Vengeance have returned with an almost completely changed, all-star line up for their new album Crystal Eye, which harnesses the talents of Kerri Kelli (Alice Cooper), Chris Glen (MSG/SAHB), Timo Somers (Delain) and Chris Slade (AC/DC/Uriah Heep/Asia). The band's guiding light, vocalist and sole remaining original member Leon Goewie spoke to Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid about his love for Vengeance and their music, but also pays tribute to his long-term collaborator and Vengeance band-mate Jan Somers who sadly died earlier this year...
Hi there Leon and thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.
Hi Steven, thank you for asking me!
It has been three years since the last Vengeance album. What have you been up to between Soul Collector and your new album Crystal Eye?
Well, we've been touring for about half a year with Vengeance, then came Mr. Chris Slade my way with his "Chris Slade Steel Circle", who asked me to perform the vocals of all the AC/DC songs that his band cover, to which, of course, my answer was yes. During four tours or so and in between, I've been writing songs for the new album Crystal Eye when I got the inspiration in between being busy with all these things.
A lot of changes have happened in those three years, not least the harder edged sound that can be found on the excellent Crystal Eye. Is that heavier sound a conscious decision to take the band in a slightly different direction?
First of all, thank you for calling the new album "excellent". However, you should consider an album, or a song, as a product of personal experiences. And of course, not in the least as you know, the passing away of my partner in music for years, Jan Somers, something that's definitely recognised in the new album. This loss brought a big impact into my life. Myself and Jan had a kind of love-hate relationship together, that's no secret, but we always ended up together through the years.
Yes Leon I was going to ask about Jan. The standard version of the album closes with the song "Jan's End Piece", which is a solo guitar track he recorded. I think it is a wonderful and fitting tribute to Jan, how it was working with him for all the years that you did?
Yeah, difficult question - sorry, difficult answer.... As I mentioned, we had silly problems, two big egos trying to win and no one ever won. Or we both won. Who can tell...? The main thing is that we always came back together and always needed each other move to on in difficult times. I'm still very emotionally moved talking about Jan. I still keep in very close contact with his parents. His father told me the day after Jan's passing away "We live in a beautiful world, but it was too small for our Jan." And he was right. Jan was a very gifted painter as well as you can notice in the booklet from Crystal Eye. I still miss him a lot. I'm glad his son Timo is filling in so well, for old time sake you know. He's the youngest one of us but he's so fucking good and even his dad took one step back for him at one stage, something he never did for anyone. Timo deserves it. Even Arjen [Lucassen - Ayreon and onetime Vengeance guitarist] told me this evening on the phone to watch Timo, because he's going to be one of the best European guitar players. And I think he's right.
It is a really nice touch to have Jan's son Timo, who also plays guitar in Delain perform on the album. How did it feel to have him involved and do you plan on working with him again in the future?
Sorry, I presumed you already knew, Timo is our fifth band member, like he was before.He wants to stay with Vengeance, although we did recommend to him not to leave Delain, as you should never tell an artist what to do, which is something I believe passionately.
"Jan's End Piece" really is a quite beautiful and moving piece of music. Where does the track some from?
It's a track Timo recorded lately by coincidence. Well, maybe not by coincidence because father and son recorded a lot, but this solo was chosen by Timo. A very good choice!
Since the last Vengeance album there has been almost a complete change in the band's line-up, with you now having Alice Cooper guitarist Kerri Kelli, MSG and SAHB bassist Chris Glen and the mighty ex-AC/DC, Uriah Heep and Asia drummer Chris Slade completing the line-up. What has caused such a total change since Soul Collector?
It goes back to the tours I mentioned earlier, so it's by a lot of coincidences Vengeance has this line up now and really it's because we all became friends by touring through Europe. I was very proud when I asked the boys to be part of Vengeance and they were all so positive about it. One hand washes the other you know. Incidentally, Kerri will only play with Vengeance when he can, because his priority is with the Alice Cooper band of course, something which has just come up again at short notice.
It's an impressive line-up. What special qualities do you feel that each individual member brings to the band?
The most impressive thing is with us all being a line-up from of old school musicians, we don't have to tell one another what to do, we just know. So apart from every person's individual qualities, it is just so easy working together.
I have to mention to you Leon that Chris Slade is one of my all time favourite drummers. His studio work is just so precise, yet powerful. However live he is an absolute beast and a joy to watch! How much of a pleasure is he to work with?
What can I say...? I love the guy, on tour he's kind of my father-figure, I'll love him for life. Again, he's so easy to work with, and again, we don't have to discuss how to do things, I don't have to go there, he already fucking knows.
So with the possible exception of Kerri, will you be taking the same line-up out on tour?
Yes, Chris has promised to be there, as well as Mr. Chris Glen and it should be easy to combine Chris's Steel Circle and Vengeance as we're together performing anyhow.
