Rediscovered Steel – ‘Street Ready’ From Leatherwolf
The second album we’re shining the spotlight on is ‘Street Ready’ from Leatherwolf. The Orange County, California band’s unique blend of songwriting featured neo-classical guitar melodies, hard rock swagger, and the kind of anthemic vocal hooks that were made for arenas. There was also one of the few bands in heavy metal that actually had a triple guitar attack in a lot of their songs.
In 1989 Leatherwolf released their finest album in ‘Street Ready.’ The collection had something for everyone on it. The group jumped from one style to the next with effortless skill. The title track had the mid-tempo stomp of Accept while songs like ‘Lonely Road’ and ‘The Way I Feel’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a White Lion album. As you’ll read in the interview below, the band’s label couldn’t figure out a way to market the band and ‘Street Ready’ quickly faded into obscurity and the cut-out bins. It’s not for a lack of great material as the album stands up to anything that’s come out in the twenty years since it first hit stores.
Every one of the 10 songs on ‘Street Ready’ is a gem but if you had to cherry pick a standout it might be ‘Thunder.’ With its pulsating rhythm during the verses, driving bass line, and epic chanted chorus, ‘Thunder’ should be talked about in the same breath with classic metal songs like ‘Mr. Crowley’ and ‘Hell Bent For Leather.’ The band would break up a few years after the disappointing sales of Street Ready only to reform in recent years. Their latest release, ‘New World Asylum’ is arguably the heaviest of their career and their recent live shows prove they can smoke bands half their age.
Noisecreep recently sat down with Leatherwolf vocalist/guitarist Michael Olivieri at the band’s studio in Stanton, California to talk about the album.
The first time I became aware of Leatherwolf was when the video for “The Calling” (from 1987’s self-titled album) aired on Headbanger’s Ball around 1987. Around that time I also recall seeing some really positive press for you guys. Going into making Street Ready, was there a lot of pressure and huge expectations coming from Island Records to have a radio and MTV hit?
You know it was kind of weird actually because we didn’t know what to expect. We were so disconnected from the label. Every time we would go to Island’s offices, there would be a different staff and interns so we couldn’t really build any kind of real relationship there. Our A&R guy actually left the company right after he signed us. So there wasn’t anyone there overseeing us like it was their project. I don’t think it was the band’s or management’s fault that the ball got dropped so many times. Actually, our management also handled Dangerous Toys at the time and they had the same exact marketing plan that we did and they were doing a great job with them. So we just felt like we were a write-off for Island. Robert Palmer and U2 were making too much money so they had to lose money somewhere I guess.
Watch Leatherwolf’s “The Calling” Video
That’s so crazy considering they sent you to the Bahamas to record the album and probably spent so much money on it.
Yeah, it’s so dumb because they spent something like 200K on ‘Street Ready’ just on the recording. We should have just done it at the Sound City in the Valley and spend 15K on it and then use the rest on marketing the damn thing. It became like this extravagant vacation.
Did you demo all of the material out before you went down there to make the album?
Yeah definitely. Kevin Beamish (‘Street Ready”s producer) came to our rehearsal studio and recorded everything on his little 8-track machine. So when we arrived at Compass Sound, we already knew what we wanted everything to sound like. The big difference between ‘Street Ready’ and the first Island album was that we wrote these newer songs on the road. All we had was like 2 weeks of pre-production with Kevin so Street Ready had a little more experimentation in the studio.
Even though there’s a lot of shredding going on during the guitar solos, there seems to be a really though out madness to them.
That’s just Geoff (Gayer) and Carey (Howe) sitting on a couch with each other for hours at a time figuring parts out. That’s never really changed. I don’t know if you’ve seen that Farrelly Brothers movie Stuck On You but they’re kind of like that (laughter).
I think I know the answer to this now that I’ve been talking to you for a little bit but when you were writing the material was there a concentrated effort to try and create something that could get on radio? I don’t mean a complete pop kind of thing but something that could crossover but still retained what you were about sonically.
