Jarvis Leatherby is in good form. I’m somewhat confused to find the Night Demon man in his second home in Derry, in the North of Northern Ireland. I’d expected him to be in California, but he explains that he splits his time between Ireland and Ventura as his girlfriend lives over here. Confusion solved, he explains that he spends much of his time on the road, so having a base in the UK is helpful.
Interview – Jarvis Leatherby, Night Demon
Words: Paul Hutchings
For those that don’t know Jarvis, he’s the man behind Night Demon, a powerful Metal trio whose music is very much rooted in the NWOBHM movement. He spent some of his formative years as a musician and promoter, with tours for many bands organised in the late ’80s onwards.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t consider myself like a steady promoter, doing that early on in my life while I was in bands,” he says. “Then I didn’t do it for a decade. I still put on the odd festival here and there, but that’s like by no means a full-time job.”
I asked Jarvis for a potted history of Night Demon. “Night Demon started out in 2011 as just a group of guys from Southern California who liked the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and didn’t know anybody else who did where we were from,” he says. “We didn’t think anybody would care about what we were doing. So, we just wanted to make a four-song EP, and that’s that was our goal. That was it. And we did that. We didn’t play for about a year and a half.
“Some friends of ours kept telling us, ‘hey, man, you know that little recording you did? You should put that out.’ We’re like, OK, so in 2013, we put that EP out, and people loved it. You know, all over the world. They were just like, wow, this is great. We had no idea about the underground subculture that was happening or anything. So, we went out and gave it a shot, and, basically, I haven’t worked a day job since!”
Jarvis explains that this isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. “I’m not going to say it’s like an overnight success or anything. I just decided that I would be homeless for five years or something, and that was worth it, honestly. I was at that age when we had all been in so many bands before. We started Night Demon, and we were kind of at that age where all our friends were quitting music and getting real jobs. We kind of went the opposite direction and decided, well, this is who we are for life. So, let’s stop fucking around with it and let’s get serious about this.”
Jarvis makes no bones about the fact that it’s NWOBHM that influences his music. He also created the legendary Frost and Fire festivals in Ventura in order to get the likes of Manilla Road and Ashbury to play at festivals. Was it four or five, I asked him. “We did four of them in Ventura, one in London, one here in Northern Ireland, and we’re looking at doing a fifth one this year in Ventura.”
It’s disappointing to hear that Frost and Fireland were the least successful of the ventures, although Jarvis is clearly a man who finds the positives in everything. I mentioned that I’d had a ticket to see Night Demon and Cirith Ungol at Manorfest, which of course, didn’t happen. Jarvis snorts about that. “Disaster. Yeah”.
As for Frost and Fireland? “It was OK. It was the least successful of any of them that I’ve done. But I don’t care. Everybody had a great time, and it was worth doing. It’s kind of funny. There were more people from other countries, I think, than from Ireland. But hey, that’s OK. I think this is a magical place. I’m up here in Derry and here to build the scene. It made an impression. There are still posters up all-around town that Night Demon is coming to play here in May. We’re going to do a full tour of Ireland, like seven dates which most bands tell us not to do because it’s not worth it, but we don’t care.
“We do well in Belfast and in Dublin, but if there are ten people in Cork or in Galway, then there are ten people that want to see it. And if you’re here, you might as well just do it. That’s what I’m about. Numbers and statistics don’t mean shit to me. They just really don’t, in the grand scheme of life. It’s all about experiences and the people that you get to share your creation with, and ten important people are way, way more gratifying than 1000 people who don’t care, you know? So that’s the way I see it. It’s a short life, but it’s a long one if you think about it, and all these little things that you do add up to something great. You can’t worry about competition or, again, about numbers and statistics. I just think we live in that society these days, and I don’t think it really equates to anything of value.”
We move on to the other big events that will see Jarvis playing in the UK this year. I mention Manorfest. Jarvis appears a little sceptical. “Let’s see. It hasn’t happened yet.”
