Leather Lung – Emerging From the Ashes

Thursday, 14th March 2024

Photo: Raz Asraai

When it comes to gritty stoner doom metal that also takes into account aspects of the DIY punk, hardcore, and heavy music scene, there seems to be no better breeding ground for artists than New England. Leather Lung is another act to push themselves up the ranks at a slow, steady pace – releasing a series of EP’s since arriving on the scene in 2012, they’ve now arrived at their first full-length for Graveside Grin. Submerge yourself in these hypnotic riffs, savage rhythm section grooves, as well as the scathing vocals that energize all into spasmodic movements.

We spoke to vocalist Mike and bassist Jesse about the early formative years of the group, challenges regarding losing their practice space while trying to record the new album, thoughts on stoner metal and its pluses/minuses over the years, healthy respect for the diverse New England heavy music scene, their live show approach, brewing their own brand of beer, plus future touring plans.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell me about some of your earliest memories surrounding music in childhood? At what point did you start moving towards heavier forms of music, and eventually wanting to perform in bands?

Mike: Let’s see. We did grow up in similar styles. I grew up on rock radio, WAAF. We lived and died by that station. Any music in my childhood was coming through those deejays. That definitely started it, what got me into music. I would wear my mom’s headphones, be cutting the grass and just listening to that radio station. What got us into wanting to do it ourselves is, we started going to local hardcore and punk gigs in our area. There was a roller rink in Hudson, Massachusetts, they would have five dollar shows twice a week at times. When we first got our driver’s licenses, we would end up over there going to shows, checking that out. With it being punk and hardcore, we saw ourselves in those musicians that we could do this. We wanted to get out there and play for people. That got us in the direction we wanted to go now.

For me, I knew I wanted to do vocals for sure. When we were starting, Jesse, myself and Zack, we were in a previous project together, a hardcore band. When we started, Zack bought a guitar, and Jesse started hanging out with us, we needed a bassist. It was casual in that nature. I’ll do vocals, it was very organic in that way.

Dead Rhetoric: What were the early times like for Leather Lung? Did you know straight away where you wanted to go in terms of a style, or was there a natural feeling out process to arrive at your sound?

Mike: Definitely a feeling out process. It’s still a work in progress. It’s not that we haven’t found our sound, but we are always developing what that is to cater to where we are in life. When we originally started, we were coming off the heels of being in a hardcore band for many years. There was a lot of that flavor in the music, naturally. We wanted to take Leather Lung in a less hardcore, punk direction – not betray our roots, but expand ourselves to be more rock and heavy metal. Incorporating the stoner metal love we have – we have a universal love for Electric Wizard, Eyehategod, we all love different shit but there are a few different bands that everybody loves. Those are two there for sure.

Dead Rhetoric: Leather Lung started in 2012 and you’ve released four EP’s to date prior to your debut album. How do you feel about the growth and development of the band through these releases?

Mike: It feels good. It’s been slow and organic, but we’ve also been working slow and organic. The response has been great, building a fanbase slowly. The key thing for us is converting people with our live show. The releases help us in the sense that helps to have new music, new words and messages to get out there. The biggest turnover for people I feel is in playing live, they see us, the energy and the vibe. That’s what really gets people on board.

Dead Rhetoric: Now the first couple of releases were independent, and then you signed with Magnetic Eye Records. What made that label so attractive to you?

Mike: At the time, we weren’t fielding too many offers. There may have been three or four in regard to labels interested in us. Magnetic Eye, in the way they were running it, came across as the best fit. They seemed to be passionate about the music, passionate about what we are doing. Our expectations in regard to what a label is going to do for us are low. We want somebody to help us get the vinyl out, help us spread the word with their platform. Based on what was going on for us, partnering with them was the most advantageous for us. They have their own community that we can expose ourselves to. We have been with them for the last two releases.

Dead Rhetoric: Graveside Grin is the latest album for the group. How did the songwriting and recording sessions go for this set of material? Were there any challenges, obstacles, or surprises that had to be worked through in the process?

