White Wizzard – Cutting Deep, and Still Proving To Be Kings of the HighwaySunday, 28th July 2013
You have to admire the perseverance of Jon Leon. He’s been put through an emotional wringer the last few years, what with the revolving door of musicians who seem to come and go within a blink of an eye. Despite all this turmoil though, the dedicated musician continues to soldier on with yet another new line-up in place and a subsequent new release entitled The Devil’s Cut.
This latest effort is adorned with the most appropriate of album titles, proving his heart and soul truly does belongs in the music. White Wizzard makes no bones about their love of 80’s metal and their desire to bring that style back, and this album strives to forgo all those line-up changes, creating some effective harmonized guitar leads alongside Leon’s prominent basswork.
I had the chance to speak with Jon about the current state of the band and get his personal thoughts on his passions and creative pursuits as a musician. I found him to be quite genuine and refreshing at times, so during the course of our 20-minute chat I learned a great deal about the man. Please read on and find out exactly what that is…
Dead Rhetoric: There’s been quite a revolving door with musicians coming in and out of the line-up, so what keeps this band afloat?
Jon Leon: Well I mean this line-up has been together for over a year, so this has been stable for a while. Jake [Dreyer, guitars] and Giovanni [Durst, drums] have been there for a good amount of time, so it’s really been a situation where it’s mostly been hammering down that second guitar slot. We gave Wyatt [Anderson, vocals] a second chance at Flying Tigers and he bailed on us at the very last minute, so we had to get a substitute singer for all those tours. Despite all the rumors we haven’t been firing people, it’s been all their personal things that have come up and we’ve just had a stroke of bad luck more than anything else. It’s really been a challenge to do that to and to have a band with this type of energy to play the music we want to do. I started the band because I was sick of music I really didn’t want to play and I just want to make a musical career doing the music I like. So that’s what keeps me going and just a general belief in the vision of who I wanted to become.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any animosity towards Wyatt for leaving White Wizzard on two separate occasions?
Leon: No man, I am really in a grounded place right now. Of course at the time Giovanni and I were frustrated and drank two days straight when Wyatt wrote us three weeks before the tour and said he said he had a job and had to take care of his family first. You can’t argue with that and force a guy to do what he doesn’t want to do, but we were just frustrated because he did the record and did a 180 afterwards. I guess anybody would be frustrated in that situation, but animosity definitely not. Those were decisions he had to make for himself and I have no animosity towards Wyatt after we did three great records together that standup well overall. Wyatt’s a great singer and I never really wanted him to leave the band, but at the same time you just have to keep moving on.
Dead Rhetoric: Now you have Joseph Michael in the band as your new lead singer, so how do you feel about him?
Leon: Joseph is fantastic. I personally feel that what he brings to the table is a new level of character and dynamics. The way he interprets the vocal melodies and character he puts into them, I feel it’s really taken to another level. He brings more character, depth and dynamics to the band than we ever had and I really love his temper and all the different feels he has and he’s really diverse. I think he’s going to serve us really well into the future and I also feel Joseph is the best performer we’ve ever had too and that’s going to take us a lot further as well.
Dead Rhetoric: He’s also a much grittier singer, so do you find that too?
Leon: Sure at times, but I think he can do all the big falsettos and the high stuff just as well as anyone we have ever worked with. In every song there are a lot of nuances he interjects so much character into and I really feel he’s the strongest we’ve had so far because of it.
Dead Rhetoric: The music written for The Devil’s Cut is much heavier. Do you agree with this?
Leon: Yeah there are definitely some songs that I wrote with a high energy kind of feel and I was feeling a little aggressive in the writing process and sometimes adversity will channel that out of you. It’s an ever evolving thing and I have evolved as a writer and I try to get through it all. Giovanni has been there forever, so the rhythm section has developed as well. I also think that Jake and Will bring amazing color and fire in the leads that we have never had before too. They are amazing guitar players that play off each other with really dynamic and diverse styles. It also feels heavier too with the amount of fireworks going on in the rhythm section, so for me and along with Joseph’s character that just brings us along to a whole new level.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned Will Wallner just a moment ago. Can you give us a bit of background on him?
Leon: We had a second guitar player named Cory Nagatoshi and he came up to us two weeks before the “Fire and Ice” tour and said he had a kid with his wife and she couldn’t have him gone 10 weeks. We were in the middle of doing back-to-back tours and she basically flipped out on him and ultimately he chose his family over touring. He was really distraught over it and I felt bad for the guy and he couldn’t do the tour. He came to us and he was practically in tears, so we had to get this other kid to sub for us for the remaining five weeks of the tour.
So Jake, Gio and I had gotten kinda close during all those tours. Then at that point we were looking for a second guitar player and Will actually wrote to our Facebook and said he was a local guitar player who really liked our stuff. When he told us where he lived, I found out he lived literally across the street from Jake Dreyer. So Jake just walked across the street and met up with him and I went up with him too and listened to his stuff. He had that whole British kind of Black Morbid/Vivian Campbell/John Sykes thing going on and it was very opposite to what Jake does. He was just an amazing player overall and such a cool guy and it was great to find a guy who was humble and just such a nice dude. Finding him was a great treasure for us.
Dead Rhetoric: So with a complete line-up in place, how did you approach the writing to The Devil’s Cut?
Leon: There was some downtime after we got off the Ice tour and the material for this record was written in that three month period by myself and again with my flying V. I was able to record some musical pieces and then overtime lyrically, vocal melodies and musical pieces came to me in various forms, whether it be through improvisation or whatever comes to me in my head. Then I will go back and start to piece it together and the melodies usually start to come to my mind as I am running the songs through my head.
By the time we were really going we went on tour with this lineup last summer and after that we got to this point where we had some really strong songs. So what we basically did is I started putting together demos last fall and got it to all the guys, and Will and Jake just concentrated on writing leads and focus on that. Joseph had some time to let the vocal melodies swirl around in his head and come up with some cool harmonies and Giovanni worked on the drums. So we were all kinda able to work on it separately and come together in the studio and make it happen. Now it’s great after going through this process we started to write together and the material is really starting to flow.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there a favorite track that stands out for you?
Leon: I think “Strike the Iron” and “The Sun Also Rises” are extremely strong on this record and they are my favorite White Wizzard songs ever written. I definitely think the album is strong as a whole and it’s my favorite record we’ve done so far.
Dead Rhetoric: So what are the touring plans for this new record?
Leon: Well were looking around for a US/Canadian booking agency for a while and we kinda thought about everything from headlining to a bunch of group packages with other bands. We’re looking at a few different options right now and we have stuff booked for August with a whole US/Canadian thing happening and I have my fingers crossed for that. I know we’re going to Europe in the fall for a headlining tour and try to get to as many countries as we can.
Dead Rhetoric: One last question. Have you heard the new Holy Grail album?
Leon: Yeah I heard some tracks and it’s really good. We played with Cauldron earlier this month and some of the guys from Holy Grail came out to the show. James Luna and Tyler were here to catch the show and it was good to see everyone. I think their new album is really strong and obvious from a production standpoint, there are things I dig about it and there are some things that I don’t like. From a material standpoint I think they are doing what they set out to do and doing it well.