VIRGIN STEELE are still going strong after almost 40 years playing «Barbaric-Romantic Metal» and a new album is scheduled for release later this year. PowerMetal.no had a chat with vocalist David DeFeis about the past, present and future.
In 2021 Virgin Steele have been around for 40 years! Congratulations with that! Thinking back to 1981 when it all started, do you remember what your ideas and thoughts behind the band was? Was it just for fun, or did you plan world domination?
David DeFeis: Cheers! Thanks very much! Yes that will be in October of 2021!
Fun was of course a part of it and indeed! And it was fun; it was new, exciting all those things you can imagine. But the main idea behind it all was expression. To be able to express ourselves, and to explore our ideas about music, metal, the world, and document our way of life in sound – that was the idea.
No, it wasn’t about world domination or becoming famous, at least for me it wasn’t. It was really about creating and maintaining a way of life that could carry me ever onward, eternally. And that goal has been achieved. It is success of a different source.
This is a big question, but is it possible to say something about how this journey has been? What has been most memorable moments, and what about the downturns?
David DeFeis: Like any life it has had its share of positive and negative experiences. In the “music business” there is always turmoil and we were no exception to that. We had our issues with labels, management; psycho’s, fights, legal shit, all sorts of things that make life interesting! The moments that I like to remember are the creative ones; finishing an album we worked hard on, putting a great live concert together, and traveling the world meeting great people and sharing the passion for this music.
And what about the musical journey of Virgin Steele; can you give us an insight in how, and why the band has developed during the years? What has been the major turning points in the band’s musical development – and why?
David DeFeis: The basic premise of always going for it; being true to what we want to do musically has remained. From the very start we were going to go our own way. We didn’t give a shit about what anyone else was doing. We had our own ideas and we always stuck to our beliefs, and as the main songwriter, composer I still have that same attitude. I still go out on a limb, I explore, I push the boundaries and try to take the music in new directions while always keeping and maintaining the core, the roots of it all vibrant, alive and well.
I have one part of what I call the “Bones Of The Mountain”…sound…& philosophy… The primal, barbaric, raw side. This comes partially from the blues, partially from my pagan interests, and such, and all the heaviness and sadness that goes with that. And on the other side I have the more “Classical” side. Classical as in the structure of ancient architecture, poetry, visual art, theatre, 19th Century music; Chopin, Verdi, Debussy. The sensual side, or the romantic if you will, therefore the outcome: Barbaric-Romantic.
The band developed because I developed as a composer and writer. And I always kept learning, I never stagnated. I am into Music with a capital “M”. It isn’t a trend or a pose for me. I am not interested in being the flavor of the month or how many clicks or likes one gets. I do what I do to keep going as a thoughtful forward thinking, moving musician, composer who cares about his craft and is totally into documenting every passion, every second of the wild ride of life. I can go from writing something like an «Emalaith» or a «Kingdom Of The Fearless», or «Invictus» to the more Blues based songs like «I Dress In Black», «Feral», or «Green Dusk Blues» to a ballad like «When The Legends Die», a tender moment like «Iphgenia In Hades» or «Last Rose Of Summer»…or to what I call a “sky hymn» like «Perfect Mansions» or «Noble Savage». All different, all versatile…eclectic, but all connected via the philosophy behind the music…and lyrics…
We have run the gamut and made full on metal albums like Invictus , to more blues based “hard rock” albums like Life Among The Ruins  or Ghost Harvest , and even within those albums there is always a tremendous range of musical experiences, dynamics, style…again versatility. We would not have it any other way. To make the same type of album over and over again would be anathema to us.
And what about any personal favorites among the Virgin Steele albums – and why?
David DeFeis: I love them all for different reasons, but since you asked… Visions Of Eden  is one of them. Tracks like «When Dusk Fell», «Angel Of Death» and «Adorned With The Rising Cobra» are very special and dear to my heart and quite personal. [The House Of] Atreus Acts 1 & 2, of course….Marriage [Of Heaven And Hell Part One & Two, 1994 & 1995] as well for different reasons. Nocturnes Of Hellfire & Damnation  is a huge favorite of mine as it accurately portrays the current state of my life. I am speaking about the full double CD version with songs like «The Birth Of Beauty», «Persephone», «Glamour», «Delirium», «Haunted Wolfshine»…all are close to my heart. It is a very different album compared to an album like Invictus but still very much connected.
