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Leather Leone Interview
Written by C.   
Saturday, 12 April 2014

Leather Leone Interview

 

One of the most respected voices on the femme-metal scene, Leather Leone was a trailblazer for women who wanted to rock. Fronting the band Chastain, Leather was ahead of her time; among a small group of women who dared to take on the male-dominated metal scene of the 1980s and forge their own path no matter who stood in their way.


Leather Leone

 


After a long break from the music business, Leather is back and more bad-ass than ever. With a new Chastain record under her belt, Leather is ready to hit the road with some of her fellow femme-metal cohorts and get reacquainted with her audience. From her home in Northern California, Leather sat on the phone with me for nearly an hour to talk about the new Chastain album, her touring plans, and her thoughts on everything in-between. As strong and outspoken in her opinions as she is in her music, Leather leaves no stone unturned when it comes to telling it like it is!

C.:  Tell us about the new Chastain album. I really liked the record and wanted to get your thoughts on it.

Leather:  Oh, great! Thank you! I’m all about moving forward; I so appreciate everything we’ve accomplished [in the past]… We hadn’t created together for so long and we had no pressure; we were just doing it ourselves and playing around with it for about a year. So it was just natural.

C.:  I heard about the shows with Benedictum and A Sound of Thunder. Are these shows with Chastain, or is this just you by yourself?

Leather:  I’m doing it solo; it’s a big joke that I have with [David] Chastain; that it takes a lot for him to “leave his castle”, so I am getting the opportunity. I’ve been a friend of Veronica’s for years, and I’ll actually be on her solo record…I love her, she’s such a goofball. She’s awesome. I was in the studio with her, I stayed at her house…God, I just love her. But basically, I’m gonna do a half-hour of Chastain stuff.

C.:  How did you guys get back together?

Leather:  It’s been a really long time! We’ve never not been together in that aspect, but that’s my personality…when I went away, I really went away. There was something going for me that I was into, so I gladly walked away. When I was doing my Sledge Leather project, I was talking to Chastain more on a daily basis, so it just came up…[he said] “I have this material, whether you want to work on it and make a solo record or do it with me”…it just kind of happened, I think it was a natural progression.

C.:  You were gone a long time.

Leather:  Yes, my friend! There was never any big soap opera; no big blowout. The Chastain thing kinda hit a wall, and I was frustrated. I’m a huge road dog, and Chastain has never been one, so it wasn’t really growing in that aspect. So my thing was that I was gonna go home for about 6 months to a year, regroup, and look out for other bands. But no one was really interested in me; I had been blessed at that point to where I had enough of a name to where labels were talking to me, but they wanted me to be something I was not. There was already Doro and Lita Ford, and I wasn’t into the sex-kitten thing or whatever it’s called. They had nothing that appealed to me, so I just bowed out. I was really proud of what we’d done, and I wasn’t gonna compromise. I am what I am; I’m a tomboy, take it or leave it. So I just walked away.

C.:  Yes, there are so many talented musicians out there who just seem to walk away from everything; all the money, fame, etc.

Leather:  Anyone who knows the music business [knows], it’s not about talent; it’s about having “the machine” behind you for whatever reason. It’s not about talent; it’s about having a package or having an image behind you that they can promote and make money off of. Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, I was never that girl; I wasn’t Doro, I wasn’t Lita. I wasn’t that hot, sexy blonde; it was a lot less acceptable to be a tomboy back then. Nobody saw me as a money-making machine, so nothing really worked out.

C.:  This is the first Chastain album with you at the helm in over 20 years. Was it like slipping into a comfy old pair of shoes, or was there sort of an “adjustment period”?

Leather:  Absolutely! I was a little nervous when I first went out there, but [once we got back together] it was like nothing had ever changed. Chastain is super-organized and quiet, almost to the point of being a germaphobe; I’m this unorganized, loud, sloppy, messy…yeah, it was like 1990 all over again. It was great.

C.:  For our younger readers out there (or readers who are new to the scene in general), how does this new album hold up in terms of defining your band’s legacy?

Leather:  That’s a good question, and I get asked that a lot. I don’t know; I guess it’s a natural progression, but we’ve been gone so long that we don’t recognize it. Chastain and I are still in the same old “Armageddon, good-and-evil” classical kind of sound. Nowadays we’re considered classic metal now, there are so many genres! But I think this is a record that just would have come after For Those Who Dare. It’s hard to say. But when Chastain and I get together, we’ll always write the same kind of stuff. We like each other’s creativity to begin with. Now, in my opinion, it’s either pop-metal or either very aggressive hardcore, so we’re kind of like a fish out of water, and that’s really good.

