Mike Lepond – a bassist of progressive metal giants Symphony X – has many things on his plate; not least a solo project Silent Assassins featuring an impressive cast of musicians gearing up to release their second album in the spring. Just announced, Mike has also joined former Manowar-guitarist Ross The Boss’s new group. Mike was happy to talk to Heather Williams about Silent Assassins, Symphony X, his bass playing secrets and much more.
First of all, let me say your bass playing is amazing. How did you get your start playing bass? You play rhythm guitar as well and your rhythm playing appears on your solo album Silent Assassins. Do you play any other instruments in addition to these? Why did you choose the bass over all other instruments?
I started playing bass after I saw a KISS concert at age 13. Gene Simmons was spitting blood, breathing fire, flying around the stage and I wanted to be just like him. The only other instrument I play is guitar. It is easier for me to write songs on guitar rather than bass.
Let’s talk about your solo project Silent Assassins. This really is a unique album. Your bass playing really stands out on the whole album with amazing, beautiful bass playing on “Oath Of Honor”. You wrote all of the lyrics and music. What made you want to get into a solo project?
My first love has always been classic heavy metal and I have always wanted to release an album in this genre. I felt that many of today’s bands are not capturing the true spirit of heavy metal and I wanted to bring that back to the younger fans of today.
How did you assemble the members of Silent Assassins?
I wanted to hire local musicians so I could sit in the recording studio with them. I assembled the best guys I could find. Alan Tecchio (Watchtower) on vocals, Metal Mike Chlasciak (Halford) on guitar and my bandmate from Symphony X, Michael Romeo on many instruments.
How did you come up with the name Silent Assassins? What does it mean?
I didn’t want to call the band “Mike LePond” or “Mike LePond and friends”, hahaha. Silent Assassins is just a better way to say “friends”. Also in my lyrics, the Silent Assassins were the Greek warriors hiding inside the Trojan Horse.
How long do you plan on keeping Silent Assassins going?
My goal is to make Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins my side band. We could record and go on tour when Symphony X is off the road. This keeps me working the whole year. I am a workaholic and music is my life so this is the perfect situation for me.
Ok, let us in on things. You’re in the studio recording a second solo album. What is going to be the name of it? Any more solo albums planned after this one you’re recording now?
I am now preparing to mix the second Silent Assassins album. The name will be called “Pawn And Prophecy” and I am hoping to release it in the spring of 2017. Alan Tecchio is back on vocals as well as some new great musicians from here in New Jersey, USA.
Have you toured or done any shows for your solo project? Are any planned?
I have not toured yet with this project but I would really like to do this. I am working on getting a tour in Europe next year and I would really love to play South America as well. I am just waiting for the right offers to come in from booking agents and promoters.
18 years with Symphony X. How’d you come about joining up and what’s kept you staying?
I was introduced to the band through a mutual friend in 1999. After two tough auditions I became a permanent member. I have stayed with Symphony X because I truly believe we are the best metal band in the world and I still get excited to record CDs and tour with them.
Listening to Symphony X, I hear many different musical elements mixed together. It can be really heavy, proggy, epic, and symphonic all in one song, maybe even some technical elements here and there. It’s great! In your first two albums with Symphony X, there are significant symphonic elements, and I mean that literally. I heard somewhere that there was an actual symphony used in some albums. But in “The Odyssey” there was less, and in “Iconoclast” there was none or hardly any. “The Odyssey” is my favourite album (love “Inferno (Unleash the Fire”) with “Iconoclast” in second (“End Of Innocence” is awesome). “Walls Of Babylon” off of the “Paradise Lost” album is my favourite Symphony X song. Why the use of a real symphony in the first albums and why the change in future albums to no symphonies used?
The truth is that we never used a real symphony. I wish we could have, but it is just too expensive. All our symphonic parts come from the keyboard. In later years we became more guitar driven and less symphonic but I am hoping we bring back that “Odyssey”- sound again.
Is the Symphony X fan club still active and where can people join up? Where can people find Symphony X on social media? Where can fans pick up Symphony X albums and merchandise?
We really don’t have the fan club anymore but we are active on the internet and social media. We have a fan page on Facebook and you can always find us at symphonyx.com.
Symphony X once had a 14-month tour which I find amazing! What was that like? How did you travel, eat, sleep, etc? What countries did you go through?
During those 14 months we are not always on the road. We would tour for a month or so, then go back home for a month, and then go back out. Usually we travel in a tour bus and that is where we eat and sleep. Living on the road is not for everyone but I love it.
It’s always fun to hear tour stories. What’s been your best and worst tour experiences with Symphony X? Have you had any weird, crazy things happen while playing on stage?
In Symphony X we really haven’t run into any crazy stories. Touring life for us is pretty routine. You wake up on a bus, you have your sound check and then you play your show. It’s kind of like a real job, haha.
Any new albums planned for Symphony X? Any tours coming up fans need to know about?
Symphony X have not booked any upcoming shows yet but we are planning to play in the USA and Europe this summer and fall of 2017. In the meantime we have begun working on some ideas for another album.
You did a little work with Helstar once. What did you do?
I never recorded with Helstar but I played some shows with them when their bass player was busy or sick.
Are you still in the band Dead on Arrival? What’s going on with that?
I left that band when I joined Symphony X.
In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of a five string bass?
A five can give you the lows of a piano and I like the string spacing but it can also be too muddy sounding.
Do you use compression when playing bass? Why or why not?
I have always used compression for recording but never live. However, I was thinking of trying compression on the next tour.
Tell us your favourite brand of bass to play?
I still have never played a bass that sounds better than a Fender Precision.
How many pedals do you have? How many is too many?
I’m not really a pedal guy. I just use tuner and overdrive pedals.
Any hobbies you do on your downtime? Favourite movies? Food? Books?
In my downtime and watch a lot of TV such as the History channel or News. I love to go see local bands or see movies as well. I enjoy having dinner with friends. Italian food is my favourite. This weekend I will see the new Star Wars movie.
It was a delight learning about and listening to your work. Thank you for the interview!
Interview by Heather Williams
To find out more on Mike’s activities, Symphony X and tour dates go to: