Who is the real Jesse Leach?
Think you know Jesse Leach? Think again. As the Killswitch Engage singer prepares to unleash his inner demons on Incarnate, he opens up to Hammer like never before
It’s hard to think of Jesse Leach being anything other than Captain PMA. The reinstated Killswitch Engage frontman is currently entering his fourth year of being back in the fold after spending a decade in the wilderness, and anyone who has met him in that time will have a ’barrow-load of superlatives ready to roll out in honour of the man. He’s been a shining, unerring beam of positive, righteous light since he made his return to the band in early 2012, reinvigorating the Massachusetts heavyweights and, as he was happy to tell anyone listening, completing a personal journey to self-redemption that saw him make what he described as the “best decision” of his life. When he wasn’t waxing lyrical on how awesome it was getting back to doing what he does best, you could find him enthusiastically frothing over his love of literature, ska and reggae music or his beloved skinhead culture. His world, it seemed, couldn’t be any brighter. And yet, as he got to work on the second new Killswitch album since his return, what should have put a delicious cherry on a triple-tier cake of awesomeness instead led him to the very brink of his own sanity.
“I’m still reeling,” he admits wearily. “Even just this past week, there have been days where I just can’t get out of bed. I’m depressed. I’m still figuring it all out.”
To understand how Jesse has found turbulence within the midst of the most successful years of his career, you only need look at the, to put it delicately, unusual circumstances of his upbringing and the path he took thereafter. Born in the small, suburban city of Winter Haven, Florida as the youngest of two boys to a nurse mother and an “ex-hippy/ biker-turned-minister” father (and joined 15 years later by a little sister), Jesse spent his early years in a constant state of flux, as his family were regularly uprooted and moved around the States to satisfy the spiritual callings of Papa Leach, who would hear what he’d believe to be the voice of God, instructing him to go and find work and spread the Holy Word wherever possible. As the singer explains, his father’s beliefs not only saw them change their environment on a regular basis (“if he decided we had to get up and go somewhere, we’d go!”), but heavily influenced Jesse’s upbringing.
“He was seeking God,” Jesse muses, “and I lived under a thumb of religion. My parents are great people, but my childhood was definitely very strict. I couldn’t listen to non-Christian music; I used to have to sneak my Run DMC and Iron Maiden tapes into the house. We couldn’t swear. We were like the Flanders kids growing up.”
Despite an upbringing that might seem like kryptonite to the organic growth of any burgeoning metal fan, Jesse goes to great lengths to emphasise that his parents are both “very caring, loving, giving people”, and it was ultimately his family’s endless travels that lead to him discovering heavy music – in the most roundabout way possible.
“We lived in Philadelphia for a while,” he recalls. “I was exposed to a lot of black culture, and that’s when I started getting into breakdancing and hip hop, which was huge when I was growing up in the city. That lead to me getting into Run DMC, which led to Public Enemy, and then Anthrax when Bring The Noise happened. And that’s how I got into heavy music!”
There are days where I can't get out of bed