NIGHT DEMON's JARVIS LEATHERBY: 'Our Work Ethic And Writing Good Music Has Gotten Us To The Upper Echelon Of Our Genre'

March 1, 2023

By David E. Gehlke

There's a good chance Ventura, California, pure metal trio NIGHT DEMON has played your town sometime in the last ten years. The band's dogged touring schedule has logged shows in the farthest reaches of the globe. Whether a major or a secondary-to-the-secondary market, NIGHT DEMON and its brand of anthemic, nose-to-the-grindstone metal has been there. It is a commendable, high-risk, low-reward approach. The current musical climate does not reward bands for such feats of activity the way it did four decades ago, but that likely won't stop NIGHT DEMON, especially now with the excellent "Outsider", their first studio album in six years, set for release.

"Outsider" is a concept record but bears little resemblance to the sprawling epics the likes of QUEENSRŸCHE and DREAM THEATER produced. Instead, NIGHT DEMON has cultivated the art of quick and efficient song structures and wrapped a storyline detailing alternative realities and the supernatural into a tight, eight-track effort that doesn't even reach 40 minutes. Bassist/vocalist Jarvis Leatherby was more than happy to extol the virtues of "Outsider" and the band's relentless work ethic when he caught up with BLABBERMOUTH.NET from his part-time home of Derry, Northern Ireland, before, coincidentally, heading out to a supernatural convention.

Blabbermouth: I saw a quote where you said NIGHT DEMON did 600 shows in four years. What was gained from doing that many gigs? And what kind of toll did it take on the band?

Jarvis: "It's kind of funny. They say hindsight is 20/20, but it's true for a reason. When you think about 600 shows, you're not thinking of travel days. That's not like saying, 'We did 600 shows in two years. We had 130 days off.' It was tough. Out of it was really getting our feet wet in territories unfamiliar to us. Looking back, we forced it. [Laughs] A lot of what we did, though, was going to a lot of small towns. We played a lot of smaller gigs and went over and over. It was a grassroots effort. They were our swing states. We did small towns in Spain or Portugal and small towns in Oklahoma. We started to notice the crowds would get larger. We'd go up in venue size. The coolest thing was that there were always more bands to play with. We were helping to start heavy metal scenes in smaller pockets of the world. This is also the reason the pandemic, as shitty as it was, was really good for us. We were about to go out again. We said, 'This is so awesome to be able to take a break.'"

Blabbermouth: Did playing that many shows and playing some less-than-glamorous gigs put a lot of stress on the band?

Jarvis: "Sure. The other founding member beside me, Brent [Woodward, guitar], quit the band going into 2016. He would argue that he didn't quit. But it's one of those situations. We've never talked publicly about it. He hasn't and we haven't out of respect for him. That's still up for debate. I know touring had a lot to do with him not being in the band. I can honestly say it's the whole reason why he's not. It's not for everybody. Honestly, I don't even know if it's for me. I don't know how much I enjoy it. But I can't see myself not trying. I can't see myself not going out there and doing it. The best thing would be to be like TWISTED SISTER in their last years. They were doing ten shows a year. They would do one show a month where they fly in and headline a festival. They're like, 'That's all we need to do. We make the same amount of money by keeping it exclusive. It's way less work and the shows are bigger.' It would be great to get to that point one day."

Blabbermouth: That could be their whole year's worth of income.

Jarvis: "Bands like QUEENSRŸCHE still do full tours, but what you see them often do in their downtime is play casinos every other weekend. Casinos have a bottomless amount of money. They're like, 'Look, we'll give you whatever you want to play. We need some entertainment happening. We need to get some people who don't normally come here to spend their fucking money.' NIGHT DEMON is not quite at that level. We haven't experienced any of that yet."

Blabbermouth: It's almost like NIGHT DEMON is a few decades too late. If you were doing this in 1983, you could be headlining festivals now like TWISTED SISTER.

Jarvis: "I've spent my whole life feeling like I was born too late. [Laughs] Honestly. It wasn't until the last decade that I felt like, 'Everything did happen at the right time.' I think that what we're doing — and like I said before — if we're inspiring other young bands to tour and start metal bands, that's something cooler than competing with the greats. We serve a better purpose keeping the flame lit and passing that baton on to the next. I'm totally comfortable with that. I really am."

Blabbermouth: "Outsider" is a concept album. When we think of concept albums like "Operation: Mindcrime", they are generally long with a lot of songs. "Outsider" is a pretty concise album, though. How did you manage to do a concept in this format?

Jarvis: "Our first album, 'Curse Of The Damned', was supposed to be a concept album. We got two songs in. We had a friend do a comic book that went with it. He never finished the comic; we were writing other songs that had nothing to do with it. It was like an IRON MAIDEN thing. We had one song and the cover is reminiscent of that and now the whole album is about Egypt, but it's not [referencing 'Powerslave']. 'Darkness Remains', our second album. We were like, 'Now we're going to do a real concept album!' We had three songs that follow a storyline but are back-to-back, so we couldn't call it a concept. This time around, the pandemic hit and I said, 'Guys. This shit is not going to end. We're releasing all these songs. They're already in the can. This is not going to be two weeks.' They said, 'Yeah, we know. This is crazy.' We decided to go for it. Let's go somewhere out there with songwriting and whatever happens, let's not try to be something we're not. Let's keep ourselves in check, so if we're repeating ourselves musically, let's stop. We don't need another 'Heavy Metal Heat'. We don't need that on the album.

