Leather-clad rockers on the Sunset Strip are certainly nothing new. Add bandannas, bullet belts, denim vests covered in metal patches, and sunglasses (at night), and you essentially have the ’80s Hollywood uniform. What is unusual is seeing a bunch of 20-somethings decked out in that apparel in 2018. That may have been the norm back in the excessive glory days, but nowadays we’re more used to seeing Vince Neil force himself into those old stretched black jeans. Where are the youth gone wild? Enter the gloriously monikered Leather Duchess.
Singer Tyler Heath formed the band with guitarist Marc Edgar after moving to Los Angeles from Oklahoma in 2014. The duo soon hooked up with drummer Jake Wolf (until recently also a member of Glam Skanks), and that trio established itself as the core of the group.
“We’ve had several rhythm guitars and bass players since then — it’s kinda been a revolving door,” says Heath. “We haven’t really found our guys. We’ve had several fill-ins and guys come and go. But the core of the band is me, Jake and Mark. We played off and on in the following years — 2015, 2016. Just spinning our wheels — we didn’t really record anything, just playing local shows. It wasn’t until 2017 that me, Mark and Jake decided to just record the first record with us three, put that out and try to find our permanent guys after that. We’ve got two guys who seem to be in it for the long run.”
That debut album is Gunslinger, and it’s a riot. Dirty fun, with throwaway riffs littering the infectious melodies. There are elements of ’70s rockers Aerosmith on there, with the gonzo joy of Mötley Crüe and even the lyrical grit of outlaw country blended with AC/DC cheekiness. The record highlights just why Heath and Edgar had to get out of Oklahoma City.
“I just wanted to get out,” Heath says. “There wasn’t much of a music scene there, not a lot of opportunities. Certainly not any opportunities for the type of music we wanted to play. I looked pretty weird walking around in leather pants. Marc was moving out to LA. so I said, ‘You know what? I’ll come out there with you, we’ll give it the same go, and if it doesn’t work out I’ll move back home.’ But I ended up loving it and staying here, and it’s been home ever since.”
Heath was 18 when he was first exposed to ’80s sleaze rock, and he was immediately taken with the OTT ridiculousness of it all.
“It was so bombastic and had this air of good times, and a lot of it was very theatrical,” he says. “That’s what we love about Mötley Crüe and KISS — those bands who really put on a show. The theatrics and the fire onstage. We want to bring a sense of fun and display into the live shows. You don’t see that as much anymore. Modern bands typically don’t use as much theatrics as you saw back then.”
He’s right, of course. The rise of grunge saw a decline in the mainstream appeal of the big rock show. Musicians were considered more “honest” and “real” if they dressed in regular clothes and stood static. Just got on with the job in hand: playing the songs as heard on the albums. For some, the decline of the rock show directly led to the decline of rock. Some publications went so far as to incorrectly state that the musical form is dead.
“You hear that a lot,” Heath says. “I don’t think it’s dead. It certainly fell out of the spotlight of mainstream culture. Back in the ’80s, it was at the forefront of youth culture. It was what every young kid was listening to. That’s certainly not the case now, but there’s still a lot of people who love it. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere at all.
"Personally, it doesn’t bother me that it’s not mainstream like it used to be, because there’s still great acts coming out nowadays. They don’t quite have the support from the labels that they used to and that does hinder them a lot, us included. But I think that spirit will always live on. There’s always someone that’s gonna embody that attitude and that personification.”
Whether that band is Leather Duchess remains to be seen, but they’ve certainly gotten off to a great start. This week they open for Bay Area sleaze vets Vain at the Whisky, a venue that still holds a certain nostalgic allure even if, Heath admits, the vibe on the Strip isn’t what it once was.
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“The mystique has worn off a bit,” he says. “You hear a lot of criticism of the pay-to-play stuff. But it certainly has a lot of historical relevancy. I don’t think it has the energy that it used to. I’m not sure it ever will. I’m not sure that era of the ’80s Sunset Strip can ever be re-created. There’s probably a lot of reasons for that. But no, I don’t think it’s as relevant as it used to be. You don’t have the corporate labels prowling around on the Sunset Strip looking for raw talent, looking for the next big thing. That’s certainly gone away, which has probably hurt the allure of it. But it’s still a cool place. It’s a great place to play.”
Leather Duchess will perform a set of all originals at the Whisky, mostly from the Gunslinger album. After that, they’ll regroup and start working on the next record. It may not be fashionable anymore but this is a hard-working rock & roll band in the traditional sense.
“We’ll do a little touring,” Heath says. “A tour through Texas, or a small 10-day tour somewhere else. We’ve talked about putting some acoustic shows together, just to try to give the audience something a little different — a more raw, stripped-down version of us. We’re putting out the record on vinyl, because we’re huge proponents of physical media.”
Leather Duchess play with Vain, Wikkid Starr, Darkhorse Rising, TangenT, Sheer Lust, Tara Black and Seeing Red at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9, at the Whisky A Go Go.