California’s Night Demon are exactly what you want from a heavy metal band in 2019.
Expert musicians who have a mastered the old school New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound with a thrash edge, who, to borrow a local phrase, go absolutely flat out on stage! Headbangers on The Rock couldn’t ask for more.
Ahead of the NL debut of the group who have wowed audiences from Mexico to Wacken Open Air, frontman Jarvis Leatherby caught up with The Newfoundland Herald for a crash course in old school metal, thoughts on the bands dark, horror themes and the art of the live performance.
Q: You guys will be making your Newfoundland debut this Friday, and if I’m not mistaken this will be your only Canadian gig this year. How pumped are you guys to head up north for our crazy, diehard metal fans?
It’s pretty crazy the places that this band has taken us, places we thought we’d never go. We’re stoked to be out there.
Canada has been great. I’ve been coming there for years with various bands. The farthest up northeast I’ve gone is probably Nova Scotia. But the fans are great. I mean I was going back there in the MuchMusic days and stuff. And we do know a lot of Canadian bands. But no it’s always been a positive experience out there. I think more bands should tour there. With Newfoundland I don’t really consider that part of Canada really. I mean sure it is but it’s almost like going to Alaska and saying you’re going to the States.
This year we haven’t done any touring. We’ve just been doing one offs and we wanted to takes some time to write this next record. And sure enough the first year in four years Night Demon doesn’t announce a tour all these promoters start calling us for one offs. We’ve been doing every weekend or every other weekend in some country. We just did Brazil, we’ve gone to Germany four times this summer, have done one offs in the States. It’s been really nice. It’s something that we didn’t think we’d be able to do for a few years but it’s happening now. So when the phone rings we’re always down for the call.
Q: How do you guys approach an album release? It’s been two years since you released Darkness Remains and you seem to be more conservative with releasing material than many modern groups. Do you try to spread releases out with album cycles?
Yeah it’s pretty calculated. I’ve never thought of Night Demon as being one of those bands that has 15 or 20 albums. I did kind of a research paper for myself, which sounds kind of nerdy, but I basically took my 10 favourite bands and broke down the cycles of all their albums and how long it took to put them out and which ones were good and which ones weren’t and when they dropped off. I found the common denominator usually was the first four albums versus first ten years is usually the prime, the meat of it you know?
With some of my favorite bands, I’ll go see the Scorpions every year. They put out a record and the records they put out are pretty good. I mean there’s usually one or two good songs off of them. And then they go out and play live and they’re expected to play the hits and they try to play one or two new songs on the new record. The other songs on the record never get to be played live. So for the band that’s pretty frustrating. And then when the next record comes out and the next tour comes around it’s like that previous album never existed you know. So I think we’re more of a quality over quantity type band.
We’ve done so well on the records that we’ve put out and you know we just kind of want to keep that quality high. And so I think that’s why we take our time with it. A lot of people are still discovering the band, so for us to do a two and a half year touring cycle on an album makes sense for us because you also don’t want to be a band that has 10 records out and you’re not widely known. So that’s that’s our theory and that’s our strategy behind it.
Q: Take me through the early days of the group coming up in California. Obviously the west coast is a melting pot of styles and influences when it comes to heavier music. What were some of those early influences for you personally that helped shape what Night Demon is today?
I kind of grew up around the house with like Deep Purple, Van Halen, that kind of stuff. I saw Metallica when I was seven years old and that kind of made me decide that I wanted to do this. But you know mainly in Ventura where we’re from there was no metal scene. So we kind of grew up in the hardcore punk scene as metal heads and we got a lot of respect in my early bands and stuff just for our musicianship. But we always played punk shows. There was no scene really happening and when we started Night Demon we went to L.A. and kind of thought the same thing. There’s no scene so let’s just go play and see what happens. Sure enough there was this whole underground subculture of metal in this newer generation that we didn’t know about and it all kind of took off from there.
The New Wave of British heavy metal, Metallica and Iron Maiden, those were like my gateways. Those were the accessible bands before the Internet and stuff. And I just kind of checked out the bands that they played with, the bands that influenced them. Once I discovered that stuff I really latched onto it and it’s just kind of become part of our DNA just because we listened to so much of that stuff.
Q: Are there any definitive metal albums for you? What would be your go-to’s if you had to help a novice get into your sound?
The first Angel Witch album, the self-titled album. The first Diamond Head record, Tigers of Pan Tang, Spellbound. Those are just some New Wave of British heavy metal deep cut albums there.
I read something in the media that Metallica is officially the biggest band in the world. I never thought when I was young where it was like man, these guys are doing it, these guys are all about it. These guys kind of gave me that confidence. But they probably would’ve never thought they would be the biggest touring band basically of all time. It’s an interesting thing to think about. You know it gives us some hope here for what we’re doing.
