Cloven Hoof - Lee Payne

Cloven Hoof - Lee Payne

CLOVEN HOOF is a very unique band in the NWOBHM genre with an exceptional style and powerful songs. The West Midlands legends are celebrating their 40th anniversary by having scheduled some North US shows and a new album on the making. METAL KAOZ took the opportunity to talk to the chatty and delightful founder of the band, Lee Payne, about the past, present and future. Read on!

Cloven Hoof - Lee Payne

CLOVEN HOOF did their first North American tour last year. The history of the band reaches as far back as 1979, how come did it take so long to get to America?
That’s a good question, one that I’ve asked myself on numerous occasions. We always had dreams of playing in America right from when CLOVEN HOOF started to gather interest at the start of the 1980s. Seeing bands like JUDAS PRIEST over in America making a real success of it, just made us want it more, and there has been a number of occasions when we were close to getting over there but that last little piece never fell into place whether that was recording schedules, contractual wrangling, band politics or just sometimes good ol’ bad luck! But we made it eventually and for that I will be forever thankful.

I’ve only been reading good things about your performances. But according to you, was the tour successful?
It was an absolute dream to be there so we were determined to do as many nights as we could in the time we had over there, it was a tough schedule but hey we absolutely left it all out there, the fans I think could see we were really giving our all and appreciated it, we were then able to feed off that energy some more, so yeah for us it was a huge success! The feedback we got, and are still getting, is super positive.

Can you tell a little about the highlights of the tour?
There were many highlights but things that stand out, but the one I must mention is Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood. It’s the date in the USA that I always wanted to play and it did not disappoint, to see the history and memorabilia of all the greats who have played that stage before us was a real honour to step out and make our mark on those very same boards.

Were there any challenges?
I guess you can imagine living in a van with 5 band members for 6+ weeks has its own inherent challenges, coupled with a grueling schedule, van break downs, hurricanes, floods, border controls, etc. Life on tour is a lot of travelling, rushing from one place to the next and then a lot of waiting around but hey those things are part of being on tour and are all forgotten when you step out to a huge roar from the fans, it’s what we live for!

You had Joe Whelan and Matt Glover step in on guitars for Luke Hatton and Chris Coss on the tour, so what was the reason for this? And how was it to have Joe in again?
Luke and Joe split the tour, so we had Joe for the first half and then Luke took over from Joe, it’s a schedule that suited both of them as neither Luke nor Joe could cover the whole time due to other personal commitments, this was cool for CLOVEN HOOF too as both are great players and current or past members so could slot in super easy. Joe is, and always will be, our brother, he is such a cool guy with relentless energy and is a real joker on tour keeping us all on our toes. This coupled with not only his virtuoso guitar playing but adding some immense backing vocals to George’s lead, having Joe back has been a real boost for us. I was really upset that Chris couldn’t make it, he has been in CLOVEN HOOF for a long time now, 8 or so years, so I was gutted. That guy is HOOF through and through and I missed his solid and dependable brutal rhythm but sometimes circumstances don’t allow to have everything you want so we just have to adapt in these situations, big thanks to Matt for stepping in he played flawlessly.

Now you’re going back there again under the “Continue What We Started”-label, so what are your expectations this time?
It’s is a real honour to be asked back again so soon, in my mind this is a real demonstration of how successful our first visit was. We are hoping for more of the same, raised horns and voices!

I know that people who have seen you play will come back again, they know what they are getting. But why should someone who never have seen CLOVEN HOOF play before come out and see you?
Expect full on energy with everything laid out on stage, we will leave nothing behind. New and old CLOVEN HOOF songs played at full volume with George leading the way and making damned sure you have a great time!

Can you tell a little bit about the situation for a band of the CLOVEN HOOF size, how touring works these days?
Aside from the extended tours in USA, generally we are used to doing either short tours of Europe for a week or so or headlining smaller underground European festivals or supporting huge European festivals. CLOVEN HOOF live is where it’s at, it’s what we love to do and it’s where we are at our best. We will always go the merch stand after the show as we love to meet the fans who have supported us, sign their stuff and take that photo, but yeah life is pretty good for CLOVEN HOOF at the moment it seems we are in demand!

You are also doing a few dates in Spain during the spring? Where’s the rest of the European tour dates? And why only Spain?
Yes, we have announced the Spain dates, we have a shoe in Portugal too, there are other in the pipeline yet to be announced but we are hoping to be in Germany and Greece and even the UK also.

The band now features Americans George Call on vocals and Danny White on drums. How do you work together with new music? It there a challenge to have members on the other side of the world? How do you manage the distance?
With digital files the world is not so big anymore, so you can go to and fro pretty quickly these days exchanging songs and recordings, but when it comes to laying down tracks we get George to come over as there is nothing like being in the studio together to finally put it down as there has to be some interaction. The biggest challenge is the cost, Trans-Atlantic flights do not come cheap so you have to be aware of your outlay and how you can recoup that cost. We are not doing this for the money but a band is not sustainable if it can’t wash its own face so to speak.

CLOVEN HOOF to me is one of the most original bands coming out of the NWOBHM movement. Still the music is far more international than most of the contemporary bands. a. Where does the CLOVEN HOOF sound come from? What influences you to write the way you do?
I think we have always been atypical within our NWOBHM 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 NWOBHM 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 is 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. I took inspiration from 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. I was twelve years old when I first heard “Machine Head” by DEEP PURPLE and I was an immediate fan. I then got into “Vol. 4” and “Paranoid” by SABBATH, then “Four Symbols” by LED ZEPPELIN. 1972 was a very good year for me and I spent all my time listening to music. But I tend not to listen to much music these days to try not to be influenced but it and move in the direction my mind tales me, I am mind blown as to the success for “Who Mourns For The Morning Star?” so clearly this is working, I hope that the next one is even better, I think it is, but ultimately you will be the judge.

