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Back on the Prowl

A reunited Leatherwolf tries to mount a successful comeback by returning to its old do-it-yourself attitude. The O.C.-bred heavy-metal brigade's self-promoted live album is selling respectably, and a studio album is in the works.

March 01, 2000|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Michael Olivieri remembers the days in the 1980s when he and his Leatherwolf bandmates used to spend hours nailing and taping their concert fliers to telephone poles.

"We used to be pretty good promoters," Olivieri said fondly. "We would stay up all night going from Los Angeles to Orange County putting these fliers up."

After calling it quits in 1990 because the music industry was more interested in the harder-edged sounds of Metallica and Guns N' Roses, the reunited Orange County-bred heavy-metal brigade hopes to mount a successful comeback by returning to that do-it-yourself attitude that marked its formative years.

For now, the quintet, which plays Friday at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana, is quite happy handling promotion and distribution of its current "Wide Open" live album.

The group isn't interested in repeating its experience with Island Records in the late '80s. Island, then the home of U2 and Bob Marley, had plenty of clout but little experience marketing a heavy-metal act.

Besides, given the economics of working for a major label, Olivieri said the group can reap as much money selling 20,000 copies of its comeback album as it did selling 200,000 copies of its second and final Island album, 1989's "Street Ready." That album peaked at No. 123 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart; its Island debut, "Leatherwolf," had made it to No. 103.

"We're really gunshy about major labels these days," the singer-guitarist said, but conceded that the band wouldn't pass up another deal if the terms were right.

For now, Olivieri is encouraged by the response to its Web site, leatherwolfmusic.com.

"We're getting thousands of hits saying, 'This band should have made it,' or 'This is my favorite band.' We've found this entire underground market that we didn't think still existed," he said.

Leatherwolf came together again in 1998 to play for its former manager's 40th birthday party at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. The show went so well that the group ended up playing others for the public, including a sold-out date at the Galaxy, where some of the songs for the live album were recorded.

Rather than write and record a new album right away, the band played it cautious by first releasing a live album. "Wide Open" has sold well enough to persuade the group to forge ahead with a studio album. The quintet is writing new material and hopes to have a studio album ready by summer.

Olivieri said the band's new songs will still be very much identifiable as Leatherwolf. The group's intricate, triple-guitar arrangements will continue to be a defining element of its sound. And as long as Olivieri is lead vocalist, don't expect any excursions into now-fashionable rap-metal.

"It was funny. We were rehearsing this one new song we have called 'Tools of Discipline' last night," he said. "Just as a joke I did this rap thing over the middle of it. [Everyone said:] 'That's cool!' I said, 'Man, I'm joking!' I would be faking it if I did that. It's not who I am as a singer. I'm not into that, though [guitarists] Geoff [Gayer] and Carey [Howe] like it a lot."

Leatherwolf's upcoming album will present a few new wrinkles. Olivieri says his songwriting now incorporates bluesier textures. In addition, he feels he's become a better singer than he was 10 years ago as a result of exploring non-metal musical terrain.

Olivieri, who has moved to Denver, also plays in a funk-R&B-jazz project in that city with his wife, singer Carole.

Leatherwolf bassist Paul Carman also lives in Denver, where he works as a technician for a radio station. The other three members of the group still live in Orange County. Drummer Dean Roberts operates a roofing business in Costa Mesa. Gayer and Howe run a clothing line, Grind Inc., in Huntington Beach.

Olivieri said the group also has become more democratic and civil over time.

"We argued a lot," he said. "There was no holding back of feelings back then. Now everybody respects each other's place and what they do. Before it was like, 'Dean, this is the kind of drummer you are, you should play like this.' We would try to change everybody. It was too many chiefs, not enough Indians. Now everything is put to a vote. I may really want to do something a certain way, but if three people say no, I have to accept that decision."

Much of the change stems from the fact that the group is no longer the primary focus of each band member's existence. But now that they have other things going on in their lives, it doesn't mean they aren't serious about a comeback.

"We want it to happen," Olivieri said. "We feel there's some magic here and a market for this music. We feel we can make a lot of money at it."

While '80s-style metal may not be in vogue with American kids (though Olivieri feels it's primed for a resurgence), it hasn't lost its luster in European markets.

In August, Leatherwolf performed in front of 45,000 at Germany's Wacken Open Air Festival. The metal extravaganza featured a slew of head-banging bands, including such '80s outfits as Dokken, Tygers of Pan Tang and Metal Church.

Leatherwolf plans to tour Europe this summer and perhaps the U.S. as well.

"We toured Germany in 1989 for a couple of months," Olivieri said. "Going back there 10 years later, we found nothing had changed. People were still wearing their leather jackets and their denim vests with their Slayer patch on the back of it. They're real loyal. If you were someone's favorite band in 1989, you're still their favorite band today."

* Leatherwolf, Project Story and Accomplice perform Friday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $13.50 to $15.50. (714) 957-0600.

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