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Interview With Joel Stroetzel Of Killswitch Engage

Photo of Killswitch Engage

Band Photo: Killswitch Engage (?)

I recently had the chance to sit down with Joel Stroetzel, guitarist, from Killswitch Engage. This was at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA on November 18th, which was part of the Jagermeister Fall Tour. Here's the interview:

Mike (corrosivemind): What influenced you to become a guitarist, or who maybe?

Joel (KsE): It's a toss-up man, Guns 'N Roses, Metallica, I don't know, just back in the day. I actually played piano before that, but I realized you can't rock out too hard on that.

Mike: How do you go about writing new songs, do you kind of have your mind set, like this is how I want it to sound, or do you go into it with an open mind and things just start to flow?

Joel: It depends, usually it just starts out by jamming a little bit and it just kind of goes from there. Just start out with a few riffs and then it grows, most of the band doesn't really write a whole song on their own, except Adam sometimes. We usually just write stuff and present it to everyone in the band just piece the riffs together and let it grow on from that point.

Mike: In what ways was writing "The End of Heartache" different from writing "Alive or Just Breathing"?

Joel: It was a lot different having Adam on guitar instead of drums and Mike on bass. When we were writing "Alive..." it was different because Adam wasn't on guitar so it was hard to get the sound we were trying to get, so when Adam started playing guitar instead of drums it was easier to get the sound we wanted. We've always liked the hardcore sound, so we tried to bring some elements of that into the music we wrote for "The End..." because it was easier to get that hardcore breakdowns into the music with a second guitarist. I think that was the best thing about the two albums, was that now it's a lot easier to write having a second guitar player.

Mike: How would you go about getting some one who is new to metal into the music and the scene it has behind it?

Joel: It depends on the person, if they're a musician try to point out musicianship and if they're not then try to show them the lyrics or something. Sometimes it's hard to get a person that doesn't like it into it because they're like "Oh it's just noise" and it's hard to get them to learn that it's real music. Listen to these parts here, listen to that, you slowly just put things together. My parents are actually big heavy metal fans now too, when I first started playing guitar they were like "What is this crap?" and now they're huge Killswitch fans and a lot of other metal bands fans' too.

Mike: What advice would you give an up-and-coming band to try to make it and get signed?

Joel: The hardest part is making connections, trying to find people to play with. Just trying to get shows and find places to show your band off. The best thing to do, though, is once you've written some material try to get some kind of recording and try to show it to as many people as you can. It's one of those industries that it's not how good you are it's kind of who you know. It's one of those things that there are so many great bands out there who will never get recognized and it's a shame. You just have to stick with it.

Mike: What is one of the best things that Howard brought to the band when he joined?

Joel: I think the mentality changed a lot as far as touring. Howard is more laid back and a funny, joke around kind of guy. As where Jesse would always take things seriously on tour anyway. A lot of the times he was worried about his voice and not being able to sing the next day. It was just a good change for the band and obviously Jesse is a great guy but I think I was a good change. Now he's got a great strong voice, very versatile, as well as Jesse too though.

Mike: How do you feel about the hardcore dancers at the shows? Do you feel as though it's taking away from the experience people expect to get at a show because they're too busy watching out for fists, and feet flying at their faces?

Joel: Well I've always been a big fan of that kind of stuff, and even now as much as we were back then we're equally as much a metal band as we are a hardcore band. I like to see people jumping around, I don't like to see people get hurt and get hit in the face ya know. If people can just kind of keep it under control, if you're swinging your arms around you just shouldn't aim for people or anything. Anyone who goes and stands next to a pit should realize that you can't stand there without getting knocked around a little bit. I just think that some people in some scenes just take it too far and kind of single people out. It's a shame too because people shouldn't be that way, if people want to jump around and have a good time then that's cool. They shouldn't be trying to knock people out or anything you know. As long as people go into it trying to have a good time and some one bumps into you they don't mean it. 9 out of 10 times people go in there not knowing what to expect and that’s how a lot of fights start. People are like "Oh that guy hit me" and then they go and try to start something. It's starting to get better though, over the past 4 or 5 years it is getting better. It used to be like all hardcore at this show, then all metal at this show. Now it's like a mix of both and it's good because more people are getting into different types of music and before if you were a metal kid going to a hardcore show you'd be singled out and vice versa. Now you still have those people who go to a show expecting to do their thing and don't care about the other side, and that's understandable. People are starting to get along better, but there are still those problems.

Mike: Do you think the metal scene is getting better, staying the same, or getting worse then it has been in previous years?

Joel: Other then the fact that more people are realizing the more underground bands now it's really the same people out there doing the same things. It's like when people come up to me and go "Hey, how's it feel to be the new wave of American heavy metal" and it's kind of weird to me I've been playing the same music for 10 years or so now. Like Mike used to be in Overcast, and in Aftershock with Adam and myself. Lamb of God, Shadows Fall and all those guys have been around for a long time. It's just cool that they're all getting noticed now.

Mike: I think a lot of the reason metal is becoming more popular now is because of how the world is, because of how fucked up the country and world in general is right now.

Joel: Yeah I think people need aggressive music when there's a lot of stuff going on around them like this. Now it's just easier to access and you can actually hear this music on the radio, see it on mtv and fuse and everything it's awesome and it hasn't been that way for a while.

Mike: What's the craziest, scariest or the funniest thing that's happened to you while on tour?

Joel: Ozzfest, I won't name any names, maybe friends of ours but there were a couple people from different bands. Might be friends of ours, might not me, but they ended up stealing the golf cart from Ozzy, and went on a rampage like knocking sandy cans over, ripping through tents. They actually made a ramp that they used to flip the cart and I remember looking out of the bus and seeing all of the security just going nuts and going "Who the hell did this" and it was one of those weird times, but really funny times too. It also could've ended in a few people getting in trouble but it just kind of went away which is cool.

Mike: In your opinion, what would be the ultimate guitar to own, if it's not already one that you currently own?

Joel: Obviously I've loved using my Caparison guitars that I've been using since I saw Soilwork using it and they let me try it out and I loved the tone of it, just everything about it. I have two that I bring on tour and they're just really great, they play fast and they have great sustain especially for being a light, bolt-on neck guitar. The company is great they'll hook you up if you want a certain pick-up or something they'll get it done for you. I also have a Paul Reed Smith and a Les Paul Custom, it's hard to say what my dream guitar is because I have so many guitars at home. I don't have like 100 guitars, but I have about, maybe, 15 electrics and a few acoustic, a few bass' as well.

Mike: How do you feel about Bush getting re-elected and the whole Iraq war?

Joel: I try not to get into politics too much, one thing that bums me out is I know there are a lot of people in the world that are bummed with Bush. I'm afraid they're thinking "This country is a bunch of idiots, getting this asshole re-elected again" and all that stuff. I'm not a really political person it's just really weird. I just hope that whatever happens with this Iraq war and everything that it just gets smoothed out somehow. I don't know what to expect in the next four years. I'm not too much of a Bush fan, I have a few friends who voted for him and they have their reasons and much respect to them for that. But as I said, I try not to get too much into politics, I just play my guitar.

Mike: If I were to open your cd player right now, what would I find in there?

Joel: I listen to a lot of H.I.M. and a bunch of power metal like Symphony X and stuff. I've been listening to the best of Peter Gabriel a lot and just going back in the day there. I listen to a lot of different stuff, as far as metal I like stuff like Carcass, Arch Enemy, Nevermore, stuff with cool guitar playing and good songs. A lot of H.I.M. though lately, there's some big H.I.M. fans in Killswitch. Good melodic-metal, rock kind of stuff and I've just been listening to them a lot lately.

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