I may have gotten a little too literal in that song, (inaudible) but it was a tough track for me.
WULF: Lyrically I can definitely where you're coming from, for sure. But anyway, when I was doing some research for this interview when I was preparing the questions, I saw that on your Myspace and on Wikipedia it says that the band originates from Boston, but also Rhode Island--
JESSE: And New York.
WULF: Where would you say (the band is from)? Like, all those places? If the band had to have (a definitive origin), what city would you say, or was it just all over the map?
JESSE: Definitely Providence, Rhode Island was where the band started and where most of the original members were from, but we have since added a guitar player and switched a drummer...but everyone originally is from Providence, Rhode Island, as far as core location where we started.
WULF: Yeah, it's kind of a technical question but I was just curious.
JESSE: Yeah, our guitarist now lives in Virginia, so it's even more crazy. We're everywhere!
WULF: Well thank God for the internet!
JESSE: Yeah! Thank God for Gmail!
WULF: OK, so I know you must get asked this all the time about your voice, but when I was listening to this album, it's pretty obvious, but I noticed that you do some pretty crazy vocal style change-ups-- the clean singing, low death metal growls..."Voices Forming Weapons" comes to mind, especially (with those styles), so how do you keep your voice in such good shape so that you can do it night after night on tour?
JESSE: Well, I mean, that's definitely something from years of doing this, but I think the biggest thing for me was back in my Killswitch days. I didn't have a really good handle on my voice...the emotion was there and people were digging it, but the technique was lacking severely and I'd go hoarse after three or four shows. For me it was sort of a matter of stepping back, studying the voice a little bit on my own, trying out different things, and I would say honestly the breaking point where I really started to feel like I had figured my voice out was two years ago recording with my buddy Adam from Killswitch Engage...we recorded a record together tentatively called The Times of Grace, and we just spent a lot of time in the studio doing five, six, seven hours sessions nonstop. He really taught me a lot about my voice...the guy's a genius and he really helped me along with where to put my voice. So that's definitely the kickoff, and then just playing a bunch of shows with The Empire Shall Fall really helped me figure it out. I think any singer needs to realize if you're doing aggressive music you need to have confidence with it, you need to have technique and you need to make sure that your emotions aren't getting in the way of your voice, so that you're always keeping relaxed enough to hit those notes and to hit those screams without putting pressure (on) and damaging your vocal chords. It definitely is an art form. It took me a long time to figure that out.
WULF: Well yeah, because I'm a vocalist, not for any serious band or anything like that, just for fun with my friends playing music, but that's definitely really helpful advice for sure.
JESSE: I don't know if I can advertise it (on here) but I don't care-- there's a CD you can pick up off the internet, there's a booklet that comes with it, called "The Vocal Release," at vocalrelease.com, and that helped me out a lot...it taught me a lot about myself and different warm-ups and warm-downs and whatnot to do. Between that and I took a couple lessons from Melissa Cross who's a great vocal trainer, but I think a lot of it is knowing your body, knowing your voice. Your instrument is your entire body so it takes you a long time for your brain to catch up with that. A guitar player sits at practice and does scales, you gotta do the same thing with your voice. It's a little different (though), it's not just scales, there's a certain amount of pressure and tension that you need to keep up and making sure the voice is vertical from the diaphragm out to the top of your mouth without all that constriction and stuff.
WULF: Yeah, that's what I hear a lot. Singing from the diaphragm, for sure. OK, so only a couple more questions because I know we're kind of running out of time here, but OK so I watched both of the music videos for "Lords of War" and "Awaken", and for the "Lords of War" video I watched the behind the scenes also, and it looked cold--
JESSE: Oh yeah, it was really, really cold.
WULF: Well it looked like it could have been a lot of fun too, so how was it really?
