LEATHER (EN)

Photo Credit: (c) Rockin Ryan Richardson and Marisol Richardson

After making a comeback in 2012, the American frontwoman and powerhouse Leather Leone doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon. She’s “Taking Back Control” with the same energy and conviction like when she proclaimed herself the commander of the storm and ruled us all to wasteland in 1986. Leather takes no prisoners and more than 35 years later, she’s still not compromising. Rather the opposite, “We are the Chosen” shows Leone at her purest, rawest and finest.

Nothing stops her and apparently, nothing ever will. After a pandemic, shifts and turns and having just released a brand new album with one band member only, this is what she has to say about her plans for Leather: «Our priority is to tour. We’re working with different agencies. Let’s see what we can do. We just want to play.»

As a tried and true maven of ’80s Metal, it only figured that the new album would feature some of that old school charm. Upon being quizzed about the ideas and meanings behind her new output and first single, «We are the Chosen», Leather said they were looking for «something a bit more epic. I like working with Vinnie because he likes the ‘80s but has a more modern touch. And my voice is obviously the ‘80s, but he manages to give it all that small twist». In that sense, the album follows the line of her previous offering, «II» [High Roller Records, 2018]. They share that way of blending an obvious ‘80s Heavy Metal -and slightly Thrash Metal- foundation, keeping that simple and straightforward approach with an overall up to date sound and mix and a focus on melody, also being very guitar-centric and with Leone’s unmistakable powerful vocals at the forefront of every song. The first single off the album – which they have already filmed a video for – is the best sonic proof of the project’s personality. «It [the single «We are the Chosen»] turned out a bit Dio. But it wasn’t intentional,» Leather comments, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the frontwoman’s career. Leone has never hidden the fact that the American vocalist has always been one of her main sources of inspiration and a pivotal figure for her – not just musical – history. “Dio is very important for me. The first time that I heard his voice, it was like floating. Then I was able to meet him a few times. He was very important for me. I will always remember the things he said about my voice.» In a way, Dio is always in everything that Leather does. And he will always be.

Photo Credit: (c) Rockin Ryan Richardson and Marisol Richardson

All in all, «We are the Chosen» is a very tight release, where everything flows effortlessly. No one would guess that the creative process behind it consisted in two people working from different parts of the world sending ideas back and forth. A lot of bands had to adapt to these new circumstances during the pandemic though, Leather Leone and Vinnie Tex being no exception. The album was written while Leather was at home in the US and Vinnie was in Portugal/Brazil. The whole pandemic situation didn’t make a big difference for the singer though: «My life didn’t change that much during the pandemic; I kept working with the animals, with the pit bulls…» shesays. Which lead me to reflect on how might it feel to create something during exceptional times like those, and on how much of the artifact or the creative process can become some sort of haven, a means of escapism, as well as an unconscious source of inspiration. «It does become that haven in a way», sheadmits, «and the situation is always in the back of your head. ‘Who Rules the World’ wasn’t a political song but, as I just said, I guess the situation was in the back of our heads». This is just one example of how the inspiration behind the lyrics on this record comes from the inside, which after all is just the effect of the world and circumstances around us. The lyrics here deal with Leather’s life, experiences, feelings… Delivered, not in a symbolic manner, but in a way that they can hold different meanings depending on who reads them, lyrics anyone can relate to. When discussing the topics and ideas behind some of the lyrics, Leather said «I’m not explaining ‘this is this and that is that’. Vinnie helped me with that. He’s more into the occult and stuff like that.»

After listening to this album the fact that Leather and Vinnie make a great team together is crystal clear. In fact, the guitar player was already part of Leone’s touring band, but now he’s the only member that continues with her after the major line-up change that took place not too long ago. «Vinnie was the one who kept in contact after Leather II and after the tour got cancelled. And we had a great chemistry». After all, when you’re working on something creative with someone else, chemistry is essential, as well as sharing a similar vision. On this, Leather adds: «As I mentioned, we share this love for the ‘80s but at the same time we want to do something that it’s more up to date. We share the same musical vision». Even if the good chemistry and common goals among them two might not come as a surprise to anyone, a bit more shocking can feel the fact that they chose Poland [Hertz Studio] to record the album. Even if Leather jokingly says she doesn’t know why they recorded in Poland with a laugh, there are several reasons why they’d go back to record at Hertz Studio, a place that isn’t new to them, since “Vinnie had recorded there with his other extreme metal bands and he recommended it to me. We went there for the previous album and they treated me amazingly. And you’re in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes recording in some places can be kind of claustrophobic. And the result was great. They’ve been doing this for many years. They have such knowledge and love of metal”. A place “in the middle of nowhere” can sound limiting, but the vocalist makes it sound more like a place of comfort and focus. In her own words, the studio is “in the middle of nowhere but I felt very comfortable. You’re in the middle of the mountains, so you work a lot.”