Mike: The biggest challenge for us – our dynamic is challenging at times because I live in New York and the rest of the guys live outside of Boston. We do have a real schedule and we hold each other accountable in regard to that. We had a practice space that we had been using since our previous band we were in. We were in it for fifteen years. While we were recording this last album, we found out that unfortunately the building was going to be condemned and destroyed for new development. That was a huge challenge, finishing the album, finishing writing it, and simultaneously find a new home where we would do it, and secure all the details for recording as well. A lot of planning, a lot of moving around, to be uprooted from our home for the last fifteen years, and how we could still record while not having a solid space to work this out.

It colored the music and things of that nature. This is by far the album I’m most proud of.

Jesse: This is our first full-length offering.

Mike: I never thought we could go into the studio with more songs than would actually be on the record. Previous to this, we just got enough material, working up to the last minute. This time was a little different. We spent a lot of time writing. We also took on a fifth member at the beginning of this writing process. Our long-time friend Greg came on board, as a second guitarist. He added a huge element to the writing, to the playing, all of that.

Dead Rhetoric: You decided to expand the lineup into a five-piece outfit. What seemed right about doing that at this point in time, and how does this expand the options as far as songwriting and performances with the group?

Jesse: We made the decision during COVID, so I think at least for me and the other two guys, we didn’t want this experience to kill us as a band. And not only that, let’s emerge from the ashes stronger. We didn’t quit or break up, we gained a member, we started writing cooler shit. Now we are even stronger, that was sort of the mentality a little bit.

Mike: In some ways it was a very easy thing to bring Greg on. We’ve been friends with him for a long time, he’s been a fan of the band. When the opportunity came up that we wanted to consider, it was immediate to put Greg up for this. The thought being that we wanted to add a second guitarist to our sound, and it also could help potentially with two guitars to allow Zach to do more singing. He wouldn’t have to focus on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, and singing – it could expand us in that way.

Jesse: When I think back, it seems like Greg has been there the whole time. It was so seamless having him come in. It was a perfect fit.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Leather Lung when it comes to your live performance outlook or philosophy? What have been some of the most memorable shows or festival appearances you’ve done to date?

Mike: Point blank, we are there to entertain. We want people to feel our energy and then give it back to us. We are there to literally rock the stage to the ground, that’s the objective. We are always trying to make the band who is coming on think, ‘Fuck – we have to follow that!’. That’s the goal, we want to go really hard, show people a good time, and give them our full energy and vibe. We’ve got to play Psycho Las Vegas in 2022, that was a goal of ours almost since the onset of that festival. It was a massive goal, and when we got the call, we were floored. We had the best time. We’ve been locked in pretty heavily on the Northeast of the United States, it was a chance for us to get over to Las Vegas. Anytime we get the chance to play with the greats – back in March we played with Bongzilla, being able to be in the green room with our heroes. Weedeater, hanging out with those dudes – this is why we do it. Opening for great bands that we are inspired by; those are always some of the best shows.

Dead Rhetoric: Being a part of the Boston music scene with its strong heritage for punk, hardcore, metal and other styles, how has this fueled your approach and outlook when it comes to the band? Do you believe your environment and work ethic can be influential into what you are able to achieve as a band?

Jesse: Just the hardcore, punk, DIY aspect, we are conditioned to not expect stuff. We know we have to make things and put them out there.

Mike: Sometimes we will be talking to other bands and people who didn’t grow up with this mentality – and their expectations are what a label will do for them, what a promoter will do for them, even what a fan will do for them, their type of engagement. Everything for us is DIY, you make all your own luck. We have no expectations on anybody else to do this for you. You just have to fully promote yourself, and that’s the best way for everyone in this band.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of stoner, doom, and sludge-style music currently on a global basis? Are there specific things that excite you, and what changes (if any) would you like to make for the greater good of these styles?