JESSE: We're a band of brothers for sure, we've played a lot of shows together this past year and we've definitely taken a lot of bad situations and made them good, so I think that that's important, you know, a positive mental attitude and (inaudible), but for that video shoot it was literally nine, ten degrees (farenheit) out, and we were about a half-mile out in the woods away from any shelter or anything like that, so that was a challenge but I'm a total pyromaniac when it comes to bonfires and stuff like that, so we (started one), made sure the flames were nice and big, we (had) hot coffee in the truck, and our spirits were high and we love what we do and I think that comes across (in the video), that kept us going. That was a long shoot, we shot till the sun came down, and a huge snowstorm was falling in during the shooting too so...at the risk of sounding cheesy it was kind of a magical thing with the snow and the fire in the background and a couple of guys, our crew, who were friends of ours who helped us out with the video, everyone was just excited to do it so it kind of turned into a little adventure.
WULF: Yeah, especially with the behind-the-scenes (video) it seemed like you guys were having a lot of fun out there.
JESSE: We usually do when we get together.
WULF: The first thing I thought of when I saw the woods was black metal videos even though obviously you guys aren't a black metal band.
WULF: But I was really glad to see that you guys had amps out there because a lot of times I see music videos out in the woods with bands playing, you've got the drum set but usually the guitar player's playing the guitar but there's no amp or anything so it doesn't look very realistic, so this looked cool because it looked kind of like a generator show or something, it was really neat. Anyway, a couple more questions really fast, I know that you're a seasoned veteran when it comes to touring and playing a bunch of shows, but where would you say is your favorite place to play on tour...like, what city or town? Or who at least has the craziest fans?
JESSE: Well, that's a toss-up...I would say Texas has crazy fans, California has some crazy fans, North Carolina has some crazy fans, definitely those three places. For every tour I've been on the people there are not only huge, crazy fans but they're very supportive and very loving. I get a lot of love when I come to Texas. New Orleans too, when we played in New Orleans that was incredible, we had a blast. We get a lot of love from New Orleans, and that was an experience, especially seeing the damage of Katrina. We went there a year after it happened and we saw the FEMA trailers everywhere-- the city had just dusted itself off and just got back up and it was really inspiring.
WULF: When you say North Carolina are you talking about the Winston-Salem area?
JESSE: No, Asheville. Winston-Salem was good too though, but (Asheville) was just off the beaten path. North Carolina definitely shows a lot of love, man.
WULF: Cool! What would you say is the craziest band you've ever been on tour with, besides yourselves of course?
JESSE: On tour with? Let's see...I would have to say most of the bands I've toured with have been really good dudes, although some of the most fun (was with) Valient Thorr! Those guys were awesome! Really good guys, but they're straight out of like a comic book or something, they're characters. They're a mixture of like the MC5, Motörhead, and...they were just a lot of fun. The way they talked about their band, they said they were from the planet Venus, they had a whole story to them and they stuck with it, man! And they went absolutely nuts live! They're one of the coolest bands to watch live. Make sure to take the chance to check them out, they're an experience for sure.
WULF: I've seen them twice, actually...yeah, they're nuts. I can totally see where you're coming from.
JESSE: They're rock and roll, man. They're no joke. They're not posers at all. That's exactly who they are, man.
WULF: OK, so lastly, plans for the future. I know that your album has just come out, I'm assuming that you guys are going to tour or have been touring, and so any plans for future recordings or maybe a DVD, anything like that? What's going on?
JESSE: Actually, all that. The only thing that's tough for us is touring right now...to commit to leaving our jobs, and some of us are in school. So, touring may not happen for awhile. But we're definitely playing regionally, and we're definitely (playing shows) on weekends, we've started working on new material, we're actually getting ready to shoot another video, and we've got enough footage from shows and behind the scenes to make a really killer DVD so that will probably be within the next year or so. We're an independent band and we do everything ourselves so it's really cool man.
WULF: That's awesome. Definitely if you get the chance and you come through the Midwest, don't forget about us in Kansas City. (laughs) I know not a lot of bands come through here but we'd love to see you, for sure. Thank you so much for talking to me, this was a great interview.
JESSE: I appreciate it, man.