Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins - Mike LePond

They say that bass players have to do more to get some of the attention the singer or the guitarist are getting. And this is why you’ll see bassists headbanging like crazy and be at the frontline during shows. And then, there is a different breed that shies away from the spotlight, letting their playing do the rest (and more than that). Mike LePond is a greatly underrated musician who is not only a master of the 4- / 8-string bass, but he is also an amazing songwriter. The third MIKE LEPOND’S SILENT ASSASSINS (this is a mouthful by the way) album comes to prove this, bringing more depth and more band-references on the table. METAL KAOZ had the delight to chat with Mike and see what else his constantly music-making mind has in store for us. Check our discussion out below.

Hello Mike and welcome back to METAL KAOZ.
How are you doing, Dimitris? It’s good to be back!

I’m good, thank you. How are you?
I’m doing ok, thank you very much.

Before starting talking about the good stuff, how is the musician’s life without touring?
Well, it’s very tough - I can tell you my own personal experience. I had a tour planned with Ross in Europe for April and that got postponed, and then I had a US tour planned with SYMPHONY X for May and that got postponed. So, you know, financially it hit me very hard. So, what I’ve been doing is trying to give lessons just through video chats and it’s helping a little bit but without that touring it’s like a punch in the face. Now, there’s a good side to everything; I’m home a lot more, I was able to write a lot of songs so I try to see the good in everything.

Do you have the fourth SILENT ASSASSINS album almost ready?
Well, I’ve got to be honest with you; I was able to write every song for a fourth album because of this virus. So, when things get up and running, I’ll start preparing that.

And with that being said, I have to ask; just looking at the band’s backcatalogue, between the first and the second album, there is almost four years, and between the second and the third, two years, and now it’s a different situation. So you seem to be in a writing music streak, you helped a lot on the ROSS THE BOSS album, so what’s going on with you?
(laughs) Yeah, you know, I’ve been very, very busy in the last few years and I think each band has its own story. You know, as far as SILENT ASSASSINS, there’s a four year between the first and second, and then a two-year gap between the second and third – I think that was basically because of SYMPHONY X’s schedule. SYMPHONY X weren’t doing much, so Michael Romeo helped me with the recordings, so that was that. With Ross, for some reason the record company wanted another album fairly quickly after “By Blood Sworn”, so I helped Ross write the songs, contribute a few songs on my own, and a couple of other releases. I had the DEAD REASON album that came out in March and there I was more an arranger – all these things just kind of popped up. I’ll probably be in a few more releases in this year, so look out for that (laughs).

You mean, songwriting-wise or just for arrangements and stuff like that?
I’m in another band with Ross called DEATH DEALER with Sean Peck. That album I recorded all the bass for, and that should be coming out this year at some point. And then there’s another band from the East Coast called EVERDAWN, female-fronted, and that should be coming out this year too. So, I love keeping busy, I love working with musicians. I think it makes me a better player and a better writer and actually it’s true, you’re right; I’ve been on this writing streak and just write it out.

And we love that, man! This question is kind of a rhetoric one, but did you write everything on the album?
Yes, sir; I wrote all the music and the lyrics and all the vocals melodies as well. So, for me, it’s like I get to relive my youth when I do these SILENT ASSASSINS records, because I grew up with all the great 1980 Heavy Metal bands – it just makes me feel like I’m back in high school, it’s a really great therapy for me.

Wow! Alan didn’t provide any feedback vocalwise?
I’ll explain how we usually do it; what I usually do is, I give Alan the demo of the song with me singing the song. Now, I have the worst voice in the world, so Alan probably doesn’t know what do with it (laughs) but what he does is, he takes my ideas and then he makes them sound good. So, in reality, Alan does put his power into it and imagination into it.

Because I thought Mike is such a bad person and wants to do everything on his own (laughs)!
No, I need Alan very badly to fix all my crap (laughs).

So, you mentioned Michael Romeo who programmed the drums, right?
Yeah, Michael programs the drums; he records me and he records Alan and he records whoever else I have playing on the record and he also will do all the keyboards, orchestration, so I don’t mind waiting for him to be free to do a record. He helps me a great, great deal.

That sounds fair; you’re helping him with SYMPHONY X and it seems you’re in a very good place with him, great cooperation. And he did play the mandolin, correct?
Yes, he did because I could never play the mandolin (laughs).

Well, I think its strings may not go well with you. Speaking of the mandolin, you have that on “Night Of The Long Knives”, right?
Yes, there’s another side of me besides my love for Heavy Metal; I would say maybe about 15 years ago I started listening to BLACKMORE’S NIGHT and then I started to listen to a lot of Medieval / Renaissance / Celtic kind of music, and I really enjoy it. Many songs that I write, some of that come through, like in “Night Of The Long Knives”. It’s basically like almost a Celtic Rock song.

