This is an interview with David DeFeis taken by DANIEL DEES music critic for the U.S. based magazine RENAISSANCE
"I sing of Power, Magick and Faith, A Sonnet of Pure Victory. A Hymn to the Spirits of Freedom and Grace, And whichever Gods there may be . . . "
A chance arose to speak with legendary vocalist David DeFeis, of the equally legendary band "Virgin Steele". Having sought his words for a long time, I decided to take special care in developing my questions, as to explore the true nature of this formidable being. His words and lyrics have always contained true Magick, and have brought his band "Virgin Steele" to increasing heights. Now having re-released their self-titled debut album, and its follow up "Guardians Of The Flame", DeFeis was kind enough to grant me his time, and the results were as magical as one would expect…
Hail David DeFeis! I thank you once again for giving me your time, as I understand you must be terribly busy with the new releases, and future plans. I would first like for you, in your own words, to express what "Virgin Steele" means, as the name itself brings about great curiosity.
Greetings Good Sir, and many Thanks for your Support, Belief and Kind Words!!! To me the Name means something newly born or reborn, baptized in the fiery furnace of adversity, and now leaping forth into the World on a mission to cut through all bullshit, cut cleanly through the web of lies, and make a new impact...a new stand...and carve a new direction in the Musical Path Of Metal! In addition, concepts such as opposites joining are indeed implied, such as things that are delicate and light, fusing with elements that are hard and heavy and dark…all to forge a NEW Ingredient that was previously not in existence.
In a general sense, could you explain what message you attempt to embody in your music? What should listeners leave with upon hearing your compositions?
They should come away stronger than before. They should come away with the Knowledge that they have "The Power"! That the Human Will/Spirit is unconquerable/Invictus, and Noble & Divine, and will prevail in the final analysis.
What possessed you to re-release your initial two albums, "Virgin Steele" and "Guardians Of The Flame"?
It really was just a matter of time. They had to eventually come out, or they would have been bootlegged in some way. This now puts an end to all those old vinyl sellers receiving astronomical fees for the hard to find old pressings, and enables the Fans & even just the curious, to purchase the works at a reasonably sane price, complete with superior sound, bonus tracks, and infinitely better packaging than what appeared the first time around.
There have been various line-up changes throughout the career of this band. Do you now feel satisfied with whom you have playing with you? And if this is the case, does "Virgin Steele" feel like the band you had always hoped it would become?
Yes, I am quite happy with the Band! It has been stable for quite some time! Edward Pursino has been by my side on the guitar since the NOBLE SAVAGE album, and Frank Gilchriest has been on the drum seat, since the tail end of the MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN & HELL PART II Sessions. That was 1994!!! We have recorded the largest body of work with this line-up, yet people still ask me..."Who is in the Band"?!!!! If they would only just read the credits, it would be clear. I love these guys, they are the Fucking Best!!! Yes again! This is the sound I have always wanted to achieve! Oh yes, and on bass since the European Winter Tour 2001...Enter Mr. Josh Block, a most talented Gentleman who played some bass and actually a fair amount of guitar on the "BOOK OF BURNING" Sessions!
Now that your initial two albums have been released, there is the long anticipated prospect of recording a live album. A band of this skill and history must surely deserve a chance to record its music in a live setting. Will a live album appear soon, and if so, what will it have to contain for you, in your own mind, to agree that it is a good representation of your band's capabilities.
We will issue a proper live album and a DVD within the next year or two. I have a 3-5 year rough plan, and those items are definitely in there! Ahhh...hmmm...the live album should contain a good cross-section of our History, plus all the new live nuances we have added to the songs, plus the various spontaneous improvisations we like to do, before, during, or after certain songs.
Will a live album also contain the acoustic sets that you have been favoring recently?
Most likely we would include a representation of this as well. Perhaps 3 discs, with Disc #3 being the complete acoustic side!!! Ha!!! Who knows!!! That would be nice!!!