Q: I’m sure there were periods where NWOBHM groups and classic metal bands experienced a downturn. But in 2019 it really feels like the genre is strong, with so many great young groups like yourselves, Haunt, Skull Fist, all putting out amazing music. What’s your take on the genre today and the appetite for that throwback nostalgia?
Yeah all the bands you mentioned we’ve played with and are friends with. I mean Raven took us out on our first tour. We did 60 shows and it was pretty awesome. It’s kind of cool to be peers with those guys and then you mentioned Skull Fist and Haunt. We’ve gone to Mexico with Skull Fist and we did a U.S. tour with them. We’re bringing Haunt out on a tour next year.
The camaraderie is good, but one thing when I talk to all the New Wave of British Heavy Metal guys that’s different about then and now is that you think about the NWOBHM and you think okay England’s not a huge country. You think that all these guys must have all been friends and played shows together and were bouncing ideas off each other and doing the whole DIY thing together, but in reality it really wasn’t like that. A lot of them didn’t know each other and they weren’t doing gigs together and they weren’t influenced by one another. Whereas today all the bands in the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal scene, I guess that’s what we would be categorized as, you know all of us are all friends. We all talk online and we play shows together all over the world and we’re all kind of there for each other. There’s a big support system and it’s much more of a brotherhood.
And technology has allowed us to have that kind of communication and build those relationships. So as much as I’m an old school traditionalist and I still buy and listen to vinyl and stuff like that, there are some things that the advancement of the world has brought to all of us. We don’t want to be dinosaurs. We embrace change and evolve with that stuff and use it to our advantage versus complaining about it and we keep the good traditions that we want to keep alive at the same time.
Q: In terms of album themes and songwriting, you guys have really mastered that dark, almost horror like aesthetic. Do you ever aim for something big and conceptual with your records? That’s been a staple with many of the groups you’ve been influenced by.
You know we actually wrote a movie script a couple of years ago which we were going to make Darkness Remains into a movie. We had like 10 rewrites on this thing with like some pro screenwriters and it just never came to fruition. We were signed to Century Media which was Sony and we thought we could kind of cross collateralize things and use Sony Pictures to help us out. It didn’t quite work out but there are some themes, a trilogy of songs on on Darkness Remains that is a story.
I think every record we’ve done is trying to be a concept record, but in the end it’s just so difficult to do without just being like OK, here’s the beginning, here’s the middle and here’s the end without it being boring. As far as the themes I think a lot of the stuff we did was cliché themes in a way. And I don’t say that in a negative way, but I think we’ve gotten a lot of that out of our system. I mean we have a song called “Satan”. You know that’s just a throwback to the 80s satanic panic. It’s the thing growing up where we always wanted to have something like that. And I think we’ve done that. We’ve accomplished that.
I think the newer material there’s still some dark and somber themes but I think it’s a little less horror-esque. I kind of feel that we’ve done that and that’s always going to be part of our story, but I just think we’ve expanded a little bit on the themes into more scary reality versus the fantasy element of it. We just really are conscious to be in a position of not repeating ourselves. If we feel like we’re doing that we’d rather just not put anything out and leave the solid body of work out as it is.
Q: Anyone who has seen you live, or checked out last years live record, can attest you guys absolutely bring it on stage. How important is the live performance for you? And what can metalheads in St. John’s expect Friday night?
The live environment is definitely the place to see the band. The reason why we did the live record is because we’ve had a tough time making albums that sound how we sound live and I know a lot of bands try and do that. But once you get in the studio and you’re concentrating on what you’re doing in there, even though we do record our records live, there’s always this higher quality studio separation that happens. Much of what you hear on the live record just close your eyes and you’re pretty much there. We put a lot of mics in the audience on that record just to kind of get the feeling that you were there.
A lot of energy is going to be happening on stage and we’ll throw in some cool covers too. We’re there really just to party and have a really good time. Like I said it’s a place we never thought we would ever go. And since we’re going we have a pretty awesome setlist planned and we honestly hope that it’s a place that we can get some traction in and return.
There’s a lot of places in the world where Night Demon has really blown up and they’re in cities that you would never expect. Places where people say there’s no scene or bands don’t go, but we’ve repeatedly gone and we’ve built something there. And to us that’s much more important than succeeding in a major market such as Los Angeles or New York or London. So yeah we are definitely looking forward to it. It’s probably the show that we’re looking forward to the most this year.
Tickets for Night Demon with guests Emblem and Devastator at The Rock House in St. John’s this Friday available online and at the door!