Interview by Craig
I am truly proud to present, for Ascendant Strains'
inaugural interview, a conversation with David Defeis, vocalist extraordinaire
and one of the architects behind Virgin Steele's glorious magnum opus, The
Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which I can honestly proclaim one of the greatest
metal works I have ever heard. And why not? David is a classically trained
pianist, with a Bachelor's degree in composition, and a self-taught vocalist
with a three and a half octave range. His father is a Shakespearean actor who
runs his own theater company, and I can certainly see how this has helped
inspire David's work with Virgin Steele. To truly enjoy this interview, make
sure you rush out and purchase both Marriage CD's prior to reading it! Dream
Disc has both for only $12 each. (You can contact David at: P.O. Box 2431,
North Babylon, NY 11703-0431, U.S.A. Please send a SASE or IRC)
Craig: As you read in my review, I think the new album is
David Defeis: Thanks a lot.
I'm a big fan of that kind of traditional, ambitious
metal, and this really stood out among most recent releases in the genre.
Beautiful. We intended it to, and we tried hard to make
it everything we wanted it to be. As good as people think it, is, I'd still be
in there mixing it if I wasn't stopped.
Oh yeah, probably to a fault.
What were the musical influences behind these albums?
If you're referring to what other bands we listen to,
growing up it was always the big three: Led Zeppelin, Queen, and the whole Deep
Purple family, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Coverdale, all those offshoots. Those were
the biggest ones, UFO... so many things. And on the other side of the fence are
things like David Bowie, Roxy Music, Brian Ferry, Ultravox, a little stranger
type of stuff, T. Rex, I was always a huge T. Rex fan. Yeah, Sweet... the whole
glam era was a big influence on me, Slade, bands like that.
I've heard people say some parts of Marriage do remind
them of Queen.
Yeah, we totally loved Queen, I probably saw them every
time they toured here from 1974 on. They were a big influence, and also
studying classical music, Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, all
those people were as well. The romantic and impressionist school really struck
a chord with me, I think that's influenced my writing even more than Bach and
the earlier baroque music. Though I do love that stuff, the chord structures
that I use and the way I write are probably closer to the Chopin / Debussy
You can hear that classical influence, and the latest
albums are very romantic, both musically and lyrically.
That was a conscious thing, to have the dichotomy of
being really savage and barbaric, but also having the whole romantic element
too, not afraid to make things sound beautiful.
That's not very popular in the U.S at the moment.
Oh no, no, it's be as ugly as you can be. Ha ha.
How would you compare the last two CD's with your
previous work, like Life Among the Ruins, Age of Consent, and the early Virgin
Steele, the self-titled and Guardians of the Flame.
What we're doing on the Marriage is carrying on from what
we started with the first and second albums. Noble Savage was the real fruition
of that style, I think. The first two albums and the EP were essays in the
craft, before it was fully sown, and it really came together with Noble Savage.
Life Among the Ruins was really kind of a strange, left-field album, kind of
more American sounding, and really just what our lives were like at the time.
It came at the time when there was a gap of three years or so between Age of
Consent and Life Among the Ruins, so there was a lot of jamming around, we had
gotten back into an early Zeppelin kind of feel. Things were somewhat a little
simpler in some respects. Rather than saying, "Okay, we have to write
these epics", there were songs I had written, and that Ed and I had
written together, and we just said "Let's do what we have and see what
happens." The record was recorded really, really quickly, and has kind of
a raw feel. It's just one photograph of what life was like at that point in
time, whether or not we come back to that style and do a whole another
album...I don't know, maybe isolated songs here and there. It's definitely
different. The first album was a combination of those epics and straight ahead
rock. It was just done after three weeks of being together. We did it in a
week, less than a week for the whole album. Ha ha. For I think under $1000.
That was put out in ‘81, ‘82?
The band formed October of ‘81, and we went into the
studio I guess...It was on Halloween we formed, so we went in, the end of
November, beginning of December. Came out sometime in March or April of ‘82.
