Posted on May 11th. 2016
Questionnaire by Sloof on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM
Totally underrated, but those that are looking for original music and ideas, perfectly skilled musicians and lyrical themes that will guide you through Mythological stories will agree: Virgin Steele combines them all in their blood-drenched glory and murderous majesty for over the past 35 years! I’m really honored and proud that David DeFeis took some time to hook up with Metal To Infinity, as we are going to talk about past, present and future!
Q: Hi David, thanks for having us! Is it okay that we start talking about the early years, when the band Virgin Steele was formed? For instance: what did you had in mind when the band was formed in 1981? What was the initial idea?
A: Cheers Patrick! It is my pleasure Sir…Sure…let’s begin…the band formed on Halloween in 1981 and we began recording what became the first album about 3 weeks later. We had a whirlwind week in the studio and the result was that first album. The initial idea was to try to be as creative as possible, and combine the feeling of the music we loved with a reckless new over the top bombastic approach that acknowledged everything from classical music to the blues, and had a healthy dose of the maniacal. We weren’t afraid to make noise, make mistakes…whatever…it was all about trying to capture energy.
Q: The band featured on the U.S. Metal II compilation album, together with bands like Wild Dogs, Exciter, Culprit and The Rods. How did you get in touch with Mr. Mike Varney, the man who’s responsible for the legendary U.S. Metal albums?
A: It was quite simple really. We sent him a cassette tape of the song CHILDREN OF THE STORM. He loved it and wanted to include it on his US METAL Compilation. I think it was picked out of something like 500 to 1,000 tapes if I remember correctly. That kick-started everything for us, led to more interest and press and the whole thing started to snowball from there and become much bigger. We saw what was happening and what might be possible so we pressed up our own album and before the first pressing of 5,000 copies was sold out…we had two record deals, one with MUSIC FOR NATIONS in the UK, and another one with MONGOL HORDE in the STATES. It was all very exciting and new.
Q: Shortly after, the band released their debut album, independently! That’s quite amazing, as it was limited to 10.000 copies, but I’m the proud owner of a personal copy! Why independent, and how comes that it reached the Belgian stores as well, which is rather unusual!
A: Hey very cool! I still have a few left! As I mentioned a second ago, we knew that the interest was there so we thought…”why not”…and we also thought well if we are going to do this then let’s be serious about it, so we learned who all the major distributors were and brought records to them, as well as every record shop we could find. We contacted distributors like Gem in New Jersey, Greenworld in California, and Important over here by us, and they all took copies…sometimes 300 sometimes 500 or more at a time and they all sold them out and ordered more. That is how the album made its way to Europe. Then once the album came out through MUSIC FOR NATIONS, things got bigger and the European side for us became stronger than what was happening in the STATES…everything just blossomed further from there.
Q: The second album ‘Virgin Steele II: Guardians Of The Flame’ was released in 1983 by Music For Nations/Roadrunner. The overall sound improved a lot and the songs topped the debut album! Do you agree that this second output was a turning point in the career of the band so far?
A: Yes. I do agree that it was a turning point for us and brought the band much wider recognition. I think that album turned out pretty well, but I do remember thinking at the time that some of the chaotic fire that we had on the first alum was missing from the second album. We were probably a bit nervous making the second album, as now the labels were watching and the stakes were higher…but all in all I think it turned out pretty well in the end. I have a clear memory of being in the control room of the studio listening to the playback to the final mix of the title track GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME and thinking to myself…”Wow this is really monumental”!
Q: At that time, you received fan mail by unknown bands like Queensrÿche and Metallica among others. How did it feel to get recognition, to get respect from the (inter)national scene back then?
A: It was really rewarding for us to be acknowledged like that. It validated the hard work that we were putting into the band, and it made us want to explore and develop further.
Q: Virgin Steele featured the Metal Massacre Volume III compilation album with the track ‘Let’s Go All The Way’. Other bands where the mighty Znöwhite, Tyrant and… Slayer. Compared with the bands on this album, Virgin Steele succeeded in creating something new, totally innovative and refreshing! Can I say that Virgin Steele created a totally unique sound, especially your vocals made the difference!
