With the release of “Darkness Remains”, Night Demon should be able to please most of those who enjoyed “Curse Of The Damned”, the band’s debut album from 2015. Jarvis Leatherby and his companions still deal in strongly NWOBHM-based metal performed with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. While the new album is the main talking point, Jarvis also lets us in on life on the road as well as his involvement in Jaguar and Cirith Ungol.
For some reason, I didn’t hook up with you when your debut album “Curse Of The Damned” was released, so let’s go back to the early days for a short while. When we spoke after your first EP was released digitally, you told me that you were looking to re-record all songs from that EP for the first album, what made you change your mind?
– I think the main reason was the fact that we see that EP really as our first record. We did so much touring for it. We did play that material a lot previous to “Curse Of The Damned” coming out. That EP sold something around 5000 copies, and went into so many pressings. It kind of stood on its own attempt. We knew that we weren’t gonna be able to recapture the magic of that recording. It’s essentially a demo, it was recorded in one day, and the songs were written very quickly, but I still think it has some of our best material. Does that makes sense?
Yeah, I guess so…
– I thought that after we had done so much, and the record had circulated so much, and so widely…When it was time to make a new record, we didn’t need to put those songs on there.
So you had no problem writing material for “Curse Of The Damned”, is there more stuff laying around, that you didn’t use?
– Not at all. Not one shred! We don’t write throw away songs. If something starts bad, we simply stop. In our contracts, we obviously have to supply bonus tracks and stuff like that, but we basically made it known that we never wanna give any original material away for that stuff. If its not good enough to be on the album, were not gonna record it. I have problems with some releases, like the last Judas Priest-record for instance. I believe it had something like five bonus tracks, five original songs, and I thought that two of them were better than the songs on the album. You know, albums are what they are. The sequence is important, and everything involved is very important. We’re not trying to write songs that aren’t good enough. Our bonus tracks will either be live recordings, demo tracks or cover songs.
Are you the one that say “stop”, letting the others know when a song isn’t up to the desired standard?
– It rarely happens. It has happened, but honestly I can only think of one time. We don’t bring anything to the table that is not right for us.
Ever since you released the first EP, you have been touring really hard. You must be willing to sacrifice a lot? And perhaps also have members more or less at the same place in their lives?
– Of course. You are only as good as your guys are. That goes for every business. Everyone has to be on the same page and order. It doesn’t happen all the time, but for the majority of time, it needs to happen. It’s definitely not easy, living like this, but it can be pretty rewarding. If things weren’t going well for us, if things weren’t progressing, we wouldn’t be doing it. We try very hard, but its working and its worth it. That’s why there are certain members that are not in the band anymore. They couldn’t handle this kind of lifestyle. It definitely takes a certain individual and a certain mind, to go out and do this kind of stuff, especially when you have to start from scratch. You have to build it. It doesn’t happen over night, and it shouldn’t happen over night.
How do you describe your development as a live act from the very first gigs to where you are nowadays?
– It’s like night and day really. At the beginning it was more innocent, more fun: Lets fucking rock out! We didn’t have any intention of being a serious band or anything. We were busy with other things in our lives, and didn’t give a fuck. When that tipping point happened, and we said “lets do it”, we never looked back. Now it’s definitely much more professional, we still enjoy it a lot. A show is a show. We have production now, we have a crew, our mascot comes out on stage, there are certain things we do live now. It’s more of a professional show. I love doing that, I always wanting to do that. You grow up seeing your favourite bands doing it. And now, were also able to do it. A lot of times we are able to bring it into a small club, which is amazing. I love the evolution of the band and the live show, and the visuals and the little stories we have. There is a lot of things that have been created around Night Demon that I really enjoy.
Will you be able to keep it fun to play live if you continue doing it as much as you do now?
