Not everybody will know Howard Leese by name, but if you like hard rock, then you surely heard him playing with Heart or Paul Rodgers Band. Now he has a solo album out and I was glad to have to chance to send him some questions.
For many years you kinda stayed in the shadows... First of the Wilson sisters and then of Paul Rodgers. Now you have a solo album and you are in the focus. How do you feel now?
I don't feel like I've ever been in the shadows, I have plenty of spotlight on me and stand next to some of the most talented people in Rock, but you're right, it feels good to have something with my own name on it.
When did you first consider doing a solo album?
When Paul Rodgers went on tour with Queen a few years ago, I had the summer off, so that's when I started to record Secret Weapon.
The album is named Secret Weapon, that's what some called you... Heart's secret weapon. Was that the idea behind the title?
Right again. I've been called Heart's 'secret weapon' many times, and it seemed like a good title for this project.
Have the songs been written over the years? Or did you start writing after the got the idea to do a solo album?
I wrote all new material for this CD, as I wanted it to reflect where I am now as an artist. The exception is French Quarter, the Keith Emerson piano piece. That was recorded about 10 years ago as we were setting up to record a track for a project that I was producing. I kept a cassette of that jam, knowing I would find a spot for it someday.
Pretty often when a guitarist is doing a solo album it ends off in showing off skills... Secret Weapon is more a song-oriented album... Was that your intention?
Yes, I wanted to avoid being too self-indulgent, and make a record that everyone could enjoy, not just other guitar players. Plus, I'm known for working with the best singers in the business, so there was no reason to stop now.
Is it right that there is also a limited vinyl edition?
I haven't pressed the vinyl yet, but I hope to do so shortly. I think records are making a comeback in the world of MP3. (I really hope they do! And I will try to get my hands on a vinyl, if it get released! - Claudia)
Talking about the songs, there are some with vocals, some without. Did you had a certain voice in mind when you wrote that ones?
I did try to match a certain voice with a specific track. Sometimes the song would suggest a singer, and other times the singer would find the song. The Vine is an example of that, where Jimi Jamison heard the track and wanted to do the vocal. He did a great job on that song. On the other vocal tracks, I wanted the singer to write his own lyrics, to get more conviction from the performance.
I have to confess that usually I'm not a fan of instrumental music, but your songs won me over and I would go an get an instrumental album of you anytime. I don't miss vocals at all. When you wrote the instrumentals, was it like the song was 'just complete'? Did you had the feeling that vocals wouldn't do the song any good?
I call it 'singing with my fingers', where I play as a vocalist might phrase the melody. I try to be melodic, elegant, and memorable.
At The South Summit you have Paul Shortino singing, why using the name Duke Fame?
Paul and I both thought it would be interesting to use his 'Spinal Tap' persona for that track, just to see if you journalists were paying attention. Apparently you were. You'll notice that as songwriter and mixing engineer, he is credited as Paul Shortino.
You have some renown singers on the album. Paul Rodgers is no big surprise. Was it easy to get guys like Joe Lynn Turner and Jimi Jamison involved?
As I mentioned, Jimi was drawn by the song, and Joe Lynn Turner is a good friend of mine, and I knew I had to get him on this project. I love his voice, and he's a great writer as well. He did that vocal in my living room.
You also have a few unknown guys singing... Like Keith St. John and Andrew Black. Please tell us a bit about these guys!
I wanted to showcase some lesser-known, but talented singers. Keith St. John is a rock singer here in L.A. who works with Ronnie Montrose sometimes. Andrew Black is a blues singer from Atlanta that a friend told me about. When I heard him sing, I knew he would be perfect for the blues track on the CD.
You said about yourself that you are a studio guy. But you have been touring a lot... Do you sometimes miss being on stage?
The stage and the studio are two different animals, but I love them both. I just got home from the Bad Co. tour of the East Coast of the U.S. It was a fantastic tour, hugely successful. We hope to come to Europe later in the year.
And how important are your PRS guitars for your sound?
PRS guitars are the finest guitars made today, and I've played them since 1980. I have an instrument called the 'Golden Eagle', which is on the European version of Secret Weapon. Paul Reed Smith also plays guitar on 33 West Street. Most people know him as a builder, but he is also a great player. I would also like to mention Mark Shulman, who did an amazing job playing drums on the CD. He was my 'secret weapon'. The tracks are just he and I, the world's smallest rock band.
I guess this isn't the last time we hear from you... Are you planing to do another solo album? And what's next on your schedule?
I have started writing for the follow-up, and next on my schedule is more Bad Company shows. Please come see us, if we get close to you. Howard Leese - Malibu, CA
Good to know that there is more to come! Even if Secret Weapon just hit the stores, I can't wait to hear more music by Howard Leese!