Interview: Leather Nun
Having been somewhat torn by the band’s recent fourth full-length album, it seemed only fitting and fair to have a more detailed discussion with their leader, singer and guitarist, John Sarnie. This was the frank thrust of it…
Welcome John, at long last, to Pariah Child! How’s life in Poway this weather?
Thank you, Danny! Life in Poway, California is great although if I were to get technical, I’m actually in Ramona now. It’s the city right next door and I might say it’s no city, more rural in the mountains, kind of like living in the countryside really. It’s not even doom central either. Hell, there are only like two doom bands in San Diego, many stoner rock bands and mostly new metal type bands. But otherwise life is good, I suppose. We are mostly just making some more recordings and then planning some local gigs in the coming months.
I always enjoyed the power trio formation of the band although am not familiar with your new recruits. Please introduce them, how you met and describe what spirit they bring to the convent!
Okay, so Sergio Carlos is a metal drummer, quite progressive, and can play slow doom or technical death metal styles. He is also in a band called Mortus Terror, popular in San Diego. Francis Roberts is the bassist and on background vocals. He plays in a Pirate themed band called Dread Crew Of Oddwood, a national act who have toured with Alestorm.
(Francis is currently on tour so meet Randy who’s stepping in on bass and will be playing any upcoming gigs whilst the former is away)
What’s the story behind the horrible album name? Not unlike the title of the last record, it can be a little off-putting…
Yes, you are the second person who doesn’t like the name. I guess it was meant as a yin and yang reference to the album. Some are my songs and some are by Francis. Very different styles. I think you mentioned it in your review. You see the band from the outside, but inside, it has to be a democracy. I always have to let other members sing and contribute in writing songs. It makes for a happier unit similar to Wino’s Hidden Hand with Bruce as the bass player and singer. Now personally, I don’t care for the one or two songs Bruce sang. But I understood why they were important to the whole. As for the name, I just thought it was good and not too easy to forget. But I never get too offended. I have seriously thought of hiring someone to help with all that in the future, because at the end of the day, we just make music. It can be very hard to pick all the right names and do what’s best for sure.
The artwork, however, is fortunately much more striking. Was Adam Burke chosen by the band or the label and how much direction did you provide? Does it look like a Leather Nun album to you?
Yes, we were the ones who chose Adam Burke to do the cover art this time and the decision was largely based on what he did on “Void Worship” by Pilgrim. We all really loved that piece and he did Ice Dragon’s cover, which again was totally badass! He has done so many great covers. The more I check them out, the more I become a real big fan of his style and talent. Adam is also easy to work with and gives a most reasonable price as well.
We provided direction based on a few things. See, he can go as detailed as possible and we could have paid him to go all the way and keep fine tuning ideas. But drawing people like on the Pilgrim cover is very intense. That cover had two wizards, took a lot of work, and cost a fair bit to do too. So with our art budget, we opted for more of a landscape. It was simpler yet still great and we specifically instructed him to wrap the drawing around the back. It would make a cool LP!
That aside, the finished article came to us darker than expected, and with a green tint to just the cover, so we have struggled with the pressing a little. The thumbnail that most see on the internet is correct. But the physical CD covers are too dark and hard to really see Adam’s brilliant image in its full glory. As Lemmy would say, “Even if we fell into a bag of nipples, we would come out sucking our thumbs. That’s just rock and roll man. Shit don’t go yer way most of the time!”
The music is largely classic Leather Nun fayre with a tight performance throughout. Which elements make you most proud and why?
Yeah, classic Leather Nun with a twist. I’m actually most proud of the singing. I think it may be getting better!
If only able to recommend one song to those who have never heard the band, what would it be?
I think it would be “Into Abyss” because it’s short and sweet with the classic Leather Nun style. Also it has some cool end solos, which were unfortunately cut short by a fade out. Some of our typical bad luck!
There is no way I would have suspected “Barghest” was not written by you or the Holloway brothers! Is Francis well versed in the band’s early muscular workouts or does he have an uncannily similar approach to raucous instrumentals
Yes, it was intended to be a fast punky song that I could throw fast guitar leads over. Perhaps a little similar to something you might find on an Obsessed record. Just like I asked Francis and he delivered!
“Winter Kill” is by far the most ambitious in scale and scope. What did you hope to achieve with its morphing character and how has it been received?
Yeah, it’s one of my favourites and has been received well. I think we were trying to give a nod to Agolloch. Maybe try a longish song with a blend of clean and what I call brakish vocal (dirty style). Here again, I sang them in that style and think engineer might have added too much distortion to them? They were intended to have a black metal effect and be rather low in mix.
Had you not considered ending the record on that brooding refrain to stress the enormity of the song? The impact of the blackened finale might have been stronger…
You were right in the review. The song should have been placed last as it would have optimised the album. Can we hire you for future consultation Danny? Ha! Ha!
