Check Your Head with Jesse Leach

Jesse Leach of Times of Grace and The Empire Shall Fall, and the voice behind Killswitch Engage’s landmark release Alive or Just Breathing is back from a summer of touring with his latest installment of “Check Your Head.” I must say, it really is good to have his prose back on the site. Click this link to hear the song that inspired this column.

Life is fleeting and tomorrow is not promised to anyone.

Here I sit in my little home studio, beefing up my resume preparing for another day of job hunting. That’s right — job hunting. I know many of you are there now or have been in the past, so you know what it is like. I just finished two U.S. tours and a Europe/UK festival tour with Times of Grace and here I am not even two weeks later, looking for a job!

If you would have told me three to four months ago this is where I would be, I would have called your bluff. It is a tough pill to swallow and I have been humbled by trying to make a living off music before so I am familiar with this routine. 

So what about you? Have you ever had a dream or a goal that you achieved and it turns out it is not exactly how you thought it was going to be? I know there are a great deal of people that have this thinking that bands touring in a bus “living the dream” have little worry of money, etc. The reality is, as it turns out, there are a great deal of bands in these uncertain times of music that are struggling.

I sit here and remember playing in front of thousands of people in Germany and the feeling of “Wow…I made it here.” In truth, it was a teenage dream come true and I lived it. So there are two sides to the story here, but it all depends on perspective. On the one hand I feel good — I achieved my goal, I put out a record I am proud of and was able to tour on it and live that life I had almost forgotten after being off the road for five years. On the other hand, in truth, I have moments where I feel like I fell flat on my face and it takes everything in me to muster up the strength and humility to put my self out there to get a “regular” job again and it kills me. 

Granted, my tour days may very well not be over, but at the moment, there is nothing solid lined up for me and, I made zero money on the road. I will address this real quick as even some of my more “in the know” friends don’t get how that can happen. When you tour, you have a “guarantee,” a specific fixed amount of money you make per show. 

your guarantee
minus bus rental 
minus bus driver fees/overdrives/daily hotel room for him
minus gas/tolls 
minus per diems (allotted money every one band/crew receives for food, etc.)
minus crew “salary”
minus booking agent fees
minus management fees
plus, whatever you sell in merchandise

I am not giving figures but I think the majority of you “get it” — there is no real “guarantee” there will be a profit and turns out on these past few tours…not so much. Chalk it up to experience as they say, right?!

So to bring it all home, perspective-wise, how do you see my situation? How does your view effect you in various situations? I think it brings up an interesting point on the power of the way we think and perceive things.

Admittedly I had brief moments of self pity, but when I stood back and really looked at the situation I couldn’t feel anything but an acceptance and thankfulness. I took a day to reflect down in Manhattan (one of my favorite places) and walked around observing people as I tend to do when faced with many thoughts that need to be sorted. I saw people: living on the streets, performers in the subways and on the streets playing for change, business men glued to their phones tied up in their world of money, drug addicts strung out talking to themselves covered in filth, city workers emptying trash fighting off roaches and rats…and then there was me. 

I have traveled all over doing what I love to do, and it all hit me. How fortunate am I?! OK, granted, having some money to pay bills would have been great and an easy way to validate myself and my “achievements” but I don’t and it doesn’t. So it raises the question: what constitutes “success” in my mind? What about yours? Money comes and goes, experience and memories can not be bought or sold. I have family that loves me, fans that still support and encourage my music (even though I am unable to live off it, but I will keep doing it!). So in your life, do you find yourself measuring your success off of money? Or perhaps not. I urge you to do as I have done (and pray to continue to do): modify and reevaluate your perspective.

Life is filled with trials and tribulations, ups and downs. It is how we deal with these issues or situations that measures our “successes” or “failures.” Some of you may look at my life and my career and want to live my life perhaps because you only see a small portion of how I live and what I do. Just like I may see someone else and envy them for whatever reason. That saying, “the grass is always greener,” holds real truth. The life you live and have been given or have achieved is yours — you are responsible for it and it is you that can make changes or not. As a man of faith, I look to God and realize he has a plan for me and watches over me. As a human, I strive to attain “things” in this life sometimes selflessly with good intentions, other times with pride and desire. At the end of the day we all need balance in our lives and in truth, a clear perspective on who we are and what our purpose is in this life. 

Big questions, deep thoughts — but that is where I am at these days. As I walk in to bars and restaurants, etc. putting myself out there again in the world of 9-to-5 or whatever I end up doing for a paycheck, it humbles me and makes me appreciate the “little” things in life; waking up next to a woman I love, a fresh cup of coffee, a good pint of beer, going to a local show, the sunshine, Sunday dinner with my family, driving in my car with my windows down and the Clash booming out of the speakers, wondering what kind of job I will get…it may not seem like much to some people, but its my life and I embrace it because it is all I can do.

So no matter where you are in your life, keep your head up, be self-aware and appreciate what you have. If you are struggling or unhappy, it may very well be your perspective that needs to change and maybe, just maybe your life will change. You never know until you give it a try. 

As for me, music will always be a part of my life on or off tour — job, or no job. I have more music on the way, however, I need to stop typing and pound the pavement as they say and land a job. Ah, the life of a struggling artist — it is bitter sweet, but I think today I will focus on the sweet side and keep my perspective bright for the future. 

Wish me luck in my hunt for gainful employment! Thanks for reading and thanks for wanting another column, all of you who wrote and sent me messages on Facebook/Twitter. See you at a local show or perhaps I will serve you your next pint of beer in the city? Who knows? In the words of Joe Strummer, “the future is unwritten…” and I have my pen in hand, preparing for the next chapter of my life. 


