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Interview with Jesse Leach and Nick Sollecito of The Empire Shall Fall

I recently had the chance to interview Jesse Leach and Nick Sollecito of The Empire Shall Fall, vocalist and bassist respectfully. This was my first e-mail interview and I thought it’d be much more difficult than it actually was. Fortunately, Nick and Jesse were very prompt and professional. Also, for those who do not know, The Empire Shall Fall is the experimental/metal band featuring former Killswitch Engage front man, Jesse Leach on vocals, Nick Sollecito on bass, guitarists Jake Davenport and Marcus de Lisle and drummer Jeff Pitts.

The following section is my interview with Jesse Leach:

Mike (Corrosivemind): How has the fan’s reaction been to this new project as compared to your previous group, Seemless?

Jesse Leach: This project has seen a great deal more attention, right off the bat. I have a feeling people were pretty anxious for me to return to a more "aggressive" style of vocals. Seemless was a great time, a great band as well, but a lot of people didn't really get it and had a hard time swallowing my "new style." Seemless made me realize the soulful, bluesy side of my voice. It is what it is. We all have to move on and be who we are. I am definitely comfortable in my own skin with TESF.

Corrosivemind: When you formed TESF, what goals did you set for yourself?

Jesse: Honestly, I just wanted to make conscious music and have fun playing shows, then maybe even put out a record. It, sort of, had a life of its own as things got rolling. Now, here we are with a record, playing almost every weekend and getting a lot of people to take notice of us...very cool. Our message of awareness is starting to ignite people as well and that in itself is just huge!

Corrosivemind: Every group you’ve been a front-man for has had a different sound. Is that just coincidence?

Jesse: No. That is sort of half intentional and half just doing what I feel works and what moves me as a writer and as a music lover. To me, it is very important for my vocal style to reflect my personality. I am a mutt down to the core. I love a great deal of music, all kinds. So, I wanted to bring that to the table with everything I do. I get bored with music that is too one-dimensional.

Corrosivemind: What musicians influenced you the most along your career?

Jesse: Bob Marley, Joe Strummer, Tim Singer, Al Green, Jeff Buckley, Chuck D, Bono (War/ Joshua tree era), Mike Patton, Ian Mckay, KRS ONE, to name a few.

Corrosivemind: Do you plan on doing a full US tour with this group or was it more of a side project?

Jesse: Well, at the moment it is a part time band. Due to financial obligations in my life I need to have a steady income coming in. However, I do not rule out touring altogether. Time will tell.

Corrosivemind: I know politics are a “taboo” topic, but I’m going there anyway. People like Ron Paul seem to be voicing similar points-of-view as your lyrical content. Would you say he’s part of the inspiration for the track “We The People”?

Jesse: Personally, I really dig a great deal of what he says. However, We the People believe it or not, is meant to read more of an abstract story. The point is there, but it is deeper than what is being said. I will leave it at that and let the song be.

Corrosivemind: Aside from Ron Paul, what other people have helped to form your worldly and political points of view?

Jesse: The working class Americans (especially in the Hispanic cultures here in NY), Gandhi, my father The Reverend Dr. Leroy Leach, Alex Jones (he is an extremist, but has made some interesting points that have made me seek out information for myself), George Carlin (seriously) again to name a few.

Corrosivemind: Have you ever seen the movies “The Obama Deception” or “Zeitgeist” and if you have, what is your take on those?

Jesse: I really take those movies/documentaries with a grain of sand. I believe they are great tools to open people’s minds to a different reality and way of thinking. However, I can't for the life of me swallow them completely and say they are 100% accurate. It would be like me watching a news program like CNN, Fox News or NPR and stating everything they say is journalistically balanced. I like to take pieces from all sources and then form a theory. I have an open mind and enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts on certain issues, as well.

Corrosivemind: If you could pick one person, alive or dead, to have a deep conversation with who would it be and why?

Jesse: My head feels like it will explode trying to answer that one...ahhhh, so many for so many reasons...

Corrosivemind: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but when you left Killswitch Engage, what was the reasoning? Did you have differences of which direction to take the music after “Alive or Just Breathing”?

