American metalcore band Killswitch Engage are currently touring the world in promotion of their newly released eighth album, Atonement. The day they were stopping at Huxley’s Neue Welt, I got the chance to talk to drummer Justin Foley about what makes Berlin a special place to perform, how the metal scene has been evolving throughout the years, and how the band comes together to write new songs.
indieberlin: You’re playing Berlin tonight. Are you excited?
Justin Foley: Yeah, definitely.
indieberlin: What do you think makes Berlin different compared to other cities you play in?
Justin Foley: I don’t really know; I think just in general, in Germany in general, that the crowds are super energetic and passionate. They like singing along to all the stuff, moving and dancing. I think it’s all around Germany, with all the shows we’ve played here. It has its own kind of vibe to it.
indieberlin: Is it different to the US, where you’re from?
Justin Foley: Kind of. Not terribly different, just a little bit. I know that people speak English almost everywhere now, but it’s still really cool when you go to a country and everyone is singing along to the words in the language that isn’t their own language. Always a pretty awesome feeling.
indieberlin: Yeah, there’s probably a different connection to the words, and the language. Some actually got to learn through music.
Justin Foley: Which is amazing. It’s a really cool thing.
indieberlin: Is there any special memory you have with Berlin? When you’ve played here in the past, perhaps.
Justin Foley: Yeah, years and years and years ago, me and some of the other guys went to see the parts of the wall that were still up. That was pretty crazy. I think we played in a venue pretty close to it, but I can’t remember the name of it. It was probably at least 10 years ago. It was pretty interesting to see that scattered sense to it. You know it’s pretty hard to actually see all of it.
indieberlin: It’s really quite the historic place to see, and it really makes you think about what happened.
Justin Foley: Absolutely. And it’s hard to really get the grasp of it. When you’re standing there next to it, seeing it, you visualise better what happened. When you know that this was it, you couldn’t cross it – that was pretty intense.
indieberlin: I think that’s something that makes Berlin, or Eastern Germany, so unique. You really feel the connection to the wall here, whereas if you’re from another part of Germany you know that it existed, of course, but there’s a chance you’ve never seen it. You don’t feel as involved with it.
Justin Foley: Right, I would imagine.
indieberlin: Your new record has been released recently. How’s the reception been so far?
Justin Foley: So far so good. We’re playing five new songs in a set, which is just about half of the record. So far people know the words, they’re singing back which is always a cool thing. You never know when you have brand-new music. With older music you’re always really save, because people know the older stuff better usually, but so far this one has been going well.
indieberlin: Do you have any favourite songs to perform?
Justin Foley: Yes, The Crownless King from the new record is one of my favourites to play. It’s really fun, it’s a good headbanger, it’s just cool. It’s not particularly hard for me, I can kind of relax and have a good time when I get to play it.
indieberlin: How do you think you’ve progressed since Incarnate?
Justin Foley: I think this record sounds like us still, it doesn’t sound like there’s any massive departures. There’s songs that are a little different, like I Am Broken Too. In that area we can push where we’ve gone musically into stuff like that. There’s trashier stuff on the other end, too. The Signal Fire is pretty fast. We’re kind of taking all we have and pushing little by little outside to go a little farther, every direction we can.
indieberlin: You’ve always had a knack for combining the melodic, the melancholic with harder stuff.
Justin Foley: Yeah, none of us listen to just one narrow focus of music, we all like tons of different stuff so why not put all of that into our band, try to make something work.
indieberlin: So your musical influences are from all kinds of genres?
Justin Foley: Yes! All over the place, especially between the whole band. Even individually we have a lot of differences, with the five of us together it’s a huge amount of influences. Why not mix that whole stuff into a blender and see what happens?
indieberlin: Something very unique, I’d wager.
Justin Foley: Yeah, I guess so.
indieberlin: Adam [Dutkiewicz]’s been a drummer for you as well. How does that come together, having two drummers in the band?
Justin Foley: It’s great. He thinks a little differently than I do, so he’ll come up with parts or fills that I would probably never think of, and they work perfect. Or vice versa, I would come up with parts or fills that he’d never think of, and they work really well. So it’s cool to have two brains sorting out ideas.
indieberlin: You’ve been in the scene for quite a while, and been hailed as a pioneer for metalcore. How do you think the metal scene has changed throughout the years?
Justin Foley: It just keeps getting more and more branches. It has so many more crazy things, or technical bands, or bright ideas. Bands like Rivers of Nihil are really pushing that aspect. It’s cool that there are so many things that can be counted as metal so the genre just keeps expending and expending. And I think that fans of metal are really open to all the experimentation within bands, which is a really cool thing. I don’t know if fans of other genres necessarily are as open-minded to experimentation. They can be too, but in general I think metal fans are very open towards bands that try to push boundaries a bit. It’s also a thing with metal fans were being able to play your instruments is important, like being technically good at your instruments. It’s a little core value for metal fans, I think. So that’s maybe one of the reasons why people like when bands push into the really weird, crazy stuff, and I think that’s cool. That’s even more accepted now than it was a long time ago.
indieberlin: Yeah, modern metal can get really technical. If you think of punk for example, there’s many fans who like the songs that rely on repeating, more basic chords. I think with metal you can go both ways; you can play simpler structures or you can go all the way out and play all the weird stuff.