A: Hey, thanks so much for saying so…it is really very much appreciated. We certainly wanted to have our own identity and leave our mark on the scene, and everything we did was geared towards that. We tried to approach the songs from several angles, and we wanted to infuse them with all the life we were living, and the absolute lust for that life. I think that is what comes across when I hear the albums.
Q: The band always had a futuristic approach in the front cover artwork. I remember the debut album where aliens were fighting a monster with laser and sword, while ‘Guardians Of The Flame’ had a pre-Avatar approach, and Age Of Consent was a battle between an ancient warrior and a spacecraft. The first retrospect to the ancient times was on Noble Savage. Why this change in direction if we talk about the front cover artwork only?
A: Regarding the cover art on the first album, I believe it was just a happy accident and a case where we needed a cover right away, and we had met this artist and he offered us some of his Work and we picked that one with the spaceship. I didn’t feel that it particularly represented who we were, but it was in keeping with the maniacal, chaotic mood we were going for at the time. When it came time to do the second album we had a bit more time and the USA pressing of GUARDIANS OF THE FLAME features a photograph of a huge sword and fire…That one I was very happy about. For the UK pressing they wanted a different cover so we quickly again went back to the artist who made the first album’s cover and picked that strange green paining with the kind of hobbit-like creature feeding the fly…It was a case of need. And on AGE OF CONSENT…to be honest I never saw that cover until the album was already out. That was something that our then manager had put together. I wasn’t really a fan of that one. Once it came time to do NOBLE SAVAGE I wanted to have a cover that would really reflect what the music inside was all about, so we brainstormed and then eventually enlisted Hugh Syme the artist behind a lot of the covers for the band RUSH. He arranged for that photo shoot with the cloud background and the Noble warrior type guy. I think that cover turned out really well, and reflected the sounds contained within.
Q: The front cover of ‘Invictus’ is also used by a band named Be’Lakor on their album ‘Stone’s Reach’. We see Perseus, son of Zeus, who poses with Medusa’s decapitated head as a triumph. It’s one of Benvenuto Cellini’ masterpieces, created in the year 1545. You must be a historic junk or are you only interested in ancient times because of their wealthy history?
A: I am a huge fan of ancient history, myth, philosophy…etc…I enjoy learning all that I can, and I also love the visual arts…painting…sculpture…and I am a big fan of ancient stone…stone sites, statues…towers, burial mounds…dwellings….and for INVICTUS that statue seemed to sum up the ideas contained in the lyrics…the idea of humans fighting with Gods and Goddesses…and how we are one and the same as them with the same cruelties, passions, jealousy…ancestral hatreds. For me that image captures the sadness, the rage and because it is so well done, Cellini is a true master…the beauty and the tragedy of life.
Q: Isn’t it amazing that the band is still active and vivid. I guess it’s totally unexpected for you as well, but time flies when you’re having fun, isn’t it?
A: Yes time flies when you are having fun! I am excited to still be here doing this, and I know that there is much more that we can do as a band, and I know that I have much more to say musically, so I shall continue on. Thanks for listening and sharing this journey with us! Hail!
Q: You travelled around the world, have been on so many places, but I’m sure that you will lose control when you visit Europe and its enormous historical history. Is it possible for you to visit ancient historical sites when you are in Greece for example?
A: Yes! Whenever I am in Europe and certainly when I am in Greece I do visit whatever I can…the Acropolis, the Columns of Zeus…Castles…everything. And when I am home on Long Island…I visit the east end…there are no ancient stone structures there, but the land here is ancient and it…the sky…the ocean all speak of times long past and futures yet to come, and if you open yourself up to that voice…it enriches, informs and refreshes your Spirit.
Q: Is that also the reason that you write songs about ancient legends and legendary events? Greek mythology is a treasure house of stories, intrigues and narrations, isn’t it? Do you miss such places when you cross the U.S.A.?