Jesse: I have been asked this just so many times. If people don't know the answer to this by now after 8 years, make one up...a good deal of people do that anyway...In fact, let me start a rumor: Adam D and I were having a hard time dealing with each other so, we would get into these epic sword fights. One time, we were aboard the KSE tour ship we purchased with our first million, I had a duel with Adam that lasted 12 days. Long story short, I got stabbed one to many times, so I had to walk the plank. As soon as I did this, the dread Pirate Howard replaced me. It just hasn't been the same since. I still love all of them but will never return as the vocalist for KSE. That is, unless they rename the band "Davey Jones Locker." The End.

Corrosivemind: In a recent video you said there are several labels looking to sign The Empire Shall Fall. Have you guys come to a deal with any yet?

Jesse: We have come pretty far with one label in particular. I can't, however, say anything yet. Sorry brother.

Corrosivemind: If I’m not mistaken, you’re Christian. If this is true, is it hard being in the metal world and doing tours while trying to stay true to yourself and your beliefs?

Jesse: I do my best to follow the teachings of Christ. The metal world is not as evil as many may think. There is a great deal of good people in the metal and hardcore communities. Being a "Christian" is part of who I am and I don't plan on losing my identity or beliefs anytime soon. I am very much an individual and quite comfortable being myself. I certainly do not want to be put under a microscope and judged by those who do not feel I live up to "their" standards of what it means to be a "Christian." I will, also, say this: I do not stand behind or ascribe to any one organized denomination. I personally am at a point of conflict with various aspects of the politics of the church. There needs to be a revolution to clean up all of the self righteousness and the straight up lack of compassion and love. But, I digress. There are a great many doing amazing and beautiful things in the name of God. I am really just speaking from where I stand. It is just my opinion. I after all, am just a man.

Corrosivemind: You seem to always be sporting a beard, have you ever thought of letting it grow and competing in the “World Beard Championships”?

Jesse: No, I am to compulsive for any competitive hair growing.

Corrosivemind: What’s the strangest thing a fan has done or said when they met you?

Jesse: So many strange things. Ok, let's see. I had a girl bite my hand affectionately. My wife wasn't super keen on that one. I have seen a great deal of my lyrics tattooed on fans. I have seen grown men get teary eyed when they meet me. As crazy as that sounds, it has happened. It is amazing to see the impact lyrics and music can have on people. I am so thankful for people who show me love, even if it is a bit on the extreme side. I really get it because I am like that about music, it runs through my veins. I can honestly say if it wasn't for music I wouldn't be here today.

Corrosivemind: If you had a fan that proved they could pull it off, would you ever let them get on stage and play guitar or do guest vocals?

Jesse: They have proven it and I have done this in the past...

The following section is my interview with Nick Sollecito, bassist of TESF:

Mike (Corrosivemind): What’s it like working with Jesse in this new group?

Nick Sollecito: Working with Jesse is easy. We lived together for some time and would always go in the basement and just jam away to metal, doom, hip hop, ambience, indie-rock, whatever came to us that day/moment. We sort of developed a connection and always thought of starting a band, but always got side-tracked with other stuff. TESF is our first actual focused project together. Working with him is easy. He lets me do my thing and I let him do his thing. We don't really question each other. We never have. Occasionally, we may make suggestions to each other. The entire band is really easy to work with on a musical level. We don't often hit road blocks; we are all open to criticism and suggestions. Honestly, I think that, musically, this is the easiest band I have had the pleasure of working with.

Corrosivemind: Do you feel that having him in the band makes your work ethic stronger and makes you feel like you’ve got to work harder to prove yourself as a legit metal band?

Nick: Right off the bat, I can say that we have never felt the need to prove ourselves to anyone. We have all been in the game for a long time and speaking for myself, I just don't care enough to have to prove myself to anyone. I use to feel that way, particularly coming up in the Providence music scene. But, I have realized that now that I don't care what others think, I am able to move ahead much faster. Working with Jesse isn't really what makes me work harder. I am working harder now because I am almost 30 (laughs). This is the time to get things together and stop messing around and letting dumb things get in the way of success. I am, also, finally with a group of guys that are all working hard to git'er done. We communicate every day on everything. We have a lot of different views, but when all is said and done, we are able to make tough decisions and focus on our goals.

Corrosivemind: Have you always been a bass player or did you start out playing guitar like a lot of other bassists, including myself?

Nick: I have always been a bass player. I love to mess around with guitar, drums, and keys. But I am a bass player.

