Mike LePond's SILENT ASSASSINS have released an equally awesome album with their debut, and METAL KAOZ had the chance to get Mike LePond on Skype to learn everything about the making of “Pawn And Prophecy” but also about SYMPHONY X, ROSS THE BOSS and, last but not least, about THEM. Check this interesting chat below.
Hello Mike and welcome to METAL KAOZ. How are you?
I am doing fine, thank you.
So, let’s dig into my questions, shall we?
First of all, how long did you work on “Pawn And Prophecy”?
It probably took around two years to write and record the album. This album took a long time because the title track was so long and, you know, it took so much time to make it exactly the way I wanted it to be.
The reason for my asking is because when you released the first one did you have in mind that a second one would follow or was it something testing the waters?
It was the second thing. I mean, I wanted to test the waters first. With the debut album, and after playing with SYMPHONY X, I did not know how the fans would react to just a classic Heavy Metal album. So, I put it out and I was actually very happy because the SYMPHONY X fans really liked it and in the press it got many great reviews. It did not sell a lot of copies but that was ok because I was proud of it and enough people liked things that made me wanna do a second one.
I don’t think the record sales are the hottest thing in Metal, right?
(laughs) That is correct.
And that album led you to Frontiers Records…
I released the first album by myself except for Europe where I worked with UDR and this company went out of business so for the second album, I worked with SYMPHONY X management and we got hooked up with Frontiers. This made my very excited to see where this will go.
Are there any thoughts or plans to re-release the debut via Frontiers Records and maybe get it on vinyl too?
If Frontiers is willing to do that, I would love it. It would be if they release it in all the formats, but they have not talked to me about it yet. Maybe they want to see how this album will do and then consider something like this.
Let’s talk about the album itself; you said that you started working with the title track…
I had been working on the title track throughout the whole time. Since it was so long, I had to work on it a little at a time. What I did in the beginning was going back to the unfinished material I had from the debut album, updated them and finished them off. Then, I wrote some brand new songs, like the opening track, “Masters Of The Hall”, that was written within this 2-year period and of course the long one.
When did you decide that the title track had to become this long? Was it because of the Shakespearean theme?
Well, the song is based on “Macbeth” and I wanted to have enough parts to tell the story in a proper way. I did not know how long it would turn out to be until I had actually finished it. I had this idea for well over ten years and, in fact, I had tried to get SYMPHONY X to do this but it just never happened. I mean, the offer was on the table and then we would work on something else, so I finally decided to do it myself. I basically wanted to make the song interesting but too long. The biggest challenge with this one was to not make the listener get bored, so I made the song going in all different directions with different styles and feels. I even put a Blues part in just to lighten up the feel because the song is so serious. What I also did was make some of the riffs and themes to come back from time to time so that the listener can remember and at the end have a big climactic ending on a happy note.
I am smiling right now hearing your answer because my planned followup question was about that Blues part and how did this type of music relates to the Macbeth’s story, but you have already explained this…
(laughs) Right, there are two parts where Macbeth meets these three female witches, so the first time in the beginning of the song it is very dark so then I thought; “he is going to meet them for a second time so what about the second time these witches would be some sort of sexy dancers and are dancing to Blues”. Like I said, the song is so serious that I wanted to add something to lighten up the mood a little bit.
You have to admit that you did this because you wanted to do justice to those wonderful singers you have for that part and not have play only the witches…
(laughs) Yeah, you may be right...
I am joking, of course. Speaking about the same track and the bass intro in particular, I think I hear some “Bridge Of Death” kind of bassline there, so I was wondering if you did that on purpose.
Joey DeMaio is one of my favorite bass players, so many things I do definitely are influenced by his playing. Especially what he does with the 8-string bass and the nice melodies that he plays. So, you are exactly right, there is a “Bridge Of Death” feel there.
And I think you used an 8-string bass on this album, right?
Yes, I did. I always wanted an 8-string bass because of Joe and there is an interesting story there. I was looking for 8-string basses and I noticed that John Gallagher from RAVEN plays one, so I decided just to write to him and see if he can help me. Apparently, he has a signature John Gallagher bass that I could buy and it is exactly like the one he plays with RAVEN. I thought that was awesome, so I went ahead and bought one. This was the first time I played an 8-string bass in an album and it was really cool. For the song “I Am The Bull”, I used a 4 and an 8-string bass.
It will be extremely interesting to play this live on stage…
(laughs) If I can do that, then I will probably deserve some sort of an award.
That song has a fuller of bigger sound because of that, I guess. If those terms are valid…
Yeah, because the way the an 8-string is set up; when you put your finger down, you are actually hitting two strings at once and this creates a big full sound. I think it came really good for that song and speaking about MANOWAR I just played bass for ROSS THE BOSS’s new record and I used the 8-string bass, so hopefully Joe won’t get mad (laughs).
