Interviews

Eddie Sutton (Leeway)

Photo: Carl Gunhouse

I can't stress how important Leeway has been to me in my life. Growing up a few miles away from their homebase of Astoria, Queens, they were not only local heroes to me, but they also were pretty much my pathway into hardcore music as a 12-year-old. While it was their Enforcer demo that first came on my radar through my neighbor, Octavio Zapata, in 1987, it was Leeway's debut album, Born to Expire, that blew my world wide open. Though it was released almost 30 years ago, the album continues to influence hardcore and metal bands alike.

And it's not just Born to Expire for me, all four of Leeway's studio albums are near and dear to my heart. Anyone who is a fellow fan knows that there's been bad blood between certain members of the band throughout the years, and I won't spend time talking about that here. These days, vocalist Eddie Sutton is out touring with a new lineup of the group which is comprised of Florida crossover thrash outfit Rhythm of Fear. Since he's back on the road and in much better shape than he has been in years, I wanted to chat with Eddie about both his personal and musical history.

As you'll read below, he's very candid about his past demons, but more importantly, Eddie's in the best place he's been in years and looking forward to his future, both off and on stage.

Tell me a bit about your early childhood.

I was born in 1965. My parents were still married and living in the house in Astoria, Queens where my mom was raised, but she decided to have her first two kids at a hospital in Bayshore, Long Island. The third kid came too quick [laughs]. My mom was watching the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and her water broke, so she was born in Queens. My dad grew up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was mainly Italian and English. My mom is Spanish, German, and Irish. My great-grandfather on my father's side was a bonafide Kentucky colonel who fought for the South in the Civil War [laughs]. Crazy!

Yeah, that's pretty wild! It's funny, but listening to you right now reminds me how thick your New York accent is. Maybe it's all the years I've lived in Los Angeles, but my accent is definitely nowhere near as strong as yours.

[Laughs] My accent comes from being partially deaf from infancy, as well as living some of my formative years on Long Island. Well, but it probably mainly comes from living in Astoria all those years.

Eddie and his sisters, Linda and Tracey, in 1973. (Photo: Tracey Dawn)

What was home life like for you as a kid? Was it a strict household? 

At 11, my father told me that I had to be the man of the house, which put a lot of pressure on me, obviously. My dad left us, so that's when we spent several years out on Long Island. We moved there in 1973 and then came back to Astoria in 1980, the same night that John Lennon was killed. We lived on the same block where I was born. When we moved back to New York City, I was lucky enough to find hardcore not too long after through the guys in Gilligan's Revenge [pre-Token Entry]. From there, I started hanging out with Kraut. In 1985, I moved down to the Lower East Side, on 3rd St. and 1st Ave, right by the Hells Angels. The rent was like $350 a month! [Laughs] I remember the bathtub was in the middle of the kitchen. 

Has music has always been a big part of your life?

Mosy definitely, yes. From an early age, I'd say around 10, I started to bug about death, and people dying. So, I wanted to make sure I did something with my life. I never pursued a higher education, even though I had been an honor roll student when I was a kid. I got caught up in so much other bullshit. You know, the debauchery that comes with being in music. But I feel like music is the only thing I've really done right in my life. It's also why I'm doing everything I can to give back to it for all that I've received from it. I'm not only trying to get past my drug problems, but I also survived a severe accident where I broke my neck. I should be in a wheelchair, or even dead.

Leeway at the Right Track Inn, Long Island, NY, 1986. (Photo: Krissy Bedell)

How did that happen?

I got assaulted and I won't lie, I meant to stab someone — there's no question about that — but I ended up hitting him in his taint instead of his asscheek. I severed his femoral artery and he almost bled to death. I ended up flipping out on this C.O. (corrections officer) and running the length of a football field to get at him. I snapped. I wasn't in my right mind when I broke my neck....with all the pressure of almost killing someone, the C.O.s just made me snap reactively without any thought. Anyway, I ran my head straight into this glass partition and blasted it out. I destroyed my C5 and C7 vertebrae, so they rushed me to the emergency room and I was in the waiting room for like 6 hours, flopping like a fish, trying to get out of my cuffs.

