Each time I have the pleasure to talk with VIRGIN STEELE’s mastermind David DeFeis, I find it extremely challenging to keep the discussion inside the boundaries defined by the set of questions I have prepared. And the reason for this, is how busy David is and the boatload of news he is eager to share each and every time, so even though I feel well-prepared, I find myself bombarded by all the things he has in the oven (spoiler alert), and I end up throwing my questions out of the window. But that doesn't matter as the things VIRGIN STEELE have in store are more than enough to get your excited. Care to find out? Read on!
Hello, this is Dimitris from METAL KAOZ, calling for David.
Hi Dimitris, this is David speaking. Good morning!
Good morning to you too, how’s the weather in New York?
Very hot at the moment.
Well, here it is raining cats and dogs.
This is the end of the world... (laughs)
No, we have a lot to discuss… (laughs). And one of those subjects is the release of the two VIRGIN STEELE albums. First of all, how much work did you put on these?
Quite a bit of work; there is always work when you do any kind of reissues. There is the remastering of the original songs and then there is all the bonus material; and you have to go through a lot to choose what to use. I had a list for 30 different pieces of music to choose from, and I had to reduce that to what would fit because I did not want to do an extra bonus disc. I want this to fit into the original recording something I was lucky to be able to do.
You said that you did the remastering, does this mean that you have the original tapes?
Of course, I have everything.
Great! I know that you like to work a lot so did you put some kind of limitations upon yourself to sort of plan how much time you will invest on this?
I never put limits on anything. I tried to max it out to the best of my ability. But you know, you are satisfied to a point but if there is another or maybe two weeks I would be still working on it. And this is what I am doing right now for the other box set which will be coming out in November. So, it is endless and it never ends because there are so many possibilities, you know, I could try this or that, use this compressor, that limiter… it goes on and on. And you are always learning in the process.
Well, I was asking because those two albums were released back in the '80s and you might not want to mess with the atmosphere of the original…
You don’t mess with the atmosphere of the album and you want to maintain the integrity of the original project or whatever it was. All you are trying to do is to make it sonically a little bit more clearer or whatever along the way. But yeah, you can definitely overdo it, but I don’t think anything was overdone on that stuff. I did the remixes in some cases because the condition of the original recordings and tapes was not always the best and you have to transfer everything to digital format to work on it. Before doing so, the tapes had to be baked; I don’t know if you are familiar with that.
I have no idea what this process is.
When the tapes sit around for a while, moisture gets in and you have to put them in a convection oven which kind of cooks them (laughs) and then you can play them. Because if you play them without doing this, all the emulsion of the tape will come out in the head and you will be left with nothing. So, you have to bake it, so the surface of the tape will remain stuck and it won’t come off as you’re playing this.
Does this process wear out the tapes?
Yes, it does and this is why you have to bake them and immediately transfer them to a digital format to work. You cannot keep working with the original tapes because in the end they will fall apart. It is beautiful that you can do this because you can leave tapes sitting around for 30 years and then bake them and be able to play them again.
I guess this is due to the carbon on the tapes that absorbs moisture, right?
Cool, I learned something new today. So, the distribution of these re-releases will be done exclusively through No Remorse Records? I mean, how can we get the vinyls here in the US?
You'll have to order directly from them. It is a very limited situation. I was not seeking to put these records out again, so they approached me, made a nice offer and were nice, so I went with it. This was not in my radar to do in this moment in time when I am so busy with everything else. So yeah, it has to be ordered through them. I guess, if it goes really well - which seems to be doing already - they may get some distribution deal for the US.
Good to know. When you were working on the re-releases, what were the memories that came to mind from the days you were recording the first VIRGIN STEELE album?
I have very clear and vivid memories of us in the studio and of our time together. The band as it was then, the friendship, the going out to the clubs every night, I was always going out one or two of the guys and, you know, seeing other bands, doing shows together and all the things people do when they are in a band and you like each other. Those were great and magical days; we were so young at the time and being in the studio was a first-time experience for us. I was briefly in the studio before that but it was nothing that monumental. To sit there and think that you are able to do what the ZEPPELIN guys were doing felt very exciting. And we did it live in the studio for the most part with a few overdubs for the first album and it was just after being together as a band for three weeks and we put the whole thing together so quickly... It was a whirlwind, you know. We had rehearsed for three weeks and after that we were recording a record; it was so fast.
You know this better than me, that back in those days the recording sessions lasted some weeks because there was no budget at all to spend and you had to go in, record and get out.
Yeah, there was no real budget and we paid everything on our own, so this was exactly the deal; go in and do it as fast as we could. But you know the songs kind of led us to that sort of approach; I had the keyboards in the same room with the drums, the bass and the guitars and basically, we were in the same room all together. Sure, there was some isolation but for the most part we were looking at each other.
Were you at all tempted to re-record any of the songs?
No, we did that a little bit with the “Book Of Burning” but I did not want to go in there. Let those versions speak for themselves and be that. I am so busy with new music and other things and as I said this was not in my radar at that point in time.
