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18 Apr 2016

Virgin Steele

In the aftermath of the latest “Nocturnes of Hellfire and Damnation” and Virgin Steele’s headlining show at the Up The Hammers Festival, we meet David DeFeis on the hotel where he is staying in Athens, Greece for yet another interesting interview. DeFeis talks –among other things- about Virgin Steele’s last album and comments on the negative feedback from the press regarding the production of “Nocturnes…”. Interview: Sakis Nikas / Camera: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: “Nocturnes Of Hellfire and Damnation”…an epic title, for sure. How do you feel about the album? Are you happy with what you achieved this time around?

David DeFeis: Yes, actually it’s one of those rare occasions that I am pretty happy; probably on that record I am mostly happy of how it turned out. Of course with every record it’s the same… you think “Oh no, if I could have a little more time etc.” but the way it turned out I think it’s the closest with what I had in my head.

Rockpages.gr: The album was supposed to be called “Hymns To Damnation” but it changed…

David DeFeis: Yeah, I started thinking that people might think that it’s something like “Hymns To Victory” which was a compilation album and that was the last thing that I wanted people to think...that the new album was an old record redone or something. So I said “let’s stretch the title a little bit”.

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Rockpages.gr: Do you think that the music is a dynamic entity and it changes as time passes by?

David DeFeis: Absolutely! It always changes…it’s a very fluent, very living thing like the flame or the fire you know…you can’t sit and pretend that you are the same person with the same goals and desires as you were when you were 20 years old or something. Different things are important to you and let the music reflect what you are at the time. And this record is a very good testament of where the band or where I am personally right now at this particular moment in time.   

Rockpages.gr: You have reworked a couple of Exorcist songs (“Queen of the Dead”, “Black Mass”); something that you had done, also, in the past. Why did you feel the need to do it?

David DeFeis: Cause when we did the Exorcist album we always thought with Edward (Pursino) how it would be if we kept these songs for the next Virgin Steele record. “Age of Consent” would have been that record…the album would have been something in between “Noble Savage” and “Age of Consent”. So, we would periodically go back and jam on those tracks and one day we said: “this sounds pretty good…let’s do something with it”. So, we revisited a couple of songs; added a few bits here and there…“Black Mass” became “Black Sun-Black Mass”…we are very very happy with it.  

Rockpages.gr: I am glad that I see you being more comfortable with the Exorcist record because it has been in the shadows for many years and now it gets rereleased.

David DeFeis: Right! Sometime around May, I believe…

Rockpages.gr: With the “Marriage…” albums and “Invictus”, you started talking about the relationship between the humans and Gods. Do you think that we are really free or are we controlled by a higher power like Aeschylus believes?

David DeFeis: Oh…that’s a good question! Sometimes I think it’s the one way and sometimes the other way…I tend to think that we are free but we also make the worst possible choices (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: Do you think that we can change our fate?

David DeFeis: I think we can. It takes a lot of inner strength but it is possible.

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Rockpages.gr: I was pleasantly surprised to see a more bluesy approach quite similar to “Life Among The Ruins”. How come you decided to record a blues-based album?

David DeFeis: This is something very dear to my heart. My voice suits very well with that sound…I grew up with that music…Led Zeppelin and the artists that they loved like Muddy Waters. So I just said that this time I will do whatever I really want to do. If nobody likes it, I don’t care. This is who I am right now and this is how I feel. I love the sexuality and the sensuality of the songs and again…this is a reflection of where I am right now.

Rockpages.gr: Talking about “Life Among The Ruins”, this was the last non concept Virgin Steele album. Do you feel more comfortable as a composer to write with a specific idea or concept in your mind?

David DeFeis: My mind works that way. Even if it’s not a concept album per se, there is always an overriding feeling like for instance in “Nocturnes…” where I talk about the interactions and dynamics of the relationships. Even though not necessarily every song is expressed that way but it is largely in the same lines. You see my frame works like that…when I write a certain song I am instantly for or against that idea…it’s like a snowball. This kind of album grows almost organically in me.

