Searching for a contender for the title of the most underrated metal band ever? Leatherwolf may be somewhere at the top of your list. With three excellent albums released in the magical 1980s, two of them on a major label, the L.A. squad seemed to have been destined for glory. But, as Forrest Gump used to say, shit happens - instead of making it big the band broke up. Since their return to the scene they haven't been very productive, but there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. The band's co-founder and drummer Dean Roberts has some good news for us.
You guys played a short UK tour, including a festival in Hull earlier this year. How did it all go?
It was really good. We got to play with a bunch of cool bands. It was at the City Hall in Hull, ha-ha! And then we played I think 6 or 7 small club dates which was way cooler. It was just nice. We haven't been there like forever, since '89 or something like that.
Why did it take 28 long years for Leatherwolf to come back to the UK?
Money. It costs money to go over there and Leatherwolf never really made it to where we could go over there, tour and cover our cost and come back. We never had a legit booking agent or someone that could just make it happen so we could just go and tour and fund the show. So, it was really hard for us to get stuff together. This particular deal, we got to go because the guy from Hull paid the plane fare and it allowed us to play other shows. It just worked out. We would like to play more, there's always some Leatherwolf fans out there.
You guys released a video-clip for "Kill And Kill Again". Whose idea was it to do a clip for an old song and to use stuff from "The Wolfman" movie for it?
Well, it was Pat Guyton's, the bass player's idea. I think that song was kind of a classic, way cool Leatherwolf song on that record when it first came out. That was a good song and a lot of people liked it. We never did anything with it so, it was just his idea to do the "Wolfman" video with it. And it actually worked out because you know, "Kill And Kill Again", I mean he's a wolfman, he killed people, so it worked. Me and my friend just sat in the garage for like a month and a half and did all the editing. It just turned out cool plus we got Chris Tsangarides to mix it and he's just really killer, he did a really good job mixing that song. Not many people get to see Leatherwolf so, it's just kinda cool to have a clip here and there of, you know, what we are now. I mean me and Mikey, we were talking and we were wishing that we would've done some more heavier metal songs for the videos like "Rise and Fall" on the first one and "Thunder" on the second one.
You can still do that...
Well, we're gonna release a video in a couple of weeks from the Keep It True festival, "All Alone in the Night". You know we did that song for "Return of the Living Dead" movie and we still got one more song from Keep It True, it's "Princess of Love", we're thinking about that one.
You've actually posted a lot of clips from the Keep It True festival. Will this material ever be released as a complete live DVD?
Naahh... We would rather have people watch it for free than buy it. Island owns the audio of the songs and licencing is just a fuckin' headache. I was thinking about it, but it just gets tricky with everybody involved. We always wanted to release a DVD of a live show from beginning to end, it just never happened.
What happened with Joey Tafolla? He joined Leatherwolf at the beginning of the year and then left the band a few months later...
OK, officially, Joey joined, but never learned anything. And then Graham Bonnet asked him to play shows so he just jumped on the Graham Bonnet thing. So, we had to find somebody else. We were looking forward to writing with Joey because he's such a phenomenal guitar player, but he just wasn't the guy for us.
Your latest release, the "Unchained Live" album was mixed by Roy Z, who's kind of a legend now, having worked with Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson among others. How did you get him to mix the album?
Roy Z is a friend. And he's always been a Leatherwolf fan from when he was younger. He used to come to our shows, you know? He just liked Leatherwolf and he just did us a favour mixing it and he's just a fun guy to work with.
Starting in L.A. in the early '80s you didn't sound like a typical L.A. band from that period. So, what was the idea behind playing heavy metal as opposed to glam rock that was popular in that time?
