Lee Payne is the first one I know that used the pseudonym “Air” -on earlier Cloven Hoof albums as part of the band’s “four elements” personas- and his name is probably not so famous or his career so glorious as Jordan’s but he is one of the most interesting artists I have interviewed and his life is a perfect example of Heavy Metal attitude.
Coming from West Midlands and being a teenager on early 80’s is something that deterministically leads to start a band?
We are a West Midlands band from the heart of England and there is an inherent aggressive sound to our style. Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin have all sprung up from the same area as Cloven Hoof and we all have a dark edge that is unmistakable. It is true to say this band could not have come from anywhere else. Maybe life is hard in the concrete and glass industrial heartland. Bands from this area seem to sing about the harsh and depressing things in life. However, I like fantasy worlds more than harsh reality as subject matter, maybe it’s a form of escape. JRR Tolkien lived in Birmingham when he was a young man, so we are in good company. I was influenced by bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and Rush. I used to spend every penny I had buying albums and watching live shows. Looking back, I suppose it was serving a musical apprenticeship because I was in the front row intensely studying the guitar and bass players. I was determined to study the chords and musical progressions ofthose metal gods. One day I vowed to try and make music that moved other people like the songs from my heroes had moved me. If I could do that, then I had touched the sun and my life would mean something.
A couple of years before I reviewed “The Opening Ritual”, and couldn’t rate it less than 5/6. How does it feel to be part of a historical and important release?
Thank for the compliment we’re glad you liked it! “The Opening Ritual” was our four-track mini album released in July of 1982 and the EP stayed in the Sounds and Kerrang heavy metal charts for six weeks peaking at number 18. Articles in Kerrang and Noise magazine followed by Geoff Barton tipping the band for the top in his prestigious “Breaking through in 82 feature” and play list. “The opening Ritual” was a very important release for us and gave us a really solid platform upon which we could build, it attained air play on numerous radio stations worldwide, but it was not until Tommy Vance and Geoff Barton played tracks off the EP on Radio One in the UK that the Cloven Hoofs career really began to break into a gallop. We toured throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, earning ourselves a sizable underground cult following. In the summer of 1983 we recorded a four-track session for Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on Radio One, which very recently I’ve had the archive master tapes released from Radio One for a potential future release on High roller. Watch this space.
All these unconventional Air – Wind – Fire – Earth concept was something really unique. Whose idea was it and why you left it rather early in your career?
I came up with a concept featuring the names Air, Earth, Fire and Water, which worked as there were four band members at that time. Outlandish stage costumes were donned and heavy Kiss-style makeup and masks. We wanted to be the band we always wanted to see and hear…total senses overkill. In a lot of ways I think we were ahead of our time because our vision of combining image and music were perfectly suited to the multi-media sci-fi games market and remember we were doing the masks thing years before Slipknot and all the others who have adopted it since. I suppose we must have influenced many bands in presenting themselves in a hard rocking theatrical way. We dropped this concept when the image was getting too much attention. It’s the songs that matter most!!!
All this revival of the N.W.O.B.H.M. movement has to do with nostalgia or is it just the quest for good music that leads people to N.W.O.B.H.M. over and over again?
N.W.O.B.H.M is too important to its fans and followers to be just a nostalgia trip, and definitely too important to me and Cloven Hoof, after all it’s why we’re still doing it after all these years. That is the test of good music, if it can stand the test of time then that is how you can judge its worth. Heavy Metal music in our genre is steeped in quality that leaves people coming back to it over and over again. The revival can be put down to many things, media coverage, fashion, maybe younger fans of heavy metal are discovering N.W.O.B.H.M, whatever the reason, long may it continue there is nothing better than playing to packed houses full of fanatical Heavy Metal fans!
Enough with the questions about the past. Let’s talk about the new album. Once again in High Roller Records. Do you feel that HR is something like Neat for the genre?
Cloven Hoof and High Roller are a perfect match, we belong on the High Roller Record label because they care about metal and nothing else, they have some awesome names on their books Onslaught, Witchfynde, Exodus, Tokyo Blade to name but a few, we are in great company! Through High Roller we also have access to one of the most respected audio engineers in the shape Patrick Engel. He is an absolute wizard – when we got sent the final mix of our new album ‘Who Mourns for the Morning Star’ for approval – it was jaw dropping. High Roller do an amazing job on the presentation and sleeves offering limited edition options in coloured vinyl which is exciting.
