Monday, August 21, 2017

Leather Leone: Kicking Ass, Bleeding Metal, and Taking no Prisoners

*Article originally posted at the Female-Fronted Power Facebook page.

“There’s this quote in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, towards the end, where Diane Lane says: “stick with it, it can happen for you, even later in life”. I’m 58 years old, I’ve never sounded better, I’ve never felt better. Give me a fucking microphone, let me show you what it’s like, I’ll blow ’em away. That’s how I feel right now.”

It is exactly this confidence and straightforwardness that has defined Leather Leone, ‘The Voice of the Cult’, the vocalist of Chastain. Seen as a trailblazer by many in her scene, Leather is much more matter-of-fact about her status as one of the founders of female-fronted metal. “I’m just so sick of the gender thing!” she says. “It’s OK that someone can look up to me, but it’s a weird thing. I was talking about this with Doro, and we got a laugh out of it…how people have thought that we sat around and planned this thing, because at the time there were only about 5 of us…but it wasn’t that way. It’s bizarre to me, this whole ‘godmother of a genre’ thing…I guess I get it, I’m really very proud, but I just want this gender thing to be over! Back when I toured in the ’80s, I used to put a cucumber in my spandex to make it look like I had a dick…I don’t know why I did it!” This humorous approach sums up Leather Leone perfectly. She’s all about doing her own thing, not conforming to whatever standards that others say that someone of her gender, occupation, or age is supposed to live by.

Along with Doro Pesch, Ann Boleyn and a handful of other bad-ass women, Leather Leone was one of a few who got out there when metal was predominantly a man’s game, and took those first steps towards breaking down the gender barrier within the genre, whether any of them give themselves as much credit or not. “Back in the ’80s, the chicks were everywhere,” Leather says, giving us a look into the metal scene of yesteryear that sometimes tends to be forgotten in the nostalgia of it all. “Nobody noticed it, but I did. They were everywhere, whether they were bass players, backup singers. I was like, ‘keep going, keep going’. They’ve always been there.”

It doesn’t look as good on paper to say that it was always abundant with women, since it seems the mainstream still treats women in metal as a novelty; but as someone who has paid her dues and has come up through the ranks without attaining a certain level of superstardom, Leather has a unique vantage point that the rock journalists and documentary film-makers do not necessarily have. Because of this, she can take an ‘outside looking in’ perspective towards her status as a metal goddess, and sees herself much more pragmatically than her male counterparts who have let rock star ego over-romanticize their memories. “It’s cool to see this happening…someone heard me the way I heard Dio back in the day…A couple years ago, I went to see Kobra and the Lotus; Kobra couldn’t have been more than 23 at the time, but she was flipping out over meeting me. I met Vicky from The Agonist, Marta from Crystal Viper, Lzzy Hale has said how much she respected me… and I’m just like, ‘you must be 20 years old, how do you even know who I am?’…Their respect of my music just blows me away, it is really fuckin’ cool. I never really became this huge name, never made a living off of music, so I never thought much about what people think of me. I think it’s beautiful that music expands ages and genres.”

After over 30 years in the business, Leather is as busy as ever; doing interviews not only to promote the latest Chastain release, We Bleed Metal 2017, which features alternate guitar parts and vocal tracks from We Bleed Metal recording sessions. “David likes to work in the studio and laid down different guitar tracks; he knows I love really heavy music, but it’s basically just different guitar riffs that he felt like doing. He used some different vocal lines; there were hundreds…just basically guitar variations; no new songs. He changed the titles of some, but nothing different. I’m like many artists; when I do it, it’s done. If he wants to do something different, it’s cool, but it’s kinda bizarre to me because I’ve already moved on [to the next project]. I appreciate what he did [with the record]. It was all his direction, with my approval.”