It was basically Geoff Gayer and Carey Howe. Geoff liked progressive metal, Carey was kind of punk rocker and that's how we started out. We just started out playing copy tunes, which was basically Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and there was just something about that whole thing that got those guys going. And a little bit later Mikey got involved and he could play guitar and sing. Now we started doing three guitar players, started writing all that stuff, you know, that whole first record and the second record. That was all about Mike, Carey and Geoff just sitting in a room and playing. We weren't "The Calling" and "Hideaway", we were more progressive metal guys, but that was just cool what they did, how they wrote that stuff. They used to sit at Geoff's house for like all day, five days a week just write stuff and then we would go in his garage, just play it, get it dialled. It was fun but it was also a lot of work.
Actually, in the beginning you played gigs with the likes of Metallica and Slayer, who were heavier and faster than you. Didn't you want to go in that direction?
First time we played with Metallica Dave Mustaine was with them and it was a backyard party, it was like '80 or '81 or whatever, before anything was going on. And it just wasn't really our cup of tea, you know? And just like Slayer, we played with them a few times but it wasn't our thing. But then when the first Metallica record came out it just sounded so good, it sounded so cool what they were doing. But we were just more, in my opinion like Al DiMeola meets Judas Priest, you know what I'm saying? Those guys were very talented guitar players and they just didn't wanna be cheesy, they wanted just to go out there and write hard stuff that was intricate to play and tricky to do, ha-ha!
When you put out your second album you confused your fans a bit as it was selftitled, same as the first one. Why?
Honestly, because we were dumbasses, we didn't think about that. We didn't think about that until after and it was like, "Why did we call two records the same thing?" We were kids and we weren't thinking about things.
You guys were and still are one of the very few outfits with a three-guitar lineup. Whose idea was it?
I think it was a Geoff Gayer idea and I think it was just to give them something to do, three guys, writing harmonies, doing stuff and they just got into it. More guitar lines, more stuff, ha-ha! And it sounded cool. I mean if you listen to some of those rhythms and some of those triples, there is just something cool about it.
And then Iron Maiden went the same way upon Bruce and Adrian's return...
I think that was something that was forced upon Iron Maiden, not something that was their choice. I think when Bruce left and Adrian left and then Steve picked the singer and picked the guitar player that was part of the history, and I think that he made a deal with the guy, probably like, "Hey listen dude, I'm not gonna quit all my stuff and go join you just for a year for you to hire those guys back", you know? I think probably something like that happened. And Iron Maiden can definitely afford to pay people.
Like you've already said you've recorded a tune for the "Return of the Living Dead" movie. How did it come about?
It was the first thing we did for Island Records. I'm not even sure who wrote what, I don't know if it was Carey or Mike or Geoff but that thing was written probably like in 15 minutes and then we were on a plane to Bahamas, we had to record it. And then it was done. And then we got on to make our first record. But I always kind of liked that song, I thought it was a cool song.
When Mike re-joined Leatherwolf, why did you decide to re-record the vocals for the "World Asylum" album and not just write new material with him?
Oh, because to make a record takes time. People don't have time. We ran into issues with Wade and we wanted to tour the record and Mikey, after he heard the record he wanted to be part of it. So, we just decided to replace the original dude with his voice and just go tour, go play as many shows as we can with that record instead of starting all over. I mean that record took us probably 4-5 years to do. We've got day jobs. It's not like we're rich dudes and we can just go sit at home and write it and go record it, you know? It was just convenience and it was a bummer what happened with Wade, you know, he sang on the record and backed out right after it was released.
Wade Black is surely a great singer but you guys didn't really sound like Leatherwolf anymore. So, why did you decide to record an album with him?
Well, at that particular point we wanted to write a heavy metal record that sounded metal. So, we wanted someone that had a little bit of range and had a growly voice, you know? And there's not that many guys out there that can do it. Mikey, he's a good singer but he's got his own voice and we didn't wanna try to look for someone like Mike, we just wanted to put out a metal record. Since Carey and Mike and Paul were busy doing other things we just thought, "Let's just do our own deal." When we heard Wade sing, he could sing the notes and it sounded good compared to everybody else.
OK Dean, who are your favourite drummers, people who you were inspired by when you first picked-up drumsticks?