Rockpages.gr: On this album you co-wrote a song called “We Disappear” with Josh (Block) for the very first time. You have a reputation of writing strictly on your own or at best collaborating just with Edward. How did it feel to be writing a song with Josh after all these years?

David DeFeis: I am very happy with the song and for the beautiful working relationship that I have with Josh all these years. He is been in the band for almost 17 years now…he was just a young kid when he first joined the band and took him on a tour. He is a wonderful human being and a great person. As for the song…the time was right. He had this idea; this riff…he came at my house and I played some parts, put them all together and it became a very magical track. I didn’t write as much this time with Edward but he is content with what I do and this is very nice of him as we have a very cool working relationship all those years.   

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Rockpages.gr: Speaking of surprises on the new album, it was great to see Lynn Delmato’s name as a co-writer on “Funeral Games”. You collaborated with her on the “Carnival of Souls” project.

David DeFeis: Exactly.

Rockpages.gr: How did you end up working with her on “Nocturnes…”?

David DeFeis: She is a dear friend of mine. She’s actually been on the road with us…she did a South American Tour playing keyboards with us. In addition with the Carnival of Souls thing, she and I are doing…I would not call it an acoustic project but just piano and vocal; it’s a stripped down production…doing covers and rearranged versions of Virgin Steele songs; we are actually playing “Invictus” like that…a lot of “The Black Light Bacchanalia” stuff. So one day she was sitting on the piano and she showed me that idea that she had; I started singing and it became a wonderful song.

Rockpages.gr: I don’t know if you had read reviews or listened to what people said about the new album but there were some negative comments regarding the production. Were you satisfied with the production of “Nocturnes…”?

David DeFeis: You always want more time…it could have been another week, another month you know…but then you have to turn the record in to the label. I would have liked to have more time but I was pretty happy with it. I mean what do they want? Some people will complain about the snare drum sound or whatever…that’s all bullshit. At the end of the day it’s all about the songs. I listen to some people saying about some albums that it is the best thing in the world. And maybe sonically could be excellent but if it has no content it doesn’t really matter. I don’t give a shit about that…I listen to those blues records which were recorded on a porch with just one microphone and what counts is the emotion…that’s what we are trying to do. It’s the song that matters and the emotion that you are trying to capture with the song. I wanted the record to sound kinda live, kinda raw like Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti”…that kind of vibe.

Rockpages.gr: Do you think it’s unfair from the fans to ask for their favorite artist, after all these years, to remain the same as he was in his 20s or 30s?

David DeFeis: I think it’s unrealistic and it’s dishonest if I said: “Yeah, I’m gonna do that”. You can’t be a real artist…you gotta grow. You can’t pretend that it’s 1985.

Rockpages.gr: But let’s say that Led Zeppelin were about to reunite and record an album. Would you like to see them play like they used to in the late 60s or 70s?

David DeFeis: No, I want them to have the same feeling; the emotion of those songs. Plant is still going and Plant is not pretending that he is still 25 years old. He is just doing whatever makes him happy. I love every sound his voice makes from the first album up to now. It’s all beautiful.

Rockpages.gr: Have you thought that 2016 marks the 35th anniversary of Virgin Steele?

David DeFeis: Something like that…yeah.

Rockpages.gr: Any plans of celebrating this special occasion?

David DeFeis: I will drink a lot of wine (laughs)! I think we should do something. We always miss all these celebrations…the 20th or 25th anniversary etc. I never think of that kind of things and so other people bring those things up to my attention.

Rockpages.gr: Lots of artists tend to write their own autobiographies. Has it crossed your mind to write your own?

David DeFeis: I would love to do that; it’s just a matter of finding the time. I don’t want someone else to write it because I do remember it (laughs)!

Rockpages.gr: My last question: if you had the luxury of putting on a time capsule for the generations to come just one Virgin Steele song that represents the spirit of the band, which one would that be?

David DeFeis: That’s tough…it’s a really hard question because there are so many songs…but if I am looking at everything I might say “Emalaith”…it’s a dear one. I also love “Adorned With The Rising Cobra” with that unique middle section. But these days, I love the new album as much as I love “Noble Savage”. It captures what’s going on in my life at this particular moment.

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