What many don’t realize is that what actually drives a Virgin Steele song forward is the song not the ‘cosmetics’, not the instrumentation per se, but the actual harmonic progression. The chords and the melodies, in a word…the song itself. All the drama, or heaviness or what have you is all built into the song from the start. I write everything on the piano and then I adapt it to the other instruments. If a song works in the format of just piano and vocal then I know I have a song. And it will work however it is orchestrated. That’s why we stripped a whole lot down for the Gothic Voodoo Anthems  album and also for the bonus disc found on Invictus ”Fire Spirits» to show that side of what I am talking about.
Let’s get back to 2020 and the upcoming album. You promise “epic, barbaric-romantic metal”, but what else can you say about the album music wise? Is it Virgin Steele as we all know, or will there be a few surprises for the fans?
David DeFeis: I am not going to say too much about it at this time, I prefer to let the Music speak when it is released. But I can tell you that it is very heavy, very aggressive with more “tender” moments now and then. There is dynamics, I don’t think you can keep bashing people over the head for an hour you need light and shade otherwise. After awhile nothing sounds heavy anymore. Dynamics is the key! You’ll find that bands like Black Sabbath share this sentiment. You ask, “ is it Virgin Steele as we know it»? That question in itself means different things to different people. Those fans who came onboard with an album like Noble Savage  probably expect every album to be like that one. Those fans who came onboard with Life Among The Ruins keep asking for another album like that one. What people should realize by now is that we are always developing and pushing the envelope, but we are always true to the core principles I mentioned earlier. Will it be recognizable as a Barbaric-Romantic, Epic Virgin Steele album in the vein of something like Visions, Atreus or Invictus? Yes! Will it keep forging forward? Yes again.
After 40 years making music; how has you as a songwriter developed? What are the most significant differences writing when you are writing an album in 2020 compared to the 80’s? I guess the technological development affects, but I guess you as a person also have changed during those years?
David DeFeis: I have kept my mind, ears and my heart, my passions open and wide ranging. Therefore I always have something new to say, to write about – musically speaking as well as lyrically. I am always trying to learn more about Music…Art…Life…and I am always exploring all sides of my “nature». That is what fuels my writing. For me writing an album in either the 80’s, 90’s or next year in 2021 or beyond is and will be the same. The goal is to capture as much passion, as much life in the Music, in the song as possible. To be musically interesting, inventive and honest, always keeping the idea of forward momentum, propelling the song, the music from the start to the finish line. Technology does not come into the equation. I still keep a cassette recorder on top of my piano, and when I have an idea I record it onto the cassette. If it sounds good there I know it will work in the studio. Primitive, simple and it carries the Spirit of where and when I began forward…the roots remain….
Can you say something about the theme and lyrics of the album; is it a concept album of any kind? And more generally; how, and where, do you find inspiration for the lyrics?
David DeFeis: It is a concept album, but no I will not reveal what it is about right now. I will say that it is very dramatic and there is great passion, love, life, heartbreak and death. In short: it is a Virgin Steele album.
I find inspiration in the life that I lead. The pleasures and the pains that my world offers. The new album like all of the other Virgin Steele albums always reflects what life is like for me…for us…at a given point in time. Even those songs that are steeped in paganism, myth and what have you, are all still about the current moment. Poetically transformed, yes, but It isn’t necessarily a history lesson. It always has an eye to what is going on now. This next one is most definitely about now, but again poetically charged and multi-faceted.
And what about the future; will there be more from Virgin Steele, and do you have any other projects you want to bring to life?
David DeFeis: Of course! The next 2 albums are already written and largely recorded. And I compose constantly so I have another two albums at least already partially sketched out. It never ends… In addition to more albums I would like to do a film, a book, and some straight up solo piano works. Speaking of film! We have done quite a bit of video lately and more is on the way. We had some downtime from the studio so we put our efforts into capturing life in a different way. And we explored our visual impulses. Using very simple bare bones technology we have crafted some interesting pieces. I was just approached by some people from a film studies program at a college/university who had seen the videos and thought they reminded them of the style of the works of the film maker Jean Luc Godard. To me that was a very huge compliment.