They wound up harvesting the bones from a cadaver and transplanted them into my neck with a metal hinge. I wore a halo for three months, but once it came off, I really didn't need physical therapy since I had full range of motion in my neck. I didn't end up with the paralysis that I probably deserved. [Laughs] With all of the cadaver vertebrae and metal hinge right behind my esophagus and Adam's apple, it makes me more death metal than all of Scandinavia. 

Photo: Frank White

What was your drug of choice throughout all of your problems?

I lived on the Lower East Side and got into whatever was around there back then. I got into dope. Heroin. 

Well, let me cut you off there, because I'm curious, Leeway has that song "All About Dope" on the Desparate Measures album. Was that song written before you started doing heroin?

No, actually, to clarify that, "All About Dope" was written about someone else. It was the person who introduced me to all of that stuff, and watching him go down. It's not really a secret within the scene, but a certain guitar player from Queens was like my big brother in the mid-'80s. He was someone I looked up to, and I saw what that drug did to him. I guess you could say he helped inspire the lyrics. I walked away from all of that, and it wasn't until two years later when I got back into dabbling with it, that I started going to buy the heroin myself. I wasn't relying on anyone else to get me the dope, which once you do that, you're off to the races. 

I would say that the drug thing I experimented between 1987 and 1989, but once I started getting it myself in '89, it started a 6-year odyssey. I would go to detox treatment, and it would never work. In 1995 I was looking at serious jail time, so I finally took to treatment and I'm where I am now. I don't really like talking about methadone, but for 3 years it got me off the streets and being a part of that drug thing. I did that in 1999, when I left New York City.

Where are you today when it comes to drugs and sobriety?

Look, I'm not a sober man. I smoke weed medicinally every day, but I do my best to get my work done. It's not like I'm smoking all day. I'm too old for that shit. I've never really enjoyed drinking. I might have one or two once in a while, but I don't allow that to get in the way. I don't like how it makes me feel in the morning. I was never into cocaine or pills. I was lucky that way.

I want everyone to learn from what I've gone through. I'm not a tough guy. I've been crazy enough to cross the line and seriously hurt people, but I'm 53 and I've learned from all that. Why am I gonna go out there and try to be a thug to a bunch of kids who are young enough to be my children, or even a grandkid. I want to bring something positive from all of this. That means going all out with this music. Sacrificing. Doing it for little to no money. 

Eddie in the early '90s. (Photo: Ed Esposito)

Well, I'm glad to hear you're doing so much better now, and I'm excited that you're out doing what you love to do. Before we talk about the future, I would love to ask you a few Leeway-related trivia kinds of things that I've always wondered about. Who came up with the cover art to Born to Expire. It's such a powerful image.

That was mainly my idea. As far as titles for the first two albums, I came up with that stuff. The guy that did the Born to Expire cover art, Bevin Stone, could have been a legend doing art for a lot of bands but he disappeared from the scene. I touched base with him for the first time in ages a few months ago. I would love for him to do some new stuff and have everything come full circle. 

What's the story behind the Desperate Measures album cover?

I'll tell you that for Desperate Measures, I originally wanted the cover to show a guy trying to pierce his away through a different dimension of Hell. The concept didn't really come off correctly, so that's why we ended up doing that photo shoot with Michael Lavine over at the old Scrap Bar on the West Side. 

From a sonic standpoint, both Born to Expire and Desperate Measures still sound as huge as they did back when they originally came out. Many hardcore-related records don't sound nearly as good.

You can't compare Born to Expire to the first couple of Youth of Today records. The level of studio we were going into and budget we had to work there was next level. We were very lucky that way. While we were going through the deal with Profile Records, we probably weren't happy with them, but they gave us the foundation to be able to make two great albums with them and give us the relevance we still have today. 

