Leather Leone Takes Back Control With New Album “We Are the Chosen” (Interview)
Powerhouse frontwoman Leather Leone first rose to prominence as a formidable vocalist with guitar icon David T. Chastain’s band in the early 1980s. She participated in five albums from 1984 to 1992. However, in 1992 after the band’s 1990 For Those Who Dare album, Leone disappeared from the music business as quickly as she ascended. She became a veterinary technician for an animal hospital in California and has been working with animals ever since.
“I didn't know what to do and nobody was interested in Leather,” Leather stated during a recent Zoom chat. “They wanted me to be more pop and more sexual. So you know, fuck that! And I just got into pit bulls. I have two passions; music and animals. I met my first pit bull and it was over. I just started getting into animal medicine and doing pit bull rescue and that took up all my time; 27 years or whatever.”
Leather stormed back into the music scene with her Sledge Leather project in 2012 and released their debut full-length album Imagine Me Alive.
“I had the pleasure of doing it with some of Dio’s people; I did it with Scott Warren and Jimmy Bain (R.I.P. 2016) before we lost him,” Leather says. “(It) was this weird, eclectic, crazy record that we did. Then Chastain got back in touch with me and I recorded with him in 2013 and ’15. But in between that I got a phone call from a promoter in 2014, which is really what ignited me again to go to Brazil and play some shows. And hence that started everything of where I am now. I met the guys and I started playing shows in Brazil. I got a Rob Rock tour; I did a Raven tour. So that's really what woke my career up was going down to Brazil.”
Although Chastain has been rather sporadic with releases over the past several years, Leather assures me that they are still active.
“We did We Bleed Metal in 2015 and he just keeps releasing different versions of them (the other version was in 2017),” she says. “We did Surrender To No One in ’13. Chastain kind of never goes away. We were actually talking about doing another studio project before Covid-19 hit. I don't really know where he stands now. But he's done with touring and stuff. So that's kind of a real drag for me. But Chastain pops up every 10 years and I'll always do something with him.”
With the release of Leather’s third solo album We Are the Chosen, Leather and her writing partner/guitarist Vinnie Tex started a long distance writing partnership.
“Pre-Covid, my whole musical landscape pitch had changed,” she says. “A lot of us have gone different directions and I was kind of left on my own and I befriended Vinnie Tex, who was my guitar player in my touring band. And we just said, “Hey, let's just write a record.” He didn't really know a lot about me when he met me, so it was beautiful. He lives in Brazil, so we just started writing back and forth. We wrote on the iPad that I'm speaking to you on. And of course, we had so much time because of Covid. We just had a musical chemistry that really worked. I said, “I don't know if I can write a record. Let's see if I can actually write 10 songs.” I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”
Once Vinnie would send Leather a riff — whether it was 30 seconds or three minutes — the music started flowing as melodies and lyrics instantly came to her. The camaraderie between the two musicians created a strong musical chemistry.
“He’s just a really eclectic player,” Leather says of Vinnie. “He comes from death metal, he played a lot of extreme death metal. So he just comes from a different vibe. The people in Brazil are really stuck in the ’80s; they love ’80s pop, ’80s rock, ’80s metal. So he just comes from a whole different eclectic space, which was really nice for me. We just work well together. I'm not really a great songwriter, so it really takes me a lot of time. And people really have to understand me. Writing music is baring your soul, and it just really works with him.”
We Are the Chosen contains quintessential ’80s traditional/classic, hard-driving pure heavy metal. With one listen, Leather’s sense of energy and passion hasn't waned in the least after all these years. Opening track “We Take Back Control” sets the tone immediately.
“That was the first song that we wrote,” Leather explained. “The one thing that I knew that I wanted on this record, because I listen to extreme metal, I said, “I want frickin’ Lamb of God drums; I want Arch Enemy drums. I want extreme metal drums. I want it to be up front; I want it to blow my chest out. It comes from kind of an angry place. I was really frustrated; I was pissed off. We both kind of said, “I think this is the opener.” Yes, it sets the whole tone. The whole tone of the record is me taking back control. I’m not sitting back anymore thinking that everybody is on the same page as me. I am not ungrateful for anything I've done, but you’ve got to do it yourself if you want it done right. So that's what I did with this record.”
Lyrically, Leather was positively pissed off. Her typical writing style is of good versus evil; light and dark. On We Are the Chosen, she was highly motivated.
“I’ve always been kind of into… as a typical Catholic, the good and the evil about everything,” Leather admits. “A good and evil occult way that I think we live our life; evil zombies right behind us. I just sat down and thought about what I wanted to say. Vinnie really helped me out a lot. I just thought about it a lot and I just looked at a group of words more like a Viking medieval kind of sense of words. I'm not that heavy or deep of an artist, I just write whatever I have feeling that day. Like I said, this record just came from a pissed off place; getting my bags and moving forward on my own. That was the motivation for all of it”
The album was produced by Leather and Vinnie, and mixed and mastered by brothers Wojtek and Sławek Wiesławski at Hertz Studios in Poland. The guitar and drum sounds, the overall quality mixing job and the heavy vocal tones all shine brightly on We Are the Chosen.
“I like to record at Hertz Studios, the extreme metal studio,” Leather confesses. “It was the first time I was there from start to finish; we were in the studio every day. I had met the guys, the brothers, because I had done vocals there for Leather II when we were on the road. They just got the sense of my voice. I just tried to be heavy and I tried to pronunciate, and it's just really important for me. Now that I'm older, I can sing in these lower keys that I could never sing in before. I just wanted to make it smooth. I wanted to make it like a heavy wall of sound and I wanted to compete with the drums. So it was really a great experience.”
Leather has always been cited as a very influential vocalist, not even just female, but across the board. She’s up there with powerful voices such as Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, and Geoff Tate. And though Leone was absent from the music scene for so long and finally now returning, she’s still getting that praise.
“Thank you for saying that, I don't really notice,” she admits. “I do hear that from some people and I'm humbled and grateful. If I can inspire anybody to do what Dio’s done for me, Dickinson's done for me, and Tate. If I can inspire anyone, it's amazing. It's bizarre to me because I just sing. Like I said, I'm not that deep of an artist. I don't have any method and I don't work out my voice. So I think I'm just blessed. The power of the gods, I say that they gave me. It just comes from my heart. So I think people notice it.”
Although Leather doesn’t have anything solid planned yet as far as live shows, she is working on it. Her goal is to get on the road again, where she feels right at home.
“I want to keep making records, I want them to keep getting bigger,” she says. “I would like to play frickin’ Wacken before I die, I just want to play some big stages. Because I'm good enough and I deserve it. Chastain and I always kind of had a different idea of what we wanted to do, and touring has never really been that important to him. So it's a little different. I have to fight a little harder being without him because unfortunately, that's how a lot of people see me and that’s okay. Because I'm taking back control; this record is going to prove it. I just want to play big stages; I want to do festivals. I want to move up from the club circuit is what I want to do.”
We Are the Chosen was released on November 25th via Steamhammer.