Do you consider the CLOVEN HOOF sound and style when you write new music?
Yes, I still try to write as a fan of the band if you will, this is hard to do as you get older you experience new things and pick up new influences. Somehow, I never lose sight of where the band have come from and the style of metal that has defined us. We are an important band because we have pomp rock epic song strictures at times mixed with fast aggression. Our choruses have an anthem like quality that the fans can easily sing along with. In many ways we are the link between say Prog Rock RUSH and JUDAS PRIEST style metal. No one has done that and we did it way back in the early 1980’s. I guess we were pioneers of power metal before it was given a name. I know the parameters of our sound and will never go beyond what is expected of us. The fans love us with fanatical devotion and I never want to let them down. I always try to give them the best music I possibly can and they know what to expect from CLOVEN HOOF. Someone called us “thinking man’s Metal” and I love that!

“Who Mourns For The Morning Star?” has now been out for almost two years. How was it received? What did people like? Was there anything people didn’t like?
The reviews were amazing; 9/10 was the average score and we had multiple 10/10’s too. The fans and critics for once were in total agreement. It made us feel humbled and proud. If there were any bad reviews, I never saw them.

Your next release will be called “Immortality Denied”, so what is the status of that one? Is there a release date for it now already? How will it sound as compared to “Who Mourns For The Morning Star?”?
The new album will try to outdo “Who Mourns For The Morning Star?” for sure. I always want to top the last album and I have to dig deep to achieve that. I strive for perfection and I have a very clear vision of what “Immortality Denied” should be like. There are multi time changes and numerous progressions on it and every song has its own unique identity. There are at least two killer singles and numerous epic tracks that will take your face off. I promise it will be totally stunning a Metal tour de force. It has to be because “Who Mourns For The Morning Star?” is without doubt a great album. The new one just takes it one stage further with more layering and texture next to blistering heavy guitars.

Can you describe the musical direction on that one?
It will encompass everything we do well but with greater depth and colour. There are some really evil sounding tracks on there, and get ready for a really adventurous musical piece that takes up a whole side of the album. The concluding part will be on the opus after this. The fans are going to love it!

How does it stand towards the classic catalogue?
“Who Mourns For The Morning Star?”
in my opinion was our best album to date closely followed by the “Cloven Hoof” debut album and “A Sultans Ransom”. The new album I feel confident will surpass them all. Time will tell as they say, in the end the fans decide what’s best. I would not have it any other way, but in my humble opinion for what it is worth this is our crowning moment.

What is the status of “Immortality Denied”? Is there a release date for it now already?
No not yet the vocals are not yet finished. Only after it is mixed and mastered will a date be set in stone. But I would think late September would be my best guess.

Can you pick a few songs, you’re three CLOVEN HOOF favorites, and describe them?
“Mistress Of The Forest” for its epic quality. Originally, I wrote it as 3 separate tracks, mystical and magical and I never get tired of it. I suppose it is our “Stairway To Heaven” type number. “Gates Of Gehenna” because it was so original at the time. It comprised of various musical movements telling a story like a Prog Rock piece. But what made it different was how we played it in an all-out aggressive metal way. The opus breaks all verse chorus predictable song structure’s in a tale of selling one’s soul to the devil. I love that type of Faust like imagery. What else do you expect from a band with a name like CLOVEN HOOF? “Star Rider”; from the moment I wrote this song, I knew George was going to sing it with incredible power and passion. He sounds awesome on this song and I wrote it especially to bring the most out of his fantastic range. The chorus is instantly infectious and I knew it just had to be a great crowd pleaser live. It asks the question is there alien life out there? If so, why don’t they reveal themselves to all? Yeah, I am a big “X-Files” nut, so the song is kind of a homage to that cool sci-fi series.

You signed with Pure Steel Records a while back, how come you selected them as your partner moving forward?
Pure Steel have a great guy called Bob Mitchell working for them over in the States. He was instrumental in getting us to sign. Andreas the owner and Bob are big fans of the band so it seemed logical to go with them because they could support our US tours.

Why did you choose Pure Steel? Are they supporting you the way you expected them to?
Well, the album is not yet released, so the proof will be in the pudding as they say. I am sure they will push the album when it comes out like no tomorrow. They know only too well the bands potential so I am convinced they will do a great job.

What else do you have planned for the future?
We are playing extra USA dates in August because the demand to see us is so high. We have Spain, Portugal, Germany, Greece and possible South American dates in the pipeline, so we will be very busy indeed. Here’s an exclusive bit of news for you... I also have a solo album Prog Rock project that is nearly finished, and that will be released this year too. I have been meaning to get these songs down on album for years. It is very technical stuff and features a lot of cool bass guitar that I think the fans may want to hear. It is different in style to HOOF but “Starship Sentinel” off the “Opening Ritual” EP is not a million miles away from the direction I have taken. However, I have no plans to go on the road with the Prog Rock project. I am too busy with CLOVEN HOOF. So lots of exciting times ahead...

Any last words from you?
CLOVEN HOOF salutes you \m/.