  • Mindgod

    Ur art is making a difference to me and many other people. All the best with ur applications, I trust the next TESF record will be a success. I just blasted numbered days while drivig home, it still makes me shiver. thank you for this, pls keep the faith.

  • DustinandKrista Brinnon

    Finally, someone who understands it. Perspective really is a driving force. After everything I have been through in my life, one would think I’d be another of those that has given up and chosen darker methods with which to escape the pain, but instead I focus on the future and use my experiences as stepping stones to something better. It is so refreshing to see one of my inspirations so driven. I wish you the best of luck, Jesse, as someone who is definitely walking miles in those same shoes. Again, good luck and God bless, man.

  • Michael Miles

    Your words always burrow into my heart. You have the capability to inspire with every word written, with every note sung and every optimistic smile you give. A path has been layed out before you and you are walking it in the light, not many have the power that you have been bestowed. Paying the bills is a plus to what you do on the daily. Continue to use your gift and inspire Jesse. This world, these people, I need you!

  • Teddy Patterson

    Amen brother, keep pounding and rocking, it is a better “scene” with you involved.

  • Michael Arias

    Great read! Very insightful. I haven’t experienced what you’ve had, but my life won’t be complete unless I get to be in a band, compose and release material I’m proud of, and tour behind it and experience life on the road. I appreciate your perspective on things b/c you are definitely an artist I have looked up to since first hearing Alive Or Just Breathing  and having it influence me towards my heavy metal endeavors. I am a little surprised to hear that even for you and how far you’ve come along in music, that their is still enough financial struggle. Best wishes in solidifying your standpoint in life, and keep on rocking!

  • Chuck Diesel

    Thank you Jesse for all the great music and columns you have written. I really enjoy reading what you write. I mostly enjoy your music most of all. It has a deep impact and makes me feel alive. Keep your head up and keep doing what you do best. I wish you well man!

  • Anonymous

    god Bless you, man. I’m a writer from Russia, and i’m a man of faith too.
    Actually, i translated words from your lyrics to russian fanbase and it was a blast.A lot of people really felt connected.
    I live the same life here, and i writing same kind of articles for local web press.
    One love, hombre. I hope you’ll write a book someday. I doubdt it will ever see the light of day on paper ’cause paper book business is almost as dead as musical busines,

  • Karla

    Thank you for your music, Jesse, and your wise, wise words. Even if you never “make a living” through your art you can say that you have been able to live some of your dreams. Many people never get that chance. Your memories of those shows, and the knowledge that your music has influenced other musicians, touched hearts, and helped people through very bad times (myself included) are priceless. It’s a shame that so many talented artists–and others–cannot make a living from what they love anymore; trust me, you are far from alone in that. Literally everyone I know is struggling financially right now. I know that my perspective of what is truly important has been permanently shifted in the last couple of years. Thanks for being one of the people who “gets it.” Best of luck to you. God Bless.

  • Φύσκος

    good luck

  • Gezrick Newall

    Jesse Leach looks like a pretentious Amish farmer in that picture. 

  • Metalpirate7

    You have many valid points here. I personally would consider the fact that three of the bands you’ve contributed to have made an indelible impression on my life to be some measure of success. You’re lyrics are positive and your voice is badass. I am always seeking to know the musical status of one Jesse Leach. I’m pretty nuts about Times of Grace and will certainly check out The Empire Shall Fall. I hope you can sustain and continue the career that has provided so much inspiration and the occasional chill on the spine.
                                                                                           With respect and admiration,
                                                                                                     Ryan Mowery

  • Kyle

    Good luck to you, Jesse. I must admit, I was secretly hoping the past
    year or so that your return to Killswitch Engage would materialize.
    Apparently that is not the case. I know you have heard it all before, so
    I will just say that your work with those guys has had a profound
    impact on me and I will leave it at that.

    Fresh out of college, I was a loan officer at a now infamous and defunct
    mortgage company during the refinance boom. I made more money than I
    knew what to do with. At first it was really exciting, but after I
    bought a new car, flat screen, and other crap I thought would make me
    happy, I eventually realized I was still just the same guy and I hated
    what I did. So, I left and went to law school. At the time, I thought I
    was making a noble and principled decision, but what I really did was
    make the biggest mistake of my life. I am now drowning in student debt
    and I’m stuck at some sleazy law firm.

    I’d kill to be debt free and just have a simple job that I took pride in
    and enjoyed. It’s been a hard lesson to learn, but only now do I truly
    realize that money, status, and title truly mean nothing. It’s all
    superficial bullshit and only superficial bullshit artists are impressed
    by such things. What matters to anyone with a soul is living a life
    where you can look yourself in the mirror. That’s it. I think no matter
    where you wind up that you have thus far lived such an existence, Jesse.
    The impact you have had on people through music is not something most
    people are capable of or will ever experience. That is something all the
    riches in the world cannot buy.

    Man, Alive or Just Breathing. Wow.

  • Shutthefyuckup

    you can suck me off, jesse – for 10 bucks

  • Hose


  • Rafael

    Great words Jesse! Your sense of reallity blows my mind! I am a brasilian metal musician as well, trying to “survive” making some money as a lawyer. In fact and unfortunatelly, two diammetrically opposite lifestyles…and I´m still learning to deal and accept this duallity.

    Tkanx for ur music and wise words! You´re really inspiring!

    God bless!

  • Mr unhappy

    I didn’t even have a clue.
    I thought all bands were living “rockstar” lifestyle.

    Very inspiring article though ! I’m at an unhappy place at the moment, but after reading this I may change up some things