Interview: Jon Leon and Joseph Michael of White Wizzard

Posted by longhairedpoet on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 12:02 PM (PST)


White Wizzard is a New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal band hailing from Los Angeles California. Founded by bassist Jon Leon in 2007, the band has suffered some line up issues, but is now getting ready to unleash a new album, The Devil’s Cut (Earache/Century Media) with a great new line-up.

I caught up with Jon Leon and singer Joseph Michael a couple of days ago to talk band name inspiration, the state of the industry and the future of White Wizzard.

Check it out here!

White Wizzard, is that a Lord of the Rings thing, or…?

Jon Leon: Ah, ya know, I mean, when we named the band there was a bunch of names on a piece of paper and it just kind of looked the coolest and sounded the coolest. I mean it’s a little bit of a nod to Dio, maybe, I mean the whole wizards and dragons and lore kind of thing, little bit of a nod to that whole, yeah ya know, like‘70s Lord of the Rings. We’re kinda trying to bring back that whole kind of other worldly good times metal that has that fantasy kind of edge to it, I guess. It wasn’t overly seriously thought out – I think it just – it’s a cool name, ya know? [laughs] It was one that everybody at the time agreed on. You know when you try to name a band you’ve got a bunch of names, you know always inevitably two people like it, two people don’t, so when you get one that everybody likes, you go ‘Okay, I guess that’s the name of the band,’ ya know?

That works! So in a studio update, where you overviewed all the tracks on the album and you talked about corporations dumbing things down, which I definitely think rings true, would you like to speak on that more in-depth?

JL: Sure? You mean as far as my statements that I think the demographic of music as a whole has been dumbed down so it’s easier to, ya know, I think whatever the majority of the mass that you’re going to try to sell to, as a demographic thinks is cool is what you’re going to sell. I think they tried to lower the bar as much as possible on what kids think is cool. And you know, nowadays kids don’t know the difference so all these kids in junior high they’re coming up and their getting their musical identity and they’re hearing music for the first time and their social dynamics are playing out, as you know, whenever you’re in school your social dynamics really do play out based on the music you listen to, almost even beyond how you dress and that even ties in. So you know, what kids perceive as cool is what really drives the industry, it always really has, but unfortunately, the bar continues to go lower and lower and even though there always was some crap out there, even when I was a kid, even probably my parent’s generation, I think that these days, just the levels of how bad the crap is, and the lack of good stuff is just to the point of mind numbing, it’s scary.

You said in 2010 that there weren’t really any new bands on the scene that excited you. Do you still feel that way?

JL: Occasionally there’s a band that I dig, I’ve really been digging what Enforcer’s been writing lately, kind of in our genre, I think, I like some of their recent material, they’re really starting to come together as a band as songwriters and they’ve really kind of gotten a really cool sound. I really dig most of the bands in our little subgenre, ya know, despite what most people think, I think Holy Grail is writing really good material, I’m really stoked on what they’re doing, I’m stoked on Cauldron, Skullfist is a very interesting, cool, kind of up and coming band. There’s all these new bands that are popping up that definitely seem to be wanting to, ya know, get back to a certain sound and a certain feeling. It’s all different, that’s what I like about it, all those bands that I just mentioned are kind of doing their own thing. There’s the Thrash bands like Havok, that are great, that we’ve toured with, there’s Revocation, a really interesting band. So yea, in the last few years more and more stuff has come up, it’s interesting, and I love progressive stuff, I’ve always loved Opeth and they’ve seemed to inspire a whole new bunch of bands like Mastodon and there seems to be more and more interesting and progressive music coming out now that I’ve started to get hooked on. But all that stuff’s underground, it’s more underground than it’s ever been, like it’s coming out, but I don’t know if any of the bands I’ve mentioned are making any freakin’ money right now. So that’s always kind of a bummer and as you know, you get that situation where, everybody’s doing it, but how much of a fan base is there for it beyond the kind of underground, kind of cult following thing. I don’t know, I don’t know how hard it’s going to be to push some of these bands out into the mainstream where they’re able to do this for ten and twenty years and actually build a career, beyond doing it as long as they can until they finally give up.

