Nearly ten years since the release of their debut album, The Hymn of a Broken Man (2011), Times Of Grace are finally seeing the release of their much anticipated sophomore record, Songs Of Loss And Separation. The band started out as a passion project between singer Jesse Leach and guitarist/producer Adam Dutkiewicz, who both primarily operate as members of the legendary modern metal outfit, Killswitch Engage. While in Killswitch, the two have actively toured the globe showcasing the power of sheer adrenalized riffs and breakdowns, and they even managed to earn their 3rd Grammy nomination back in 2019. However, since touring came to a halt, both Adam and Jesse found themselves with extra time and some untapped creative juices that they decided to use for their long dormant side project, Times Of Grace.
What can easily be described as their finest batch of emotive hard rock songs yet, Songs Of Loss And Separation is quite possibly the most ambitious musical work from both Jesse Leech and Adam Dutkiewicz in years. The diverse sonic atmosphere found on this album is a rare blend of ethereal melancholy, slow burning riffs, and faint metallic-hardcore aggression. More often than not however, Times Of Grace is a far cry from Killswitch Engage and heavy music in general: the bleak sadness and abundance of experimental melodies on Songs Of Loss And Separation are textures rarely found on a Killswitch or modern metal production. To that end, this record helps pave the path for a more diverse audience for Times Of Grace, some of whom will likely be fans of Killswitch and heavy music, but also listeners who are complete newcomers to Adam and Jesse’s work.
Digging into the recording and compositional side of the new album, Adam Dutkiewicz and Jesse Leach discuss why Songs Of Loss And Separation is possibly their most liberating work yet.
Given how long it’s been since the last TOG record, how does it feel to finally have this sophomore album done and out into the world?
Jesse Leach: It’s mixed. It’s triumphal, it’s beautiful and it’s a relief that it’s finally making it out, because we weren’t even sure when it was going to come out. But it also dredges up a bunch of crazy memories, because it’s been a while since this record has been done, and with that being said to me it’s all apart of making a record and putting out something that means so much to you — it’s going to sting a little bit, but I love that because it really captures a chapter in our lives.
Adam D: Yeah it’s been a long time coming. I started writing this material almost ten years ago, and of course it has to be the side project for us because of how much time we have to spend with our main gig in Killswitch Engage. [Times Of Grace] was always just a labor of love and we’ll work on it when we can and we’ll get to it when we can, it’s that kind of thing. We were getting pretty close to being done with a lot of things on it but with the pandemic, if it was good for one thing it was getting this record completed [laughs]. We had a lot of time on our hands during that, so yeah it feels really nice to finally have it out of my life to be honest.
What were some of the key factors that you guys wanted to prioritize when going into this second album, specifically to differentiate it from your other projects like Killswitch, but also build upon what you had with the first Times Of Grace Record?
JL: I think the music really is what was the guiding light for this. I think Adam specifically was writing stuff to sound different. There’s a freedom in this record, and there’s a freedom with the last record, but I feel like even more so with this. We gave ourself license to go even further in a rock direction, and even further in a more experimental sounding direction or not even think about who’s listening. There was zero thought of “oh this is going to be for the fans,” whereas with Killswitch you’re constantly thinking about that stuff because you’re going to tour on it. You want those songs to be something that people can go “oh yeah we get this, we’re singing along and we’re having a good time.” With Times Of Grace there’s none of that because we don’t talk about touring. We’re not talking about all of these things that go along with making a record when you’re in a full time band. So that allowed us a ton of freedom to just go “hey, during this part what if I just did this weird spoken word thing.” So it was a lot of fun of just not being afraid of saying “lets make this song super mellow, let’s make this song sad as hell, and let’s make this song so sad that there’s no upside to it and it just ends on a sad note.” To me it was so liberating and nice to flex a different part of our creativity.
AD: Yeah that’s just it right there, I wanted to make it feel different than Killswitch just because when we made the first [Times Of Grace] record Jesse wasn’t in Killswitch Engage yet, so I was just writing off the cuff of what ever came first and felt good for the first record. This one I felt like I had more freedom and that I could dare to do something that sounded strikingly different than Killswitch Engage. There’s a lot of rock vibes on this record versus the metal thing that we do with [Killswitch], and I think that was almost necessary at this point just because I’m one of the main songwriters in Killswitch and he’s obviously the singer in Killswitch, so to make it sound different I just wanted to take a different approach. And I don’t listen to just metal, I listen to all sorts of music so it was a lot of fun and liberating for me to try different styles and incorporate different sounds and stuff like that. I guess you can say it was a very different approach from how I’ve written in the past.
