Interview with David DeFeis / Virgin Steele for BARD MegaZine (Poland)
Interviewer: Wojtek Gabriel, Autumn 2004
- Your latest shows were two acoustic concerts in Germany and France. Were they successful for you and Edward?
ANSWER: Thanks for asking. Yes indeed they were extremely successful. Our performances were incredibly well received by the audience, and very rewarding for us to do. The reaction of our Fans was really quite astounding to us. We had the same over the top wildness that happens at the “electric” shows.
- Is it hard to play with a two-person line-up, only one guitar and the voice?
ANSWER: Yes there is perhaps more pressure on us in this format, but it is not so much difficult as it is challenging. We can’t make too many mistakes, as there is nothing to hide behind. The other side of the coin is that it is actually very liberating, as we can go off on many different tangents & improvise extensively if we wish to, within the framework of the songs.
- Why didn’t you plan a larger European tour? We really wanted to go to one of those acoustic gigs, but it was much too far for us…
ANSWER: This was not meant to be a full-scale tour it was only a couple of special shows that were more or less an experiment for us. Now that we know how well this works, we can… and we will eventually do a longer & larger concert schedule with this type of show.
- OK. After few questions about latest events I’d like to ask about VS history a bit. As a child you was strongly influenced by your sister and brother, who had a band Stalk. In this time, did you think about your own band already?
ANSWER: Yes they were very inspirational to me, and as I watched them rehearse or give concerts, I began to develop a strong desire to form my own group, in order to play/be part of this incredible Metal/Rock Music, and the intense feelings that it generated. Eventually I did join my first Rock Group at the very young age of 11 years old. The kid who delivered the morning paper to the house was a drummer, and one day I said to him…”I’m going to sing for your band”…and so…I did. That became PHOENIX…my first group.
Photo by Michelle Francis
- You started your musical education very early, at the age of 8, learning to play the piano. And when did you start to sing?
ANSWER: Ha! See above! At the age of 11 when I decided to join the newspaper deliver kid’s group.
- Being only 11 you played in a metal band Phoenix. What kind of music did you perform with them?
ANSWER: We did music from BLACK SABBATH, DEEP PURPLE, ALICE COOPER, GRAND FUNK RAILROAD, & MOUNTAIN, among others…After Phoenix, I had a group called STONEHENGE, and we did all of the above, plus some QUEEN, AEROSMITH, HUMBLE PIE, etc. This was all very early on. I was barely into my teens at this point.
- After meeting Jack Starr and his friends in 1981 you decided to join together as the singer and keyboard player. You suggested kicking out the bass player, because he sucked, and later he succeeded in some known band, right? A funny story…
ANSWER: There was a bit more to it than that. What you are asking me about was the time just before VIRGIN STEELE was actually born. The first time that I jammed with Jack, there was a bass player there who had only been playing bass for maybe a year, if even that much, so understandably he was not too proficient. There was also some rhythm guitar player/singer there as well, who did not impress me very much, along with some drummer who was fairly terrible. I recommended my friend Joe O’Reilly for the bass position and said, “get rid of that other guy”. That other guy (who was quite a nice chap) did of course improve with time, and he ended up some years later in the group LA GUNS. I also said to Jack, ”Yeah I think I can work with you but these other two guys have to go as well.”
- Hard to believe, but the first album was recorded after only 3 weeks of rehearsals! It was meant to be a demo, so why it was published as your debut LP at last?
ANSWER: We began getting a fair amount of attention from it because we had sent out cassettes to all the music magazines & papers. We found that people liked it so we thought…”Fuck it…why not press it as an LP and see what happens”. I got the money together and pressed up 5,000 copies, which I sold out of the trunk of my car. These went very quickly, so I pressed up another 5,000 copies, and before this second pressing was sold out…we had our first couple of Record Deals going on both sides of the Ocean.
- Did you expect, that such a self-released album would have sold 5000 copies in just a few weeks, and you would need to make additional prints, which sold out very soon as well?
ANSWER: Not that quick! It was an amazing time! Not everyone had an album out that they could sell, so we were fortunate. The Scene was largely based on tape trading, which is what we began with also, but no…I did not expect things to go that well. However, I can honestly tell you that I was driven and extremely relentless in trying to move those copies, so a large amount of that success was due to constantly pushing like a maniac. I never sat around on my ass waiting for the telephone to ring. I was always out in the thick of the fight trying to make something happen.
