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Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins

Heb je zin in een klassiek heavy metal album met invloeden uit onze jeugd, zoals Black Sabbath, Manowar en Judas Priest, maar hou je ook van de nodige epische geladenheid? Dan kan je terecht bij het tweede soloalbum van Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins ’Pawn And Prophecy’. De muzikant stapt voor een tweede album even uit zijn comfortzone bij Symphony X om ons deelgenoot te maken van zijn zelfgeschreven composities en die zijn niet te versmaden! Wanneer we de veelzijdige bassist bellen in New Jersey, blijkt hij een lijzig sprekende, maar bijzonder vriendelijke gesprekspartner te zijn met veel gezamenlijke passies.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

Why in the first place did you decide to start a solo career besides your busy career with Symphony X and many other bands?
Growing up I always was a huge fan of classic heavy metal. That was my first love when I was growing up and when I was in high school. So I always had songs that were in the classic heavy metal style. When I joined Symphony X, that’s more a progressive heavy metal kind of style. So I had all these songs and I thought it would be a great idea to release these songs on an album. The good part is that Symphony X doesn’t release records for about four years at a time, so I had the time to put together all the songs, put some players together and release an album. Now I am going to release a second record. I usually write the music and the lyrics when I am on tour with Symphony X, so I keep busy. That’s how I do it, that’s the secret. There is a lot of time, when you are on tour, when there is nothing to do. So I use that time to my advantage.

How did you come to the choice of Alan Tecchio as singer?
Alan lives here in New Jersey. He lives only, maybe a thirty minutes drive from my house. I have known him for many, many years in the New Jersey rock scène, so I called him up and he was happy to do it. And I got some other local New Jersey/New York musicians and they helped me. We were all friends for a long time, so there was no pressure and we had a great time recording it.

And there is still no drummer. That will be a pain in the ass if you are going to play live…
(laughs) I just figured out it would be a lot easier, because I did not have a big budget to work with. So I would rather use that money to mix the record. So I had my buddy from Symphony X, Michael Romeo, to solve this problem. He is not only a great guitar player, but he is really good with drum technology. He put the drums in there for me, but of course, if I will play live, I will certainly get a drummer (chuckles).

Did you actually play live after the first album?
When I released the first album, it did not happen. Right after the release, we worked with Symphony X on the ‘Underworld’ album and then we went on tour. So it did not happen. But now it is in the planning. For this second album we hope to do festivals and some good tours. Hopefully I will have some news about that very soon. It always feels so good when you get a reaction from people after you have worked on music for so long.

But you have created an amazing album and it is very diverse. The fourth song for instance, is almost doom…
Yes, that song is called ‘I Am The Bull’ and it is about the Minotaur in Greek mythology. If I had to describe it, I would say it is kind of Black Sabbath like of style, but with Symphony X orchestration in it.

On the other hand I also love ‘The Mulberry Tree’, that’s really folky!
Yeah you know, besides my love for heavy metal, maybe about ten or even fifteen years ago, I started listening to Blackmore’s Night and I really started to love this band. I was listening to Ritchie Blackmore and I was trying to play his guitar parts on my bass and I really had fun with it. From Blackmore’s Night I have a kind of Celtic, folky influence as well and that shows up. Even on the first album it showed up a little bit.

For the lyrics you are inspired by classic topics of heavy metal, but also by Viking ages and literature. Can you shine a light on that?
You know, when I was in high school I hated history and I hated mythology and all that stuff, but again, maybe around fifteen years ago, I started to admire history, mythology and literature. I really went back and learned as much as I could. And then I discovered that these stories were so epic and they work perfect with heavy metal music. The power of heavy metal has such an epic sound and when you put lyrics from epic stories on it, it is perfect. It gives the lyrics such power. Very much what Dio was doing. Actually all the lyrics on both albums come from these three topics. Sometimes I write the lyrics first and then I come up with music in the style from the lyrics. Writing lyrics and learning history inspires me to write music.