What about Dominion, which the band are scheduled to play in May? “Yeah, let’s see about that one too,” Jarvis says in that cool drawl that is effortless. What does he know about Dominion? “The guys who put that festival on actually put on at least twenty other festivals in the UK, and they’re based on punk rock and Blues, even EDM stuff. So, they know what they’re doing. I trust that this is going to happen. We’ve got a couple of mutual friends involved too, and they said, ‘hey, here are the cool bands you should get’. Looking at the lineup as a whole, I think it’s amazing. I think it’s great.”
It’s a varied bill indeed, with Blind Guardian, Skindred and Orange Goblin alongside Cirith Ungol, Sodom, Diamond Head, Satan and Visigoth, to name just a few. Jarvis is enthused about it. “I think it’s all good. It’s all quality stuff, you know? So that’s good with me because you can get wildly eclectic and have not a lot of quality, in my opinion. But yeah, I’m really stoked about it. I’m really happy. We’ve always done pretty well in Newcastle. We’re going to be going there from Japan actually, so we’ll be there a week before. We have a couple of secret gigs planned in Newcastle the week before. So it’ll be fun. It’s a first-year festival for these guys, so I don’t think they’re expecting the world. They want to get it started, and they’re committed to doing it year after year. So I think they’re expecting to lose money on it and they’re OK with that. That’s fine because they’re trying to build something there too, which I totally respect.”
Night Demon have their new album Outsider out in under a month. I’ve had an advanced copy, and it’s been on repeat for a few days. Outsider is an excellent album that draws deeply on those NWOBHM influences but with a contemporary style to it. It’s fresh, but you can hear all the influences that you would want from that kind of thing. I wonder if Jarvis is like many musicians who are already moving on to the next album by the time their latest one is released.
“Definitely not for us,” he says. “We’re not a band who puts out a record every year. I’m not writing any new music past this. I don’t operate like that. I’m focused, and this is the season of this album. It’s still not out yet. So I’m heavily involved in it and rehearsing the stuff to play live. I can’t even think about a new record.”
Every interviewer makes the occasional error in their research. Outsider is a concept album, but I get my words wrong when I suggest that it’s a concept album that’s more of a collection of themes than a story. I’m soon put in my place. “That’s not correct. It’s a story. It’s a story 100%”.
Having been chided by a man who could swat me into next week with his huge sideburns, I get Jarvis to expand on the story. “It’s a story about a guy who grows up in a very insular environment in a town. In a small town where nobody has ever left or come in, and nobody really knows why. It’s surrounded by this kind of supernatural aura. He decides to leave one day and ends up in the exact same place, but kind of in a different dimension where all of a sudden, he doesn’t know who anybody is.
“He knows them, but everybody is different because they’ve grown up in this kind of alternate reality. He runs into a version of himself, and things get to it to a head at that point. Without any spoilers. We did write the lyrics in a metaphorical way where the songs could stand on their own.
“Because when you talk about boring concept albums, they’re songs that take the literal storyline and kind of walk you through it like a baby, and then you still don’t know what it’s about. I’ve had that experience. So, what we did with this album is if you get the CD, the cassette or the vinyl version, we tell the whole synopsis, and we do it track by track, almost like they’re lyrics. Trying to tell you here is what’s going on. Then on the flip side, we have the lyrics printed.
“There’s no confusion here for the fan. There’s no wondering, and for the casual fan, you don’t need to know. It’s a concept album. It doesn’t matter. This music was written for the story. So, all those twists and turns do matter. They mean something. The story was written as a screenplay and was adapted into an album from there. So there was a lot of work that went into it, and it took a long time. The album’s still under 35 minutes. We’re still Night Demon. We don’t want to bore people.”
Night Demon’s lineup has been settled for a few years now, with Armand John Anthony on guitar and Dusty Squires on drums. Jarvis explains that the band take a collaborative approach to writing the songs. Jarvis is the main lyricist, but he reveals he had some help this time around.
