Having cancelled European dates mid-tour last month, as guitarist Adam D was hospitalised with a recurring back injury, it looked like daylight was indeed dying for Massachusetts quintet Killswitch Engage.
Despite this setback, when we caught up with front man Howard Jones, we discoverd he is a man who takes something of a Dalai Lama approach to obstacles. Oh, and he also loves nothing more than stroking his cat and watching The Simpsons… how very metal.
As a calm American accent greets me cheerily on the other end of the phone, I am left puzzled as to how such a mild mannered individual possesses a guttural roar of the ilk that has helped to define the now much imitated ‘metalcore’ vocal chic.
As I soon discover, this paradox is somewhat symptomatic of Mr Jones’ nature. The man is built like a tank, yet is never to be seen exercising the ‘tough guy’ macho image. Front man of one of the most successful metal acts in recent years, he doesn’t possess a single ounce of rock star ego. Similarly, in a scene where it is all too easy to spit out angst ridden clichés about how hard done by you were as a teenager, Howard takes a markedly divergent approach.
“It’s always just seemed to me that no matter how bad today is, there is always tomorrow,” he muses, following this up with a more detailed exposition of exactly why he writes the way he does: “Well, it’s just so easy, like when we tell stories, to usually remember the negative stuff first. How many times do you hear; ‘I ate out last night, and you know what? That steak was actually cooked to my satisfaction!’ Negativity is very easy to grab a hold of, and when things fall apart, that’s the memorable story; but it’s a little different to go the other route.”
While acknowledging the positivity of his approach, Howard also downplays anyone trying to nominate him for poet laureate. “I try not to over think (the lyrics), I just write as I am inspired to and yes it’s a fairly cathartic process for me.” The man, who I am soon to learn revels in quiet bemusement at his impact on the lives of anyone but his friends, is also quick to deprecate his musical contribution to the band. “I don’t see myself as a ‘lyricist’ in the purest sense of the word, but at the same time I hope that I don’t just stink!”
“How many times do you hear; ‘I ate out last night, and you know what…that steak was actually cooked to my satisfaction!” – Mr Jones on why it’s too easy to dwell on the negative.
‘Stinking’ is surely not something that he need fear, with many fans taking the band’s uniquely uplifting approach to heart. “We do get a lot of comments that the music is really uplifting and stuff, or as the macho guys in the metal world would say: ‘Gay!'”
Despite its title, the lyrics on As Daylight Dies are certainly peppered with similarly encouraging sentiments, with Absolution providing a prime example: “Anchor yourself to the foundation of everything you love.”
So what does Howard Jones anchor himself to? “A good meal, and The Simpsons! Ha ha…” Cue laughter which might be telling me there’s no chance that I’m going to find out a serious answer, but he continues: “Seriously though, I mean I’ve experienced ups and downs like anyone else….but its so easy to get caught up in the past. But come on, move on man, who hasn’t been there?” This doesn’t come across as a ‘shit happens’ philosophy either, but one that is driven by a simple cause: “I just believe in striving for better. And I’m not belittling people’s experiences, but all of us go through the crap, so why not move on rather than dwell in it?”
“I don’t see myself as a ‘lyricist’ in the purest sense of the word, but at the same time I hope that I don’t just stink!” – Howard Jones hoping that the fragrance of his lyrics is favourable to your, uh, ears.
Providing inspiration with their music is something that’s empowered their fans to move on in their own lives too. “It keeps amazing me, I mean I’ve heard really interesting stories of what people have said the lyrics mean to them, and how they’ve affected people’s lives. Sometimes its like: “Wow!, I said something that really had an effect on someone…”
“That people have been accepting of us in any way is really cool, and that really means a lot, but at the same time, there’s plenty of people who are into Killswitch coz its easy to nod your head to.” While among these head nodding devotees, the band have observed another breed of more dedicated fans, who take pleasure in dissecting it. “People who are really into music, they spend a lot of money on music and CD’s you know, like they know all the words and stuff? Because of that, when it comes to bands they love, they have a lot invested in it so they really wrap their heads around the lyrics and get into it; which is great but it still baffles me!”
Continuing to play down his role model status when I press him as to why people might look to Howard for guidance: “It’s a little weird man, coz I’m just this dude; I’m not the guy who’s gonna change the world or anything, I’d much rather be watching a movie and petting my cat… but if I can have some sort of effect, then great! It means us five ugly guys must be doing something right!”
“I’m not the guy who’s gonna change the world or anything, I’d much rather be watching a movie and petting my cat.” – Killswitch Engage frontman Howard Jones on why he’s an unlikely ‘superhero’.
Considering their status as one of the tightest, vibrant and crushingly heavy bands in the aggressive music mainstream, the strongest impression that I’m left with at the end of our conversation of one of genuine appreciation. “Who knows if there is a bigger purpose? I try not to overthink it, but there’s no ego involved with the band, or anyone around us, and we just try to enjoy what we are doing, and to me it is a truly baffling thing.” And it’s with the same ‘baffling’ smirk that surfaces on Mr Jones’s face as he strides out onto a Brixton stage later that night to face thousands of screaming fans, before unleashing his infectious brand of positivism with a roar.
Killswitch Engage’s As Daylight Dies is out now through Roadrunner.