I don’t think so, after all MANOWAR have call it a day, so I am sure it will be fine. And we will see you on stage with ROSS THE BOSS here in Chicago this March. So, would it be a good idea to bring SILENT ASSASSINS on this tour?
I thought about it and it might be a cool idea but I have to see what members I could get. I definitely want to play live and this is my big regret when the first album came out. We did not play any shows and once it had been released I went on to record “The Underworld” with SYMPHONY X and when that album was released we went on tour and before I knew it was like two years later.
Time flies when you’re touring…
Exactly, this time around I want to definitely figure out some shows.
Yes, that would be awesome. Going back to the album and speaking about specific songs, I was intrigued by “The Mulberry Tree” where I think there is some Ritchie Blackmore feeling, especially of his latest works with the Medieval themes.
You are exactly right. I’d say since 2002 I’ve become very much influenced by Ritchie Blackmore. I really love what he has been doing with BLACKMORE’S NIGHT and I have become a fan of the band. And then, what I started doing is listen to Blackmore’s parts and try to play it on the bass. It started to sound really cool, so I went on writing songs in that kind of style as well. I always wanted to write a BLACKMORE’S NIGHT Folk kind of song and I gave it try. The lyrics for this song are from Roman mythology and the story about Pyramus and Thisbe; it is like a tragedy and it was fun to do. Even in the first album, you can hear part with some BLACKMORE’S NIGHT feeling going on.
I am not sure if this is because of my Greek-oriented ears but in both albums I think I got some Greek music-sounding parts there…
Yeah, it is that Greek scale that you hear; ever since I joined SYMPHONY X, I have been intrigued by scales from that part of the world, so they have definitely influenced me. So, you are definitely correct with your comment.
There are some interesting guest singers in the title track, so when did the song ask for additional voices?
There parts in the story where females play an important role and I was struggling with the idea of contacting with some singers and then I decided it would be a cool thing to do. So, throughout my touring life with SYMPHONY X, I have met these girls on the road and with some I have worked on some of their songs or albums. So, when the time came and I needed a witch, Phyllis Rutter, whom I knew from working with her in EYNOMIA, she was more than happy to help me. Speaking of Greece, I hired a Greek singer named Andry Lagiou and then I hired Noa Gruman from Israel. What I really like with these European singers is their accent because they sound so cool. And of course, I worked with Veronica Freeman who is really popular here in the States and she has a gritty voice, so I chose her to do Lady Macbeth. It was very tough to work with everybody’s schedule but I am glad that I did it and I think it gave the song some more colour.
It certainly did. Did you write all the vocal melodies?
I wrote all the vocal melodies. I would sing the parts and then, send them to the singers. But you know, they sung in their own way and, you know, if they wanted to leave out a word or change a few things it was fine. They did a really good job and I am really happy.
As you said, you had been proposing this song idea for a SYMPHONY X album without finally doing it but I think you did it on purpose and have the two Michaels [Romeo and Pinnella] as guests, so in the end, you got what you wanted, right? (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah... Since I wanted to do a 20-minute song, I thought it would be great to have both Michael Romeo and Michael Pinnela on this because they are famous for writing that kind of stuff. Michael Romeo did a lot of orchestration for me, played lead guitar, and Michael Pinnela played piano and he also played in the Blues part.
Speaking of SYMPHONY X, is there any update on the making of a new album?
Last year, SYMPHONY X did not do anything. Michael Romeo was working on a solo album and Russell [Allen] was touring with some other bands. Michael has finished his solo album, so we were talking about next month [February, 2018] getting together and start working on songs for a new album, so if we do that, we should be able to get a new LP out either by the end of this year or early next year.
Great! You are also involved with THEM and, by the way, I love “Sweet Hollow”. Are there any news regarding THEM?
Well, I’ve got some news; last year THEM were touring but I could not play live with them because Ross had so many dates booked so I was not available. Two weeks ago, I got a call from Troy [Norr], the singer of THEM, and he asked me if I could record the second album. And I said yes. On February 06th and 07th I will be recording bass for the next THEM album and it sounds so good!
Awesome news! You are almost all over the place, so how do you consider SILENT ASSASSINS; is it a project or a full time band?
Well, my goal for SILENT ASSASSINS is this; when SYMPHONY X finish the tour, I will go out with SILENT ASSASSINS. I basically want to keep working between the two bands.
And that was my last of the questions I had prepared, Mike, unless there is something you'd like to mention.
I just want to say to the METAL KAOZ audience and to those you have been following my career all these years, thank you very much! I am very appreciative and I hope you like the new SILENT ASSASSINS album.