By Kevin Broughton
Well, this is certainly a new sound – and look – from FTM’s favorite scum-country progenitor, Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory. Frankly, folks, it’s not of this world. Not of this continent, anyway.
Virgil and ever-faithful steel player Chuck “Utah” Bradley crossed the Atlantic for an audio and video collaboration with the upstart Noise Music Group. The results are something to behold.
Seriously, my first thought on seeing the video was the opening phrase from my favorite HbG song, “Vandalism Spree:” You’re looking pretty as a picture…
We caught up with Neon Leon for our shortest – and sanest – conversation ever, about crossing the pond, making new friends, and what’s up next.
You described this song as “a new style for Hellbound Glory,” and that’s certainly the case, especially when one sees the video. You traveled to England for some sessions. First question, with whom, and how did this come about?
The song was produced and engineered by George Shilling and Paul Gorry. On one of their trips to America, they caught a show with Shooter and me at the Whiskey-a-Go Go in Hollywood back in about 2017. We corresponded via email from time to time, and I had told them I might like to come over there and record if they knew anybody in the business. It just so happened that they were getting ready to start their own label. So they invited me out, and we said “Fuck it,” and got on the plane and went over.
We’re headed back over there in July to record some more.
The production is really impressive. These Brits must be quite taken with you, the way you cleaned up for the video, huh? You look like you’d showered and everything.
(Laughs) Yeah, they do a lot of work with the fashion industry, too, so they know how to make people look good.
I didn’t clean up that much; just combed my fucking hair. They know how to get the right angles, I guess.
It seems frivolous on its face to ask about the inspiration for a song about drinking, but why don’t you take a stab at it? Where did “The Undertow” come from?
You know, it’s one of those songs you hear about that takes 20 minutes to write, dude. I had the melody in my head for a couple of months, just messing around with it. I just woke one morning with a hangover out in Reno, and just wrote. And there it was.
What key is it in by the way? I was trying to look at your hands in the video…you weren’t using a capo, were you?
No capo; it’s in the key of A, but it’s built around the F sharp minor chord, going back and forth with A and D.
How long since you’ve stepped out of your Shooter Jennings comfort zone?
Oh, wow. You know, I haven’t worked with anybody but Shooter…well, he’s produced all our albums since 2017. I do stuff on my own here and there that I produce on my own, but Shooter was the first real producer I worked with. For this session, Paul had the whole song mapped out in his head before I got there. All the arrangements he had written out on the computer.
He told everybody what to play, and all I did was sing…and I had the guitar solo. That was my part.
You said you’re heading back to England next month. Will you tour any while you’re there?
Yeah, I have a couple of festival dates and some club dates lined up; they really want to make something happen over there, along with their other band The Black Skies (seen in the video.) They hope to bring The Black Skies over to America at some point as well. But we’ve got a couple weeks’ worth of gigs.
Did you say something about a blues album in your future, or did I dream that?
Yeah, Shooter and I are looking to get back into the studio in L.A. toward the end of the summer, either August or September, and try our hand at a blues record; we want to see what we might accomplish in that genre. Which is cool, because blues and country are cousins. I’d like to try something more in that direction.
Cool. You got any songs?
Yeah, I’ve got a handful of songs written for that one, along with some classic covers from the 1920s and 30s.
Well, this new cut is a keeper, dude.
Thanks, buddy. Talk soon.
Those high-brow, artsy Brits made a mini-documentary of HbG’s time in England. Watch it at your leisure here: