Interview – Night Demon
I’ll never forget the first time I went to Ventura, CA for a show. It took place at Billy O’s Saloon, a local bar that served three-foot pizzas and had Firestone 805 on tap. The bands ran the gamut from drone doom to hardcore to stoner rock, but there was a certain kinetic energy that they shared in common, an energy that one can still sense in any killer band with a punk rock attitude.
Ventura’s Night Demon certainly aren’t a punk band, but they share the spirit of their hometown comrades. Their NWOBHM-inflected metal is better suited to the denim and leather crowd, and yet their attitude and drive is torn straight out of Get in the Van - three guys trekking all across the states, rocking the nearest dive to only a handful of people. After one critically acclaimed EP, Night Demon were scooped up by Century Media, and their debut LP, Curse of the Damned will hit the streets on January 27. The band released their new single, “Killer,” yesterday (you can stream it below).
I caught up with singer/bassist Jarvis Leatherby and guitarist Brent Woodward at the Whisky-a-Go-Go in Hollywood, where they stopped during their nationwide tour with Raven. We discussed their brand new label deal with Century Media Records, their Nardcore roots and their plan for world domination among other things.
So first thing, the Century Media deal. How did that happen? It’s such a huge label and you guys are so new.
Brent: We played at this place called the Down ‘n Out in downtown LA and that was pretty much our very first show in the LA area. We played in Ventura where we’re from a few times, but we never took the band that seriously. We played that show and Dan Dismal from Century Media was there. He saw us and he told us that we kind of blew him away. He pretty much just kept his eye on us after that show and it just led to this.
Jarvis: We’ve got to develop some more, we’re still a fairly new band. It’s been good though. Marco, the new president of the label, we played the Doom in June festival that he put on. We’ve known and worked with those guys in other capacities like doing their shows and stuff. I think that helped, for them to actually be there and see what’s going on instead of just like hearing about us. They actually know what the band is all about.
Century Media is an interesting label for you guys though. You don’t see a whole lot of classic, traditional metal bands on that label, Queensryche excepted.
J: Queensryche’s great, and they’re probably the biggest band on the label right now. I would think so. I really like what they’re doing now with the new singer, going back to their roots. But yeah, it’s cool! It’s weird to think… We’ve always wanted to kind of be with a strong label and for a long time, we were thinking not, “Is this going to happen?” but rather “When is this going to happen?” Now looking back on it, we’re signed with SPV/Steamhammer in Europe, High Roller has released stuff for us, Shadow Kingdom did our CD, so now it’s like we’ve been on a lot of labels already and all we’ve released is four songs! [laughs]
That release made more waves than a debut EP had any right to make.
J: Yeah, we’re stoked on it. We were thinking, “Oh, when we do the full-length we should re-record the songs,” because the EP is basically a demo. It was done when we were together for four rehearsals. That’s it. Like you said though, it’s been out and it’s been heard so many times. It’s been re-pressed by so many labels that it’s now an official release. We’re just going to kind of leave it alone. We re-recorded “The Chalice,” it’ll be a bonus track. Other than that, the new record has 11 brand new songs.
One of the last times I was in Ventura, it was for a benefit show for a local promoter. It’s outside your genre, but were you guys ever involved with the “Nardcore” thing?
J: We are in the Nardcore scene! I’m actually the promoter of Nardfest. I’m the creator of that festival. We hang out with these guys all the time. Dr. Know, Ill Repute, Stalag 13, False Confession, Agression… those guys are all like our best friends. We come from the punk scene, we were like the metal kids. Nobody listened to metal then, when you’re young and have a band, you had to play punk shows. There was no scene for the metal we wanted to played.
You guys are really going all over the map for this tour. It’s the kind of thing that really isn’t done anymore.