"Virgin Steele" has been associated with an interest in Greek Mythology, and rightfully so, as you took it upon yourself to explain the elaborate and daunting tale of "The House Of Atreus". However, in your various albums there are hints of various mythologies, including Norse. Would it be within your interests to record an album based on a Norse tale, such as Beowulf for example? Does this mythology hold interest to you?
Yes it most certainly does!!! I have an interest in Myths from all Countries, and yes I am quite intimate with Beowulf, as well as various other Norse works. I especially have enjoyed working with the Greek Myths, because they are timeless and still relevant to today's World Situation! I'm not simply giving a history lesson. I am using these tales as a platform, or jumping off point for my commentary on Life at this particular Point In Time.
I have noticed that when writing lyrics, you seem to enjoy using "alliteration" as a bases of your words... "Manacled, Beaten, Blackened and Burned" …is this a product of your own style, or a style that has been influenced by Greek Tragedy, as the use of alliteration is often used in such literature.
I believe it is a product of my own brand of writing, that is largely derived by the fact that ultimately my words will be sung. Therefore I want to capture all the excitement that I can, and marshal my forces within the lyrics to the point of complete passion, so when sung they fully express the idea…and sound extremely exciting even if one does not understand the meaning. It still should "sound"...engaging!!! I am greatly excited by the Power of the Word, in both its meaning and its pure sound qualities.
There is a particular fascination with the person that is David DeFeis. Your lyrics, your voice, how you carry yourself, all beckon your fans to come closer. To be bold, I would like to ask a few questions that may claw at some more personal and primitive emotions. You are obviously well informed with various Greek tragedies, and it is widely known that you read with great intensity. Why does mythology, in particular, interest you so much? Do you find yourself in many of its stories?
Thanks very...very much for your kindness Good Sir!!! Ask away!!! I think my interest largely rests with what we were discussing earlier. I love those Tales, because no matter whether the characters are Gods, Goddesses, Demons, Animal, vegetable or Mineral, they all behave in a very realistic, believable Human fashion, with the complete array of Human emotions at their disposal. In addition to this, the Stories themselves are TIMELESS, therefore, they can serve as a starting place to make a point concerning what I wish to say about today's time and place. They are in a nutshell, Ancient, Modern, Futuristic, therefore…TIMELESS!!! Yes...I have seen myself in the Character of Orestes or Achilles or Hector, or many/all of the others, and I can relate to each person's struggles, hopes, ideals and tragic flaws.
In your music there is a constant reference to "fire". What is it about this element that intrigues you, and why is it so central to the "Virgin Steele" mythology? Is it the concept that fire purifies all that it embraces, hence the "fresh" and new sound "Virgin Steele" displays?
Perhaps extensive therapy might reveal the answer!!! Ha! I do enjoy its two-fold aspect, how it can heal or kill. I have had close personal experience, with both aspects, so perhaps that might account for a partial explanation. Yes I think you are right. It is perhaps central to the VS approach, due to the continual struggle to achieve a personal growth/development, find the right path in Life so to speak. Fire purges away the old Trees and hastens the new growth in the Forest. Fire burns away our imperfections and delivers us to the new possibilities that lie waiting. There are many "Forms of Fire", both in the Physical, Spiritual and Mental Worlds of Humanity and elsewhere...
Being drawn into a world of myth, one can easily loose themselves in its stories of glory, death, betrayal, and honour. How do you keep yourself grounded, or are you in fact, someone who sees the world in the same way our elders did? By this, I mean do you find yourself more understanding of pagan beliefs, than any of our more modern religions or concepts.
I absolutely do feel more of a kinship to the older "Pagan" World, and we could spend days/nights talking of this but...another time perhaps. I believe that the older so called "Pagan" beliefs/Mystery Cults, had a far better perspective/understanding of the Human Condition, of Spirituality, and of the Universe/Cosmos in general…and...of our particular place/space in it/of it/etc...than organized Religion does. Organized Religions came later, and borrowed or stole the earlier concepts, and changed or adapted them to suit their own often selfish needs, and finally became enmeshed in the prevailing governments, which caused....many...hmmmm...problems to say the least. The older beliefs were more personal and more highly attuned to the needs of the individual. So, getting back to the Myths, what they are or were, were essentially the "Outer Mysteries", or the initiations that lead an "initiate" deeper on the journey/path…eventually to the "Secret or Inner Mysteries"…which constituted great knowledge of self and other far reaching esoteric sciences. The Myths/Stories themselves are encoded with information that was hidden from prying eyes, but... quite clear to the initiated.