The next question is about the lyrics. What were your
lyrical sources for the album? I see some Greek("Prometheus, the Fallen
One"), Norse("Twilight of the Gods"), Christian("The Last
Supper"), E. A. Poe ("The Raven Song"), even Tolkien("Blood
of the Saints")...any other sources?
Oh, god there's so many things that I love. I read pretty
voraciously. One of my favorite writers is Ray Bradbury, I really like his
stuff, his whole style of writing and the things he says are a big influence.
Especially on the Noble Savage album, Ray Bradbury was a big influence. Also,
(Aldous) Huxley, Brave New World, books like that, Fahrenheit 451. I like a lot
of the French poets like Baudelaire, Rembault, Verlaine, those people. William
Blake, I actually didn't know this at the time, but after I had finished doing
Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part I, and it came out, we got a new drummer,
Frank Gilchrist, for the remainder of the Part II tracks. The first thing he
says to me, "Oh yeah, William Blake." I said, "What about
William Blake?" He says, "Yeah, he wrote a poem called the Marriage
of Heaven and Hell." And I didn't know this. But I got that poem while we
were in the midst of doing Part II, and got back into Blake. I had known his
earlier things, but I hadn't known that work. So that was just a title I came
up with, I don't remember exactly where I came up with it or why I came up with
it, but it's just opposites. I love those opposites, Noble Savage, Heaven and
Hell, Virgin Steele, so that was pretty interesting. It's nice to have a guy in
the band who reads probably as much as I do.
How about any certain grand themes? There seem to be a
lot of repetitive images and emotions in the lyrics?
The album works conceptually on several different levels.
One is the theme of death and rebirth, the eternal resurrection, like a love
that never dies, from beyond the grave. "Emalaith" is the sequel to
"I Will Come for You" from Part I. So that's a constant, recurring
theme, exalting change, "Transfiguration", and what happens with
death and the spirit. Another theme is the flesh and the spirit. People like
trying to say, "Well, if you're spiritual, you can't be earthy", and
vice versa, but it's not true. What I'm trying to say on the album is that the
spirit lives in the house of the flesh. They're connected and it's those
connections that make us whole, and it's supposed to be that way. The flesh
gives us energy, and the spirit gives us something else. So there's that.
Freedom, personal freedom, and with that freedom comes personal responsibility,
for your actions, and where you stand in the world. Quite a few things that are
The death and rebirth really comes through, "Out
from the wasteland, death into life." All that encompasses, whether it's
the Norse Twilight of the Gods, giving birth to a new age; or the flood
mythologies in the various cultures; or Christ rising up from the grave...
That's one of the things I think about, that all
religions are essentially the same, and it's like language, there are different
languages, but a chair is still a chair, whether you call it a chair, or
whatever it is in Italian, or French. I think the myths have essentially the
same properties, the creation myths are similar, the fiery orb coming from the
sky, and these rebirth things. They have their differences of course, but they
are all interpretations, I think, of the same phenomenon and man's questions,
"How did we come to be?" explaining why the sun goes down, and the
moon comes up, so on and so forth.
Is "Emalaith" based on mythology or literature,
or is your own creation?
That's a name I made, it's derived from two different
sounds, I guess the sound of it is Celtic in origin, and I wanted something
that was from that part of the world. And something that sounded otherworldly,
sort of vampirish, of another race of beings, or something like that. What
Emalaith stands for is that eternal love that everyone's searching for,
something, someone, some partner who will be there forever, a love that never
dies no matter what happens. That spiritual connection which I think people do
have with each other in relationships. There's the exploration of that kind of
thing. It's similar in a way to "The Burning of Rome", where there's
death, and coming back, and the connection of spirits and common souls.
