NIGHT DEMON – Beware Of The Screams
No worries of this traditional metal trio becoming another crowd funding success story (they chose as a band to not go down this road), because as vocalist/ bassist Jarvis Leatherby states near the end of our conversation- "metal is hard work". He isn’t afraid to admit that it’s hard to sift through the bad bands to get to the good- and fortunately for us, Night Demon is one of the best US metal bands going today. Gaining a huge buzz in Europe and America for their exciting live performances, their self-titled EP and latest album "Curse of the Damned" bring the spirit of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to a new generation. The focus of the riff, the hook engagement, the simple but effective choruses that make you scream, shout, and head bang along – those are the tools of destruction as the band’s calling card.
Shortly before engaging on another endless tour cycle across North America and Europe to start 2015, I was able to chat with Jarvis and found that the man loves talking about Night Demon and the genre of heavy metal as a whole – so this was quite a fun talk that almost went on for a full hour. And be sure to catch this three-piece at a live club or underground party when they come to your area… you won’t regret it!
Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood, early music memories, and your eventual progression up to heavy metal from a fan to becoming a musician and forming band(s)?
"Yeah, that’s a great question. I guess me personally I grew up in somewhat of a musical household, my dad played guitar. He used to be in a band with Michael Anthony from Van Halen, they were childhood friends around that scene. He didn’t play professionally after that, and not while I was growing up. Around the time I was 8 or 9 years old I started begging him to take me to concerts and stuff, I saw the Monsters of Rock 1988 festival with Metallica, Van Halen, The Scorpions, Dokken, and that is what shifted it all for me from there. I grew up in the 1990’s as a teenager, so everyone was into hip hop, the baggy jeans, grunge music- I was into the heavier grunge bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden. I was more into metal, all roads lead to Iron Maiden and Metallica basically- those were the bands that were accessible to us in Southern California. We set about finding the bands that influenced them- I went straight to the source with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound. I know Brent the guitarist and myself were listening to that well in our early years, no one out here cared much for it and there was no scene for it then. We were playing as young kids and had to play punk shows- a lot of the hardcore punks like metal. We would find ourselves amongst that scene- and we still kind of are to this day. For me, you look at the posters on a wall as a kid, I knew what I wanted to do at a very young age. I’ve gone to school and plan B kind of shit, but I’ve never really committed fully to anything else outside of music."
Night Demon began in May 2011 – how did the original three members come together, and did you always intend on remaining a three-piece or ever consider adding another guitar player to enhance some of the melodic/harmony aspects of your music?
"Another great question. We formed in 2011, I was a roadie for our guitar player Brent (Woodward) and his band The Fucking Wrath, which is kind of a stoner, Black Flag style band. We were driving down to a gig in Los Angeles at the Viper Room, we just started to talk about the NWOBHM and bands. I was astonished that he knew even half the bands I was talking about, and he was amazed that I knew more than he did. We decided to jam that week, and we had another friend to play drums. The band was formed out of necessity as a three-piece, just to make it happen. It wasn’t intentionally to be a three-piece, we have struggled with wanting to add a second guitar player and we know plenty of guys who could do it. However, with the response of the EP and how we’ve been playing out live as a trio for so long, we’ve embraced it. Most people say keep it a three piece, and being in a band with two other guys is way easier than being in a band with three other guys. Through that, we’ve taken advantage of certain things. You can use two guitarists for the harmonies, but my bass sound is really aggressive so anything behind the solos it still sounds fine. We can make a lot of harmonies between the bass and the guitar just using the tools that we have to create a signature of our own."
Your first self-titled EP came out the following year – how prepared did you feel with these songs prior to recording them, and what is your outlook on this product now that it’s been out for a couple of years?
"We wrote the 4 songs on that EP in 4 rehearsals- and the 5th rehearsal was the recording of that EP. After that, our drummer left the band because he moved away to go to college, so we hadn’t played in a year and half after that. We didn’t think anyone in the world would care about this or our kind of music- growing up out here it’s a metropolitan area, but you don’t necessarily find people that grew up on this style in our country. It was a thing we wanted to do for ourselves, it wasn’t a serious band. I sent the EP to a NWOBHM site in England, just asking for some feedback and the guy ended up posting about it being great, so it’s been snowballing since then. We didn’t feel too prepared but we felt confident about it. We had just written the songs and we wanted to get them down on tape. We took the minimalist approach when it came to recording, just doing it live and overdubbing some of the solos and vocals. It was a one night recording. I still really enjoy it, it’s got that purity and rawness to it. There’s still some mistakes in there, but that’s all a part of the charm. These days with technology any kid can make a perfect record in his bedroom just by hitting some buttons. It’s not something we are interested in with this band- we want to keep it real and if we can’t play well enough live to record it on a record than we need to keep rehearsing."