C.:  Maybe that’s a good thing about your being away for so long; everything goes in cycles and that sound is making a sort of comeback right now.

Leather:  Again, because Chastain and I were never on a major label, we never had pressure to try and be something, to try and create music a certain way. That’s never been important. That’s one of the beauties of not being on a major label and having that machine behind you.

C.:  You hinted at the tour with Benedictum and A Sound of Thunder, but nothing’s been made official yet. Can you speak about it more openly right now?

Leather:  I’m extremely privileged that Benedictum is gonna back me up, and that they offered this to me. Nina’s a good friend of Veronica’s, and I never really knew A Sound of Thunder at all, so I’m really excited. We’re gonna throw out some shows here and there, and if people grab onto it, sure. There’s definitely interest, so we’ll see how people react when they come out; if they enjoy it. I’m gonna be on Veronica’s [upcoming] solo album, that’s the goal; for us to do something together. We’re putting our webs out everywhere. At this point, Chastain is done with touring, and it’s extremely frustrating because we’re getting a lot of offers, and he’s kinda turning them down. If I can make light of those offers, that’s what I’m doing. I’m blessed enough to where people will see me as the voice of Chastain and accept me and come to see me doing Chastain’s material; so that’s where it is right now. I’m there! I’m so excited.

C.:  I would love for the three of you to come out this way.

Leather:  There is talk of the West Coast, for sure. Again, we’re just seeing how things go; these opportunities are coming up, so there’s talk of that. A Sound of Thunder are road dogs; I’ve been getting to know Nina, she’s such a cool girl…so if it works out; she’s excited about it, I’m excited…but again, it’s about the packaging and if people will spend the time and money to see you, and if the promoters will get behind you. I’m really hoping it happens. We’re gonna have a blast. I am so not into the gender thing…does anyone talk about the “Guy Metal Tour”? I’m so not into that. I’m just calling it a metal tour; I don’t care what we have between our legs.

C.:  Yes, that’s a topic of controversy among fans of the scene; we love the bands on the tours, but some of us hate that it’s sold under names like “Hottest Chicks in Metal”, etc. The opinions are split right down the middle: some people feel whatever it takes to get these bands more exposure, where still others feel that things like this only perpetuate the myth that women in rock can’t be taken seriously and must always have some gimmick behind them to get any sort of recognition or attention.

Leather:  Especially coming from the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was such a rare, weird thing to see female metal musicians, and now they’re everywhere…I don’t know; I know women are hot and that’s what people are into, but it’s so uninteresting to me about “females in metal”. I try not to address it. I’m a metal vocalist; if you like what I do, listen to it. Did anyone ever say to Ronnie [James Dio], “oh my God, you’re an amazing male vocalist”? No. But that’s the way it goes.

C.:  Right; in the days since your break from Chastain, there has been an explosion of female metal musicians, and it’s not as much a novelty anymore. How does it feel for you to see this? Do you feel like you helped blaze a trail, or played a part in this uprising of women in metal?

Leather:  I don’t think in terms like that, but every time I turn around, someone says this to me. Looking back on it, I guess I was blessed enough to be among the handful of women back in the day…it was me, Doro, Dawn Crosby, Ann Boleyn, Betsy Bitch…there were just a handful of us, but I don’t think of it that way because I try not to think in those terms. But I guess yeah, we were the forerunners, and that’s cool. If I can inspire anyone with my voice, right on; I don’t care who you are. I don’t really think about myself as a “girl that sings”; just give me a microphone and let me do my thing!

C.:  It will be great when we reach a point where we don’t have to think in those terms anymore.

Leather:  I don’t think it ever will, because it’s scientific. It’s procreation; it’s men sniffing out women, and it’s OK. But that doesn’t mean you have to play into it! If you’re into the sex thing, do it; if you’re not, then don’t. I can’t tell people what to do. But I know there’s so many talented women out there right now who are playing into that whole sex game, and it just kills me. But you know, the machine is probably telling them to do that to sell out shows. I don’t know; but again, there are more women who prefer t-shirts and blue jeans and rocking out!

C.:  Yes, there’s that extreme too; these women who come out in skimpy bra-and-thong ensembles, or you get the ones who go the whole other way, dressing elegantly with elaborate dresses. There really isn’t a middle ground where women feel they can just “come as they are” and dress in comfortable clothes that they would wear offstage.