– That’s a great question. The one thing that makes me feel good at the moment is the fact that right now, I enjoy it more than I ever did. I am having more fun now than I had when we started the band. That’s a really good sign. I have been enoyoing the shows a lot more, it comes down to confidence, I think. I am much more confident right now, in what my abilities are vocal wise, when it comes to talking with the audiene and that kind of stuff. We know who we are, that also makes things a lot more enjoyable. Here is the other thing: I am not 18 years old. I know what it’s like to be a slave to a career that you don’t like, or have to do things that you don’t wanna do in life to make enough Money to survive. I am never going back to that ever. This is the thing that keeps me from that. I think about it a lot when we drive 10 hours a day, and there is four people there and you don’t want to do it. That’s when you have to put yourself back to that situation mentally, when you were completely miserable, and a slave to the system. You got to remember that you broke out of that, went out and did it for the glory of it. As long as you can keep those things in your mind, you’ll be good. They always say the grass is greener, but you have to stay grounded. Every show counts. Like I said, we played to four people with fucking Raven. One of the guys in the audience turned out to be a very important person in our lives, so you got to perform like there is four thousand People there. In the end they respected it and appreciated it.
Funny that you mention Raven, because there are stories of them doing killer shows with three or four people in the audience. Are you able to be at the top of your game in these kind of situations as well?
– Absolutely. For sure. I remember when our former guitar player was in the band…I probably shouldn’t say this, as I am not trying to discredit him… There was one show in Atlanta. There was maybe 15 people there, and I could tell, it was almost like he didn’t want to be there. I was so angry with him after the gig. We can never do that, if you don’t wannna be here, don’t be here! I really know it, because I have done it in my life earlier, not in this band though. Again, you have to think about the ups and downs. What you are doing in your life. You have to get up there and play the part. I’ve played sick as a dog before, really physically ill. It doesn’t matter to the audience, they have been waiting for you to show up. You got to do the job.
The good thing about being a trio, like Night Demon and Raven, is that the four people in the audience at least outnumbers those on stage…
– Haha, yeah, that’s a good point.
Is creating songs that should be listened to on an album and songs that should be performed and enjoyed live one and same thing?
– Yeah, I definitely think it is. Especially in this band. We never write a song for an album… Actually that might not be true, because on the new record, you have the last track, which we won’t play live. It’s meant as an album cut. But usually, 99 percent of the time, a song is written with the live setting in mind. You are always imagining yourself playing it live on stage, when you write something.
Are you able to write songs while on the road?
– Not much. It’s difficult. I mean, its difficult because there is so much going on all the time. There is really not a lot of time alone, time we have to ourselves. A lot of people say they can do it, and we have been doing it a little too, I think its because we toured so much. It starts to become something like a normal life, and you find ways to do it. But mostly “no”, most of the writing happens at home or in the studio. A lot of the times I just wake up in the morning and have something in my head. Or I am standing in the shower and “oh shit, I have an idea”. I sing it into my phone on a little voice recorder thing. Some of our best stuff have come to me like a bolt of lightning. The song writing this time is definitely more of a collective effort, but I am still writing all the lyrics, all the vocal melodies and most of the music.
What excites you most about having a new record out?
– It’s being able to perform some new songs life. We want to expose the album, as we feel it is really good, we want to keep coming back to places and go to places we have never been before. We don’t want to be fully discovered by the underground on our fourth or fifth releases. We want to to take our time with this album. It’s also exciting to let the fans hear some new stuff. They have been waiting, I know that.
“Darkness Remains” is very much in the vein of “Curse of The Damned”. In your opinion, whats the difference between the two albums?
– Well, the main difference is…Do you know we have a new guitar player? That’s a big one, a huge progression. We are able to do a lot more now with him. Apart from that, the sound is probably the one thing. On this one we focused so much more on the actual sounds of the album. We still record live, like we did on “Curse Of The Damned”, but for this new one we really set out to get the drum-, bass- and guitarsound we wanted. We spent more time on that. The general consensus among those who have heard “Darkness Remains”, is that the record is more produced and more polished than the first, but if you really listen to it, it’s less on this album than on “Curse Of The Damned”. There are no rhythm guitar tracks on this album at all, just like it is live. The sound is better and at the same time, it’s more stripped down, believe it or not.
