Damien Leith’s latest tour – Elvis: The Gospel Collection – is a vibrant evening of song paying homage to the King’s early gospel career. Many often think of gospel as serious hymns, but the vibrant gospel era of music was different – it was about projecting praise and an overall feeling of elation, not necessarily about religion. It is this joy that Damien found has been resonating with audiences and saw him sell-out the one-off show in Melbourne in 2017. Now, to coincide with the 2018 tour, Damien is also releasing his first album in five years, the aptly titled Gospel, due for release on August 3.
We spoke to Leith, about his tour, his new album, and what else he has on his plate.
J: You’ve got the Elvis Gospel Tour happening at the moment, tell me about that.
I’ve done three shows so far, and there’s been an amazing reaction, bigger than anything else I’ve done. It’s a funny show, its Elvis gospel, and I don’t think a lot of people know what that is. When they come to the show they’re amazed, it’s a really big show, there’s a full band and backing singers. It’s a very rhythmic show, if you think of gospel, it’s all about clapping, singing and dancing along.
J: How did you come up with the idea for an Elvis Gospel tour?
I’ve always loved Elvis. I grew up on his Rock ‘n’ Roll, but I really love his gospel stuff, and how his voice sound when he sings it. I love the gospel harmonies, they’re beautiful, and they add so much feeling to the songs. It came up as an idea last year, and I did one show on the anniversary of his passing. It was a Wednesday night, and it sold out! There was about 1500 people there, and it went really well, so we decided to extend it.
J: Do you dress up as Elvis for these shows?
No. That’s the main point of difference for the show, it’s not an impersonation. It’s really important to add my own stamp to the songs, so to speak. When people hear the music, I want them to hear it as my version of those songs.
J: How does it feel performing some of your favourite songs to a packed room?
It’s amazing. There’s something special, a great feeling on stage between myself and the band. The songs really reach out to you, and I don’t mean in a religious sense, they have a lot of emotion to them. They’re really beautiful songs to perform. It’s a great feeling to be singing and feel the band come in behind me, it’s very powerful.
J: At last year’s show, you recorded ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, can you tell me about that?
Yeah, that’s a feature song of the show, it’s one of those songs that you wouldn’t think of as a gospel song. It’s a well-known song, and Elvis always included it when he was playing gospel shows. It has some powerful messages running through it, and his version was incredible. It’s a big moment in the show when we play that, and the audience loves it.
J: Do you think you’ll be recording any other tracks of that nature?
Well, the good news is, on the third of August I have an album coming out. It’s all brand new, it’s my first studio album in five years. It’s called Damien Leith Gospel, and it’s a collection of eleven gospel songs. They’re not necessarily Elvis songs, but they’re inspired by the concert. There’s a lot of beautiful harmonies, and it’s going to be available online and in stores very soon, I’m very excited about it.
J: Are you going to have any music videos to go with this new album?
I don’t think so. I considered it, but I don’t think that really suits this album. There aren’t really any featured songs or singles, the album is best delivered all together as a whole. It’s nice to sit back and just listen to it. We recorded it with these beautiful vintage microphones, so it’s got a really old feeling to it.
J: Was that a specific type of microphone that Elvis used to use?
It’s a specific microphone that was common to that era and style. The mic’s that we ended up using are the same type that artists like Frank Sinatra, Roy Orbison and Elvis would have used to create that warmth in their voice. It’s quite unique when it’s combined with the right voice, and using the right microphone can go a long way when it comes to creating the right atmosphere. The microphones were Neumann U47 and U67 models, and we used a bunch of vintage gear too, including Fairchild compressors. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to that sort of stuff, it’s really nice gear to work with.
J: Are you going to tour on your new album afterwards?
No, I don’t think so. The album ties in nicely with the Elvis show, and has the same general vibe. I think I’ll be in South Australia on the 21st and 22nd of September, and the album will be out by then. Hopefully people will have had the chance to listen to the album, and get to know the songs, then come and see me in the Barossa Arts and Convention Centre and the Dunstan Playhouse.
J: What’s next for you after the album release and Elvis tour?
A lot of things. I’m in a movie called ‘The Target’, it’s a movie about bullying. I’m a corporate bully, a thug, that’ll be fun. I also have an original album coming out at the end of the year, and I’ll be touring a fair bit.
J: Do you have any messages for your fans in Adelaide?
Don’t leave it to the last minute, get your tickets so you don’t miss out! The shows are looking like they’ll sell out, and I’d hate for people to miss out!
Tickets for Damien Leith’s Elvis: The Gospel Collection are on sale now. Damien’s new album Gospel is released on Friday 3rd August 2018 via Fanfare Records, Sony Music.
Barossa Arts & Convention Centre, TANUNDA SA
Dunstan Theatre, ADELAIDE SA