Leather:  To me, it’s about skin; and this is my own hang-up, but…put some fucking clothes on! Let me listen to you; I don’t want to look at you. But that’s not the way the world is. I’ve always been a tomboy, but that’s not how the world is. Just wear some clothes. Obviously I adore Veronica, but she does the whole big boobs thing, and that only gets you by for so long. Big boobs go away. I don’t know, it’s just an issue I have from back in the ‘80s; it was a big, hysterical thing then because there were no women around…except now, unless the women are out there without any clothes are talented, I’d rather they put a bag on their head. But I’m not paying their bills, so whatever!

C.:  I do like that there are people like you and like Nina, who are just going out there as themselves, wearing what they like and not caring if they fit some image.

Leather:  That’s right. I used to say back in the day, “why can’t there be a female [James] Hetfield?” Someone who just wears sneakers and blue jeans and t-shirts? Even with this Sledge Leather thing, I was still getting that bullshit from people. I was getting that bullshit from my peers and people I was working with. I’m going, really? You still haven’t figured this out yet? All of a sudden I’m gonna start running around in a bustier? C’mon, people! I have a real problem with that. I’m sure the guys get that too, in a different way or to a different degree. The beauty of it is that I look at it this way: I am so blessed to be able to have the opportunity to create something that people give a damn to listen to, that I don’t think about anything else. It’s all good. I’m so blessed to have that happen to me. It’s great!

C. [Fan submitted question: Omar; Houston, TX]:  How does it feel to be a legend?

Leather:  Omar…wow, thank you! You know, that word is thrown around…legends are Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, Janis Joplin…again, it’s a word that’s thrown around; but if somebody feels that intensely about what I’ve done…wow! But “legend”? I don’t even know what that means!

C.:  Maybe it’s because you were part of that core group of women in the early days of metal who were doing what you were doing back then.

Leather:  And you know, if you talk to any of us about it, I don’t think any of us sat around thinking about it [that way]. It’s funny, I ran into Doro last year, and we were kinda talking about that in a roundabout way. I said [to her] that this was the difference between her and me; since she was 17, she’s had “the machine” behind her, and I have not. So that’s kinda where the road splits [between us]. But we’re both lucky; we both get press, people want to hear about us…but she’s the one who made it in the eyes of the public. But yeah, I don’t think any of us think that way, but it’s pretty damn cool when someone says it to you.

C.:  But in many ways, you have more of an advantage than she does, because she’s become a sort of “figurehead” of this movement and is always expected to be a certain way, where you have more freedom to sort of do what you want. You don’t have to live up to these expectations that someone of Doro’s status entails.

Leather:  I’ve often said that. Women who come out—like Britney [Spears]—as that hot, fucking beautiful thing…they’ve gotta keep on doing it. I was never that hot young thing; I was always based on my voice, so now as I’m older, it’s the same thing for me. But it’s all good. People are beautiful, and it’s never been an issue of mine.

C.:  Well, it’s also not so much Doro’s image, but also her level of success too.

Leather:  I was looking at her tour schedule today, and I would sure fucking like to have it! She’s a really cool girl, and God bless her. She works her ass off.

C.:  It would be cool if you two could tour together sometime in the future.

Leather:  Hell yeah! I know she’s done a lot of stuff with Veronica, but yeah, sure…give her my phone number! [Laughs]

C.:  No kidding! I’ve never interviewed Doro, but it’s great fun to talk to people like you from “back in the day”, who have been in the business for a long time and can share your experiences.

Leather:  Yeah, there’s so many bands now! I thought there were a lot of bands in the ‘80s, but motherfucker! I’m so blessed that there are so many new bands out; but also that the stuff that we did back in the day allows me that privilege; that people still want to talk to me. I mean, it’s incredible to me…we never did any major tours or anything, so the respect level we have…it’s really a humbling thing.

C.:  I think it’s awesome, because your music still holds up. So many bands from the ‘80s get lost in the winds of time, or their music becomes dated and can never move out of that corner they’ve been painted into.

Leather:  Chastain has continued on [since then]; he’s in competition with himself. He’s an ultra-talented, Paganini-practicing freak. But he’s never wished to tour, or to be on the cover of magazines, or to sell a bunch of records. His whole thing was when I met him, and it’s still the same now: make music, put it out there, and let the fans decide what to do with it. People have latched on to him without really being pushed, because he doesn’t care about all those other things in that way. People really love him for what he does.

C.:  If you notice, those bands who are driven by all those other things, especially those from the “hair-metal” days, they seem to disappear as quickly as they came.