Yeah, its definitely hard out there. That’s what I’m here for, ya know, I love metal and I just love just trying to get it out there as much as I can, so…

JL: Yea, it’s great, we definitely appreciate the fact, as I said, when I started the band, and it still rings true for me, whoever’s on board with this stuff, then it’s a blessing every time we have a new fan, and whoever’s not, then it just doesn’t fucking matter. And I think that’s been our philosophy, we’re just doing what we do, we don’t think, what’s someone going to like, or they don’t like. And we appreciate any support we get doing what we’re doing. You know I’m just a fan that made the band that got sick of compromising I just want to get on stage and play what I wanna play and write what I wanna write and it’s always great when people wanna support that. We’ll see if it ever goes any further than that, ya know I’m not cynical, I still have hope, but I have my days where I’m like, if I hear one more party anthem about shakin’ your booty and going out and ya know, the hip hop party anthems of the day and the Pitbull’s and all this stuff it’s just, it’s so regurgitated, every time I’m in a bar now I’m just like, ‘Man, this is the best we can do now?’ it’s just nothing memorable or really deep about anything anymore, it kind of sucks, so I just try to stay positive, ya know?

Absolutely, so you being a fan yourself, are their any songs you like to cover, any throw back songs you like to cover?

JL: Yea, we talked about doing some covers, finally. I was against it for a long time, just because the fact, you know, a lot of people, being in L.A., that’s kind of the death of the musician to me is when you start singing in cover bands. When you give up on original music, because there’s more money in being in cover bands, to be honest, a lot of people start original bands, they give up, they realize there’s not a lot of money in it, they never break big in it, so what do they do they go start playing in tribute bands and cover bands, playing weddings or doing whatever – there’s money in it, I get it, some people just want to make an income, but my philosophy, I always, even before I started White Wizzard, I was determined to make original music and I just would just never join a cover band, for me that’s just like death. It’s like just whoring myself and it’s death and I’m just not gonna do it. So even when White Wizzard was kind of getting started, I reluctantly recorded a couple covers during Over the Top and I’ve just kind of strayed away from it, but over time, this line-ups been together over a year now and a lot of us are big King Diamond fans and we’re into kind of really interesting stuff and we’re like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do some covers that are maybe a little bit more unexpected?’ Instead of coming out with like Judas Priest and all this other shit, why don’t we do like a King Diamond solo song off Abigail and then do like “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers and then just do something completely… You know and maybe mix it up that way and maybe do a fun E.P. So we’ve thought about doing that, but original music is definitely always my focus. Kind of like Iron Maiden, they did covers but they always made them B sides and I always thought that was kind of the way to go with it but we’ll see, some people want us to do that, so eventually we’ll probably do something.

Totally! And you write good songs, so far I’ve heard “Strike The Iron” & “Kings of the Highway”, and they‘re instant classics in my opinion, so, White Wizzard has obviously had some line-up issues but are you happy with the line-up that recorded this album? Is this White Wizzard?

