It is been quite a time since Virgin Steele has released a very successful full-length album, commercially speaking, but the legendary American band is always here with us, alive, releasing new music and playing live! Virgin Steele belongs to the classic metal groups and its every move is great news for all of us. David DeFeis and company are in the spotlight again, as they are re-issuing their first two studio albums, "Virgin Steele I" (1982) and "Virgin Steele 2/Guardians of the Flame" (1983), and are releasing a 35th-Anniversary box set ("Seven Devils Moonshine", which will contain three new albums!) on November 23, 2018. Myth of Rock immediately thought it was a great opportunity to speak with the band's singer and mastermind, David DeFeis, who accepted our invitation and answered all our questions - we talked about the past, the present, the future, and everything related to Virgin Steele. So, ladies and gentlemen, hats off to David DeFeis and Virgin Steele!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
The first two albums of Virgin Steele are being reissued by No Remorse Records. Why did you decide to re-release these albums? How did you come in contact with No Remorse Records?
In truth I actually had no intention of re-issuing those two albums at this time. It was not at all on my mind because I have been so involved and still am involved in lots of new music. I was approached by No Remorse Records who inquired if it might be possible to re-issue them…I was at first not that interested because as I stated I already had so much on my plate, but we started to speak and had several very nice conversations and fairly quickly came to an agreement and now…here we are…all is ready to go and they have done a beautiful job!
Are you the one who decided about the remixes and the bonus tracks of these two re-releases?
Yes, I handled all of that as I always do.
What do you recall from the first days of Virgin Steele?
Everything! My memory is intact. I recall how we all met, the first rehearsals, the recording sessions…the first concerts…all of it. It was quite an amazing time. We were very inspired and we exploded and we went for it and quickly became very well known in our immediate area and then in what seemed like no time at all we had serious interest from people all around the world. We pressed up the first album and I sold it from the trunk of my car and before that first pressing was sold out we had two record deals, one with Mongol Horde in the States and one in England with Music For Nations. In fact we were MFN 1 the very first release on this new label that soon acquired W.A.S.P., Mercyful Fate, Ratt, Manowar and tons of other wonderful metal bands.
Please describe us how you became the singer of Virgin Steele.
A long curly haired drummer named Joey Ayvazian, and a guitarist named Jack Starr were rehearsing together and trying to get something serious going, while at the same time I was playing in various groups with a bass player named Joe O’Reilly, when one day I saw an advertisement in a local music paper stating that some metal musicians were searching for a singer and there was some kind of tour planned. Excited and intrigued … I answered the ad … met with Joey and we arranged to meet up for a jam at a nearby rehearsal studio the next day. I arrived on time ready to rip, but there was nothing scheduled for us as Jack had forgotten to book the time. I was still very gung-ho, so I suggested that he and Jack come back to my house where I had all my gear set up, to afford them the opportunity to hear my singing and keyboard playing. I played three songs for them, “No Quarter', by Led Zeppelin, “Child In Time”, by Deep Purple and “Catch the Rainbow”, by Rainbow. They liked what they heard and asked me to join the band then and there. While I was flattered and interested, remember … I had not yet had the opportunity to hear them play. So … I suggested that we actually all jam together first to see if we could spark, and Jack did set up a jam … but when I arrived at the studio for this second attempt … Joey the drummer I had met and kind of bonded with, wasn’t on the kit! I thought … hmmm … ”strange” … Some other guy was there on drums and there was also another guitar player present who sang … We played and it was sort of nice … but I wasn’t really into the drummer or the bass player, or having another singer around, plus I wanted to hear Joey play because we had clicked and I liked him very much as a person … I said to Jack, “hey I like what you’re doing but I want to hear the drummer I met and I have a great bass player who would be perfect for this” … he said, “OK great, let’s arrange for another jam”, and finally Jack, Joey, Joe “O”, and I all did jam together a day or so later. And so the two factions finally assembled and we clicked musically right away. We rehearsed for about three weeks and entered the studio to record what became “Virgin Steele I”. The album was recorded mostly live in the studio, and the entire production cost about $ 1,000 dollars and took maybe about a week to record and mix.
How was your cooperation with guitarist Jack Starr?
Back in those days it was fine. We all got along pretty well most of the time. Now and then we had the usual occasional disagreements but nothing major.
How do you see now the first two Virgin Steele albums? Do you like them? How much have you progressed since then, as a band and as a musician?
I see them as essays in the craft before it was fully sown…wild, passionate raw performances with some very cool songs. I love them…I love all the albums for different reasons. The group has progressed enormously since those days in so many areas, and I as a musician, composer, etc. have added many more strings to my bow. Especially as a writer/composer that is where my main strengths are.
How would you define the music of “Virgin Steele I” and “Virgin Steele II”?