Your latest album "Curse of the Damned" is an outstanding example of an American band reaching back with NWOBHM inspiration to create a set of fiery songs chock full of memorable lyrics/choruses, musical hooks, and strong grooves throughout. Was this the intention out of the gate, and what improvements do you think you made from the EP to this recording?
"It was definitely our intention. The improvement I guess is our drummer, he’s a real drummer. I don’t think Pat (Bailey) wanted to be in a real band, he just wanted to have fun. He was good, especially for the style, but he didn’t take it seriously. The drumming has stepped up, we are able to do more things but we don’t use a lot of double kick. We do like it in some areas, so Dustin (Squires) is capable of doing that. As far as the songwriting, it’s kind of the same as the EP. I think it’s progressed, we are all about the songs. A lot of our contemporaries can play circles around us, we’ve played many shows with many great bands that have phenomenal drummers and guitar players and vocalists- it’s really amazing to watch. It can be scary to see how we will go over and do what we do- but in the end we win them over because of the songwriting. We spend a lot of attention to detail when it comes to the structures of the songs, the writing, and like you mentioned having the catchy hooks- we kind of use a pop formula, not intentionally but it’s seeped in. We want to write music that stands the test of time versus our technical prowess being hailed. We are not slouches, but it’s not to the next level of virtuosity."
Some of the songs gave me goose bumps in the way I remember hearing early Diamond Head, Metallica, Angel Witch, and Iron Maiden among others. Favorites include "Screams in the Night", "The Howling Man", and "Killer" at this time. How does the songwriting work, and is it an easy or difficult process to come up with the best melodies/ harmonies both from a vocal and musical perspective, without necessarily repeating what’s already been done by other bands?
"Thanks for the compliments, that’s great. That’s exactly what we are looking for, and we sometimes listen back to our stuff and unless we are feeling super psyched about it, we don’t go forward. Even with that said, we’ve never had a throw away song. With the contracts we’ve negotiated with bonus tracks- our deal is we will never release any original content as bonus tracks. Much like Metallica, those guys… never in the early days did they have throwaway tracks. As far as the songwriting goes, being a vocalist I have an advantage because I also play an instrument. A lot of times you have these bands that have these great singers, but they don’t play an instrument- so they will come up with the structure and ask a singer to sing something over the top of it. I have been in situations like that in other bands, and it’s not that easy. Brent usually comes in with the key riffs and I’ll arrange them. Some songs I’ve written on my own. The music comes first, the vocals come second. Unless you are an accomplished composer, most metalheads don’t have that feeling of certain notes. We really tried to do something like that this time. We wouldn’t release anything if we weren’t confident in it. It’s a total democracy in terms of songwriting."
The release will be coming out on SPV for Europe and Century Media in America- any particular reason for the separate agreements in those territories?
"Yes there definitely was. We were approached by SPV for a worldwide deal last year. They are a great label, the work that they’ve done in the setup for this record has been really amazing, I’ve been taken aback by it. They are very strong in Europe, they have some distribution in America through eOne but they only have a couple of guys working here. We were able to negotiate just having SPV for the European territories, for us being an American band we wanted to have something closer to home. We were getting down to the wire, and we considered expanding the deal, and it was their suggestion to shop around the record to a domestic label here. I have a lot of respect for them, we sent out some e-mails and there was interest from a few labels, and Century Media had a great offer for us. Geographically they are close to us so we can pop in and say ‘hey, what’s going on?’. It’s really important to have that communication for whoever is distributing your music these days. It’s a great competition between the two labels- they didn’t want to work together at first outright until we had to bring them together. It’s good for us because we have two companies that are using their own media outlets and going to different avenues of promotion. We do our own work as well. Although you don’t want it to be confusing and split your business with these different people, the genre of heavy metal has been supporting us overall. We have an option for SPV for the second album, so it will be split territories for the second album as well."
You just finished an extended North American tour with the legendary Raven – how do you feel this tour went in terms of establishing Night Demon on the live front, and what takeaways good or bad do you have from this experience that you will hopefully apply down the road? I imagine playing to 9 people in Memphis, TN makes for a tough night, and the heckler you punched out in Vancouver, Canada was another interesting tale…
"(laughs). I think it’s great. The American circuit has changed a lot, touring Europe is also an amazing experience, and great for heavy metal. To be out with Raven was a really big deal for us. A band from that era, they don’t tour America for 45 shows. They usually play the major markets and that’s it. Less and less people going to shows, it’s realistic but it wasn’t going to stop us. We were getting less than $100 a night, but we made it work. The metal audience is faithful, we have a good product, and a lot of cool merchandise. That’s what kept us going. Playing in front of 9 people is kind of cool sometimes, I will say that. We have a limited edition pre-order of 200 records that we are selling and we sold 3 to the 9 people that came to Memphis. You don’t know what is going to happen any given night so you have to give it your all wherever you play, you play like there is 9,000 people there. Some people are shocked that a band like ourselves are coming to play their town, some have to fly to Europe to see us play a festival over there. We owe it to other Americans to play here, if anybody wants us to play, we stay out on the road. We don’t have to get day jobs and plan vacations, we gave up our homes, we gave up our jobs, we gave up our relationships all to do this band. We had to commit to it 100%, and that’s the only way it’s been working for us. We are enjoying this time of being able to tour, and being out with Raven was great. It was a total DIY effort, John Gallagher and I getting people excited about this 9 week, 18,000 mile trip. If I could go back in a time machine when I was 12 years old, I would have freaked out more about this.