["When I die, in your arms/One child born/To carry on...I'll meet you
again through the eyes of our son"-From "The Burning of Rome", a
tremendous epic from Age of Consent.-C]
Is "Blood and Gasoline" based on anything
Nothing specific, it's just things that I was going
through. Some of those lyrics were actually written around the time of Life
Among the Ruins, and that album's a real personal album, because I was going
through a lot of trips during its writing. It's dealing with how people don't
really have time for one another because we're moving so fast, there's not
enough time to establish relationships. I was feeling this because I was not
connecting with people in my life with whom I wanted to connect at the time. So
there's a lot of negative energy in there, but channeled in a positive way.
It's so fleeting, we're just burning through our lives. Blood and gasoline,
they both burn, and it's just so much wasted energy. We're a mobile society,
always on the run in cars, we live in cars, we listen to music in cars. Tonight
I'll sleep in the motel where you slept this afternoon, and somebody else slept
the night before. It's just this burning through time, something that was on my
Getting back to the music, who's going to be on the tour,
you, Edward Pursino, and...?
Rob Demartino [bass] from Life Among the Ruins, he's been
in the band and out of the band for a while. He was playing with Blackmore's
Rainbow for a while, so he really didn't get a chance to play on the two
Marriage albums, but he's back. Frank Gilchrist is the drummer, who did the
three tracks from Part II, Joey has retired from the music business.
How did you come to put the song "Life Among the
Ruins" on the Marriage album? It is better suited than it was for its
Ha ha. It wasn't really quite ready during the Life Among
the Ruins album, and I always liked the concept. It's happened before. Queen
had the song "Sheer Heart Attack" on a different album than the album
Sheer Heart Attack, and Led Zeppelin had "Houses of the Holy" on
Physical Graffiti, so I didn't invent that idea, but I thought it was nice to
continue that tradition. It didn't really fit, as you say, on that other album.
I wrote that song at the same time I was writing "Blood and
Gasoline", so there's a similar sort of manicness to them.
The European tour is with Angra?
Yeah, they're supporting us.
Anyone else you'll be playing with on these shows, or
A band called Superior from Germany. Kamelot was supposed
to be the opener, third on the bill, but at the last minute they pulled out, so
Superior's doing the German dates. For the other European dates it's a band
called Poverty's No Crime. I don't know anything about either of them.
Are you a fan of Angra?
I don't know much about Angra, someone gave me the Holy
Land record, and I haven't really thoroughly digested it, I've just kind of
scanned through and checked it out briefly. To me it reminded me of Supertramp
a lot. Like Breakfast in America and that kind of thing, I thought they were
going to be much heavier, but I think their earlier records supposedly are much
heavier, because that record's pretty light.
Their previous one is a little more straight forward
heavy metal, but still has a lot of the classical influence. Holy Land has so
many musical influences, worked into a grand scheme, it seems to fit with your
music in a way.
I think they're a good band, what I've heard sounds good,
I just haven't really had time to digest the record.
I think Marriage works even better than the new
Angra, but I like what they did, it's very ambitious.
It's good, they've got the Brazilian influence and so on...we'll see how it
works live. I'm sure I'll like them, I'll get to hear them every night, ha ha.
What are some of the bands you currently listen to
Type O Negative, I like them. I'm still listening to Queen and Zeppelin, ha ha,
of course. Actually I just picked up this five-track EP, I guess it's a primer
thing from this band called Nevermore, I heard their track... we just did this
Judas Priest tribute thing ("Screaming for Vengeance"), and they had
a track on there along with us, "Love Bites", and I thought,
"Well that sounds good, I'd like to hear more of these guys," so I
just got that, and that sounds kind of cool.
When were you starting out in music? Was that
always in New York?
Yeah, always in New York. I started playing in bands when I was 11 years old,
so...when was I 11 years old...Maybe ‘71, ‘72? I'm not sure exactly when
Any other bands we'd recognize before Virgin
No, there was really nothing of note, just cover bands doing the club circuit
and that kind of thing, I started doing the club circuit when I was about 16.
