INTERVIEW: Twerking With Ari: TV STORE ONLINE talks with the original Jason Voorhees himself Ari Lehman

The first Jason Voorhees, Ari Lehman, talks with TV STORE ONLINE about being part of the FRIDAY THE 13TH mythos, bringing Jason to life from the depths of Crystal Lake as well as his rocking heavy metal combo of doom and badassery First Jason...

TV STORE ONLINE:  You have got to tell us what Ari Lehman was like a kid and where do you think your interest in movies and music comes from?

LEHMAN:  As a little kid...I wanted to be an actor.  It was just something I wanted to do. I loved movies.  I was a very upbeat and cheerful kid.  I had sort of red hair and freckles.   People used to call me "Danny Patridge" and "Mason Reese".    In high school, I got involved in the theater and I really enjoyed that.  But, when I did FRIDAY THE 13TH [1980] I was only in junior high school.  I was just fourteen years old.   I went to Bedford Junior School.   When I got cast in FRIDAY THE 13TH...I remember being out on the soccer field and trying out for the school's team, when this car pulled up, "We're here to pick up Ari for Sean Cunningham..."  I couldn't believe it.  I had no clue what was going on.  The coach of the soccer team said to me, "You know, you don't have to go with them..."    But I decided that I should go.  I remember now....That Sean Cunningham felt bad about taking me off the field at school because, as he told me later, had he not cast me in F13 and I wouldn't have left the soccer field that day, I may have made the team and that would've catapulted my life in a whole other direction...laughing

As for music...I was very strongly interested in music at a very early age.  By the time I did FRIDAY THE 13TH, I was already studying with a very famous jazz pianist that was living in Westport, CT.    I remember now, being in the car as I was being driven to the set of FRIDAY THE 13TH and telling the Production Assistant that, even though I was working on this movie, I really wanted to be a jazz pianist.
TV STORE ONLINE:  The set of FRIDAY THE 13th must have been a blast....

LEHMAN:  It was fun.  It was summertime and I got to hang out in those cabins with Tom Savini and Taso N. Stavrakis.    They were working on F13 but at the same time, they were working on the film that they were going to do next called KNIGHTRIDERS [1981].    There were a lot of people on the set that were fun and cool and interesting.   Even though I was just fourteen years old, the people on the set took a interest in me.   Because I had told everyone that I wanted to be a musician, crew members would play music for me.  They'd say, "Hey Ari...Come over here and listen to this music."   All of the people that worked on FRIDAY THE 13TH were all from New York.  It was 1979 and the film was made during the punk era, so crew members would play me Bad Brains, Sex Pistols and The Dead Kennedys.  There was a guy by the name of Braden Lutz that worked on the film, and he was really into Patti Smith, and he would play me her stuff.  Tom Savini has built this replica of his studio on the set so he could work on all kinds of stuff.  He had a pet Chinchilla with him that was named "Peanut".    It was such an easy job really.  I was fourteen and I got to hang out at a summer camp.    I got to be surrounded by incredible creativity.   It was very inspiring. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Developing that interest in music, and in particular in jazz...What kinds of jazz records were you listening to at fourteen years old?   Where you listening to Monk?

LEHMAN:   The first jazz record I bought was Miles Davis - Miles Smiles.   I saw that cover, and I knew that I had to have it.  He was smiling on the cover and no other jazz albums had covers where the musicians were smiling.   I would listen to Miles Smiles endlessly.  Then I got into Herbie Hancock's playing, then McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane.   I started to study that.  I got into Chick Corea.    I was really digging all of that stuff.    Pat Methany too. John MacLaughin as well.   I also got into keyboard players like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman.    I was big into all of that stuff. I loved punk rock and at the same time I was studying jazz piano.     I had a great teacher named Gay Mehegan.  She was wonderful.  Her husband, John Mehegan, had been the one who literally created the school of jazz theory.   His ideas on jazz were adapted at Julliard and he went on to teach Dave Brubeck and Herbie Hancock.    He was the grand daddy of jazz theory.   Gay got me interested in Lennie Tristano and the avant-garde jazz scene.  He was a blind piano player from Long Island and we were in Connecticut.  So she had been involved in that whole be-bop avant-garde jazz scene of New York City in the late '50s and early '60s.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Let's talk about the grand daddy of soccer exploitation films MANNY'S ORPHANS [1978]...