I guess it can be argued, that your music isn’t original and the lyrics at least on the surface, seem to be quite standard metal-lyrics. Does this criticism bother you?
– Not at all. I even think I was the first one to say it, before anybody else. I don’t think it is very critical either, there is a lot of criticism coming from some people that I don’t think is highly controversial by any means. There is definitely clichees in there, we didn’t come to reinvent the wheel. We just play shit that we like. But the thing is, the music is definitely original – I wrote it! It may be in the vein of some other styles, but we are talking about the styles that I like, and the styles a true heavy metal fan like. I wanna be the band that I wanna see. I think I have good taste, and our fans do as well!
The song “Maiden Hell”, is an obvious Iron Maiden-tribute, made up of song titles from the band, similar to what other acts have done in the past.
-Obviously the song is a tribute to them, but seriously who else did something like that?
From the top of my head, I can’t remember anyone doing it with Iron Maiden, but I know I have heard similar tributes to some other bigger bands.
– Okay, cool. I would love to hear that. I guess great minds think alike. Haha! I am glad I am the first one to do it for Maiden though. That is pretty cool, right? For being an non original idea, they are the biggest metal band in the world, and nobody has done it before I did!
One thing that is cool about the track, is that musically, the song doesn’t have a lot to do with Maiden?
– And that’s why I did it. That was my intention. It’s the least Iron Maiden-sounding song we had, and I thought that was a great way to do it.
The promo sheet that followed my promo copy states that you have “Taken some chances along the way”. Where on the album do you feel we can hear that? I know you mentioned the title track already…
– It’s pretty much a formula we have, if you listen to “Curse Of The Damned”, the last song on that album is “Save Me Now”, that is much more of an AOR-style, kind of Scorpions-mid tempo kind of thing. That was a departure from the rest of that album. On this album, we wanted to do the same thing, to keep that tradition. We needed a closer, something to close the emotions of the journey. Parts of the title track, I have had for a long time, and I am really happy with the way it came out. I wouldn’t call it a risky move for us though, because it’s pretty damn Night Demon. It’s not like were putting out a whole record of ballads or something, but here is the thing: We have to progress in some way. I mean, how many times am I gonna write “Heavy Metal Heat”? I wasn’t gonna write ten more “Heavy Metal Heat” for this album. I know what the press release says, that they’re trying to take that angle, but the feedback we have had from the traditional metal audience, is they really like it. That’s proof right there. I know the label was a bit worried, I think they thought it was a little commercial, but if they want to sell albums, what is wrong with “commercial”. They’re trying to sell albums right? To sound Commercial, was not our intention at all, I know you know, because you have followed the band for so long. We’re a total fucking street band, a punk rock DIY band. We’re not afraid to take chances, but if you listen to the album as a whole, its not a huge departure from anything we’ve done. It’s just a progression.
It’s easy for reviewers to put you in the NWOBHM category, but there is a bit more to your sound than that, a wider range of influences, not only the British bands…
– I agree. I would say our music is mostly influenced by that scene, were talking about music from 78-79 to 83 probably. I was born in 1981, and I am a big fan of that scene, as I grew up with it. But I am also fortunate enough to have lived through many more eras of music. I grew up with thrash metal, I have lived with punk rock and hardcore and fucking death metal. You can’t help but be somewhat influenced by some other music trends you have heard over the last 35 years. You are correct in a way that it’s not a straight NWOBHM-thing, I think that some of those other influences creep in there somewhere. Ultimately the NWOBHM is the best subgenre there is, great melody, great hooks, it’s heavy, and I really like some of the old productions. Again, NWOBHM is very punk, very DIY. There is a lot of feeling there, a lot of innocence and a lot of great stuff happening, and it influenced so many great things that happened afterwards. People can label us what they want, I have heard all kinds of different stuff, New Wave Of American Heavyy Metal and such, but I definitely fly the NWOBHM-flag.