The only other thing I've done besides Virgin Steele was a short lived thing, a
little project that was strictly live, with me, the bass player from Foghat
(Craig McGregor), Jack Starr (Orignal Virgin Steele guitarist), and this
drummer, and it was called Smokestack Lightning. That was around ‘92, so
probably right before Life Among the Ruins. It was really a blues-based thing,
like Foghat, because of the bass player. I'd like to record those songs some
day. I've talked with Jack about that and we might do that at some point. It'd
What kind of bands were you playing with in New York
when you started out? Was Manowar there? Riot?
Yeah we played with Manowar, we did many shows with Manowar. Riot, we played
with, the Rods, Motorhead we did a gig or two with, Mountain, Twisted Sister,
Zebra, and a lot of our own shows, because we were able to headline then. It
was strange, when we first began, the cover scene in New York was very, very
big, and we were like one of the only bands to do our own music, but it worked,
because we had an album out that was getting quite a lot of press. We were
constantly in the local papers, so we could get the gigs, and it was wonderful.
It was a really cool time in rock and roll. It's changed so much since we
There's something definitely in this water inspiring this
grand, fantasy based heavy metal, as you say, when you talk about us and
Manowar. I can't account for the similarities, we didn't hear them growing up,
and they didn't hear us growing up, but there's certain similarities between
both bands that people find, and I think it's just from being in this part of
the world, and probably similar influences.
Both bands are different, but both have this very
noble, glorious, warrior imagery and such...especially in the last one, yours
is a lot more subtle or intellectual, but I love them too, so...
They're a good band. We enjoyed touring with them; we're probably one of the
few bands that enjoys touring with them, ha ha! Because I think they're pretty
hard on a lot of the people that support them, but we didn't have any problems.
Everything was quite cool, and we found them to be quite nice, actually...
They're still on a major label! Their record just
came out here in the record stores, which is a rarity these day.
Yeah, I don't know how they do it, but they always manage to get these
wonderful deals. God bless' em!
It seems pretty desolate in America right now. Is
there any kind of chance to play live there in New York?
Yeah, we still play here, and it's usually quite good, we'll probably do more
of it. I'm starting to cultivate the situation to get the records out here
again, in the states, so that should start happening within the next year. And
then it will be even more of an event, more like the old days.
Are you happy that Noise is selling your albums?
They're not really released in the US, but at least they're available at
No, that's good, I'm happy about that. I've been offered various distribution
deals from people like Nuclear Blast and stuff, so I might do something with
them. I'm also at the point now where I can do it myself, like we did in the
past. I'd just sell them through the P.O. Box, and keep all the control of
everything. I might explore the possibility of that in the States.
Now there's some good news for Virgin Steele fans?
You're going to start rereleasing the older albums, starting with Noble Savage?
Is that going to be through you, or through T&T?
Now that's coming out with T&T on October 21, so it will be here as an
import. But they don't have the rights for it in the States, so when I get back
from the tour, I might put it out myself in the States, I'm not sure. Or I
might put Age of Consent out in the States first. I'm still thinking about what
I'm going to do, I'm really not sure. Noble Savage has six bonus tracks on it,
three tracks that were recorded during the Noble Savage sessions that I've now
gone back and added more orchestration and things on it, remixed, and it's got
two tracks that were recorded during the Marriage sessions, or partially
recorded, and finally finished now, and one little piece I just recorded for
this thing. ["The Spirit of Steele"
is absolutely to die for on this re-release!-C"]
Noble Savage is definitely a high point, that's where it really came together,
I like the first two records and there's some good things here and there but
Noble Savage was the first one I felt was really done right. The songs really
came together. I really dove into the songwriting, and the song "Noble
Savage" is one of my favorites. We still play it live, it's a big epic,
and "The Angel of Light" is really quite good, and the production was
good, and we had enough time to do it properly. The other ones were really,
really rushed all the time and there was always some kind of problem.
