An interview with Mike LePond - Mike Lepond's Silent Assassins
It's rare to find a current, modern album that radiates the true essence of traditional Heavy Metal from all directions, but when you eventually discover this music, it's likely to be in the form of Symphony X Bass player’s solo project, Mike LePond's Silent Assassins. From the high rising screams of Halford, to the hellraising bass lines familiarity of Geezer Butler, ‘Silent Assassins’ combines all of the elements of much loved hard hitting Heavy Metal, ultimately creating one of 2014/15s most pure releases.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Mike about this solo project...
SC: When did the initial idea for Silent Assassins come about?
ML: Well, in 2011, Symphony X released an album called 'Iconoclast' and usually what we do is, we tour for about two years. During that time, there was a lot of downtime on the tour bus and there was plenty of time to put out a solo album which was something I'd always wanted to do, for many years. What I would do is wake up before all the other guys in the band and I would start writing songs and before you know it, by the time we were done touring, I had everything that I needed to record.
SC: Okay, what about the line-up? Were the guys on the final, finished product, the ones you chose to work with from the start?
ML: Well, I had to really think about that because there was a couple of ways that I could do it. I could either send the music to different musicians and have them send it back, but when I thought about it, I figured the best way would be to get local guys who live near my house, so I could go to the studio with them. So, what I did was... I hired the best guys I could find who live near me. On vocals was a guy by the name of Alan Tecchio, and I've known him for about five years now. He was perfect for the project, he loved it and he did a fantastic job in the studio. One of the guitar players was a guy by the name of 'Metal' Mike Chlasciak and some of you may know him from Rob Halford, after Rob quit Judas Priest for a while and it was great because all these guys were right here, in New Jersey, where I live, and, of course, my bandmate, Michael Romeo recorded me, played some guitar, he played keyboards and really... he did so much for me. I couldn't have done it without him. All of it put together was just a great project!
SC: Sure, I think you can tell with the outcome of the album, that it made a huge difference that you were all there, getting fully involved in the whole process.
During the process of writing/recording the album, did you find anything particularly challenging?
ML: You know, I guess because I was doing everything myself, every step had to really be thought out because when I'm in Symphony X, I'm one fifth of the band, so I just do my part and everybody does their part, but with this solo album, you have to write everything and you have to decide on every single thing and I think the hardest part was producing the album, because you really have to have a great ear. I've got so much more respect now for producers because they have to hear everything and it was a really difficult learning experience.
SC: It seems like a mammoth task to do all of the writing and arranging alone. Was this your first experience of taking lead on a whole project?
ML: Yes, it was! I've always been a part of a band before, and this was the first time I had to be like the whole band, but in one person. it took three long years! There were some times during the way where I auditioned some people and it didn't quite work out, and that was tough too, because I hate telling people you know, well, it's just not good enough, because that's not really in my character to do that but it was... in the end, very rewarding and I think I will do another one because it was so satisfying and so many people actually did like it. So, maybe, I just like punishment, but I'll try it again. *laughs*
SC: Do you intend on sticking to the same theme as the first album? It seems to really inspire you!
ML: Yes! I always believe that mythology, literature, and history, make for perfect lyrics for Heavy Metal because they're so epic, and then the music makes it even more epic, and it just fits together so well! On the first album every song had its own mini story, and for the next one, I want to do the same kind of thing, but do it more! Make it more epic and medieval!
SC: Sure, the whole theme definitely works very well. During the process of writing and recording, were there any tracks that really stood out to you?
ML: There are a few songs that really stood out for me, that I really was proud of. One song was called 'The Outsider' and on the record, it's track four. It just had a really cool bouncy guitar riff, and it felt really good and it was based on a novel by H.P Lovecraft. Another stand-out for me was track three, a song called 'The Quest' because, based on my love of history, it was like another medieval based 'epic'. The other one would be track one, 'Apocalypse Rider'. It's just an opening track to hit you hard, as soon as you put on your headphones!
SC: It definitely does that job! Everything about that track is in your face and intense! Can you recall what songs the rest of the band really enjoyed playing/singing?
ML: Hmm, that’s a good question. Our singer, Alan really liked 'The Outsider'. That was his favourite. As far as the other guys, I know Metal Mike liked track eight, 'The Progeny', because I guess that sounded a lot like the style that he writes. He enjoyed that, and took his time with it, and, you know, I'm good friends with all these guys and it was just like a family reunion, and we all had a good time with it.
SC: Did you approach this record as a chance for you and the bass to be at the forefront? There’s a couple of tracks (‘Red Death’, ‘The Outsider’, ‘Oath of Honor’) where the bass is right up front.
ML: Sure. Playing with Symphony X, the music is very complex and there’s so many instruments doing things at the same time, so there’s not a lot of room for the bass to really pop out, you know? I wanted to show what my style is really capable of doing, and it was so much fun to just have the freedom to make the bass the main instrument. I had a really really good time with that, and I think a solo album should sound different to your band. If it's going to sound the same then I don't see the point.
SC: Where did you find the influence, or look for the inspiration for Silent Assassins, or was it all gathered from over the years from your interests in history etc?
ML: Well, I've been a metal fan since I was thirteen. I had so many years of influences from so many bands! I loved a lot of the original Metal bands from the eighties; Judas Priest, Manowar, Iron Maiden and bands like that and then I loved a lot of the bands that came in the nineties, like Blind Guardian and that sort of thing. Nowadays I listen to a lot of the Folk Metal and Viking Metal out there. I was just like "WOW! This is really cool stuff!". I like lighter bands, too, like Blackmore's Night. All those influences, over all those years just came together and I think, for me, this CD was just like a tribute to everything that made me what I am today.
SC: Can you connect any particular influence to a specific song on 'Silent Assassins'? Maybe a band that really influenced a particular song, even a story?
ML: I think Manowar had a huge influence on my bass playing throughout. When I was recording the bass, I felt that Manowar influence on me and I was playing and I felt that it was coming through the most, and just for the melody and the power of the whole thing. Their bass player, Joey DeMaio probably had the biggest influence on me, so sometimes it’s weird... When I'm playing, I feel like I'm channeling him. It's weird and cool at the same time! *laughs*
SC: Aside from Symphony X and Silent Assassins, are there any other projects you're working on at the moment?
ML: I get asked to do so many projects, and most of them, I don't even have the time to even talk about, but I probably do maybe two or three different projects every month. Actually, Symphony X just came off the road last weekend and I had a project waiting for me right there! I did a project for this French Band. I don’t even think they have a name yet, but the songwriter was like "can you record these four songs for me by Thursday" and I was like... well, you know, I just got home on Sunday. there was no time to rest, but I like that though. I like working because I just love what I do.
SC: What music are you listening to at the minute? Let's go for your top 5 albums right now?
ML: Oh boy... Let’s see, what was I listening to? Well, I'm actually going to start recording my second solo album today, so I was starting to listen to different drum patterns through different songs. Yesterday i was listening to a lot of Blackmore's Night to listen to some of their rhythmic patterns that they do with the percussion. Before that... Who was I listening to? I listened to a little of Ghost, I don't know if you like Ghost? *laughs*
SC: Thank you very much for your time, Mike! It was a pleasure.
ML: Thank you!
Interviewer: Christiane Robinson