Symphony X bassist Michael LePond just released the second studio effort from his solo project, Michael LePond’s Silent Assassins. Pawn and Prophecy was released on January 26th via Frontiers, and we were lucky enough to talk to the bassist about the album, the future of Symphony X, and a little bit of Shakespeare’s tragedies.
I have to admit, I absolutely loved Pawn and Prophecy. It has a little bit of everything, from heavy to symphonic, folk, blues, and everything in between. How did it all come together?
I’m influenced by so many things. My heart definitely belongs to classic heavy metal. Growing up, I listened to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Manowar. All of that stuff, so then the songwriting comes out right off the bat, as well as thrash-y influences. And then, I’d say maybe the early 2000s, I really began listening to Blackmore’s Night, and I was really intrigued by how Ritchie Blackmore would play on his guitar and I would try to play it on my bass and, and I really loved the way it sounded. So, that’s how all of these influences come out on the album.
It has all kinds of classic heavy metal influences, definitely have some folk influences, and as you’ve mentioned blues. In the title track, “Pawn and Prophecy,” what I wanted was to try to keep the listener’s interest, so I kept the music of the song moving in all different directions. And the song was so serious that I thought, ‘You know what? In the middle of it, I love blues, let’s draw in a bluesy section just to throw everybody off and kinda relax a little bit and not take the song too seriously and then later on we can pick it up again.’ It was cool that I got to use all of my influences on this album.
That’s awesome, and, speaking of the title track, your first solo album, actually, you saved the longest track for the last. However, the title track is over 20 minutes and I do hear a lot of, as you said, rock influences, but I also hear a few rock opera such as Ayreon, and I can also visualize Shakespeare’s Macbeth. How did you decide to write a 21-minute song?
Yeah, I know. It’s (laughs), well, I had this idea for a long time. Originally, I wanted to use the idea for Symphony X. It just kind of never happened. So it gave me an idea and I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna give it a try,’ and my idea was to create a heavy metal soundtrack for the play, because I always thought it was perfect for metal, because it had ghosts and witches and all these really dark things. So I just tried it. It took me two years to put together, and like I said before, the biggest challenge is your listener’s interest. So like I said, getting the music on different styles. You have to come on back and return in time, and then have a big ending and coming full circle like the beginning. So there’s definitely a fun thing to do and in the end, I was pretty proud of it.
Have you ever considered, another Shakespeare play for a concept album or song?
Well, there’s a couple of plays that I was always interested in trying. You know, I love the tragedies, and actually, on Pawn and Prophecy, there is a, a tragedy. It’s the folk song I have called “The Mulberry Tree,” but, in the future, I would love to try either Antony and Cleopatra or Romeo and Juliet.
Interesting to hear Romeo and Juliet as a metal song.
It might not be a metal song, but it’ll be something (laughs).
Speaking of “The Mulberry Tree,” that song actually surprised me the most from the album, everything else has an epic or heavy metal sound mixed with a few Blind Guardian influences, and then once “The Mulberry Tree” came in, it had a slower Celtic/folk and a bit of jazz influences. What made you decide to go in this direction?
In the past 15 years, I’ve really became a fan of Blackmore’s Night and then over the years, I listen to, folk metal bands that are coming out and I get inspired by them. I just wanted to write a folk song that’s kind of a romantic tragedy and it was fun to try. I tried to find some ancient sounding instruments and an acoustic guitar, and I think it kind of breaks up the album a little bit. It’s kind of like taking a breath and relax for the song. And if you’re not into that style, you can just go onto the next song. It was fun to try. It’s definitely part of my influences. I, I like folk music and even on my first solo album, within all the metal songs, there’s definitely some folk-y parts built in.
You definitely do have a little something for everybody in this album, and there’s also an incredible amount of bass parts in it too, especially for the track “I Am the Bull.” How did that one come together?
One of my biggest complaints is, when the bass is changed in the mix, you can’t really hear it. I definitely wanted to fix that, so I made the guitar sound not have too much low frequency in it so the bass could pop out. And being a bass player, I do a lot of writing on the bass, so I wanted the bass to be really up in the mix a big contributor to the song. ‘I Am the Bull,’ has two basses in it, actually, there’s a four-string that does all the soloing, but the bass that’s playing the main riff and playing throughout the song is an eight-string bass. I had a lot of fun with that one and thought that came out pretty cool and I put some orchestration at the end, which I think, has given it its climax.
I enjoyed the orchestration parts in the album as a whole. It keeps it more engaging, in a way. How do you balance your time between both projects?
Symphony X puts out a record maybe every four years, so there is plenty of downtime and when Symphony X is on the road, the sense is, my goal at the end of the day is to sit down and keep working. So when Symphony X is off the road, I would jump into the Silent Assassins and then when Silent Assassins is done, jump back into Symphony X. That’s the goal at least.
Speaking of goals, what are Symphony X’s plans for this year?
Last year Symphony X were busy with our other projects I was touring with Ross the Boss. We were talking the whole time, and are now planning to get together next month to start working on some new songs.
Have you started writing music for a third album of your own?
Well, you know, I got psyched signing with Frontiers records, and I’m so excited about it that I actually was inspired to keep writing, believe it or not, I do have a third album kind of already written. So, if they want to sign another one of my albums, I’m ready to roll. (laughs)
It’s always good to keep busy and always working, which is a big influence that you have. Speaking of influences, what newer artists have you been listening to lately?
I guess in recent years, I really like the band Battle Beast.
Awesome. They are great.
Yeah, I think that they’re fantastic. Also, you know, I really like the sound of Ghost, they have a cool sound, there’s just so many bands that come out all the time and I’m always hoping to listening to whatever’s around, whatever I can find. There’s so many though, but um, I guess those two are the only ones that come to mind right now.
Very cool, and do you have anything that you’d like to say to your fans?
Yes, to everyone out there who’s listening, who’s followed me for my whole career, Symphony X, Silent Assassins or anything else, I just want to say thank you so much. It’s been a lot of fun. You guys have allowed me to live my dream and I want to say thank you. My new solo album comes out January 26th, check it out and I hope you like it.