It’s something really timeless about NWOBHM, bands like yourself can adapt the style and songwriting and it doesn’t sound dated… Many of the old classics don’t sound dated either.
– I completely agree with you. When we toured with Carcass, I think that’s when I really realized it. Many of their fans were really young, extreme metal fans. For the first time in our career, they were like: “What is this new sound?”. I am used to people saying we’re a throwback or a copycat or whatever. The young kids have no clue, they don’t know anything. “What is this new sound, it’s heavy, but it’s still melodic. And the singer isn’t screaming!” Like you said, there is a timelessness to it. That’s a ting I like about NWOBHM too.
I remember from the first interview we did that you cited bands like UFO, Tygers Of Pan Tang and Diamond Head among your influences. Do you believe the best bands from the NWOBHM are those who got the most attention, or are you also interested in all the demos and rehearsals from totally unknown acts that relased a single only back then?
– I am totally into the lesser known acts as well. Obviously the bands you mentioned, were some of the best known bands. The funny thing is: We have played with all of those bands. If someone told me that three years ago, I would never had believed them. Pre-internet, I used to spend a lot of time at records stores or at record shows, and I used to order old copies of Sounds and Kerrang. I found out about all these bands, and most of them I never heard, because I couldn’t get the music I was reading about. Sometimes it took years for me to hear a band, but I was young and had a lot of fun importing records and stuff. On the surface you talk about Tygers, Diamond Head, Samson, Saxon and stuff like this. Those are the bigger ones, the first ones you hear, and some of these bands are definitely among my favourites. But with the internet, it’s just amazing. I feel like such a fucking poser sometimes, because I find out about all this stuff. How did I not know about this band? But rather that, to be 36 years old and not be excited by any music at all, because I feel like I heard it all. To hear stuff like that, to still discover stuff, that’s an amazing feeling. Just when you think you have heard it all, Buffalo, Dark Star, Mythra, Avenger…all of this stuff suddenly appears. It’s crazy, I could go on for days. I love it! You used to have to go and find somebody With a huge record collection, and do a mixtape with something on it. These days I can just type the band names in. I love it, I am a fan of technology. We need to adapt with technology. We can’t become dinosaurs. That’s how you age. Getting older is something you can’t avoid, but growing up is optional. There is a difference there. Haha! You have to adapt to everything, that is why the record industry struggles, people are not willing to adapt and make changes. We need to roll with the punches and the changes.
You have played with a lot the old greats. Which band has been most special for you to perform with?
– I would definitely say Raven, Diamond Head, Angel Witch. We were able to play with Angel Wich in Sweden a couple of years ago, and we have three shows coming up with them in Europe in April. I am really excited about that. We kick off our tour doing three in a row with those guys. But I got to say that the most rewarding and satisfying thing is to have contact With, and even to be able to be sing Jaguar. When I was a kid I never thought I could meet these guys. They’re living in England, they’re no longer a band…All this kind of stuff, and then you end up singing in the band. It’s a fucking crazy world!
How many concerts have you done with them?
– One. Only one. We have three coming up this year so far. We performed at the X-Mass Rocka in Sheffield in December and I walked on stage and literary met the drummer on stage. I shook his hand and said: “Hi, how are you doing? Are you ready for this? And we just went for it. We hadn’t rehearsed or anything. I came out great, I have seen videos on YouTube, and I am really happy with my performance with the band. I got along with those guys so well, it seemed like we had known each other forever. Its one those things in life I am really proud of. If it all ended today, I would be satisfied. Jaguar have always been a huge vocal influence on me, so being able to fill those shoes now, is unreal.
I remember seeing Jaguar at Wacken in 2000 or something, and their singer at the time was dressed like a girl, and jumping around on stage.