Justin Foley: Yeah, I think so too, as long as there’s energy. That’s the main thing. As long as it’s exhilarating, as long as it’s high energy music.
indieberlin: Do you think the scene is going to head further in that direction?
Justin Foley: Probably. People are pushing themselves as players more and more. I can’t keep up with some of the fast stuff the kids are playing these days. All this crazy double bass, the weird swift footing.
indieberlin: Seven or eight-string basses have become quite popular.
Justin Foley: Exactly. There’s more advances in the gear too. So as long as all this keeps happening, which I don’t see why it wouldn’t, it will just keep on going.
indieberlin: We’re nearing the end of the year. Do you have any favourite records released in 2019?
Justin Foley: I don’t know if it was released this year, but I found some records this year that I really like. Like by this band Heretoir, it’s a record called The Circle. I’ve been listening to it constantly, it’s awesome. It’s a metal record, there’s really fast stuff, but the scope of it is huge. There’s parts that sound almost, I don’t want to say orchestral because it doesn’t have strings, but it has that vibe. It’s a huge wall of sound that’s really cool.
indieberlin: A dragon-slaying sound?
Justin Foley: Maybe, yeah. It’s just epic.
indieberlin: Are there any bands or artists you would like to collaborate with, if given the chance?
Justin Foley: I’ve always been a Rush fan. I’d love to play with Geddy Lee, it’d be pretty fun. I’d like to sit down with the drummer and pick his brain about how he came up with all his parts, it’d be really interesting to me. Apart from that, Radiohead is one of my favourite bands. I don’t know how I would fit in with their situation but I would love to try. I’d like to do something maybe outside of metal. Just to see.
Justin Foley: I think mostly music. When I hear stuff and I really like how it sounds.
indieberlin: Do you think there may be a difference between being a pure musician, or being someone who also writes lyrics?
Justin Foley: There probably is. I’ve never been able to write lyrics, I don’t feel like I’d be able to do that. When I was a kid maybe, a teenager, I would write words, but they were really bad [laughs]. Now I’m confident with drumming and making music but I don’t think I have any confidence in writing words.
indieberlin: So drumming is your main creative outlet, or is there something else?
Justin Foley: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I’d try one, but I’m not good at other instruments. Good thing I have drumming to fall back on.
indieberlin: It’s an important part.
Justin Foley: Yeah, I suppose.
indieberlin: Can you recommend us any up-and-coming bands that you think we should keep an eye out on?
Justin Foley: Let’s see. I’m gonna think of something five minutes after you leave that I wish I would have mentioned. I’m so out of the loop, I hear about somebody and think “oh, that’s a new band!” but then it has been around for eight years or something. Well, one of my absolute favourite bands right now is called Caspian. I guess it’s post-rock. There isn’t really any vocals, it’s sort of a louder, a heavier version of Mogwai maybe. I’m really into that kind of stuff, so I hope everybody listens to the bands I really like.
Justin Foley: I have been lately, yes. Maybe that’s why I don’t write lyrics [laughs]. I’ll just focus on the musical side. I can really tune out lyrics too when I listen to stuff. I don’t know why.
indieberlin: For me that’s always been kind of an important part, in order to understand a song fully. The musical patterns may repeat themselves, whereas the lyrics differ as the song goes on. I like to follow the little story told.
Justin Foley: Right, and you can develop such an emotional attachment to the words, really relate to them. I totally understand. It’s just sometimes I just hear the music that’s good.
indieberlin: What else can we expect from the tour?
Justin Foley: Hopefully we can mix in some more new songs. We have around two weeks left of this tour, and we have been soundchecking some different things to work into the set. Well, the set is flowing pretty decent right now. The record just came out, so we’re out touring trying to support it. So far it’s going great, so I guess we’ll continue trying to play some more new stuff and see how it goes over.
indieberlin: You’ve been having different support bands for different countries.
Justin Foley: Oh yeah. It’s usually different. We just did three tours with Parkway Drive, which is usually really rare. Normally each tour has a different package. So it’ll be like a month here and it will be this one. When we’ll eventually tour the US probably next year it will be someone else most likely.
Justin Foley: Sometimes that helps, sometimes it’s just who’s available, or just keeping it different. I think the market is really different too. Like you said, maybe some bands would be more suited to one place than to another place.
indieberlin: How do you think it changes the crowd’s behaviour? I’m sure there’s some guests who are going because they like a certain combination of bands, or they’re a little more into the support band. Interesting to analyse that.
Justin Foley: Yeah, sometimes you don’t want to be blown off the stage, but it happens. Our fans are pretty cool, they really support whoever is playing before us and give them a chance. Sometimes people can be pretty cruel to the support band. I think our fans show up early and they listen and check them out.
indieberlin: I’ve noticed people who skip the support set entirely and only show up when the main act is starting, which I think is a shame.
Justin Foley: It is a shame, in the end you won’t know what you’ve missed out on. This band Caspian I mentioned earlier, I only discovered them because I went to a show early and they were one of the support bands, and now they’re like my favourite.
indieberlin: Yeah, I discovered one of my favourite bands the same way. Now I’ve seen them three times in the span of the last year.
Justin Foley: Yes, if you have a ticket, why not take the whole show in?
indieberlin: Exactly. Always go and see the support band.
That would be everything from my side, is there anything else you’d want to give us on the way?
Justin Foley: I don’t know what else to say. Thanks fans, always thanks, fans.