- The story began for real in 1982, when you signed with Music For Nations for “Guardians Of The Flame”. Do you remember this feeling? A real contract!
ANSWER: Yes of course. It was quite an amazing achievement. Our album was actually MFN 1(Music For Nations #1), the first release for that label! After us they signed MERCYFUL FATE, RATT, MANOWAR, WASP, etc…I thought that some great things were just around the corner for us, but I did not realize all the other difficulties that would arise. It is a very insane business this “business” of Music!
- Talking about your early times. Your two first albums have been re-released on CD in 2003. But the mixes are different than on the original LPs. You did use some old master tapes or what? Why didn’t you put the original versions onto the CD?
ANSWER: No Sir you are very wrong! I absolutely did use all the mixes from the early days. Those mixes are the exact mixes that appeared on the early albums, with the exception of a few things on the VIRGIN STEELE “1” re-issue, that I had to re-mix because the original mixes were in really horrible shape. For those re-mixes I went back to the original Master multi-track tapes (which had held up pretty well) and I faithfully mixed them with an ear to what was originally done, only now they could be made sonically clearer and in general improved all around. Nothing was changed or added. Those are the exact same original performances.
- OK. Back to the history. Before the 3rd album Jack Starr left the band, and you started to co-operate with Edward Pursino. I think you don’t like to talk about it, but what were the main reasons for Jack to split up with you?
ANSWER: He didn’t leave we fired him for many, many reasons, which I won’t go into. However, we were actually quite thoughtful about it though. We waited, & fired him at a time, which was actually going to be quite OK for him. He had begun a solo career, and since he had something else to fall back on we felt that he would not be damaged too by our firing.
- In 1986 “Noble Savage” saw the sunlight. It’s much more in the epic symphonic style than its precursors. Why did you change the way of writing? Just an evolution, or you’ve had enough of simple heavy metal tunes? Was it maybe Ed’s influence?
ANSWER: No. I did not change my way of writing at all. In fact I had already written THE ANGEL OF LIGHT, the title track, & most of the other songs for the album before Edward came onboard! What changed was that now I finally had a guitarist who could really play the songs that I was composing. This was not always the case prior. From that point forward there were no limitations.
- The CD re-release of “NS” includes many bonus tracks. They sound, like they would have been recorded during the same session… Am I right? Why they weren’t published earlier?
ANSWER: Some of them were recorded during the sessions for NOBLE SAVAGE. “WHERE ARE YOU RUNNING TO”, “COME ON & LOVE ME”, and “OBSESSION” were recorded during that period, but remember those were the days of vinyl which had a limited amount of playing time. The maximum time was about 40 minutes, so something had to give. The remaining bonus tracks found on the “NOBLE SAVAGE re-issue, were actually intended for the MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN & HELL albums, but they remained unfinished until the re-issue project for NOBLE SAVAGE.
- The next step in Virgin Steele’s career was “Age Of Consent”. You said once, that recording this LP was like 8 months of torture. Could you explain this?
ANSWER: We were locked into a studio with an engineer who while he was quite good, he really had no idea about what sort of sounds we wanted to achieve. He was not really a Metal type of guy, and in addition, our manager at the time had given him instructions to try to turn us into Bonjovi or Def Leppard, and this did not sit too well with me. I wanted a full blown over the top, bombastic, wall of voodoo fucking album, so we fought continuously. In the end we arrived at a good sounding record, but…it was difficult. Also some members of the Group wanted to go along with this “Commercial” approach, so we fought quite a bit amongst ourselves. It was a very tense time. I was pushing for wildness and breaking all creative boundaries, and some of the others wanted to cash in on the “Motley Crue” type of thing. I remember Edward telling me that the drummer we had at that time had asked him, “how come Dave sounds like he wants to kill somebody all the time”, and I found that to be simply fucking hilarious & completely ridiculous! He did not understand where I was coming from at all! As I said in the end it turned out all right. That kind of thing would never happen today. Today the Group is very together and the members are all very seriously committed, and we all have strong Belief in what VIRGIN STEELE is and what it means. Edward & I have a great chemistry that grows & reaches new heights with each project. Frank Gilchriest our drummer, to me is quite simply the best drummer there is period. His depth of commitment to the Art Of Drumming, and the Music of VIRGIN STEELE is astounding. And Josh Block our bass player is a phenomenal musician with an incredible ear. The Group is truly at its best right now. We can perform 3 hour plus concerts with complete high energy the entire evening through. We all push each other to achieve our maximum potential, to go beyond what is Humanly possible…it is more than a Concert, it is an Epic Battle of Mythic proportions.