Have you depleted all of your archives by putting the bonus material on the two re-releases?
No, I still have live stuff; from the ‘House Of Atreus’ tour I have almost 30 performances / concert takes so I can go through that stuff and do a whole box set if I wanted to. There are other things around as well but what we are doing now is actually putting out – I don’t know if anyone is going to understand this but I hope they will – a boxset in November. It will have the last two reissues; “The Book Of Burning” and “Hymns To Victory” and then it will have three new albums which will have new music and not shit that has sitting in the vault forever – you know – waiting for its chance to come out. It is all new stuff that I have been recording over the last few months.
The last few months you said?
Yes, so everything is very new.
I wanted to ask you about this, since I read about it in a Facebook posting; first of all, why did you choose to put out three new albums all at once?
Because we are crazy and because they are all different. We wanted to do something special because this will be a boxset. I mean, I believe that if you want to do a boxset, then you have to go deep, rare and stay off the beaten tracks, short of speak, and do different things. One of the records, will feature stripped down live sort of orchestral version of some VIRGIN STEELE songs, like “Kingdom Of The Fearless (The Destruction Of Troy)”, “The Orpheus Taboo”, “By The Hammer Of Zeus”, where the piano and the vocals were done live. For some of the tracks I went back in the studio and added some orchestrations, like maybe some cello other percussion but the initial spark of it is totally live and since some of it is stripped down piano versions you can hear me talking back and forth and also the feedback because it was loud as I was singing through a PA. We recorded this in every part of my house. And then, there are some rewritten “strange” covers like a Robert Plant track called “The Enchanter”; there is a bunch of strange stuff in there. It starts off in a total barbaric/romantic vein with “I Will Come For You” and then goes into a deep Voodoo / South with Blues stuff by the end of the record; it is really cool one. The other two records will be with normal instrumentation (guitars, base, drums); the one is called “Ghost Harvest Vintage One, Black Wine For Mourning” and the second “Ghost Harvest Vintage Two, Red Wine For Warning” and this will be the most esoteric of the two. The first one has some stuff that I recorded over the last two or three weeks; it is very fresh so we are talking about brand new VIRGIN STEELE songs with two bizarre covers. And the other record has a little bit of everything; some stripped down but not exactly acoustic versions of some things, some brand new material like this crazy ass thing called “The Triple Goddess” and it’s got a couple of weird covers that are very heavy and rewritten as well. Each of those discs is almost 80 minutes so there is a lot of material in there; I think there are 88 pieces of music in the whole thing.
Indeed, this is quite a lot. Will this make it on vinyl?
I believe SPV will do some vinyl, but right now it will first come out as a five-disc boxset and then at some moment later on it will be on vinyl, I think. The pressing plants take forever to do the vinyls because they are backed up, so the discs will be coming out first.
I cannot imagine how many vinyl records are we talking about; the five discs will turn into…
Oh forget it, it is going to be ridiculous because one 80-minute record is at least four sides and that is two vinyl records.
And you don’t want to degrade the music by cramming up the music in one vinyl…
No, you cannot do that because the needle would not be able to play it (laughs). It can only be like 20 minutes per side. In the old days, VAN HALEN record was 13-15 minutes per side and it sounded heavier and fatter because the grooves were wider. If you cut the grooves thinner the music loses all its “bottom”.
Absolutely. Is there a theme connecting the three records together?
There is a connecting thread of sorts; it might not be obvious but if you look at the lyrics you will get this. A lot of the lyrics are about personal stuff and stuff I have been gone through the years, it is a very dark. There is a track there called “Seven Dead Within” which opens the first disc that is very Bluesy or it is better to describe this as Gothic Voodoo Blues. In fact, one of the records is called “Gothic Voodoo Anthems”. Have you watched the movie “Angel Heart” with Mickey Rourke?
Yes, I have.
So, it is like living inside that guy’s head, in that movie. It is very dark and there is some kind of Voodoo shit going on.
I guess the Devil is somewhere, right?
Yeah, the whole boxset is called “Seven Devils’ Moonshine”. The full title of the “Ghost Harvest” records is: “The Spectral Vintage Sessions: Vintage One Black Wine For Mourning” that’s disc 1; that’s a mouthful but once you’ll the boxset you will understand what is going on. There is the idea of the three which is supposed to be the perfect number, like a man, a woman, a child kind of thing, and there is the idea of spirits; the spirits that you drink and of course ghosts and that kind. There is a thread that connects it all; it may not be obvious or it may be obvious, I dunno. But it’s there. It’s not a concept album like “The House Of Atreus” but there is definitely a thread.
So, will you be making any videos to promote this?
Yes; I want to do, first of all, something like a movie trailer that may be like 2-3 minutes long to kind of show a little bit about of what’s going on in the boxset and then as the weeks will go on unleash a full song here and there, for sure.
