SRW: I’m stoked to have man of mystery and stellar horror author, Leo Darke, on my blog today, yakking up his new book, Lucifer Sam. It’s a great, potent read about all things demonic and rock ‘n roll. Like the best rock music, it’s daring, edgy, and dangerous. Alright, enough from me, here comes Leo.
Thanks for answering my questions and agreeing to being grilled, Leo.
LD: No worries, Stuart, happy to have my head examined. It might get messy though…
SRW: Okay, Leo, let’s start a little with you. Your bio says you (in)famously were fired for being too scary as an actor. Are we talking Boris Karloff scary or can’t act Keanu Reeves scary? Details, please.
LD: We’re talking the horrible love child of Freddy Krueger and Richard III. I wore an old highwayman coat, noose round my neck, undertaker hat and Alice Cooper make-up. Once the supervisor did a check on me as I ‘entertained’ the crowd in the Guy Fawkes exhibit. He said afterwards he had genuine spine shivers. You see, you were supposed to make light of the horrors of the museum and camp it up in a silly Monty Python way. I was having none of that. My favorite saying was ‘wanna feel the caress of my noose?’ I pretended my neck was broken and I’d freak ‘em out before even entering the exhibit room where the audience were waiting by slowly, slowly creaking the door open and then shuffling inside. You could hear a pin drop. I remember one teenage girl huddled in a corner begging me not to come towards her. They told me to tone it down and when I didn’t, they sacked my ass.
SRW: Good times!
Leo, give everyone a brief synopsis of Lucifer Sam. And make it rawk! (Puts out the sign of the horns).
LD: Cat O’Nine Tails, a mega successful rock band, are flying over the Indian Ocean in their private jet on a world tour when they suddenly drop out of air space completely. Then the jet reappears six months later in exactly the same position. The band are back, but this time they’re different. This time their music really is Killer…
SRW: Clearly, you know a little bit about the rock industry. The writing in your novel is very assured and your descriptions of the music and the industry read like an insider’s P.O.V. Am I onto something or are you just brilliant with research?
LD: Been in a couple of bands but I was sacked from the first one ‘cause I couldn’t play bass (sound familiar, Sid fans?) and the second band I changed up to the front man. It was called Lucifer Sam… we imploded messily before anything really happened for us. Apart from that, I grew up following punk bands. That’s all the insider info I have. I remember Animal from The Anti-Nowhere League loving a book I wrote years ago called Rags for the Doctor Who series of original novels. He was in it described as a complete monster, and the big bugger didn’t mind at all. He sent me a signed T Shirt as a thank you. This time around I name drop the Cockney Rejects and Micky Geggus in particular. Micky helps Kirk to find the ‘hero’ in his old manor in the East End. ‘Manor’ means home streets to Cockneys, by the way, US readers, not a country mansion!! He was pleased as punch to be in it too. Though he hasn’t read it yet!
SRW: Speaking from experience, I was kinda’, sorta’ in a band in my younger days (although of a much different ilk; I guess you’d categorize it as country-funk, improvisational, comedy performance art). But you captured the extreme love/hate relationships that develop between band members based purely on proximity, so close you start despising each others’ body odors. Any band experience in your background?
LD: My first band I wanted to call Lucifer Sam, but the singer wanted it to be a punk covers band, so he invited a prog rock guitarist to join. Makes sense, right? This moron wanted to play all the punk covers note perfectly. Kinda missing the point of punk in the first place. He didn’t like my nascent, clumsy fumblings with the bass so asked for me to be booted. I then formed the proper Lucifer Sam with me as singer, a friend on drums, and two drunks on guitar and bass. We had some great songs which are referenced in the novel, but the guitarist and bass player got very pissed one night before practice and ignited, threatening each other. The band was over. The members of the fictional Lucifer Sam are nothing like the real ones. They’re a lot worse!
SRW: You name-drop a lotta fairly obscure bands (well, at least obscure here in God-forsaken Kansas), such as The Damned, Motorhead (with Lemmy, natch), and Hawkwind (Hawkwind, for crying out loud! I haven’t given them a second thought since my weed-stoked high school days!), amongst many others. Are these favorites? What is your favorite style of rock? “Non-suckesque” is mine.
LD: Always loved the Damned since I was a kid, though I saw them a year ago and they bored the pants off me. Real shame. They’d gotten old and were just going through well rehearsed paces. Lemmy… what can I say about Lemmy? I saw Motorhead many years back with the original trio when I was a child. Stone Dead Forever still goose bumps me. It’s just the perfect dirty, glorious rock song. I did a pilgrimage to The Rainbow in LA in February and sat in Lemmy’s chair at the bar. Crazy night. The Rainbow is a wild, amazing place where anything can happen…
SRW: Alright, let’s dig into the book. We all know the adage about “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.” In your book, you’ve changed that battle-cry a bit, I think, to “sex, violence, and rock ‘n roll.” You certainly don’t skimp on any of the topics, making for a sobering, shocking, and, at times, grotesque read. (Even the Detective-Sergeant in your book likes her sex on the violent side.) I know it’s a horror book, first and foremost, but do you view rock music as violent? I ask because in your prose, you’re always “shredding” guitars, “beating” drums, “slashing” vocals…the list goes on.
