“I don’t think anyone is who they are onstage when they’re offstage”: Meet the real Adam D

You might know Adam D as the booze-guzzling joker from Killswitch Engage, but that is only part of his story. Here we sit down with the man himself to find out who’s behind the cape…

“I don’t think anyone is who they are onstage when they’re offstage”: Meet the real Adam D
James Hickie
Hristo Shindov

We’ve all seen it on YouTube, right? Adam D is standing at the bar in a venue, asking for a shot. “Of what?” the bartender enquires. “Whatever you want,” comes the hasty reply, suggesting it's the dealer's choice as he won’t be drinking alone. Seconds later, Adam takes receipt of the chosen tipple, a whisky, downs it, howls, and returns to the guitar hanging around his neck.

Oh, did we forget to mention he’s been doing all of this while the rest of his band, Killswitch Engage, are onstage somewhere in the general vicinity, thundering through The End Of Heartache? “Check this out – it’s my turn,” says Adam as he shreds his way through the song’s denouement, before making his way back to the place he’s traditionally meant to stand during gigs.

“I like to have a good time, man, because life is short,” Adam reflects upon those cartoonish episodes now, more than three years later. “I don’t think anyone is who they are onstage when they’re offstage. It’s not like dudes in death metal bands go to the dentist, get mad when they get their bill and start pig squealing. I’m a real person with real emotions and real ups and downs. I’m the kind of guy who likes to make the best of what I can, but I can also be very serious at times.”

Today the headband Adam was sporting in that YouTube video has been replaced by a trucker cap; his wide eyes obscured by reflective aviator sunglasses; his pale complexion honeyed by the California sun shining down on the porch he’s now sat on in a swinging wicker chair. And while the 44-year-old will joke that the wind chimes audible in the background are from an effects pedal he’s operating with his foot – “I’ve also get a setting that’s the sound of a man screaming” – he’s definitely a more serious proposition to the wise-cracking, cape-wearing, pizza guitar-playing extrovert we’ve become accustomed to over the years. The man behind the mischief is actually a quiet and composed fellow who’ll share an appropriate amount of information about himself without always delving too deeply into specifics (“I’m obviously not going to talk about my personal life to the press, am I?”). But even in slightly guarded mode, he reveals more than most musicians – especially when he thinks those insights provide necessary context for his creative endeavours.

“It’s more about pissing and moaning now,” suggests Adam of his current mindset, which is conducive to Times Of Grace, his ‘other’ band, whose second album Songs Of Loss And Separation comes a decade after its predecessor. Times Of Grace started out back in 2007, from music Adam wrote as he recovered from emergency surgery in London while on tour with Killswitch Engage; he later reached out to Jesse Leach – Killswitch’s then-former frontman and no stranger to trying circumstances and startling honesty – to contribute his own lyrics and vocals. (The trio today are rounded out by drummer Dan Gluszak.)

Unsurprisingly, for a band whose debut album was called The Hymn Of A Broken Man, Times Of Grace was born from pain and fear, and explores grappling with both. “It’s been sourced from strange and difficult things happening within my life,” agrees Adam of how things started out. “It stemmed from a lot of mental anguish. I was going through the physical pain, obviously, but it was more to do with my mind freaking out over whether I was still cut out for touring or playing live, and the prospect I might have to stay home for the rest of my career.”

History seemed to repeat itself with the arrival of coronavirus. Lockdown restrictions soon robbed Adam of a large part of his modus operandi when Killswitch were sent home from their U.S. tour two dates in, while the long hours of his wife’s job and a family on the other side of the country meant long spells spent on his own. “I figured I could do with a few months off, get a nice space in my head and get ready to get back to work,” he recalls thinking, chuckling now at his naivety. “Then after a couple of months when it began to feel there was no end [to COVID] in sight and I ended up hurting my back again, so I laid out on my couch, I spiralled out of control, which people wouldn’t have expected from me – and I certainly didn’t expect it of myself. Being left alone with nothing to do was a very bad thing. I started thinking of all of the terrible outcomes that could happen and I had a tough time thinking positively.”