Although I had another question planned for you about “Champion”, and here I had a note that says "ask him about Ritchie Blackmore and BLACKMORE’S NIGHT". So, that’s awesome, because that song with the flute and with Sarah from MINDMAZE has that feeling that you mentioned.
Yeah, I think it is like how that came about. Originally, I gave that song to Alan and then he’s the one who said “you know what, Mike? I think the song might be better if a female was singing it”. So, I knew Sarah and she actually plays the flute, so I was like “hey, do you wanna play some flute here?” and it gave me some type of BLACKMORE’S NIGHT feel – I’d say BLACKMORE’S NIGHT mixed with from “Courage” from MANOWAR.

That's a good one! But let’s go back to “Night Of The Long Knives”, only because I was intrigued by the title and I said “hey, let’s do a google search”. And the first thing that popped up was back in Nazi Germany and Hitler, and then I started hearing the lyrics, and I said “hmm, that doesn’t sound right”. And the Irish flair doesn’t make sense at all with all that, so what are the lyrics talking about?
(laughs) Well, that’s a funny story because that would be my first thought, you know, of the Nazi Germany. One day I was watching a history show on TV and they were talking about the Night Of The Long Knives but then they said there was an earlier Night Of The Long Knives from the Dark Ages. And I watched what that was about and then I researched it and as it turns out it was around it was around 400 and there were those barbarian tribes from England and one wanted to make peace with the other but it was a fake and they killed the other tribe. And that really impressed me and inspired me to write it and since it happened in England, I thought maybe it might be cool to have that Celtic kind of feel to it.

Right; although that story is unfortunately not something new – we have seen that situation happening throughout history.
Yeah, you know, history repeats itself over and over and over, and that’s one of the most interesting things about history that I’ve learned throughout the years.

Absolutely. Although one downside of these days that we’re living, because people have such short interest span, they call it like the one of a goldfish, they tend to forget so quickly. There’s a quote in the album press release of you saying that “people should learn from history”; do you think, that nowadays people can learn from history? It seems that they don’t.
Unfortunately, I agree with you 100%; people’s attention span is so short and they are not really interested in anything – they’re just consumed by social media and all this information going on and I don’t think they’ll learn from history. And that’s a shame because then it will repeat itself as we know.

And I guess the cycle will get shorter; we’ll see repetitions more frequently than what we used to see.
That’s very possible, yes.

Anyhow, “Ironborn” is another SILENT ASSASSINS song that I think may be the heaviest one.
Yeah, it’s definitely up there; definitely more of like a Thrash kind of song with really epic kind of chorus. I wanted to write it like a Thrash song with a chorus that was really triumphal and big and grand. I’ve watched a little bit of “Game Of Thrones” and that kind of inspired me; I saw these people called the Ironborn who were kind of like Vikings, so the whole thing just inspired me. About a week or two later I had this song and I was proud of it because this song kind of moves in different directions and kind of does a lot of cool things. I have a lot of good response on it.

While I was listening to it, I thought “hmm, how come Ross The Boss didn’t steal that”? (laughs)
(laughs) You know, I’d love to have written that song for Ross. It’s funny because there are a lot of SILENT ASSASSINS songs that I had for a while that I let Ross hear and I was like “hey Ross, if you like any of these songs, feel free to let me know and we could make them one of yours” but it just nothing happened, so I just took them.

Ok, then I guess we should call you like a “song-buffet” (laughs)
(laughs) I’m the song fairy (laughs).

Then, you have “Power Of Steel” that has an almost AC/DC-“Hard As A Rock” vibe; or is it my ears playing games?
It’s very possible. I mean, and I’m getting back to Ross, I really wrote that for Ross because this sounds like a kind of MANOWAR anthem but never made it on to that record, so I just used it. I haven’t listened to that song in a while but I’m gonna go back and listen to that – who knows? Sometimes you hear songs and they just kind of come out and then people would say “that kind of sounds like that” and I’m like “oh man!” (laughs).

But I’m not saying this in a negative way; only musicians who are still fans have such things happening to them without doing that intentionally. Like you said, a certain melody that has been stuck with you for decades maybe, then it’s out, and that makes absolutely sense.
That was probably the first song in any SILENT ASSASSINS record that didn’t have some sort of historical or literature to it. It was just a song that I just kind of put some cheesy Metal lyrics together – just for a fun song, so it is what it is, you know.