Photo by Michelle Francis
- And why you did use fake keyboard bass on this LP? You couldn’t find the right musician?
ANSWER: Huh! I never used a “fake” anything on any record. The bass player we had at the time cracked under all the pressure, and his tracks were unusable, so I went in and played all the bass parts myself, because I had to. I do play a bit of bass guitar, & I had a very definite idea of what I wanted to do as far as the bass parts went. It was faster to do them with the keyboard though, as I have greater dexterity on that instrument, and time and money were definitely a factor. We achieved a very good bass sound. Nothing fake or computerized about it, it was all played by me in real time and recorded on real, glorious analog tape.
- Till your next release the fans had to wait 5 long years. Why it took so much time to write the stuff and publish “Live Among The Ruins”?
ANSWER: It was not 5 years it was actually about 3 years from AGE OF CONSENT to LIFE AMONG THE RUINS. During that period I fired the manager, and we changed bass players several times. In addition I also went back to the University and started studying Music more seriously. The songs on LIFE AMONG THE RUINS were written quite easily & quickly, but I had to find a new record deal for them, so this also took a bit of time.
- And now let’s take a break from the VS related questions. I know you’re a fan of classical music, you like Chopin, Bach… This question will be very difficult. What’s the most impressive work from the classic music for you?
ANSWER: Yes I am a Fan of those names you mentioned. There are so many impressive Works out there in the Classical field. I can’t name only one. Here are several. I think Alban Berg’s Wozzeck is amazing, the Chopin book of Preludes, Beethoven’s Symphonies, Verdi’s Operas, Bach, Debussy…the list goes on…and on…
- And why Bach’s minuet wasn’t credited on the first release of VS I?
ANSWER: I don’t remember why…some sort of oversight I suppose.
- I heard you won some piano competitions as a child, but I didn’t find any information about it… Is that true?
ANSWER: Yes, I received some awards at College/University for piano playing & composition.
- Your favorite bands are the rock legends like Queen, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin… Do you listen to the heavy metal bands in private too? Which of them impress you most?
ANSWER: Yes I still listen to all of those groups you mentioned, plus I also enjoy THE CULT, TYPE O NEGATIVE, KATE BUSH, BRYAN FERRY, T.REX, CRADLE OF FILTH, THE GATHERING, etc., I listen to Metal & Rock in all its various genres, plus Classical, Opera, Atmospheric things….
- I know your taste in bands matter, but tell me, which vocalists are your favorite ones, or maybe which ones influenced you most when you started to sing?
ANSWER: The vocalists who had the most influence on me were probably FREDDIE MERCURY, ROBERT PLANT, RONNIE JAMES DIO, and DAVID COVERDALE. I still enjoy their Work, and today I also have great respect for the vocal work of IAN ASTBURY, PETER STEELE, IAN GILLAN, PHIL MOGG… I love so many different voices, ANN WILSON, BON SCOTT, JIM MORRISON, DAVID LEE ROTH, ELMOORE JAMES, GEDDY LEE, KATE BUSH, FRANK DIMINO, MARC BOLAN…the list goes on…and on…
- I think I said in few other interviews, but I love black cats. Are you superstitious?
ANSWER: Sometimes...(for example I won’t walk underneath a ladder), but not about Black Cats. I have a Black Cat & I worship all Cats in general. At present I have 5 of them. My Black Cat’s name is…EMALAITH…I also have a Cat that has 6 toes, and the Spirit of another Cat often possesses her. The Spirit of She who died last year. Sometimes I can see the other Cat staring at me through these younger Cat’s eyes.
