Leviathan are back with their new album “Words Waging War”. Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Lutzow talked to Grande Rock about the new album, the production, the band’s future plans and the issues with the band’s name, among other interesting things… read more below…
Leviathan band pic
Hi John and welcome on Grande Rock! I’m glad we’re given the chance to talk about your new studio album “Words Waging War”!
J: Hello. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to share information about my music.
Firstly what has happened on the band’s camp these two years between your previous and your new album?
J: There has not been much change in terms of writing and compositions. The biggest change between the 2018 release, “Can’t Be Seen By Looking”, and our 2020 release is the production and lineup. I was lucky to be able to get Kevin Clock, the owner of Colorado Sound to mix the new album for me. I always wanted to work with him after the first two Titan Force albums. He has a new Neve analog mixing board that really brought the Leviathan production back to pre-2000 era sound. Another significant change was the addition of Kyle Brian Abbott on drums. He is a monster and all-around great kid. Other than those changes, the lineup remained the same. I really hope to get the chance to play some shows with this group.
What did you change in the way you approach the songwriting this time?
J: Nothing with my songwriting or pre-production process has changed in over 20 years. I always write the basic riffs either on a bass or acoustic guitar. Then program those arrangements into my DAW as midi data. Then take those sections and structure a framework for what will be the bass line or melody. Midi drums are programmed to match the data. Revisions are made to refine the song down to a foundation that is solid enough to build upon. I then record scratch guitar and bass tracks. Then the song files are prepped with click and reference sounds for the drummer to track his parts. Once the drums are done, the overall composition changes to adapt to what the drummer played. Kyle has amazing creativity on the drums. We will then jam over the drum tracks for a few months to lock into his timing. We will lay down real bass, guitar, and keys over and over as files are shared amongst band mates. This is the point when the fun for me begins; the lyrics and vocals have always been the most important part of music. I usually have lyrics taking shape around the same time as the beginning structure. The vibe of the music and cadence dictates how the vocals will flow and what words can efficiently fit.
What does the album title “Words Waging War” declare?
J: To me; the album has a few different meanings. I wrote the song titled “Words Waging War” back in 1998. The internet was new, especially to me. The year before, I had just bought my first computer explicitly for the purpose of home recording. I always liked alliteration. I do not think I put together the connection at the time between World Wide Web and WWW. Today I think “Words Waging War” is an appropriate definition for how the internet is used and abused.
Who designed the cover artwork and does it feature any hidden message on it?
J: My musical partner, Martin Schroder produced the album cover artwork. He has helped me out since 2010 when Leviathan reunited. He had the idea of resurrecting the beast from our “Deepest Secrets Beneath” album. That artwork from 1994 is very recognizable, so we wanted to pay homage to that time period and bring it forward into the future. Martin enlisted the help of German graphic novel artist Natalie Ostermaier. Together they really created something beautiful. They are going to partner up again for our 2022 release. I cannot wait to see what they can create.
Give us a hint about each track…
J: I am not quite sure what you were hoping for, so I will just share my first thoughts about each track…
“Compromised by Need”: This was a brand new song written last year. It expresses how I feel about the state of the world and declining quality of life.
“Ambitious Stones Overturned”: This song was one of the many that were originally written back in 1997-98-time frame. These songs were intended to be on the Leviathan follow-up album to “Scoring the Chapters”. All the band members knew Leviathan was going to go through some changes after “StC”. Mainly because Ron Skeen the founding member was mainly handling the business side of things. He was the only married member and had a growing family so we figured there might be a day when he did not want to play anymore. He had not been doing much song writing, so I was solely responsible for that moving forward. We planned for change, just did not think all the drama with poor sales would break us apart the way it did.
The overall song writing shifted to become more agile for a four-piece group. My intention was also to utilize the strengths we had with four fully capable vocalists in the band. Derek and I had always had a side project called Braver Since Then. We would mostly play acoustic shows at coffee shops for fun. Once Jeff Ward started playing with us, we knew we might be able to show off our musicianship and abilities to a wider audience with material that could be played as a full metal show or in a corner of a café on acoustics. Many of these songs that finally came to life on “WWW” were written from that goal. Raphael and I might be playing some café’s around Europe if we can find way.
“Who I’m Supposed to Be?”: I think I wrote this song in the year 2000. It has evolved greatly from how it sounded back then.
“Someone Else’s Art”: I love this song. It was written around 2004 as a “Braver Since Then” experiment. I wrote it over a friend’s drum beats because he had a hard time playing to a click with structure. I gave him a tempo he was comfortable with and hit record.  After many hours of editing, I ended up with some working parts that later would be used to make a finished song.
“Picture Perfect”: This song was originally shorter and made for coffee shops.
“Strength and Limitations”: This song is like “Someone Else’s Art” in that it was written as an experiment to get something to work over Dave’s drums.