At the time we called it metal, power metal, crazy metal … it was also called progressive metal … some of it was bluesy metal or hard rock … some of it was on the epic side … some had early “symphonic” touches.
Which is your favorite track of “Virgin Steele I” and your favorite track of “Virgin Steele II”?
On “Virgin Steele I” I think I enjoy “Danger Zone”, “Living in Sin”, “Children of the Storm” and the song “Virgin Steele”. On “Virgin Steele II” … I enjoy “Don’t Say Goodbye”, “A Cry in the Night”, and perhaps also “Guardians of the Flame” the most. I remember listening to the playback of the final mixes in the studio and being completely amazed at the sound and the fact that we had captured this grandiose epic quality and distilled all of our various personalities into these tracks.
If you could turn back time, what would you do differently as far as these first two albums are concerned?
I might want to spend more time recording and mixing because I always want that!
How much different were things for heavy metal music back in the beginning of the 80s? Are you satisfied with the current condition of Virgin Steele?
It was a more wide-open time…the scene was actively more engaging and alive. There actually was a music business, a photography business and all the peripheral things that go along with making music, making records … etc. If you are asking me “am I satisfied with where Virgin Steele is at creatively and musically speaking”, then the answer is a most resounding “yes I am”. I think the songs have gotten stronger and stronger over the years and the core chemistry is more intuitive than ever before, and we have managed to capture more and more of the passion, the raw emotion of our lives in sound … The albums we make reflect the sound of our living world if you will…
Three years have passed since the release of your latest studio album (“Nocturnes of Hellfire & Damnation”). Have you written any new material? If yes, how does it sound? When should we expect your new full-length studio album?
Always … I continually have numerous albums in the works and in various stages of completion. I am always writing and we are always recording. We will be releasing a box set in November that in addition to containing the last two re-issues, will feature three discs of new material in various styles from aggressive barbaric-romantic metal to epic gothic bluesy metal to stripped down orchestral type recordings … all sorts of stuff, because it is a box set and for such an item I think one should go deep and occasionally provide some left hand path type material. Our last album contained twenty nine songs, and every re-issue we have unleashed has contained new music, therefore we weren’t in too great a rush to release something immediately following that last album. We wanted people to get to know the material we had already put out first, before releasing more new material.
Give us the details about the two videos you recently released for the songs “When Dusk Fell” and “Black Light On Black”.
What do you wish to know? They are both from the re-mixed version of our “Visions of Eden” album and they were both filmed on Long Island where we live. A lot of footage was done in the cold, cold winter and some of it was filmed in a nearby cemetery. We tried to infuse the clips with the emotions of the songs and show something of our beliefs, our personalities, and what our life is like here.
If you had to choose between being a romantic and being a barbarian, what would you prefer to be, and why?
Some days some nights … some moments I feel more barbaric than romantic and at other times quite the opposite … it all depends on how I am motivated by the stimuli around me. In my day-to-day life in dealing with people, places and things that I would prefer to not have to deal with, I tend to push the barbaric side of my nature to the fore … but among friends and people I care about deeply I try to more … “romantic”…
If you could travel in time, which period of history would you choose?
I do have a special affinity for 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, but I don’t think I would want to remain there too long as I would probably be condemned as a witch … Perhaps the earliest recorded days of the human race would be interesting … Ancient Babylon … Sumeria … or certainly Ancient Greece … when the Gods & Goddesses were all quite young or not yet born … when the Titans still reigned …
What do you think of modern metal? Do you like any modern metal bands?
There are some wonderful musicians out there doing metal these days, but to be honest I don’t really follow too much of it. Occasionally certain bands get brought to my attention and I always listen and I usually enjoy it … there is always so much to discover or re-discover as the case may be.
If Jack Starr asked you to come back to the band, which would be your reaction?
I have a very strong special chemistry with Edward Pursino that is still inspiring and we barely have enough time to do all the things we want to do together. That’s not to say that I have any issues with Jack. I wish him well in all that he is doing and who knows, as far as maybe a track or something like that happening down the road I suppose that is always possible, but nothing like that is on my mind at this time. We are already working on the next two new “concept type” albums and have been tracking guitars for days now … and there is still much to do in order to complete them for release sometime next year.
Which are your plans for the future? What about a tour?
The immediate future will bring forth the five disc box set in November and then work on these two new full-length “concept” type albums that we have already begun and of which I started speaking about above, and yes … live shows.
A message to your Greek fans!
Certainly!!! CHEERS FRIENDS!!! BY THE GODS & GODDESSES to you ALL!!! We have missed you! We do hope to visit the Home Of The Gods & Goddesses once again very soon. You will always hold a hugely special place in our Hearts…ETHARISTO POLI to YOU ALL!
Thank you very much, Mr. DeFeis.
Hail and all the very best to you and to your readers always.