“You’ve got, like hundreds of vocal tracks, [and] guitar tracks”, Leather explains as to the direction of We Bleed Metal 2017, and the differences between this and the original album, which was released last year. Technically, there aren’t many huge differences, except for the wizardry of David T. Chastain, and his ability to craft new guitar parts around the songs, giving them a fresh sound. It is basically the ‘alternate version’ to the original We Bleed Metal, which is a must for anyone who is either a completionist-type collector, or anyone who (like myself) loves to hear different versions of songs, and the way an artist’s imagination can take these songs to different levels while still maintaining the identity of the original piece. The musicianship is always stellar; Leather’s vocals are on-point, and Chastain’s guitar work is intricate yet heavy at the same time. If you loved the original We Bleed Metal, then this is sure to please as well.

Although we were supposed to be talking about We Bleed Metal 17, Leather and I never stay on the beaten path of conversation whenever we get together, so that just wasn’t gonna happen! (Leather is not only one of my favorite people to interview, but one of my favorite people, period!) Discussion quickly turned to her solo project, of which she speaks with such enthusiasm that it’s contagious. “The record is done; it’s gonna be called Leather II. I am pacing, I am so fucking excited. I have finally found the boys who want to do what I want to do. I’m hungry. I’m ready. What I like to do, and what my voice sounds good doing, I have to be realistic about it. I’m into so much heavier music than what I [actually] do; I’m a huge death metal [fan]… I like moody, gloomy, Sabbathy stuff; but my promoter Rodrigo said to me, ‘people don’t want to hear that from you, they want to hear straight-up metal!’ I got really tired of the layered vocals and the harmonies…I just wanted to do basic, old AC/DC-type stuff, the record that I’ve done is just a record with no harmonies, old-school metal. The boys in my band are very young, and they’re from a different country, so they’re into Kiss, they’re into Ratt, they’re into Whitesnake…into all that old, basic stuff. It’s just straight-ahead metal, which I have never done, so it will be interesting how people take to it.”

But for Leather, this is more than just another record, this is her chance to take advantage of the opportunities that her return to music has afforded her. “I’m going for it…I’m pushing it to the limit. I’ve been home for a few months, my suitcase is still unpacked. I’m ready. I don’t care if I lose my house, my car…I’m gone! The Leather Leone goal before I hit the dirt…I want to play Wacken, I want to play Wacken, I want to play motherfuckin’ Wacken!!! Maybe these opportunities were always there, maybe it’s timing, so now it’s interesting to me that people are showing interest in me. It’s awesome.”

With a new band comes new experiences: Leather is a humble soul, and though she says that she knows her own limitations, those who believe in her know otherwise and she is grateful to be surrounded by supportive, creative people who only want to get the best out of her. “Let me tell you, motherfucker…my guitar player and co-writer Vinnie Tex was in a death-metal band called Unearthly. He built up a relationship with some producers in Poland who worked with Vader, Behemoth…they liked him so much, they were like, ‘let’s bring Leather in!’ They were the only producers who ever said into my earphones, ‘can you sing this dirtier?’ I never heard anything more beautiful!”

Perhaps even more beautiful than that is Leather’s love for her Brazilian bandmates, who she spoke highly of many times throughout the interview. The camaraderie between them is undeniable. “Finally, finally, finally! I met them, I fell in love with them. I finally have boys that reach out to me every day and say, ‘get me the fuck out of here; I wanna get on the road!’ It’s the blood of the fucking youth; these guys are from 25-36, they just want to play music…we write [music together] on Skype, I fly down to Brazil…I’ve been looking for these guys forever and finally found them in my 50s. These guys believe in me, they love me, they just want to move forward with me.”