“This Order of Things”: This is an instrumental tune. The foundation of this song was actually some guitar riffs Martin sent me that were intended to be his musical contribution to the album. They did not work in the song he intended so I played with a VST called ANA2 to drastically manipulate the sound of his wav files. It turned them into an eerie synth. On top of that I built some layers fit for a powerful speech by the great Eugene V. Debs.
“Ten to the Twelfth”: Most of the music for this song was from the very first guitar compositions I ever wrote. Back in the mid Eighties. This song is kind of Jazzy and more upbeat than most metal.
“WWW”: I really like this song. It was part of the material we were writing in 1998. I was collaborating with my friend John Sellers. He was moving away from Colorado and did not have any finished examples of his music. We wrote this song together and recorded it as a quick demo. Many years later we would jam with it on acoustics and it evolved. For our next album due out in 2022, we are co-writing most of the songs together again. It is a great collaboration.
“Blood and Imagination”: Co-written with Derek Blake our bass player.
“Projecting Feelings”: This song was written around 2000. It was originally even longer but got edited down.
“Cast a Long Shadow”: Brand new song written for my son as a guide to survive life.  ery dark and beautiful nylon string.
“A Legacy Not Yet Defined”: This song is a play on the theme of a song from “Scoring the Chapters” album, “Legacy Departing”. This song again is meant to be an ongoing message to my son, for after I am gone. “Legacy Departing” was about me being the last in my bloodline and having destiny set on a negative trajectory. With my son, I wanted to demonstrate that my legacy is separate from his. His future can be bright.
Where did the recordings take place and who is responsible for the production, the mixing and the mastering? What has changed in the way you record and what do you think of the final outcome on the whole?
J: Let me start by telling you where the Drums and Vocals are recorded. Kyle tracks his drums in LA at his studio. Raphael records the vocals at his studio in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The rest of the album other than small extras contributed by friends around the world, were all tracked at my studio, Ukrainian homestead. I record this way out of necessity. I wish I could be in a normal band again where all the members learn their parts and we rehearse together. Unfortunately, I do not live in the world where that is possible. Responsibilities of modern life intrude. I am lucky to have a quality room in my home where production is possible. The biggest improvement to the finished product were made by mixing at Colorado Sound. I am proud of how this album turned out. I feel like I have finally redeemed myself after a few sub-par sounding releases.
What are your expectations from “Words Waging War” and what do you wish to achieve with Leviathan over the next years?
J: I do not have any expectations from music anymore. I think I have learned from disappointment. I would love for the album to be well received and earn back lost fans. I think the strength of this album is only a hint at what is in the works for 2022. My dream would be to get a chance to play Europe again with Kyle and Raphael. If we cannot get someone to support that effort and make it reality, we will try and produce a Live DVD shot at a new venue owned by Kevin from Colorado Sound. This release may follow the 2022 studio album. The main obstacle for playing live is that Raphael lives 5700 miles away from me. 
I know that you are working on a new studio album already. Are there any details that you would like to share with us (line-up, recordings, etc.)?
J: Ha Ha. Yeah… The new album slated for 2022 is all I can think about lately. I am so inspired having a co-writer. It really brings me back to the days when Ron Skeen and I used to send each other guitar riffs. Having a foundation from someone else really pulls new ideas out of me that I could not have come up with on my own. The new material is much heavier than anything on “WWW”. There will be six total songs. With a running time of around 40 minutes. You might be saying, 40 minutes is short for a Leviathan album. You would be correct in that analysis. But I have a plan of releasing this collection of new material on vinyl. I have never had one of my records available on viny before. It is on my bucket list. I have a plan on releasing a package or 30th anniversary set with Vinyl, CD and T-shirt. It will include the new studio material on Vinyl. The CD will have the new songs and include all our unreleased demos dating back to 1990. The T-shirt will have the new album artwork on the front and all the album covers on the back as a collage.
How would you describe your music style to someone that hasn’t heard of you before?
J: That is a tough question. To be objective about something so personal is tricky. Overall, I do not perceive my music as any different from the music that influences me. But to understand that fully I should explain in greater detail. Most of my influences are not anything close to resembling heavy metal. My favorite writers are Tori Amos, Shawn Colvin, Black Crowes, Jellyfish, Sting, Counting Crows, Jim Croce and Barenaked ladies. Those are not typical for someone labeled as a progressive metal band. I might see and perceive music differently than some people. I was lucky enough to work at one of the coolest CD shops during the 90’s while I was schoolteacher.