JL: I mean, it feels that way right now, and I hope that it does remain so, I mean, it’s funny, the one thing that I can say we have that we’ve never had before, is we have five guys where there’s not – nobodies kind of in a marriage situation or has a kid or has some weird stuff where six months down the road they might not be able to tour, because that’s probably been, more than anything, what’s hurt us. You know, it’s funny, we have this kind of reputation as firing people but it’s just not the case, we’ve fired one guy, but other than that it’s literally been everything from guys getting their chick knocked up and having to move away to guys girlfriend’s threatening them that they can’t go on tour for three months after we book a bunch of tours and having to pull out because they, again, they have a kid or a marriage or whatever it is, and it’s just oddly enough it’s always usually been stuff like that and you know what do you do in those situations, you know you just kind of have to deal with it. You can’t force people. A lot of guys want to join a band and I think that’s what happens, they get excited, they want to be in a band. So they tell you what you wanna hear when they show up, ‘Yea, I can do everything, I can’t wait,’ but when their life circumstances catch up, all of a sudden you realize, ‘Whoa, damn, you know, we can’t do it.’ and then you have to have sub people come in and the fans don’t get it. They’re like, ‘Why’s a different guy gone?’ And it kind of became a domino effect with us. It’s just the way things happen, ya know? We got signed so fast. We did the first E.P. and we went separate directions a year before that was even released. I mean that was old news, really. Uhm, I think the labels made a little fire out of it to try to sell records and get both bands some press. From the bands, obviously, when Prosthetic put out Holy Grail and Earache put out White Wizzard there was a little, ‘Oh there’s a rivalry,’ thing, but really it was blown way out of proportion. And so that was kind of old news, and then from there people see, ‘Well wow,‘ they get this E.P. and it’s only me left and so right away it’s like, ‘Well what was that all about?’ and then you know, of course, Wyatt bails on us and we have to fire a guy a month into Over The Top being released, so pretty much all the things that happened after that, though not our fault, just kind of we get blamed for. I think it’s one of those things where you’re in a new internet age where everyone can see everything you’re doing, you’re signed quickly. A lot bands, for the first three – four years go through this trying to find those right guys who did happen to be releasing records and be in the limelight and have the internet and have some bad luck all fall into place. So my philosophy’s just been, nose to the grindstone – don’t care, my main mantra is still don’t worry about what anyone thinks, don’t care what anyone thinks, just do what you believe in and eventually that’s gonna pay off. So we continued, you know, fine we’ve got some critics, great, but for every critic we’ve got ten new fans. We know what we’re doing and I’ve always believed in what the concept is, so I’m just staying true to that. And with these guys, I mean yea, what a great group of guys, I mean not only is it the most talented line up that I think that White Wizzard has assembled, but you know for the first time everyone’s local. You know we had guys living in other countries or that were half way across the country that would just join for tours and it was always unstable. Everybody’s here in L.A., which is fantastic, everybody wants to tour, everybody’s serious, everybody gets along really well, there’s no weird crap going on. So, it feels like we’re finally there, and I think we need to get out there and tour and do one more record for a couple of years to shut everybody up. But I do, I feel like this line-up will follow communication, there’s a lot of communication, which is really important, everyone kind of leaves their ego at the door, we’re able to talk behind closed doors and get through things. So, yea, it feels really good and I’ve also learned a lot about what it takes to make this work, through screwing up, or through adversity. You learn, you know, you learn, and then that’s what part of the process has been, it’s been a learning process – much more of the public eye than most bands have to go through, I think. It’s been very educational, very interesting, it’ll make a good story.

Are you all heading out on the road this summer?

JL: We’re trying to get out there, end of July-August for a U.S. run then we’re going over to Europe later September-October, that’s the plan right now. For the U.S. run the agents are throwing different things out there right now, so we’ll just see. It could be anything from a headlining run with support or it could be a bigger package of like four bands that are kind of in our domain, hopefully some of the ones I mentioned earlier. So we’ll see, there’s definitely a lot of different possibilities on the table and we’ll just have to see how they all play out. You know, with this whole thing, we’ve had to take our time with our booking agent choice for the U.S. and we’re kind of feeling that out and we just wanted to be sure we made the right choice, also, you know, we gotta get through a tour or two, we just gotta get back out there and we’ve got to prove to everybody, ‘Hey, the singer from the album is not going to bail again. He’s actually going to tour now.’ They’re going to see the lineup that’s on the record, because before Flying Tigers Wyatt just wrote us three weeks before the tour and pulled out and maybe it was even two weeks, it was just unbelievable, we’d already confirmed his flight. He said he’d gotten a job and his family can’t have him go on the road and it was just this huge blow to us. And I had Michael Gremio come in the last minute and sub all those tours with Forbidden Fire and Iced Earth. We supported Flying Tigers you know, without the singer, once again, so that was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, but it was very damaging and it took us some time to pick up the pieces from that, because that singer, Wyatt Anderson, is a very amazing singer and a lot of people are very attached to his voice and people still don’t understand why he’s gone, there’s still a misconception that we fired him throughout the rumor mill, but it’s not the case, the guy just has a family and he just chose to stay home instead of tour. And part of that was a financial consideration because the band doesn’t bring in a lot of money right now and he wanted some minimums that we couldn’t afford, we couldn’t have hardly any money for ourselves going out there. So it’s one of those things you have to build a band over two, three, four years and some albums before the income get steady and becomes realistic to where you’re not breaking even or taking losses. In the grand scheme of things he just can’t afford to do that, so luckily we have a lot of guys that understand, they get what we’re advocating and are willing to do the work so they can get out there and spend a couple of years to actually grow the band to a point where it can become financially stable, ya know?