Moving on to the next two Leeway albums, I think that Adult Crash suffered from its horrible cover art. People seemed to get turned off by that and might not have given the record a fair shot.

We tried hard on Adult Crash, but we didn't get it 100% like we did on Open Mouth Kiss. Now, about the title and the cover for Adult Crash, I think that was [guitarist] A.J. Novello's way of taking a swipe at me. I say that because that was the first record where I didn't pay attention to the art and overall layout. I was going through my own shit with my drug problems at the time. So, by calling the album that, and then using that bad picture of me taped down to the chair from when I was trying to kick my dope habit while on tour in Europe, it was a snipe at me.

Though people slept on it when it came out back in 1995, it seems as though Open Mouth Kiss has found a bit of an audience in recent years.

After what had happened with Adult Crash, it felt good to be able to close that lineup of Leeway with something strong. But there were too many people trying to make that album work. Some of those songs could have been huge if they were arranged better. I think "3 Wishes" could have been a really big song, but that song was a bit too long. If I would have had some more time with "Withering Heights," that could have been a much better song. I was always into writing love songs and the second track on that album, "You," people were probably wondering what the fuck Leeway was trying to do [laughs]. But we were trying to push the envelope. I didn't want to just be a microphone gorilla, because I'm not one. 

Well, you bring up your singing style, and one aspect of what you do that I've always admired is the willingness to let your vocals slip into areas that most hardcore and metal bands don't dare touch. Whether it's the "kick it like that" part on "Kingpin," or the "come on girl, push!" thing you yell on "Who's to Blame," there's an almost R&B type of vibe to it.

That comes from growing up in NYC back in the '70s and listening to radio stations like WBLS. That was a strictly black music station back in the day. The only white group they played back then were the Bee Gees because the station thought they were black [laughs]. I think that's where some of my singing style comes from. With my mannersims, maybe I was trying to be a little HR-ish. You know? Maybe HR meets Frank Sinatra? Anyway, I went for it.

Let's get into future plans now. You had a band called Truth & Rights that released an EP in 2010 and a full-length in 2017. What is the status of that project?

Truth & Rights isn't really doing much, but I still want to promote the band and get the music out. I know there are still a lot of people who don't even know about the band. I love the album we made. It's not far from the Leeway world. 

Yeah, I think the Lies & Slights album you guys released is really strong.

A few of the guys from Agents of Man play in Truth & Rights and that was one of the few bands from the last 20 years that really impressed me. So, yeah, I love Truth & Rights, despite the stress of wanting to do more. Some of the guys in that band expected things to just fall in their lap, but it just doesn't work that way. You have to go out and fucking get it. Straight up! Nothing just comes to you.

Truth & Rights (Photo: Nicki Hunter)

For the next phase of Leeway, what can we expect from the new material?

You know, I don't want to over-analyze the new Leeway stuff. I guess it's kind of in the Open Mouth Kiss realm, but honed to the vibe and energy of what's going on right now. Each Leeway album had its own sound. I'm not gonna try and re-create Born to Expire and Desperate Measures again, because those days are gone. I don't have a fucking time machine. Leave that to the other bands who make the same fucking album every time. There are plenty of those around.

So the plan is to get out on the road more and write new music?

Yes, that's the plan. I want to do 100 shows this year. Whether it's 50 or 500 kids or more at the show, I'm always having a good time up there. I'm going into my own world when I'm up there. So, we're going to always give our best to present a great show.

Leeway performing in 2017. (Photo: Pete Gregory)

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Follow Eddie on Instagram and check out Leeway out on tour.

Leeway tour dates with Rhythm of Fear:
May 10 - Sacramento, CA @ The Blue Lamp
May 11 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Garbage Garden
May 12 - San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
May 14 - Mesa, AZ @ The Underground
May 15 - Tucson, AZ @ House of Bards
May 17 - San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
May 18 - Corpus Christi, TX @ Boozers
May 19 - Forth Worth, TX @ Ridglea Lounge

Tagged: leeway, truth and rights

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