The Spirit Of Steele - An Interview With Virgin Steele's David DeFeis
The man needs no introduction, because he is one of the best metal singers to ever walk the Earth. He is David DeFeis, the main composer of the great Virgin Steele, a band that carried the torch of epic metal to new heights with its recent masterpieces. So, in the light of the 20th anniversary of the band, listen carefully to his reflections about the past, present and future of this great band ? and don't forget to remain always INVICTUS!
Igor Italiani: Hi David. First of all can you tell me how many instruments do you play?
David DeFeis: Ahhh ? I don't play that many instruments. I play the piano, because with that I have access to any particular sound, if there is a sound that I want or something that I need ? obviously I'm talking of synths here. But I also play violin, I play a little bass, and I wouldn't call me a guitarist, but I do play something with the guitar.
II: But is there a favourite keyboard player you had when you first approached piano and keyboards?
DD: There's a lot of people that I like, but I think that what can actually better describe my style on keyboards are not keyboard players, but really more guitar players. You know, I wanted to be like Jimmy Page on keyboards, I'm more influenced by that kind of sound, or by the one of Brian May. Of course I love all the usual guys, too, from Jon Lord to Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Gregg Giuffria from Angel ? and Freddie Mercury, of course.
II: David, I've read that you are a completely self-taught vocalist. Well, considering your incredible voice, I was a bit stunned when I learned this!
DD: I come from a family that is virtually linked to the voice "instrument" ? my sister is an opera singer, my father has a very good voice and he was considering a career in opera, but he opted for the theatrical world in the end. My mom has a good voice, too, and my other sister and brother sang as well. So it was something maybe in the genes to be able to use the voice for my family, but I don't know if it was natural also for me; I think I have worked a lot on it. I sang a lot in my room, with my doors closed, windows shut. I sang with Led Zeppelin and whatever else was on for years and years and years. But I was also singing in bands from the early age of 11, so gradually I've been able to use the voice. However I've been to some coaching recently, it was like ? mmh ? last year, 4 or 5 times. But I wouldn't say I trained my voice, because I was already singing extensively before these lessons. A lot of what I've learned, I've learned by doing and observing other people, and also myself ? what were my strong points, what hurt me, what I could push without killing myself!
II: David ? only if you want ? can you tell us about the tragic experience of losing your brother in 1974?
DD: Yeah, I can tell you. I was a kid, I was in my early teens, and my brother was older than me. He was already playing organ and singing, he was in a band with my other sister (not the opera one). Well ? it was just devastating. He went to do a gig, and what happened was that someone committed a robbery in a store that was connected to this club, and to cover their tracks they set a fire in the place. They didn't want to kill all these people, but the fire spread quickly, and it wasn't even the fire, it was the smoke that came through the air conditioning ducts where they were playing. The club didn't have the proper fire exits, they were blocked and that was a real major problem. So about 24 people died, and my brother was there on stage to say: "OK, let's be cool, be calm," and he and the singer both died. It was horrible. You never quite get over a thing like that.
II: Well, David, I can imagine. Let's return to music. First of all I really want to know what happened to the news that stated that you would completely perform The House Of Atreus opus in three big concerts!
DD: We have not abandoned the idea of doing something like this, it's just that something else came up. We did the other tour, a tour that made a lot of sense because we touched a lot of countries, we played for quite a few people. We are gonna come back though, we are negotiating with various agencies to bring the band back hopefully in May or June. What we would like to do is play, in addition to some festivals, our three hour shows. But in that time I don't know if we would do The House Of Atreus in its entirety. We will probably do an anthology kind of thing, but at some point in time we are very interested in coming back and doing some shows with only Atreus or maybe just the entire Marriage. There are a lot of possibilities for that now. But at the moment we have a lot of songs that people would like us to perform, so we will probably do a selection based on every album we published.
II: So the live album everyone expects will come from the new dates?
DD: Probably. I have some tapes of the last tour that are floating around, but I would like a fresh start for that live album. I would prefer to record these three hour shows and go from there.
II: So it could be a double CD?