So are there any tour dates already planned out to support the album?
Yes, the album launch will be on the 28th of April, in Holland at "Tavenu" in Waalwik, followed by a date in Kerkrade and we are in the process of getting some other dates arranged. On top of that we've been asked to do Sweden Rock, which I'm very happy with, of course. But the management knows more about it than I do at this stage! [laughs!]
Although you did spend a while away, you are now the only original member of Vengeance left in the band. What is it that keeps the Vengeance flame burning in your heart?
It's the only thing I can, I have to.... No, I'm kidding of course, but I live for my music, I can't do without it, but what do you expect after 30 years of Vengeance? People die for instance, or are getting married, or make a change in music, no excuse for me - except dying of course, but I will always be Vengeance, I'm doomed to it, I think.... [laughs]
With the change in band personnel and sound, did it ever cross your mind to release the Crystal Eye album under a different band name?
Not really, as far as I can remember. Why should I? Maybe you've got a point, but my voice-sound will always be recognized as "the guy from Vengeance" I think. But, if you can give me a very good reason, I'll think about it. Please do!
That's not for me to do Leon! [laughs!]Did the style of the songs on this album mean that you had to approach the vocals in a different way than you have in the past to match the power and potency of the music on the new album?
These are some questions you're asking me Steven! I really have to think about this one.... So far no Vengeance album looks or sounds like another, not even two songs sound alike. That is what makes Vengeance interesting I think, the variety of songs and sounds.
You teamed up with Mad Max and Michael Schenker singer and guitarist Michael Voss, who produced the Crystal Eye, to write the majority of the songs for the album. How did you come to work so closely with him and what makes you such a successful team?
Michael is very good producer for me indeed, we go a long way back and what I hand over to him, well, he composes, as I always say, the head and tail to the lyrics - it's kind of the process in which a song is born. But it's the chemistry between the two of us I think that's most important. However most of the songs came from experiences in my own life, like for instance the "Barbeque" song, those things really happened, as well as of course the songs which are dedicated to Jan. You can't make that up, it's reality for God sake, my heart and soul is in this music and Michael knows how to cope and cooperate with that.
You did however use a couple of songs from other contributors. The album's title track came courtesy of Ayreon's Arjen Lucassen, who spent nearly ten years in Vengeance. How did it feel to be working on his music again?
Arjen, of course is a marvellous musician and composer. However, we don't play in one band anymore, we've always been in contact and Arjen always composes one song for us as he did on the album Soul Collector with the song Samurai. As a matter of fact, I asked him this evening to play with me at the album launch, but he is not in the frame of mind for live-performance anymore, which is a real pity.
The other contributor of a song to the album was one-time Black Sabbath frontman Tony Martin, who wrote the song "Whole Lotta Metal". What was it about that song that made you want to record it?
Old time rock 'n' fuckin' roll! It's a fast song, which I really like, what more can I tell you? It's maybe one of my favourite songs on the album.
I'm often fascinated as to how songwriters, producers and band members find the time for all the projects they are involved with. In recent months there has been a new Mad Max album, a new Mollo/Martin album and both Michael Voss and Tony Martin were involved in different ways on Crystal Eye. How on earth do you guys find the time to piece all of these separate projects and bands together?
We can't! Believe me! I'm laughing right now, but you're right. It's all in the game, this is what we do. Really you should ask that to the other people in my last four or five relationships, they can tell you exactly how we can cope with this..... I'm speaking for myself now of course. Randy Newman once said in one of his songs "It takes a whole lot of medicine, for me to pretend that I'm somebody else". It all has its price, believe me, but it's the passion for music you've got to have I think. Why are the Rolling Stones still performing or Chris Slade for instance? For the money? I don't think so, it's an addiction. There comes one time in your life I think, and I'm going deep now, that you become a slave to yourself or your audience. But I still love it, as Francis Rossi [Status Quo] once said "What do you expect, you're in the entertainment business".
Is it just a sign of the musical times that musicians need to keep moving from project to project to survive in the business these days?
I think it's searching for limits, trying to level up, looking to see how far you can go, to learn from every experience, which maybe results in a product such as Crystal Eye. It's of course a product of thirty years of all kind of experiences and the reason why you called the album "excellent". For which I thank you again.
Which is a nice way to finish the interview, thanks again for answering the questions Leon, is there anything else you'd like to add?
Well..... First of all thanks for the interview me Steven, I'm really honestly still honoured to be doing this. As we do this, it's four o'clock in the morning now and I really did my best for you and took my time for this interview and tried to be as honest as possible. I hope I helped you out a lot, and I'd like to wish you and Sea of Tranquility very good luck. Thank you again.
The honour is all mine Leon and I wish Vengeance and Crystal Eye every success. Sea of Tranquility's readers really appreciate your thoughtful, heartfelt answers.
(Click here to read our reviews of World in Front of Me)