So challenging was the period, in fact, that Adam had to start talking to a therapist, which he says didn’t help, and later a psychiatrist, who prescribed him antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication he was determined not to take. “I actually got through it without them,” he says. "But it was a struggle. I was injured so I couldn't help myself. I was so mad that I wasn’t creating anything or pushing forward with my life that I felt pathetic.”

Ask Adam what changed him from the “depressed, anxious monster of a person” he became last year into the more hopeful figure of today, and he suggests two things: a pair of injections. “Getting fully vaccinated meant I wasn’t scared to get on an aeroplane,” he says of a restorative visit to see family in his native Massachusetts. “That solved a lot for me. And then they started announcing concerts again, which introduced a light at the end of the tunnel.”

And while there are still things Adam would like to do to feel more normal (specifically going to a club to shoot the shit about riffs and drink beer with some metalheads), Songs Of Loss And Separation provided much of the catharsis that cleared the way to get to this point. Admittedly, in the case of recent single The Burden Of Belief, some of that music was started 10 years ago, giving the impression that Times Of Grace’s albums provide omnibuses of ordeals that have to build up gradually. “It definitely accumulates over time,” nods Adam, though only in half agreement. “It’s more because these records get set to the back-burner because of how busy [Jesse and I] get with Killswitch.”

More time doesn’t necessarily mean less stress for Adam, though, given that his capacity for overthinking can have the potential to do as much damage to his art as his morale. Ask him, for example, whether the unhurried conditions making Songs Of Loss And Separation were good or bad for the creative process and his uneasy laugh suggests the topic has been on his mind of late. “It’s mostly negative. The one positive is that there’s absolutely zero stress and expectation when you have no timeline at all, but the negatives are incredible! I had way too much time to beat up the mix and the production of [this album] and I nearly overdid it. When you spend a finite amount of time on something, it feels more passionate and means you go with your gut instinct rather than being so critical of yourself. I’m so guilty of doing that with every project. The best records I’ve ever done have been two months [to make] or less, production-wise.”

Despite Adam’s reservations about long lead times, there’s something undeniably fascinating about how Times Of Grace’s albums tackle the fears and frustrations of its creators, made at 10-year intervals, to chart how those authors – and what keeps them up at night – change over time. “We don’t really have any reservations about opening up to each other and sharing what we’re writing about,” reveals Adam of his creative synergy with Jesse, the man whose return to Killswitch may well have saved the band; and who suggests Adam helped him overcome the crippling self-doubt he experienced during the making of their eighth album, 2019’s Atonement.

There were no such instances of writer’s block on Songs Of Loss And Separation, though, because people tend to get verbose about the things that push their buttons. Far From Heavenless, for example, features the lyric ‘Who deserves salvation? Who deserves damnation?’; those religious undertones are unsurprising given that Jesse grew up with a minister for a father, but the song has another meaning in the age of cancel culture: that one doesn’t have to wait for death for judgement and condemnation, because there are those on social media who’ll provide it during your lifetime. “I don’t know why people feel the need to be controlled, whether that’s by an organised religion that says you have to follow a man’s rules to be closer to God, or by the people around us,” Adam explains. “It’s good to be an individual, to believe in yourself and think for yourself. All that cancel culture crap is good sometimes, but other times it can feel like bullying.”

The track Bleed Me, meanwhile, is about “addiction, depression, loneliness and being sent away from a person or a thing you love”. Given how personal we know the record to be, does Adam worry that people will assume he has gone through all of that? “These are all things I believe people can understand,” he responds carefully. “They go through those things and I know those feelings.” He will clarify, however, that closing track Forever, a narrative about someone trapped in a controlling relationship and fearing for their life, isn’t from direct experience.

Given that Adam is something of a dichotomy, then, this larger-than-life figure who eats, sleeps and breathes metal, but is also quiet, considered and striving to make his music more meaningful, what does he make of the musical landscape at the moment? “This record is vastly different from metal at times,” he clarifies first, name-checking bands like Thrice and Sigur Rós as points of reference. “The cliche [in metal] is to write about killing and beating dudes up and all that stuff. But that’s been metal since its creation. To show vulnerability and realism is more daring and less expected. That’s what we tried to do with this record; it’s a crime of passion.”

Songs Of Loss And Separation is released on July 16 via Wicked Good.

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