DD: Well, let me say that the live album should be at LEAST a double CD! I couldn't imagine doing just a single one. Otherwise it would be like Made In Japan with only 5 songs on it, but still long.
II: But I've read that you would like to include an acoustic set that you did in Munich, right?
DD: Yeah, it's something that we really started to enjoy. We did it in concerts, we did it playing at home, and it's really, really powerful. It's liberating, because there's so much freedom, it's one guitar and my voice; I don't play any keyboards at all. It's really a nice exploration. And it's still heavy, it's heavy as hell.
II: On the other hand David, speaking about your operas, there will be other shows of the two you already performed?
DD: To my knowledge they will. We are considering bringing them back in other cities, and there are already some talk of such a thing happening. In addition to that there will also be a third opera. We want to do that for 2003. I have some ideas with which I'm working, some will probably go down on the next studio album, some will be for the third opera. The plan is, in some sort of way, in the back of my mind, but it's not all concrete, yet.
II: You could come here to my city to play one of the opera shows. Do you know that my city is the home of classical composer Gioacchino Rossini?
DD: Ah, all right. That's good.
II: OK, David. Let's talk a little about the new recordings as well. Both records were announced for the 20th Anniversary of the band, but there was a slight delay. Why did it happen?
DD: Oh, they were ready, I could have had them out for October. They were done. They were done by mid-September, but I guess they [the label] needed more lead time to promote them properly. I think they didn't want to get lost in the Christmas wave of products. Also there could be something that comes from the switch from Modern Music to Sanctuary. But the records, I wanted to make sure that they were ready in time, and I worked all summer to do that.
II: Are the unreleased songs you included in The Book Of Burning leftovers from the Atreus writing sessions or are they completely new?
DD: No, they are from different sessions. "Conjuration Of The Watcher," "Succubus" and "Hot & Wild" come from the mid- to late-eighties, but they were re-written much later, like this summer. "Hot & Wild" should have been on Noble Savage, but we didn't finish it up until now as well. The other tracks were born, I guess, in 1997, around the time of Invictus, and then I re-wrote them from their original demo form this past summer as well. There was a combination of elements, you know.
II: OK, David. Considering your passion for Greek mythology, can you tell me when you fell in love with it for the first time?
DD: Oh, for far back as I can remember I was surrounded by myths and legends of the Greeks and Romans from the earliest age of when I was reading. Also I come from a very theatrical house, as I said before, so I would see a lot of things, a lot of spectacles that suddenly struck a sparkle in me. Also when I went into the books, and I read these tales, especially with The House Of Atreus, I saw that a lot of tales could be related to the modern life, too. You know, I/we can easily talk about modern existence drawing references from ancient history.
II: So, before the end, David, I would like to talk also about the debate that's going on with (ex-guitarist) Jack Starr. I'll pose the same questions also to Jack, so everyone will see both sides of the story. OK? First of all tell me how Virgin Steele started, and why you parted ways with Jack!
DD: We began in October of 1981, and there was a coming together of two groups of people. It was me and Joe O'Reilly on one side, with Jack and Joey on the other. We first met and played together in the basement of my parent's home, way back then, and we formed. There were many reasons why we parted ways with Jack, it wasn't just me parting company. The three of us were having various problems with Jack, and we were interested in bringing Edward (Pursino) aboard, a boy I knew from my early music days. We were playing together before Virgin Steele. On the other side, Jack was also interested in doing his solo thing, so I thought it was a good time for a parting of the ways, because he also had a new album coming out. But it became quite messy anyway.
II: Can you give me your take on the Sacred demos?