J: Exactly. It is something that’s done though, it’s something that we do! [laughs] It’s something that we’re going to continue to do. We did three dates last year with Diamond Head and Raven, and we became good friends with Raven through that. We built up a good rapport. Last April we were playing a festival with them in Spain and we ended up just getting stranded together and just talking about stuff. A week prior to that, their booking agent had offered us a tour, it was supposed to be this tour basically. It was Raven, Mpire of Evil and they wanted a US support act. That was going to be us. That thing fell apart, they fired the booking agent and I get a call from John Gallagher a few months ago saying, “Hey, let’s still do this.” There’s no formal representation on this tour, it’s completely DIY. Both the bands together booked the entire tour. There’s been some interesting shows… Tonight we’re at the Whisky, but on Saturday we played in a garage in Isla Vista and it was great. It was the best show of the tour.
In regards to the bands touring this way thing though, you’re right. Bands do not do it this way any more. I know why they don’t… I mean, rock isn’t dead like everybody says, but there are markets where there’s nothing there for you, you know? At least, that’s one way to look at it. We don’t look at it that way. We definitely played some shows to ten people, but those ten people were stoked. We’re trying to build something here, and you have to tour. We’re committed to doing it, and we’ve accepted it. You go day to day, and you take every day for what it is. You just can’t let the road get to you, you have to be in control. This tour is two months long, we’re taking three weeks off and we’re going out again with Skull Fist for another month. Then we’ll be back for a little and then we’ll go out for another tour.
So many bands go out on package tours, opening the bill at 7 PM and playing to crowds that don’t want to see them. You guys are playing to only ten people, but they’re either already fans or they’ll probably become fans. Intimate shows and small bills have that special effect.
J: Absolutely. We were just talking about that too, we’ve turned down some offers for some package tours recently kind of because of that. Just because you’re on a certain bill doesn’t mean anything if you’re fifth from the top. What are you really getting out of it, we’re trying to calculate what we do but we’re trying to make ourselves available to always tour. It’s a weird thing, because things are planned so far in advance now that you have to use your judgment and trust your gut. We want to make the right decisions for the band, but sometimes it’s just trial and error. You just don’t know. This tour could’ve easily… If our attitude was different, this tour could’ve been, “What are we doing?” But it’s not, every show is a success. We’re out there doing it, and we’re building it up. You have to go to people’s small towns, because no one else will.
How on Earth did you get the former guitarist from Metallica to jump onstage with you guys?
J: We played a show in Ventura and we booked this band called Steel Prophet, an old-school prog band. He knew the bass player and came with him to the show. Of course, I was like, “Hey man, you Lloyd Grant?” and we just started talking and he asked for my number actually. The next day I texted him, “Hey, we’re going to be playing in LA. What do you think about coming up and playing ‘Hit the Lights’ with us?” He says, “Can we do ‘Seek and Destroy’ too?” He showed up, we rehearsed the songs a couple times unplugged in the van and we went up and did it. That’s the kind of things we’re always trying to do, keep things fresh.
If you have an opportunity to meet somebody, don’t be afraid to talk to them. Never know what’s going to happen. The worst thing is that they could be a dick and blow you off, or they’re just not interested. I think with Night Demon, we have a really vehicle to deliver anything we want to do in music. People like the music, they like the band, it’s not out of our wheelhouse to do something like that. We’re all about special events to commemorate certain things. We already have an expanded version of the EP out and there’s even more stuff that’s going to happen. Like with the upcoming record, we have so much material… demos, live versions, alternate recordings, videos- we have all kinds of stuff that will be compiled. We document the band as it goes along. We’re in our early 30s, we’ve been through the wringer. We know when we started this band, we knew what we wanted to do with it. The name, the image… everything is calculated in what we do.
You’re almost building a mythos.
J: Pretty much, yeah. In a way. It’s not too far.
Are you one of those guys that loves buying reissues for the bonus content?
J: Oh yeah! For sure. I just get bummed that there’s so many, I just want the definitive one that has it all, you know?
You could call Night Demon a NWOBHM-style band even though you aren’t British or from that era, etc. That sound was the direct precursor to thrash and death metal. How do you see Night Demon’s sound expanding as the years go by, if at all?
B: We’re just heavy metal. Heavy metal covers a lot of area.