A: I love those Myths for their beauty and their timelessness, and their philosophy. If I reference a Myth, I am not necessarily giving a history lesson…I use those Myths as jumping off points for what I want to say about life here and now. We actually do have ancient structures and mystical places here in the USA as well…this isn’t as well known or as obvious as what Europe has to offer…but such places do exist here as well. My writing is really about the human condition and all that that entails…the struggle for survival, the passion to express…the search for meaning…the search for truth…the cry of the wounded soul seeking its mate….
Q: Can I say that you prefer to write about the battles between mankind and Gods, about humanity’s fight against oppression and tyranny, in no matter what form it takes… ?
A: Yes, I do write about oppression and injustice, and fighting tyranny, but that is just one facet of what I write about. I also write about human nature and human interaction/relationships, and all the lust and passion that comes with that, and I am also interested in the world between the worlds, magick, and all that shuns the light…
Q: Steamhammer, the current record label, re-released ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell – Part One & Two’ in 2014, and they will re-release ‘The House Of Atreus: Act I and II’ on May 20th. 2016. In my opinion a very good move, as both albums deserve to be sold and told as one unit. I never understood why T&T Records originally released both albums separately..?
A: Many thanks! Actually there was a version of The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell that T&T/NOISE put out that did contain both albums. It was a special edition black box version. It is now a collector’s item. It was quite beautiful. I am very happy that SPV is putting everything out in such a wonderful manner! It makes everything new and alive once again. I am, especially pleased with the new HOUSE OF ATREUS pressing! It is really amazing, both sonically and visually.
Q: Now, we will get a Digipack 3 Disc release, including a new booklet, liner notes and the EP ‘Magick Fire-Music’. Now it feels like ‘finished’, isn’t it?
A: Yes…in a sense it feels more complete having everything together under one roof so to speak. It’s all there from start to finish.
Q: Old ánd new fans of the band will be pleased with this extra luxe edition, and if you take a good look at the lyrics of the songs, it’s a necessity to get an idea what Virgin Steele is all about! Aren’t you afraid to forget lyrics, as it’s incredible that you know all these lyrics by heart!
A: Yes if one is interested in things like this, having it all together and complete is a big help! I know that there are University people who have written their dissertations on the combination of music, theatre, myth and magick, and they have written extensively about this HOUSE OF ATREUS VIRGIN STEELE Work. For me it is very gratifying to be part of academia. I am a huge believer in the quest for knowledge, and I try to keep my mind active and embracing of both new and ancient concepts. My brain is quite sharp and I rarely forget a lyric. Words are easier to remember when they are connected to a melody…so that helps!
Q: You also empathize with other characters like Agamemnon, Elektra, Athena, … Never thought to ask or invite other musicians, vocalists to divide the roleplay?
A: No. That is not what we wanted to do. We didn’t want a cast of thousands on our album. We wanted to keep it in house, and showcase the strength of the Group. I was able to get inside the characters heads and empathize with their feelings…their passions, and then emote and put them across the microphone and onto the tape. Having once written the songs…I knew that I wanted to sing them, regardless of whether the role was human, God, or Goddess…male or female or some kind of demonic entity…When the Work was taken to the theatrical stage in Germany, then there were other actors and actresses involved realizing the roles, and that worked out beautifully, but for the album…we wanted to maintain the Work as a VIRGIN STEELE album, and try to push the boundaries of what we could do as a Group.
Q: ‘The House Of Atreus’ begins on the final night of the Trojan War. I wonder how do you start writing a new album, how do you get all those ideas into songs? Do you write a story first of how does it work? Do you create new material on keyboard and piano first, and how do they develop?
