FeaturesLeather – Back in Control

Leather – Back in Control

It’s always a pleasure to speak to the majestic metal singer Leather Leone – back again for her third album under her Leather moniker with We Are the Chosen. Teaming up with younger musicians that understand how to position her voice in the best manner, her control, power, and delivery match the melodic metal proceedings to perfection. A mix of anthems with power plus straightforward headbangers and the occasional epic ballad keep the proceedings sharp while potent. We reached out to Leather who was excited to tell us about the work behind the new album, the great partnership established with guitarist Vinnie Tex, numerous stories relating to Chastain, her gratitude for the legacy she’s created, plus more talk on Ronnie James Dio and tour plans.

Dead Rhetoric: We Are the Chosen is the latest Leather album, the follow-up to II from 2018. Can you tell us how you felt the songwriting and recording sessions went for this set of material, and did you feel confident in the direction you’ve been taking Leather with these musicians?

Leather Leone: So much better. For II there were too many cooks in the kitchen, it was pretty unorganized, and it was done really, really fast. Again, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity, but the songs weren’t really as planned out. I wanted to do a basic, really underproduced record with II, and it’s extremely underproduced (laughs). I feel much better about We Are the Chosen, besides the fact that we were in the middle of the pandemic, so Vinnie and I had so much more time to work on the material. It’s the first time I’ve ever really written a record from start to finish, Vinnie is a perfectionist and really plans things out, and I think it shows in this record.

Dead Rhetoric: Mentioning Vinnie’s perfectionist tendencies, I remember looking at a recent interview you did where you mention that’s the opposite of how you approach songwriting. Did you feel that there were times where you butted heads a bit to reach the final outcome?

Leone: All the time! I would walk out of the studio; he would walk out of the studio. We butt heads a lot, and I tend to be very childish and immature when someone… they have to come at me in a proper way. If you want me to try something, or suggest something else, you have to approach me with kid gloves. I’m quite the diva, I hate to say it, in the studio. I’m used to doing things my own way. But we did it all the time, we butted heads, but in the end, it worked out really well because he writes songs for my vocals, which is different for me. He’s not a shredder, he’s a more melodic player. Nothing will ever change for me in the studio, it will always be a really hard and crazy place for me.

Dead Rhetoric: Which songs on the new record came easiest to you, as I know “Who Rules the World” took on the greatest transformation, correct?

Leone: It did! We didn’t have the proper chorus until we were in the studio. “We Take Back Control”, the first song, came really easy to Vinnie and I. This one just started flowing. It was an angst song for me. Most of the stuff came easy for us, but “Who Rules the World” really had us by the balls. If something doesn’t come, let it go – Vinnie is the total opposite in that regard. We had all these pieces, and then when we got in the studio, it still didn’t fit. It was the most challenging.

Dead Rhetoric: And “Hallowed Ground” is another tribute to Ronnie James Dio…

Leone: You know it. I still love ballads, drama, and epic songs. Magic comes and magic goes – I had many conversations with Ronnie about magic and inspiration. When we were writing that chorus, Vinnie actually hummed that melody to me. It came to me; I was listening to Dio one night and it hit me. I’m blessed enough to be able to create music, and he was a big inspiration to me. He’s so close to me in my heart, and secretly I still want to be him. He would be really proud of this.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you get the chance to see the new documentary on his career, and what did you think of the film?

Leone: Yes. I cried for two hours. I liked how… they of course showed that he was magical, and they also showed that he was the boss, and things went his way or no way. He would figure out a way to do it, and I actually stole his line that we are a messenger of this music. I loved it, I hope that they put out more as there is so much more to his life. People thought they may have to call 911 into the theater, as I was bawling like a baby.

Dead Rhetoric: What was it like working out of Hertz Studios in Poland versus recording in the comfort of the USA previously? Did you feel you needed that destination recording situation to put total focus/effort without any outside distractions on the task at hand?