Killswitch has often touched on heavy and poignant lyrical themes, and I think it’s obvious with TOG and this new record that this has remained consistent. How did you choose between using certain lyrics and topics that worked more with Killswitch and ones that fit more with TOG?
JL: I think with with Times Of Grace I’m not afraid to go a little darker a little more sad, where as with Killswitch I’m always trying to put an element of triumph there. Again, it’s because you’re thinking about playing in front of an audience, you don’t want to bum the whole audience out. I want people to leave a Killswitch show feeling charged up and like “yeah that was awesome, that was fun.” Where as with [Times Of Grace] we’re not concerned with that at all. And even when this does eventually turn into a live setting, I see it as a bunch of people standing around observing, and not moshing and going nuts, it’s just a a different forum. All the stuff that doesn’t really fit into Killswitch is where all this stuff ends up, the deeper stuff and the stuff from my poetry books. I’ll go straight to a poem I wrote the other night when I was feeling really down and depressed, and that turns into a Times Of Grace song. Whereas with Killswitch that’s not the case. I’m not really looking back at a really personal thing I just wrote and going “oh this is obviously a Killswitch song.” It’s a lot more personal, and as much as I try to write with a general brush stroke, there are very specific topics and events that have inspired these songs so it’s very personal.
AD: I feel like this record, well obviously there’s a theme to the record and that obviously helped with choosing what to write about with the concepts and what not, but this record feels so different to me just because of the lack of hope in a lot of the songs. A lot of these songs were sourced from very dark moments in our lives and it was almost like a cathartic thing to be able to write about them and just get them out. It’s like we’re sharing bad experiences with people telling them that “hey we go through bad things too.” And I feel like it’s so different for Killswitch because there’s always a glimmer of hope in all of the things that Jesse writes. It’s definitely much darker than a lot of Killswitch’s material.
Adam you’ve stepped up to the plate in the vocal department by taking on lead vocals on a few tracks. Did it feel like you were out of your comfort zone much at all in doing so, or did it come pretty naturally?
AD: It’s definitely out of my comfort zone because I don’t have the confidence still. I’m definitely much more confident than I was on the last record, but it’s been 20 years of touring for me to finally get an inkling of confidence to be able to sing. I’ll get there, but it’s fun to sing I love music, I love melody, I love texture, and it’s something I’ve wanted to push myself to do more to challenge myself.
Jesse, what was it like hearing Adam shift gears to take on lead vocals for this record, especially on a track like “Cold”?
JL: It made me well up with tears, because I know what it’s all about, and to hear him express himself that way, to be completely honest, that’s a heavy song. I come in at the end and it’s all under his direction I was just singing what he told me, and when the song was done I was just like wow. Not only is it just a great song lyrically but the way our voices contrast and combine I think is part of the magic of what we do. The fact that his voice is kind of lower and more boomy, and a littler richer, and when you put the two together it’s just this big harmonic sounding thing. That’s very much the two of us just wanting to give people chills, and that’s my great pleasure with music, when I hear people say “oh that song gave me chills.”
If each of you had to pick one song on this record that you think encapsulates this new era of TOG best, which track would you pick?
JL: I think “The Burden Of Belief,” the first one we chose to come out with. It really does give you a little bit of everything we’re going for on this record, for the most part, and I think a close second would be “Far From Heavenless.” That being said there are songs apart from those two that you couldn’t leave off the table, and the diversity that this record affords opens a lot of doors to people who maybe aren’t Killswitch fans, and who maybe don’t even know who we are. That’s exciting because for me it’s all about the message, it’s all about the words that are being said and talking about mental health. It’s all about sharing and connecting with people and hopefully providing some sort of a sonic and lyrical therapy. But I guess if I had to choose I’d choose “The Burden Of Belief.” When we launched with that one we did it purposefully because we wanted to let people know we’re doing a different sound. We’re leaning harder on pushing away from the Killswitch sound and everything that we’re known for. With that being said there certainly are a few tracks where an old school Killswitch fan would be like “oh I can see the similarities to it,” but I take great pleasure in pushing far away from that. To me the songs that sound least like that are my favorites and I want to do more with that.
AD: You know the first track on the record, “The Burden Of Belief,” is a pretty good example. It’s still loud, it’s still rock n’ roll, but it’s got this gloomy melancholy thing about it and that’s Jesse and I’s take on where we want bring Times Of Grace. I don’t foresee us keeping a lot of the metal thing with what we do going forward since that’s our thing with Killswitch. It just felt so good to step out of that for a minute and do something different, I just hope people end up liking it [laughs].