LD: I grew up with punk in the early 80s and it was incredibly violent. There were always fights. Nasty ones. I suppose that became ingrained into me, into my outlook on live music. Even today I’ll go into a gig expecting trouble. Luckily it doesn’t happen so much these days. I equate punk and some rock music with the violence of slasher films in many ways. The stab of Jason’s machete is like a savage guitar riff in my fiction I guess. Killing Joke were particularly manic back in the day, their hypnotic layers of insane music letting loose all the dogs of hell in my mind. Violence leaped from their records, setting all sorts of wild thoughts free. So yes, all this influenced my take on how brutal music can be and how mesmerizing. I wanted to catch that giddy sense of threat and mayhem in my prose.
SRW: Okay, time to play spot the band! Who is the satanic, past their prime, primping and posing Cat o’ Nine Tails patterned after?
LD: Haha. Couldn’t possibly reveal that. Don’t want Grinning Skull to get sued! Or me for that matter. Despite my piss take, I’m kinda fond of their perseverance and some of their music. Of course, they might not be based on anyone…. Obviously not Motorhead. The music Industry is a lot poorer without Lemmy. Killed by Death indeed.
SRW: I certainly have my suspicions, but I'll likewise keep them to myself. How about the titular punk band, Lucifer Sam?
LD: Definitely my own invention, a stew of different influences from Bauhaus and the Cramps to Lords of the New Church and early Damned, all stirred in one big Voodoo Pot.
SRW: Is “Rock!” magazine meant to be a riff on Rolling Stone or Spin? How about any of the staff?
LD: Never read them. Probably more based on crappy rags like NME. Sounds was a whole lot better.
SRW: So, is anything off-limits with your writing? I mean, that groupie scene was really, really gross. And disturbing (the nature of horror, I know, but...c'mon!).
LD: I thought a lot about deleting that scene, or at least toning it down. It goes horribly too far, but yet seemed perfectly right, too! I knew it would be the scene that made or broke the book. The one plus ultra if you like. It summed up the nature of the transformed band in a way like no other I guess. The absence of light in them, the void in their souls, the ugly dark they’d let in. My big worry would be that it would be seen as gross for its own sake, and misogynistic. A risk I had to take to tell the tale as honestly as I could. Some people will hate it. That chapter is my Make them Die Slowly. No animals were killed in the making of this book. Groupies though? Not so sure.
SRW: The further I dove into your nightmarish rock ‘n roll world, another theme came into focus: a call for anarchy and upsetting the status quo. Naturally, the satanic Cat of Nine Tails take things too far (it’s horror, folks!), but you seem enamored with punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and the Dead Boys, whose bleak outlook borders on violence for violence’s sake, or at the very least, overturning authority. Even your two heroes, Kirk and Ray, want to drastically change things. Are there deep-rooted issues we need to discuss, Leo? Here, lay down on the sofa, Dr. West is on the clock…
LD: Hmmm, good question again, Stuart. Always hated real violence, and the morons who dish it out mindlessly in the streets, pubs and schools. The Sex Pistols made you feel violent, but I always preferred smashing things not people! I think Johnny Rotten would agree with that. He was always a smart cookie. No fighter. I always remember Captain Sensible of the Damned saying he’d much rather throw an egg than a punch. Happy to go along with that. Egging authority figures seems a good idea to me. Especially in Britain right now…
SRW: Yeesh, I feel your political pain.
The finale of the book is extraordinarily suspenseful. I particularly loved the slow-burn dread of waiting for the huge-ass venue concert to begin. You reminded me of why I abhor big arena concerts, capturing that sense of claustrophobia and being ripped off while waiting to glimpse an ant-sized view of rock heroes. Like your protagonist, Kirk, I’d much rather watch a band play in a bar. Do you agree with this? C’mon, are you Kirk?
LD: Absolutely, 100 %. Got no time for big bands in big venues. Never did, never will. There’s zero connection to the audience. I want to be close enough to spit on the buggers 😉 Filthy habit, lot of that went on in the early days. I dreamed of being someone like Kirk a long time ago I suppose. The dream never came true, so I wrote about him instead.
SRW: Elvis Presley said “Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help move to it. Then there’s the Chuck Berry quote, “If you want to release your aggression, get up and dance. That’s what rock and roll is.” And finally, Pete Wentz said, “What would rock and roll be without ambition, danger, craziness, and fun?” It seems like everyone wants to define rock. In your book, we see both the destructive and transformative power of rock and roll. Which camp do you tend to fall into, Leo?
LD: Well the Pistols had transformative music for sure, and outwardly destructive too, though Lydon was always much cleverer than that. His lyrics were insightful and provocative, while Steve Jones let loose Fall of Empire riffs, so I guess I was hugely influenced by the excitement of their approach. So to answer your question, both! Destructive AND transformative. Destroying the oppressive institutions that surround us while wishing for transformation... For something else, something better, which never comes along.
SRW: What are you working on now? Where can interested parties find more info?
LD: I have a literary agent over here in the UK who wants me to concentrate on Dark Crime. He’s flogging a very dark book around (or is it a dead horse?) to publishers at the moment. I’m keeping the horror for Grinning Skull!
SRW: Alright already! There you have it, folks. If you’re a hardcore horror fan, a rock fan, or just a fan of dang fine prose, be sure to pick up Leo’s masterful book (published by Grinning Skull Press), Lucifer Sam. Thanks for hangin’, Leo. The sign of the horns! Rock and roll!
LD: Been a pleasure, Stuart. Loved hangin’! Feel the caress of my noose…