Photo Credit: (c) Rockin Ryan Richardson and Marisol Richardson

You just need to talk some minutes to her to notice that Leather Leone exudes passion for her music. She exudes confidence for her present and excitement for her future. She’s willing to try new things and to stay up to date. Even if she’s not trying to live in the past nor is she doing it out of nostalgia, we can’t overlook she has a prolific career to her name. One of her – if not the first – metal bands was Rude Girl, a self-descriptive name, and a very powerful one (note it was a new thrash metal band formed by young women back in the ‘80s). Were Rude Girl actually rude girls? Leather firmly believes so. As she puts it, “We were rude girls. It was a very sexual period; everybody dressed sexy. We were tomboys in jeans and boots. The shows were badass; people used to throw shit at us. It was a great training ground for me. Yes, it was a very powerful name. We were tough girls”. Tough girls in a male-dominated scene that pretty much consisted – both crowd and bands – of a bunch of dudes and their dude buddies. Keep in mind that these women were in the early stages of their career in San Francisco at the same time as Metallica, Megadeth or Testament before they were all signed, an environment that can be hostile. Leather describes those early days with one adjective: “Incredible”. She has some “fun” stories to share from those times too. “I’ve had beer cans thrown at me, shoes… It was brutal. But I loved it. I’ve never been afraid of anything. Those days gave me good training for the future.” Beer cans and shoes didn’t stop these tough girls. They even opened for some of the big men, such as Exodus or Megadeth, which Leather recalls with a smile in her face while she admits that “the bands always treated us great, who threw shit at us were the crowds. I remember that I was very excited. It was great. Everything was very passionate and everyone helped each other in San Francisco. The scene was amazing. In LA, it was a bit different. LA was for the beautiful people. Now the scene has changed. There’s a lot of competition. It’s because there are a lot of bands. Well, it’s because the industry has changed, so the scene also changes. It’s different.”

If we can’t overlook her back catalogue, we can’t overlook Chastain, probably the band she’s best known for, or the band that made us know about her in the first place. Anyway, the band folded at some point even if it wasn’t a specific reason. “Chastain was great,” she states, “but I guess we all ended a little bit tired. I also learned that David had declined some live offers and I wanted to play. Chastain was his vision. It was his band, not mine… We all got tired at some point”. It was then when Leather kind of disappeared from the music world for aorund 20 years. Not with music endeavors, but she kept herself busy since “it was then when I met my first pit bull. Then I dedicated myself fully to the animals. I’m still working with the animals. My life is animals and music. I’m very lucky I’m able to dedicate to both things and to be able to combine them. During all those years where I was away I was also listening to a lot of new music.”

And then, when we less expected it she was back. And with Sandy Sledge, an old friend and colleague in both Malibu Barbi and Rude Girl. The two Rude Girl former members launched The Sledge/Leather Project together. They had never lost contact and when they went into the studio to try work on something, they realized that the chemistry was still there. They had a story together and they still had a lot to say, so exciting moments were coming. About the comeback and making of that record, Leather says: “It was pretty much talking with Sandy and getting on contact with the people from the team of Dio, like Jimmy Bain before he passed, Dio’s manager… From there everything kept rolling”. Since then, Leather has never left again. She was here to stay.

A prolific career in heavy metal, always remaining underground though. Not just in fame terms but in spirit as well. In fact, even though she was well-known in the ‘80s American heavy and thrash metal scene, she has never gotten to be Hetfield or Araya. She gets asked this a lot and she thinks that “it’s a great question. I think it’s everything; you got to surround yourself of a good team: managers, publicists… Everything. It has nothing to do with talent. While on tour, I’ve met people with a lot of talent that haven’t gotten known. It’s being in the right place in the right moment. And you have to be surrounded by a lot of people, almost like a village. You know, success is being well-known and making a living out of music”. That’s a very interesting topic to touch. What’s success? How can you measure it? Isn’t success doing what you want without compromising instead of the Western capitalist notion of measuring how successful you are by how productive you are –  how many records or tickets you sell or as a whole, how much of a paid job your passion is? Isn’t success being who you truly are? “That’s true. That’s my lesson of the day. Success is being who you truly are. I can’t be someone who I’m not. I’ve been offered things, such as wearing a military suit, kinda like Janet Jackson, and I’ve said no. I’ve declined stuff. If I wore a bustier, it wouldn’t be me. It would be a joke. But I guess people associate success to being very well-known and living of this. To play shows in big arenas. But yes, the lesson of the day is that; success is to be who you are. I’m successful! I’ve never compromised”.

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