But to answer your question; I would say that my music is not for everyone. It has roots in early progressive metal like Fates Warning, Dream Theater or Rush. I think the biggest difference to other bands compared to Leviathan are the limits that we cross. A key recognizable attribute to my sound is the use of dialog. The instrumental passages with structured dialog are a staple. This goes back to my love for film and language. The dialog I choose was always meant to be my voice. But I figured, who would want to hear me ramble some poetry or inspirational words? The Dialog is the 5th member of Leviathan. Having said all that, the obvious stylistic differences between the artists I mentioned above and Leviathan are We use heavier drums, more distorted guitars, longer song structure, more complex instrumentation and extreme diversity covering all possible musical genres. That summary kind of ties into the “progressive” question from before.
What do you think of the virtual live shows in general?
J: Because of Covid, I think it is cool that bands have adapted and began releasing these performances. Raphael, John Sellers and I are planning to do some acoustic performances of “WWW” material soon to be released like this.
What do you think about this corona-virus thing? How much has affected the music business and people’s lives so far?
J: Most of 2020 has been a nightmare. More specifically, the last 4 years living under the rule of a wannabee dictator here in the USA has been hell. I am hopeful that a vaccine will allow life to move forward better than it was before.
How did you come up with the name Leviathan initially?
J: Ron Skeen first found the name Leviathan. It was the stage name being used by Harry “the Tyrant” Conklin back in Satan’s Host days. Ron used to rehearse next to those guys and was inspired by Harry. The name Leviathan for me has been a kind of Love/Hate relationship. I have been associated with that word for so long now though, that it is just synonymous for my last name.
You are aware that there are quite a few bands with the same name right? How do you deal with it and what can be done in general?
J: In regards to other bands using the name Leviathan. I don’t know how someone in this day and age would come to the conclusion that the band name Leviathan is available. You have to be born under a rock without internet access to think that Leviathan is available or original. My band Leviathan has used this name and held the United States trademark since 1989. I renewed the trademark in 2013. When I find a band trying to cash in on the work and ground that we have pounded since the late 80s I send them a cease and desist letter informing them of the Copyright and Trademark violations.
It’s time for our “strange questions”!!! What are those things that you do not like in the music industry nowadays?
J: I am not fond of anything about the music industry. I never really fit in or had good experiences with record labels, so I am jaded. The music business has kicked my ass and will be the main reason I walk away.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words:
J: Rockstar: Energy drink or the movie Rockstar.
Progressive: Generally, my philosophy about everything in life; music, politics etc.
Eurovision: I watched the movie on Netflix.
Music Realities: Glad I am old and got to experience music in a better time.
What do you think about the “downloading & streaming issue” of our time? Do you prefer the streaming services better or not?
J: I understand why people would want the convenience of downloading music. But when it is pirated and property is stolen, then that is when it hits home with me. CD sales really declined when the internet brought forward the option for people to widely share files.
Fill in the phrase… “Prog Metal wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, if it hadn’t been for…”
J: Fates Warning! I think the drive for musicianship to push boundaries made Prog music possible. I perceive progressive music as the highest echelon of musicianship. Prog bands have a drive to push their limits in terms of what is possible on an instrument and possible with compositions. Prog music is the ultimate form of artistic expression.
Which are the best 3 Prog Metal albums of all time according to you?
J: In no particular order; Fates Warning – “Awaken the Guardian”, Queesryche – “Rage for Order” and Return To Forever – “The Romantic Warrior”.
Which is that band that you’d like to be part of (any time & era)?
J: Barenaked Ladies. They always had so much fun performing live.
Which do you consider to be the best male & female vocalist in metal history?
J: Geoff Tate or Midnight for male. My favorite all time singer is Martin Sexton. Tori Amos isn’t really metal, but she is my favorite female vocalist.
Which is the composer/songwriter who influenced metal music the most?
J: I would have to say Black Sabbath. Without them, metal might be drastically different.
If you had the opportunity to invite any musician, living or dead, to play on your album whom would you choose and why?
J: Mozart. I would be scared to have him play on my composition, but to be able to collaborate with him would be insane.
Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music, which album would it be and from which band/artist?
J: Wow! That is a crazy question. Rush – “2112”, or Jellyfish – “Spilt Milk”.
If you had the chance to travel in time… where would you choose to go? To the past or the future and why?
J: I would go back to the late 1700’s Vienna. Such a beautiful time for music. Or 1950’s Rockabilly. I could be ahead of my time then!
What are your views on Artificial Intelligence (and its scary-as-Hell implications!), which is seemingly around the bend and could be fully developed sooner than we think? Are we, as humans, technologically going off the deep end (like lemmings)?
J: With the onset of “Deep Fake” technology and the era of evil politicians cryin, “fake news”. We are going into a black hole that I don’t think humans are wise enough to steer away from. I am about to move to the mountains and just play in the dirt with my son. I would love to live in a simpler time before the internet.
That’s all for now John. Thank you very much for talking to Grande Rock. Wish you the best for the future to come. Take care dude!
J: Thank you Thanos for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts out loud.