And “Irish Steel” should have been your next 7″ single! Why Irish though?
Okay Danny, we will put out “Irish Steel” as a 7″ single on Pariah Child, it’s a deal! But seriously though, on that song, I wrote lyrics and Francis wrote riffs. I had it penned as “Barian Steel” kind of a play on barbarian? Anyway, he didn’t like it so became “Irish Steel” also because it says “Irish Steel horse and wheel, snow heavy on my trail” in the lyrics. But like you said in your review, it was a tip of the hat to Thin Lizzard as well! As as aside, I had twin guitar harmonies that I wanted to open with right away. But Francis didn’t like it so we saved them for the end. Democracy, remember?
You should have trusted your gut, John! Anyway, only three sets of lyrics were printed in the booklet. But why were they chosen out of all the songs that appeared on the album?
Yes, the printing of only three song lyrics could have been a design flaw. But I felt unless I am a super fan of the particular band, I usually hate album art that is mostly tiny lyrics printed in a booklet. I wanted more photos and art, so that’s what we focused on. In addition, you must consider our art budget is small, like a lot of independent underground bands. We constantly struggle to make the recording then do the art and layout. It seems one or other is often lacking.
At times, for me, the imagery of song titles and lyrics jar with the poignant and melancholic music. Perhaps you could elaborate on the concept(s) and how they fit together?
Yeah, I get it now, it might not be a totally cohesive album. All I can say is the concept was evolving. Look, it took a year to produce. Some things grow in other directions. Perhaps what we intended did not come to fruition or my titles maybe clash with those by Francis…
Who the hell is the “Bourgeois Pig” and how does time fit in? Are you venting frustration with urban or social pettiness?
It could be a person at work or on social media, maybe somebody in a restaurant or even your girlfriend! Basically they are snobbish because of their so-called status and the majority of them have false affluence anyway.
I definitely miss the universal themes and rural American hues of the early EPs and debut full-length. Perhaps “Into Abyss” comes close. But why the shift away to generic fantasy? Are you in a different place with an escapist outlook?
That’s funny you miss the American themes in our music, even with you being from the great ancient Ireland! I’m sick of Americana, and long to be in Europe, home of kings, sophistication and cool folklore. Grass is always greener somewhere I guess? I think Francis is more of a fantasy based musician and I am now in a place with an escapist outlook. I don’t know how it is for you, but many here have no good jobs anymore.
Any touring plans? Do you ever have opportunity to play beyond the locality?
No touring plans except for Mexico at the moment. But it would also make perfect sense to tour in the west. We have not done it at all. The west is tough for touring though because of long drives between cities. In Europe, many good towns are packed close together and that’s similar in the east. We could hit majors cities in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, right on up whereas in California, there are long drives to play not so rock and roll towns. We have done some one off doom festival events where you fly in and there are many heavyweight doom bands playing all weekend. But it would be way better to fly in and share a van with a similar band and do say eight quick shows in a region and not go hundreds of miles for a big fest.
Perhaps you would share some memories of that European tour years ago that never quite reached our shores?
I do have great memories of being in Europe although even on that tour we had no money, I guess, to go to Ireland. I don’t know why. It was just a ferry boat ride from England and we were in the country twice. Once at Heathrow at the beginning of tour and again for the last gig in London. Not to mention we were touring with the British band Iron Hearse. I think that was a mistake and I still believe you could have helped book at least one Irish gig for us. So needless to say I am wiser now and it is a known fact that Ireland is a great metal audience, period!I I guess we just went for the easy kill, mostly in and around Germany, France and mainland Europe.
If you ever make it back, what should the audience expect from a Leather Nun gig?
Rest assured, there will be old classic songs with a couple off of this new recording and the last song in our set is usually a cover of The Obsessed! The performance is also quite a bit heavier live. I know a lot of bands say that, but it really is loud and powerful if you are standing right there. Sometimes we just can’t capture that all on CD, you know? We also make a point of being animated on stage. I have seen countless doom shows where it’s just boring as shit. It reminds of old man rock, which I guess makes sense because it’s heavy seventies style. But even some of the covers bands choose are ones I just don’t wanna hear. Yawn. But then some bands are brilliant! Mind blowing! I leave the club with new ideas, my ears ring, and I think, wow, how did three guys sound so fucking heavy? The later is what we aim for and I don’t think anyone would describe us as boring, put it that way.
Okay John, my thanks for the bloody great music over the years! Stay sharp and keep it heavy. If there is any other ground that we missed that you would like to cover, speak now…
Alright Danny, I’d like to say we had a great experience with this interview! Your many reviews over the years have been cool too. Thank you very much for your support. We love your writing style through Pariah Child and the zine. Cheers!