And that's the first one with Edward Pursino?
Yeah, I've known Ed for a long time, I knew him since he was about 15 or so. We
used to jam all the time when we were younger, and he was my first choice when
things weren't really working out with Jack. Which was very easy, he just
brought his amp down to my house one day and never left. Ha ha. It's good. We
go back a long way.
I understand Virgin Steele sales overseas are
doing really well?
We are doing well, and the record company is really happy with us at the
moment, so they're kind of rolling out the red carpet because things are going
well in Europe. It's only going to get better, I think. This Noble Savage
rerelease is going to do quite well, and so is the tour. We just toured last
year with Uriah Heep. That was also quite good. They're still doing well, and
they're really a great bunch of guys. We had the same lineup as now, Frank
Gilchrist and Rob Demartino.
They were back in the 70's too, late 60's even,
and I think they had a lot of influence on metal, but they're not a band that
gets much press or acclaim that way.
No, but they're still holding their own, and they have a healthy respect over
in Europe. That's what's nice about Europe. If they liked you ten years ago,
they still like you.
What do you think of the current scene in America?
It's mutated into something else, a combination of new and old elements. I call
this the Nothing New 90's, it's kind of like the 60's and 70's revisited. I
like some of these bands, I like Pearl Jam, I liked their first album. I like
some of the Soundgarden, some of those bands I can deal with. Some of it I'm
not that crazy about. I wasn't all that crazy about that resurgence of punk,
because I didn't really like it that much the first time around. Ha ha.
I think the saddest part is not the new bands or
the new styles, it's the fact that the traditional metal is "out,"
and even the traditional metal record labels won't sell it...
Yeah, it's this fashion thing, and some people are so put off by a name, they
don't even get beyond a certain image or look, to really hear the music. A
major label A&R guy hears "Virgin Steele", he thinks, "Oh,
it must sound like Iron Maiden", but it doesn't. It's thoroughly modern
metal. If they would just listen to it they would realize that people would
like this stuff. But it's a very weird mentality here. I decided a long time
ago not to let it get me down, not even try that hard in the States, and just
concentrate on Europe. Once that was solidified completely, then I'd know the
States thing would happen, and it's starting to work out like I planned.
I would guess you're pretty big in Japan too?
Japan is okay, Japan is a strange market. We were on a label called the Zero
Corporation, which didn't do anything with Life Among the Ruins, but now that
record's coming out again with JVC, and the two Marriage albums came out with
JVC, and they seem to be a little more happening. I think that's going to be a
nice market as well. Southern Europe is really Virgin Steele territory,
Germany, Italy, Greece is fanatical, Spain we're going to this time, Portugal,
The thing about Marriage is that it's very
original, it's not the same old thing by any stretch of the imagination, even
though it appeals to the traditional spirit of metal. Still in the States,
unless it's more industrial, or more alternative, it's not a proper way to be
I know, it's tough. If the band was called Bloodline, or Type O Positive, or
something, there would be a chance for it, but the name Virgin Steele is a
handicap in some respects in the States. If they do remember it, they remember
it as whatever it is they remember it as, at a time when that's no longer
relevant. But it doesn't matter, as long as it's happening somewhere, and I can
continue to have a career then I'm happy.
So am I and so are all the fans! Now you said you
were in a project called Smokestack, I also understand you wrote and Edward
wrote and played for Piledriver's second album.
Yeah, we wrote those songs because we were asked to. It was really like a favor
to our manager, and we recorded that stuff for him. The rest of Virgin Steele
wasn't on that, it was a drummer friend of mine, a childhood friend named
Robert Espizito, and a bass player named Mike Paccione.
Word association: the movie Zombie Nightmare?
"We Rule the Night"... when he gets run over by the kids in the
I only saw it on Mystery Science Theater 3000,
where they have witty robots make fun of the sci-fi and horror movies.