"I'd written a few screenplays. Nothing that's ever been made yet. But I love the art of screenwriting. It's my passion outside of music. I love film. I just follow it. I know so much about it and how to make movies even though I've never made one, but I would like to. All the business stuff, a lot of the creative stuff, behind the scenes. My goal one day is to make a film. Anyway, to make this short, I wrote a film script. This album is based on the story."

Blabbermouth: Did you put your scriptwriting skills to use for the album concept about the paranormal and alienation?

Jarvis: "You think of a band like NIGHT DEMON. Most people will think we're doing a horror movie or '80s metal movie like 'Black Roses' or 'Nightmare On Elm Street 3'. The horror element is an undertone here. There is some science fiction out there, otherwordly elements. I would describe the story as 'Back To The Future'-meets-'A Wonderful Life'."

Blabbermouth: As a vocalist, you're not one to hit high notes like (QUEENSRŸCHE's) Todd La Torre or Geoff Tate, but your harmonies are very effective. Did "Outsider" prompt you to try anything new?

Jarvis: "It's funny you ask: I started singing in bands when I was very young. I was terrible. I remember the first time anybody ever wrote about me in the local newspaper. I was playing guitar and singing and they said I was bad at vocals and should stick to the guitar. I stopped singing for a few years after. Then I said, 'I can't let that get me down.' I started taking singing lessons. I was in more and more bands. The bands were breaking up because the singers were quitting. At one point, I said, 'I have to sing. I have to be the unexpendable member.' My hard work will never be in vain. I started taking a lot of vocal lessons. You brought up Todd from QUEENSRŸCHE. He was giving singing lessons in 2013, 2014. This was right after he joined. It was about a year after the first record they put out with him. He was looking for students. We connected over Skype. I kept it going. Every year, I basically hire a new coach. I study with different people. During the pandemic, I found some people I liked and started singing every day. I worked really hard on my vocals. I'm not a Rob Halford [JUDAS PRIEST]. It's just not my style, but the best compliment I've gotten is, 'Your voice sounds younger than you are.' [Laughs] I know my range and it's not bad, but being able not to sing that high keeps me out of the cheesy realm. Or the novelty version of it. Some of those guys just have the note. I'm a fan of many different music styles, which always helped me with metal. I pull melodies from all kinds of different shit. The vocal hook is the most important thing for me. When you're the singer who writes the vocal melodies and lyrics, you listen to the songs a thousand times before you get something. I work on it a lot. That's all."

Blabbermouth: I like how you started the title track with the chorus. It's a clever songwriting trick.

Jarvis: "We had never done it. I always wanted to start a song with a chorus, but you can do it where it could be a mellow thing. Like, one guitar and the vocals. Then the song kicks in. I thought, full chorus, just go. There are no attention spans anymore. Not that I'm catering to the current audience of the world, but NIGHT DEMON has always written short songs. All my favorite bands write long songs. My favorite metal bands. My favorite pop bands or old-school rock and roll bands write short-ass songs. I'd see all my favorite heavy metal bands in an arena and they'd play for two hours but play 12 songs. I'm like, 'No!'"

Blabbermouth: It's like what MAIDEN does with their recent albums and these long, ponderous intros.

Jarvis: "I'm not a big fan of medleys, either. SCORPIONS did one five or six years ago when they played the Uli Jon Roth era in a ten-minute medley. I was like, 'Thank god we got something.' They haven't touched that stuff in decades. I understand how hard it is to have a large discography, but as ours grows, I want our songs to be short. We can play this whole album front-to-back in a headline set and still play 13 or 14 classics for you. The whole album is under 35 minutes. When we came out and said, 'Concept album.' I thought people would go, 'Oh my god. Double-LP. What's this going to cost me? Is there going to be a graphic novel? How much time do I have to invest? Is this fucking [JUDAS PRIEST's much-maligned 2008 concept album] 'Nostradamus'?' Even 'Mindcrime', the information is there now. The thing I always hated about the concept was trying to figure out what the actual story was. Here's what we did: We wrote an entire synopsis of the story in a track-by-track way for all the physical versions. Track one, here's what happens. Track two, here's what happens. When you flip through the pages, there are all the lyrics. The lyrics are written metaphorically. The story is for the fans. For casual listeners, they can listen to 'Outsider' and go, 'I feel like an outsider!' It's not in the literal sense of storytelling. There are two different mediums: Storytelling and songwriting. We made sure to put all that in there."

Blabbermouth: NIGHT DEMON started in 2011. Now, there's a pretty big classic/old-school metal revival. What do you make of the competition?

Jarvis: "I could start by speaking from our journey. You could hear early on in our career we weren't trying to be ourselves, so to speak. When you're younger, it's natural to want to be like another band. I think that happens in any genre. I hear new black metal and I'm like, 'That sounds exactly like that.' Through that, you find your identity. I've always been the guy in this scene — I had short hair for many years. I was criticized for that! I bang my head harder than any longhair. I got respect in the live environment, but we always know what year and time it is. We always want to be ourselves. That's one thing that's always helped us, aside from our work ethic and writing good music. That's gotten us to the upper echelon of our genre. If you were born in 1995 and played music that sounds like it's from 1985 and you adopt the fashion to the T and buy a car from that era — I love the fashion, the style. But it makes it a novelty. I'm not going to take it seriously, especially when the original is still around. I don't need that. It's an exact copy of it. If something is influenced by something and injects their own sound and style and they look like themselves and are comfortable being themselves, I think that's fucking cool."

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