At the heart of it all, music is a competitive sport. The music business can be ruthless sometimes, especially for women, when we are held up to different standards that men can almost get away with; especially for older women in a society where youth is revered, our success is measured by some arbitrary expiration date, and women are constantly pitted against each other in some invisible contest that continues to play into the sexism that still runs rampant in the business. “Ronnie [James Dio] said it before he passed, that the U.S. has become the land of American Idol. But that’s only in America; it’s not anywhere else”, says Leather. “In our genre of music, I don’t have to look like Britney Spears, but I get so pissed off with these ‘[sexy] women of metal’ lists…I’m not bitching and moaning and I don’t mean to be rude when people include me in these lists, but it’s like, who the fuck cares? What, are we not supposed to love and respect each other? I do see this cattiness in the business; someone asked me about one of these other female singers, and it’s like, of course I’m happy for her! She’s my friend! Seems like it’s more encouraging for us to hate each other. It’s really brutal.”

Americans hear it all the time, about how their metal scene differs from other places in the world: how the Europeans are more open-minded, the South Americans are more fanatical, and the Asians are more reserved but no less passionate. These cultural differences are not limited only to music, of course; music is just one factor of the many ways America differs from the rest of the world and it does play a hand into how we perceive art and artists. “[Youth culture] is an American thing…”, Leather agrees, when the discussion turns to this subject. “I know when you’re in your 20s, being my age is a scary thing. It’s not about how old you are…I see these young girls stressing out, ‘oh my God, I’m not getting anywhere’…you’re 27 years old, relax!”

For the youth-obsessed United States, musicians have a short shelf life and the term ‘has-been’ is thrown around far too often. In other countries, where age is seen as a sign of wisdom, a seasoned artist like Leather is given her rightful praise not just as an artist, but as a woman. “Here I am in Brazil, I’m in my mid-50s, and I get hit on by 20-year-old boys. Nothing is an issue to them…my laugh lines, my age, size…nothing. It’s all about who you are. I would be blown away every day by the response I would get from these guys…I’m old enough to be their mother! They just wanted to hear me sing; they don’t care what I look like…it was such an eye-opener.”

At this phase in her life, Leather celebrates her years of experience and the knowledge that comes with age. Starting a new chapter in her musical career, she has all the enthusiasm as anyone just starting out, coupled with that self-awareness that can only come with a lifetime of expertise. “That’s the beauty of getting older: knowing who you are. Let me tell you how much better it gets, as a gets so much better! I thought my 40s were great…but my fuckin’ 50s are awesome! You know what you want, you can ask for it…God, it’s beautiful. It’s this pride that I hold, [this sort of] ‘fuck you’! You open your mouth, you do what you do and nobody can touch you. I just played a rock festival and all these young bands…I went on that fuckin’ stage and blew them away. It’s that belief in yourself. I just want to show people that I’m in my fuckin’ 50s, and it’s OK. I’m the hottest and the best I’ve ever been. Do I have to work a little harder at it? Yeah, but no biggie. I think I was so blessed to be at a cult level [status], that I can’t really fail, right?”

Leather has never been one to play into the whole ‘female metal’ thing, but she does not deny that with age comes wisdom, but also greater incentives to work harder. “Singing, for me, has never been easy”, she admits, “I have to be in shape; it kicked my ass when I was 20 and it kicks my ass now. I really have to work for it. I need to sleep, I need to run, I need to drink water…I think I just worry about it too much. I’ve been gone for a long time, I’m really excited, we have shows planned for December, so…I’m just so excited. I’ve been home for two months; I’ve been going crazy. I don’t want to be home; I wanna be living out of a suitcase, I wanna be playing shows, doing meet-and-greets ’til 3 in the morning, catching a plane by 5…I’m so blessed to even have these opportunities. My fans think I’m so exciting because I do these shows and hang out with these famous people”, Leather says with a laugh, “[but] the rest of the time, I work in an animal hospital, I run, I do Pilates, I come home and sing for 2 hours a night, and then I go to sleep. That’s my life. There’s nothing exciting.”

But Leather’s life is about to get a whole lot more exciting. “The new record will be mixed by the end of September; we’re just really excited. We’ll be out in Europe again by the end of the year; my band is ready to go. I’m just totally stoked. And remember: Wacken!”

For more information on Leather Leone, visit her official Facebook page.

Special thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.


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