- As a quite popular band VS toured much. What was the strangest place on the globe you’ve been to?
ANSWER: Hmmmm…I did not find any place to be really strange. I prefer some places to others, but I don’t find much in this Life that is strange. I also never expect anything…I let the Wind take me where it will.
- In addition to being the songwriter, vocalist and keyboard player you’re a producer too. You worked with Piledriver, Exorcist, Damien Thorn, you even did Jack’s “No Turning Back”, and played on it. What is your favorite album of all the ones you produced?
ANSWER: All the VIRGIN STEELE albums of course!!! Those feature my best efforts in that department. But of the ones you mentioned…hmmm…probably EXORCIST, as that one was well thought out in terms of how it was put together, the songs were interesting and it was satisfactorily fully completed in 3 days.
- Do you think that you already succeeded in the music business, or you didn’t achieve the level you would like yet?
ANSWER: Success is an extremely relative term. Do you mean Artistically, Financially, Popularity wise or…what exactly??? I have achieved the goal of living from Music, so that is quite satisfying, and I am very proud of what I have achieved creatively, but I still feel that I can go further with my song-craft, and with my performances as a vocalist & keyboard player, arranger etc., so I do want to continue. I think the Group is at its strongest now, and I wish to see how much further we can go. I think our potential is still unlimited, and I believe we can develop much further.
- OK. The questions about band’s history finished in “Life Among The Ruins” times. So now the time has come for “Marriage…” albums of course. Where came the idea to write a double album from, and why didn’t you just release a double LP instead of two separate ones?
ANSWER: Initially we were just trying to do one album, but then the idea to do a double album developed later on because of the large amount of songs that were created. As the songs began to become more and more complete, I realized that what I in fact was writing, had a certain thematic thread, which I expounded upon further, so then…I conceived of a Part 1 & Part 2 idea, because the Label did not want to issue a double CD. I would have enjoyed that, but…they had other ideas. However, there actually is a limited edition pressing of a double CD that comes in a special black box. And there is a vinyl pressing of THE MARRIGE OF HEAVEN & HELL PART 2, which is a double LP. When I am writing I never stop long enough to consider how all the songs will fit on just one CD. What usually happens is that I start to take home mixes of various songs, and I find that…”Holy shit all these tracks can’t fit on 1 CD”. That is how THE HOUSE OF ATREUS ACT II became a double CD. I had not realized that there was so much Music! That time though, I was adamant that the Label issue a double CD, which of course as you know they did. Once I seriously get going on the creative process…I find it difficult to stop. I become maniacal, obsessed, & possessed.
- Is that true, that you and Ed had around 60 songs written for both “Marriage…” LPs?
ANSWER I wrote tons of songs, & then Edward & I together also wrote tons of songs. We chose what we felt were the best tracks for those albums.
- So, where’s the rest of the stuff? You didn’t record it at all?
ANSWER: Some of it was used as bonus material on NOBLE SAVAGE”, For example, “LOVE & DEATH” and “THE SPIRIT OF STEELE” were originally ideas for “THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN & HELL WORKS”. A few other things have yet to be issued, but they might be over the next years.
- And why for those two albums you’ve written such poetical lyrics?
ANSWER: I have always tried to be as Poetic as possible on every album, and I try to do the songs justice in every department. I was very inspired during the creation of the “MARRIGE WORKS”. I believed in my subject matter, and I felt compelled to express it.
- “Invictus” is the last opus of the trilogy began with “Marriage…” I and II. It’s full of rage, especially against all the organized religions. Personally I think all the religions are bullshit, and the Earth would be much better place without all those religious madmen. And you, why are you against it?
ANSWER: Probably for some of the same reasons that you or any other logical thinking person is. To be brief, well…whenever Spirituality which is a personal state of being, becomes aligned with organizational elements like Government or any sort of hierarchy, etc., the first things to be jettisoned from the original Spiritual Ideology are the personal, intimate ingredients, and what is left is the forced belief in mindless dogma, and the establishment of a literal/historical perspective of a person or beings that never existed in the first place. Its foundation is based on the outer trappings of a Myth without the understanding of the real inner meaning. This puts the cart before the horse. It perpetuates a restrictive, phony moral creed, which stifles freedom, universal development, and any serious relationship with any element of the Divine order of things. It sows dissention, creates violence, and divides rather than unites…
- “Invictus” was your most successful album up to date. But for me VS is still one of the most underrated bands in heavy metal world, while the other ones are overrated much, to mention Manowar for example. Any conceptions, where is the problem? With the music you write you should sell 10 times more albums!