Oh, John Bonham, Cozy Powell, Neil Peart, Ian Paice. There was just something cool about how they played. You know, Cozy Powell, he just had a cool way of playing. John Bonham, I like the songs a lot and I like the way he played them. There's a bunch of guys that just shred you know, what's this guy's name, Scott Travis, another fuckin' killer drummer you know. It just cracks me up, Judas didn't have a drummer so he shows up, in two weeks records the whole record with those guys.
And what's your opinion about programmed drums and samples?
Well, officially, that's what makes that not metal. I mean it's a song, people do what they do but I just wanna go up there, beat on the drums and play and record. I mean samples are cool but I don't see what the point is really, unless you just can't afford to do the real drums, you know?
I've seen some videos on YouTube by a band called Hailmary, featuring the original Leatherwolf guys. What was it?
That was Carey, Geoff and Mike. Basically, me and Paul got booted for reasons that still haven't been explained. So, they started to do the Hailmary stuff, but it didn't pan out. They were supposed to get a record deal but it just didn't pan out. So about 11-12 years goes by and then I get a call from Carey Howe to go play a show with the original guys at the Troubadour for our manager Jennifer Perry. So, that's how it started up again. Everybody just pretty much gave up on rock 'n' roll. And supposedly Hailmary was close to doing something with EMI or whatever. I don't know that much about that whole thing. You'd have to ask Carey and Geoff about that.
You re-released the first three albums yourselves, but it was like 15 years ago. Are you planning to re-issue them anytime soon again?
Not really. You know, it's licencing, it's money, Island own all that stuff. It just costs money to do it. On a live record it's not so expensive, you can re-record that stuff and just get them the licencing fee. It's hard to get your rights back, that's just the deal we made, you know?
I would say Leatherwolf is one of the most underrated metal bands ever. With three amazing albums under your belts you should have made it really big. So, why didn't you? Was it bad management or bad decisions you made?
It's just the way it worked out. Who knows, if it was meant to be it would've happened, but it didn't and I'm good with it. I'm now gonna blame anybody, it's just the way it is. I'm really glad I ran into those guys and then we got an opportunity to make records and go play. That's just all that was there for us, it is what it is.
How's the young L.A. metal scene doing? Any good local bands out there?
I don't really pay attention to that anymore. I haven't heard anything that reminds me of Judas or Iron Maiden or Deep Purple or Rainbow, you know, Led Zeppelin. I haven't heard anything like that. But, I work, I got a day job...
When can we expect any new material by Leatherwolf and by new material I mean a proper studio album? Have you written any new music recently?
We have been on and off but we haven't really sat down and started. We're gonna wait 'till after Christmas and start-up on writing and see where we go. Leatherwolf was partly Carey and Geoff and them not being around is definitely influencing the direction we write, you know? So, we're just gonna start and see what we come up with.
So, how will this new music sound? I mean Geoff and Carey contributed a lot to your '80s albums and now the song-writing team is totally different. Can we expect more modern sound like on the "World Asylum"?
Which record did you like the best? Did you like "World Asylum", the first record or the Island records?
The first three studio albums are my favourite ones...
Yeah, that's what everyone's saying and Mikey had a lot to do with the blues part of those records. Basically the "World Asylum" was done by Geoff and me, we are just more progressive metalheads so there's no blues, there's no fluff, just come in and kill them all. Mikey is more bluesy so, it will probably be progressive, heavy and bluesy. It will probably have a similar flavour to "Street Ready". We don't wanna start something brand new, we just wanna do what we know.
Many bands go for self-promotion these days and release albums themselves. When the material is ready to be released, will you still be looking for a deal with a label?
Ah, we'll do it with the label. If they want it. I mean the last one, me and Geoff made it and then we put it out there and a couple labels wanted it and we went with Massacre. We'll just see what happens. It's always best to have a label distribute it because they're connected. They got fanbase of millions of people. It's way more than we've got.