Leone: I haven’t been in a real studio even in the USA since The 7th of Never with Chastain. We would record in David’s house, home studios where your vocal booth is in the bathroom. Hertz Studios is this huge room, everything is blacked out and I could turn off the lights and actually hear myself, because I am quite deaf in my right side where David Chastain used to stand, I really need that volume. It was really comforting and made me realize how much more creative it is for me to be there, the different ideas that flow. I will obviously go back there.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the cover art come about with Marcelo Vasco – and where do you see the importance of cover art and heavy metal to project the right imagery/mindset for what listeners can expect on the record?

Leone: Well, Marcelo was a friend of Vinnie’s, and Vinnie had sent me some of his artwork. Holy mother of God – the Slayer creator guy. I don’t do extreme metal, but I love extreme metal. He was kind enough to let me send a picture that my photographer had taken. It was a picture taken by the Golden Gate bridge on a really, really windy day. I had fallen, I tripped on a stone, and I was pissed off because I fell on my knees. He snapped that beautiful photo, and I asked Marcelo to do his extreme, iconic cartoon-ish images. I didn’t want to look sexy; I was blessed he took this on for me. He did amazing work, the skull on the back, the broken building. The Chastain records with that artwork, it was very goofy in the 80’s. I never understood the drawings of David with the machine gun, the knight with the nude woman on Mystery of Illusion – why was she there? I really enjoy this – I don’t usually do color, so the color scheme is very different for me. You saw II was dark and gloomy. He listened to the record, he really liked it, and that’s what he did – I’m so pleased with it. I think it’s pretty cool.

Dead Rhetoric: We do look back at a lot of artworks from the 80’s and 90’s and ask ourselves – what were people thinking?

Leone: (laughs). What would you say about Voice of the Cult? Was that an alien ship? A lot of people tell me though, you used to walk in record stores and that’s what you would buy, the weirdest looking covers. So many people discovered Chastain through our covers. I’m so grateful, I’m not complaining, but I am glad I had the ability to step up and do a really professional album cover.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the pluses or differences in approach for guitarist Vinnie Tex when it comes to working on this material for your voice/delivery versus the work that you did in the past with David T. Chastain for example?

Leone: David Chastain and I came from a different era, that was shred time. The records were there for him to showcase, and I say this out of total respect, it was masturbation guitar playing. I obviously love the way he wrote, but Vinnie comes from a different school. He’s younger, but into 80’s metal which is really surprising. Brazilian musicians seem to be into 70’s rock and 80’s melodic metal. He is not a shredder, when I met him in 2016, he didn’t know much about Chastain which is so beautiful. There was no preconceived notion of how things were supposed to sound, and then he heard Shock Waves. He wanted to write a melodic record, which was new for me, I was nervous, can I even write a metal song? He writes for vocals, to highlight me, and I think that’s why the record sounds the way that it does.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe working with this newer, younger generation of musicians, they are able to approach the melodic forms of metal differently than the musicians who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s?

Leone: I think so. That being said, there are a lot of shredding guitar players now. I listen to a lot of extreme metal, and I notice even on the new Arch Enemy record, guitar players are going full circle, they are doing melodic solos now with bits and pieces of the shredding. In general, Vinnie’s age – he has a different perspective, he’s not as jaded. A lot of the older musicians walk around jaded. He comes from a pure place. He believes in me; he realizes how insecure I am about what I really do.

Dead Rhetoric: What have been some of the best fan interaction stories that you’ve had over the years – and how do you feel about the impact that you’ve made within the metal community through your work?

Leone: I love that you say that, impact. I don’t know about my impact, if I have, God bless. If I inspire anybody the way Dio, Dickinson, and Tate did for me, anyone to start creating. I don’t think in those terms. I am in my own little world; I just try to do the best I can do. Everyone asks me about funny stories, and I don’t have many. Metal for me has been so serious. It takes my little body a lot to do what I have to do. I stay in shape, always sober. I would sing for an hour and a half with Chastain and then run up and down stairs with the lighting man for an hour, drink water and go to bed.