LEHMAN:  Laughing...I've told the story of how I first met Sean Cunningham for that so many times...So I'll skip over that...but I did actually sneak into that audition to see Sean for that. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  I've heard you tell the story about staring into the water on the set of FRIDAY THE 13TH and having Kevin Bacon walk up and ask you what you were doing and you responded, "I'm getting into character..."   At fourteen years old, you understood that process?  Furthermore, did you treat your role in MANNY'S ORPHANS any different?

LEHMAN:  I guess so.  But FRIDAY THE 13TH and MANNY'S ORPHANS are films that exist in two different genres.  Was I trying to become Roger in MANNY'S ORPHANS?   I guess so.  Being a kid though, and just being handed that dialogue...I was used to it.  I was Roger's age.   In MANNY'S ORPHANS, Roger is always carrying around a Playboy Magazine.   Sean wisely provided all of us kids a stack of Playboy Magazines to kept us occupied between takes.  It kept all of us quiet on the set.   Irwin Keyes worked on MANNY'S ORPHANS too.  He was so great.  He would hang out with us kids and tell us jokes.   MANNY'S ORPHANS was a film about kids just hanging out.  I didn't see playing Roger as something different than me just playing myself.

When I was going to play Jason...There was a different dimension to that.    I did think about kids that are different or kids that are autistic or mentally retarded and how they're treated as if they're different than the rest of us.  In my opinion, when Jason jumps out of the water at the end of FRIDAY THE 13TH, that was those kids' opportunity to get a little bit of revenge for how they had been treated.  For me, it had nothing to do with the fact that one of the film's characters had just severed my moms head.  I was really thinking about those kids. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Wearing that Jason make-up....What was that feeling like?  Was it heavy? Was it sticky or itchy or anything like that?

LEHMAN:  Not really.  It was trick.  It was all about being Lon Chaney. It was about transformation.   When someone works on your face for four hours and you don't see what they've been doing, and then when you finally do see it, it really puts you into that character.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Still though, it's really fascinating in how you chose to jump from the water and grab Adrienne King....It seems like there was a choice made to scoop her the way that you did....Jason could've just jumped up and pulled her backward....

LEHMAN:   That was all worked out....I said, "I'm going to put this hand on the boat so I can lift myself up..."   FRIDAY THE 13TH had wrapped in August and there was no scene shot of me jumping out of the water at the end.   Then in October, Sean Cunningham called me and said, "We need you to come back..."

Sean wasn't happy with the ending and he had seen Brian DePalma's CARRIE [1976] and wanted to shoot a new ending.    That's why when you watch the film now...The leaves on the trees on the lake have changed color.   It was supposed to be a dream sequence.  Savini called the sequence "Alice's Dream".     I never thought it was a dream sequence though.  I considered it then, and still consider it, the point where the monster gets his vengeance. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  We've heard about some sort of rock opera that you've been working on called "The Curse Of Crystal Lake"....

LEHMAN:  I'm not working on that anymore.  What happened with it was that it got pitched out as a television series and for a minute it looked like it was going to happen.  A few names got attached to it and they were going to give me some money to create a sort of "sizzle" reel to get it started and then it fell apart.    I've been thinking about telling the story in graphic novel form now.   There's a new FRIDAY THE 13TH film coming out soon.  Hopefully we'll see some sort of origin story there.     I've also just recently sat down with Victor Miller, who of course, was the screenwriter of FRIDAY THE 13TH, and we've been talking about the possibilities of a origins story for Jason as well.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What's your favorite sequel in the F13 film franchise?

LEHMAN:  Probably Part 7.   Part 4 is really strong, but Part 7 is more of my kind of movie because it just goes so far out on a limb.    I love when the burning roof falls on Jason's head and he just looks at the psychic girl.   She blows his mask off of his face.  It's just so unbelievable wonderful.

TV STORE ONLINE:  One thing that your fans may not know about you...While you were studying music at NYU post FRIDAY THE 13TH, you befriended a couple young filmmakers by the name of Alex Winter and Tom Stern and did the musical score for their amazing short film SQUEAL OF DEATH (1985)....