So, what about the album’s cover artwork? This is connected to the whore of Babylon, correct?
Yes, I talked to my artist and I said “I want the album to be called “Whore Of Babylon” and we tried a few different things because I didn’t want a fantasy cover art album because I think everybody does that. I wanted something different. So, she had a really kind of thing about it and in the end we came out with that. It’s kind of more like ‘80s-looking album cover but I was happy with it and I was happy with the overall colors, and I think it came out pretty good.

And I think you’re using the same color pattern with the previous one. The colors are kind of in the darker side.
Well, it’s the same artist, so it could be.

That’s fine; I mean, consistency is a good thing to have. This next question comes from personal interest because I love how the 8-string bass sounds. But before moving forward with this, I want to tell you: your bass playing on “Bridge Of Death” and “Dark Avenger” is unbelievable! You’re nailing these songs!
Oh, thank you! I’ve been playing those MANOWAR songs on the 8-string – at first it was kind of a challenge because, you know, Joey plays with a pick and I just have my hands, so I did the best I could. And I have to be honest about it; I was very nervous about how the fans would react because Joey is their hero, but I have to admit I’ve got very good reactions and I always do. I’m very happy because I love Joey’s playing very much, I’m very influenced by it. And to have MANOWAR super fans tell me that I did a great job, it really means a lot to me.

I mean, I’ve never heard “Bridge Of Death” live from MANOWAR, and the first time I did with ROSS THE BOSS I almost cried but don’t say that out loud (laughs).
(laughs) Ok, I won’t.

So, my question was did you use the 8-string bass on “Champion”? Or on what songs did you use it?
Good question; well, you know, once I started using it with Ross, I was like “this thing sounds awesome!”, so I used it in the beginning of the “Tell Tale Heart”. You’ll hear it – it’s a real big, fat-sounding bass. And then in the title track I had to basses going; I had the 4-string and the 8-string.

Good luck with that playing it live!
(laughs) Yeah, you’re right! I should have thought of that!

But yeah, it fits the sound and I think you own that, I mean, the sound comes absolutely fantastic!
Thank you, Dimitris.

Considering the current situation, with the quarantine and all that stuff, what are your plans to promote the album?
Silver Lining, the label that it’s going to come out from, has been so amazing – I’ve never been treated better in my life. They’re helping me with all the social media, which is great because they’re so good at it, they’re giving me good instructions and just to make personal videos and all that stuff to promote the new album. So, we’re gonna release all together three lyric videos, put the album out after that, and then I’d like to get on the road. Unfortunately the SILENT ASSASSINS have never done a tour. There was one time when we actually did a show in the New York area, and it was really phenomenal; we had a great, great time, we had the place packed and it was really a magical night, and I’d love to take that on the road and open for a cool band that brings a lot of people that we can get our music out there too.

Open for SYMPHONY X, for example.
Woah, that’s a lot of work (laughs). How about HAMMERFALL or something like that?

That would be really cool. I mean, you’d have to have a band that’s kind of connected with SILENT ASSASSINS’ sound. So, yeah. Now, I was looking at the three albums, so you have three record labels for the three albums.
Silver Lining was under another name for the first album and they actually released it in Europe, the very first one. The second came out on Frontiers.

So, my question is; do you have the rights to re-release those albums maybe on vinyl?
Definitely the first one, for sure. Frontiers did release some vinyl on that second one. I think we could probably get the rights to do it, I believe so.

That would be awesome. What about “Whore Of Babylon”? Will it go out as vinyl too?
Right now there is no plan for it, but I think if the album does well, I think for sure they’ll do a run on vinyl.

Please do that! As we wrap this up, what is the latest update on the new SYMPHONY X album?
We have, by contract, one more record to do with Nuclear Blast and we’ve talked to Nuclear Blast over the last six months and we told them that we wanna do it, so basically after the virus stuff goes away, we’re gonna start working on the new album.

So, the US tour that was postponed didn’t have any album connection to it, right?
No, that was just gonna be like a greatest hits tour.

So, is there anything else that you have in store for us?
No, I mean the SILENT ASSASSINS record will come out on June 26th, DEADRISEN came out on March 06th, and ROSS THE BOSS came out on March 13th and later in the year you’re gonna have at some point a release called EVERDAWN and then of course the DEATH DEALER release.

Oh my, that’s a full Mike LePond year!
Yeah (laughs)! I love every minute of it! I love being involved in Heavy Metal all day long.

It sounds like it.
I thank you very much for the interview and I hope we could talk again soon.

Absolutely Mike! Stay safe and let’s put a pin on that we’ll see each other on the next ROSS THE BOSS / DEATH DEALER / SYMPHONY X / SILENT ASSASSINS show. Cheers!