BY JULIA CIRIGNANO & JAY KENNEY
When legendary heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio died on May 16, 2010, it sent shock waves throughout the hard rock and metal community. As sad as his death was for so many people, it motivated vocalist Leather Leone to return to the heavy metal music scene after being away from it for nearly two decades. Since then, she has released a studio album with The Sledge/Leather Project, reunited with the band she originally fronted, Chastain, for two stellar recordings (Surrender To No One and We Bleed Metal), and is currently in the process of recording her first solo album since 1989 with a stellar band in Brazil. 2017 promises to be the year of Leather!
“The loss of Ronnie Dio changed me as much as when I had spent time with him,” said Leone in an exclusive interview with Limelight Magazine. “It took my breath away, as it did for many. I had to say and do something…the only way I knew was through song. He had always told me I had a gift. I simply gave it back to him. I think of him always when I write and record. He has always been my vocal reason. I thank him for any note that I sing.”
Leone said that her 20 year hiatus from music wasn’t planned but it just happened.
“After Chastain, the offers were comprising and uninteresting,” she admitted. “I would and will not try to be something I am not…I had other paths that called to me.”
While Leone’s path took her on a road away from the music industry, she is now back stronger than ever with a new solo album in the works with a lineup of musicians that includes Daemon Ross (guitar), Braulio Drummond (drums), Thiago Velasquez (bass) and Vinnie Tex (guitar).
“I call them my boys from Brazil,” Leone said. “They are a well-kept secret that I have the privilege of working with. They have done their share of working with much bigger names than me. I had met Daemon Ross on my first jaunt to Brazil in 2014. We had stayed in touch hoping it would evolve in some way. Vinnie, Braulio and Thiago I met for the first time in September. For me it was magic. We fit together very well.”
Although many years have passed, Leone feels like she’s the same rocker she has always been with the opportunity to become even better than ever.
“I can’t tell you how empowering and life changing this new project is for me,” Leone said. “The band that my promoter/manager Rodrigo Scelza had found for me is a wall of inspiration. I am basically writing with Vinnie Tex via email. I have gone through his and Daemon Ross’s ideas and chose what I think will work with my lyrical ideas…then Vinnie and I start doing demos back and forth. It is working very well. I have found a sense of sameness with them.”
Leone and her “boys from Brazil” are recording this new album in South America due to the unique opportunity she has working with these musicians.
“The guys are all situated there,” she said. “It is easier for me to go to them and it is important for me to be there with them. The energy I get from South America is indescribable.”
The new album doesn’t have a title yet but Leone did mention that it will be released sometime in 2017 “Dio willing,” she said, in commemoration of Ronnie James Dio.
While Leone is the same hard rocker she has always been, she said the music industry around her has drastically changed over the years.
“I find social media crazy,” she said. “Anyone can make music. All music can be downloaded and found for free. There are so many bands, it’s hard to find your place. That is what I’ve noticed, but I am still blessed to be able to make music so I have no complaints.”
Leone recorded her first album ever in 1985 with the band Chastain called Mystery of Illusion. They released music for five years before Leone departed the band in 1991. Over the past several years, Leone returned to Chastain and recorded two studio albums, Surrender To No One (2013) and We Bleed Metal (2015). [Check out the music videos for “Evil Awaits Us” and “I Am Sin” from Surrender To No One by clicking on the song title.]
“Working with Chastain is like riding a bike,” Leone explained. “You always remember and it comes back to you. Our relationship hasn’t changed. It was very cool to be back in the studio with him (David T. Chastain). At this time I see no plans for another record but weirder situations have come to be.”
Although Leone worked with Chastain in the studio again, they hadn’t shared a stage in over 25 years until they performed together on October 8, 2016, at Bogart’s in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“The live show with Chastain was cool,” Leone said. “I had always known it would happen eventually. It made me realize how thankful I was to have come from there and how lucky I was to move forward with my boys.”
Leone hopes to play some shows in the states again, possibly even with her “boys from Brazil.”
“My world with this band is wide open,” she said. “I am starting again with a fireball of talent beside me. There is interest and possibility. I hope to play in the states again.”
As Leone cements her return to the music scene, she is now accompanied by many more female rockers than before. When Leone first started making music, she was playing with the boys and being compared to male metal singers such as Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. Although Leone is proud to have been a pioneer female vocalist and rocker, she has also struggled with this label.
“I have always said I have a hard time with the female label,” Leone explained. “I understand looking back that we were few but still that label is so boring. I feel blessed, of course, to be spoken in the same conversations as the big guns but why is gender an issue?”
Leone is thankful for everyone who has supported her throughout her career.
“Thank you to everyone who has stuck by me with love and belief,” she said. “My new band will blow your mind as they do mine every day.”
Keep up with Leone and get band updates at leatherleone.com.