The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world





JUNE 2014

Virgin Steele is a band like no other. Singular in vision, stunning in execution and epic in concept. They have come such a long way since I queued up to buy their 'Guardians of the Flame' album what seems like a lifetime ago. Since then the band has produced some more than memorable music and have even grander plans for the future. We caught up with singer/composer David DeFeis to talk about recent re-issues of the classic 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' trilogy with includes my personal favourite 'Invictus' and also to talk about what comes next for a band still with a lot of fire in the belly...

Mark: Thanks very much for speaking to us this morning.

David: It’s my pleasure, Mark.

Mark: It’s great to read that you’ve just re-released the classic Virgin Steele trilogy “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell I and II”, and “Invictus”, can you tell us about the reasons behind the re-releases.

David: Well, the reason is really because we signed to a new label, and the old versions of the records were no longer available, so the whole back catalogue is slowly being reissued once again. Otherwise the records wouldn’t exist, and new generations of fans wouldn’t have them, and a few people have copies that are worn out, so we’re putting everything out again, and we are going in order, so we started with “Noble Savage”, “Life Among the Ruins” and then I wanted to speed up the process, and get everything out there, so we said let’s do all three at once, and so we went for it and tried to make it as interesting as possible.

Mark: It is great to be able to revisit them, especially for myself, it had been a while since I listened to the original albums, so what’s in it for existing fans?

David: Everything’s been remastered, so the sound is somewhat different, I guess, we tried to keep the spirit and all that, but I think you’ll notice that there’s a bit more detail in the original tracks. Because when it first came out, especially “The Marriage”, I just sent the final tapes off to the record company, and they just did whatever they did to it, and then it came out, and now I can go back to the original master tapes and say “what can we do here?”, and it sounds more like it sounded when we were in the studio making the records, and I was like “wow, I forgot about that sound!” There’s more clarity I think to those tracks, so that’s one thing, the other thing is there’s quite a bit of bonus material, especially on the “Invictus” record, a whole bonus disc called “Fire Spirits”, and that’s like an extra hour’s worth of tracks. “Marriage” has one track, “Angela’s Castle” which was a recording done during the “Marriage” sessions, but never used, and “Sword of Damocles” sounds like it could have possibly been from that era, but it’s a track that was done now, it’s just kind of raw, rough and ready, and we just went with it, and it’s definitely a metal track, and there’s 2 live tracks on “Marriage 2” from that tour. We did “Life among the Ruins” and “I Wake up Screaming” they’re on there from a show in Germany. But most of the material is really on the “Fire Spirits” thing. What we were going to do was reissue the Ghost Harvest requiems that I was mentioning in some interviews a few months ago, but at the eleventh hour, I said let’s not do that, let’s save those for something else, and they’re going to actually come out in October, with other material. We did an about face, and did some acoustic recordings from the albums, there’s all sorts of things on there, I wanted to have something that had the intensity of the “Invictus” album, but in a stripped down fashion, so that’s what we went for with these live in the studio tracks, live at home stuff! I’m quite happy with that record, the “Fire Spirits”.

Mark: Yes, it came out beautifully. You mentioned briefly before that pieces of some of the songs have come out a little bit more pronounced, now, when you get the opportunity to go back through the music, are there any points where you think, I wish I’d done that a little bit differently? Or, thought, wow, I can’t believe how well that came out!

David: There’s always a bit of both! There’s always the temptation to say, when you have the opportunity to reissue something, is to say ok we’ll go back and get a remix, but we didn’t do that, that’s going to the multi-track, and now since we have the technology we can go back and maybe mix something more different, but I didn’t want to go for that, we have the original mixes that were done, it’s just the mastering is different. I wasn’t there when they did the “Marriage” records, I just sent them off, and they’re cool, those versions are fine. Now, with new technology we can get in there a bit more, it’s a bit more microscopic, we can get in and say let’s pull out that frequency and so on, but there’s always the danger that it could sound like a completely different record,  I said let’s not go there, I wanted to keep the spirit of the original mixes, but get a little more clarity around them.

Mark: Is this your favourite period? To me these three records are one of my favourite parts of the band’s history.

David: It’s among the favourites, parts of our history. I think it’s probably the start of my favourite part of the band yet. Those “Marriage” years, I was very fired up and very inspired, going back to university, I was studying music quite seriously at the time, and there was the “big bang” and that big bang had to happen then, and it’s still fuelling me now, but yeah, that was the beginning for me as a writer, it was a step up for me.

Mark: So, looking back at the whole concept of “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and “Invctus”, did it all start with the book by William Blake?