NEAT signed us after hearing our session recorded for the Tommy Vance radio show on BBC radio One. We had recorded a demo at a studio in the West Midlands England, and Rob Halford and Robert Plant had both taken it into the BBC for us to try and get a session. It worked and then Dave Woods from Neat records asked if we would like to sign a record deal with them. They were a great label for Cloven Hoof because they specialized in pure metal not like the big corporate giants that also signed pop fashion acts. Neat had great bands like Venom, Raven, Satan and the like so we were proud to be with such cool stable mates. So to answer your question we can see all these very same reasons why NEAT were good for us then, that High Roller are absolutely perfect for us now.
Tell us more about the writing procedure. It feels like you have a mix of Priest – like and U.S. Metal approaching in your songs. Is it something you did on purpose or just trying to match George Call’s voice with the band’s music?
It’s not an intentional thing, I think we have always been atypical within our N.W.O.B.H.M genre. When we played ‘Hard Rock Hell’ recently, a well-respected writer said we’re not strictly British sounding because our music was not blues based hard rock. We stood apart from many N.W.O.B.H.M bands because our sound is undiluted heavy metal fused with prog rock type multi time changes. Cloven Hoof originally hail from the West Midlands at the heart of England, a region that many say gave birth to heavy metal. Judas Priest are from the same neck of the woods where I grew up, so that location must infuse our music with a certain inherent sound. You cannot ignore your roots and the Black Country has produced some great musicians. I am proud to have been born there. Power metal is classed as primarily belonging to the European metal market. We seem to be pioneers in this genre because we play fast epic metal. Cloven Hoof also have an aggressive raw edge to our sound that is favoured by American thrash bands so we fit in well with that genre too. So I completely understand your take on the aforementioned question. Cloven Hoof are now comprised of English and American band members, so we will sound even less quintessentially British, I suppose. But in truth heavy metal defies boundaries and nationalities anyway.
Not all the time, particularly “Fighting Back”, the drums just did not work, we should not necessarily revisit that one but it would be good to do a new live album with better production. I would not change any songs from our back catalogue, they all have a place in Cloven Hoof’s legacy regardless of what I may think of them now.
The production is crystal clear and clean. To my ears is too modern, still suitable to you. How important is to have a good producer?
(Laughs) It’s funny because in the past we have been criticized for not have the best production on an album, it just shows you can please all the people all of the time. We think we have the best producer in the business with Patrick Engel and it is absolutely super important to ensure that the sound we hear in the studio and live is represented properly on our releases, this album we think sounds particularly hard hitting with the brutality of the guitars really standing out. I understand what you’re saying about it sounding modern, but I guess that comes down to personal preferences.
Were you satisfied from the production in your previous albums? If you could turn back time what would you change from your catalogue (not only speaking for production)? How easy or difficult is to work with a producer that is a fan of your music?
Patrick has been a fan of Cloven Hoof’s since the very first EP but being a fan of our music or not, Patrick loves what he does and he never fails to deliver metal that is undiluted and brimming with raw power. He also brings out the light and shade in the epic pieces too with equal skill, a true master craftsman. I guess being a fan of our music may steer the Patrick down a path of what he considers to represent the sound of Cloven Hoof, if that is the case, we agree with him!
The album artwork is brilliant and impressive. There’s a concept that links it to the lyrics? Who is the designer?
The designer is Alexander Von Wieding who also did the cover for “Resist or Serve”. Alex had an advance copy of the new album ‘Who Mourns for the Morning Star’ and he listened to the tracks and read the lyrics for inspiration. He also asked me what I had in mind. I told him I wanted to see Lucifer transforming from angel to devil. He could also hold the keys to hell. Alex than let his imagination run wild. He is the perfect artist for the Cloven Hoof!
Who’s responsible about the lyrics? How important are the lyrics for your music?
Words and music for all Cloven Hoof songs are by Lee Payne. The majority of the Cloven Hoof material is Sci-Fi, horror based, but there is always some dealing with true-life urban matters. We know the real world is harsh unfair and mundane, right? So it is good to transcend the here and now and explore fantasy worlds, alternate universes and dreamscapes. I always try to tell a story with the lyrics I write, “thinking man’s Metal” someone wrote about us once, I kind of like that.