DD: Sacred demos were ? demos. Jack came to me in 1997, when he heard the Marriage albums, and he said to me that he liked those records and: "I'm kind of confused right now, I want to come back to metal, so can you help me?" I said OK, and so we wrote some songs together. We recorded what became the Sacred demos; with me, an unknown drummer, Jack, and Rob DeMartino, who was my bass player at the time. We did that stuff, but I didn't receive any money for it, it was just a favour to help him. I also knew three labels that could have shown interest; one was my own, then Nuclear Blast, and also Massacre. I took the tapes with me, but unfortunately neither one was fascinated. They were a bit confused, because it still wasn't a complete record, it was only 4 or 5 tracks. After that I made a proposal of issuing that stuff when the first two VS albums would be re-issued, and Jack was cool about it. But when it came actually time to release those records, he started to make more disputes, insane demands, and basically wanted me to not re-master from the original tapes, which I own, but to take the old vinyl copy and burn a copy from it, and pocket the advance. I wasn't interested in doing such a thing. I had already started to re-master the first VS album with my own money, and I was at 85 - 90% done with it. But at this point things worsened, he wanted to be in total charge of the project ? and, you know ? this is a guy who was in the band for two years, gone for 18 years.
II: So the reunion you did in 1997 can't be viewed as a VS reunion?
DD: No, it was not a Virgin Steele reunion. No way in hell that it was going to be a Virgin Steele-type of reunion. That's in his own mind. He made up that for himself. Rob DeMartino wasn't really a member of Virgin Steele, either. He came and went as he wanted, he was a free agent, a good friend of mine, he had no binding ties with us and the same reversed. So I think it was a separate DeFeis/Starr kind of project. And always consider that Jack never toured with Virgin Steele, so I don't know if we could talk reunion with him, either, because Edward has been in the band far more in terms of time and albums.
II: Finally ? can you give me three positive and three negative traits of Jack Starr?
DD: I'd rather not ? I don't want to say anything bad about the guy, I'm really not interested in throwing mud. There are a lot of reasons why he isn't in the band anymore. That's the only thing I can say.
II: OK, David. Before leaving us, I want to know if there is the possibility of listening to you sing "Child In Time," the song you performed to enter Virgin Steele!
DD: Ah, we sometimes play it in sound checks. We did it on the last tour a couple of times. Maybe, who knows. I like the song, I like singing it. What happened when we first got together ? well they needed someone like me to put the thing together because I was well-organized, so what happened the first time we met was, we were supposed to play, but the guitar player didn't show up, but there was the drummer. The second time Jack was there, but there was another drummer, and also a bass player. But I preferred Joe O'Reilly so I convinced them to make this line-up change. But before all of that, I think that Joe talked on the phone with Jack, and then they came to my house where I had my gear ready. I didn't listen to them, but they listened to me. I played for them "Child In Time," "No Quarter" by Led Zeppelin, "Catch The Rainbow," just keyboards and vocals. They liked what they heard, and then it was my time to check them out. I liked them and it all seemed to mesh pretty well, but I could sense there was going to be tension in the coming years [chuckles]
II: But there's a tape of those early recordings?
DD: I think not. I have some old tapes of me doing that stuff, but there's no tapes of the first Virgin Steele rehearsals.
II: OK, David. A final message for the Italian audience, which you seem to particularly enjoy, because in the last gig you did in Florence you also started with a "Ciao Paisà" that was very emotional!
DD: Well, I really enjoy the Italian shows. They are all great. It was really nice to get to Rome last time, to see the city. We went into the Coliseum, and of course we are partly of Italian descent so ? it was like being home, it was very warm, the reception from the fans was huge! I really have to say thank you to everyone who came to the shows, and we really hope to see you again soon. I'll tell you that ? when we do come back in May or June, we will probably play one of the 3 hour shows in Italy. And there is some talk that we could end up playing in the Gods Of Metal [a talk that has been confirmed - II], but I don't know if you wanna print this, because it's still very uncertain as of today.
II: Well, this is great news. I hope you will. OK, thank you for your time and hope to see you next time in Italy!
DD: OK! Ciao e grazie Italia!
Virgin Steele (1983)
Guardians Of The Flame (1983)
Noble Savage (1986)
Age Of Consent (1989)
Life Among The Ruins (1994)
The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell: Part I (1995)
The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell: Part II (1996)
The House Of Atreus: Act I (1999)
Magick Fire Music (EP) (2000)
The House Of Atreus: Act II (2000)
Hymns To Victory (2002)
The Book Of Burning (2002)
Visions Of Eden (2006)