Mike: I think we have a pretty decent perspective on that, and I say this because in regard to stoner metal – we were growing up on radio rock, punk and nu-metal in the 90s. We didn’t see the first wave of Electric Wizard touring the states, or Sleep touring the states. When Sleep did start coming back around in 2011-12, that’s when you started to see stoner metal becoming a thing again. We were right there for that. There’s a local band called Doomriders, and they were big. We would go see them anywhere, they opened up that Sleep show in 2011. I felt like seeing Sleep that day, we were watching the beginning of this wave that went on to where we are now.

That being said, I’ve watched this genre try and emulate and do the same thing that the greats have already done: Sleep, Bongzilla, Weedeater. There’s a lot of derivatives, whether it’s even the creativity behind the imagery that they are using and branding themselves, also it’s a lot of the same fuzzed out riffs. When I think of stoner metal today in 2024, derivative is the word I keep applying to it. I feel right now in our scene, in Massachusetts and the New England area, I am watching the rebirth of heavy music, with a stoner edge to it. There are people influenced by Buzzoven, Eyehategod sound, but it’s not ringing out in a derivative kind of way. People are not pulling the same influences from the same bands; they are adding new flavors to it. Whether it’s regional, there is a great band from Maine called Mast, five years ago you would have thought they are stoner metal, but they are so different. Heavy music that’s not hardcore, not death metal, not black metal, there is a new lane for it. I thought for a while we were swimming on our own with Leather Lung for a while, it’s nice to see a scene starting to come around.

Jesse: It’s just heavy music really. As soon as you put a word to it, it snaps it into place. I think it reminds me of the grunge scene back in the day, two of those bands side by side sound nothing alike. Alice in Chains doesn’t sound like Pearl Jam, at all. But they are both grunge. All good heavy music is hard to define.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve also created your own lager beer Dive Bar Devil – how did this come about, and what do you enjoy most about this additional avenue of cross-promotion that helps expand the brand of the band?

Mike: I can’t think of a better marketing tool for a band like ours. We mention beer in literally every one of our songs, so we had to have a beer of our own. We were super hyped when this brewery out of Braintree, Mass. approached us by seeing us on social media, they started to pop off and wanted to do these collaborations. We were one of the first bands they thought of, and we said hell yeah. My favorite part of my beer and this process, being a huge fan of beer and metal, I’ve seen metal bands do beers before. They always seem to lean on the extremes, because it’s metal. We need to have it 6.66%, or make it the darkest stout ever, or an imperial IPA that’s through the roof. I like IPA’s, but I also like crushing beer. We wanted to make a beer that people could drink five of and not be on the ground. We wanted a beer that people could shotgun, so that was the genesis of making a lighter lager. We are huge fans of Modelo, Pacifico, Mexican style lagers, so in regard to that recipe paid a huge foundation in what we were looking for. When we first brewed the beer, we were calling it a Modelo clone – it’s not exactly like that, but it uses similar brewing processes. Finer ingredients and what not. It’s super refreshing, you can crush a six pack easily on a summer day.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some hobbies, passions, and interests you have away from music that you like to engage in when you have the free time and energy to do so?

Mike: Jesse is a yoga practitioner. We are going to be taking his class for the first time tonight. If I’m not at the space with a microphone in my hand, I’m on my bicycle. I love riding my bicycle. Hobbies – Ben loves hockey, Zack is into yo-yo’s like it’s nobody’s business. Even when we are not doing the band stuff, there’s a lot of crossover, going to shows, being involved in some way with music.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Leather Lung over the next year or so as far as shows, promotion, touring/ festival appearances, etc.?

Mike: We have a big record release show on April 20th, at the same brewery that brewed our beer, Widowmaker Brewing. Hopsmoker Fest, it will be a two-day festival. Acid Witch, Mast, Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean, Summoner, a two-day thing. We won’t play any gigs until that – following that weekend, we will be down in Baltimore for the Grim Reaper Fest with Weedeater. Following that, we are actively booking a tour for July on the southeast – North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, back up the coast to Virginia, Pennsylvania, things of that nature. We don’t have anything on the books, and we want to be on the West Coast for September/October. That’s about it for right now.

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