Jesse Leach, the lead singer of revered metalcore band Killswitch Engage, is a musical journeyman who’s probably never met a musical genre he didn’t like.
A devotee of punk, hardcore and all strains of heavy metal, he’s often espoused his passion for reggae, dub, hip-hop and many other genres in interviews.
At the end of the summer, I was tooling around Bandcamp and discovered he had self-released a beautiful ambient album, At First Light. I listened to it and it was the perfect respite to the noise of the chaotic, uncertain times we’re living in. As an unabashed KsE fan, I had to learn more about the ar of this album. I reached out to Jesse with a few questions, and he shared the genesis of how it came together.
At First Light, It Begins is a beautiful collection of music. When I first saw it on Bandcamp, I was momentarily surprised to see your name connected to it. But knowing the diverse scope of your work — punk rock to metalcore and beyond — it immediate sense once the opening track “The Path” sunk in. What has been the reaction so far?
Jesse Leach: The reaction has been great! Granted, it is very small-scale, no hype, no press release, no nada. So, considering that I am happy with the response thus far.
There’s always been a lot of emotion in the music you’ve made. Would you say the perspective of At First Light is you reflecting, the listener or mutual?
This album is very much a release for me. I wrote it as a sort of therapy for me but also with the intention of it helping others in the process.
“I do feel there is room for politics anywhere especially now living in this Orwellian time. However, this project is all about our spirituality as humans.”
Can you share the setup you used for recording? Plus, how and where did you conduct the field recordings?
Simple set up: Garageband, MIDI keyboard, mic, self-recorded sounds and samples. Field recordings for this one were done in Khao Sok Park, Thailand; Catskill Mountains, New York; and Joshua Tree desert in California.
What was the process like in terms of assembling these pieces? Were these tracks the byproduct of many sessions? What was it like doing a release entirely on your own, except for chanting vocals from Corrine Paris on “The Path.”
It was very spur of the moment to make this album. I would have an idea, melody or sound, then record it and finish it the same day. I get into an almost trance-like state doing these and it takes over my mind. I can’t stop until it is finished. I truly enjoyed making music this way and will definitely do more. It was liberating to put out music on my own with no options or anyone to please but myself.
“From the East, Wind” is such an expansive track at over 17 minutes. How did it come to be?
It just came to me and before I knew it, I had been at it for hours. I didn’t edit it down or try to make it shorter I just went with it and to me, it feels right. This music is a journey, not a single-minded listen.
You’ve been forthcoming about politics on several recent social media posts. Brian Eno once said, “You can’t really make apolitical art.” Do you think there’s room for politics in ambient music?
I do feel there is room for politics anywhere especially now living in this Orwellian time. However, this project is all about our spirituality as humans. If there is a politic[al] theme here, it is simply harmony and unity.
What did you learn most about yourself as an artist from putting this release together?
I really enjoy making ambient music, and I love doing it alone. Music is therapy on so many levels.
I know you always have a lot of irons in the fire. What’s next for Jesse Leach? As a long-time KsE fan, I must ask the obligatory question if you are dabbling with new material.
At present, I have been working on another electronic project called Dead Trees. My computer recently crashed, and I am still trying to recover the material. That and I had two unreleased “The Way Back With In” songs on there as well. So, in time, I will either recover them or start from scratch. I suppose time and technology will tell.
Now that you’ve dipped your toes into ambient music, do you think you’ll continue to explore the electronic music genre?
That is a big YES!
Thanks for your time, Jesse. While this album is wonderfully soothing, I can’t wait until the pandemic is over and KsE can rock out live on stage again. You know, amps cranked to 11, lots of pinch harmonics and horns in the air.
Thank you so much for my first solo music interview!
Image by Mike Demellia