Leather:  Yeah, they made the bank and then they left!

C.:  So you were saying that you’re going to be on Veronica’s solo record? She didn’t mention a solo record to me!

Leather:  Yes, Veronica’s solo record is coming out on Frontiers sometime this year. Don’t quote me for an exact date! Somehow she got in touch with me about 2 or 3 years ago; I’m not sure how…I called her up one night at her house, and her husband answered. I said, “Hey, this is Leather!”, and he was like, “Fuck you, no it’s not!” [Laughs] So we started talking way back then, even before the Sledge Leather record, and she said, “you have to come to the studio and we have to do something”. I said, “I’m not ready, I’ve been out of the scene a really long time, I don’t sing anymore”; so since then we kinda hung out, and then she got in touch with me last year to let me know she was putting out this record. It’s more of a hard-rock [album]; it’s not a metal record at all. So yeah, I did it, and sometime in 2014 it’s coming out, so that’s what we’re playing on with this tour. We did a song together, so we’re going on that and this tour is a sort of promo for that. So it’s for anyone interested in Leather and Benedictum, and a lot of people are, so we’ll see!

C.:  So far it’s just a couple East Coast-area shows right now?

Leather:  We’re just doing 3 shows; this is an opportunity to throw the line out there and see who’s interested, so hopefully something will come from it.

C.:  Well, if just going on A Sound of Thunder’s Facebook page is any indication, there is a huge demand to see this lineup!

Leather:  Now we just have to pull it out and make something interesting. We’re all really different in our own way. I didn’t know that much about Nina until the past year, but wow! That woman…what a voice! But it’s totally different than V.’s [voice] and mine.

C.:  I don’t know who said it about Nina, but I think they nailed it when they said she is the love-child of Dickinson and Halford.

Leather:  [Laughs] Talk about a clean powerhouse voice! Again, I’ve never really met her, but Veronica adores her, and I’m so excited to be on the road with these two women just for a weekend. I don’t know where we’re gonna end up, but it’s gonna be so much fun!

C.:  As often as A Sound of Thunder puts out albums, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear if you end up being on the album after this next one that’s ready to come out.

Leather:  What, do they put out a record every year? I know Nina’s a real go-getter; I’m so excited. Again, I haven’t met her, but I’m getting ready to rehearse with Benedictum in April.

C.:  Hopefully you guys will have enough success with these shows to take it to the West Coast.

Leather:  Nina has asked me that if anything happens out there, if I would be interested in doing it. If the crowd wants Leather, I will be there!

C.:  OK, I know you already said you’re not into the “gender thing”, but this whole discussion of the three of you awesome ladies touring together brings me to these questions that I ask everyone I interview here. So in turn I also have to ask you…what advice can you give to young ladies out there who are interested in music or want to form their own bands? People who want to get into the music business and want to aspire to be like you?

Leather:  My advice would be to do what I did: you find a band, and it’s a marriage, so you find people—you don’t have to get along with them—you just find someone you connect with musically. Get into a basement, you rehearse for one or two years, and just do it. Just do it hardcore; don’t listen to what people say, don’t pay attention to the beer cans and spit thrown at you, just do it. You’ll find out if you really love it; because if you don’t love it, you won’t do it. Find a bunch of people and go hide away and write songs. Blow your voice out. Make mistakes. Give yourself 1-3 years, and you’ll just find this amazing thing and it’ll just blossom.

C.:  That’s actually great advice, because there is a sort of false idea that success is so easy; that you just upload a video on YouTube and poof! You’re famous. A lot of people out there aren’t learning about paying dues and really working their way up the ladder.

Leather:  It’s not like that at all! I don’t know; I didn’t win American Idol, but you need to pay your dues. There were nights in my first band, Rude Girl, where I couldn’t sing anymore because I sang for 21 days straight. You have to do it; you have to find your voice and figure it out. Don’t follow anybody else; you don’t have to look or sound a certain way, just do what comes naturally to you. My voice comes naturally to me. I’m so excited for young people; just go do it, man. Lock yourself in a room and do it.

C.:  Exactly; this is an art, you have to love what you do, because success isn’t guaranteed.

Leather:  I don’t think anyone in my circle in the ‘80s was sitting around wondering how to get on radio. I was out there with Metallica and Megadeth and Exodus; people just wanted to play, they wanted to pull out their guitars and play at clubs. Many people make it for different reasons; most of those bands just wanted to create music that made them happy, and they were lucky that somebody came along for the ride.

