Contributor Eric Woody had the opportunity to talk with Mike Lepond. Best known as the bassist for progressive metal giants SYMPHONY X, Mike LePond stepped out on his own to front his own project, MIKE LEPOND’S SILENT ASSASSINS, in 2014. The recently released follow-up to the band’s self-titled debut release, “Pawn And Prophecy” shows an onslaught of true heavy metal in its purest form. As an example of the range of metal styles in display, the title track is a 21-minute opus based on William Shakespeare‘s “Macbeth”, where Mike and company have essentially written a heavy metal soundtrack to this classic tale and features guest appearances from SYMPHONY X bandmates Michael Romeo and Michael Pinella. You can read our own review of the album in this location.
Good afternoon Mike, and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Let’s start with some sort of a historical question. How did the Silent Assassins band come to be? Was forming your own band something you had been wanting to do for a while? How/where did you find the other members for your band?
Mike Lepond: Hope all is well with you! Well, although I am known for being a progressive bass player, I grew up listening to classic heavy metal and it is my favorite style. I have wanted to release an album in this genre for my whole career. When SYMPHONY X was on our Iconoclast tour, I was able to write and finish all the songs I had accumulated over the years. When looking for band members, I didn’t want to send the music to someone overseas. I wanted to be in the studio with them so I decided to hire all of the best talent from the area where I live.
On your recent album, Pawn and Prophecy, the title track was a 24 minute concept song featuring many different styles of music. Have you ever thought of doing a whole concept album incorporating different musical themes throughout the whole recording?
Mike Lepond: My first recording with SYMPHONY X was an album called “V”. This was a concept album just as you describe. I do have an idea for an album like this in the future, but I would like to get a few more straight ahead metal albums under my belt for I attempt something that. It is definitely something I would like to do down the road.
With so many different elements within the title track, can you tell us about what inspired you to write such a song and why use those specific styles? Can you tell us some of your main influences for each style?
Mike Lepond: After SYMPHONY X released the “Odyssey” record, I began researching another epic track to write. I fell in love with Macbeth. It was Shakespeare’s darkest play and I thought it would be perfect for us. Unfortunately, we never used the idea so I decided to write it myself. The biggest challenge was to keep the listener’s attention for 20 minutes, so I needed the song to go in many different directions to fit what the lyrics were saying. The influences for some of these sections were SYMPHONY X, BLACKMORE’S NIGHT, BLIND GUARDIAN, SLAYER, MANOWAR, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and even ELVIS.
I first expected Silent Assassins to be a full fledged progressive act, probably due to your musical involvement with bands such as Symphony X. Have you considered doing a progressive solo album? What does the progressive/ power metal style of Symphony X mean to you as opposed to the styles found in Pawn and Prophecy?
Mike Lepond: I have never been interested in doing a progressive metal solo album because my band has been doing that for 20 years.. A solo project should be different than your main band in my opinion. I think there is room for both, MIKE LEPOND’S SILENT ASSASSINS and SYMPHONY X in my heart. SYMPHONY X is known as one of the best in the Progressive world, and I hope to make my solo project rule the classic metal world.
On Pawn and Prophecy, you not only played bass guitar, but you also handled the rhythm guitars. Are there any other instruments you play? Why did you choose the bass to be your primary instrument?
Mike Lepond: I played rhythm guitar on my solo albums. It was really scary, but I learned so much by attempting it. Unfortunately, I don’t play any other instruments. I would love to try the Hurdy Gurdy. I started learning the bass after my dad took me to see KISS in New York City at age 13. Gene Simmons was breathing fire, spitting blood and flying to the top of the lighting rig. I was so blown away that I decided to be a rock star bass player just like him.
What was the songwriting process like for this album? Did you write all the music and lyrics yourself? Did Michael Romeo or Pinella lend a hand with writing since they were on the album as well?
Mike Lepond: For both my solo albums, I wrote all the music, lyrics, and vocal melodies. Throughout my career, I would usually write a musical piece and then write lyrics around it. However, during the writing sessions for “Pawn and Prophecy” I would start out with lyrics. I found that this way is actually better because I could write the music like a mini soundtrack to fit the mood and attitude of the lyrics.
Have you ever contributed to any songwriting or used any other instruments in Symphony X?
Mike Lepond: With SYMPHONY X, I always try to write stuff but Michael Romeo is such a talented mastermind that my ideas usually just fall by the waist side. I would like to try my 8 string bass on our next CD though.
After recording five albums with Symphony X and now two solo albums, what’s left in Mike Lepond’s bucket list as a musician?
Mike Lepond: So far in my career, I have been lucky enough to play on many critically acclaimed albums and tour the world many times over. When I think about my bucket list, the only thing left is to keep doing what I’m doing and trying to improve my craft as much as I can.
You are also now the bassist for Ross the Boss, playing with former Manowar guitarist Ross Friedman. Are there any other bands or musicians you have been wanting to play with?
Mike Lepond: MANOWAR was always one of my favorite bands, so to play with Ross the Boss is an incredible honor. There are some of my heroes growing up that I would love to jam with such as Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osborne, Glen Tipton, Rob Halford and James Hetfield.
Our last question, and thanks once again for your time: are there any plans to take your band on tour?
Mike Lepond: One of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t tour to support my first album. This time around I am working with Frontiers Music SRL as well as SYMPHONY X‘s management to find touring opportunities. It would be great to play some European festivals or some high profile metal tours. Getting a good reaction to my music from a live show would be like a dream come true. And thank you guys for having me and for the nice chat. Be well!