INTERVIEW: Killswitch Engage’s Joel Stroetzel

joel_stroetzel_03_smKillswitch Engage are in an enviable position as one of those metal bands who have survived the steady rise to fame of their youth and managed to sustain their audience 15 years into their career without sacrificing their principals or their aggression. If anything the Killswitch Engage of today is more brutal, precise and refined than ever. The band was last here in Australia for Soundwave 2013 just prior to the release of their sixth studio album, Disarm the Descent. Now nearing the end of the touring cycle for that album (and with original vocalist Jesse Leach now firmly back in the line-up after leaving in 2002), Killswitch Engage are headed back to Australia to give the album one last hurrah before moving on to their next project. “Australia’s one place where we’ve had some time to check out some cities and the wildlife and stuff,” says guitarist Joel Stroetzel. “It’s a pretty good time!” 

With Disarm The Descent now out for nearly a year, the band still has a little touring to go – including the Aussie shows in April. “Things are starting to slow down but we still have some stuff ahead,” Stroetzel says. “We did a lot of stuff last year leading up to the record and especially after, but we’re at the point now where we’ve got some stuff that’s on and off until the (Northern Hemisphere) summer time, and after that we don’t have too many tour plans. So then we’ll get started on making another record.” The band isn’t one for writing much on the road, especially given that their US touring is typically on a bus – not the most conducive environment to get the creative juices flowing. “We don’t tend to write much on the road. We tend to save that for when we’re home relaxing, where we can kind of be in our element.”

Joel Stroetzel of Killswitch EngageStroetzel is an endorsee of Caparison guitars, the Japanese brand that you’ll find in the hands of I Killed The Prom Queen’s Jona Weinhofen, Symphony X’s Michael Romeo and guitar hero Mattias Ia Eklundh. Stroetzel hooked up with Caparison around 10 or 12 years ago while on tour with Soilwork. “They were about to go on stage and Peter (Wichers) says ‘Hold my guitar for me, I gotta take a piss before I go out on stage,’ so I got to noodle on that guitar for a minute. After the show I said ‘Hey, where did you get that? They’re really nice and I’ve never even heard of them.’ And he got me in contact with Itaru Kanno (Capaison founder) and he sent me a guitar to check out. I’ve been playing them ever since. We have a model that we’ve worked on together over the years called the JSM,” he says. “It’s a pretty straightforward guitar, constructed kinda like a Gibson or PRS. It has a maple set neck, flame maple top, mahogany back. And it’s just pretty simple. It has a Gibson-style bridge without the tailpiece – the strings go through the body – EMG 81 and 85 pickups, locking tuners and a single volume knob. It’s really straight-up for playing live. Not a lot of things that can go wrong. The less knobs and switches the better, as long as it’s functional. And it is, very much. I’m very happy with it. And we don’t tend to need that many tones for Killswitch playing live. I have a bridge pickup, a neck pickup and a volume knob and that’s really all we ever really need.”

Caparison Joel Stroetzel JSM with EMG pickups

Amp-wise Stroetzel is a fan of the Laney Ironheart 120 with Celestion V30 speakers for distorted tones, and the 20 watt Laney Lionheart combo for cleans. “It’s slightly more Fender-voiced, more chimey, and it tends to be nicer for cleans,” he says. “It’s one of the few amps where I really like the clean sounds I get out of it, even with active pickups. With actives it can sometimes be a struggle to get a dynamic clean tone, so it works out really good. And one thing about Laney is they’ve been really great to us over the years: they have a back line down there in Australia that we get to borrow every time we come down. It means we have something we’re more familiar with instead of renting other amps, so we’re lucky in that regard.” Stroetzel isn’t much of a pedal guy (on the road at least: he admits to having plenty of stuff at home for fun). “Me and Adam (Dutkiewicz) are both using pretty much the same thing. Maxon delay pedals and compressors on our clean tone, and for dirty tone we have the Maxon 808 – a Tube Screamer, basically – and that runs all the time in front of the dirty channel. And we have the BOSS NS-2 expander/gate-type pedal. You can set the dynamics pretty good so it’s not like using an actual gate. It doesn’t chop your signal off.” At home he admits to being an overdrive-pedal fiend. “I’m always looking for crazy stuff. I use a lot of Maxon stuff at home too but I’ve got a bunch of Fulltone stuff and I’ve got this new pedal by Shin’s Music called Dumbloid which has got that classic Robben Ford kind of blues tone. We tend to use a lot of other stuff in the studio for different textures but live we tend to keep it simple.”

Killswitch Engage Australian Tour (with Kill Devil Hill)

FRIDAY 11 APRIL – BRISBANE, EATONS HILL – Lic A/A
SATURDAY 12 APRIL – SYDNEY, UNSW ROUNDHOUSE – Lic A/A
SUNDAY 13 APRIL – MELBOURNE, THE PALACE – 18+
TUESDAY 15 APRIL – ADELAIDE, HQ – 18+
WEDNESDAY 16 APRIL – PERTH, METRO CITY – 18+

KsE Gen Use