Jarvis Leatherby may be one of the low-key busiest folks in heavy metal. Founder and frontman for trad metal ironmen Night Demon, new bassist for the legendary Cirith Ungol, live vocalist for NWOBHM stalwarts Jaguar, former promoter of the Frost and Fire festival and manager to previously mentioned groups as well as Midnight, Visigoth and Satan, and you can say days off are few and far between for the SoCal native.
Leatherby caught up with Metal Injection to talk the resurrection and redemption of Cirith Ungol with their long-awaited new album Forever Black, new music from Night Demon, lessons learned from hosting a music festival in California and the art, risk and reward of music management.
On Reuniting/Joining Cirith Ungol
I've always said that it's one of the greatest achievements of my life being able to orchestrate the comeback. But here we are. We're five years into it. So for me, it's just one of the things that it's like business as usual. Every day I'm working on it. So it's hard sometimes to notice in real time. I'm not going to say it hard to appreciate it, but it's hard to grasp the magnitude of it while you're in the thick of it. Sometimes when I'm traveling and I'm on a long flight or something, that's when I'll think about it and be like, wow, yeah. This is pretty damn amazing.
Sometimes you have to like kind of mentally time travel back into the past and think about where you were and where you are now and all the work that's happened to get there in the end. I mean, that's kind of how we operate. It's basically just every day we do a little bit. And then eventually with momentum, you've arrived. Also while you're there doing that you're also planning for the future still. It's definitely a great accomplishment. And I'm super proud.
On New Album Forever Black
I spend a lot of time on the road, so I have a couple of bass players that fill in for me while I'm gone. The band was just writing songs the last couple of years, sending me demos while I was gone and I would take a listen and then throw in my own ideas about it. And then when I would come home that's when I would really take the time to help them construct the songs. There was definitely a lot of arguing happening about stuff. They had a certain idea of the way that they wanted to do things. I didn't want to be the one bringing in a song from the ground up. I wanted them to be creating that. And they did that, which was cool.
But yeah, we definitely butted heads a lot. And Armand, the guitar player in Night Demon, engineered and produced the album. So, we had a lot of conflict I guess you could say. But it was necessary. And I'm glad that I was there to help oversee that. It's not like riding a bike if you're not writing songs for 30 plus years, you know? It's a muscle you need to exercise. I thought they did really well, but I was really happy to be able to have some kind of control over what the final product was and that it was necessary.
There's a whole new generation of fans for the band and they are who they are. So you are going to get a sound that does sound like them, so I wasn't too worried about that. I wasn't too worried about how people would react. But like I said, there were some things that in the demo that I definitely knew had to change for more impact and better impact.
On Redemption for Cirith Ungol
I grew up in the same town that they did. Pre-Internet and stuff like that. And (cult status for the band) wasn't what was happening here. There wasn't talk of that at all. As a matter of fact, it was quite opposite. They were a joke. They were laughed at a lot around here and like ridiculous over the top kind of. That's the way people looked at it out here. I think at one point there was a local poll in the newspaper where they rank the bands. I think they got worse band one year.
Frost and Fire original pressing on LP. I mean, you can get for 80 to 100 dollars now, but back then you couldn't go to a record store or thrift store and not find multiple copies in the dollar bin. There was zero appreciation for it out here. Those guys would draw 10 to 20 people at a gig, and they never toured. So, who knew? I mean, it took me really traveling the world with Night Demon to realize the scale of it all. Had no idea until we really we went to other countries and for the dedication from people. So it's definitely a redemption story, you know?
Night Demon's toured a lot with the guys in Anvil and are close with those guys. We've seen their movie and we know their story. And this I think even more so if you want to talk about redemption for a band. These guys stopped for 25 years and never played any instrument again. I mean, nothing. It's not like they played in another band or played for fun. They sold their instruments in the early 90s and said they didn't want anything to do with music. So it's great to have it back. It's something that nobody ever thought would happen, and a lot of people told me that it wasn't going to happen, and I wouldn't be able to pull it off. I think it was more of a challenge for me to do it and that's why I pressed so hard for it.
On Music Management
Yeah, it's completely different (from performing/writing). You know, it's been really good for me, actually, because what it's done is it's made me into I think a more well-rounded person mentally. I've really gotten out of the mindset of competition. When you're in a band and you have one band and it's your band and you're doing it for a living, especially after the progression of the growth of the band happens through the years and you're like clawing your way up from nothing, there can be a lot of jealousy and competition and stuff like that amongst other bands. You feel that you may be better than some other bands getting some opportunities or you may be working harder than certain bands. Normal human emotions, like why isn't what we're doing translating as well as something that somebody else is doing? That has helped me a lot, really kind of changed my mindset from like a scarcity mindset to more of an abundance mindset. Having clients that it's my job to look after them and to really help get them to the next level. It's been really awesome.
With my crop of bands, I mean, I've been with some of them for so long and everybody knows each other. Everybody's kind of in the same scene, which makes it really cool. But all the bands are different enough and unique enough and have their own thing. I was conscious of that, too. There's no two bands that are just so alike or so similar that you're having to pick and choose all the time which opportunities to give who. Everybody has their own thing going on. But also one hand washes the others. I'm really proud. I mean, the bands that I represent are just really good friends of mine and I'm a big fan of the bands. And that's a really cool thing. I think it's a good situation to be in.
On Concert Promoting/Frost and Fire Festival
I had a history in concert promotion here locally in California. So I knew what I was doing. But just traveling the world and playing all these other festivals, I thought we need something like that out here. So it was as simple as that. I just put it together and it organically grew year by year. It was just a representation of our scene and what we do. But I wanted to bring it to Southern California cause there was room for it. There was a big gaping hole for it. That's pretty much how it went. And all the bands have never complained about coming to Southern California and hanging out on the beach. The fans … 80 percent of our ticket sales are from out of the state or out of the country. So it's a cool vacation destination thing.
It was really positive. It was actually life changing for a lot of people. A lot of people have some really, really amazing times at the festival in years past and they'll talk about it to this day. So it's another cool thing that I'm glad, no matter what my fears were or how much of an uphill battle it was, I'm glad in hindsight and glad I pulled the trigger on that.
On New Night Demon
Night Demon will be putting out new music this year. We release the new single April 3rd. We've got a pretty big roll out and we've got a lot of really interesting stuff that we've put together that we're pretty excited to unleash. You know, we've been working hard on it. And it's time.
On Falling Under True Metal
Everything that we do, as far as writing music and all the stuff, we really just want to expose it to the world on the biggest level we can. And when you're talking about underground heavy metal for years, especially in the 90s on, there was just such a limited space for that. And now with the invention of the progression of technology and the Internet and stuff, it's really kind of made it a level playing field and and we're able to cross over into certain areas.
Decibel did a flexi for Satan and Cirith Ungol and are doing one for Night Demon. We're talking now with Metal Injection. I mean, typically, these are publications that cover really big bands or they cover really extreme bands. And I don't think that what I do falls in any of that. I think what I do with all these bands, it falls into the category of, I guess you would say true metal or street metal. Whether it's popular or not, there's still an underground. There's an underlying underground tone to everything that we're doing.