– He was in the band for almost fifteen years, and the guys had a lot of issues with him. I don’t know why they had him around for so long, but they are really thankful that he is out. His presence was the big problem with the band, why people always had issues with them. They have such a great catalogue of music, but the guy they had in the band for the last 15 years was just a clown. At Sweden Rock I think, he had a pogo stick and signing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” at the beginning of “Raw Deal”. What the hell were you thinking? To be able to bring some energy back in Jaguar, has been a great feeling. They were the fastest band back in the day. I am really happy to be able to give them a new spark.
You are also involved with Cirith Ungol…
– Absolutely! I have brought that band back from the dead. I worked on that shit for a decade. Myself, Tim Baker and Robert Garven have been friends for years. Night Demon and Cirith Ungol are the only two bands from Ventura, we used to hang out every week, getting hammered drunk, eating Mexican Food, but one they were saying: Where the fuck are Night Demon? They’re touring all the time! They kind of got a little jealous and expressed that this is what they always wanted to do as band. “You can do it. I have been telling you guys for years. Now is the day”, I told them. They were very unsure about it, you must remember that they hadn’t played for 25 years. Not only that, they hadn’t been picking up the instruments, weren’t playing in bands, weren’t playing for recreation. They had left music completely. They did it since 1972 and said fuck it…The music industry chewed us up and spat us out, they didn’t want anything to do with it anymore So it definitely took some convincing, but as soon as I started the Frost And Fire festival and began bringing people over from Europe, they said: Hey, something is happening here. We started to bring them into the Night Demon rehearsal room, and Night Demon learned the Cirith Ungol songs and rethought the band their songs. That is pretty much how it started, now the rest is history. Those guys are very, very happy right now. They’re going to Europe for the first time ever, will be able to see a lot of parts of the world and play for their fans. It’s a complete redemption story. It’s funny because I am on tour with Anvil right now. I guess you have seen the Anvil-movie, yes?
– If there was a movie about Cirith Ungol…we’re not gonna make a movie, but their story is amazing. This is a really heartfelt story, and right now they feel total and complete redemption. On the highest level. They’re getting what they deserve, and I am really happy about that. It’s a complete honor for me, one of the biggest accomplishements of my whole life, to be able to reignite these guys and beging able to handle and manage them. My job is to preserve the legacy of this band, and that is exactly what I am trying to do. I am working for a while with some labels, re-releasing a lot of stuff.
Are there new albums on the horizon for both Jaguar and Cirith Ungol?
– Yes, we’re working on material for both bands actually. By the end of 2018 I hope to have new releases from all three bands, Jaguar, Cirith Ungol and Night Demon. That would be my goal.
Back in 2013 you formed Metal Cares, a non profit brand. You had one campaign that ended now in March, would you describe it as a success?
– There were some pretty bad hurricanes that hat happened in 2013. We started sending Night Demon shirts to people that didn’t have clothes, and received photos in return. Homeless people wearing Night Demom shirts to stay warm. We tried to get other bands involved. You tour the world and you see how some people live. We complain about things, right now I am in a really nice hotel, but tomorrow night, I might be sleeping in a basement with fucking cockroaches on the floor. Life for a touring band consists of ups and downs, but for some people its fucking down all the time. There are no oppourtunities, they don’t have the education to be able to better themselves to even think that anything else is possible to them but poverty or working on the streets. You go to some of these counries, and people look at you as something different. You are created differently, as a white male, you look different and you are better than these people. Part of our effort with this thing is geared more towards to help some of these people in smaller communites, being able to have more education and child care…You got to give something back. What better way to do that than to use the popularity of the band to raise money for this people? That’s all we do, I am not walking from door to door asking people for money. We are not looking for praise, were are just doing the right thing. I think more people should do it. There is a lot of greed in the world, and when you are playing in a band like Night Demon, every fucking penny counts, but at the same time there is always somebody that will be worse off, and somebody you can help. It’s a humanity thing, you got to be able to lay down at night on that cockroach infested floor and know its only for the night. That’s all we are doing, I appreciate the puclicity, but all we want to do is to help people.