And how long have you been working on this boxset? I know it may be impossible to answer that question…
It all started sometime last year. And I thought I was done because I thought that we’re gonna issue it six months ago but then it got pushed further so every time it got pushed further, what did I do? I wrote more songs and add it to it. So now it is what it is. Originally it was gonna be one disc, then it was two discs; now it’s three.
So, I have to ask; what are your thoughts of getting VIRGIN STEELE on the road? More specifically, is there any chance to see VIRGIN STEELE in the US live?
Yes, I want to do it and it’s a matter of corralling the other guys and getting it all going. What we’re thinking about doing possibly is going out with the album that is more of a stripped down very Gothic / Heavy thing– it’s not like it’s going to be violins on stage with us, but something along those lines. I want to try this because I have done this in a few shows in New York and it worked out really well. So I’m kind of excited to at least try for a little while before going back to the usual barrage of stuff that we’re usually doing on stage.
I cannot imagine how you’ll set up a setlist right now with all the material that you have.
Well, you know, a lot of what that album is, is the setlist with us doing that stuff. And I explain this in the liner notes. We just kind of went in and recorded it in two or three days what the set will be and this is what came out. So it’s pretty true to what we do onstage.
Awesome! One last question; have you ever been approached to play an entire album live?
Oh yes, several times. We decided not to do that in any point of time. I feel like people are expecting to create a note-for-note a rendition of the album, and I’m like “just put the record on”. Because when we go out live we change stuff, some songs are longer or sometimes we make a medley of several songs to fit a lot of stuff in there, so it’s never being high in my list to do but I would never write a note and say “no, never”. You know, it could happen.
I totally agree because I like to see a band live when it’s producing new music and not just performing the old material.
Yeah, I agree; you’ve got to keep things moving forward and that’s the reason why we did what we did. There’s quite of new material to satisfy people who want that and there are a lot of people who were asking over the years for some kind of stripped down live, orchestral type of thing, and then, there are some who like weird covers we’ve done as bonus material, like the Neil Young song “Down By The River” or whatever else we did. I dunno if you know the composer George Gershwin from the 1920s era of America?
He did “Porgy And Bess”, “Rhapsody In Blue” – it’s very Jazzy, Bluesy stuff. So, there’s even a piece by him on there that I wrote songs around, so it gets very into the Blues in a hallucinogenic / lysergic way if you will. Some people might not get the more esoteric Left Hand Path tracks but hey, this is where we are at the moment. It’s real, it’s honest; we’re not trying to pretend that it’s 1985. We are doing what we are doing right now. But there is enough heavy stuff, believe me. Even though I say acoustic, there is some fucking heavy songs; we do a version of “The Black Light Bacchanalia” which is much heavier than the version we recorded for the album. What is really cool about doing stuff from that record [“The Black Light Bacchanalia”],is that when we were working on that, I never really got familiar about how I was gonna approach it vocally; now I’m living with it and I think the vocals are much better on the live version we did than on the version on the record. So, it’s really kind of neat to jump into that zone; but I digress. Anyway, I was saying that there is some ridiculously heavy stuff there; the other day, I had the guitar player Tommy Vitaly in my house and I played him that record and he flipped out, he loved it. He’s totally got it.
I’m afraid to ask, but I will; do you have anything else planned?
Yeah, absolutely, I was getting to that (laughs). So, the boxset is coming out in November and it’s gonna be like a huge weight off of my shoulders because I wanted to put that kind of stuff out for a while. So, release that, take a few days off and then I dive into what we have already started writing, recording what would be the next two albums for the next and probably the year after that; one is a full-on concept record in the Greeks “House Of Atreus” type mode. The keyboards and all the guitars are done already and I’ve started doing the vocals, and then we have to do drums and whatnot – we always used to do the drums last when we do this kind of records. And then for the other record, in lack of better words, is already a double album and probably very autumnal-sounding, dark and mysterious, so that part will come out the year after or it may all come out next year, I dunno. It’s a hell of a lot of stuff we’ve been recording all the time and what happens sometimes is I burn the guys out; I’m in the studio like every day and I’m constantly doing something. But sometimes Edward [Pursino] gets burned out and I’m doing stuff without him (laughs) and some of the tracks don’t even have a guitar – they’re just full-on orchestration – and that’s to give him a break.
[interrupting] And you’re saying to him “don’t worry, take some time off, I’ll write an album in the meantime”…
(laughs) That’s what happened! All the stuff I’m talking about – and there is stuff I didn’t use, there’s tons of material – I went crazy like two months ago and wrote like another record. And there’s a lot of material we’ve not even yet approached.
Ok, David, I’ll try to digest everything you said, it sounds amazing! I’m super-excited about the upcoming VIRGIN STEELE releases and everything you’re preparing, and hopefully we’ll see you live in Chicago, because we miss you, guys.
I think our booking agent called me yesterday and told me about a show in Chicago next year, so I think something’s in the works. Thank you, Dimitris, you rule the night!