Your character "Emalaith", who is primarily featured in the sagas "The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell", has genuine appeal. Furthermore, I can safely venture to say that the song "Emalaith" is one of your favorites. What's so attractive, in your opinion, about the character and the song in particular?
Thanks!!! Yes it is dear to me, both because of the lyrics, and for the boundaries which I feel that I pushed Musically. In addition, I especially enjoy the wonderful performances on the record of Edward & Frank. The lyrics are a nice example of the combination of both brutal and beautiful elements. They are lyrical-Barbaric-Romanticism. Musically, I enjoy the fusion of the Metallic Power and the more involved Orchestrations. It paints a clear picture in my mind/ears/eyes/heart, of the entire story I wanted to tell. I see Her and She is Beautiful! She is the One we are all searching for. She is Darkness & Light, and what forms when they combine. I just simply think that it is a fine example of my composing efforts, and I love performing it. I live it each time.
Anyone who has seen you live can attest to the overwhelming emotion with which you sing, and the look of intensity in your eyes. This all to the extent that you look possessed! When on stage, do you have any particular techniques that allow you to becomes so involved in the song?
I am possessed! I am possessed by the Power, Scope and Magnitude of the Music! By the wish to perform it properly (hit all the right notes), and to have it live through me, reach the audience, and release its full potential to them. The only technique I have, is perhaps the ability to feel so keenly the effects of this Music. It is always new to me, and even if we have played the song many times, I still become wrapped up in the emotions portrayed. I really truly only come alive at those times when performing! The rest of the day I am only at half power. Onstage, in my element, I feel invincible, and on a good Night, I never want the show to end!
We have spoken about the element of fire, and why it interests you or draws you near. However, it appears that you have an affinity with "steel" as well. One of the greatest moments, during your stage show, is when you wield your sword while singing. What does steel or a sword represent to you?
The act of cutting through, and the annihilation of bureaucracy, lies, endless bullshit and ignorance, and the gathering of People of Honour, Integrity, Faith & Nobility…to forge an unbreakable alliance, to face the future, the present & the past…with Hope, Faith, Beauty, Understanding, Compassion, and Grace!
A final note, and a question that has been asked for me to offer you. September 11th shocked us all, regardless of religion, race, or sex. There has also been a sense of uneasiness that has prevailed throughout American society, as your country braces for the next possible terrorist attack. Because "Virgin Steele", and your words, have been the source of great inspiration, are there any words that you could share, that would perhaps ease or encourage any hearts in despair?
I can tell you that I felt, and still feel, deep shock and profound grief at what happened that day. Perhaps the music/lyrics to "RESURRECTION DAY" can provide a small comfort:
"RISE UP, RIDE THE WIND AFTER THE RING OF FIRE, THE SKIES ARE PROCLAIMING THE CITY IS BLEST, RISE UP, RIDE THE WIND AFTER THE REIGN OF TERROR, WITH FORTUNE INSIDE US ON THIS DAWN OF NIGHT"
Also perhaps…"A TOKEN OF MY HATRED":
"HEAR ME CRY, THE KING OF ETERNITY, TO THE END WHEN ALL VIOLENCE DIES, I AM YOURS FIGHTING FOR VICTORY, TO THE END WHEN THE LAST TYRANT DIES"…We shall prevail and maintain our Honour, Dignity and Grace in the face of extreme adversity.
I would like to spend the remainder of the interview talking about your distinct qualities as a vocalist. You have a three and a half octave range, and your range of expression is phenomenal. I have often described your voice as "mythology" itself. By this I mean, your voice contains a great duality, much like mythology. It can either be harsh and violent, or angelic and soft. It is this duality that we see in many ancient tales, and I had always thought this is what you were trying to convey. Have you ever considered your voice in this way, and am I right in assuming this?
