Killswitch Engage’s Mike D’Antonio: The Gun Shy Interview

Mike D’Antonio

I’m just going to say this upfront: Mike D’Antonio is one of the nicest dudes you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting…if you do ever meet him. I first met him back when I lived in Hartford and was writing for a newspaper there. My then-girlfriend was working at Roadrunner Records, and we were psyched on his band Killswitch Engage’s breakthrough record Alive or Just Breathing. We drove up to Rhode Island to see them play with the Bouncing Souls and Thursday, and at the show, met up with The Goat, who knows Mike from way back and introduced us.

That’s also the first time I met Jesse Leach. Ever since that first encounter, every time I’ve run into him — backstage at Ozzfest, at the New England Hardcore and Metal Festival, at my cubicle at MTV News, in the office of AOL’s Noisecreep — he’s been the same: Really cool, straight-talking, and down-to-Earth. Being in Killswitch Engage and having hundreds of thousands of fans hasn’t gotten to dude’s head, and that’s kept him real.

By the way, I’m one of many music journalists he’s met, so I don’t know whether he remembers meeting me. I wouldn’t assume he would. I’m sure we all sort of meld into one after a while, as we’re cut from the same jib. Anyways, I reached out to Mike and asked him for an interview, and did he give me one: He talked about Death Ray Vision, the next Killswitch record, the Howard Jones situation, and hinted at a possible second record from Overcast.

No shit. Overcast, he tells me, originally signed with Metal Blade for two records: 2008’s Reborn to Kill Again being the first.

“Metal Blade signed us wanting one more record, and that was the original plan…if we got around to it,” D’Antonio tells Gun Shy Assassin. “I don’t know if I can write that style anymore. I don’t know if I can do those long songs. It just doesn’t really interest me as much as the short Death Ray Vision stuff. Right now. That could all change tomorrow. But currently, I’m into really fast, short songs. That’s all I’ve been writing. That said, I would love to do an Overcast show this year.”

Mike says this would have been the band’s 20th anniversary, and that “we would like to do at least one show. But for doing one show, that means there’s gotta be a month’s worth of practice. We can’t just say, ‘Let’s do a show tomorrow.’ It takes a lot of remembering, and there’s a lot to remember with that band. We’ll see if that happens. It would be really cool; it’s something we want to do. Whether we get it done or not is a different story.”

But with Killswitch Engage set to start writing together next month, at the same time Overcast frontman Brian Fair hits the studio with Shadows Fall, Mike admits that “every day it appears less and less likely.”

Yes, you read that right. Killswitch Engage will be getting together next month to start piecing together their next record, and I ask Mike: That talk of everything you’re writing being fast…does that mean the next Killswitch disc will be ultra fast?

“Let’s hope,” D’Antonio says. “That was the original Killswitch theme. When we originally started, the plan was ‘Cut out all the fat and just get to the meat of a song and get it over with as soon as possible. On our first record [2000’s self-titled debut], a lot of the songs are pretty short, and they have that sort of oomph that I am trying to establish these days.”

He pauses. “When we met and I played my demos, which were pretty blazing fast, and way more hardcore than Killswitch has seen in a while, Adam [Dutkiewicz] turned to me and said, ‘This is exactly the stuff I’m thinking of writing.’ So we’ll see if that translates.”

I’m in! I don’t know about any of you, but I’m in. He said all of the band’s members have been writing demos on their own, “in their own separate laboratories,” and they recently hung out and played the stuff. “Everything sounds really cool. Everyone’s extremely stoked…probably more stoked than I have ever seen anyone in Killswitch to record and get something out there and hang out again.”

Lately, Mike’s been busy with his insane new old school-esque hardcore band Death Ray Vision, who are insane if you haven’t already heard them; they recently wrote, recorded, and released an EP in a matter of two weeks. Death Ray Vision started, and took shape fast.

“I had some demos that were hanging out that I didn’t think were worthy of Killswitch; they were just a totally different style and a different tuning for that matter,” starts Mike. “Just a lot of old hardcore stuff. I got influenced by the Cro-Mags a lot over this break. and just wanted to write stuff they would write.”

With six months before Killswitch time, Mike figured he’d start a band. He already had five songs written when he got Fair to join as lead singer.

“You know right there, you have a vocalist, so all the other parts are going to come together pretty naturally,” he said. Pete Cortese of Seemless, Colin Conway (formerly of Cannae) and Zack Wells round out the band.

“I am really stoked to have every body a part of this band, and it’s a lot of fun; we have a lot of laughs. We spend more time talking at practice than actually practicing. It’s a really cool experience.”

But the band’s hasty turnaround wasn’t without a hitch. Fair, in the middle of planning a wedding and writing lyrics for a new Shadows Fall record, had a hard time coming up with a message to scream out.

“He worried more about what to write about with this band than anything else because it was such a departure from the stuff he had been writing lately,” says Mike. “But at the same time, it was cool for him to get those creative juices flowing. He just kept asking me, ‘What’s a Death Ray Vision.’ I said, ‘Some sci-fi, creature from the black lagoon with laser eyes, coming to kill the world.’ And he was like, ‘That sounds fine.’ But he stuck with the from-the-streets kind of vibe.”

Mike says the band are “ready to record an LP but it’s just a question of when we can get in the studio, so we’re losing time as we speak.”

Then, we spoke about Howard Jones, who didn’t complete the last tour of Killswitch’s 2010 run; the band called on All That Remains’ Phil Labonte, who filled in last minute. I asked Mike why we never got an explanation as to what happened with Howard, especially given all the rumors and speculation that swirled around his sudden hiatus from one of metal’s biggest bands.

“We’ve been trying to stay away from it,” says Mike D, assuring fans that Howard is still very much a member of the band. “It’s such a sensitive subject and it’s something that nobody else in the band has touched or gone though so it’s really hard to talk about what Howard has gone through and is going through. We’d rather just have him explain it when he’s ready and hopefully, he’ll be ready soon. It’s tough to explain something that you know nothing about.”

He said that Howard seemed super psyched for the next record when Killswitch recently met up to share demo ideas.

“He has been writing, and he looks like a kid on Christmas these days, which is a total 180 than what it was a couple of years ago, with him just kind of not wanting to do it anymore,” he says. “Its really very motivating to have him back in the game and ready to go. We’re sticking by our bro; he’s a good friend, and he’s going through some troubles and we are just trying to help him out in any way possible. He’s very much part of the band and will be and I can’t se the band going on without him.”

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