J: You got to think about it this way- the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was a music scene that lasted about four or five years, from the late ‘70s through the early ‘80s. We grew up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We’ve seen the thrash scene, we lived through it. That’s what introduced us to that stuff.
You went backwards then.
J: Sure, but we’re influenced by what’s already happened. We lived through the thrash era, we lived through the grunge era, we’ve through hip-hop, we’ve lived through everything. We can’t help but be influenced a little bit by that stuff too. I will say, it was our intention to play this style of music. It was solely based on that.
B: We didn’t have the intention of doing what we’re doing now.
J: We didn’t even have the intention of playing a gig!
B: We just did it for fun. I’ve always wanted to be in a band like this. “Let’s an write an EP!” That’s what we did, and sat on it for a year. All of our friends were like, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.” We assembled the band again, started playing and it led us to where we are now.
J: I even remember talking about it, “We can never do this full-time. We can never do anything more than these four songs. This is it.” Our main reason for even putting it out in the public was that we really wanted to make a seven-inch. That was our dream, to just make a seven-inch, a little vinyl record. Let it live on as this thing.
B: We were going to put “Copyright 1979” and sell it on Ebay. [laughs]
J: That was then, and now the game has changed. We’re very focused on what we’re doing and we like to think we have a plan. We’re enjoying it, everything is fun. Even when we’re burned out, this is great man.
There’s worse things to be burnt out by.
J: There’s way worse things to be burnt out by. We’ve all been there. I had a job for years that I hated, and there was no way out. We’re still poor, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The experience is so rewarding, and the people you get to meet man, traveling all over the world. It’s so cool and then you go back there and you have friends. The internet’s made the world so much smaller, a lot of people in the music industry do, but I love it. Without the internet, we would not be doing what we’re doing. There’s no way. I think it comes down to knowing what you want to get out of this. A lot of people want the brass ring, but don’t know what it is. Or people want to be famous, that’s like the worst thing you could ever want. You’re in the wrong business. If you want to be rich and famous, don’t ever play music.
Don’t ever play in a metal band.
J: [laughs] Especially metal music. Heavy metal has some of the most loyal fans. It really does, and that’s why we’re trying to be smart about it. Here’s the thing too, a lot of heavy metal bands are like, “Fuck it. We’re going to do what we’re going to do.” We don’t really think like that, we feel a responsibility to the people that like what we do, and we’re trying to keep that tradition going. This band will never do something completely experimental, we would just do another project if we wanted to do that. What you hear with Night Demon is exactly what it is and exactly what it’s going to be. I don’t want to keep putting out the same record-
B: We will progress, but it’s not going to be out of the realms of heavy metal.
J: There won’t be a Load or Reload with this band, it’s just not going to happen. It doesn’t make sense.
You can pre-order Curse of the Damned here. the band will tour with Skull Fist and Elm Street this January.
1/2/2015 - Albany, NY - Bogies
1/3/2015 - Amityville, NY - Amytiville Music Hall
1/4/2015 - New York, NY - Webster Hall
1/5/2015 - Lemonye, PA - The Champ Venue
1/6/2015 - Providence, RI - Firehouse 13
1/7/2015 - Rochester, NY - Bug Jar
1/9/2015 - Chicago, IL - Red Line Tap
1/10/2015 - Cudahy, WI - The Metal Grill
1/11/2015 - Kansas City, MO - The Riot Room
1/12/2015 - Des Moines, IA - Vaudeville Mews
1/13/2015 - Lincoln, NE - Vega
1/15/2015 - Denver, CO - Marquis Theatre
1/16/2015 - Salt Lake City, UT - Bar Deluxe
1/17/2015 - Farmington, NM - Studio 18
1/18/2015 - Albuquerque, NM - The Blu Phoenix Venue
1/20/2015 - Phoenix, AZ - The Nile (upstairs)
1/22/2015 - Colton, CA - Hub
1/23/2015 - Los Angeles, CA - Airliner
1/24/2015 - Fullerton, CA - Riff Haus
1/25/2015 - Santa Cruz, CA - Catalyst Club