ANSWER: Actually the HOUSE OF ATREUS Albums sold just as much as INVICTUS. But again…success is a very relative thing. VIRGIN STEELE was not designed to be the hugest band on the Planet. It always was & still is… a Way Of Life. We answer to no one, we do what we want to, when we want to, and we will continue to create & perform Music on our own terms. We are free and energized in our method of operation. If we become more popular…fine, so be it…if not that’s OK too. Obviously we want to communicate, to reach people on as many levels as possible, but we are not willing to compromise our vision to do so. Further success must happen naturally.
- Talking about underrated. I can’t understand what happened during the 2001 tour. When I found out, that Virgin Steele plays before HammerFall, I was just shocked and I couldn’t believe it. Why, how? Is there any logical explanation?
ANSWER: They invited us, (we agreed after the 3rd time we were asked), and we had a great time. That was a long tour that took in many countries, so we were exposed to many people, which was a positive thing for us. The only real problem was that when we agreed to do the tour, we were told by the agency that booked it, that we would be co-headlining/on equal billing. However, when we actually arrived from the States to do the tour…things were not exactly like that. This caused some friction and problems along the way, mainly having to do with the length of our Set. There was never a problem between Hammerfall & us though. This had strictly to do with those folks on the bureaucratic side. The end result was that we could not play as long of a Set as we would have like, but all in all it was good for us to have done it. As I said we had a great time with them. They were good guys.
- Next questions about VS history will concern your true metal opera “House Of Atreus”. You grew up in a theatrical family. Was it a main inspiration to write such albums?
ANSWER: I’m sure that my upbringing had an affect on this. Theater, Opera, Rock Music and all sorts of craziness growing up surrounded me. I was very inspired by what I heard and saw all around me. It was inevitable that I would turn out the way that I am. So yes all of that conspired to point me in the direction of pushing the boundaries of Music further & further until reaching the point of THE HOUSE OF ATREUS Works. In this Work I was able to utilize all my experiences with Rock, Metal & Classical Music, plus my background in all things Dramatic. It was a natural evolution.
- And could you tell me few words about your work with father? As I heard you rehearsed with him ancient Greek classic dramas and other theatrical stuff?
ANSWER: I always have & still do help out with various Theatrical Productions that my Father puts on. Mainly I provide Music or sound effects or help with the stage settings, building up or tearing down, but once in awhile I am called upon to compose music, or provide sung vocals or spoken bits here & there. Among other things, I have been the disembodied voice of Fate during the “Weird Sisters” Scenes in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.
- Is that why you chose the lyric concept for “House…”, based on original Ayschylos books?
ANSWER: No. I chose it because I think that it is timeless and totally relevant today. I’ve loved the story from when I first read it as a child. All the Greek Myths create a strong resonance for me in my Soul. THE HOUSE OF ATREUS Tale is found within all the Ancient Myths & in the works of various Philosophers & Authors of that Ancient time. In order to know the tale intimately I re-read both Euripides & Aeschylus plus several others, prior to beginning to compose. By knowing the story well, I then was able to deviate from it and change or add whatever I wished.
- Musically both parts of the metal opera are much more epic and symphonic than “Invictus”. Do you think, that this evolution will stop or maybe you’ll go back to the traditional heavy metal roots?
ANSWER: I will most likely continue to push the boundaries on some songs, and on others I might take a more traditional approach. On the current collection of songs that I’m working on, I have managed to evolve even further, while at the same time still remain accessible.
- A little digression here, while talking about operas. How do you like Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia project, you took part in?
ANSWER: I enjoyed doing it. I did my part very quickly. One day I took a break from working on THE HOUSE OF ATREUS ACT II, and I completed it. Everything that I sang they ended up using. It was quite a nice experience.
- The last band’s releases were two compilations. “Hymn To Victory” is a kind of anthology, but the tracks are re-mixed, the version are different than on the original releases. Why didn’t you want to make just a “normal” compilation with tracks taken directly from the albums?