C.:  Or for a lot of those bands, to just make it enough to where they didn’t have to work a shitty day job anymore!

Leather:  Good luck with that! [Laughs] Back in my day, there were clubs on every corner. I hate saying “back in my day”, but it’s true…you could play every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and have a packed house. Labels would come and find you…I remember eating pizza in San Francisco, and running into someone from Shrapnel [Records], looking for us. It was just a different time. I don’t know what people do nowadays; they have to “pay to play”, you can’t play within a 30-mile radius of certain places…I don’t know what people do now. I have no idea!

C.:  It’s not only tough for bands nowadays, but for fans too, especially fans like myself who have to travel long distances to see good metal shows.

Leather:  I’ve been blessed to be able to create and to play shows; people like me, so it’s been a lot of fun. I get to do it again, and I’m gonna get out there. Nobody’s gonna stop me. Nobody can stop me!

C.:  I think you have a great advantage to be in a band but still be your own entity. You’re sort of like a Sammy Hagar; he was still the Red Rocker even when he was in Van Halen.

Leather:  Right; and people are interested in seeing me, which is really cool, because working with Chastain is pretty intense. I’m really excited to talk to people who take the time to talk to me. I’m just really lucky. I’m so excited about what’s gonna happen this year. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.

C.:  Are you considering doing a solo album in the near future, or a project outside of Chastain?

Leather:  I don’t know; I’ve never really considered myself a solo artist. That Leather Shockwave thing came about through Chastain. Roadrunner [Records]—who was known as Road Racer [Records] at the time, I think—it was just a scam to get Chastain on the label. Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize that now, because they never pushed it. I don’t know; it’s not like I’m sitting here in Northern California and I have this guitar player that I just hang out and write music with all the time. It’s not like that for me. Probably not; I consider myself a “band person”. I like the feeling of tribe, of family, of 3 or 4 people sitting around and putting in their two cents. I’m not this prolific songwriter with amazing ideas from A-Z. I need to hear a guitar piece, and then the drummer adding in something…I don’t know; you never know.

C.:  I imagine it does get frustrating sometimes, because you did say Chastain doesn’t like to tour, where you do.

Leather:  Yeah, I want to knock him over the head every day! [Laughs] But I adore him; I respect his wishes, but I argue with him about it at least once a week. We’ll see what happens!

C.:  Maybe he’ll change his tune after he sees what a success you are on the road!

Leather:  Like I said, touring was never one of his favorite things to do. I hate to repeat myself, but we’ve never had “the machine” behind us. It’s always been out-of-pocket money; it’s not like we ever had tour managers, he has always done all this. I was running around like, “woo-hoo, we’re playing another month!” He just didn’t want to lose money anymore. We’re also considering doing another Chastain record, so if we put out another record, the offers will probably come in. We’ll see.

C.:  The new album is kick-ass, so that’s good news to hear!

Leather:  Thank you! We have another one ready to go, but we’re kinda waiting to see what happens.

C.:  Can’t wait to hear it, and I can’t wait to hear you on Veronica’s new record.

Leather:  It’s interesting, because when I first heard about Veronica, I was told how much she sounds like me. But when I heard her, I thought, she’s in the same style as me, but I don’t think she sounds anything like me! So then we do this song together, and she was sending me the edits back and forth. I was going, “wait, is that me? Is that V?” The tonality was really pretty close; it was really eerie! When I was recording with her, she played me some other tracks off her solo record…fucking phenomenal! It’s not really a metal record; it’s more of a hard rock-type thing. Some of these songs are phenomenal; people are gonna see her in a different way, a way that I didn’t know she could sing. It’s gonna be a really good record.

C.:  That’s great to hear, because one thing that does annoy me about artists that go solo is when they sound exactly like the band they’re already in, or just left!

Leather:  That’s what I did on my Shockwave record, so I know what you’re saying. I guess Frontiers said to her, “let’s do a solo record”, and let Benedictum be somewhere else. She’s really done it. She did a really good job.

C.:  Any last words for your fans before you go?

Leather:  Chastainmetal.com, to figure out what’s going on with Chastain…I’m on Facebook, Veronica’s on Facebook, A Sound of Thunder…I think you’ll see us [on the road]. Keep the metal going! Metal up; I’ll see you this year!

C.:  This has been really cool; thanks for the opportunity!

Leather:  Thank you for your time; I really appreciate it. Stay in touch; have a good evening!

Leather Leone

For more information on Chastain, visit their official site 

For more information on Leather, visit her Facebook

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