It was a really bad movie, ha ha.
It was funny, you were on the soundtrack, with
Girlschool, and Pantera, pre-any of the..
Was that? I didn't even think that was the Pantera, that's now. I think there
was another band called Pantera, with a girl singer. I think that's who that
Hmmm. The other Pantera had all these hard rock
and traditional metal albums before Cowboys that they kind of pretend don't
Maybe, it's possible, I know there was another band, when Thor was around, it
was a band called Pantera with a girl singer.
I think Thor was in that movie, wasn't he?
Yeah, he did that, and he did another one called Rock and Roll Nightmare which
was even worse than Zombie Nightmare, really really bad.
Were you on the soundtracks for anything else?
Yes, the movie Hear no Evil, with Marlee Maitlin and Martin Sheen, that has
"On the Wings of the Night" in it. It was a better movie, it was a
little dull, but it was a much better movie. And also, Casualties of Love, the
Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher thing, we had three tracks in that.
Which brings up that he was in the video for...
"Snakeskin Voodoo Man."
That was from Life Among the Ruins era, but that
wasn't on the European version of that CD?
It's on the U.S. version of it.
I remember seeing you guys on Current Affair and
Yeah, we were on every major news network when that happened. It was kind of
cool for a while.
Unfortunately, it's not just recognition for the
music, but at least..
No, but it was kind of fun to be on TV, and every time you turn on the thing,
you'd see yourself, ha ha. Kind of nice in its own weird sort of way.
You asked me about Exorcist- Nightmare Theater, that was not the same situation
as the Piledriver, I know Gord is giving interviews and saying that Nightmare
Theater is Virgin Steele and all this, and it's not! It was a band that
disintegrated during the making of the album, and I was brought in to make it
happen. The band just kind of fell apart, and didn't have it all together, so I
ended up with Edward writing, or rewriting, a lot of the material, and the
whole record was done in three days. It was just totally insane. The vocalist
got really weirded out, and didn't want to sing a lot of the lyrics or stuff,
it was like he went on some kind of Jesus trip, so there's points when I'm
doing stuff, but it's not Virgin Steele. Same thing with Piledriver, there's
one cameo vocal, I do "The Warning" ha ha. I just wanted to set the
record straight on that, because a lot of people think it was Virgin Steele,
and we were trying to cash in on some death metal thing or whatever it was we
want to call that kind of record. That really was not the case, it was just
trying to help out people who needed help, and we didn't make any money on it,
so it was not cashing in to get rich quick scheme at all. I saw this whole
thing in Sentinel Steel, and Gord was going on and on and on about the band,
but it was really false information in both his interview and in Jack Starr's
interview. There were a lot of incorrect things going on there.
Anything else you want to set straight, or...
Off the top of my head...I don't remember, I'd have to look at the thing again,
because it's late and I've had a full day of blasting Virgin Steele in my head,
That's about it, do you have anything you'd like
to say to the fans or the people that might be reading this?
Most importantly, I'd like to say thanks for all the people who still believe
in this kind of music, for being there, and for not forgetting about Virgin
Steele, and picking up the Marriage CD's, and getting with what we're doing
again. We're very grateful for that. We hope to have more stuff out, easier to
get, whether it's through me directly or some company here, so it makes their
And if people want to keep in contact with you for
availability, they can write to that address on Marriage II?
Yes, I've been answering all the mail since we began, myself, I don't know how
long I'll be able to do that, but at the moment, I'm handling all the mail.
That's very admirable.
Well, I like to know what's going on, and I like to stay in contact with them
closely, as much as I possibly can.
Well I want to thank you very much for your time,
for doing this, I really appreciate it. Thanks even more for the music, it's
very special, in terms of the unparalleled emotion that I, and so many others,
get from these glorious works of art.
You're very welcome Craig, and thanks for your positiveness, and support, and
reviews, we appreciate it.