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Now we have the ultimate epic opus with the twenty minutes long ‘Pawn And Prophecy’, the title track!
(laughs) I know! There is an interesting story behind that song. I had this idea right after Symphony X released in 2002 ‘The Odyssey’. I began looking for other epic things to write about and I came across ‘Macbeth’ from William Shakespeare. I was reading and it was so cool. Really fitting for a heavy metal band! Originally I suggested Symphony X to do it, because they were doing such long epic tracks, they were famous for it, but it just never happened. Any time we were writing there was another idea that came across and we just used that. Finally I said: I am going to try to do it on my solo album, in my own style. It was a challenge, of course! How do you keep the listener’s attention for twenty minutes? What I did was: I kept the song going in different directions, different styles, different feelings and then I cut out some parts, themes, riffs… and kept them coming back once in a while, just to make the listener think. Then I wanted to end with a big climactic ending and the whole thing on a happy note. That would be the celebration after the victory, dancing and singing.

There are so many different parts, even a bluesy part, that was a surprise…
Yeah you know, when I was writing the song, I was thinking: this song is so serious. Wouldn’t it be interesting if in the middle of the song I just put a part where everybody will laugh out loud and relax and don’t take it so serious. It was fun to do. I grew up with blues playing and it was great to put a blues part in it. During my years of touring with Symphony X, I met so many singers along the way. The first singer that appears on the record is Andry Lagiou, the other singer Noa Gruman lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. The other singers, Phyllis Rutter and Veronica Freeman of Benedictum are from the US. Veronica sings over a thrash-like part with her rough voice of course. All these different parts came naturally. I grew up listening to different types of metal. I like doom, I like power metal, thrash, so many different things. I try to put each of every style on a record.

What was your first encounter with heavy metal?
I remember when I thirteen years old, my father took me to New York City to see Kiss. You can imagine, when you are thirteen years old and you see Gene Simmons, spitting blood, breathing fire and flying to the top of the lights, this was crazy to me. He looked like a super hero. After that concert I wanted to be a rock star, just like him. My father bought me a bass when I was thirteen years old and I began to play. After Kiss I started to listen to other bands: Black Sabbath, Manowar, Iron Maiden and all the other heavy metal bands. When thrash metal got big, I started to listen to that stuff, Venom and Slayer. Then in the nineties, in the United States, metal was dead.

Indeed, grunge was coming up…
Yes, grunge killed it and I did not know that metal was still alive in Europe. I wasn’t aware of that, till when I joined Symphony X and went on tour for the first time, I began to see all those amazing bands over there, like Blind Guardian, Accept, Rhapsody…. This was amazing! So I started to listen to metal again. I am fifty-one and it is great to love heavy metal, still, like we did when we were younger.

Weren’t you a Manowar fan too?
Yes I was. When Manowar came out, I loved the songs. I loved what Joey DeMaio was doing with the bass. He has had a huge influence on my playing. Well, you know, Ross The Boss lives in New York and I have done a lot of shows with him when we were doing the Manowar shows. So I kept on playing Manowar songs all night. (chuckles)

Indeed, I found out that you were involved in the Ross The Boss shows… so you are in the live band now?
Yes, all of last year we were on tour and it was so much fun to play Manowar songs. And last months I went into the studio with Ross and I play bass on his next solo album. For me it is strange, because I remember when I was in high school, I had the door of my room closed and played along with Manowar records, make believe I was Joey. And now I am on stage, I look over and there is Ross!

Unbelievable! And are you still involved in Affector?
(thinking) Affector indeed. I think that I play on more projects probably than any bass player there is. As far as Affector. They are still together and I know they are talking about doing a second album. The drummer wrote to me and asked if I would be interested, so… I am just waiting to hear from them and probably I will be recording this sometime this year. Yes, I try to keep busy. Every new project is a challenge and I think it makes me a better player. I have learned from every project and it helps me to be inspired for writing songs.

Are there plans for Symphony X in 2018? What are they going to do?
Yeah. Last year, 2017, Symphony X did not do anything. Michael Romeo was working on a solo album, I was doing a lot of touring with Ross The Boss and Russell was touring with his side band, but that’s all finishing up. I think probably next month, we will get together and start working on new songs.

Well, then I hope to see you on stage with your solo material one day…
That is definitely one of my goals for this year! And now, today I am going into the studio with Ross again this afternoon. Thank you very much for the interview and I hope to talk to you again very soon.

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