Is the story behind Priest management and the X Factor TV show appearance of Joe Whelan something that you still find annoying? It seems that this whole story turned as an advantage for you by finding a better vocalist!
It can get a bit tiresome but it depends under what context the question is asked, sometimes you just know when people are trying to court controversy and make mischief other times they are just interested to hear the story which we are fine with. Cloven Hoof are no strangers to controversy for one thing or another (laughs). We do see it as a pity that Joe auditioned ‘The X-Factor’ and that Judas Priest management decided that he should have a solo career away from playing heavy metal. I couldn’t understand that decision as Joe was metal through and through but they convinced him he would make more money. Joe is very talented, he sings and plays guitar like a virtuoso. We played superb gigs with him in the band like ‘Sweden Rock’, however, with a big-time management company like that influencing him he decided to concentrate on a mainstream market along with our ex -drummer Jake. Luke, Chris and I wish them all the luck in the world of course but we put heavy metal and Cloven Hoof first …always! To be fair Joe was a simply awesome guitar player and he never really wanted to be the singer but he stepped up to the plate brilliantly when we need him to. He raised the bar vocally on “Resist Or Serve”. “Deliverance” and “Brimstone and Fire” are superb. Shame Joe ever got involved with that show and other people telling him what to do. Even though we lost two great musicians because of different
agendas we all still remain great friends.
But as you say, sometimes these things can turn out to your advantage and with the addition of George Call (vocals) and Danny White (Drums) I have now got the sound that always wanted for Cloven Hoof, the band sounds now as I heard it in my head from the beginning. I consider the addition of these two guys as the missing pieces of the jigsaw I’ve been looking for throughout my career, comparisons already with Dio / Halford is testament to how big an
impact George will make on the new album.
What do you expect from this new album?
“Who Mourns For The Morning Star” carries on where “Resist Or Serve” has left off, We got some fantastic reviews and the fans loved the album. With the addition of George and Danny there is inevitably a different feel to the new album, differences that we feel will make it our best release to date. The full sonic width of the band is explored and there are epic tracks next to more hard hitting numbers that build and cover a whole spectrum of moods and atmospheres, it combines all the best qualities of the trademark Cloven Hoof sound but it is played with precision and the vocal delivery is off the scale. We are back to basics playing from the heart and we think it shows. Every song is different and yet somehow fits together. We want to show where we have come from musically and pave the way for a future direction. It is a very exciting release and I’m positive the fans will agree it is our best ever album. I think the new album will appeal not only appeal to NWOBHM fans but to fans of European power metal as well as an American audience, there is something for everybody, at least that’s the plan (laughs).
What has kept the band going for so many years?
Me!! (laughs). Seriously though, it’s playing the shows, meeting the fans, getting the emails, seeing your records sold across the world wanting to share my music. Music and Cloven Hoof is a huge part of my life, I can’t imagine living without them.
Tell us more about your near future plans. Is there any Greek date in your schedule?
Yes for sure we have 3 shows confirmed for 2017 so far: August 25th we’re playing the ‘Blast from the Past’ clubshow with Riot V in Belgium August 26th we’re playing Trueheim Festival in Germany October 7th We’re playing Britsh Steel Saturday Night Festival in Fismes in France
So there are no Greek dates in this year’s schedule yet, though there is still time! Greece is and always will be super important to Cloven Hoof it’s like we’re coming home because I had always loved the country and its myths and legends. We have done many dates in Greece in the past and enjoyed every minute, the fans have been so loyal to us over the years. One particular gig sticks in my mind was the last time we headlined Up the Hammers Festival in 2012, the club was packed to the rafters with a sea of denim and leather all shouting Cloven-hoof! Clo-ven-hoof! Singing their hearts out to all the classics, it was a real awesome night. It’s would be a real honor to go back there again. Also AN Club Athens and the 8ball club in Thessaloniki has great memories for us.
The closing is yours.
It’s been our pleasure to talk with Metal Invader as always. We hope that everyone gets our new Album “Who Mourns for the Morning Star” its pure heavy metal at its best! We are very proud of all our previous albums, but the new one will take the band into a different league. The fans will not believe their ears, and we have been amazingly fortunate to have them standing united with us through thick and thin. Hopefully we can get out to Greece again soon, we had a great time playing in Athens and Thessaloniki in the past, and it’s about time we came back!
Thanks Metal Invader and give my very best wishes to all our fans in Greece, they rule! Keep Metal True!