As far as Vancouver, we have this backdrop that we made that has this image from a 70’s occult novel. We made our first t-shirt with that and the banner, and there’s another NWOBHM called Desolation Angels and they have this "Valhalla" single that has artwork that almost looks identical to this. This guy in the audience would not shut up about it, thinking we ripped off Desolation Angels. No big deal, but it went on for 5 songs into the set. I told him if he wanted to say something to the crowd, come up to the microphone and say it to get it over with. So he came up, but instead of saying anything into the mic, he took a swing at me. I had my bass on, so I tried to shove him off. The best part of the story is he got thrown out of the show, then after we played somebody came up to me and said that guy was still outside and he was waiting for me. I didn’t care, I went outside and 30 people followed me. I wanted him to chill out, I’d get him back into the show, watch Raven, and his answer to that was to fight, so I decided it wasn’t worth it. After the swing, the crowd started to chant ‘Fight Demon’, and after I tried to diffuse the situation they started to call us ‘Nice Demon’. We finished the set great, the crowd fed off the energy."
Your next tour will be a month long outing with Canada’s Skull Fist and Australia’s Elm Street – what expectations do you have, and are there plans down the road for you to perform in Europe and other territories?
"This is a tour that we accepted very long ago. This was a tour that was in the works maybe 10 months ago, the planning started. We are still trying to establish ourselves. We are third from the top on this bill, we are playing some markets where we know that we have some fans and these bands haven’t. I wish it would be better for us, but our set is shorter. We will have new songs that we will play on this tour, a ton of new merchandise and we have a lot more stage production. We have never paid ourselves out of the band, when we started we have a 7 year plan. We just keep feeding the beast, we put it back into the band to make the band bigger and better. We have invested in some lighting equipment, and the Night Demon character will come to life on stage on this tour. We really have a strong statement to make- and these two bands like I mentioned before are amazing players. We want to go out there and sell the Night Demon brand as the best live show you will see in a small club environment. We have four days off after that tour and go right to Europe for 10 weeks of touring. Again, in Europe when we got the SPV deal with got hooked up with this big time booking agency in Germany who book these huge bands. Those guys did absolutely nothing for us, so a couple of months ago I had to call them and say we weren’t doing business with them. We booked this European tour DIY. We got asked to support U.D.O. and Enforcer out there, but we turned them down because they didn’t want to pay us. We were asking to get from town to town, we can’t pull out money to pay our own way at this point. A lot of bands in desperation would borrow money or go into debt to do that or whatever, it doesn’t hold interest for us. We’ve been over there and see what’s happening- the last 6 week tour we had over there people came to over 4 shows on that tour. We play hard and earn our keep, so I believe we need to be treated as such. We will play bars, underground squats, and do things on our own. The real fans will be there."
What are mandatory albums that are must listens for those long van rides between shows- and can you tell us your personal 5 favorite traditional metal albums, be it from the NWOBHM era or otherwise?
"It’s weird. We listen to all kinds of stuff on the road. A lot of times it’s just not metal, because we are exposed to metal at the club all night long. It depends on who is driving- I’ll listen to Depeche Mode, early Iron Maiden never gets old. I listen to a lot of books on tape- a lot of motivational material to get my head in the right space when you have a 12 hour drive ahead of you. Sometimes no music is good too- if you’ve been at a club all night with 6 opening bands, it’s good to hear no music for a little bit.
The first Angel Witch, the songwriting and vibe is great, the sound is cool. Talent always will be exposed. It’s all up to you where you take it from there. We played with them in Sweden, and Angel Witch won’t play two shows in a row because Kevin (Heybourne) says his voice can’t handle that. There is always a reason for something. Diamond Head- Lightning to the Nations. I would have to say as far as Maiden goes, Killers is the one- but I do go back to The Number of the Beast too. They made a mistake with the track selection on that one, I think the sequence is not good and "Total Eclipse" shouldn’t have been a b-side and on the record. Let’s see – Tygers of Pan Tang- Spellbound, that album has perfect sequence. And then Jaguar- Power Games, it’s sloppy but the raw energy on that album I really dig. I like the old Witchfinder General albums for the same reason. You feel like you are there, and it feels like it could sound different on any given night, and that’s what I like about records like that."