LEHMAN:  Where did you see that? On YouTube?   Alex and Tom were hilarious.  If you hung out with them all you would do is laugh.  You would laugh until you couldn't breath any longer.  All I really remember about it now is that Tom Stern came to me and said, " We've got this movie and we'd like for you to come and do the music and sound effects for it."    We just did it at NYU film school and with the most basic equipment.  We had to time sequences out with stop watches and pray that they would turn out alright.  I used a DX-7 Yamaha Keyboard.  Miles Davis played one of those too.    One thing I remember about Tom Stern...He was in the same dorm as I was...I remember he covered his entire dorm room in 8x10s of Larry "Bud" Melman.   I swear...You'd walk into his dorm room and there must have been at least 500 8x10s and they were all perfectly tiled as well...laughing.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Before we talk about First Jason....We should discuss the Ari-Ben Moses Band....Where does that interest in Reggae music come from ?

LEHMAN:   I was studying jazz at NYU...At a point, I started exploring World Music on a few different levels.  Eventually it became an easier way of getting more work.   A lot of the bands that would come to America to play from Africa or the Caribbean couldn't bring in all of the musicians in their band due to visa issues with the government.  So I started working with them and I just became the kid that these bands would call when they came to The United States.   I started working with a band from Nigeria and I ended up touring with them for ten years.   They were called Maja Sasek and The Prisoners of Conscious.   They were on Interscope Records at the same time that Dr. Dre was there.   I played the Jamaican Reggae Sunsplash shows. I played the Reggae circuit for a while.  I got to open for great Reggae artists like Rita Marley even.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So how did First Jason come into being?

LEHMAN:  I was out on tour playing.  I was in Chicago playing and I met my future wife Elaine.   We got married and I ended up moving from NYC to Chicago.     One day, I got an email from this guy who informed me that he purchased my autograph on a photo of Jason jumping up in the lake from FRIDAY THE 13TH off of Ebay.   I hadn't signed any photos.   After some investigation, we discovered who this guy was and we found out that he had sold dozens of these photos.  To make a long story short, we busted him and he ended up paying out a bunch of money to me.   From there, I started to get invited out to all of these horror conventions.  I'd go to those and I'd take with me CDs of The Ari-Ben Moses Band.   Fans would come up to me and say, "I don't listen to much Reggae, but this is good man..." (Laughing)  

These guys at the horror shows all listen to metal or punk.   So I decided that I needed to re-access what I was doing.  I realized that I hadn't yet found my true sound.  I went back and started to listen to that stuff that I had been introduced to on the set of FRIDAY THE 13TH.  I went back and listened to stuff like The Misfits, Reagan Youth, and Minor Threat.  I had also become interested in heavy metal as well.   Listening to all of those bands really inspired me, because each of those bands really developed their own unique sound.    I knew that was what I needed to do.   Being that I love jazz piano and keyboards and such, I set out to try to develop a heavy metal guitar sound via keyboard.   Who knew that all these years later, I'd be touring all around the USA, screaming these songs out on stage about Jason Voorhees  and playing a keytar that is attached to a machete...laughing    I really think that there is something to this. I really think this is were I was always intended to be.

TV STORE ONLINE:  The keyboard sound of First Jason is incredible.   When I listen to First Jason's album Jason Is Watching!  I hear Booker T. Jones type of tones.   Some of the tones of the keyboards on Jason Is Watching! remind me of Booker T. and The MG's  "Green Onions". It's like Booker T. on crack....
LEHMAN:  Awesome!  Thanks.  It's all blues stuff.  There are some blues on Jason Is Watching!

TV STORE ONLINE:   When you play the keytar...The keytar has been the butt of many jokes over the last twenty years...Yet you've managed to make it cool...

LEHMAN:   C'mon man...  Don't forget about Edgar Winter!

TV STORE ONLINE:  Sure, but was Edgar Winter really that cool ?!?!

LEHMAN:   Laughing...  I don't know.   I think that I'm actually using the keyboard how it was intended to be used.   I'm playing the bass line and the guitar on the same instrument.   People eat it up!  They go crazy for it when we're out playing.    We take our music seriously, but we don't take ourselves seriously.  We just like going out and playing.   We're getting out there.  We're playing every weekend.  We're playing horror conventions and festivals.  We've played in Europe.  We've opened for GWAR and Phil Anselmo.   It's getting crazy man.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   Listening to First Jason...One hears a eclectic mix of possible influences.  It seems like you can hear traces of bands like Living Colour and King's X in the First Jason music....Even Reggae as well....