Corrosivemind: I’ve noticed some jazz influences in the music; did you or the other band members grow up with jazz being a big part of their learning process?

Nick: I was forced into a jazz background, sort of. In high school I joined the jazz band and just continued my music education focusing on jazz, as I was an electric bass player, and classical was the only other "scholarly" option. I don’t consider myself a jazz player, but I take a lot of the theory in jazz and mix it with my playing. I think more than anything, we all love music, not just metal, so our sound isn't metal/metal/metal. I don't think any one of us would want to release anything that didn't represent ourselves. And because of that, we have a pretty eclectic mix on Awaken.

Corrosivemind: Is this band the party-your-face-off type of band or do you guys like to keep things low-key before/after shows?

Nick: (laughs) Man it's the exact opposite. A few of us like to have a drink or two before we go on stage. Jake doesn't drink at all. I, personally, don't even think about drinking at shows. It just doesn't cross my mind. Probably because I am running around making sure the show is running smoothly or something to that effect. People may think that not partying as a metal musician is lame, but I am not too concerned. I get pretty annoyed by that drunken guy at shows that just talks your ear off about the same thing for about 20 minutes. I just watched a lecture of Phil Anselmo at Loyola, and that makes me never want to drink or do any drugs. If you think drugs and heavy drinking are cool, then man, seriously go to Youtube and search for "phil anselmo loyola" and watch all 7 parts. Then get back to me.

Corrosivemind: Did you work in any other bands prior to The Empire Shall Fall?

Nick: In addition to TESF, I play bass with an MC called Symmetry. It's hip hop with a live band. He's really talented and the band is made up of great musicians who I have played with in another group called Of The Hour. It was a prog band, sort of, that broke up in 2005. Jeff (drums) and I also use to play together in an indie-rock band called Bradford Ave. I also do random jazz gigs or fill in gigs from time to time. I just try to keep busy, really.

Corrosivemind: If you could sit down with one person alive or dead and have a conversation with them; who would you choose and why?

Nick: I never had to answer this question. Dead/Intellectually: Ben Franklin maybe. The guy invented so much stuff and was such an important figure in the history of the United States. Not to mention, he probably took a lot of secrets to the grave with him. Alive/Shallow: Scarlett Johansen, maybe. I would try to charm the crap out of her. Ha, yep.

Corrosivemind: What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you? (Musically or personally)

Nick: A lot of people in my family, particularly my parents have always told me to "stick with it." So, there's that. The best advice, even though it took me a while to accept, has always been constructive criticism. My dad was always kind of a hard-ass on me in terms of performance. I would play a jazz concert in high school or something, and he would say, "Great job, but..." For a while, that "but" was interpreted as negativity, but now that I am older I realize he was trying to point me in the right direction. It also helped keep my ego in check. Not that I am an ego-maniac, but I can see how some people get big heads when they only hear, "Oh man, you guys are amazing." However, on the flip-side, I have a tough time accepting compliments, and usually just make up excuses for why I wasn't "amazing" on stage. I am getting better at just saying "Thank you" and then giving a little bow.

Corrosivemind: If you had an entire day to do whatever you wanted with no repercussions, monetary issues or fear of dying, what would you do?

Nick: Probably ride an ATV on some trails in the woods. I don't see myself making tons of money...ever, but I would love to some day have a decent amount of land and an ATV. My "MTV Cribs" would basically be a crappy, worn-down house with a huge back yard with jumps and such.

Corrosivemind: Do you have any instrument that you’d consider a “dream” instrument?

Nick: Hmm, not really a "dream" bass. I was trying to start my own little guitar company, but things with the band took up too much time, and now I am half way through my first guitar design. Someday I hope to finish it, but who knows what the future will bring. I use to play Fenders, but then picked up a Ken Smith, and realized that basses have come a long, long way since Fender. I broke my Ken Smith at a show in NY and have been playing an Ibanez SR 6 since then. It was really cheap and is the fastest playing bass I have ever owned. Until I can build myself something better, I would like to get an Ibanez endorsement so I can get a few more of these 6 stringers. I think I may break my current one very soon. I am kind of rough on my basses in TESF gigs. I would love a Ken Smith endorsement but I don’t think he really does that. And, I can't afford to buy another one, so there's that.

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