Thank you Sir! "Mythology itself"…WOW!!! You have a Divine Gift of Expression!!! I never heard that said before!!! WOW Again!!! That is amazing!!! I am Honored Sir!!! Hmmm...yes Sir, you are most observant! I am attempting to express both of those qualities. I am (as you may have noticed), quite interested in the fusion of elements that are not normally meant to be fused. I try to bring out those opposing qualities, and I try to adhere them to their proper lyric, to form a clearer picture of whatever I am trying to present. Dark, Light, Heaven, Hell, Male, Female, Aggressive, Delicate, Brutal/harsh, Beautiful...etc...all those qualities/ideas I do try to express in sound, and of course through my voice/body, to show the full range/potential of the Human Experience and...to try to form again...that elusive "Third Element" that can result from "The Joining"!
On "Life Among The Ruins", there is an excellent track called "Last Rose Of Summer". The track seems to be very vocally demanding, and the melody lines are beautiful. I was curious as to whether or not you have ever played the song live. If not, could this song possibly find itself played in an acoustic fashion, possibly during your many acoustic sets? Your falsettos are beautiful, and I think it would be an excellent track to display your range.
It is rather demanding, yes! I have rehearsed it at home, but we have not performed it onstage, only in rehearsals. It is possible to perform it during the acoustic segments, if Edward feels up to it as well. I would enjoy the challenge. I recall the recording of the vocal. I had been living in the studio in upstate NY, (Bear Tracks), and I had gone out to dinner where I enjoyed a really nice Wine. Upon returning to the studio, the engineer asked me if I wanted to give that one a go. This was about Midnight or so. I said sure why not, so we turned off all the lights and I went for it. It was a beautiful mood, with only the various lights from the equipment on, and the Moonlight streaming through the windows of this rather large "Castle like Studio". It was actually an old barn/farmhouse made of Stone and Wood, but it does in fact really look and feel like a Castle. It is in the middle of a Great Wood, with deer and a stream. It was a wonderful experience!
Do you have any particular methods when it comes to taking care of your vocal chords?
On tour I try to get proper rest, and I try to find time to vocalize prior to getting onstage. That's about it.
Onto more recent matters, you have done a few dates in your home country of America. How was the response, and is there a possibility of coming to Canada?
It was really great! I loved doing the shows here! We just played in Brooklyn two weeks ago, and the response was excellent. We are planning a few more area shows. In regards to Canada, sure why not...do you know any good booking agents???? I always enjoyed playing/visiting Canada! We used to spend a good bit of time in Toronto, back in the mid-80's.
As a final question to pose, many of your albums speak of brave characters who strive for justice, honour, and a noble path on which to live. Are such themes applicable in your own life? For example, do you attempt to live a life that can be well looked upon, or one that displays any of the aforementioned virtues?
I hope so!!! I do strive for such things! Hopefully in the final tally of my Scroll, I will be judged as..."Yeah he was OK…We'll go easy on him". Ha!!! Seriously, it is my belief, that Life can be and should be a "Work of Art"! And "our reach should exceed our grasp", and we should aspire to greater deeds all around!!! And…Yes, I certainly do try to remain inspired and true to my vision of Life, Freedom, Music, The Infinite, etc…
Mr. David DeFeis, I would like to thank you for your time, and the words you have invested in answering my questions. I understand some of the questions may have been somewhat philosophical in nature, but I believe that is the essence of your character, and "Virgin Steele" itself. Through Faith, Honor, Discipline and Steel you have acquired a fan for life, and those who will be reading this. Best wishes from myself, and the fans from around the world. May the Gods smile kindly in your favor. It has been an Honour…
I Thank You Sincerely Good Sir for All of Your Faith, Honour, Belief, Heart, Kind Words and Support!!!! It was a great pleasure for me to answer your most interesting questions!!! Keep well and remain...Invictus!!!
By The Hammer Of Zeus,