LEHMAN:  Right on.   Yeah I think so.  I think you can hear a little Jimi Hendrix in there too. Hopefully some Slayer and NOFX as well.   I think that's just the way that music evolves.  When it starts out, it shifts and conjoins and then when it coagulates it becomes all-in-one.  That's the alchemy of metal.   Everything blends together.  Heavy Metal does have elements of classical music and funk in it as well as many other styles or genres of music.   Metal is also the home of the great virtuoso musicians of our day.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Slayer is classical music!

LEHMAN:  Absolutely.    All done through that amazing hardcore thrash sound.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are some of your all time favorite albums?

LEHMAN:  I have so many favorite albums.  Probably one right at the top would be Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love.    Then Sly & The Family Stone - There's A Riot Goin' On.   A Love Supreme by John Coltrane.  Survival by Bob Marley.    Miles Davis - Decoy.   Metal Bands that I listen to all of the time are, Kings-X, Gojira, The Deftones, Machine Head, and Macabre.

TV STORE ONLINE:   The song writing on First Jason - Jason Is Watching! is cool because the songs seem to be a manifestation of some sort of inner monologue for Jason Voorhees himself....What was the idea or process behind deciding to go that direction with the lyrics and songs for the album?

LEHMAN:  That was what I was trying to do with the songs.  I wanted them all to be about internal struggle and about the inner demons of Jason.  "Red, Red, Red" for example is about being a predator and what it feels like to be a predator.  "Machete Is My Friend" comes from a very righteous warrior place.   I tried to write songs that offer up a universal idea of what it might feel like to be Jason Voorhees.   When I was in college at NYU I read a book called "Grendel" that was written by John Gardner.   I really loved this book because it told the story of Beowulf but from the monster's point-of-view.  It wasn't about the hero.  I think that was what I was trying to do with the songs on Jason Is Watching!    It's funny too, because I'm not a huge guy.  I'm a little guy with a funny mustache that goes up on stage and tries to invoke these violent feelings of Jason Voorhees.   We don't get violent, our music gets violent and our rhythms get brutal.

TV STORE ONLINE:  And your songs are pop songs too!

LEHMAN:  Oh yeah. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Just as The Misfits, The Ramones and NOFX write pop songs....

LEHMAN:   Sure.   The harmonies you hear on any NOFX album, you can hear us doing stuff like that in First Jason.

TV STORE ONLINE:    What do you think that says about Ari Lehman?  Ari's a guy that has studied jazz for so many years, yet he also has this terrific pop sensibility about him as well...

LEHMAN:   In my opinion, the greatest achievement for any musician is to write a great melody and a great lyric.  I think that's what I'm trying to do in my own little way.     Plus, I think that I'm trying to streamline things as well in First Jason.  Because we are just two guys up on a stage, I need to be able to play bass and guitar on the keytar yet keep the songs minimalized so I can sing them directly and emotionally at the time.  
TV STORE ONLINE:   After having not acted in many years after FRIDAY THE 13TH...You've recently returned to it.  What has it been like returning to it after not having done it for so long?

LEHMAN:  It's funny.  Every time I've done something...I've gotten really excited for it to be released and most of the stuff that I've done hasn't come out.     I did a film recently called EASTER SUNDAY and I'm certain that that's going to come out.  I play a Postman in the film.   People have seemed to enjoy the photos that I've posted up on Facebook of me in the Postman's uniform.    People tell me that I'm doing a great job on set.   I don't know if I'm always the best actor for the roles I'm getting though, but I do bring an great enthusiasm and moral to the set when I'm there.   

TV STORE ONLINE:   Looking back now on FRIDAY THE 13TH...What's been the best part of the whole experience for you?

Just that I'm part of the mythos of it all.    The best part about it, is that I'm associated with the history of the Jason Voorhees character.   That really means a lot to me.     I'm not associated with the big and brutal character, but the young, green and slimy figure of Jason. Without taking it too seriously, I get to play around with it, and I really have a lot of fun with how much people enjoy that young Jason character.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Young Jason was the first twerker too! Compare Jason coming out of Crystal Lake with Miley twerking and...

LEHMAN:   Laughing...Post that picture on Facebook for me!

For more with Ari Lehman please visit his official website HERE:
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Upcoming First Jason Tour Dates:

Winnemucca Convention Center - Winnemucca, Nevada
Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Westminster, Colorado 
Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

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