David: No, not at all, that’s a common misconception! I just had this conversation with somebody else! We had done “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, part 1, and we recorded most of those two records at the same time, the bulk of the second one was already there when we had put up part 1. We were changing drummers at that time, and the drummer we have now, Frank Gilchriest, came over to my house that night, and I gave him a copy of part 1, so he could learn some tracks and then audition. He said to me “William Blake”, and I said what you talking about, I didn’t know the poem, all I knew were the songs of innocence and the songs of experience, I didn’t know anything about that work, the epic poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, so I had to read it!! But, I had done all the writing, and maybe the only thing that was influenced by that, having read it, was Nick, Devil, Angel, everything else was already etched in stone, and done at that point in time. I was thinking of opposites, I just wanted to have this reconciliation of opposites, and I thought, what’s the most obvious thing you can try and have a union of, and it was heaven and hell, and that’s where the title came from, I was just sitting in my piano room one day thinking what would be a good title, and something good to write about, and there it was.

Mark: Do you hope that people, after listening to the album trilogy, or any Virgin Steele work, go out and read, and look deeper in to the concepts you deal with on the albums?

David: Yes, I do hope that it inspires people to do further study and further exploration in all facets, whether that be poetic or whatever, absolutely.

Mark: You’re dealing with some very interesting and very “heavy” topics. Do you see yourself these days as a composer or a writer?

David: Yeah, I’ve always thought of myself more as a composer, more than anything else, that’s the role I’m probably most comfortable with creating these ‘things’, it’s what I have to offer the group, and it’s my strongest feature, I think.

Mark: What started the interest in mythology and history, and differing views of the world?

David: It was growing up in the house that I grew up in. My father was, and still is, a director/producer of plays, so I was exposed to all kinds of plays growing up, theatre, Shakespeare, Greek stuff, all kinds of things. That was one side, and I have a sister who sings opera, and a brother and sister who were in a rock band, and played violin, cello, whatever, so I was exposed to all that, everything from Black Sabbath to Mozart. That, I think was the catalyst for a lot of my work, to fuse all that in to one thing and I was able to do that, make this theatrical music that had the classical and the primitive rock side of it as well. A lot of groups who go in to the symphonic genre everything sounds kind of like a ‘Bach fugue’, but we never lost that “earthy, blues” side of things. The very bones of the mountain sound, I call it, it’s what makes Virgin Steele tick, it’s not just the classical thing, it’s all these other things as well.

Mark: Your music has been with me a long time, I distinctly remember buying “Guardians of the Flame” the day it came out in the UK.

David: Yeah, we were over there that summer it came out, in London.

Mark: I was too young, sadly to come and see you then!! It’s been 35 years now, are you doing anything special to mark the occasion.

David: Yeah, we’re releasing a box set in October, we’re putting out next, “The Book of Burning”, and “Hymns to Victory”, and alongside that we have two new albums that we’re finishing off right now. The collection, the banner which it all comes under is “The Ghost Harvest, the Spectral Vintage Sessions”. Some of those recordings were going to be used as tracks for “Invictus”, but again, at the eleventh hour, I just thought it didn’t make sense on this record, so we went about face and did acoustic things. But, that’s all going to come out and those are nineteen tracks that are ready to go, and there’s another thirteen or so, what will actually make the final cut, I don’t know, but it’ll be out in October.

Mark: There’s plenty of new material out there, I heard there was going to be a book as part of the box set, is that likely?

David: It’s up there, they really expect a lot from me, and it’s me whose doing the lion’s share of the work with everything!! So, I hope to do that, it’s something I’d like to do; I don’t claim to be Steven King or anything like that, but, I’d like to make something that was entertaining and illuminating, I’m going to try, if I can make it happen I will! If not, it will eventually happen, but the main thing is the music, we weren’t originally going to do two records, but we’ve done two records, if the book has to be shorter or shelved for the moment, I’d rather have the record, because the music is really coming together very nicely, there’s some pretty heavy tracks coming up, especially for this second one.

Mark: And we know that one day, we’re going to get that DVD as well!

David: Yes, yes, yes! I made this promise to myself, because we have to reissue all this back catalogue, it’s taken a lot of time, I wanted to do a DVD a year ago, but I want to get these new recordings out now, in October and then we’re doing a ‘Barbaric-Romantic’ concept style record following that, sometime between February and April, it’s already being recorded as we speak, and then after that we’ll put the brakes on and get the DVD done!

Mark: I’m conscious our time is running out, so there is only time for a couple more I think, these are two questions we ask everyone we speak to. If you could have been a fly on the wall for the recording of any great album, at any point in time, what would it have been for you and why?

David: From the rock spectrum, it would probably be “Queen II”, I really love how that album came together, and all those incredibly intense, and complicated vocal arrangements, I would have loved to be in the studio for the recording of that, and see all the different types of machines they were using back then.

Mark: Very quickly, the easy question, what is the meaning of life??

David: It can be found in a glass of wine, probably!!

Mark: That’s a great answer! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, and congratulations on the new work. Take care.

David:  My pleasure; thank you so much for your questions, and have a beautiful weekend!



David spoke to Mark Diggins June 28 2014





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