“My girlfriend co-wrote the lyrics with me on this record. She’s a great writer, and since I wrote this script, I was just so attached to it. I said, ‘here’s the story. Help me craft something here where this isn’t a lame concept album. So, she had a lot of really great insights, and it really helped to work as a team like that.”
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Night Demon a couple of times, supporting Sacred Reich in 2019 and then last year in Bristol at The Exchange with their good friends Midnight. We chat about that gig, which was one of the sweatiest I’ve ever been to. I recall that Night Demon are ferocious live and 10 decibels heavier than on record, but also with huge energy. Is this the natural way that Jarvis plays? “Yeah, that’s absolutely very accurate.”
I’d forgotten that the Bristol gig was a one-off show. “I mean, that was just one show with those guys,” he says, “but we do know those guys. They’re from Texas, and we did play with them again last September. I mean, Bristol’s cool. I used to sing for the band Jaguar, so I’m familiar with the area. That was a great show, a nice, small, intimate venue. We were definitely there to turn it on.”
I’ve also been fortunate to have interviewed Cirith Ungol drummer Robert Garvens on a couple of occasions. Jarvis is the man who brought the band back to life, so I couldn’t not check up on one of my all-time favourite bands. How are things in the Cirith Ungol camp?
Jarvis fills me in. “Great, we’ve got a new record coming out. I shouldn’t really say too much about it because nothing’s been said, but hopefully, by the end of the year, that’ll be out. Things are fine. You know, Cirith Ungol and Night Demon are very much like brothers. There’s never been a show that Cirith Ungol play that Night Demon doesn’t, I mean, in the modern era, but it’s all good. I’m glad it’s happened. I’m glad it’s here. So, I just hope that it lasts as long as it can last. You know, it’s one of those things that I choose to enjoy every day. Because it’s like you just don’t know, it was gone for so long, and now it’s here, and you just want to enjoy it while it’s here again.”
We finish off by discussing Night Demon’s extensive touring plans. As well as Dominion and European festivals, the band have a U.S. tour with Satan later in the year. Jarvis fills me in. “Then we’re going to be doing some of Europe in July and late July and then all of September, and then we’re going back to the states for just a few one-off shows and then do Mexico, South America. So yeah, we’re getting around the world this year. So, it’s going to be a cool thing with this new album, for sure. It just feels good playing some new songs.”
And has the band identified which ones from the album will be on the setlist? “Yeah, we’ll probably play them all,” he says. “Since it is a concept, we want to play them just in order in its entirety, and again, it’s under 35 minutes. So, in a headline set, there’s plenty of time to play a lot of classics.”
Outsider can be pre-ordered from https://nightdemonmusic.lnk.to/OUTSIDER.
Hell’s Decibels Tour 2023
w/ Satan, Night Demon, Haunt
Mar. 17 – West Hollywood, CA @ Whisky A Go Go
Mar. 18 – Oakland, CA @ Eli’s Mile High Club
Mar. 19 – Las Vegas, NV @ Dive Bar
Mar. 21 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Aces High Saloon
Mar. 22 – Denver, CO @ HQ
Mar. 24 – Austin, TX @ Come And Take It Live
Mar. 25 – Houston, TX @ White Oak (Hell’s Heroes)
Mar. 26 – Dallas, TX @ Amplified Live
Mar. 27 – Wichita, KS – @ Barleycorns
Mar. 29 – St Paul, MN @ Turf Club
Mar. 30 – Chicago, IL @ Reggies
Mar. 31 – Des Moines, IA @ Lefty’s Live Music
Apr. 1 – Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom (2 Minutes To Tulsa)
Apr. 4 – Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme
Apr. 5 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
Apr. 6 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups
Apr. 7 – Mechanicsburg, PA @ Lovedraft’s
Apr. 8 – Cambridge, MA @ Sonia
Apr. 9 – Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus
Apr. 11 – Clifton, NJ @ Dingbatz
Apr. 13 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry (Decibel Metal & Beer Fest pre-party)