I think so. That’s probably how the title track came about. We wanted to try and write something a bit simpler and straight-forward like AC/DC. It was hard at that time to get our Paul (Carman) and Dean (Roberts), our rhythm section to play something simple at that time. We saw all of these other bands selling millions of albums and we couldn’t even sell 300K so yeah, we definitely tried with that song to do something that might help us get there.
I think you pulled it off with the song “Street Ready” because although it’s very hooky, it’s still has an edge to it. That’s the thing you always showed restraint and taste in your songwriting even though everyone in the band had the technical chops to play like one of those bands on Shrapnel Records (an indie label that specialized in guitar shredders like Jason Becker and Tony MacAlpine).
That came from the varied influences we all had. I came from a musical family where we all did harmony. Leatherwolf’s producer also loved layering harmonies so it was great for me. He came from doing those REO Speedwagon records where they did a lot of that. The rest of the band was always like, “maybe you’re overdoing it on that part,” or whatever but we just loved doing those big back-up vocal parts.
Watch Leatherwolf’s “Hideaway” Video
In the late 80’s the way a lot of harder bands got on the radio was through the power ballad. Even Dokken had a single like “Alone Again” that fell into this category. ‘Street Ready’ has a beautiful song called “Hideaway” that could have done the trick. Why don’t you think it didn’t resonate like that commercially?
Again, I have to go back to the label. There was no one there saying, “If you don’t play this, we won’t give you first crack at the Anthrax record.” No one at Island knew what to do with us. They didn’t know if we were a hair band, a shred thing, or whatever else. The thing is we never really set our own direction. Our influences were like that too. Judas Priest has always been all over the place too.
Was there ever a moment during the making of ‘Street Ready’ where you guys sat back and thought you might have a hit on your hands?
After we were done tracking and even mixing everything, Carey goes into the little reverb chamber and plays the intro chord to what would become “Hideaway” and we were just like, “whoa!” We had a 6 and 12 string acoustic guitar so we sat down and wrote the whole thing in a few minutes. We called our producer and he just set up everything and we tracked it. Then we sent it to the label and they loved it. They then decided they wanted to make that the first video but we wanted “Thunder” since it was a heavier song. I don’t know why they didn’t listen to us but that decision ruined us because it made people who didn’t know us think we were a ballad band or something.
Is there a non-musical moment from those recording sessions that sticks out in your head?
The condo we were staying at was right on the beach. One day we see a guy all the way out in the deep end and it looks like he’s drowning. Luckily Dean is a really good swimmer and dives in and gets to the dude in like 30 seconds. He’s still in great shape and even plays water polo. But anyway, he saves this man from drowning. It turned out that he was 80 years old and was fishing for lobster. We also found out that he was some kind of leader in the village and had all of these minions (laughter). So Dean automatically was treated like royalty. We went to a lot of great dinners after that.
Listening to the album now, is there anything that you would go back and do differently?
What really fucked up that record for me was that we got Michael Wagner (Ozzy Osbourne, Helloween, Metallica) to mix it instead of Kevin, our producer. Wagner had just finished working on a Skid Row record and he was burnt out and just wanted to go on vacation. He didn’t really want us to be in the studio with him and our ideas were ignored. I love his other work but I just think he was tired when he joined our project.
When the album finally hit stores, what was the feeling like within the band? Were you optimistic even though the label didn’t seem 100% behind it?
It sucked. We were actually touring before the album was even out so there was no game plan from Island. We would be playing these shows and no one knew the new songs since the album wasn’t in stores yet and there weren’t people at the venues anyway. We did get to do some shows with Queensrÿche but most of the other stuff was really bad. The one cool thing was we finally got to tour in a bus (laughter).
Did ‘Street Ready”s commercial disappointment ultimately lead to the band’s first break-up?
We had the option to stay with Island for at least another album. The advance money was going to be around 50K so we talked about taking that and buying a band house and everything. I was looking forward to making another album and seeing how it developed but we just started going into different directions and we couldn’t agree on a lot of things musically. Plus when the 90’s came everything got weird and no one wanted to stick to their guns. In hindsight we should have just taken a break and chilled out for awhile. We tried to move on in a different direction but it just got silly so we all decided to try something new.