ANSWER: Because that is too easy and boring. With VIRGIN STEELE we always take the path less traveled, the more difficult route. Whenever there is a chance to do something, huge, Noble…Over The Top…we go for it. If there is a chance to develop in some way…again…we go for it. We always try to provide “that something extra” for our Fans, because we believe that they deserve the best.
- And “The Book Of Burning” is a kind of compilation too, because it contains some old re-recorded tracks. But the stuff is mostly new written, right?
ANSWER: 8 tracks are completely New never been heard before songs, & the other 8 tracks are new versions of earlier songs, taken with a fresh approach and re-written, so I consider it a new album.
- To close the questions about history I have to ask about your theatrical stage performances. 1999 was the year of premiere of “Klytaimnestra - Der Fluch Der Atriden”. The first question is - why in German?
ANSWER: I received the interest from a German Theater, so that is where I presented it. It was a case of having an opportunity to do it there…so I took it. We have always had a strong following in Germany, and the people at the Theater in which it was performed were very into the Work.
- It had to be very successful, because you decided to make another performance, based on the trilogy “The Marriage…” and “Invictus”?
ANSWER: Yes it was quite successful. It was the most success that the Theater had had in many years. Both the Traditional Theater goers and the Metal Fans equally enjoyed the experience.
- Last Virgin Steele album with totally new stuff was released 4 years ago. Could you tell me few words about “Lilith” project? Are you finishing the work with songwriting already?
ANSWER: It hasn’t been 4 years. In 2001 we issued the double CD THE HOUSE OF ATREUS ACT II, then in 2002/2003 came THE BOOK OF BURNING (which had an albums length of new material on it), in addition we issued HYMNS TO VICTORY, (which also contained new never released songs), and then we also managed to put out the re-issues of VIRGIN STEELE 1 & 2, which also contained all the early EP tracks, plus never heard before bonus tracks. With all this output, we have also still been performing around the World. We have not been idle by any means whatsoever.
As regards the “LILITH WORK”, I have composed over 40 pieces of Music. I’ve written instrumental pieces as well as vocal oriented songs. Now I am in the process of deciding on what will be used for an albums length of material now, and what might be better to use later on.
- And this will be some album only, or a trilogy again do you want to arrange it to the theatrical stage maybe as well?
ANSWER: It could easily be 2 or 3 CD’s, as I have quite a bit of Music…but we’ll see. The “LILITH Work” was actually already performed on the Theatrical stage last Summer in Germany. It received an excellent response, and it will be presented again. This makes 3 times now that we have taken a “Metal-Opera” to the Stage in full dramatic fashion!
Photo by Michelle Francis
- And when can we expect to find it in the shops?
ANSWER: If all goes well hopefully sometime in early Winter 2005.
- Don’t you think, that after 23 years of band’s existence it is high time to release some live stuff?
ANSWER: Absolutely! Yes we plan to do this after we issue the next studio album. In addition we will also try to issue a DVD featuring history, various concerts & behind the scenes footage. I want to capture for Eternity, the Bombastic experience of our live shows. I’m very proud of the work of the gentlemen with whom I share the stage. I want the World to experience Frank’s incredible drumming, Edward and Josh’s musical skill/dexterity, and the unique chemistry and otherworldly quality that this band creates onstage.
- OK David, I hope you’re still alive after answering almost 50 questions, ha, ha… I planned a cover story with Virgin Steele for a longer time, and now we’ve got a real story, ha, ha… What can I wish you and the band for the upcoming months?
ANSWER: A Lifetime supply of vintage Wine! And…a smooth, trouble free time completing these latest recordings, would be most helpful!
- Hope to see you in some acoustic show soon… Do you want to tell anything to our readers at the end?
ANSWER: You will see the acoustic show sometime fairly soon, as we do plan to pursue more of these types of concerts.
Hail Readers…We Thank you very much for listening, and we Thank you kindly for all of your Faith, Heart, Belief, Energy & Support!!! Fear not…the new album is coming soon.
Cheers to You All!!! Stay…INVICTUS!!! See you soon…BY THE HAMMER OF ZEUS,