Where do you see the state of heavy metal in America in 2014- are things improving or discouraging, and what do you think needs to occur to keep the scene healthy?
"Things are definitely improving- unfortunately there’s not a lot of younger bands that are really good, and I wish there were. There are so many different genres of metal, they crossover. We have not gone over best on traditional heavy metal festivals but when we play with death metal and grindcore bands we stand out. There is a whole group of people that are older who cut their teeth on traditional heavy metal and then got into the more aggressive styles, while the younger kids went straight to the aggressive stuff and what we are doing is completely new to them, and it amazes me. A lot of these fans are starting to realize that they are tired of their bands screaming at them, and they want to see a band that they can scream at. The whole state of the music industry is good- a lot of people are running away because of the money situation and the piracy, but c’mon man- either you are involved in music or you are not. It’s taken it out of the hands of big business so people get to decide what they want to listen to. People are deciding they want to listen to heavy metal. Growing up it wasn’t hip, in all reality this has sold throughout the years in the underground. There is room for everything now. With us being on a label like Century Media, I’m stoked that we are going to be in the company of bands that we don’t even like, bands that we would never play with. Revolver magazine will review our album, and who knows what the hell they will think of us."
You often pull out covers live such as Diamond Head’s "Lightning to the Nations", Riot’s "Road Racin’", and Jaguar’s "Axe Crazy" among others. Are you the type of band to change up set lists night to night and tour to tour based on crowd reaction/ feel?
"Yes and no. For this next tour we are going to playing the same set list every single night- we are stepping up the production a little bit so we have to have those cues for lighting and regularity. When we were supporting Raven at 45-50 minutes, I would read the audience and call audibles every night. You have to change it up sometimes based on what’s going on, you have to read your audience. I have always thought what you think the audience thinks is true. If you feel you are losing them, it’s because you are. I think it’s important for people to realize that, and I’ve seen a lot of veteran bands blow it because they wanted to do what they wanted to do and they don’t feel a responsibility to their audience. They are asking you to do the best of what you do, so I think it’s selfish if you don’t give as most of yourself as you can. The cover songs are a part of our catalog, a lot of people don’t even know they are cover songs. We feel the need to record studio versions of these songs."
When did your fear of cats begin, and what era/ lineup of Megadeth is the best in your opinion? If you were calling the shots now that Chris and Shawn have left, who would you get to replace them in the band?
"Fear of cats began when I was six years old and I went to down the street to pet some feral cat I didn’t know at the time and he totally did a number on me. I got cat scratch fever and all that stuff, I’ve never been an animal person. I don’t have that connection, but cats freak me out- they are so smart and their reactions are very quick, you don’t know what the hell is going on there. Megadeth- I like the Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland lineup, but obviously the best lineup is the Friedman, Menza era with Mustaine and Ellefson. That’s the prime lineup, and played the old songs well – but my favorite record is "So Far, So Good, So What?" and I have a weird opinion on that. I think Marty and Nick need to come back- they are still able to play right now. Chris Poland is more of a jazz guy now. I wouldn’t care if they came back just for the money. Dave Mustaine is Megadeth, and there has been 20 members in the history, how much further is he going to take it? I don’t see how a couple of new guys will jump in and say Megadeth saves the day."
How far would you like to see Night Demon go? Do you ever dream of playing large festivals like Wacken or do you prefer smaller, more intimate festivals like Keep It True?
"I tend to prefer the smaller festivals, we haven’t played a big one yet. We are down to do anything that makes sense, the important thing is when I look at my musical career it’s more to do with the legacy of it and what it’s going to mean when I am gone. If you are in it for fame than don’t play heavy metal, that’s for certain. Wacken – you talk to most European fans and they know it’s more of a beer drinking festival. If we were offered the opportunity to do it we would- there are a lot of bands that play there that we respect a lot, Saxon and what have you. I would like to headline one of these mid-level festivals like Headbangers Open Air, those are good ones to do because the audience is completely engaged."
What types of hobbies/ interests do you have away from music when you get the chance to pursue them? At this point how do you handle the work versus band juggling act to allow you to live as best as possible?
"I have no other hobbies besides music. Basketball and video games, but I don’t do those anymore. I watch Kiss DVD’s, there is nothing else in life for me besides music. The band is the work- I’m doing an interview right now. Everything I do is for the band, I manage the band. We don’t need a manager yet, it’s getting out of control, we do all the mail order on our own, but we like the connection with the fans. I don’t think about the tradeoff anymore, it’s been 2 years straight going like this. It was scary but we had to go for it, fake it ‘til you make it. You have to be the guy if you want to fulfill these dreams. I wake up because I have dreams of ideas of what we should be doing next."