Totally –

JL: That’s still a big if. You never know when this is gonna go and it’s always a roll of the dice doing an original band. And even though there’s a misconception I think of a lot of people that if you’re putting records out you’re making a ton of money, but it’s just not the case. The record label’s are very smart and savvy with how they write record deals up and you know, you get to go out and travel and do shows and you get to build a fan base and you get to do what you love, but whether or not you have enough money to pay bills when you come home from the road or not is a-whole-nother bowl of wax and I think that pretty much every band in this New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal genre is probably at various levels of the same exact thing that we’ve gone through, so, it’s no misconception to say we’re, we’re all barely treading water out here trying to make this thing work, so I hope that more bands that are inspiring continue to come out. Ya know, I embrace that, because the more that kids through word of mouth that discovered this type of music, the better it is for everybody in my opinion. It’s never going to be like pop, it’s never going to be like hip-hop, it’s never going to get to that point, but, hopefully there will be some kind of a balance struck, ya know.

Joseph, it seems like you have a lot of projects, or have had a lot of projects. What brought you to White Wizzard?

Joseph Michael: That was actually a product of one of those projects. I get called in to do a lot of studio work for various instruments, (Will) Wallner (Guitarist, White Wizzard), he’s a friend of a friend and he needed a singer for some Yngwie Malmsteen style c.d. he was producing and I only did a couple of shows and a little E.P. with that guy and nothing really happened, nothing came of that. Then like a year later I get a call saying, “Hey! Do you know that band, White Wizzard?” And I think Jon and I had crossed paths a while before without realizing it. But, I wasn’t doing anything, they needed someone really quick and I guess I fit the bill.

Rad! So, the vocals for White Wizzard, they’re huge, you’re vocals on the tracks I’ve heard are just insane, which seems a lot different than Midnight Reign, which is one of the projects you sang in, was it a challenge to make that transition?

JM: No, no. I mean, I knew this sort of thing would come up. My vocals are a little more dynamic and diverse, because I don’t just go in with this mindset that I’m this type of singer, you know what I mean? Whatever the part calls for is how I’m going to use my voice.

Totally –

JM: Like the Midnight Reign stuff was just a little different, ya know? Like, it was kind of metal, but…

It’s more like Goth Metal, I think.

JM: Yea, I guess, but, no, it wasn’t a challenge at all because I’ve been singing, you know what you would say is metal: Dio, Maiden, Queensryche, for years, just didn’t, I just didn’t ever have the chance to sing on this type of record, yet.

What can you tell me about HRX Records?

JM: It’s really just my little boutique for anything I write, anything I’m involved with, anything I produce and we use it as a platform to get stuff licensed out. It’s just basically my shelf for my songs.

Any underground bands or bands from back home you’d like to give a shout out to?

JM: Underground bands? Oh man, would I be a dick if I said no? [Jon laughing in the background]. No, ya know, there was like one or two good bands where I’m from and there just not around. There was this prog band called Whiskey Gypsy and they would do “Bohemian Rhapsody” in full, like, start to finish, no backing tracks, every band member sang, they covered Dream Theater, they were amazing. They had a record out, back in the early ‘90s, they didn’t go anywhere. That’s probably the only band I remember… Oh! There was this one metal band called The Blob Blobs. They had this four hundred pound fucking singer named Pat McCauley. He would get up there and take up half the fucking stage and he’d be drunk off his ass, but he’d nail like Maiden style, like, it was insane. I wish Youtube was around back then. [Laughs] Someone needs to transfer VHS to digital. Yeah, so I guess those two bands, nobody else, I don’t know any other good bands.

I wanted to ask about the producer, Ralph Patlan, I mean he’s worked with some big names (Megadeth, UFO), what’s it like working with him?

JL: Working with Ralph is amazing, I think that there’s a really good dynamic this time around because you know, Joseph has experience and Ralph is an amazing producer.

White Wizzard’s latest album The Devil’s Cut was released in Europe yesterday, June 3, and will be released in North America on June 25 via Earache/Century Media Records. Make sure to check back with for all the latest on White Wizzard!

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