The one funny story I remember is pissing off Paul Stanley when we opened up for Kiss in 1989. My first arena show, 18,000 people. They were very specified about where I could go, these wings that went around I wasn’t supposed to go there, but I did. I wasn’t supposed to sing over an hour. Everything they asked us not to do, I did. He was on the side of the stage, and you could see from the looks on his face he wanted to kill me. It’s serious for me, I don’t party, I have a blast on stage and deliver the best that I can. I then go home and go to sleep.

Dead Rhetoric: Are there any tricks of the trade you use now that seem to work better for your voice than the early days? How would you describe your range and delivery today, have there been areas that have gotten stronger and improved over time?

Leone: I have always… Ronnie, Rob Rock, and myself, we don’t warm up. Rob and Ronnie would say, you sing a song, and you are warmed up. I like to drink wine, but I stop drinking wine five weeks before recording or touring. Because it’s so dehydrating. I drink water, tons of it, sleep, a lot of cardio with spinning, running. Try to get my heart going. I learned many years ago not to sing at full volume. I sing for half an hour or so at night just as I am speaking to you. I don’t mean to sound narcissistic; I’m just blessed. I have muscle memory. I can sing, get so inspired by an electric guitar, it comes out of me.

As far as my voice changing, I listen to those Chastain records now and I sound like a twelve-year-old girl. Mike Varney from Shrapnel who discovered me made a joke about my balls finally dropped. I am singing in a much lower key, I tried to sing in these keys in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s and couldn’t do it. I am really happy with the keys, I was never a Halford, I was never a screamer. Chastain was all standard tuning, we tune down.

Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel to be a part of the Steamhammer/SPV roster, given the long history of artists they have worked with in the hard rock/metal field? Do you see major differences in labels and their responsibilities in the current music industry compared to the development of the scene in the 80’s/90’s?

Leone: Thank you for that. I have never really been on a label. We did Shrapnel, the shredding label, then David did his own label. We did do For Those Who Dare on Roadracer, a division of Roadrunner. They were very confining, which is why David didn’t like signing with anybody. This is really a big deal for me, to be on a label. I have known Olly for a long time, I just didn’t realize who he was. I’m excited. This is an example today of what I’m not used to. I did an interview today, somebody posted it today and all the information wasn’t correct. Now I have a major label, I can call up the publicist and it was down in twenty minutes. I don’t have a lot to compare with because I’m used to being an independent artist. It’s really exciting the power and strength that they have.

My lyric videos have done astronomical in views compared to the other indie labels. SPV/Steamhammer, it’s really exciting to be a part of their roster. I had a professional to do this, I had a really good guy, another Brazilian to do those videos. It’s increased my pre-sales, which were really thought out, like this record. I came from Brazil, and we have a real, full-length video for “We Are the Chosen” that will be out when the record comes out. I think it does matter, the push – I’ve never had a major push.

Dead Rhetoric: What have you changed your mind about most when it comes to the world that we live in over the past few years? How did the pandemic affect your outlook on life?

Leone: The pandemic, it blessed me, but I was really scared at this point of my life. What is going to happen? I lost a tour in 2019, a lot of my team. I had to be patient. Vinnie Tex was a part of it. People in their 30’s, they don’t think they are ever going to run out of time, you know? He was confident to help me stay positive. Every day that I wake up, I am so grateful. The catalog that I’ve had, the opportunities that I’ve had, you can only be grateful.

I have nothing to bitch about. I don’t miss wearing the masks, but I’m okay. I can travel again, it’s okay.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Leather to support this release over the next year or so? Will you be planning to do some touring here and abroad, as well as trying to hit the festival circuit?

Leone: I’m trying to do everything. I’m talking to a lot of people. Talking to South America, the US, Europe. Tours are trying to be made up due to the pandemic, so there’s a backlog going back to 2020. People in my position are kind of on the waiting list. Tour, tour, that’s all I want to do. I have had some really good runs, I did touring with Grim Reaper, touring with Raven, Rob Rock tours. I know it will come back around, that is my priority. I love not knowing where I am, I love doing a show, a meet and greet and having an hour to pack and get on a plane. I’m a road dog, I belong there.

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