A: It all depends on whether it is meant to be a concept album right from the beginning like THE HOUSE OF ATREUS was or VISIONS OF EDEN was, or if the concept develops over time and the course of several songs. In the case of ATREUS or VISIONS, I first did my research and became thoroughly intimate with the story and then I was able to live inside it, change it, and plan out what I thought was important to express in the music and then kind of make a rough outline. With an album like NOCTUNES OF HELLFIRE & DAMNATION I was just writing individual songs, but gradually I understood that a concept was arising and then at that point you can either go further or let it just be for a couple of songs. On NOCTURNES I pushed the boundaries and went further with the idea of human interactions and the drama that ensues. I generally write either from the point of the piano…music first or sometimes away from the piano…lyrics or poetry first, or other times I will be playing and singing at the keyboard and develop both music and lyrics simultaneously…sometimes a title will spark a whole song. Each “birth” of a song is different. For example I WILL COME FOR was lyrics first and then I went immediately to the piano and came up with the main riff and everything else. With NOBLE SAVAGE it was the title first then the main riff and groove and the rest followed from there. With ADORNED WITH THE RISING COBRA and hmmm…A SYMPHONY OF STEELE it was music first…and with many others like LION IN WINTER, FLAMES OF THY POWER, ARMS OF MERCURY, WINGS OF VENGEANCE, KINGDOM OF THE FEARLESS…etc., it was music and lyrics together at the same time. But whatever produces the initial spark, or lightning strike of inspiration, the rest is hard work and hard play…listening, feeling and wrestling with the material until the idea grows up and becomes a real song with the correct arrangement and all the various counter melodies and phrasing and whatever nourishment it needs.
Q: You are a gifted man with many talents, but I’m sure that you have preferences as well. Is writing and composing prior to playing live or is an interaction between touring and creating new material a perfect match for David DeFeis?
A: I thank you for all your kindness…it is truly most appreciated. I do enjoy both aspects of music. I absolutely love the creative writing, recording, rehearsing side, and I do also enjoy the live experience when the sound is right. I love the athleticism of the live show and the immediacy of the contact with the audience. But I do really love creating and watching and living through the birth and the development of each and every song.
Q: Virgin Steele is coming to Europe once again, and you will play at the prestigious Graspop Metal Meeting on Friday! This will be the first time on GMM, and you can count me in! Are you looking forward to this festival appearance?
A: Yes! Absolutely!!! I am personally very excited and I know that the rest of the guys are as well.
Q: What can we expect? A kind of best of or do you prefer to focus on the latest releases?
A: More of a best of…a bit of this and that from each part of the Catalogue. In a Festival type situation I think that makes the most sense.
Q: Will it be a tour all over Europe or rather limited appearances?
A: We will return again for more appearances.
Q: Something totally different is the making of a Tribute To Virgin Steele album that is going to be released on Majestic Metal Records in Germany. Do you feel flattered when people decide to release ‘A Tribute To-your band’ album?
A: I am very excited about that project. I love what the bands all did with their interpretations of the VIRGIN STEELE Catalogue, and I am absolutely honored, thrilled and extremely happy that this album is coming out!
Q: Are you involved in this project ‘By The Gods’ or is it unknown to you so far?
A: We had nothing to do with it. A gentleman named Matthew Knight from the band ETERNAL WINTER put this tribute album together. He planned the whole project and found all the other bands that appear on the album. He did a beautiful job! He got it all together and then approached me and told me all about it. Again…I am really honored.
Q: What else is going to happen with the band, let’s say the upcoming 12 months?
A: A few more re-issues…more brand new albums, various concerts and finally some more videos.
Well David, it was wonderful to have this chat with you! Do you have a final message for the readers of Metal To Infinity webzine?
A: I would just like to say Cheers and many thanks to You and to all your Readers, for all your great enthusiasm, strong support and incredible belief! Keep well and remain…INVICTUS!!!
HAIL & BY THE GODS & GODDESSES, David DeFeis – May 9, 2016
Sloof: There is only one more thing, before we end this interview: Through Fire and Water, Wind, Wrath, Pain, Rage, Blood, Tears and Love, we will meet again!
I look forward to that my Friend…Take care…David